Six Years’ Hard Labour

Britain has now been ruled continuously by a Labour Government for the past six years. In June, 1945, with high hopes and great expectations, the working class of this country voted the British Labour Party into power. A smaller number of workers repeated the action in 1950. The smallness of the Labour Party’s majority at the 1950 election has caused most people to anticipate a further general election almost any day since the result of the last one was known. It is a suitable time to take a brief look back over those past six years.

It is not our intention to delve into details of the various enactments that have resulted from Labour legislation. That we have done in the columns of this paper at intervals since 1945. We are not being wise after the event; the criticisms that we make now we were making many years before a Labour Government took office. Neither do we wish to preen ourselves and adopt an “I-told-you-so ” attitude. We want to emphasise that, with an elementary understanding of Capitalism and a little Socialist knowledge, the workers can tell in advance whether a political party is worthy of their support or deserves their opposition.

The promises, statements and actions of the leaders of the Labour Party show that they, too, are ignorant of the economics of Capitalism, and that, despite their claim to be Socialists, they have not the slightest grasp of the very first principles of Socialism. They have not even tackled the job of managing Capitalism with a determination that might have won them some respect, if not praise, from their 1945 supporters. Mr. E. S. Sachs, secretary of a South African garment workers’ union, writing in “The Garment Worker,” January/February, 1951, gives his view of British labour leaders. Examining them from that distance gives Mr. Sachs an objective view which is a great advantage. He says:

“Very few British Labour Leaders are free from the faults of their ruling class. Their common characteristics are snobbishness, kow-towing to the rich and mighty and a feeling of superiority more especially in respect of colonial peoples. They become dizzy with success and despondent in defeat. Their ego and self-importance increase as they become better known. Few seek to raise their cultural level, and devote all their energies to their particular job. Their outlook is insular and the affairs of the world are to them ‘Foreign affairs.'” (Page 3.)

The Labour Party’s declaration of policy, on which it fought the 1945 general election, was contained in a pamphlet entitled, “Let us face the future.” On page 11 is the claim that,

“No domestic policy, however wisely framed and courageously applied, can succeed in a world still threatened by war.”

Yet from 1945 to 1951, the Labour Party’s administration of Capitalism has kept the threat of another and greater war continuously over our heads. The Labour Government’s concern to be prepared for another war is now their excuse for curtailing some of their social insurance schemes, imposing more austerity on the workers and calling for more work.

The application of the social service plans may have removed the threat of the most abject poverty from sections of the working class, but it has not improved the lot of the working class as a whole. Its effect has been to redistribute the poverty of the working class and spread it more evenly over the entire class. The poorer paid workers and those with large families have received increased incomes, while the better paid and the childless or unmarried ones, through the medium of family allowances, income tax allowances and the arrangement of purchase tax. on particular lines of commodities, have come off particularly badly. Now, in the interests of a huge armament expenditure in preparation for the next war, some of the social services are reduced or curtailed.

We were told in 1945 that

“Housing will be one of the greatest and one of the earliest tests of the Government’s real determination to put the nation first.” (“Let us face the future,” p. 8.)

As the housing problem is essentially a working-class problem, that statement could only be interpreted as a promise to the workers. But the Labour Government’s efforts to solve this generations-old problem have shown little determination and less success. Again, the threat of war has offered an excuse to curtail certain building operations.

“… a high and constant purchasing power can be maintained through good wages. … But everybody knows that money and savings lose their value if prices rise, so rents and the prices of the necessities of life will be controlled.” (“Let us face the future,” p. 5.)

The perpetual struggle of the workers to bring their wages up to the ever soaring cost of living level is evidence of the failure of the Labour Government to maintain the level of wages.

In the early days of the Labour Party its policy was known as “gradualism.” The idea was, that by reforming Capitalism piecemeal, a little at a time, it would gradually be reformed out of existence and in its place would stand Socialism. A different kind of gradualism has resulted since the Labour Party took office in 1945. The slashing attacks on many of the actions of previous governments have gradually been diluted, then abated, and finally the very same actions performed by the Labour Government.

Workers will remember the indignation of Labour leaders when Tory or Liberal Governments used troops during a strike. Yet, within a few months of occupying the Government benches in Westminster, the Labour ministers did the very same thing. They have done it a number of times during the six years. They have even prosecuted workers for striking.

Conscription was another issue which brought forth heated opposition from prominent Labourites in their pre-office days. Now they can find a host of arguments to justify it.

“Soak the rich, tax them out of existence,” was another old-time battle cry of Labour politicians. Successive Labour chancellors altered the tune and now say that this is not a good policy and that it will not work.

In what stirring words the Labour speakers and writers used to tell us that overproduction meant unemployment. But in 1948 they were telling us that,

”. . . The danger to full employment is not producing too much, but producing too little—and too dear.” (Government-issued poster, 1948.)

Another poster about that time told us that “More from each means more for all,” and Mr. Attlee appealed to us for an increase of 10 per cent. in production to ‘solve our problems. Since that time industrial production has increased by 25 per cent., but the workers are still waiting for the “more for all,” and the problems seem to have multiplied.

Nationalisation has, of course, been the “top-of- the-bill” turn for the Labour Government. It was to be a means of removing the capitalists from the control of industry and of buying them out. It was the Labour man’s idea of Socialism. The State serves Capitalism and when it takes over an industry it does so in the interests of Capitalism. It becomes the employer on behalf of the capitalist class. The control of industry by the State does not alter the capitalist nature of production. The Labour Government has introduced State Capitalism in some industries, but not Socialism.

The benefit of State ownership to the workers is nil and they are realising it. Mr. Deakin, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, speaking at his union’s biennial conference at Whitley Bay on July 11th of this year, found it advisable to utter a warning,

“If, in October, Labour appeals to the country and there is any considerable extension of the principle of nationalisation, we should get the biggest whacking we have ever had in our history.” (Evening News, 11.7.1951.)

This year’s Annual Report of the British Transport Commission shows that the surplus of income over working expenses was about £40 million. Interest to the former owners, administration, redemption and special items amount to over £54 million thus making a deficit of over £14 million. To the worker striving for a few extra shillings in his wage packet, this is no different to pre-nationalisation days.

So, at the end of this six years of Labour Government we are in very much the same position as we were in 1938. Another war in the offing, wage increases lagging a long way behind price increases, threats of austerity and demands for more work, insufficient houses, peace-time military service—all the sores and symptoms of Capitalism unabated.

We do not hold the Labour Government to blame for this. It is not its fault. It does not determine the course of Capitalism. We know the Labour Party to be a party of capitalist reform and we knew that its efforts to make Capitalism more endurable were doomed to failure. We are opposed to the Labour Party as we are opposed to all reformist parties and our opposition gets more pointed when it passes off its quack reforms under a Socialist label.

The Labour Government has not attempted to end the exploitation of the workers for profit. It has, instead, worked hard to save Capitalism and to assure the capitalist class of its profits, its interest and its rents. At the next election it may lose the support of the workers and be back again on the opposition benches.

Unfortunately, most workers, not understanding Socialism, will turn to the Conservative Party as the only alternative. The Labour Party must take a lot of the responsibility for this political muddle-headedness on the part of the workers. It has made confusion worse confounded by its claim to be a Socialist party.

Mr. Bevan and the other rebels in the Labour Party ranks have nothing better to offer. They have no fundamental quarrel with their party. There have been other rebels, like Cripps and, later, Zilliacus and Co. They flare into prominence for a while then simmer down again, and the Labour Party goes steadily
on beguiling the workers with one illusion after another.

Socialism means more than a hotch-potch of capitalist reforms. It means the ending of the capitalist relationships—employer and employed, buyer and seller, borrower and lender. It means that industry will be owned by the community, not by the State, that wealth will be produced for people to use, not for the making of profit for a few. It means the end of buying and selling and of the wages system.

That requires a social revolution which necessitates conscious political action by the workers. Capitalism cannot be gradually rubbed away, it must be decisively abolished. The capitalist class cannot be bought out, it must be kicked out


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