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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Editorial 1

The Future offered Labour

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, pp.1-2.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

As the Labour leadership prepare to slip into the Tory seat of power, elitists of the soggy Left can be seen competing with their cousins, of the mindless Left, in a traditional sport – prescribing the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for a future Labour Government. It is a dispiriting although not unexpected commentary on the state of British socialism.

There is a hermetic logic about both their approaches. The mindless see fire in every belly. In their view, an outbreak of rank-and-file militancy – in a workshop, on a housing estate – always presages social upheaval; individual socialist insight always transmutes into class consciousness. The fragments are always confused with the whole. Needless to say, workers so impatient for power can be kept at arms length only by a conspiracy, parties to which are Capital and the Labour leadership (The City Backs Wilson and Gunter ran a recent headline in the Newsletter); and the entire content of political activity becomes one of exposing the conspiracy. Once discredited, the old leadership can be replaced by a new. History, change, social dynamic are lost in this approach, and the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ resulting from it are judged less for their intrinsic value than their sniping qualities.

For the soggies, there is no such thing as fire in bellies – ever. Rank-and-file militancy is irrelevant, as is the working-class; socialism – an individual’s belief; and the fragments – everything. In this dogma, conspiracies do not exist. The Labour leadership might be misguided, naive, uneducated, too busy – anything, but their interests are shared by all socialists, and all socialists have a duty to help them fulfil common tasks. The ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that derive from this approach – as a-historical, as undynamic as the other – take the form of detailed plans and blueprints. Their value is entirely intrinsic. They have nothing to do with the nurturing of class consciousness or with the shift in social power to workers. As a recent, typical example runs – John Hughes in the New Left Review, March-April 1964 – ‘The policies that have been outlined are designed to produce an economy that is progressively more efficient, and uses its resources more rationally than the one we have been used to.’ (our emphasis – Editors)

The approach this journal adopts to the advent of a Labour Government is very different. As against the mindless Left, we are willing to admit to the existence, at this moment, of a tragically fragmented working class; to recognise a possibility that one or other section might achieve a transient political consciousness well beyond that of the rest of the class; to see too the lack of a general class-consciousness that might pool such experiences. In this situation, ‘exposure politics’ are for us a minority luxury ; it is meaningless to the vast bulk of workers whose expectations cannot be betrayed by the Labour leadership simply because they have not as yet got beyond that leadership. Yes, we agree that a Labour Government is powerless to advance the real interests of British workers; we have said so again and again, and shall continue to say so. But we know that to make it appear powerless requires something deeper than ‘exposure,’ than the discovery of plots and suchlike. From socialists it requires analysis of what these interests are and its dissemination; from workers it requires an acceptance of the analysis in terms of their own experience. Once achieved, that acceptance can be used as a foil for ‘exposure,’ while it is still a minority attainment ‘exposure politics’ must reman the least of our propaganda weapons.

As against the soggy Left we affirm the existence of workers as active participants in politics and as potential creators of a different political order. We question the relevance of their blueprints. To take the Hughes-New Left example, we find it astonishing that so detailed a scheme for the ‘extended socialisation’ of the economy, for abridging the power of monopolies, can ignore the dangers of economic sabotage inherent in the mixed economy with its virtually-full currency convertibility, its private banking, overwhelmingly private foreign trade and so on. Surely Labour’s 1951 experience is adequate warning of what might happen unless large areas of the economy are taken into workers’ hands as soon as Capital feels restive. Beyond the details, we find the soggies incredibly naive in their view of the Labour leadership: they are not eighteenth century constructs of the rational man, but men who neither have nor wish for a fundamentally different model of society, who are as much prisoners of ruling political prejudices as of ruling social forces. They might respond to sweet reasonableness if it were backed by force, but not to sweet reasonableness alone.

As against both we repeat: Capital in Britain has raised problems of economic growth and structural change which the Tories are unable to, but which a Labour Government, conceivably might, solve. The attempt – whether by imposing a wage freeze, speeding labour ‘mobility,’ or whatever – is bound to harm working-class interests. This would not be a conspiracy since the leadership agrees with both diagnosis and cure. Equally it is not a programme to ‘socialise’ British capitalism. What it does offer is a perspective in which an increasing number of workers might be affected by political decisions taken in their name, might be prepared to question these decisions actively and concert their activities around a coherent programme. Rather than ask of a future Labour Government to act in ways we know to be unrealistic, socialists should be directing their energies to the point of production where the real and ascribed interests of workers are bound to collide.

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