“Forward” and the National Government
Now that Mr. Ernest Bevin, the T.U.C. leader, is a valued and trusted member of the inner War Cabinet of the British Government, Mr. Emrys Hughes has grave misgivings whether he will be able to look after the interests of the working class.
“As recently as March this year,” writes Mr. Hughes in “Forward” (October 12th, 1940), “Mr. Bevin warned the working class . . . . ‘ that the whole tendency is to create a situation which will enable the ruling class to use this war as a means of thrusting us back to a form of industrial slavery . . . It is essential that the workers should be alive to what is going on . . . If the bankers and financiers are allowed to have their way and secure control of the country through this Government . . . then we shall find ourselves shackled.’ ”
Apparently Mr. Hughes has no objection to the leaders of the working class taking office in a capitalist government. That which really gives rise to his misgivings is the belief that if it was Mr. Bevin’s intention to safeguard the interests of the working class by entering the cabinet, his efforts are in grave danger of being frustrated.
He draws attention to the fact that all the big capitalist papers welcomed the inclusion of the transport workers’ leader in the cabinet, but points out that as Mr. Bevin represents the T.U.C., the real reason for the welcome is because the Government require him for the purpose of mobilising, placating, and assuring the workers that “this is their war.”
Mr. Hughes laments that the Government appear to have made certain that Mr. Bevin’s power will be restricted to the aforementioned tasks.
Whilst we do not disagree with him on the reasons for Mr. Bevin’s inclusion in the cabinet, we have always rejected the view that it is possible for working-class interests to be served by entry into a capitalist government. Further, we are very critical of what Mr. Hughes thinks are working-class interests and which he thinks merits the attention of the Labour cabinet minister. We will return to the latter point.
What Mr. Hughes seems to forget is the fact that Mr. Bevin entered the cabinet by the grace of the capitalist parties, and with the approval of the bulk of the Labour movement. The latter, it is important to remember, supports the war wholeheartedly.
Therefore it is hardly surprising that his function in the Government is the one which is likely to prove of tremendous importance in the “ Drive for Victory.”
All the same it is not difficult to understand the perturbation of Mr. Hughes at the prospect that what he regards as vital working-class interests may be neglected even by a government which includes leaders of the working class.
But he is perhaps unaware that when the war machine is on the move, victory is of paramount importance to the capitalist class, and matters which tend to distract attention from that object are pushed aside.
Now let us consider some of the things which Mr. Hughes believes vitally affect the well-being of the working class, and deserving of special attention by the Government through the medium of Mr. Bevin.
In another article in Forward, (November 2nd, 1940), he states that the perorations of Mr. Bevin are “splendid” and “thrilling,” but complains that it is high time that “the oratory crystallised into concrete ideas: into a programme of social and industrial reconstruction for Britain and Europe and the world.” He also wants to know a little more about the Minister of Labour’s plan for “freeing the world from Nazism and tyranny.”
And he appears desperately anxious about the recovery of the coal markets of France, Scandinavia and Italy, “after we have gained the victory over Germany and destroyed Hitler and the Nazi regime.” An anxiety which doubtless is shared by the colliery owners, too!
“If there is no plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe so that we can sell Europe goods, then we will inevitably return to the old problems of unemployment, and perhaps even on a greater scale.” A business man could hardly show more concern for the future of trade than this.
It is clear that he is concerned with problems likely to arise out of the continuation of Capitalism, i.e., the loss of markets, trade, etc. And it is equally clear that he has no conception whatever of the real problem which faces the working class NOW as well as in post-war years—the abolition of a system that gives rise to Hitlers, Nazism, war, unemployment and the countless other miseries which afflict the working class.
He goes on to deplore “that if Europe is smashed, ruined, bankrupt . . . agriculture disorganised . . . the industrial workers will not have the purchasing power to buy the food that the farmers can produce.”
It is evident from this that despite the obvious concern for the welfare of the workers, he cannot visualise any solution to their miseries excepting in terms of the wages system (his reference to “purchasing power” and the “buying of food”), which system forms the basis of capitalist society. And yet Mr. Hughes regards himself as a Socialist!
Possessed of such conceptions it is hardly to be wondered at that he then proceeds to outline a “ ten or twenty year” PLAN for the rebuilding of Europe, which he thinks merits the attention of the Government through the medium of Mr. Bevin.
Each country is allotted a special role in the production of “ food and goods for all.” Mr. Laski, Mr. Keynes, and Sir John Orr are suggested as the “brains” which could work out the details in order that the plan could be submitted to the world as part of the Peace Aims of the British Government.
In passing we might suggest that a ten or even a twenty year plan will hardly suffice for the “reconstruction” of Europe if the R.A.F., the Luftwaffe, and the Regia Aeronautica continue at their present tempo!
Meanwhile Mr. Bevin doesn’t appear to be much interested in detailed plans for post-war reconstruction, but seems bent on enlarging the scope for Mr. Hughes’ flair for planning. Speaking to Midland factory workers on November 4th, 1940, Mr. Bevin is reported to have said: —
In another six months we shall have passed Germany in aircraft, ships, and guns, and I venture to prophesy that immediately we have done that, the world will move forward to a peaceful time of reconstruction, the wiping away of privilege and the growth of knowledge.—
(Daily Telegraph, November 5th, 1940.)
It isn’t ten or twenty year plans for the reconstruction of capitalist “civilisation” that the workers need, still less the “declaration of the Government’s War Aims and its Peace Aims” as Mr. Hughes thinks. The workers require an understanding of their class position and all that that implies.
Socialist knowledge alone will ensure this understanding, and once acquiring it the working class will have no need of the “planners” and the so-called experts to point the way to their salvation. The road will be plainly marked—to the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of international Socialism.
H. G. Holt