1930s >> 1932 >> no-339-november-1932

The Labour Party Conference

The new programme of the Labour Party, put into shape at their Annual Conference at Leicester, 3rd to 7th October, makes no sensational departure from the old programme, “Labour and the Nation” The policy embodied in “Labour and the Nation” contained measures for limiting hours; minimum wages; public control of the Bank of England; nationalisation of the coal, transport and power industries; “public ownership” of agricultural land; stabilisation of prices by control of imports; Free Trade; more steeply progressive taxation, etc.; while the new policy contains measures for steeper income tax; Free Trade; control of imports to fix prices; nationalisation of the land public control of the coal, power, and transport industries, and of the banking system; minimum wages; a shorter working day, and so on. The main plank in the old programme was nationalisation; in the new one, public utilities. Like the old, the new programme professes “to lay the foundations of a new social order,” but actually does nothing but propound schemes for renovating the existing one.

The capitalist aims of the Labour Party are well illustrated by the debate on financial policy. Mr. Hugh Dalton’s preamble to the resolution for State control of the Bank of England attributed responsibility for trade depression to wrong banking policy, the aim of which should be, he claimed, to stabilise wholesale prices and foreign exchange, and “safeguard the workers against such exploitation as has been inflicted on them in recent years by speculators.” The resolution stated: ~

   The Bank of England should be brought under public ownership and control. Its governor should be appointed by the Government, and be subject to the general direction of a Cabinet Minister, who should be responsible to the House of Commons for banking and credit policy. The day-to-day business of the Bank should be carried on by the governor and his staff. Daily Herald, 5/10/32.

In putting forward an amendment to include the joint stock banks, Mr. E. F. Wise pointed out that “there was nothing very Socialistic about making it a national bank. Other countries, even the capitalist United States, had the Central Bank nationally controlled. Liberals three or four years ago proposed making the Bank of England a public institution. In many respects it was already a public institution.” “If their object was Socialist finance,” added Mr. F. Hughes, ”and not just to control and limit the operations of capitalist finance, then the nationalisation of the joint stock banks was as essential as the nationalisation of the Bank of England.” (Daily Herald, 5/10/32.) Both the resolution and the amendment, which were carried, ignore the fact that it is capitalism, not speculation, which inflicts exploitation on the workers; and that finance is but the machinery of capitalism. To speak of “Socialist finance,” therefore is simply silly. Ironically enough, Mr. E. Bevin opposed the amendment to include joint stock banks on the ground that “I, as a Socialist, am not content to be always advocating the taking over of things that will not be necessary in a Socialist State. Give me the Bank of England,” and “I visualise a Socialist finance that will leave the joint stock banks as at present organised.” (Daily Herald, 5/10/32.)

The resolution on national control of transport services was likewise prefaced by references to “Socialism,” although it aims to outdo the existing capitalist owners at the work of intensifying exploitation. The Daily Herald of the 6th October, under the heading, “Labour shows how to make transport pay,” describes it as “a plan to put the transport system of the country on a paying basis.” Mr. H. Morrison’s resolution proposed to co-ordinate transport services on a national scale by setting up a “National Transport Board appointed by the Minister, of Transport on appropriate grounds of ability ”—a corporation, that is, like the Port of London Authority or the B.B.C. “As to the form of the purchase transaction,” says the Labour Party Policy Report, No. 2 (p. 17), “it would probably be convenient to give the owners stock of appropriate categories and amount in the new national undertaking,” which would “give the holders the right to receive the interest payable, and to repayment of the stock. . .. ” The proposal is based on the same principle as appeared in the London Passenger Transport Bill brought forward by Mr. H. Morrison when Minister of Transport, and supported by Lord Ashfield, Chairman of the London Traffic Combine. The Daily Herald, 6th October, says: —


   Not alone Labour and Trade Union spokesmen, but many influential public men, entirely opposed to the general run of Socialist measures, have openly supported the transfer of transport to public enterprise. Immediately after the Great War, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill both desired to take this decisive step.

Speaking against the amendment to include transport workers’ representatives on the Transport Board, Mr. A. G. Walkden “did not share the tremendous anxiety as to the workers getting a look in.” (Daily Herald, 6/10/32.)


Similar proposals were carried for the unification of the coal industry under a Central Authority; for the “national ownership and control of Electricity Generation and Distribution” through “a National Electricity Board appointed by the Minister of Transport on appropriate grounds of ability”; and for “national ownership of the land” through a National Agricultural Commission responsible to the Minister of Agriculture (Policy Reports 3 and 4, p. 1). The existing shareholders or landowners are to receive appropriate holdings of stock. The swing-over from nationalisation to public utilities (or what Mr. H. Morrison has called the “Capitalist Soviet”) no doubt aims to obviate the charge of bureaucratic inefficiency levelled against nationalised industries, and to make the process of State co-ordination more palatable to those capitalists less enamoured of the fashionable cult of the “Plan,” those whose “opposition to being nationalised,” in the words of the Liberal economist, Professor Clay (The Listener, 20/1/32), “is an instance of the short-sightedness of the capitalists where their own interests are concerned.” “What difference would it have made,” he says, “if the railways had been nationalised in 1919? I cannot myself see that it would have made much difference to the railway workers or railway users; it might have made a considerable difference to the owners of railway capital, since the Government stock they would have got in 1919 in exchange for their railway securities would not have depreciated as those have done.”


These capitalist arrangements do not alter any essential feature of the relations between capitalist and worker. They solve no working class problem. Capitalism is not abolished by changing, shares into stock, nor wage-slavery ended by changing masters. The workers still remain without access to the means of wealth, except at the bidding of the capitalist class who individually or collectively own them. “Public ownership” may even retard the development of class-consciousness among the workers. Just as the payment for labour-power in money wages helps to conceal the daily tribute of unpaid toil wrung from the workers by the master class, so employment by the “public corporation” tends to disguise the antagonism between worker and capitalist. Thus is made easier the unresisting exploitation of the workers by the simple device of making them “public servants.”


The new Labour Party agricultural policy lands them in the dilemma of having to advocate tariffs (“control of imports,” the Daily Herald of 7th October calls them) to maintain food prices, while in the same breath they urge Free Trade to keep down the cost of living. Nor are the Labour Party’s proposals to limit indirect taxation, or to wipe out war debts and reparations, of any concern to the workers who, being a propertyless class, do not carry the burden either of war debts or taxes. The question of limiting armaments is again one which concerns the master class, because they have to pay for them and cannot do without them. However, Mr. J. R. Clynes (in moving a resolution on disarmament and peace) may denounce those who pour “scorn on the League of Nations, and thereby endanger the peace of the world” (Daily Herald, 6/10/32), the fact remains that to recommend disarmament in a society whose mainspring is the scramble for profit squeezed from the workers, and in which war and the suppression of working class revolt are constant features, is about as sensible as advising a drowning man to keep dry. The Conference was treated to the same sort of pious humbug by Mr. G. Lansbury, about the “youth of the nation being driven into the pit of despair,” how “the world has come to the end of capitalism,” and how he and his colleagues in the House of Commons fought against that “beastly infliction,” the Means. Test.


The Conference leaders who attacked the economies and cuts made by the National Government overlooked the part played by Labour leaders, in the formation of that Government, and made no mention of Mr. A. Henderson’s willingness to acquiesce in the dole cut when he was a member of the Labour Cabinet.


It is no surprise that a resolution instructing the leaders of the next Labour Government to “introduce at once great Socialist measures or some general plan to nationalise the key industries,” should be opposed by Mr. Henderson on the ground that “the Conference would be tying its bands” (Daily Herald, 6/10/32), and solemnly warning them, “If you pass this, you will regret it” (News Chronicle, 6/10/32).


These misleaders of the workers pay lip service in plenty to the need for “drastic Socialism” for a “complete Socialist policy” for substituting “a new social order for the present system”; but the emptiness of their revolutionary talk is shown by the footling nature of their concrete proposals “Abolition of capitalism,” they cry, “and the establishment of a fixed Easter”!


Resolutions to the Conference from various local Branches throughout the country urging closer, control by the Party over M.P.s and Cabinet Ministers, evoked by the disillusionment in MacDonald’s leadership, show that the working class is yet far from realising the futility of leadership, that leaders can exist only while the workers are willing to be led. The problem of control over leaders disappears when the working class learns to do without them: the problem has no existence for a body of class-conscious workers democratically organised for one clearly defined object, the establishment of Socialism.


Frank Evans