The Passing Show: Labour Rebels
A letter in the Guardian (24/6/60) read in part as follows:
“What I should like to know, however, is whether those members of Parliament who are now calling for the resignation of Hugh Gaitskell have ever themselves thought of resigning. If they are dissatisfied with the policies and leadership of the Labour Party, let them join say “The Socialist Party of Great Britain,” and see how they get on there.”
The letter is signed by Silvan Jones, the chairman of the Conway constituency Labour Party.
We are grateful to Mr. Jones for his interest in the Socialist Party, but it seems that he is under a misapprehension. While we are always glad to receive applications for membership, in order to keep the party as a Socialist party, we only allow Socialists to join. In this we are unlike Mr Jones’ party, which the most convinced upholder of the capitalist system could join merely by signing an application form. The results may be seen in the political history of the twentieth century: the Labour Party’s erratic pursuit of one reform after another, contrasted with the Socialist Party’s consistent advocacy of Socialism.
What a tragedy was the life of Harry Pollitt! Here was a man who, horrified by the conditions of the working class as he had known them in his youth, set out in a genuine attempt to improve those conditions. He conceived a personal dislike of “the bosses,” and was determined to “make them pay” for what the workers had had to suffer. Yet Harry Pollitt never gained a thorough understanding of the forces that mould modern society, in Russia as well as in Britain. As a result, his deeply-felt hostility to the ruling class in Britain simply resulted in his becoming, indirectly, an overseas ally of the Russian ruling class. It is not enough merely to oppose capitalism, as one has known it: one must be for its alternative, Socialism. Had Harry Pollitt succeeded in his efforts, he would merely have been instrumental in establishing state capitalism in Britain, in place of the variety we have at present. And that would have left the workers exactly where they are now.
Curiously enough, many of the obituary notices which have appeared in the papers after Harry Pollitt’s death expressed some regard for him—curiously, because the British newspapers are the propaganda organs of the British ruling class. The obituaries recalled with approval that Pollitt, after supporting the 1939 war against Germany at its outbreak, showed more reluctance than the other members of the Communist Party to come out against the war when Stalin and Hitler concluded their pact.
The Times obituary (30/6/60) was an example. It was written by a clergyman, a former member of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch who once had the job of shadowing Pollitt. This writer could claim to understand the interests of the British ruling class: he recounts that when, after the Russo-German Pact, he asked Pollitt. “Are you going to let Hitler smash Britain?” Pollitt replied “No, we shall not do that.” The fact that Pollitt was able to talk about the war (which was a struggle between German capitalist class and the British capitalist class) in those terms shows how little he understood the world in which he lived.