Is Britain Going Fascist ?
Political Parties in the Melting Pot
Mr. Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler has had the effect of bringing to the surface some hitherto hidden currents in the political parties. Mr. Anthony Eden, who speaks for the Conservative group which favours a strong line against Germany, Italy and Japan, is now criticising Mr. Chamberlain’s policy and possibly challenging him for the leadership of the Conservative Party. That he is acting with the advice and guidance of Lord Baldwin is an indication of the amount of support he can count upon in Conservative circles.
On the Opposition side of the House of Commons the Labour Party and Liberals are both divided internally on foreign policy. In each party is a group who favour Chamberlain’s ideas of international ”appeasement ‘ and another and larger group which leans more to Eden’s policy of using the League of Nations and the appeal to safeguard democracy as a means of rallying as many Powers as possible to make a stand against the dictatorship countries.
Still another group of Conservatives are anxious to prevent Mr. Chamberlain giving back colonies to Germany.
The small I.L.P. contingent of M.P.s back Chamberlain, while the solitary Communist takes the opposite side.
Here is a mix-up, out of which a new party grouping might emerge, and already Mr. Eden is counting on getting followers from all three of the larger parties. Time alone will show whether Mr. Eden’s group will succeed outright or whether their purpose will be sufficiently served if Mr. Chamberlain is forced to speed up re-armament and adopt some other planks in their programme, and much will depend on the reception the Eden programme gets in the constituencies.
Two factors emerge which throw light on the political confusion. One is the nature of the Eden programme, the other is the peculiar position now occupied by the Labour Party. Mr. Eden, in his speech in the House on November 10th, demanded a greatly speeded-up re-armament programme, and wants “every citizen in this country given the opportunity for some training in one or other of our vital defence services.” He demands a reorganisation and speeding-up in the working of the democratic machine, action to reduce unemployment and help the depressed areas, and more attention to housing and nutrition. “It is no use,” he said, “having the finest armaments in the world unless you have a fit nation to wield them ” (Hansard, November 10th, 1938, col. 378). He wants unity between the classes – “an England in which comradeship was the spirit of the nation” – all, of course, in order to meet the threat from abroad.
The wealthy would be called upon for “some measure of sacrifice in their present standard of life” in order to meet the two-fold cost of armaments and social services.
Thus, in a manner typical of the British ruling class, Mr. Eden is putting forward a programme which echoes more than faintly the slogans of Italian Fascism and German Nazism. Suitably toned down for the English scene, it is the Nazi formula of exaggerated nationalism as a cover under which to enforce national unity, linked up with social reform trimmings to make it attractive to the industrial workers. It is the same political swindle as that worked off in Germany and Italy, devised for the purpose of winning the workers over to the service of capitalism in its struggle with its competitors in other lands. It is called a policy of peace, security and social reform, but it points to war and destruction.
There is no need to argue that the Chamberlain policy – even though it fails in the eyes of some Conservatives through its inability to appeal strongly enough to the workers and in its inability to tackle the re-armament’ programme with sufficient drive – is in essentials the same as Eden’s. But where does the Labour Party stand ?
At once it is obvious that the Labour Party has no real alternative to offer. One Labour group could easily fall in behind Chamberlain and another group behind Eden with nothing fundamental to distinguish them from those leaders. The truth is that the Labour Party no longer possesses any characteristics to mark it off from progressive Liberals or social-reform Conservatives. Thirty or even ten years ago the Labour Party stood, above all, for nationalisation, but now that nationalisation has, for all practical purposes, ceased to be a live political issue what is there left? The Labour Party every day and in every way becomes more and more a reborn Liberal Party, but without that Party’s political fire and its capacity for the rough and tumble of the Parliamentary battle.
And, in the meantime, more than a few representatives of British capitalism are thinking that there is much to be said for the totalitarian idea to replace the party system. One of those who is toying with this is Mr. Eden’s supporter, Duff Cooper. Writing in the Evening Standard, November 15th, 1938, Mr. Duff Cooper concludes an article on “New Parties for Old” with the suggestion that “the challenge of the totalitarian States seems to demand a degree of national unity and national efficiency which the party system cannot provide.”
Without being prophetic, it may be said that British workers will show a disinclination for totalitarian ideas which will surprise Mr. Duff Cooper and any others who think on those lines. But whether that is so or not, one deplorable charge made by him has to be admitted to the full. Read the following passage from his article, remembering that when he writes “Socialism” he does not necessarily mean it literally, but has in mind rather the old-time “nationalisation” propaganda of the Labour Party. Yet what he says is largely true of Socialism, too.
“There has probably never been so much political discussion between private individuals as during the last two months, but it would be hardly rash to assert that Socialism has never been discussed.
“We are approaching the end of a week’s debate in Parliament in which any subject may be raised. It has not occurred to anyone to raise the subject of Socialism.”
Here we are facing a critical situation for which Socialism is the sole remedy, and one of our opponents can boast that the population all but ignore it. The S.P.G.B. is, however, not surprised or dismayed by that. For years we have said that the popularisation of reforms would end up by reducing the Parliamentary struggle between Liberal, Labour and Tory Parties to a shadow battle. We added, however, that our insistence on keeping alive the issue of Socialism would one day make the struggle a fierce reality, in Parliament and in every constituency. The S.P.G.B. has not failed to do its part, and Mr. Duff Cooper will yet learn that Socialism is neither dead nor sleeping, but a virile and growing movement. It will achieve a double victory. In gaining Socialism it will at the same time save democracy.