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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


A.L. Buick

From Our Readers


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, pp.19-20.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Although I have subscribed to your journal for over three years I must confess that I find myself unable to understand your attitude to the Labour Party. It seems to change from issue to issue. Seeing other readers may have reached the same conclusion, it seems that a clear, concise statement of your position would be most welcome.

Looking through the back numbers of your journal I find four distinct arguments advanced as to why ‘Marxists’ or ‘Socialists’ should join and support the Labour Party:

  1. It is the political organisation of the working class.
  2. It is still, to a certain extent, the political arm of the TUs.
  3. It is more subject to working class pressure than the Conservative party.
  4. It has a ‘good’ reform programme as regards education and health.

On the other hand, I find arguments advanced as to what a Labour Party government would do which would lead me even as only a trade-union conscious worker, let alone a Socialist, not to vote for or otherwise support the Labour Party. We read:

  1. The function of a Labour government, as determined in the present party programme and as emphasised by both Gaitskell and Wilson, may be summarised as the rationalisation of certain traditional anomalies within British Capitalism’ (IS 13, Summer ’63).
  2. ‘If the present leadership get their way the next Labour Government will be well set to present capital with the greatest prize ever, sought for two hundred years or more, the voluntary abdication of their bargaining role by the organs of the labour movement’ (IS 14, Autumn ’63).
  3. ‘From being a petitioner of capital, mostly humble, occasionally importunate, it has become, at least at the leadership levels, its foreman’ (IS 16, Spring ’64).
  4. ‘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’ (IS 17, Summer ’64).

All of which is an admirable analysis of the role of the Labour Party in present-day circumstances. A Labour Party government would be, as you say, the political arm which British capitalism will use to modernise itself and to keep wage costs down so as to be able better to compete in the world market. In which case it would seem to me a most undesirable state of affairs to bring about by supporting and voting for the Labour Party candidate. Would a Labour Party government, because of its reform programme, be better than a Liberal Party or a Conservative Party government? You have answered this yourselves in exposing the invalidity of the argument of voting for the Democratic Party to keep Goldwater and the Republicans out (IS 18). Quite apart from this, of course, those who administer capitalism must be guided by circumstances and not election programmes and promises. Thus, the last Labour Party government, against its professed humanitarian and philanthropic aims, was forced by circumstances to introduce health charges – to give just one example.

It strikes me, as I said earlier, that you contradict yourselves, and that in urging the working class to vote for the Labour Party you are urging them to cut their own throats. You are urging them to use the vote – which is a potential class weapon – to further the interests of British capitalism. In the absence of genuine Socialist candidates a policy of abstention or spoiled or blank ballot papers would seem to be how Socialists should act. This would at least be a class-conscious act, a determination not to vote for capitalism whoever runs its political affairs, Labour, Conservative or Liberal. In fairness I should add that I am not, of course, politically uncommitted. I am, in fact, a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain which, as you no doubt know, takes the position that Socialists should be organised into an independent political party with only a ‘maximum’ programme: Socialism. But this raises other questions such as the desirability or not of a reform programme which it was not my intention to raise here.

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