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International Socialism, Summer 1966


Editorial 1

Euphoria and After


From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, pp.1-2.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The significance of the March election result in terms of popular consciousness is still not clear, even though we do know that nearly a quarter of the electorate abstained and that Labour’s total vote and share of the vote (13 million and 43 per cent respectively) have still not reached the level achieved in the 1951 defeat. Some interpretations of the election results muddle events in Parliament, a tiny minority, with trends in the country as a whole, but still the actual basis of Labour’s landslide is very obscure – swings in commuter areas and the ‘classless’ image, suggest the middle class rallying to Labour, but interviews with Labour voters illustrate the persistent strength of working-class identification with Labour (cf. Flavius, Tribune, April 1960, and Taylor, The Notebook, elsewhere in this issue of IS). All told, it is safe only to say that the Westminster turnover gives a grossly exaggerated representation of whatever shifts of loyalty have occurred in the country as a whole.

However, optimism has flooded those sections of the Labour movement whose principle orientation or fixation is Parliament. The narrow 1964 majority compressed the Labour benches into a compliant, futile mass. Where the Left was not bought off with Ministerial office, it was thoroughly cowed. The residual Left found it too difficult to face public meetings where answers might be demanded to awkward questions – it has no answers, and therefore addressed no meetings.

Now, as the atmosphere of the Chamber has changed, so has the larger estimate of political prospects. Now is the time for developing constructive opportunities, for securing a stake in the Wilson consensus, or so it is said. Plans, programmes, blueprints and bright ideas on policy begin to be offered the Government; a Parliamentary ‘new left,’ heavily scoring its separation from the remnants of Bevanism, offers a ‘Bow Group of the Left’ (ironically, the Bow Group began as a ‘Fabian Society of the Right’). Hints on disagreements over policy in the Government have been permitted to leak out – ‘there are some close to Wilson – including Cousins, Balogh and Shore – who recommend a more stringently controlled economy, with restrictions on imports, more public ownership and State barter deals with foreign customers – in short, what they would call a “socialist solution.” Others – including Brown, Callaghan and Stewart – aim to get into the Common Market, in order to compel British firms to compete on equal terms with Continental rivals’ (Nora Beloff, Observer, 17 April 1966). Still, Wilson moves to appease possible discontent – incomes legislation is deferred, steel nationalisation advanced, and Budgetary deflation (diguised in a fiscal gimmick ‘to improve efficiency’) calculated to fall immediately only on a segment of the working class.

However, Socialists must still distinguish the main current from the eddies: the Government is firmly and strategically committed to support the financial and military priorities of international capitalism. ‘Incomes policy’ and the sterling fetish remain supreme, bankers take precedence over workers; At the time of writing, emissaries of Rhodesian racism arrive in London to barter over the bodies of four million Africans. Official Labour is still the indefatigable sponsor of the monstrous US murder in Vietnam; Fulbright, Kennan and even Robert Kennedy can have qualms – but Wilson and Stewart, never. No change here; our Westminster weathercocks move under their own wish-fulfillment.

The necessity for intransigence by political and industrial militants has never been greater. In the politics of consensus, a seat or two has been reserved at the round table for the declared Left; scraps from its traditional programme mingle with rhetoric of national renewal. But it would be fatal to accept any radical measures (or, more likely, half-measures) as part of the price of ‘incomes policy,’ any trading of domestic reform in return for slaughter abroad.

Simultaneously, socialists must not neglect any new opportunities to conduct education, propaganda and pressure within the Labour movement. The situation most favourable for the generation of radical consciousness among workers is one where expanding expectations can no longer be satisfied by traditional means. The confident militancy of local struggles may increasingly pay off less, and workers will be forced by their own concerns and commitments to look beyond the horizon of one shop or factory. Only if they encounter a class-conscious socialist argument, stripped to its essentials, linked with daily practice and propagated in a coherent and unified fashion, will their horizons widen and their arena of struggle enlarge. The maximum unity on the Left, the subordination in each project of all parts to the whole, is essential in the testing time ahead.

It often appears to many socialists that the two great institutions of degeneracy straddling the world Labour movement. Social Democracy and Stalinism, are approaching their end. The Communist world subdivides into individual and competitive nation-states, while within Social Democracy Right-wing reformists and Left-wing Parliamentarians increasingly appear as outmoded ideologues, stranded in the consensus politics of neo-capitalist opportunism. But if the end of an epoch in working-class history is drawing close, it must be admitted that the new ideologies and institutions to replace reformism and Stalinism are still far from clear. Over and above a long-run tendency for labour to detach itself from its traditional bureaucracies, many short-term variations, rallyings and agonies, false deaths and false dawns will undoubtedly be superimposed. In these uncertainties, the militants of the Labour movement must strive to work with what they know: principally, the nature of the enemy, the nature of the class, and their own resources and limitations.

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