1940s >> 1949 >> no-541-september-1949

Ourselves and the Conservatives

Friends of the Labour Party sometimes complain to us that we spend a lot of time attacking the Labour Government. “Why,” they ask, “do you not attack the Labour Party less and the Conservatives more?” When they develop their argument it invariably turns out that they do not really mean what they say. They do not want us to attack the Labour Government less, but not at all, and their only positive suggestion is that we should drop Socialist propaganda and help them denounce and destroy the Tory Party. We would certainly like to destroy the Tory Party, and so, perhaps, would some members of the Labour Party, but that does not in the least mean that we and the Labour Party share a common purpose. Some recent political history should make this clear. The Labour Party, between the wars, succeeded in reducing the Liberal Party to an impotent political fragment, but has this weakened capitalism and brought Socialism nearer?

By no means. What it did was to turn the Labour Party from a political wing of the trade unions into a veritable successor of Liberalism, inheriting from them the function of sharing the administration of capitalism with the Tories, and as the Labour Party gains more experience in the corrupting task of running the capitalist system it is evolving further, this time towards Conservatism, trying to steal from them the reputation of being the guardians of the British Colonial Empire, and the sponsors of conscription and big armaments. The gulf between the Labour and Tory programmes is now no greater than was the old division between Liberal and Tory. And it is one of those hotly denied but widely accepted facts of the political situation that if British capitalism comes up against a really acute financial or international crisis Labour and Tory enemies will hasten into each other’s arms to save it in a coalition government.

Socialists certainly want to see the Tory Party die, but for a purpose, the purpose of achieving Socialism. Capitalism is the removable evil from which the working class have to rid themselves, Therefore all who defend capitalism are the enemies of the working class. This includes the Labour Party even though their defence of capitalism arises not from a conscious aim, but is forced on them by the fact that they have taken on the administration of capitalism and can do no other than defend it.

Yet there is a difference – though it tends to grow less – between Labour and Tory. The Tory Party began as the defender of landed property, that was its conscious purpose. In the course of time it has become the conscious defender of capitalist property as a whole. The Tory Party only became interested in the working class, in the first place to the extent that working class discontent threatened to upset the system, and later on to the extent that the workers had votes and were therefore potential supporters of Tory candidates. In its essence as the defender of property against the propertyless the Tory Party has never changed. Every move, every reform measure sponsored by them has been designed with the object of strengthening property interests and helping them to power.

Now, with the advent of a Labour Government, and the prospect of its being returned again at the next election, the Tory Party has had to overhaul its machinery, its propaganda and its vote-catching appeals. Now it is the Labour Party that is hampered by having to do the unpopular things that governments of capitalism have to do. Conversely it is now the Tories who in the irresponsibility of opposition are trying to outbid the Labour leaders. Hence – to take one striking example – Mr. Churchill’s claim that the Tories are the real friends of the Trade Unions and the workers. Speaking at Wolverhampton on July 23rd, 1949, he said:-

“Nothing was clearer than that Nationalisation spelt the doom of trade unionism. That was already the case in all totalitarian states where they were used to make the workers come along as quietly as they will, before the sterner measures of Socialist or Soviet management have to be enforced. Conservatives regarded the trades union movement, which they had always fostered from its earliest days, as a characteristic feature of British life. They believed in collective bargaining and the right to strike.” (Daily Telegraph, 25/7/49)

This latter claim is a travesty of history and the workers will swallow it at their peril. The Tories, as they showed by their handling of the miners and the general strike in 1926, the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, and the callous treatment of the unemployed throughout the ‘thirties, will operate capitalism ruthlessly. It is true, indeed, that Russian or British state capitalism offers absolutely no hope to the working class, but neither does the Tory “paternal” capitalism now being propagated in their “Right Road for Britain” and the Tory “Workers’ Charter.”

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