When the Queen Elizabeth docked at Southampton on February 10th Britain was in the grip of the most severe winter known for fifty years--and “the coal crisis”. The weather was extremely cold for the British Isles, roads and railways were blocked by snow, but the real crisis was in coal production. Britain, the country which for generations exported coal to almost all corners of the earth, was unable to supply her own needs. To the shortage of food ant other necessities there was added a drastic shortage of coal. Electric power and railway services were being curtailed. Workers were being laid off as a result of the shortage of fuel and within two weeks the number thus rendered unemployed reached two and a half million. Hundreds of thousands of working class homes were without coal. Supplies to hotels and other public places were curtailed sharply. The government warned the public that “the position of the country is extremely serious”
It was cold in the British Isles. Never again will I be able to assure people: “It never gets very cold in England.” I, along with Bill Foster from the United States, learned differently. Sixteen degrees of frost in London, zero at Oxford and comparable temperatures elsewhere, trains marooned in snow drifts for twelve, twenty, and in one case, at least for forty hours, these and a penetrating “breeze” from the northeast dispelled all doubts. Like when it is cold on the prairie, arguments about the difference between “dry” and “damp” cold seemed irritatingly irrelevant. The London busses are quite unsuitable for cold weather. There is no door at their entrance and not even a pretence of heating them. Taxis are the same and a surprisingly large number of public buildings seemed to be the very centre of the fuel crisis. I addressed a large public meeting in the theatre in the heart of London on February 16th and, because of the fuel crisis, audience and speakers all wore their top coats through the entire meeting. Two of the several families with whom I spent evenings while I was in Britain had no coal when I was there. Bill Foster became an addict to “afternoon tea” within less than a week. “It helps one to get warm” he used to mutter half apologetically as he accepted my daily suggestion. But neither tea nor anything else within our reach could compete with the cold in our bedrooms. Without a speck of heat, no storm windows, and, as the room maid assured me “thoroughly aired every morning,” they were frigid. The second night I was in London I put a pair of heavy woollen socks on to go to bed. The third night I wore my shirt inside my pyjamas. After that I surrendered completely and thanked my lucky stars that I had a warm bathrobe with me because after the first few shivering minutes that bathrobe made sleeping a pleasure again. A little more than a week afterward I discovered that Bill, also, discovered the real purpose of a good bathrobe.
Cold weather and shortage of fuel were not the only inconveniences that the people of the British Isles were putting up with. Their housing problem was acute. I learned that nearly eight hundred thousand dwelling units were destroyed or badly damaged in the London area alone by Nazi bombs. Nowhere on the continent, not even in Rotterdam, Holland, did I see anything comparable to the square miles of dest5ruction that one sees in literally every part of London. In the working class districts, particularly around the East India, West India and Surry docks, Battersea, Poplar, Limehouse, Canningtown and Silvertown, there are dozens of areas a quarter to half a mile long and several blocks wide, where not one house remained habitable. Those miles of shattered buildings--in many cases just rubble, are grim evidence of how Britain “took it” during the war and how short Britons must be of homes today.
A hundred times while in the United Kingdom I remarked upon what a good thing it is that the British people have a sense of humor which enables them to enjoy jokes about their troubles. I had dinner and spent the evening with Ben Papworth, who wanted to check up on the impressions he had gained in Canada while attending the .I.L.O. conference as the representative of the British Trade Union Council. “We havn’t got much gas for cooking you know, after all, Mr. Churchill needs a lot for other purposes.” An elderly and apparently middle class guest was poking the fire in the hotel sitting room in a patient effort to get more warmth. Several of us were watching his efforts with varying hopes when he threw down the poker, straightened himself, and announced: “Well, after all, we aren’t going to have to bear so many of the white man’s burdens in other countries.”
Exceptionally cold weather and heavy snow, by reducing the amount of coal brought to the surface and impeding transportation was the occasion and immediate cause of the crisis, but cold weather and snow would not have brought a great part of the industrial life of Britain to a standstill except for the deep-seated though less obvious difficulties which had been maturing for a long time. In fact, the coal crisis and its calamitous results did but highlight the situation in Britain’s economy as a whole. This fact was made depressingly evident in the “Economic Survey for 1947” presented by the Prime Minister to the British House of Commons while the crisis was at its worst. In a personal Forward to this Survey, the Prime Minister pointed out “Even before the war many of our basic industries were suffering from lack of modernized equipment and there was heavy and persistent unemployment, especially in the development areas.(1) The country failed to take advantage of this surplus labor to bring its industrial undertakings up to date.”(2)
The long term factors which were brought to a head by the snow and cold weather were not dealt with fully in the government’s survey but they were indicated; along with the suggestion that the Labor Government itself had hitherto failed to grapple with them by repeated emphasis upon the fact that Britain’s productive effort in 1946 was limited by weakness in her basic industries. The survey noted that due largely to the lack of mechanization, the average production per worker in the coal mines averaged only 259 tons per man for the entire year. Steel production in 1946 was 12,750,000 ingot tons compared with a pre-war peak of 13 millions and “...the shortage of serviceable rolling stock has seriously curtailed railway capacity throughout the winter. Moreover, the condition of the permanent way and the shortage of timber sleepers (railroad ties) may, in a few months time, make it necessary to impose speed restrictions in the interests of safety. These arrears of maintenance must be made good as soon as possible; otherwise increased production of coal and still will be held up for lack of transport.”(3)
The fact that the severe weather had but exposed already existing weaknesses which made a crisis always a probability was summed up in one paragraph in that section of the Survey devoted to a review of economic developments since the election of the Labor Government in 1945.
“The by no means unfavorable industrial results for 1946 were achieved only by a draft of 5 million tons on coal stocks. In a sense, indeed, we have been living on a coal overdraft. The demand for power likewise exceeded the capacity of the power stations; the demand for transport was up to the limit of what could be carried by the railways’ depleted rolling stock; the demand for steel was more than could be produced of imported. Indeed our basic industries and services were limiting the nation’s productive effort. By the end of 1946 we had reached a stage at which further expansion of our productive effort was vitally necessary, but was extremely difficult unless industry could obtain more coal and power.”(4)
The foregoing facts explain how it is that in the active year of 1946 which was remarkably free from interruptions of production, the employed labor force of more than eighteen million people in civilian employment in the highly industrialized United Kingdom produced goods and services to the value of only £7,794,000,000, equal to only thirty-one billion dollars, or about two and a half times the value of the goods and services produced in Canada during the same year.
The relatively low productivity of industry and, therefore, of the national income, is aggravated by the increasing pressure of the cost of Empire upon the common people. The strength of the armed forces at the end of 1946 was 1,427,000, with a further 459,000 employed upon the production of arms, equipment and supplies fir them, making a total of 1,886,000 men and women whose labor power is not available for civilian production and whose activities are financed by taxation. The cost of the armed forces and the activities associated with them under the heading of national defence for 1946 amounted to the staggering total of 1,653 millions of pounds, equal to $6,612,000,000. That is considerably more than a fifth of the value of all the goods and services produced in Britain during the year. The government estimates that its overseas expenditures during 1946, over and above revenue secured by sales of surplus military stores, settlement of war claims, etc., amounted to twelve hundred million dollars.
The cost of trying to maintain the Empire bears heavily upon the masses of the people in the British Isles. It is little wonder that sarcastic comments about the lavish expenditures upon the royal tour in South Africa are frequently heard among all sorts of people.
The sarcasm isn’t always obvious. For example, when we arrived in London the papers and the B.B.C. newscasts were generously sprinkled with comments about the Royal Tour. It appears that one of the items that had been emphasized was that the royal family were taking a very large number of towels. I didn’t know that and when Bill Foster and I found now towels in our rooms, I sought out the maid: “Can we get some towels in rooms 316 and 317?” I inquired confidently. The elderly maid looked at me without the trace of a smile. “I’m afraid not, sir,” she said, “they’re all away on the royal tour.” She informed me, after she discovered I han’t got the joke, that the hotel linen had not yet come back from the laundry but she got us a towel apiece.
The effect of economic weaknesses and other factors noted above is accentuated by the fact that Britain has lost the extremely privileged position that she held in world economy for nearly a century before the war. The government’s survey notes that “We have lost gold and foreign investments and have incurred new debts to an extent which implies a worsening of our prewar capital position in relation to the rest of the world by nearly £6,000,000,000.(5) ($24,000,000,000). Along with the loss of overseas investments the United Kingdom has lost the monopoly advantages previously enjoyed in many markets. Her share in the revenue from world shipping and from the financing of world trade are each very much smaller than before the war. The decline of income from overseas is illustrated in a striking manner in the Economic Survey by the figures comparing the balance of payments for the year 1946 with those of the year 1938. Among the figures given, two items emphasize the drastic reduction in the amount of tribute being drawn into the United Kingdom from overseas:
|In millions of pounds sterling|
|From interest, profits and dividends (excluding oil, shipping and insurance)||175||60|
|From other sources (net)||61||10|
The drastic reduction of income from overseas is only part of the story. In addition, the United States and Canadian loans and enormous indebtedness to other countries have transformed Britain fro the world’s greatest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor nation with the prospect that, if present policies are persisted with in the United Kingdom, the net result of the balance of payments abroad will be an increasing annual drain upon British production instead of supplementing it as heretofore.
It is clear that while severe weather occasioned the crisis in Britain’s industry in February, the source of the crisis was in fundamental difficulties of Britain’s economy as a whole.
The problem thus created is generally referred to in Britain as the problem of expanding imports sufficiently to pay for essential imports. In its economic survey the government describes it in the following words:
“Imports and exports are of fundamental importance, now and for some years to come. Failure to build up our export trade in the next two or three years so that we can afford to buy enough imports would mean continued food rationing, much less smoking and private motoring, widespread unemployment for lack of raw materials and inability to re-equip industry with the most modern machinery.”(6)
On the basis of that estimation of the problem, the government is subordination all other considerations of economic policy in its drive to expand exports and re-exports to 175 per cent of the 1938 total.
It must be emphasized, however, that the Government’s correct emphasis upon and description of the reason for the vital importance of imports and exports does not correctly reflect the fundamental problem of British economy. While it is quite true that Britain must export to pay for essential imports, two crucial questions which the people of the United kingdom will have to answer in the near future are “what is to be the decisive purpose of our foreign trade?” and “what are the essential national financial needs beyond which a struggle to increase exports still further can only increase our economic difficulties?” When those questions are faced frankly and the people of Britain are informed on their implications a revaluation of the aims of Britain’s foreign trade and foreign policy will be insisted upon.
The acute problems of the United Kingdom’s economy drive, in the main, from two fundamental contradictions. Either of them is sufficient to prevent the solution of Britain’s accumulating difficulties within the framework of capitalist economy and each will be deepened by policies now being perused. These contradictions are (a) the contradiction, insoluble under capitalism, between the economic and finincal aims of the United Kingdom and United States finance capitalist monopolies and, (b) the enormous and still growing burden of accumulated claims to unearned increment which weighs like an Alp upon the limited United Kingdom production. It must be emphasized that the claims to unearned increment which bear upon the producers in the United Kingdom have increased tremendously as a result of the war. Capital investment was expanded, largely with governmental assistance, and the accretions of capital continue to reap profits and interest after the war is over. The profits reported by the British industrial and commercial enterprises for 1946 were no less than twenty per cent. higher than in 1943 and £1,150,000,000 ($4,600,000,000) greater than they were in 1938.
In addition to the very high rate of profit taken from industry and commerce, the burden of rent and interest has been increased also. The billions of dollars worth of securities which were stripped off British overseas investments during the war did not dissolve, they were sold by the government to foreign buyers, their previous holders receiving British government bonds in return. Now, for every dollar by which the total of British overseas investments was thus reduced the government pays interest out of United Kingdom production instead of the British security holders receiving it from abroad. It is clear therefore that while it absolutely true that “Imports and exports are of fundamental importance,” there is a wide gulf between the volume of imports and exports necessary to feed and clothe the people of the United Kingdom and keep their industries supplied, and the volume required, if the enormous accumulations of claims to rent interest and profit and other forms of unearned increment, plus the costly panoply of Empire, are to be maintained.
An era is ending in Britain. The golden stream of tribute from colonial possessions and overseas investments is drying up while the cost to the people of Britain of imperialist domination is increasing. At home the demands for rent interest and profit and the weight of hereditary privilege which have accumulated to enormous proportions to the advantage of a few have become so great that the overburdened industrial machine is unable to produce enough to satisfy their demands and still provide for its own continuous replacement and modernization. Investors seek quick profits in luxury trades or speculation instead of in the over-capitalized and outmoded basic industries. Elaborate indoor tracks for dog racing expand and profit fabulously while steel production tends to decline. People with liquid assets are seeking to get as much capital as possible out of Britain of “safe” investment in the United States of the Dominions.
The Labor Government’s effort to expand Britain’s traditionally large exports to seventy-five percent more than they were before the war is in fact but an attempt to generate a new period of expansion for British capitalism and thus restore some semblance of health to its weakened organism. But, with all the sacrifice that the working people of the British Isles are willing to make this policy cannot succeed. The deep-seated and chronic problems mirrored in the contradictions described in the paragraph above cannot be solved by the policy of trying to enable British capitalism to compete successfully on the world market with the lavishly financed mass production industries of the United States. To make that policy succeed in existing conditions is beyond the capacity of the workers themselves, however willingly they try. Generations of industrial employment have developed in the British working class a reservoir of craft skill that has no equal anywhere in the world. The workers are industrious and painstaking and individually productive, but they are up against the obstacle of having to produce with a national industrial plant of which too large a part is obsolete and by methods of production which have been left behind in other countries, while an impossibly large proportion of their product accrues to that small but powerful group described by the biblical quotation: “They toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
The only means by which the real national interests of Britain can be protected in this situation is by policies which express frank recognition of the fact that the sacred interests of the people who constitute the nation are superior to the so-called sanctity of the property rights of imperial accumulations of capital. To solve the chronic problems of Britain’s national economy in the interests of the great mass of her people requires policies and measures which will strike at their very source. That means to encroach upon the basis and foundations of finance-capital monopoly, of absentee landlordism, yes, of the principle upon which capitalist exploitation itself is founded.
The Labor Government as at present constituted rejects the idea of measures which will strike at the foundations of capitalism, Instead, it chooses the policy of buttressing the general structure of British capitalism by state action while finance-capitalist interests are assured by its representatives that, even if all its plans are implemented , “eighty per cent. of British industry will remain under private ownership.” It is striving to maintain as much as possible of the old imperialist power and its colonial monopoly by becoming a junior partner of United States imperialism. In the United Nations Organization it stands consistently with United States imperialism against the new Democracies and the U.S.S.R.
It is because of the contrast between the aspirations of the millions who voted for the Labor Party in July 1945 and the policies the government is pursuing that revolt is simmering in the ranks of the Parliamentary Labor Party and among the government’s supporters throughout the country.
How widespread this dissatisfaction is, was emphasized to me by a personal experience. Taking a weekend off to visit my native bailiwick in East Anglia I visited my closest boyhood chum, Bert Alexander, in Bungay, Suffolk. Bert had been an ardent supporter of the Labor Party throughout the past twenty-seven years. He has contested elections as a Labor Party candidate. He had scarcely finished shaking hands and introducing me to his wife before he launched upon a serious and extremely well informed criticism of the basic orientation of the Labor Government. His opinion is that placing its dependence upon increasing co-operation with United States finance-capital, the Labor Government may succeed in protecting the interests of British investors but only at the expense of British workers. “What’s the use,” he asked, “of working our heads off and foregoing necessary wage increases if the only result of success will be to strengthen the capitalist interests, which we thought were going to be abolished, at the expense of the workers who we thought were going to have all the advantages under the Labor Government.” Bert’s attitude is not at all unusual, even in Bungay.
To appreciate its significance one must understand the political environment in which it develops and how slowly things change there. There is no local branch of the Communist Party in Bungay or in the neighbourhood. The most marked change that has taken place there during the fifty years since Bert and I played together of “Castle Hills” is the crumbling of the ruins of Sir Roger Bigod’s Norman castle as a result of the miniature quakes caused by Nazi bombs. While changing trains at Beccles, my birthplace, I went to the station entrance to take a peep at Station Road. “Are you getting off here, sir?” asked the ticket collector. “No,”, I said, “ I’m going to Bungay. I just wanted to look up Station Road. You know, I lived here forty-five years ago.” “Go on sir,” urged the ticket collector, “have a good look. I don’t think you’ll see any change.”
The ticket collector was right. Unless there is more moss on the garden walls there is no change at all in the physical environment. But changing conditions are compelling changes in people’s points of view. As Palme Dutt, a fellow East Anglian, explained to me when I expressed amazement at the relatively large number of East Anglian delegates at the Communist Party Congress (they almost equalled the delegation from Wales): “After all, East Anglia produced Oliver Cromwell, projects like that of the Mayflower, men like Tom Paine, as well as Nelson and so on. All those only reflected the impact upon East Anglia of changes taking place in Britain as a whole. Is it any wonder that now East Anglia is producing Communists! Come to our next Party congress and you’ll see twice as many.”
A political struggle is developing around a series of issues which, in their totality, express the fundamental question of the general political direction and aims of British policy.
The more obvious of the issues around which the struggle is developing within the Labor Party art those relating to foreign policy, the use of the armed forces, conscription, and so on. These are the concrete issues upon which an important and growing body of Labor Party opinion opposes the straining and squandering of Britain’s diminishing resources in prosecution of the Tories’ imperialist foreign policy. It is no accident that on these issues the government’s most solid and enthusiastic support comes from the Conservative Party (even to the extent that Mr. Churchill felt justified in uttering a virtuous protest when the government made a belated concession to Labor opinion in its conscription Bill). The reason for that is deeper and more inclusive than Mr. Churchill’s enthusiasm for his own reactionary foreign policy. The source of the different approaches to the problems of foreign policy and the armed forces is to be found in the conflicting concepts of what should be the overall determining aim of the Labor Government’s policies--domestic and foreign. As R. P. Dutt has pointed out in a penetrating review of this developing struggle: “In the modern world there can be no separation of home and foreign issues. The fight that is now opening is a fight to save Britain: to end a course which is strangling recovery; to carry the economic and political future of Britain, for the employment and standards of the people, for the lives of men and women and the young generation which is growing up.”(7) As Harry Pollit had emphasized, this issue will have to be fought out within the Labor Party.
The Government is aiming to re-establish the United Kingdom as a successful major factor in world capitalism.(8) In pursuit of that aim it is trying to make the United Kingdom valuable to the United States imperialists as an outpost against the New Democracies and Communism on the Continent of Europe. These aims and policies involve acceptance and increasing dependence upon the United States and the salvaging, instead of the abolition, of British capitalism. The Labor Party rebels, as they are termed, reflect, in different ways and in varying degrees, the pressure of working-class opinion which wants to make inroads upon Capitalist profit and hereditary privilege at home and to co-operate with and aid the New Democracies and the U.S.S.R. abroad--a policy which would strengthen the forces making for the abolition of imperialism and capitalist exploitation.
This basic difference is expressed in the conflicting attitudes towards a whole series of concrete questions. Consider, for example, the question of Nationalization. There are different types of nationalization and industries may be nationalized for entirely different reasons. Nationalization which brings all the key industries and financial institutions under public ownership and the control of a government representing the actual producers by hand and brain makes it possible for the government to operate the national economy in the basis of an overall plan--to determine the aims and level of the decisive branches of the national economy and compel the privately owned sectors of the national economy to conform to the national interests. The majority of British workers want this type of nationalization. Their attitude is expressed by Harry Pollitt, when he explains why the Communist Party of Great Britain supports nationalization:
“We know that nationalization under present conditions is not yet Socialism. It does not yet end class divisions and the drawing of rent, interest and profit by the exploiting class. This basic change has still to be achieved. The value of nationalization of a series of key industries in the present reconstruction program lies in the extent to which it serves as a lever to carry through economic planning in the interests of the people to weaken monopoly capitalism and strengthen the working-class movement. We fight for the nationalization of the key industries because it is the only way in which we can secure a planned and systematic organization of work, the rapid re-equipment and modernization of these industries and the increased production necessary to carry through the national economic plan.”(9)
There is a different type of nationalization, however, typified in Canada by the manner in which the public treasury was utilized to protect the interests of the investors and speculators, yes, and to line the pockets of the promoters, when a group of railway systems were on the verge of complete physical breakdown as well as financial bankruptcy in 1917. At enormous cost to the Canadian people these broken down--in some cases uncompleted--systems were salvaged and re-organized into one efficient system, the C.N.R., which is an indispensable part of Canada’s (capitalist) productive system. The essential features of this type of nationalization are (a) governmental guarantee of a continued flow of unearned income to those who held the securities of undertakings which, for whatever reason, are not likely to provide them with continued unearned income under private ownership and (b) provision of large amounts of money from the public treasury to make good the physical deterioration which had occurred under private ownership and restore the properties to the level of efficiency necessary for them to be effective parts of the national economy. Clearly this type of nationalization is not Socialism. In fact, the very treatment of such industries as public enterprises, using governmental expenditures to make good deficiencies created by the financial banditry of profit-hungry capitalism, may for a short time strengthen capitalist economy by buttressing it at its weakest points. At best it represents and attempt to reform capitalism: its political essence today and the fallacy of describing it as Socialism is still described correctly in the following, written as a footnote by Frederick Engels seventy years ago:
“Recently, however, since Bismark state ownership, a certain spurious socialism has made its appearance--here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkeyism--which declares that all taking over by the State, even the Bismarkian kind, is in itself socialistic. If, however, the taking over of the tobacco trade by the state was socialistic, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism. If the Belgian state, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, constructed its own main railway lines; if Bismarck, without any economic compulsion, took over the main railway lines in Prussia, simply in order to be better able to organize them and use them for war, to train the railway officials as the government’s voting cattle, and especially to secure a new source of revenue independent of parliamentary votes--such actions were in no sense socialist measures, whether direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. Otherwise the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal Porcelain Manufacture, and even the regimental tailors in the army, would be socialist institutions.”(10)
A new factor must be noted, however. In whatever nationalization measures have been carried through by the British Labor Government there is one vitally important element which distinguishes them from the type of nationalization described gy Engels in the paragraph quoted above. That element is the role being played by the British labor movement in the fight for nationalization. The role of the labor movement may yet compel the extension of nationalization to all key industries, a change in its character to make of it a means of reducing the amount of unearned income to be produced for idlers instead of a means of guaranteeing its volume, to win full participation by the workers in the planning and direction of industry, and the co-ordination of all key industries within the general framework of an overall national economic plan. These things can be accomplished if the bourgeois ideology and political concepts which are now dominant within the Labor Government are defeated.
It must be said, however, that until now the Labor Government’s attitude and policy toward nationalization is one of attempting to reform and modernize Britaub’s national economy without changing its capitalist character or reducing by a penny the enormous burden of rent interest and profit upon the working class. As noted above, the senior representative of the Labor Government in North America is emphasizing the fact that the government plans to leave eighty percent. of British industry under private capitalist ownership. This is not the policy that the workers voted for when they elected the Labor Government in 1945. They voted among other things for nationalization of industry, rapid encroachments upon the vested interests if finance capital and early amelioration of the burdens now bearing down upon the masses of the people. There is a growing demand now that the government go ahead with the program upon which it was elected. Harry Pollitt voices the sentiments of millions of British workers when he points out: “Production targets will be most easily achieved where the industry is state owned. The government should, therefore, speed up nationalization so that electricity, gas, steel and transport become a strong, planned sector from which the rest of the national economy can be increasingly controlled.”(11)
The government’s failure to nationalize the key industries and co-ordinate their productive operations is accompanied, as is to be expected, by failure to organize and lead the battle for production in a decisive and planned way. In its survey, the government “justifies” this failure by arguing that such organization would be “totalitarianism”. In view of the fact that the government prohibits by law any miner under the age of fifty from leaving the coal mining industry, decides what foodstuffs shall come on the market and the prices at which they shall be sold, orders train services cut, orders electrical power off and on a national scale, and determines which enterprises shall be considered essential and therefore allowed use of electricity, about the only people who treat the argument of “totalitarianism” as though the government were serious in using it, are the Tories. The government betrays consciousness of that fact by adding an assertion that it is impossible to organize and direct the national economy anyway. “Indeed the task of directing by democratic methods an economic system as large and complex as ours is far beyond the power of any governmental machine working by itself no matter how efficient it may be.”(12)
With the government adopting such an attitude it is not surprising that there is misunderstanding concerning the battle for increased production in some sections of the trade union movement also. As Harry Pollitt has pointed out: “This is understandable when the workers see pools of unemployment already in former depressed areas, when they read of Cripps talking about the danger of ‘coming a real cropper in a year or two...when they see the glaring contrasts between the lives of the rich and the poor, when the troops are called out to break a legitimate strike against intolerable conditions...All the same, our movement must understand that if we do not use our existing productive possibilities to their limit, we have to face the possibility that many of our hard-won conditions and social gains may be placed in jeopardy.’” And Pollitt adds the exact idea which is lacking in the government statement:“We fight for the collective organization of the productive man-power, technical and scientific resources of the nation, so that an al-round increase in every place of productivity can be obtained.”(13)
The difference between Harry Pollitt’s proposals for the Battle of Production and the government’s evasion reflects exactly their different attitudes to finance-capital. Harry Pollitt wants to put the Battle for Production first; the government refuses to do that because it would involve an encroachment upon the freedom of the capitalists to decide what they will produce and how. The government’s refusal to encroach upon the basic privileges of finance-capitalist monopoly is reflected even more vividly in the contradictions between what many workers had expected and what they got, in terms of governmental attitude towards workers’ demands for improved wages and conditions and increased union participation in the direction of industry. Government spokesmen warn the workers against asking for higher wages. During the road transport dispute the government started out by refusing to put pressure upon the employers on the ground that it could not “interfere in wage adjustment machinery,” but shortly afterward, as the strike spread and became stubborn, it found no difficulty in using troops to break the strike.
In the matter of increased labor participation in the direction of industry, the attitude of the government has been expressed in the spirit of Sir Stafford Cripps’ declaration that the workers are not capable of managing industry. That statement typifies the government’s legalistic, corporation lawyer’s attitude towards the entire question. Sir Stanford Cripps, like the majority of members of the government, thinks of the management of industry in terms of the conditions in which the big prizes of management of to the men most skilled in the subtleties of corporation law, or stock market manipulation, or salesmanship--rarely to men whose gifts and training make the problems of production their main interest and concern. This is so because, under the conditions created by finance-capitalism, production is not the main problem in the control of industry. In present capitalist conditions any man or group who can secure a dominant position in relation to legal, stock market or sales problems, can secure and maintain control of a corporation or a group of corporations almost without knowing whatthey produce, let alone how best to produce it. As Sir Herbert Holt protested when he was able to tell the Royal Commission investigating the textile industry whether or when one of “his” companies produced printed cotton. “That is a matter for operative management.”
But the workers of Great Britain voted for the Labor Government of which Sir Stafford Cripps is part because they want to abolish the conditions in which production is subordinated to stock market jobbery, financial manipulation and the vagaries of the capitalist market. They want to establish conditions in which the two determinants of productive activity will be the needs of society and their capacity to produce. In such conditions it will be seen that in the British Isles equally as in other countries it will be free from the ranks of the working class the dependable and effective supervisory and managerial forces will come.
The fact there is sharpening conflict between the desires and aspirations of the workers and the policies being pursued by the Labor Government does not mean that the Attlee government is a “bad government.” On the contrary, it does but emphasize what tremendous political advance its election marked. Judged in the light of traditional bourgeois governmental policies or by comparison with the Tory opposition led by Mr. Churchill the Labor Government is very advanced. Necessary criticism of its failure to adopt genuine socialist policies must not be misconstrued as suggesting that there is no difference between it and the Tory opposition.
The most advanced workers in Britain, who criticized the Labor Government most sharply for its failure to take its stand definitely on the side of the socialist sector of the world, are the ones who support it most strongly against the Tory opposition. The advanced section of the British Labor Movement criticize the domination of the Labor Government by men who measure policies and statesmanship by standards similar in all essentials to the standards used by Winston Churchill. They want those members of the government who stand blatantly for the maintenance of capitalism and the Empire replaced by men who will fight for working class policies. But the advanced sections of the British working class movement are not going to allow the Tories to exploit Labor Government weaknesses. This fact is stressed over and over again by Harry Pollitt particularly with his systematic insistence that the issue of the main line of governmental policy, domestic and foreign, must be fought out within the Labor Movement. The Tories, who at first hoped ghoulishly that they would reap a political advantage from that struggle are learning that this does not mean more power for them as they had anticipated, but the opposite.
This was particularly evident during the coal crisis. The Labor government was not by any means blameless for the very difficult situation which existed. The serious danger of exactly such a situation had been emphasized repeatedly by the Communist Party and by the miners’ leaders. As early as June 1946, Arthur Horner, national secretary of the Miners’ Union had warned the government and the British people that stockpiles were being depleted and that, unless the necessary measures were taken promptly, interruption of supply by severe weather of any other cause during the winter months would cause a crisis in the national economy and throw a million workers out of employment. The government refused to adopt the necessary measures, however. Instead of taking the labor movement into its confidence it gambled upon the hope for a mild winter and no interruption of supply. To “justify” that decision to drift, cabinet ministers ridiculed the warnings of the Communist Party and the miners’ leaders as scare mongering.
Because of that background of the crisis the Labor government was very much on the defensive when the crisis broke. The Tories seized upon what looked like a golden opportunity and launched a violent campaign against the government with the undisguised aim of bringing about either its downfall of a government reorganization--the possibility of a coalition government was mentioned freely. The attitude of the government and the official organ of the labor Party, The Daily Herald, was one of retreat. The Herald actually started to prepare Labor opinion for some measure of governmental reorganization.
That trend was reversed by the militant action of important sections of the trade union movement. Arthur Horner, the miners’ national secretary, spoke to the nation over the radio on the issues of the coal crisis and scotched the Tory scheme. Without minimizing the government’s responsibility and the urgent need for decisive measures which the government had hitherto refused to adopt, Arthur Horner placed the leadership of the Miners’ Union squarely behind the government and pledged an all-out effort by the miners to beat the crisis. The National Committee of the communist Party, through the Daily Worker, gave prompt and vigorous support to Arthur Horner’s appeal. Hundreds of union bodies took up the issue--including scores of factory meetings of workers laid off because of the coal shortage. Every one of them without exception rebuffed the Tories and the idea of either a coalition with the Tories or a governmental reorganization to satisfy them. The unions voted solidly to stand behind the government and its minister of fuel and power and administer a defeat to the Tories while beating the coal crisis. Braced by the militancy of the workers, who responded so readily and well to correct leadership. The Labor Government overcame the tendency to retreat and the Tory offensive was completely defeated.
It is a very significant fact that the section of the British union movement which thus played a decisive role in stopping the retreat by rallying the people behind the government is the section which supports the so-called “Rebels” in the House of Commons and supports the Communist Party’s application for affiliation to the Labor Party. The high degree of political consciousness and the deep-rooted class unity illustrated by this is the guarantee that the British Labor movement will find, and unite upon, the path and the policies which lead to the socialist reorganization of Britain’s economy at home and fraternal co-operation with other nations which are building Socialism. These workers recognize that now, at the end of the era of world Empire and monopoly maintained by domination, the people of Britain are confronted by inexorable alternatives. Either the policies of the government must be drastically changed to speed up the economic and social reorganization of the country, break the power of finance-capitalist monopolies, build up a planned economy, establish close economic co-operation with the New Democracies, the Soviet Union and the advancing colonial peoples, or Britain will sink to dependence upon the United States, be engulfed in the economic crisis of which the United States is going to be the centre and become enmeshed in the plans of United States imperialism as its advanced outpost in preparations for war against the advancing people’s democracy in Europe.
In its own way, and by methods which have become as firmly established as the unions themselves, the British Labor movement is fighting to determine which of these alternatives it shall fight for. The aspirations and deepest hopes of the majority of the British peoples correspond entirely with the perspective stated firs un the foregoing paragraph; but many and severe struggles will have to be fought out within the Labor movement to achieve effective political and organizational unity in the struggle in the struggle to achieve it. There are influential leaders in the trade union movement and influential intellectuals in the Labor Party who will fight against the adoption of such policies by all means within their reach because their own political outlook is essentially bourgeois. They want to limit the role of the Trade Unions and the labor Party to that of opposition to the Tories in a bourgeois state and a capitalist economy. They accept, in some cases without admitting it, Winston Churchill’s perspective of the United Kingdom becoming a junior and dependent partner of United States imperialism.
Harry Pollitt breathes confidence that the resistance of such elements will be overcome. In the name of the Communist Party of Great Britain he declares: “...We place our full confidence in the working class, which realizes more and more the decisive role it has to play, both in solving its own problems and the problems of the world. It has the power to change the policy and composition of the Labor Government and force it to choose the right path for the British people.”(14)
The magnificent response of the British workers in the first major crisis that they have been called upon to meet since they elected the Labor government testifies that Harry Pollitt is right. The great majority of workers want Socialism in the British Isles and Britain on the side of Socialism throughout the world. They will fight for that aim with ever-increasing strength as issues become clear.
1. Previously termed the Depressed Areas.
2. Economic Survey for 1947--page 3.
3. Economic Survey for 1947--page 23.
4. Economic Survey for 1947--page 16.
5. Economic Survey for 1947--page 11.
6. Economic Survey for 1947--page 17.
7. “The New Battle for Britain.” Labor Monthly, January, 1947, page 5.
8. This aim is implicit in every phase of its economic plan for 1947 expressed in statements such as the following: “But these export targets will not be achieved readily, and in some cases it will be impossible to meet them without a reduction in the amount of production available for the home market.”--page 18
9. “Britain’s Problems Can Be Solved.” Harry Pollitt. Report to the 19th Congress C.P.G.B.-- page 17.
11. “Britain’s Problems Can Be Solved.” Harry Pollitt. Report to the 19th Congress C.P.G.B.-- page 12.
12. Economic Survey for 1947--page 8.
13. “Britain’s Problems Can Be Solved.” Harry Pollitt. Report to the 19th Congress C.P.G.B.-- page 18.
14. “Britain’s Problems Can Be Solved.” Harry Pollitt. Report to the 19th Congress C.P.G.B.-- page 6.