The Labour Party Conference was held this year at Brighton. For many reasons it was outstanding. The imminence of a general election gave it a cautious tone. The memory of two Labour Governments served to remind delegates and leaders that economic and political problems do not vanish as before the wave of a magician’s wand when a Labour Government is elected. This robbed them of some of the cocksureness of former years. Promises of what they would do if and when they were elected were not so lavish. Delegates seemed to sense their limitations. Mr. George Lansbury
, for years, had talked of “classless society” and “the brotherhood of man” in a way which implied these things to be Labour Party objects. He still talked of “classless society” and the “brotherhood of man,” but only as an “ultimate goal.” The irrefutable fact has apparently penetrated his mind that whatever else these objects are they are not Labour Party policy, and that Labour Party policy does not go beyond the immediate one of administering capitalism.
Mr. Lansbury is perhaps typical of many thousands of members and followers of the Labour Party. It is to be hoped that events have had the effect of similarly dispelling their illusions. In seeking to get the votes of the workers the Labour Party resorts to the electioneering trickery of the other capitalist parties. Unemployment and other evils which are part and parcel of capitalism are attributed to the policy of the party in power, completely ignoring the fact that no remedy for these evils was produced when a Labour Government itself was in power. This, however, was forgotten when Conference made comparisons between Labour Governments and the present Government. The “National” Government was described as a fraud, but no mention was made that many present leaders of the Labour Party were alleged to have been prepared to join it when it was formed if the trade unions had not threatened to withdraw financial support from the Labour Party.
The Question of Sanctions Against Italy
There was one question—the Italian dispute with Abyssinia—which dominated Conference, took up most of its time and caused other matters to be treated as routine questions. A resolution demanding that sanctions be applied against Italy was carried by the enormous majority of twenty to one. No effort was made to conceal the fact that sanctions might lead to war. In winding up the debate on the resolution, Mr. Morrison
said : “The economic and financial sanctions may well be effective. But do not let us delude ourselves with that belief. If they are not effective, I am not going to say that military sanctions are to be ruled out when it may weaken the power for peace” (Daily Herald
, October 3rd).
Mr. Morrison, however, did not explain how military sanctions could strengthen peace. He did not, because he could not. To send British and other armies to Abyssinia to drive out the Italian army is not peace, but war. Nor did Mr. Morrison explain how war would serve working-class interests. He did not, because he could not. If war is the outcome of the present capitalist quarrel it will be because of the competitive basis of capitalist society. The Labour Party has apparently learned little since 1914. If there is any difference at all between their position in 1914 and now it is that their support of capitalist interests, and willingness to send workers to the shambles, is more shameless now than it was then.
It is not surprising in view of his demand for sanctions, including, if need be, military sanctions or war, that Mr. Morrison obtained the withdrawal of the resolution which came next on the agenda. It ran: —
This conference declares its hostility to the proposals for instituting civilian air-raid drill, and considers these proposals not only futile as a means of protection against aerial attack, but a definite attempt to arouse public feeling in favour of the Government’s arms policy.
This conference therefore instructs the National Council of Labour to draw up plans immediately for organising public resistance to compulsory air-raid drill, and recommends all Labour controlled authorities to refuse to operate the Government’s plans in any way.—(Daily Herald, October 4th.)
That piece of simple-mindedness, or electioneering tactics, was obviously on the agenda before the present crisis developed.
The open discussion in the Press of the sanctions being applied against Italy, together with the present dangerous international situation, has produced some strange results. Many who imagined that sanctions were a guarantee of peace, suddenly had brought home to them that they might lead to war. It may be crediting Mr. Lansbury with ingenuousness to say that he shared this illusion, but it appears that that was the case. Indeed, how else could his change of mind be explained. Sir Stafford Cripps
, who was not under this illusion, and demanded that sanctions be applied to Japan when that country invaded China, changed his mind when the question was nearer home and when the possibility of the Labour Party, as the Government, having to apply them was less remote than then. Perhaps the most ardent sabre-rattlers were those who suggested that Fascism was the real enemy.
The present support by the Labour Party of the League of Nations is the logical result of its policy since the last war. To go back on this policy now would, they think, mean a loss of political prestige, and consequently of votes.