Paul Dixon (Denzil Harber)

A Deserter To Reformism

“A Deserter to Reformism”, by Paul Dixon, (Denzil Dean Harber) Marxist Review, July-August, 1950, Vol.1. No.1., pp.5-19, duplicated. (6,492 words). F.W is, I take it, Frank Ward while the J.H. also mentioned must be Jock Haston. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Ted Crawford and Paul Flewers.

We have recently received a copy of a document entitled “The Left and the Labour Government”. Written by one F.W., a man who was once in the Trotskyist movement, this document, despite a few “Marxist” phrases, represents a complete capitulation to reformism on the part of its author. Since the views of F.W., appear to be in all essentials identical with those of a small group of ex-Trotskyists who have recently deserted to reformism in Britain, they demand our critical examination. This is all the more the case since F.W. unlike fellow deserters—has at least had the courage to attempt a written justification of his capitulation.[1]

The writer begins with what we may term the material basis for his abandonment of a revolutionary position. Over the past five years things have not worked out as he expected they would. There has been no mass leftward swing against the Labour Government. So far as left-wingers are concerned, on one hand they see “the extent of parliamentary nationalisation, the maintenance of full employment and the lack of (at rate blatant) McDonaldism”. On the other hand, they feel confusion and resentment raised by the lack of any dramatic change in the day-to-day running of industry after nationalisation, international policy, the lack of any real improvement in living standards and the phlegmatic attitude of the population. As a result left wingers feel the paralysis which, in F.W.’s remarkable formulation “is experienced by a dog in its back legs if pricked simultaneously on each haunch”(!)

Stalinism has been able to secure no serious foothold in the Labour Party, but “the most remarkable feature has been failure of the non-Stalinist Left to make headway in presenting themselves as an alternative grouping”. Their lack of growth lies in “the failure of an over-mechanistic Marxism which in Britain has bedevilled the Left”. In the past predictions have been made regarding “left swings” and “revolutionary upheavals” but “current reality” confutes these. Therefore “a theoretical accounting is an imperative necessity” and “a firm Marxist basis must be substituted for the present confusion”.

To F.W. “four main ideas present themselves for reexamination” These are:

1. “That Parliament could never be the instrument of major social change”

2. “That substantial nationalisation would lead to civil war.”

3. That the old state had to be smashed. If it was not then it would grow constantly as a vicious anti-working class force.

4. That no such system as a “mixed economy” could maintain itself.

F.W. develops his ideas on these four points separately and we shall follow him in this.

Reformism and Social Change .

“It was considered central to revolutionary theory” writes F.W. “that Parliament could never transform society. Only the mass elemental action of the working people could do so. Such action would express itself through workers’ councils or soviets”. But “the conclusions regarding parliament were, nevertheless only generalisations based on the factual, experiences of the past. No more and no less!!” “It had been demonstrated beyond doubt that in periods when society was collapsing the legalistic and democratic principles of social democracy which are substituted as eternal verities in place of Marxism) prevented the taking of the drastic revolutionary steps necessary to sustain the life of the people. It hardly needs to be added that open and sordid place-seeking also played a not unimportant although secondary part”. But today in Britain none of this applies; “what has been new for the past five years and what renders the old generalisation inadequate or at very least marked as due for reconsideration , is that a strong reformist party took power in Britain in a period of relative social stability .” F.W changes everything: “there is nothing in Marxism which excludes the transformation of society by a reformist government while stable conditions remain . The approach of a serious Marxist therefore consists not in a negative ‘showing up’ of the undoubted blunders and omissions of the Government or a placid ‘waiting for our turn’ but in serious and sustained effort to enter into planning the transformation of society primarily through parliamentary action . It is along these lines that the Left should have been orientating itself over the last five years.”

We quote F.W. at some length since many of our readers may not be familiar with his document and we would wish them to get its full flavour. According to F.W. social democracy in the past, in Russia, Germany and elsewhere, failed to transform society merely because of its “legalistic and democratic principles” (“open and sordid place-seeking” also playing a secondary role) which were not applicable in the situations in which it found itself. The social democratic leaders had, by and large the very best intentions, they really wanted to establish socialism, but misled by these unfortunately inapplicable principles, they instead shot down the revolutionary workers and saved capitalism. This, F.W. admits, was “treachery and betrayal” but only from a “historical viewpoint” (!) i.e. it was not deliberate and conscious—purely an unfortunate historical accident! Today, however, as the result this time of a fortunate accident, social democracy has become the Government of Britain “in a period of relative social stability” in which, most fortunately, its legalistic and democratic principles render it capable of carrying out the necessary socialist transformation of society. “There is nothing in Marxism” we quote F.W. again, “which excludes the transformation of society by a reformist government while stable conditions remain.” Had this been written by someone with a background of Reformism and no knowledge of Marxism one could accept it at its face value and attribute it to mere ignorance. With F.W. however it is otherwise—he has known for years the real Marxist attitude towards Reformism and therefore we know that he lies and lies deliberately in the vain attempt to provide a Marxist cover for his own capitulation to this very Reformism.

It is of course the easiest thing in the world to prove this. Since the First World War hardly a Marxist book or document has appeared which has not contained a characterisation of the real role which Reformism plays in capitalist society.

In 1919 there was held the First Congress of the Comintern. It was of course inevitable that this Congress should give its characterisation of the role of Reformism since the very formation of the Comintern was due to the realisation by revolutionary Marxists of the complete bankruptcy and degeneration of the reformist Second International. Its analysis of social democracy was as follows:

“As a result of the general economic development, the bourgeoisie of the richest countries, by means of small donations from its enormous profits, had the possibility of corrupting and seducing the upper strata of the working class, the aristocracy of labour. The petty-bourgeois ‘companions of struggle’ of Socialism made their way into the ranks of the official Social Democratic parties and gradually orientated these parties towards the bourgeoisie. The leaders of the pacific parliamentary movement, the trade union leaders, the secretaries, editors and employees of Social Democracy together came to form a caste of a working-class bureaucracy, with its own egotistic group interests, in reality hostile to Socialism.

“Thanks’ to all these circumstances official Social Democracy degenerated into an anti-socialist and chauvinist party.”

No mention here of “legalistic and democratic principles” but a Marxist analysis of the social basis of Social Democracy and of the inevitable anti-socialist role which flows from this:

How did Lenin regard reformists? Did he perhaps regard them as people who, under favourable conditions, might perhaps “transform society”? Innumerable quotations rise to one’s mind here. One will be sufficient.

In “Left-wing Communism” Lenin describes the Social Democratic leaders as: “nothing more nor less than the ‘agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement’ (as we always express it), or ‘labour lieutenants of the capitalist class’, according to the excellent and highly expressive summary of the followers of Daniel De Leon in America.”

One more quotation, this time from Trotsky, will suffice here. In “The Only Road for Germany” Trotsky wrote as follows of the German reformists—who were no better and no worse than their brothers in other lands:

“The social democracy supports the bourgeois regime, not for the gains of the coal, the steel and the other magnates, but for the sake of those gains which it itself can obtain as a party, in the person of its numerically great and powerful apparatus. To be sure, Fascism in no way threatens the bourgeois regime, for the defence of which the social-democracy exists . (Our emphasis.) But Fascism endangers that role which the social democracy fulfils in the bourgeois regime and the income which the social democracy derives from this role it plays. It is then these people whom all Marxists have agreed in characterising as “the labour lieutenants of the capital class”, and as existing “for the defence of the bourgeois regime”, it is these people, the social democrats who, according to F.W. are capable in Britain today of “bringing about, the transformation to Socialism!” And, so he claims, “there is nothing in Marxism which excludes” this!!

Let us point out once again that these characterisations of Reformism by all Marxists are not just mere abuse resulting from the treacherous role played by Reformism in the past. They are the result of the Marxist analysis of the social basis of Reformism from which flows the treacherous role which Reformism has not only played in the past but must always play . F.W. would be entitled to attempt to prove that today this social basis and therefore this role have changed but he is well aware that it would be quite impossible to do this and he therefore makes no such attempt. Instead, as we have said above, he is reduced to writing deliberate falsehoods regarding the Marxist attitude towards Reformism.

Nationalisation and Civil War

How is it asks F.W., that the nationalisations which the Labour Government, has carried out have not led to civil war? Was it not anticipated that such be the case? And he goes on to explain to us that, so far as the Tory Party is concerned, “the balance of class forces renders it impotent to attempt a civil war.” He might, at same time have explained to us why it is that this same Tory Party has declared that should it return to office it does not intend to repeal any of the nationalisation measures passed by the Labour Government—steel nationalisation (not yet in operation anyway) excepted. But such an explanation would have led him inexorably towards a position which he rejects out of hand—that, after al1, the Labour Government has made no serious inroads into capitalist society.

It is true that in “Where is Britain Going?” Trotsky stated that “if a real Labour Government, came to power in Britain even in the most ultra-democratic manner, a civil war would be revealed as inevitable.” The emphasis here is of course on the word “real” and Trotsky goes on to define such a government as one “utterly devoted to the interests of the proletariat”. F.W. may think that we in fact have such a government in Britain today but we question whether even he would have the audacity to claim that Trotsky would have agreed with him.

The Tory Party and the British bourgeoisie which it represents have shown not the least desire for civil strife since the advent of the Labour Government,—this is true. In fact their attitude towards this Government has fundamentally been no different from their attitude towards Liberal Governments towards which they have been in opposition in the past. British Capitalism has, in fact, not the least need. at this stage, for organising, or for wishing to organise civil war, since the Government in office is composed of its own labour lieutenants who are not only carrying out a policy in its interests but are even, in some respects, carrying it out better than the Tory Party could have done in the present circumstances.

The facts are these. British Imperialism, as the result of two world wars and the loss of its former world position, has, as F.W. rightly points out, declined. Some of the great industries which in the past were the most prosperous and profitable have become not only unprofitable to run but need huge investments, with no prospect of return to the capitalist investor, in order to be modernised. But such industries, e.g. Coal and Railways, have to be brought up to date if British capitalist economy as a whole is to have any chance of competing on the world market—that is to say of continuing to exist. Only the State—the Capitalist State let is be emphasised—can attempt to solve the problem by nationalising these industries, paying generous compensation to their former owners at the expense of the working class, and then modernising them out of taxation—i.e. in the last analysis also at the expense of the workers. That is why it has been repeatedly stated in the more outspoken sections of the capitalist press, such as the “Observer” that very few Tories were really opposed to the nationalisation of Coal and Railways. But the capitalist class itself is not unanimous on the subject of the extent to which such nationalisations should go. The only other significant nationalisation which the Labour Government has put through (though not yet effectively) is that of steel. Considerable sections of capitalist opinion (though by no means all) are opposed to this and it is of interest to note that this opposition was reflected inside the Labour Government itself. But even here one sees not the least sign of such opposition assuming the form of even a wish for civil war!

In carrying out its nationalisation measures the Labour Government has not only thus performed an essential service for British capitalism but at the same time has been able to hold in check temporarily the rising class aspirations of the British workers by representing such measure as the beginnings of Socialism. It is ironical that at the very time when the advanced workers are increasingly realising that they have been deceived in this connection F.W. should go over to the camp of those who have been deceiving them.

One mistake that the revolutionary left must be admitted. It did not believe that the Labour Government would fulfil its promises of nationalisations because it failed to realise that under the given circumstances such nationalisations actually coincided with the interests of British capitalism, and that therefore the Reformists were fully capable of carrying them out.

A final point may be made here. F.W. states that the British capitalists do not effectively oppose the nationalisations since they are suffering from “disintegration and demoralisation”. Does he perhaps claim that the capitalists of the U.S.A. are similarly suffering? How comes it that American capitalism has given such immense material aid to the British labour Government if it is in fact “transforming society” here? The very “period of relative social stability” in Britain of which F.W. writes is in fact, primarily due to this American assistance.

The Necessity for Smashing the Capitalist State Machine

“What” asks F.W., “of the old State, the armed bodies of men which experience has emphasised as the consistent enemy of the working class?” A remarkable thing has happened here it appears: “Today” announces F.W. “the state is no longer the completely reliable ally of the ruling class.” one must note here before going further that F.W. apparently still considers the British bourgeoisie to be the ruling class in Britain. What does it rule through, F.W. if not the Labour Government, the government which according to you is bringing about the transformation to Socialism?

Why is the state no longer a completely reliable ally of the ruling class? F.W. gives us three reasons. In the first place “the change of ideas” in the country has drawn into its orbit considerable sections of the lower and upper middle class from which the state machine is recruited, Secondly, and this is really remarkable, “Nationalisation also has created a fresh layer of officials and middle class careerists whose self-interest is tied increasingly to the extension of state ownership. This minor but growing grouping is thus torn from its traditional allegiance to the bourgeoisie” (our emphasis!). Thirdly: “Such social elements who comprise much of the state personnel have not since 1945 been drawn into any sharp social conflict with the working class and thereby retrained in the necessary vicious anti-working class sentiments”.

One can hardly say today, after the result of the 1950 General Election, that considerable sections of the lower and upper middle class still support the Labour Party. In any case a real Labour Government could hardly rely upon the support of any section of the upper middle class. But even if the British Civil Service, Police Force, Army and Law Courts were permeated with Labour supporters, it would be impossible for a real Labour Government, “utterly devoted to the interests of the proletariat” to use these bodies for its purposes. No doubt many individuals employed in the British capitalist state machine could be used in a workers’ state machine. But the capitalist state machine itself, with all its key positions in the hands of trained capitalist supporters and with its whole structure designed solely for the support and maintenance of capitalism, would have first to be smashed and a workers’ state machine constructed. Few capitalist state institutions could ever contain within themselves more supporters of the new, workers’ regime than the Russian Army did in 1917. Units of that Army took part in the struggle for power on the side of the Bolsheviks. Yet, once power had been won, that Army had to be completely destroyed and a new, Red Army built in its place. The capitalist state apparatus is a machine designed for a particular object—the maintenance of capitalist rule and the suppression of the working class. The workers need a state machine with precisely the opposite objectives—the maintenance of its rule and the suppression of the capitalist class. The same machine cannot be used for both purposes.

The argument that, “official and middle class careerists” (!) ) employed in the nationalised industries can or ever could represent an anti-capitalist force would be comical did it not come from a former supporter of our movement. On this basis the Post Office must for years have been a nest of anti-capitalist elements ! And the ex-coal-owner who gets a lucrative job on the Coal Board at once becomes a confirmed anti-capitalist. (Perhaps this accounts for his disinclination to wage civil war against the nationalisation of the Coal Industry!”

F.W. claims that, since 1945, the state personnel has not “been drawn into any sharp conflict with the working class”. We seem to recall the use of troops to replace the labour of striking dockers and that of police against workers’ anti-fascist meetings and demonstrations; nor did it seem that these instruments of state oppression functioned any less readily than formerly on these occasions.

According to F.W. “To argue that the repressive anti-working class nature of the state has been magnified during the last period is only an example of old ideas dying hard.” F.W. of course, is an expert on old ideas and the hardness of their dying. That is evident from the way he trots out, one after the other, all the old Fabian reformist ideas. It must be pointed out that a growth in the repressive powers of the capitalist state machine does not necessarily coincide with their immediate utilisation against the workers in the form of direct conflict. Since the recent war, for instance, there has been no conflict in Britain in any way comparable with that of the 1926 General Strike. But that is not to say that the capitalist state machine is not stronger than it was in 1926. In fact since 1945 such a tendency towards strengthening the capitalist state machine in Britain has continued to exist and it has continued to operate against the workers, with the support of the workers’ own “leaders” who have become increasingly bound up in this same capitalist state machine. We need only refer here to the wage-freeze and the growth of compulsory arbitration. Why otherwise is it that nearly every strike today is “illegal?” The full effects of this strengthening of the repressive powers of the capitalist state will only become apparent in the period of direct working-class struggle which lies ahead.

In his conclusion on this subject F.W. states “there is nothing in Marxism which states that disintegration of the ‘bureaucratic military machine’ must take the same spectacular form as Russia in 1917”. Once again he consciously and deliberately lies here. The precise forms of the smashing of the capitalist state machine will, of course, vary from country to country. But for years all Marxists have agreed that the essence of what happened in Russia, the smashing of the capitalist state machine , constitutes an inevitable and essential part of the victory of the working class in every country.

As long ago as April 1871, at the time of the Paris Commune, Marx wrote to Kugelman: If you look in the last chapter of my “Eighteenth Brumaire” you will see that I state that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be not to take over the bureaucratic military machine as had been the case up to then but to break it and precisely this is the first condition for every real popular movement on the Continent. Precisely in this consists the attempt of our heroic Parisian comrades.” In commenting on this passage, Lenin, before the Russian Revolution of November 1917, pointed out that Marx limited this process of breaking the state machine to the Continent since at that time in Britain and the U.S.A. this machine had not yet assumed the same character as in the European countries. He adds, however, that since then similar bureaucratic military machines had arisen in. Britain and the U.S.A. also and that these also could only be dealt with in the same way. (“State and Revolution”) Since 1917, the British state machine has, of course, grown even more bureaucratic and more military in character.

A “Mixed Economy”

According to F.W. we have in Britain today “a mixed economy”. Apparently by this he means an economy composed of a mixture of capitalism and Socialism. It was believed, he writes “that no such system as a mixed economy could maintain itself”. Actually, of course, Marxists know that under the appropriate conditions such an economy can exist for a time. When the workers have attained state power it is possible and often necessary for them to allow considerable elements of capitalism to exist for a time in the economy" The prerequisites for such a state of affairs are state power in the hands of the workers and the use of this power to build up the state sector of industry for the eventual elimination of the privately owned sector. This is in fact what happened in the Soviet Union during the New Economic Policy.

But in Britain today not only does state power remain in the hands of the capitalists (as F.W. himself has to admit when he writes of them as “the ruling class”) but the state sector of industry, as the Labour leaders themselves proclaim, is being used precisely for the benefit of the privately owned sector: an exactly opposite state of affairs.

For F.W. however, the Labour Government has already gone a long way towards establishing Socialism in Britain. “The Labour Government” he writes “are … close to the transformation of the economic laws of society”. Capital accumulation is increasingly, so he claims, under the control of the state, the “private sector” is under state control also; in fact the contradictions of capitalism are ceasing to exist before our eyes. We, of course, are unaware of it, “hampered” as we are “by the dead weight of an anti-marxist dogma.”

We have already dealt above with the reasons why in contemporary Britain the nationalisation of certain industries by the capitalist state has been necessary in the interests of the capitalists themselves. This is in fact no new thing. In Germany immediately after the First World War the capitalist state took over the Aluminium Industry since the development of this industry was essential for the whole German capitalist economy and since private capitalist investors would not risk investing in it. Likewise in pre-war Poland the greater part of industry and almost the whole of heavy industry was in the hands of the capitalist state since private capitalist investors could not find the funds necessary for their development. Going back further still, in a number of capitalist states the railways had to be built and run by the state.

The same thing applies to other measures which the Labour Government has taken regarding import and export control, control of investment etc. They have been in existence in many capitalist states and in fact are bound to exist to an even greater extent in the future, pending the proletarian revolution. The whole tendency of modern capitalism as has been repeatedly pointed out by Marxists, lies in this direction. Capitalism is in fact forced to make attempts to overcome its own anarchy of production if it is to continue to survive under modern conditions. The first attempts in this direction are represented by the organisation of cartels and trusts; later the direct intervention of the state become increasingly necessary, it is particularly the case in time of war but though the return to peacetime conditions usually brings a certain relaxation of state control it does not halt the general tendency. The most complete attempts of state control were made in Hitler’s Germany which went further in this direction that the Labour government had done.

Even so far as surmounting the anarchy of capitalist production at home is concerned, such state control can only have a limited effect. And on the decisive world market this anarchy is inevitably intensified since state control is needed by the capitalist, precisely in order to render the national industries better able to compete on this world market. Naturally the whole process of state control over industry remains in the hands of the capitalist class and its representatives, e.g. in Britain the management of the nationalised industries remains in the hands of much the same people who ran them previously—plus a number of labour lieutenants of capitalism who have thus been rewarded for services rendered with jobs at several thousands a year. In such a state-controlled economy the profit motive—the fundamental cause of capitalist crises—naturally remains untouched. In fact the control itself exists solely for the maintenance and the increase of profits.

Thus when F.W. gives us his ideas as to how an isolated planned socialist economy would function and implies that much of this already applies to Britain today he is “merely” mistaking capitalism for socialism! He sees things as the exact opposite of what they really are. Thus he is much impressed by the fact that a big percentage of capital investment in Britain is taking place “within the confines of state industry”. To him this is a step towards the socialist planned economy whereas it is merely the natural consequence of the modernisation of the out-of-date nationalised industries by the capitalist state in order to render British capitalist industry as a whole more able to compete on the world market. Amazingly enough, to him the fundamental feature in the “transformation of the economic laws of society” which the Labour Government is allegedly approaching lies in the fact that foreign goods cannot today effectively interfere with British production by “undercutting on the home market”(!) In this he appears to discern some profound socialist measure, a step towards the monopoly of foreign trade of a workers’ state! Since the very inception of capitalism, capitalist states have endeavoured to protect their home markets from “interference” by foreign goods in one way or another. In the past the means used has been mainly protective tariffs; today the tendency is to employ the yet more effective means of direct state control of imports and exports. Nazi Germany perforce led the way here also. Far from averting or softening world crises or their effects on the national economy such measures must of course, in the last analysis, only serve to intensify them.

The Reasons for F.W.’s capitulation to Reformism

We have now followed F.W. through the arguments by means of which he attempts to justify his capitulation to Reformism. None of them are in any way new and he must have answered all of them himself many times during the period when he was a Marxist. It remains to say something further about the reasons for this capitulation. As we have said earlier the basic reason appears to be the fact that events have moved more slowly than he (and we) had anticipated. But if this is a reason for pessimism and for desertion to Reformism then F.W. and those like him should never have joined the revolutionary movement in the first place. Were they not aware that over a hundred years ago , Marx and Engels, the founders of our movement, had regarded the proletarian revolution in Europe as imminent? They proved incorrect as we and others have proved incorrect, not because the basic analysis was wrong but because, while the science of Marxism enables us to understand the necessary course of development of capitalist society, it cannot, determine the precise tempo of this development. Such exactitude is not at the disposal of the social sciences.

As Lenin wrote in “Left--wing Communism” “parliamentarism is historically worn-out,” in a world-historical sense; that is to say, the epoch of bourgeois parliaments has come to an end , the epoch of Proletarian Revolution has begun . This is incontestably true. But the scale of the world’s history is not reckoned by decades. Ten or twenty years sooner or later—this from the point of view of world-historic scale—makes no difference; from the point of view of world history, it is a trifle, which cannot be even approximately reckoned.”

This is not of course to say that Marxists cannot make prognoses as to the tempo of developments. They have to make such prognoses and to act on them. But, as Trotsky repeatedly pointed out, every such prognosis contains an element of uncertainty and events may in fact take a course difference from that which we expected. It is then necessary to analyse the situation anew and construct fresh prognoses. Many times in the past, this has happened. Again and again the tempo of development has proved to be other than was expected, but, and this is the decisive point, the development itself has continued to justify the Marxist analysis of the growing crisis of capitalism which can only be solved by the world proletarian revolution. All attempts, such as that made by F.W. to find some other way out, e.g. by reliance upon Reformism, have not only failed utterly but have and must result only in helping to prolong the crisis of capitalism and of humanity and to retard its revolutionary solution.

The road towards the proletarian revolution is a long and difficult one. Only a thorough grasp of Marxist theory can enable revolutionaries to overcome all the difficulties and endure all the reverses which inevitably arise. It is obvious that F.W. did not really have this thorough understanding of Marxism even when he was still with us. Mere lip-service to Marxism is of little avail in time of difficulty, as his evaluation abundantly shows.

F.W. and the Left Wing

It is a fortunate, though inevitable, feature of the desertion of our movement by renegades that the very alternatives which they offer must of necessity be such as to help to attach yet more firmly to the movement both newcomers and those who remain.

Let us examine, for instance, the policy which F.W. is offering to left wingers in the Labour Party. He starts by stating, quite falsely, that the non-Stalinist left have failed “to make headway in presenting themselves as an alternative grouping”. We would claim, on the contrary, that the revolutionary Marxist left in the Labour Party is today better organised and making more headway than it has ever done. Nor are the prospects immediately facing them such as F.W. has described. F.W. himself has chosen to desert the movement for Reformism just at the time when thinking labour workers are beg inning to realise, however unclearly at first, its real character. It is now obvious for instance that even had the Labour Leaders been returned with a substantial majority at the last election the days of significant nationalisations by them would still have been over. As it is, it seems from their recent speeches that the very prospect of further nationalisations is now openly abandoned by them. (So much, incidentally, for F.W.’s “transformation of society!”)

Let us, however, for the sake of argument, grant him his premises; let us suppose with him that there is no centre in the Labour Party for left-wingers to gravitate towards. What is he offering them? In point of fact nothing not already offered them by various reformist groupings of intellectuals, such as “Keep Left”, plus a little Marxist phraseology. Very little, actually, which would not be acceptable to Transport House itself. Indeed, the lack of criticism of the Labour Government in his document is really remarkable. He mentions, in passing, that it has committed “unadoubted blunders and omissions” once even goes so far as to admit that it has a “tendency” and even a strong one, to “yield to the demands of the capitalist class”—though why it should have this “tendency” he fails to explain. However, it does not appear that this, admittedly rather deplorable “tendency” is of any real importance since, we are told, it has already “been more than held in check by the massed weight of the working class”.

It would seem then that there is very 1ittle that left-wingers can do, according to F .W., that is not already being done quite effectively by the Labour Government. Why, in point of fact, a left wing at all, if the Labour Government is doing the job? However, there are a few prospects of activity which F.W. holds out to them. They must, it seems, make “a serious and sustained effort to enter into planning the transformation of society primarily through parliamentary action” (Emphasis F.W.’s). Once again, in view of his general attitude this seems a little superfluous, though perhaps he is merely indirectly advising left-wingers to hasten to make careers for themselves as M.P.s! But it appears that there are still some things for the Left to discuss: questions concerning “the speed and priorities to be established, particularly over the forms of administration and semi-technical questions”. But not on any account must the Left concern itself with any “general mouthings” about the nationalisation of all the basic means of production and distribution and their operation under workers’ control. Why, exclaims F.W. such things as that are not even “in a form capable to taking parliamentary shape!”

It almost seems as though F.W. himself half realises that he has nothing to offer the left wing. For towards the end of his document he returns to the subject and assures his readers that he really offers them “ample scope for a real rallying of the forces of the Left” through support of “consolidation, democratisation and internationalism”. These broad conceptions are dealt with in a few vague phrases and that is all. In point of fact by the end of his document it is obvious not only that F.W. has nothing to offer the left wing but that he is not even a left winger in any sense himself. His conversion to Reformism has been so complete that he is not even a “left” reformist. The few “leftish” phrases in his statement are a very thin smoke-screen. Having had a left political past he apparently feels the need to attempt to justify his capitulation to former associates, and perhaps even to himself. But this is the extent of his connection with any real left movement.

One final point remains to be touched upon. F.W. appears to wish us to believe that, had the left wing in Britain pursued over the past five years the policy he now claims to offer them, they might have had “the opportunity of transforming not only the British but the world political scene”. Why and how this could have happened we are not told. However what is particularly interesting is that F.W. apparently foresees two possible and mutually exclusive perspectives for the future. On the one hand Labour may remain in office. In this case he stands for the reformist policy of his document. But, on the other hand, “a return of the Tories or a world slump” may “open up for the working class movement, a return to the more classical, direction action form of struggle”. Thus, according to F. W., the existence of a parliamentary majority of a dozen or so one way or the other will determine whether socialism will be established in Britain by parliamentary means or by means of the proletarian revolution.

This is, of course, not only parliamentary cretinism of the crassest sort but it also represents a dualism in F.W’s political outlook which presumably exists only as a relic of his past and which cannot be lasting. All his remarks go to show that he no longer has any taste for what, he terms “the more classical direct action form of struggle!” He finds such things as “the transformation of the content of education at school and in adult life” (under capitalism!) and the parliamentary sphere so much more congenial D Should in fact a Tory Government be returned we can expect to hear no more from F.W. of such things as direct action but to find him quietly confining himself to the advocacy of parliament action upon traditional lines—traditional, that is, to Reformism.

[1] Since the authors of this article wrote it another of the deserters — J.H.—has also produced a document. The document of J.H. is miserable enough in its content, with its thesis that reformism can do the job. The thesis is served complete with escape-clause that the revolutionary development cannot excluded. What is all the more miserable however, is that while it is evident, that the conclusions of J.H. are identical those of W., he does not have the courage to bring them so sharply before his ex-comrades. The statement of J.H. will be dealt with elsewhere. (Ed.)

Last updated: 25 March 2009