Labour’s Lost Illusions
Right from the formation of the Labour Party the S.PG.B. opposed it, holding that its doctrine of changing class relationships through social reforms and its hope of abolishing war through international expressions of goodwill were founded in error about the nature of capitalism and socialism.
The S.P.G.B still opposes the Labour Party for the same reasons but in the meantime the Labour Party has undergone a profound change, one that would have surprised and dismayed its pioneers. At its birth it had a genuine belief in its principles; now the fire and inspiration have died and what is left are the vote-catching manoeuvres of a caucus of disillusioned political managers, hardly distinguishable from those who control the Tory Party machine.
Two early themes of the Labour Party propaganda were nationalisation and the search for peace. The words are still in use but the content has changed almost out of recognition. At first, as in Keir Hardie’s “From Serfdom to Socialism,” nationalisation was urged (mistakenly but with apparent sincerity), as a stepping stone to Socialism. Then came a later state when nationalisation became an end in itself; and a third stage when “Public Boards” were discovered to be better than nationalisation.
Lastly came the discovery, openly voiced Mr. Herbert Morrison and others during the recent Labour Government’s six years of administering capitalism, that the Labour ideal is a co-called “mixed economy,” a partnership between the Government and private capitalism.
Even this does not satisfy Mr. Morrison, for in a speech at Norwich, on January 5th, he rebuked those of his Party colleagues who are so “conservatively minded” as to be reluctant to adapt themselves to the “new” conditions.
“We have evolved a society which is certainly not a socialist society, but which is a changed and more socialistic society compared with that of fifty or even twenty years ago. In these circumstances our ideas, our policies, our language—these things are bound to be somewhat different—require from us adaptability, and modifications are bound to occur as society evolves.”
(Manchester Guardian 6 January, 1953)
The other inspiration of the early Labour Party was its reluctance to support war and armaments. At its annual conference in January, 1914, a few months before it was caught up in the war fever, it passed a resolution opposing increased armaments and conscription, endorsing the idea of international working class action against war, and seeking “to replace our present system of armed peace by an alliance between all the workers of the world for the purpose of lifting the burdens of poverty which press upon them today.” (Report, Page 121).
Just a week before Mr. Morrison made his speech about adaptability the Daily Herald, mouthpiece of the T.U.C. and Labour Party, showed how well it had learned the lesson—and to what depths the once idealistic movement has fallen. This was in an editorial called ‘Partnership,” published on 29 December, 1952.
It dealt with the latest version of the Labour Party’s attitude to capitalism and dealt in a way with its ideas on peace and war. It should have earned top marks from Mr. Morrison. It began with “warm congratulations”; addressed to all who have had a hand in a recent outstanding technical achievement. And it ended, on the right Morrisonian note, with “all praise to the British industry for a fruitful partnership between public and private enterprise.”
The reader will wonder what can have been the sweet (or bitter) fruit that lifted thus the heart of the Herald leader writer. What kind of product could it be that led the writer to say that “it is to such triumphs of skill and planning that Britain must look for victory in her battle for economic survival?”
It was “the new Scimitar jet bomber,” described by an equally enthusiastic writer in the Herald’s Conservative rival, the Daily Express (28 December) as able to fly “faster, further, higher than any other bomber,” with “ten times the power of last war’s best.”
The only discernible difference of approach between the Labour Herald and the Conservative Express is that the former sees in it a justification for the new Labour Party ideal of “large grants from the Ministry of Supply” which enabled the private firm to get ahead of American rivals.
Workers who still believe that the Labour Party is not like other parties of capitalism should ponder these things and draw the obvious conclusion.