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Bob Pennington & Martin Grainger

The Labour Party and the Bomb

(Winter 1960/61)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, p.26.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The undersigned members of the Editorial Board find themselves in complete disagreement with the whole tenor of the current Editorial on Labour and the Bomb. We welcome this opportunity to address readers directly.

Is anything really changed? As the smoke of verbal battle clears from Scarborough, does it reveal any fundamental change in the relationships of power? Has the stranglehold of those who need the bomb to defend their way of life been loosened ... even fractionally? Has the passing of the Scarborough resolution done anything to lessen the possibilities of thermo-nuclear war?

The victory of the ‘unilateralists’ has been widely acclaimed on the ‘left’. The Editorial, in fact, calls it the ‘only significant victory’ the left has scored these last few years. Some see it as the victory of Reason, the victory of Righteousness ... almost the victory of the revolution. From Tribune to the Daily Worker, from Canon Collins to the Trotskyists – who doubtless feel it is all their own work – a united front of smug self-satisfaction embraces all our political ‘progressives’. It is so long, oh so long, since the ‘left’ had even a paper victory with which to boost its declining morale.

True, there have been casualties: Mr Wedgwood Benn, a nice well brought up young man, resigned from the National Executive before the crucial ‘debate’. Not, let us note, because he was consumed with ‘unilateralist’ fervour, but because the strain was telling of simultaneously retaining a Tory foreign policy and a contented ‘left’. Mr Wilson has now stepped into the ring to challenge Gaiters himself – after the gracious retreat of his banderillero, Mr Greenwood.

His aim? To show how easy it really is verbally to accept conference decisions ... while doing nothing to implement them.

To the fake ‘left’ the stolid, pipe-smoking and thoroughly opportunist Mr Wilson is the answer to a long-standing prayer. .He can be assured of support from such apparently diverse quarters as former Postmaster General Ness Edwards, professional peace-lover Konni Zilliacus and Trotskyism’s own Mr Healy. Mr Silverman meanwhile answers Gaitskell’s call to ‘fight, fight and fight again’ with a plea to ‘think, think and think again’. Each appears to be exhorting the other to achievements of which he himself is utterly incapable.

Mr Gaitskell’s corpse may now be consigned to the political pyre. We doubt however whether Mr. Wilson will prove a phoenix capable of rising from the ashes to inspire tired ward-warriors to new heights of resolutionary fervour or give them new heart in their impossible assignment of converting the Labour Party into an instrument of socialist advance. What a sorry sight it all is!

The whole struggle in the Labour Party has little to do with principles, socialist or otherwise. The ‘fight’ does not involve two contending forces: one struggling against capitalism and the threat of war, the other defending the status quo. All the contendants are more or less firmly committed to the preservation of the present social order. They differ only on how best to protect both it and the machine on which their livelihood depends. The very logic of the situation will eventually force the great majority of the ‘leftists’ reluctantly to postpone their ‘unilateralism’ in order to defend ‘their’ country.

The most irrelevant discussion of all is the one on whether the Parliamentary Party will obey Conference decisions in relation to the Bomb or will proceed in its own sweet way. This discussion is irrelevant and misleading on two counts. Firstly it implies that under the conditions of contemporary society a bureaucratized political machine, reflecting specific social interests, can be made, through ‘a flood of unilateralist resolutions’, to reflect interests that are fundamentally different ones. It implies, in other words, the possibility of using one of the inbuilt stabilizers of the capitalist system for purposes of political disruption. Secondly the discussion suggests that Britain’s ownership of the Bomb and her decision to use it or not are matters to be settled according to the niceties of Parliamentary arithmetic.

Each ruling class assumes for itself the sacred right to exploit the labour of ‘its own’ workers, without being threatened by covetous neighbours. The Bomb is the ultimate custodian of this right. To imagine that on this issue bourgeois or bureaucrat will bow to majorities, parliamentary or otherwise, is to display a naivete of the highest order. It is the duty of marxists. to speak plainly on these issues and not to be engulfed in the current morass of sticky sentiment and pacifist complacency.

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Last updated: 12 February 2010