1940s >> 1946 >> no-507-november-1946

Labourism Proposes – Capitalism Disposes

The members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are not among those short-sighted electors who, having helped to elect a Labour Government to power, are now turning in astonished resentment to rend their idol of a year ago. We never had any illusions about Labour government.

Socialism cannot be achieved until there is a majority of socialists and they gain control of the machinery of government for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. Until then, notwithstanding all the efforts of reformers to improve the existing system and administer it differently, the evils of class society, based on the exploitation of the workers, will remain to throttle the progress of the human race. The Labour Party rejected this conception and holds that a Labour government, backed by non-Socialist voters, can administer capitalism on non-capitalist principles and mould it gradually so that in the ultimate a different system will emerge. Outlining his Party’s point of view, Mr. Attlee wrote in The Labour Party in Perspective (Gollancz, 1937, p. 138) : “Some future historian will not be able to point to a particular date as that on which the Socialist State was established . . .” That is the Labour Party’s view, but it is wrong. Socialist society is not being gradually introduced by Labour government; it will start when, and only when, a socialist working class comes to power. That will be the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one and later historians will not be in any doubt when it happened.

Sharing Mr. Attlee’s belief, millions of workers, who last year gloried in the Labour electoral triumph, thought that at last they would have a government able to control, improve and gradually to eliminate the capitalist system of society. Never did anyone cherish a more baseless illusion. Having no mandate to introduce Socialism, Mr. Attlee and his Cabinet colleagues have no alternative, even if they desired one, but to administer capitalism. They are riding the tiger and have to go where it takes them.

In the book quoted above Mr. Attlee said “The Labour Party is, of course, opposed to imperialism …” (p.230); but opposed or not, the Labour Government is committed to the maintenance of the British Colonial Empire, to the policy of protecting British “spheres of influence,” to the policy of using military force to keep control over strategic bases, trade routes and foreign territories where vital raw materials are found. British Forces prop up the Greek Monarchy, stand in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere, and British capitalist interests clash in all quarters of the world with the like-minded imperialisms of Russia, U.S.A. and other powers. The Labour Party in opposition dreamed dreams of world brotherhood, but the Labour Government in power must willy-nilly pursue a policy suited to the needs of British capitalist. Thrusting a vastly increased flood of British export? into the markets of the world may look like a friendly act to the British exporter, but it has a more sinister aspect to the rival powers trying to keep or to conquer the same markets for their own exports.

Linked up with the export drive is the Labour Government’s pledge to provide “full employment.” Those who have eyes to see can already glimpse the shape of things to come. More and more workers are being employed on producing goods for export, and we are told there is an unlimited demand for these goods. But what will happen when capitalism lurches into its next inevitable crisis of “over-production ‘? Already we have seen the writing on the wall in the shape of the stock exchange depression in U.S.A. in September. The City editors of the London and New York papers were all at sixes and sevens about the immediate cause and likely duration of the depression but on one thing they nearly all agreed – that the crisis of “over-production ” is bound to come. A typical comment was that of the New York Correspondent of the Observer (8/9/46) —

“Americans generally . . . take it for granted that there will eventually be a crash of some kind to offset the present boom. Their hope is that the crash will be brief …”

Another appeared in the Daily Express (23/9/46) : “The Wall Street slump marks the end of the first post-war boom just as the similar break of November, 1919, signalled the world trade depression of 1920-21. That is the view of some of the best brains in the City.”

A world trade crisis is bound to come, and the more the Labour Government succeeds in increasing the dependence of British industry on selling goods abroad, the more certain it will be that the full effect of the crisis will be felt here immediately.

Another example of the way Labour Party policy has swerved away from its early preachings is in the forms taken by nationalisation. A book that was once very popular in Labour circles was The Case for Socialism, by Mr. Fred Henderson. In it he frankly, faced up to the fact that Socialism involves dispossessing the capitalist class and that it is mere self-deception to suppose that you can both make over their property in the means of production to the community and at the same time give them full compensation for it. “If the nation gave them compensation, in the sense of giving them an equivalent for what it is proposed to take from them, we should fail in our purpose” (p. 20-21). A later, modified view, Mr. Attlee’s, for example, in his Labour Party in Perspective, was that it would be unfair to expropriate the capitalists gradually, industry by industry, because the first to fall would have a legitimate grievance; also it would be better tactics to give them all “reasonable and just compensation” and then rely on taxation to eliminate the gulf between the capitalist class and the working class.

In practice the capitalists in the nationalised industries are being given what even Cabinet Ministers call “generous” compensation and at the same time Mr. Dalton’s first budget did not increase, hut decreased taxation on companies in the form of the Excess Profits Tax. Taxing the rich out of existence may look all right in an election programme, but capitalism will only function if the capitalist has confidence in his ability to make a profit, so the Labour Government has had to safeguard profits and warn the workers against pressing too much for higher wages The rich are still with us in full force and nothing the Labour Government will do will alter it. Mr. Attlee may say “The abolition of classes is fundamental to the Socialist conception of society ” (p. 145) just as the Conservative Party can now give lip service to the same idea – “Mr. Churchill was telling them that England was moving towards a classless society and that the Conservative Party should not just accept the fact but actively promote this historic change” (Mr. D. Eccles, Conservative M.P., Times, 14/10/46) – but capitalism and classes are here to stay until Socialism ends them.

Also on nationalisation of industries, it used to be a Labour Party demand that the workers should be in control. Mr. Attlee (Socialism for Trade Unionists, 1922) declared that “the general direction . . . will be in the hands of representatives of the workers in the industry in consultation with representatives of the users of the service.” Another Labour writer, Mr. E. E. Hunter, particularly warned against “the danger of national ownership being given over to committees of business experts.” “Democratic control,” he said, was an “essential part of any ideal scheme of nationalisation” (Socialism at Work, I.L.P., 1921)

Nowhere in the nationalisation schemes now being put into operation will any vestige of these allegedly essential principles be found – they are incompatible with the functioning of capitalism and have had to go.

So one by one the Labour Party’s well-intentioned but ill-conceived schemes for bettering the capitalist system are sacrificed by the Labour Government in office. It could not be otherwise. The idea was that on taking office a Labour Government goes forward with the work of undermining capitalism and encroaching on the powers and wealth of the capitalists. The reality is that on the day a Labour Government takes office to administer capitalism it is forced to turn about arid begin the retreat from its beliefs so that capitalism may be kept running. The Labour voters believe that the Labour Government is in command of the situation. In truth – and doubtless by now even the most obtuse Labour minister begins to realise it – capitalism has the Labour Government in an iron grip. The Labour Government hoped to serve two masters, what they call the policy of serving the interests of all sections of the community. As time goes on and the working class become restive about the non-appearing fruits of labourism the Government will find itself more and more divorced from the workers and from its own pre-election promises.

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