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Arne Swabeck

Where Does British Labor Stand?

(July 1931)

On the Workers’ Front, The Militant, Vol. IV No. 13, 4 July 1931, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

By the thesis of the Eleventh Comintern Plenum we are informed that the growing contrasts between the systems of Soviet economy and capitalist economy is the “kernel of contemporary international relations”. Without for one moment overlooking this growing contrast, it is necessary to observe the “slight” error of estimate made by the authors. The kernel of contemporary international relations is not yet this growing contrast. No, this kernel is still to be found in the increasingly furious contest between the main imperialist powers for hegemony of the world market. – More precisely the rivalry between the United States and England.

Both of these powers are in the throes of the deep-going capitalist world crisis. The unbridled expansion of American imperialism is already forcing England to the wall. In actual practise it is now being demonstrated that the former, in order to overcome its economic difficulties will proceed yet more ruthlessly further to establish and maintain its world hegemony against Europe, and particularly, against its main competitor – England. It is in this sphere that the most gigantic conflict yet is being prepared. New wars and revolutions which will shake the world to its foundation. The storm clouds are gathering and moving with ever increasing velocity. This, which has been assigned only secondary place in the Eleventh Comintern Plenum thesis, is the “kernel of contemporary international relations.”

Manuvering for position through economic and diplomatic means has so far characterized the contest between these two powers; that is, with a few engineered revolutions thrown in for good measure. All a prelude to the continuation which will take the form of open warfare. The five power naval conference seemingly hung the shield of a diplomatic victory on the chest of the grotesque British premier; but in reality American imperialism carried off the laurels of victory. It will soon stand out much more clearly to what extent the results of this conference means a settlement of naval supremacy in favor of the power with the strongest industrial resources.

American Imperialism for Disarmament – in Europe

From the more recent Chequers conversations similar prospects have opened up for American imperialism in regards to land armaments. The German Chancellor suggested a downward revision ol reparations payments. Of course, such a proposal would need the sanction of Wall Street by which the reparations payments are finally pocketed. However, President Hoover was not slow in grasping the opportunity. His moratorium proclamation aims at two simultaneously “great” accomplishments – to knife the developing German revolution and to lend force to the counter-demand of reduction of land armaments of the European nations.

Such land armaments, of course, do not merely involve the question of soldiers, of standing army, but of the whole war machinery, of implements, of air fleets etc. Thus we see in the field of land armaments similarly the economic pressure by American imperialism for a settlement in favor of the power with the greatest industrial resources.

The Armaments Year Book of the League of Nations reports the sums laid out for military and naval expenditures in 1928–1929 by the principal powers to be:

United States



Great Britain




We may rest assured that American imperialism will fully utilize this opportunity and swing its economic whip to reduce the armaments particularly of its nearest rival and secure its own supremacy unchallenged. Such are its preparations for the more open and more brutal inevitable conflict. It will also be another step toward more definitely putting the European nations on rations. While these undoubtedly are the perspectives of American imperialism there remains still the American working class to be heard from.

The Essential Question of Destiny of England

What is the position of England in this conflict? It is showing the scars of a declining empire. It has fallen to third place as a world exporting power. Inch by inch it is being forced further to the wall by its most overwhelming competitor the United States. Her dominion empire is shaken by the growing differentiation of interests of each separate part. In the colonies, serious revolutionary movements are developing. Thus, now that the sun is actually beginning to set over her imperial domain it coincides with her advance toward a revolutionary situation. The question of the greatest importance, however, is the one of the readiness of the working class for such a situation; and above all the question put by Comrade Trotsky in his book Whither England:

“Will it be possible to organize a Communist party in England, which shall be strong enough and which shall have sufficiently large masses behind it, to enable it, at the psychological moment, to carry out the necessary political conclusion of this ever sharpening crisis? This question involves the entire destiny of England.”

Where is the Proletarian Vanguard?

In the Dec. 1923 parliamentary elections, coming right upon the heels of the defeat of the German revolution and the American intervention for restabilizing German capitalism, the British Communist Party polled 53,000 votes to the Labor party’s 4,350,000. By the 1928 elections the relationship of votes were 50,000 to 8,000,000 respectively. Thus if parliamentary elections register any thing, this intervening period registered a victory of reformism over Communism, and that during a period of heavily growing unemployment. During the general strike year the C.P. membership reached its highest membership, about 12,000. It was a force within the trade unions and to an extent within the labor party, despite expulsion barriers. The Minority Movement was supposed to have a following of close to a million; but alas, the fatal weakness: it was mainly based upon the “prestige” of the “Left” gentlemen of the type of Purcell, Hicks and Cook. The party weekly organ reached a circulation of about 70,000 and the Minority Movement weekly organ about 110,000. Today the party finds itself frightfully reduced to a position of serious isolation, its daily organ not reaching much above a 3,000 circulation. The Minority Movement has become a skeleton organization of the party without any serious influence. The Communist vanguard has so far remained unable to draw upon the great and growing resources of working class disillusionment with the MacDonald labor government.

While we shall reserve an attempt to make an analysis of this specific situation until a later article, it is necessary to bear in mind, when looking at this contrast of the past with the present the disastrous policy of the Anglo-Russian Unity Committee. From this the British Communist Party has not learned one single lesson. As a matter of tact by its bureaucratic leadership of Stalinist faction agents, the membership has ben prevented from making any such attempt. Thus the heritage of this false policy, while remaining uncondemned and uncorrected, today still weighs like an alp upon the party. And surely a fundamental change of orientation, of policy and of tactics is necessary before the Communist party will be able to play a serious leading role in the coming struggles now being inexorably prepared by the developments of England’s crisis – not to speak of the coming revolutionary situation.

MacDonald Preparing the Road

Meanwhile the road of England heading directly toward new serious class battles is clearly discernible. The situation is being described by her leading industrialists as one of “unrelieved gloom”. But statements by them are, of course, not in the least concerned with the terrible pauperization and squalor of the working class. There is a growing demand from the financial interests for a complete overhauling of the industrial machinery. But right there the demand strikes a snag which with this gentry, finds its formula: “England is living on a higher standard than her continental neighbors”.

Naturally this is not to be interpreted as having any reference to the standard of the capitalist masters and hence all efforts are aimed at reducing the working class standard of living. Throughout England there is a systematic heavy wage slashing now carried into almost every industry. The workers to be sure laving registered a growing dissatisfaction and increased attempts at resistance but they have not yet taken the form of a consciously prepared defensive. In the wage slashing campaign a definite role has been assigned to the MacDonald government. Prior to its taking over the reins for his majesty, these Labor party politicians were rather unsparing in their demands for capital investments for expansion of British industry. Usually, this followed with a veiled “threat” that if capitalism could not run industry, the workers would. Not that this was intended for the ears of the workers and for them to carry out the practical conclusions therefrom. Far from that. It was intended as a pressure upon capitalism. And today history is drawing the conclusion for MacDonald and his colleagues. It flows inevitably from their position as his majesty’s ministers, as lieutenants of capitalism of the most miserable but also most cunningly treacherous social reformist stripe. Theirs is now the particular task, no longer of mouthing phrases about workers running industry, but of applying the instruments of capitalist state coercion to reduce the workers’ standard of living; to assure the basis for rationalization and further exploitation. That it is precisely also the labor government which is assigned the task of making preparations for the coming imperialist conflict – disguised under peace palavers – coincides with its position.

But the plans of the capitalist masters of England, including the specific tasks assigned to the Labor government, have not yet fully materialized. Thus, despite the menacing clouds which now so frequently threaten the much cherished jobs of these royal ministers they will, barring unforeseen developments, still be able to hang on for some time. But that will make possible the further completion of the process of disillusionment and make the break more decisive. It will make the coming class battles more decisive also. Yet the all important question remains the clarity and definiteness of working class direction. Will the Communist forces be able to lead?

Note: This is the first of a series of articles on the present situation in England and the tasks of the Communists. A second installment will appear in the next issue. – Ed.)

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