1930s >> 1938 >> no-405-may-1938

Editorial: For and Against the Popular Front

 In spite of large votes against the Popular Front registered by conferences of the Labour Party, some of the rank and file of that party still hanker after the idea—much to the consternation of the Daily Herald and many leaders of the Labour Party. The reason why the latter oppose the proposed alliance with Liberals and Communists and “progressive” Conservatives is twofold. On the one hand they fear that Communist assistance will frighten away many more votes than it brings in, and, on the other, they fear still more that the Liberal Party—an army with more generals than soldiers—will make up its own deficiency at the expense of the Labour leaders.

 Mr. Lloyd George would probably have little difficulty in stealing the allegiance of the Labour rank and file if he once got into the fold; and then there is Winston Churchill, a Conservative without a Cabinet job, who might also join up in a promising Popular Front with expectations of leading it. So, for the Labour leaders who lack the more impressive political gifts, it is better to be leaders in the Labour Party than to be thrust into the background by more popular stars.

 The idea behind the Popular Front is that as the Labour Party cannot hope to get a majority on its own it should unite with others on a limited programme of social reforms and a policy of peace, anti-Fascism, and anti-war. That being the idea, one might expect the Communists to condemn it as a betrayal of independence and Socialism, and expect the Labour Party to back it on the ground that it is an idea thoroughly in line with the past policy of that organisation. But times have changed and the roles are reversed. Sir Stafford Cripps is for the Popular Front, but admits quite frankly that “Clearly, any idea of real Socialism would have to be put aside for the present” (Daily Herald, April 16th, 1938).

 The Communists, too, are for the Popular Front, but, according to the Daily Herald (April 14th), in the Communist Party’s 2,000-word manifesto, “the word ‘Socialism’ does not occur, and every single specifically Socialist measure has been dropped from the programme itself.”

 To add to the troubles of the Labour Party Lord Beaverbrook is giving his blessing to the Popular Front, though whether his motive is solely the one he gives or whether it is also a move in the campaign to steal readers from the Daily Herald is hard to say. Anyway, here are Lord Beaverbrook’s views, set out in the editorial column of the Daily Express on April 18th, 1938:—

       The Daily Herald, organ of the Socialist Party, declares against a Popular Front of Socialists, Liberals, Communists. Co-ops. The Socialist Party, says the Daily Herald, are the Popular Front and the alternative Government.
        That is sheer bunk. The Socialist Party alone can’t form another Government in Britain for many years. They can’t even form a decent Opposition, and that is what should concern every democratic person, party, and newspaper.
       It concerns the Daily Express, which cares very much for democratic government and hates dictatorship.
        Dictatorships go for strength in government, but democracies go for justice in government, which is a higher and a more enduring quality.
        Under present conditions in Britain, with a Government not all-powerful and an Opposition which is feeble and stupid, we get the worst of both worlds. It would be good for Britain and for the form of British government if the parties of the Left here were joined in a compact and well-defined alliance.

(It will be noticed, by the way, that Beaverbrook, who recently declared that the Labour Party is not a Socialist party, has decided to call it one again.)

 The Daily Herald, instead of giving a welcome to an attitude so reminiscent of its own past, hotly denounces it now that the Communists have adopted it, and proceeds to rend it asunder by making use of sound Socialist arguments, the very arguments we have used against the Labour Party. The editorial in the Daily Herald of April 14th contains the following remarkable statements, remarkable, that is, when they appear in the Labour Party’s official mouthpiece. The question is put as to whether it is “worth while to surrender independence and compromise Socialist in order to defeat the National Government?” The Daily Herald answers, “No!” and points out, quite correctly, that fictitious unity is not a source of strength but of friction, quarrelling and weakness. The Herald next rejects the Popular Front because it would mean dropping Socialism—as if the Labour Party had ever fought an election on anything else but a programme of vote-catching reforms. Next it argues—again quite correctly— that the advocates of a Popular Front are suffering from “a fundamental lack of faith and confidence,” and that victories are not won by such defeatists as these.

 The Herald finally clinched the argument against Popular Fronts by actually quoting the last Labour Government as an awful warning of what happens to a Labour Government “without independent authority and relying upon non-Socialist support for its majority.”

 Two days later, after the Chairman of the Co-operative Party, Mr. Alfred Barnes, M.P., had urged an alliance between the Labour and Cooperative Parties and “the Liberal Party, religious leaders, and a good section of the Conservatives” (Daily Herald, April 16th), the editor returned to the attack, and asked: —

        What must be the practical (and the emotional) effect of such talk upon the millions of loyal Party workers whose whole heart is set upon seeing a great instalment of the living Socialist Commonwealth in their time?

 In short, the arguments used by the Labour Daily Herald to defeat those strange bedfellows, Liberals, Co-operators, Communists, followers of Stafford Cripps and progressive Conservatives, are arguments worthy of a better cause, the cause of Socialism.

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