1960s >> 1960 >> no-675-november-1960
Put Not Your Trust
At the end of the Labour Party conference there was much speculation upon who, if anybody, might replace Mr. Gaitskell as leader. Some correspondents reported that Mr. Harold Wilson was bidding for the job. Others tried to frighten their readers by mentioning Mr. Cousins or Mr. Michael Foot as possible contenders.
Leader-hunting is an old pastime in the Labour Party; Mr. Gaitskell is only the latest of many who have fallen out of favour. Over the years, we have grown familiar with the dreary process of some Labour politicians starting their careers as left-wing firebrands and ending them as right wing sticks-in-the-mud. We have seen them cheered by Labour conferences for their outspoken reformatory zeal—only to lose some of their popularity later, because they joined the supporters of the leadership they had once attacked. Then it has been their turn to come under the lash of some self-styled militant.
What of the ordinary members of the Labour Party, who are often so dismayed by this apparent betrayal? Do they learn anything from their disappointment? Sadly, no. As one set of leaders falls from grace, so the search is started for a new set and each time the searchers convince themselves that they have at last found the honest, consistent and capable men whom they would like to have at the top of their party. They never, apparently, consider the proposition that all leaders, whatever their sincerity and ability, are futile. That if a political movement is to be worthwhile, it must be based upon something other than leader-worship.
One of the reasons for this can be found in some of the speeches which were made at Scarborough. Again and again speakers sought to prove that the particular policy they were advocating was an effective vote catcher. Mr. Sam Watson, for example, argued that if the Labour Party went unilateralist, it would have little chance of achieving political power. Mr. Cousins replied that the party had lost the last two elections on the old policy and stood a chance of receiving more electoral support by advocating nuclear disarmament. This is not the first time that discussion at Labour conferences has turned on such a point. In recent years, debates on such issues as land nationalisation have been overshadowed by the party’s concern to hold their vote in special areas of the country.
In other words, one of the Labour Party’s first worries is not the effects which their policies may have upon the welfare of the working class, but whether they can convince enough voters that those policies are sufficiently in their interests to warrant support for them at election time. This is an appeal not to knowledge, but to ignorance. And these are the conditions in which leaders are necessary.
Why do so many Labour leaders seem to betray the trust in them? Because they can only administer a policy which, whatever niggling reforms it may contain, leaves the capitalist social system intact. Capitalism has its inevitable problems. The betrayal is in the fact that the leaders promise that, with them in control, we can have one without the other. That is why ex-pacifist leaders of the Labour Party have come to support the production of nuclear weapons, and men who climbed to power through the trade unions have sat in a government which has broken strikes.
Is there no end to this? Leaders, we have said, exist by virtue of the ignorance of their followers. With political understanding, they are unnecessary. If workers understood that, say, nuclear weapons are one of the inevitable products of capitalist society, they would be immune to any plea in favour of manufacturing them. As it is, they are susceptible to appeals on such grounds as political expediency and patriotism. And they are prey to the allurements of leaders, treacherous or otherwise.
Knowledge, then, is the key. Workers must understand the cause of capitalism’s problems and realise that they will be solved only by the establishment of Socialism. Without that, we face the chaos and brutality of capitalism. With it, a happy, free and plentiful world is ours for the taking.