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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


Editorial 2

Socialists and Labour


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The previous editorial’s tone of bitter opposition to Labour’s programme might appear inconsistent in a journal that supported a Labour victory and that considers the Labour Party the only significant political expression of the working class in Britain. One reader finds that we contradict ourselves in our political attitudes (see p.17). There are others, no doubt, who share his views and would like an explanation. If socialists are different from anyone else in the labour movement it is not because they form a distinct group separate from the rest or that they engage in activities, ritual or militant, that are theirs alone. This they might do, but what distinguishes them as socialists is the view they take of their own and their fellow-workers’ activity and the criteria they use to judge its effectiveness.

As a worker, the socialist will be thrust willy-nilly into some sort of protest action. It might be simply using the lavatory as a smoking room during the ‘bosses’ time’, it might be participating in a full-blown strike, or anything in between. As a worker, he will approach each action separately and measure its success or unsuccess in terms of its declared aims. As a socialist, however, he sees his actions and those of his fellow-workers as part of a pattern of class struggle, as something that has to make sense in terms of this broader struggle, something that will be the more effective the more firmly it is conceived as preliminary exercises in the achievement of working-class power. As a socialist he measures success in terms of class consciousness and the strength of the workers’ attachment to a social order beyond the present.

The two criteria are not always distinguishable. Present success is likely to affect the level of class consciousness; that level itself will influence the choice and possibility of action in any situation. But in principle they are distinct. In principle, his medium is class- and political-consciousness. He is, in a word, a propagandist. But he is not only a propagandist. He is a worker too. He is still very interested in immediate successes, in finishing his fag, in winning the strike. As a worker he is interested in a higher pension, in two bob off prescriptions, in reforms, even partial reforms. The socialist in him will expose their inadequacy, will warn his fellow-workers of the hidden cost, will try to crowd out complacency with consciousness. But the worker in him will still take what he can and ask for more. In political terms, the socialist in him will point, quite rightly, to the fundamental similarities between Labour and the Tories; the worker will still, as rightly, draw a clear distinction between them.

And if the socialist is to be a successful socialist, i.e. an influential propagandist, this is precisely what he must do. If he is to extend working-class experience beyond the place and moment at which it occurs, to get his view of that experience and his criterion for success in action accepted, he must be part of it. So long as he can draw the lessons from it uninhibitedly, nothing should prevent him sharing it.

For the moment, regrettably, the only shared political experience of the majority of British workers is the Labour Party. So long as it remains so, and so long as we enjoy full freedom of expression, this journal will

be in communion with it. The alternatives are to be a ‘propagandist’ in isolation, that is to remain embalmed in a view of past activities; or to be active unpolitically, without propagandising, that is to be imprisoned in a continuous present. Neither are for us. We intend to remain as we are, active propagandists, building the future on an interpretation of a shared present informed by a living view of the past.

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