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The New International, October 1941


The Editor’s Comment

Another Glance at ‘Socialist’ England


From The New International, Vol. VII No. 9, October 1941, p. 230.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It has become a platitude to say that modern warfare in capitalist society requires the development of totalitarianism in statecraft and economy. If it is obviously true in such countries as Germany, Italy and Japan, it is also true of the “democratic” nations, even though the process toward totalitarianism in those countries is dependent upon many factors no longer present in the Axis states. In England, however, as the war gives evidence of increasing length and intensity, the development toward totalitarianism has become exceedingly more rapid. This totalitarian development occurs under the formal maintenance of the political superstructure of bourgeois democracy, and for this reason gives rise to notions about the maintenance of complete democracy in the midst of the war that do not, in fact, conform to reality.

Liberal scribblers like Dorothy Thompson, Ralph Ingersoll, Harold Laski and Williams, trade unionists in England and America, reformers of every stripe, have spread the falsehood that the totalitarian changes taking place in England are, in reality, the forerunners of a post-war socialist England. The evidence cited for this is the fact that the trade union leaders are part of the national war government, serving Churchill; the recognition by many conservatives that postwar England cannot be the same kind of England that existed during peace time (and this means many things to many people) ; that the war draws all the classes closer together in their common effort against a common foe; that there is the growing opinion that post-war England must bring about a redistribution of wealth and a general improvement in the lot of the English poor. These generalities are cited, for example, by Dorothy Thompson as evidence that England is rapidly moving toward socialism and that the leader of this movement is Winston Churchill, who is fighting Hitler as an anti-socialist adversary. There is even a faint hope among many radicals, the wish being father to the thought, that this may be the truth.

Class Collaboration Is Not Socialism

Yet the concrete situation in England precludes the right to such thinking. Imperialist England is fighting an essentially imperialist war and conducts herself in a manner befitting such a struggle. In the absence of a militant or revolutionary labor movement, of a strong revolutionary political party of the working class, and the presence of a yet powerful bourgeoisie, any thought of an occurring peaceful development into socialism, if such a thought is permissible, is highly ludicrous.

The British trade union movement is tied to the national government and its officials have given unqualified support to Churchill and his aristocratic and reactionary associates. Labor is tolerated by this government because it is necessary in order that bourgeois England may prosecute the war. It is impossible for the British ruling class to settle accounts with the proletariat swiftly under present conditions. But for this class collaboration, for permission to allow Bevin, Morrison, and others to sit in the government, the Labor Party and the trade union movement are paying a heavy price. While retaining formal democratic rights, the labor movement in general is completely hamstrung by a hundred and one legal restrictions and war measures. Laws against strikes, control of wages in one form or another, proscription of free speech and free press, exist as a constant threat against any possible movements of the British working class. In the leaders of the trade unions and the Labor Party Churchill has found his “trouble shooters.”

How the Ruling Class Controls

The British ruling class retains a tenacious hold over the economic structure. The important and decisive controls remain in their hands. Thus, Fenner Brockway, writing in the British New Leader (How Far Is Britain Going Fascist? September 20), points out that the state controllers of various trades are entirely in the hands of big industrialists and financiers. He states:

It is enough to say that eighteen raw material controllers hold between them forty company directorships. Eighteen food controllers hold between them eighty-four directorships. Examples of those who “lead” British industry on behalf of the state are Sir Alan Anderson, of the Bank of England, who is chairman of the cereal control committee, director of Tate & Lyle, who serve as sugar controllers, and a director of Harriss’s, who is bacon controller.

The British Capital Issues Committee, which directs the investment of capital, is likewise completely controlled by the Big bourgeoisie. Brockway points out:

The chairman is Lord Kennel, at the time of his appointment chairman of the Imperial Bank of Iran and a director of the Southern Railway. Other members are B.G. Catterns, deputy governor of the Bank of England, T. Frazer, deputy general manager and secretary of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Co., A.A. Jamieson, chairman of Vickers, Ltd., and director of Robert Fleming & Co., Ltd., Lieut.-Col. J.B. Neilson, vice-chairman of Baldwins, Ltd., and chairman of Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Co., Ltd.

The above-cited facts only fortify the picture we have previously drawn of wartime England. Control of prices, control of wages, control of foreign trade, control of investments and profits, proscriptions of the rights of free speech and free press – all evidence of the increasing totalitarian development of life in England. But all of it is under the full control of the British capitalist class. And it is this kind of England that is being pictured by confused and ignorant liberals and renegade socialists as the center of a new collectivist social order, a new measure of “socialism in our time.”

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