From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 3, November 1954.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Hugh Gaitskell, widely acclaimed by the press as “the heir to Attlee and Morrison” since he was elected Labour Party treasurer at Scarborough, has shown during the last few weeks that he aims top push party policy even further to the right than it is at present. It is obvious that he intends to use the immense influence he has gained by coming third in the hierarchy to strip the Labour Party of the last remaining vestiges of its Socialist tradition.
Within a few days of the end of conference he had written an article for the Sunday Pictorial. Gaitskell thereby showed that while National Executive Committee members would witch-hunt anyone who had the audacity to write for a struggling socialist weekly like Socialist Outlook, they were not averse to party leaders such as Gaitskell getting a three-figure salary for writing an article for the capitalist press.
The fact that he chose the Sunday Pictorial for his literary effusions was particularly significant. For on the Sunday prior to the conference the Pictorial had gone out of its way to slander Labour Party members. In a big, front-page splash, headed Dangerous Voices, it had solemnly warned its readers that “at least twenty speeches will be heard” at Scarborough “which will have been written deliberately by Communist party members… sympathisers and supporters.”
Now why should an eminent labour leader like Gaitskell condescend to write in a capitalist paper, particularly when it attacks his fellow party members in such a despicable fashion? To smear one’s political opponents as the Sunday Pictorial did, is a typical Tory tactic. The Tories frequently trot “the smear” out at election times. It helps to conceal their own political bankruptcy and incapacity to put forward a convincing case for the continuation of the present class system and against the introduction of Socialism. It also is an endeavour to intimidate electors and bamboozle them into voting Tory. “Beware,” they shout, “The Labour Party are a bunch of disguised revolutionaries, who receive directions from a Russian, Zinoviev. They’re extremists out to pinch your post office savings, and to set up a Gestapo under the control of a sinister character called Laski.” All these are good lies – and good election propaganda. For their success they depend upon the eager co-operation of the capitalist press.
Yet the Labour leaders are quite prepared to write in these Tory journals of ill-repute, to use their columns to attack members of their own party, and in particular Aneurin Bevan. It would appear as if they fear the left-wing of their own Party more than they fear the Tories. Is it that they have more in common with the Tories than they have with the beanies?
Let Gaitskell answer: “I doubt if foreign policy will play a big part in the next election – not because it is unimportant, but because Mr Eden has, in fact, most carried out our policy as developed by Ernest Bevin.” (Sunday Pictorial, 2-10-54) In other words, gaits keel admits that the right wing foreign policy is identical to that of the Tories.
What about home policy? Here that organ of big business and high finance, The Economist (29-5-54) explains:
“The transformation of the Labour Party into a conservative party is already far advanced…. In their hearts the Labour leaders now recognise that the redistribution of the national income in favour of the working class has gone as far (though they dare not admit further than) is consistent with normal economic incentives; their basic instinct in this field is now the very conservative one of defending the status quo. As for Labour’s belief in public ownership, that has now degenerated into a desperate and equally conservative search for industries in which they feel that nationalisation should not make very much difference; probably the only industry that will be brought under public ownership in Labour’s next tenure of office is water, which is not likely to scare even Bournemouth very much.”
Home policy the same, foreign policy the same. The most influential capitalist journal agrees that they agree, Gaitskell agrees that they agree – and we agree that they agree! Of course, there must be a display of shadow boxing with some skilful pulling of punches. Otherwise the spectators are liable to get discontented with the party system. But this sort of sham fighting is successfully carried out in America by the Republican and Democratic parties, both of which accept the fundamental principles of capitalism. Why should not the Labour and Tory Parties do the same sort of thing in this country?
This is the am of gaits ell, to make the Labour Party a poor man’s Tory Party. But if it is to defend capitalism, then it must employ traditional capitalist methods. The party boss, like the factory boss, must adopt an attitude of disdainful superiority to “his” workers. Therefore, it is not surprising that Gaitskell has contemptuously referred to the Labour rank-and-file as “the mob.” He even told an audience at Stalybridge soon after the Morecombe conference that “at least a sixth of the delegates were Communist or Communist inspired.”
The most generous interpretation of this obviously absurd accusation is that gaits ell suffers from mental delusions, and that the whole thing should be left as a private matter of concern only to himself and his psychiatrist. However, he has recently made an important pronouncement on the tactics that he considers should be adopted towards “Communists” so the fact that he considers the Labour Party to be riddled with them assumes a new and sinister significance.
For, in an interview with the Ceylon Daily News (12-3-54), he was asked what action he thought should be adopted if the Communist Party looked like coming to power through the ballot box. Gaitskell replied, “the democratic parties are entitled to stop it by suppressing the Communist Party. Democracy can only work if parties observe what are called the ‘rules of the game’.”
We wonder how many socialists regard the stern struggle against capitalist exploitation and war as some sort of “game,” and what the peoples of Kenya and British Guiana think of the “rules” by which it is played. However, be that as it may, this statement of gaits ell’s in the Daily News raises some important questions:
- As he is in favour of suppressing the Communist Party if it looks like coming to power through the ballot box, is he for suppressing the sixth of the Labour Party, which he considers is “Communist or Communist inspired,” if it gains in numbers and influence and looks like ousting the present right wing leadership? Gaits ell & Co. seem as if they have already answered this question with their recent witch-hunt and suppression of Socialist Outlook. These are desperate attempts to stifle growing discontent from within the ranks in a tyrannical and most undemocratic fashion.
- Assuming Transport House is unsuccessful in its attempts at thought-control and the right wing are replaced by a leadership of people Gaitskell dubs as “Communist” , would Gaitskell be for suppressing the labour Party if it looked like coming to power through the ballot box?
- How can Gaitskell support the resolution on German rearmament passed at Scarborough? It calls for “free elections” In Germany, and Gaitskell is not for “free elections” since he calls for the suppression of the Communist party if it looks like coming to power through the ballot box.
These questions show how far gaits ell, along with many other prominent Labour leaders, has strayed from the principles of democratic socialism. As John Freeman has correctly said,
“the position of socialists is based on the double appreciation that the present boom is insecure and largely fortuitous and that the contradictions of capitalism are too great to be reconciled by Keynesian adjustments of the private profit. If that appreciation is wrong – if capitalism does work in the modern world – our raison d’etre is gone, and we had better surrender as gracefully as we can to the Butskells.” (The New Statesman, 9-10-54)
But events are rapidly proving us right. The growing hardship caused by rising prices, the continual fear and insecurity of losing one’s job in a slump and life in a war inevitably arouses mounting opposition to capitalism. It has produced an instinctive and elemental urge – not simply in Britain but throughout the world – for the reconstruction of society on a socialist basis.
But the Labour leadership defends the old order, capitalism. It seeks to impede the coming of the new. Since the arguments in favour of capitalism are as old and unworkable as the economic system itself, more and more Transport House is forced to curtail democracy, to clamp down on the left wing. Our reply must be to fight to preserve existing Party democracy and seek to expand it so that all genuinely held differences of opinion within the Party find expression. Under such conditions the victory of socialist ideas is assured: the right wing will wilt and disintegrate when they feel the full impact of the rank and file discontent with capitalism and their clamour for a socialist policy.
1. Gaitskell’s definition of a “Communist” would seem to include practically everybody who is alive, has two legs, and does not entirely believe in Butler’s economic policies.
Last updated: 18 February 2017