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Henry Judd

World Politics

Struggle Inside Labor Party Impends
over Its Future Program

(13 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 11, 13 March 1950, pp. 4 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The capitulation of the British labor leaders before bourgeois opinion and the more conservative. elements of the British middle class began approximately one year ago, reached a high point during their election campaign and shows every sign of continuing at full speed after the elections. Writing in the Socialist Leader during the campaign, F.A. Ridley explains the fact that the election policy of the labor leadership was “vague and confused: the clear-cut policy of ‘class against class,’ of a socialist versus a capitalist social order, was almost entirely lacking in their utterances.” He also comments on the deliberate policy by which left-wing spokesmen of the party were prevented from speaking over the radio, etc.

The causes and reasons of the electoral setback have, by now, been sufficiently commented upon in the press. To those who may question the fact that it was such a setback and base their questioning upon the continued existence of a Labor government, we can only suggest the drawingiof a contrast between the atmosphere and “climate” generated by this election result and that of 1945. That is the essence of the matter.

In 1945 not only was a clear and unmistakable mandate given to the Labor Party but an atmosphere of enthusiasm and an energetic drive for social reform and a new social order permeated the masses. Today, instead of this, the party of the British bourgeoisie feels it has obtained a new lease on life and Churchill, its reactionary leader, is set to live for another fifty years. World reaction, including our own Republican Party, claim to see the sign of the future.

Their rejoicing is premature. Actually, while socialists must recognize and admit that a defeat has been suffered, it is far from being either a major or decisive one. If is a defeat which the Labor leadership inflicted both upon itself, its own party, and the masses. It was a defeat flowing from false tactics and a narrow-minded, inept strategy which lies in the nature of social-democratic reformism itself. This means, of course, that the initiative and decisive factors in the situation still remain in the hands of the Labor Party and the workers of England, provided there is a drastic change in tactics and strategy. It goes without saying that the labor leadership will not make such a change.

But first, let us summarize the principle tactical lessons of the election:

  1. The substantial increase in the Labor Party’s popular vote indicates that party’s solid and continued support of its class political organization. It is doubtful if ever before in history has any particular working class been so overwhelmingly and solidly behind its political leadership, and so thoroughly prepared to follow that leadership into struggle. All the more unfortunate, of course, that the reformist heads offer such a feeble and misguided lead.
  2. Not any shift among the workers but among the middle-class ranks is responsible for what happened. Here again a clear lesson in tac-tics and strategy is offered. The campaign of the world press to “prove” that the middle class of England voted against socialism, along ideological lines, is false. The conservative strategy of the labor leaders consisted of a refusal to do battle with the Tories along ideological and class lines. Only in the most general sense was this an election of “capitalism” versus “socialism,” since the Labor Party consistently refused to advance its program for the future. This resulted in a vote by the middle class on. the basis of the various annoyances and dissatisfactions it has with Labor policy (rationing, taxes, etc.) rather than on a basic issue since no such issue was presented to them.

Two Roads Ahead

In almost classic form, we see the repeated lesson of social-democratic leadership, or rather lack of such leadership. The middle class, particularly its lower ranks, follow those who lead. A vigorous campaign by Labor, offering its hope and perspective for the future, would have had the same consequences as in 1945—namely, the swinging of large middle-class masses behind that sector of society showing the most vigor and boldness, as well as the clearest perspective. We had the opposite in 1950’s campaign which permitted Churchill and his supporters to assume the role of attacker and aggressor, whereas Attlee and Bevin tried in vain to ward off the blows. If not for the determined, solidarity of the British proletariat, a truly major-disaster might have occurred!

Most important problem of all is, of course: what of .the future? We have emphasized the point that this temporary setback, if properly understood and countered, can result in new events which will quickly, wash away the sting and herald victories.

The 1950 Labor manifesto called for immediate nationalization of sugar, cement, and water facilities, together with industrial insurance. It proposed steps looking toward nationalization of shipbuilding and the chemical industry, as well as an expansion of various social-reform measures already adopted; To discard all this in the face of a temporary setback and in the light of 100 per cent proletarian support would not only be uncalled for and cowardly but, most important of all, an almost sure roid to defeat in any forthcoming electoral battle.

It would mean abandonment of the 1945 mandate given to the British workers and their party to lead English society out of the post-war wilderness, and to reorganize that society. This mandate was not repudiated in the 1950 elections, and the labor leadership has no authority from its masses to turn back and retreat.

Labor Leaders Fear a Struggle

But to expect Attlee and his friends to do anything but retreat would be rather naive. It is true that the Labor Party top bureaucracy has rapidly developed a mentality and psychology by which they have linked up their own particular social and political fate with the new forms of nationalized and state-owned property in England. But it is their hope and object that the creation of a system of nationalized property in England will take place not only peacefully and piecemeal (one industry ajt a time), but bureaucratically and always from above by intervention, guidance and organization of the state.

A nationalization achieved through political and class struggle is not to their taste since such a struggle might create embryonic forms of working class and socialist control of the nationalized industries. Rather, than run such a risk, they will retreat before the Tories, even if this guarantees the loss of Parliament. It seems to us this is the most significant factor in attempting to analyze the future.

Just as it seems safe to predict new elections before ltfhg, it is also safe to predict that a struggle is bound to break out in the Labor Party over such issues. No one can say how far such a struggle will go. It has already begun, as indicated by reports eh the critical attitude of such left-wing leaders as Aneuran Bevan, Michael Foote, etc. These men are reported as desiring to press forward the 1950 Labor manifesto program; an excellent-Starting point for a counter-offensive, it would stem. The top leadership has already indicated its rejection of this.

Will the “lefts” retire in silence, thus lending their part to the general capitulation of their party before the bourgeoisie? We are in no position to know this, for the struggle is only in its opening days. In any case, the British Labor Party is already deeply involved in a new and highly critical phase of its lengthy history. We can only hope for a speedy and successful organization of its left-wing forces, to do battle to those who would capitulate before the decadent and weakened capitalist class of England.

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Last updated: 8 March 2023

Plastrik (Stanley/Judd) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 8 March 2023