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Workers’ International News, June 1938


The Lesson of Aylesbury


From Workers’ International News, Vol.1 No.6, June 1938, p.3-5. [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“To-day,” declares the Daily Worker editorial of May 28th, “the proposal for a united Peace Alliance (the British form of the People’s Front) is the main issue for discussion in the organised Labour movement.” After some four years of penetration in the British co-operative movement, the “Communist” party has succeeded in transforming the Co-operative Party into a ventriloquist’s dummy, voicing a demand that originates in the foreign policy of the Kremlin. The sounds come from the editor of Reynolds but the voice is that of Stalin. The fact that just over 45% of the votes cast at the Brighton conference of the Co-operative Party were against the Peace Alliance has encouraged a large section of the co-operative officialdom to continue their opposition for the time being, although in a temporising manner. They resent the inroads which the Stalinists have made on their authority but bit by bit they begin to make room.

The Stalinists after this initial victory have continued to throw all their resources into the campaign, seeking to exploit the indignation of the British workers who are constrained to look on helplessly while the fighters against Franco are starved of arms. The Spain Conference of last month passed resolutions cunningly linking the Popular Front with proposals for practical aid to Republican Spain. The same tactic was followed in those trade unions into which the Stalinists have penetrated: resolutions demanding the calling of an emergency conference of the Trade Union Congress are pressed forward through every possible channel. The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party plainly hints at a similar process going on within the Labour Parties when it declares in its Statement on the Popular Front that “They (the Communists) would be capable of stabbing us in the back at any time.” but “With the Liberals the position is different, for they at least do not attempt to manipulate Labour Party policy from within.” Stalinist factions have carried the demand for the Popular Front and for emergency conferences that will provide a test of strength, into the co-ops, the trade unions and the Labour Party itself, creating an effervescence that the Labour bureaucrats try in vain to bottle up. The more opportunistic of the Labour bureaucrats begin to edge over to the Popular Front, while fake “left wingers” of the type of Sir Stafford Cripps march over boldly.

The recent Aylesbury by-election provided the first test for which the Stalinists were clamouring. When the local Labour Party refused to accede to the withdrawal of the Labour candidate in favour of the Popular Front Liberal candidate, the Stalinist officials resigned “in protest.” The Daily Worker urged Stalinists to support the Liberal candidate against the Labour candidate, R. Groves and in spite of the fact that Groves’ programme was approved by the reactionary “Council of Action,” a test which no Trotskyist programme could pass, the Stalinists persisted in labelling Groves as a “Trotskyist.”

When Labour almost doubled its vote where the Liberals and Tories lost three thousand votes apiece, the Popular Front received its first douche of cold water. Groves explained the reason for the increased vote in an article in Forward (28th May, 1938):

“We presented a clear statement of the condition of the workers and of the political and economic reasons for that condition. We showed the class rule of capitalism as the cause of poverty and war, and the need for its overthrow by Labour. Almost every vote we won represented a conversion to Socialism.”

The Aylesbury result demonstrates that a programme of class struggle, even as presented by Groves in an emasculated form to suit the taste of the local “Council of Action,” has the effect of attracting support, giving the lie to the Popular Front theory that it is necessary to water Labour’s programme down to avoid driving the masses away. The closer Labour approaches to a real fighting programme for socialism, the greater the support from the masses, who will always respond to a clear class lead.

This lead is not given by the heads of the Labour movement. To the Popular Front agitation of the Stalinists they oppose loud but vague talk of Socialism and criticism of the Liberals. In contrast with their talk their actions testify to their true role. When Chamberlain beckons, they run to assist in the war plans of British Imperialism. Citrine shamelessly opposes the IFTU resolution condemning the British Government for its attitude towards the Mexican oil expropriation. Their actions show unmistakably what their clamour about Socialism is designed to cover up, that they are the lackeys of British Imperialism. if they oppose the Popular Front for the present, it is because the masses are quiescent and for their part they are quite satisfied to let things proceed as they are, to go on in the enjoyment of their privileged position as long as the masses continue to suffer in silence.

But how long will the masses remain quiescent? Economic crisis approaches. The single fact that the total values of Stock Exchange securities has fallen by approximately £2,000,000,000 in the past twelve months is more than enough to show the trend of industry to-day. The ruling class registers grave apprehension; Chamberlain broaches a five year plan of relief works to deal with the anticipated crash.

To-day in the lull before the storm, the Labour bureaucrats resist the Popular Front, but to-morrow when mass resentment rises under the blows of the crisis they will not hesitate to head off the movement of the masses into the safe paths of Popular Frontism. The Stalinists, whose mainspring is the needs of Kremlin foreign policy, are already busy betraying the workers’ movement to those needs by advocating the Popular Front. The “Liberal” and “progressive” capitalists, recognising the strike breaking purpose of the Popular Front, are already eager to enter in the plot. Each for their own purposes, they will co-operate to baffle the mass movement. And the ILP, fluttering helplessly as usual between revolution and reformist betrayal, denounces the Popular Front in one breath and in the next declares in favour of participating if it is formed, in order “to expose it from within”. The tragic experience of POUM has taught them nothing.

The National Government must go, yes, but what shall take its place? The Aylesbury result has answered this question: Labour, with a clear cut policy of struggle against capitalism for workers’ demands can increase its support among the masses. In a general election, a militant programme expressing the class needs of the workers can sweep the National Government from office where a watered down Popular Front programme would only baffle and confuse them. A Labour Government with a bold fighting programme could replace the National Government. Developing economic chaos, with its accompaniment of mass misery and hunger, will direct a stream of politically awakening workers into the reformist Labour Party, and they, through the urgency of their daily need will support a programme of workers’ struggle if such a programme is counterposed to a grandiose plan and phrase-mongering of Popular Frontism. The place for all revolutionary socialists is within the mass organisations of the workers, seeking to give expression to the real interests of the workers through their own organisations, seeking to impel the corrupt labour politicians along paths of struggle, a process that will inevitably compromise and expose them before the eyes of the masses and thereby clear the way for a genuine leadership.

It is not enough that revolutionary socialists are aware of the treacherous part which the Labour bureaucracy plays in side-tracking mass struggle. It is also necessary that the broad masses become aware of the treachery, and this they cannot do except by passing through the actual experience of attempting to win their objectives under their present leadership. If in the midst of the moving masses stands the revolutionary, taking part in the day to day struggle, winning the confidence of the surrounding workers, ruthlessly exposing the efforts of the leadership to damp down workers’ militancy, then the first condition for workers’ victory is assured. Out of this activity is engendered the workers’ vanguard which leads the way in the workers’ triumphal march into power.

Transcriber’s Footnote

1. The tone of this article is sadly rather sectarian in regard to Reg Groves, the “wrong kind of Trotskyist”.

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