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Arne Swabeck

The British Scene

MacDonald’s ‘Victories’

(July 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 16, 25 July 1931, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Only a full understanding of the rather stormy developments of the class struggle in England during recent years can explain the rise to power and a two year reign of the MacDonald Labor party leadership. Rut it must also lead to the conclusion that it has passed its zenith and is facing its period of decline, not merely by the Conservatives gaining at its expense but primarily by the coming turn towards the Left of the British working class. This grows inevitably out of the conflict of the shabby Fabian-imperialist position of this leadership with the actual needs of the working class.

The stormy strikes of 1917 to 1920 terminated in the defeat of Black Friday. In consequence of this defeat the British workers turned their attention to the political parliamentary field, to support of the labor party which became expressed in immense gains at the following elections of 1922. The Labor party polled 4,236,733 votes, almost doubling its vote at the preceding elections in 1918. Again in 1926, the general strike came to an inglorious defeat and once more the British workers put their faith in the labor party as expressed in the following elections of May 1929. It again immensely increased its vote, polling a total of about 8,000,000. For the second time it took over the government.

Struggles Looming

Without a question of a doubt serious economic struggles are once more looming in England. The all important question is: Will the British workers now know how to draw the correct political conclusion? Will it mark a period of growth for the Communist party?

The 1929 elections, if they recorded anything, recorded a victory of reformism over Communism. From the time of the general strike, the decline of influence of the Communist party seemingly correspond quite closely, in its relative proportion, to the growth of influence of the labor party. In future perspectives this must be seriously taken into account: and it becomes an imperative duty for the British C.P. first of all to furnish a sober analysis. One may begin by asking how did the party follow the advice given by Lenin to British Communists in his polemics against “Leftism” in Communism? This pamphlet, written in 1920 it will be recalled, proposed to the Communists to form a bloc with the labor party against the reactionaries in power – “to support (it) the same way as the rope supports the man who has hanged himself”.

It would, of course, be foolish to attempt to interpret such advice in the sense of applying literally or in essence at all times. But how far the British C.P. under the direction of Stalinism, has departed from this fundamental approach in two important situations first in a Right opportunist direction, later in a Leftist direction, has been clearly recorded by history.

The first instance we have in mind was the sorry role cut out for the Communists in the Anglo-Russian “Unity” Committee during and after the general strike. In the name of this spurious united front the Communist party apparently gained in influence and following, particularly for the Minority Movement. But it became only an influence gained for, and a following built around, the “Left” deceivers, those who – also in the name of the united front – betrayed the strike. With the collapse of the strike and the final collapse of the Anglo-Russian “Unity” Committee, the influence and following remained by and large with the deceivers who had merely functioned temporarily as the “Left” shield for the utterly reactionary trade union leadership. From this blow, the British Communist Party has not yet recuperated. It could not then and could not since unmask these “Lefts” because the error of this spurious united front has remained uncondemned.

The “Third Period” in England

The second instance came after the Stalin directed Comintern had officially proclaimed the “third period”. At the 1929 parliamentary elections, the C.P. entered its candidates under the slogans “class against class” and “fight all three capitalist parties” with the characterization of “social Fascism”. As an analysis the former is of course, correct. Moreover, in the class struggle it is always a matter of class against class. But as a concrete slogan and with the combination of the latter it could not at all serve to win the workers. It repelled them and threw them back into the arms of the bourgeois pacifists of the labor party leadership. The brief experience of the nine months’ government of these politicians in 1924 had by no means been sufficient for the British workers to recognize the banalities of their professed gradualness of socialism. On the other hand, had the C.P. understood correctly the revolutionary art of unmasking their deceptive reformist position it would at least have enabled it to secure the worker contacts which could become particularly valuable now with the additional experience of “labor” in office. However with the serious errors of the Anglo-Russian “Unity” Committee remaining uncondemned and unclarified; with the Stalinist revisionism saturating the core of its leadership, this could not be expected.

In the language of bourgeois diplomats the MacDonald government is credited with a “brilliant” record in colonial and foreign affairs. It upheld the British tradition of – continuity in foreign affairs, in other words it proved itself an effective agent in carrying on the policy of its imperialist predecessors. It has been characterized by that bourgeois diplomats call a “policy of firmness in Egypt and India”, which means that the labor government has known how to interchange successfully “at the right moment” diplomatic trickery or open brutal suppression: to substitute machine guns and deadly poison gasses for the mere police lathi and cane to subjugate their rebellious colonial people. If the recognition of and trade relations with the Soviet Union re-established by the second MacDonald government has not yet brought a favorable trade balance to British capitalism, they undoubtedly still have hopes of reaching this point. At the Hague, the “little giant”, Philip Snowden, in the words of the New York Current History, “pressed British claims with a pertinacity which the most imperialistic conservative who ever lived could not have surpassed.” Even Arthur Henderson has proven his “brilliancy” in defending British imperialist interests in foreign affairs.

MacDonald’s Imperialist Policy

But it is now in most recent European developments that these hybrid pietists. who abhor all force and violence, – except when in the interest of British imperialism – are again grasping for an opportunity “brilliantly” to serve these interests. While the American imperialists proceed in their ruthless expansion endeavoring to put the European powers on rations and at this moment, through the Hoover moratorium, particularly directs a blow at France, demanding armament reductions. MacDonald also sees his opportunity. That the European bourgeois powers will fight more desperately between themselves for their diminishing rations is now being historically proven. The French bourgeoisie insists on stiff conditions for financial assistance to Germany. The MacDonald government squirming under the pressure its capitalist masters already suffer for the American colonies, fight the harder for its diminishing ration. It joins the demands for armament reductions – in France. On July 11, it organized a “peace” parade through London, winding up in Albert Hall. All three party leaders, MacDonald, Baldwin and Lloyd George, spoke – for peace. They professed armament reduction in England and strongly alluded to certain other powers (primarily France) who had immensely increased their armaments. While British imperialism is losing its world hegemony it fights desperately for a European hegemony. However, the French bourgeoisie have had the audacity even to surpass England in armament expenditures. According to the report of the World Peace Foundation, the figures for the last fiscal year were (at least the public figures) France $440,080,000 – England $405,255,000. That hegemony within the capitalist world is determined by nothing but armed forces is perfectly well known to the pious gentlemen of the MacDonald government who look with horror toward force applied by proletarian revolutions. So while they talk peace and reduction of armaments they follow the tradition of “continuity of policy” of the imperialists of the previous cabinets. For purposes of public consumption MacDonald wound up his “peace” sermon at Albert Hall with the following drivel: “The problem that we have got to face is the man and the woman that can come up to the assault be beaten back, come back again, full of heart and spirit, knowing that wrong will not triumph; but by the faith, the persistence, the energy and the determined human heart, that which we regard as precious, that which we regard as essential to the divine purposes poses of creation, is bound by patience, by energy and by faith to be carried to triumphant issues in the course of world affairs.”

But what his speech actually implied was a call upon all patriotic Britons to arm more effectively to maintain by force the diminishing imperialist ration against the competing powers, this time particularly aiming at the former ally – France.

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