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Henry Judd

How Great the Tory Victory?

Considerations on the Effects of the British Elections

(1 November 1951)

From The New International, Vol. XVII No. 6, November–December 1951, pp. 324–328.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We know what to expect when the Tories return to power – a great Party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation; corruption at home, aggression to cover it up abroad; the trickery of tariff juggles; the tyranny of a well-fed party machine; sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism and imperialism by the imperial pint; an open hand at the public exchequer; an open door at the public house; dear food for the millions; cheap labor for the millionaire” – Winston Churchill, Speaking at Dundee, 1908

The third British General Election since the end of the war now belongs to history, and the Tory Government of Churchill has taken the place of the Labor Government of Attlee. Despite the encouraging political results of this election from the standpoint of the labor movement, and which we shall analyze below, the fact remains remains that the entire world labor movement in general and the British working class in particular have been handed a defeat by their enemy, particularly when viewed from the standpoint of social progress. The very fact that Winston Churchill, symbol of all that is reactionary and undesirable not only in England but in terms of the social outlook of the international bourgeoisie – the fact that this man and his “cabinet of Lords” has taken the place of the representatives of labor is enough to cause a profound sense of loss on the part of socialists everywhere, whatever may have been their differences with Attlee and his comrades.

For a socialist, the Labour Party and its leadership; the hundreds of thousands of militants and the millions of voters who constitute its strength – all this is “his”; part of his world, and part of his family of labor, whereas Toryism and its reactionary spokesmen form no part whatever of his reality, and are excluded from his vision except as a hostile and irreconcilable element. Our Labour Government – and it was “ours,” in the most profound sense of the word – has temporarily gone out of existence, and the most far-reaching historic effort toward the democratic building of a socialist society since the days of the Russian Revolution has ended.

We may say, particularly in the light of the paradoxical nature of this defeat, that it has ended “only for the moment,” and this optimistic thought is based upon reality, not upon the need for consolation. But nevertheless, there is a real danger that the evermore rapidly disintegrating international situation may impose its ultimate horror of atomic warfare upon us before labor can resume power and take up again the work of building a socialist Britain; there is the even more concrete and pressing danger that the eager, would-be-liquidators of all the social achievements of the six and one-half years of Labour’s regime may succeed in doing much damage before they are again put back into their proper place. Nor should we neglect the loss contained in the warning of Attlee when he spoke of the danger to world peace which labor’s absence at the various international gatherings and from international organisms would constitute. Despite its tragically mistaken policies in Iran, Egypt and elsewhere, the voice of the Labour Government had a different ring and a different sensitivity to the desires of the masses than that of its successor.

It is against this background of a realistic appraisal of what we have lost, without attempting to minimize it, that we must analyze the political significance of the election itself and the political perspective of the Labour Party.


Not the slightest grounds for pessimism or dejection on the part of the labor and socialist movement exists as a consequence of the defeat of Britain’s Labor Government on October 25, 1951. On the contrary, an objective effort to evaluate this defeat and its consequences must convince us that Britain’s socialist movement, now on the threshold of a new and more evolved stage of its history, has all the possibilities of a bright future. The Churchill “victory,” pumped up and decorated though it may be, could never be interpreted as the dynamic and serious upswing of British Toryism; it is but a temporary return to the holding of a state power which it can no longer effectively utilize. The situation of Great Britain in the world of today, i.e., a disastrous conjuncture of economic and political difficulties, is a given fact which would exist whether Labor or the Tories were returned to power. But their resolution represents another story, and we know that the Tory Party either cannot handle these problems, or will handle them in such a way as to revive social problems which the regime of Labor had mitigated, thus heaping a new category of difficulties upon those already present.

The Manchester Guardian summarizes the most pressing issues before the new government in these terms:

We have a winter of cold grates and power cuts before us. Nothing can be done quickly enough to remove that threat. But something can be done and must be done about the steady rise in prices and wages and, above all, about the enormous gap in the balance of payments. [1]

The gold reserve is running down fast and may drop to the danger line by next spring. We are running up debts to the sterling area and debts to Western Europe. Our currency is once more being regarded with nervous suspicion.

Such are the terse facts of the situation which, of course, the Tories claim to have inherited from the Welfare State. If Churchill seriously intends to pursue his rearmament pledges, the overall situation will be that much more aggravated since this demands increased import of materials in short supply on the world market; materials which will not be utilized in the manufacture of goods for the export trade. The forging of weapons of war is shown only on the adverse side of the balance-of-trade ledger. Economically speaking, the “normal” Conservative reaction to its present plight would be the institution of a program of enforced “disinflation” (devaluation), to sop up mass purchasing power – concretely, the liquidation of food subsidies, cuts in social security and welfare expenditures, drastic taxation on the small and middle-class brackets, etc. The classic methods, with all their consequences, are always at hand. There is also the possibility of recourse to the United States, at a price, for a renewed loan; a step which may well have been taken by the time this article appears. But the price, this time, will be the condition that the loan or its benefits will directly boost the rearmament program and its links with the NATO command.

The dilemmas of the new Tory Government will grow inversely as it begins to weaken. Nor should we neglect the fact that the Party itself has its divisions. The “Young Guard” has a different approach than that of Churchill and his Guard of Old Tories. In fact, this Tory Party division will largely determine both the speed and manner of program which the government will impose upon the people of England. It is an important, often neglected, element in the situation. The famous description at the head of our article given by the then Liberal Party member, Winston Churchill, represents Toryism at its classic worst, and still accurately describes the party’s right-wing, or the “Government of Lords,” as Morrison has described it.

Much has been made of the fact that Great Britain is now a nation equally divided. Labor, with its 14 million votes, received over 200,000 more than the Government Party; the Liberals voluntarily liquidated themselves and did not attain a million votes; the small groups such as the ILP which, to its everlasting shame, ran candidates even against Bevan supporters, disappeared politically. But this phenomenon is not unprecedented in England’s history – on the contrary, it has been present at the start of every great revolutionary change in the nation’s long history: the War of the Roses, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Whigs and Tories, Gladstonians and Disraelians, etc. Who doubts but that Great Britain has reached another, perhaps the most epoch, crossroads in its history, and that the 14 million workers, farm laborers, youth and middle class people who gave Labor the greatest vote in its history will find the strength and leadership to break out of this impasse which now blocks their way?

On the parliamentary level, the shift in votes of 1 per cent of the liberal petty bourgeoisie may have been enough to turn out Labor and install a Churchill, but the insignificant social weight of this group tells us this was a unique, almost accidental, situation and it will not be repeated when the country must resolve its division in a more stable lasting and fundamental fashion. A cursory examination of any electoral map of Great Britain reveals the unbridgeable social character of this division between the “Greenland” of the rural, farming, estate, etc., districts, and the “Blackland” of the urban, industrial, proletarian and lower middle-class districts. An observer has wittily said, “To reach the centers of Tory power, just step on the accelerator!”

An evaluation of Britain’s Labor Government has already been presented in some detail [2], and a still more exhaustive study of its achievements and its failures must now be made. But whatever “overall” viewpoint one may hold of the Welfare State, who can now deny its profoundly progressive nature as it prepares to meet the onslaught of the Tories in power? Its powers of resistance to the efforts that will be made to sap its structure and change the inner content of such measures of the nationalizations, the health system, etc., will provide further evidence of its support from the British working class. The Tory government will quickly prove itself a class government in the narrowest sense of the word. Beginning with denationalization of the steel industry, it will proceed to carry out its program of negation and destruction of Labor’s six and one half years of work as best it can. Failure or success depends on the capacity of the British labor movement to resist and fight back. Put otherwise, it depends upon the evolution within the Labor Party and within the trade union movement (TUC).

The emergence and success of the Bevanist tendency within the Labor Party has often been commented upon. It is the result of a complex of forces which involve the Party’s perspective itself; Bevanism is, in effect, only the start of a gigantic effort on the part of British socialism to reequip itself, ideologically and politically, to break that impasse whose characteristic existence we have already noted. It can only be understood if one approaches it sympathetically, free from sterile prejudices which try to find the roots of Bevanism either in a kind of British particularity or traditional “reformism.” The broad left- wing of the Labor Party contains many currents of thought and action, ranging from pacifism, Christian Socialism, etc., through versions of Stalinism and Stalinism itself.

Bevanism is not only the generalized expression of all doubts and discontents which developed within the Party during its years in power; it is also the place within the Party to which these many currents have come to present their views and to fight for influence. Furthermore, it is here that new concepts of the Party which will influence not only its ideology but its structure itself, as well as touching upon that most delicate of all questions – the relationship between Party and trade unions – will be formulated, discussed, presented, etc. The most conscious and far-seeing individuals in the Party are centered about this vast tendency which has the double advantage of being organically bound to the Party as a whole. Nobody can predict its rate or specific direction of development. But everyone can try to understand what it represents not only for England but the international socialist movement as well.

Finally, within the framework of immediate political perspectives, there is the question of the possible formation of a government of national unity; a policy of coalition. The mystique of coalitionism has a strong hold in England; that policy by which, at the moment when the impasse has reached its most crucial and anguished point and fails to be broken by decisive action by either one of the two opposing forces, a reshuffling takes place, the tendencies most approximating one another within the two parties join forces and a temporary relaxation of the political and social strain is achieved. The feelers of Churchill in this direction were not serious, and were not taken seriously by the Labor leadership, but at a later stage, under more crucial circumstances of either international or national origin, the effort of national coalitionism is inevitable. The Young Guard of the Conservatives, often in serious disagreement with Churchill, will then attempt to unite with the right wing of the Labor Party and the conservative TUC leadership, isolating both the traditional bourgeoisie and the left wing, Bevanist tendencies of labor. Here, too, both the success or failure of such a maneuver, and its concrete presentation, depends upon the further evolution and growth of the party’s left wing. It must find those specific and concrete means by which it can retain its present momentum, develop its counter-program and execute its project; it must find the means of avoiding isolation within its own party and from the trade union masses. Hatred of the spirit which led to betrayal and MacDonaldism runs very high among the British working class. It provides a solid base upon which may be built a forward-looking perspective which will serve British socialism in its new and decisive stage.

November 1, 1951

* * *


1. Now running at £700,000,000 per year. – H.J.

2. Cf. January–February 1951 issue of The New International.

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