They all go the same way home

After 14 years of Labour government in New Zealand and eight years in Australia, the general elections in November and December saw those Labour governments rejected by the voters who had earlier put them into power. Some of the political commentators in this country have been speculating about the effect those results may have on the forthcoming General Election here.


They suggest that the British workers may be influenced to vote against the Labour Party because of what has happened in New Zealand and Australia. It is a fallacious view. If the Labour Government here had been able to make a success of its efforts to run capitalism in a manner pleasing to the workers they would not be influenced at all by what has happened on the other side of the globe. It may be that the British Labour Government will next year be returned to power for another five years, though the Labour Ministers are clearly resigned to suffering some loss of votes and seats. What we can say with complete confidence is that sometime or other, either at the 1950 elections or later on, the workers in Britain will turn out the Labour Government. The now lengthening history of Labour governments in many parts of the world shows that they are merely the alternative that the electors choose when they have become tired, sick or resentful of Liberal or Tory government. Just as 19th century Britain witnessed the game of political ins and outs, with never any fundamental change in the position of the working-class, so the 20th century gives us the same game but with the Labour Party in place of one of the older Parties.


Labour Party supporters are often amazed that this should happen. After Labour governments had introduced so much legislation and so many seemingly important changes how can the workers be so blind and ungrateful as to turn their Labour Party friends out of office? That is how it appears to Labour Party members.


It is all a myth. The more capitalism is changed in detail the more it remains at base the same—a system resting on the exploitation of the working class. It is true that, for electioneering purposes, the politicians have to pretend that there is a fundamental gulf between the Parties, hence the pretence that in New Zealand, Australia and Britain the fight is one between capitalism and Socialism. Just the same pretence was made when the contending Parties were Liberal and Tory, yet during war or at a time of acute economic crisis Liberal, Tory and Labour Parties find no difficulty in reconciling their differences in order to form coalition governments.


We are told by Conservatives in this country that the issue in Australia was for and against the continuance of “Socialism”. There was no Socialism in Australia and no intention of introducing it. A less glaringly inaccurate description is that provided by Mr. Menzies, the new Australian Prime Minister. He says “the election was fought on the question of freeing the people from an all-powerful State—Nationalisation has taken it on the chin” (Sunday Express, 11.12.49). What Mr. Menzies calls freeing the people from an all-powerful State simply means such things as the promise of the new Government to end petrol-rationing and other controls carried on from the war: but as The Times points out: — “Actually this form of rationing has nothing to do with Socialist doctrine, but is necessary, at any rate in the view of the outgoing Government, to protect dollar reserves” (Times, 2.12.49). It is just as much a distortion to claim that the defeat of the Australian Labour Government means that nationalisation has been knocked out. Nationalisation has nothing to do with Socialism and no government in Australia or Britain which continues capitalism will undo nationalisation. All that is involved between them is whether to apply nationalisation a little more or a little less. In the election the Australian Labour Party went out of its way to assure the electors that its own proposal to nationalise the private banks was now a dead issue because of a legal decision which showed that it would require constitutional to bring it into effect. On the other side Mr. Menzies declared, just as did his Labour opponents, “that if any utility were not being conducted efficiently in the public interest, or were exploiting the public, it should be nationalised” (Economist, 10.12.49).


On the issue of the so-called “social services” the Labour Party asked the workers to vote for them for what has already been done, while the Conservatives slipped in with a promise to give the children’s allowance to the first child instead of restricting it to the other children as is done at present.


One of the significant features of the election was the heavy defeat of the Labour Party in Queensland and its loss of votes in New South Wales, both of them former Labour strongholds, and New South Wales a largely industrial State containing much of the coal industry. What undoubtedly helped to produce this anti-Labour vote was the way the Labour Government behaved in the strike on the Queensland nationalised railways in 1948, and in the coal strike in 1949. In both disputes the authorities obtained emergency powers to deal with the strikes and there were bitter clashes between the police and the strikers. Thus does history repeat itself; for it was a similar savage struggle with strikers on the railways and in the sugar industry that preceded the electoral defeat of the Queensland Labour Government in 1929.


On that occasion, a trade union journal in Australia (The Worker, Brisbane, 7.9.1927) made the revealing comment: —”The impression is getting abroad that it is not possible for a Labour government to govern in a capitalist state, but that seems to be absurd.” Here we have the crux of the matter. A Labour Government can certainly govern in a capitalist State, but it can only do so in much the same way as any other Party trying to run capitalism. In the last resort it must use the forces of State to break strikes and force the workers into submission because if it doesn’t capitalism will relapse into chaos.


The only road of escape from this dilemma is to get rid of capitalism and introduce Socialism and that is a task for which the Labour Parties have no mandate. It is a task for the workers of the world and it cannot be begun until they understand and want Socialism and organise politically to bring it about.


Edgar Hardcastle