1960s >> 1964 >> no-719-july-1964

The Labour Party illusion

In the coming general election the Socialist Party will be contesting two seats. We will be standing in opposition to all other parties, Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Communist. Nationalist, and the like. When we contest elections we put only one issue before the working class—Socialism or Capitalism. We only seek the support of those who wish to have Socialism now.

We hold that a Socialist party must base its policy on a recognition of the class struggle which goes on between the working class and the privileged owning class. It must not compromise with other political parties which, because there can only be one Socialist party in any one country, only stand for Capitalism in one form or another. This is why we arc opposed to those parties, like the Labour Party and the Communist Party, which claim to stand for Socialism.

Although we don’t regard these parties as Socialist and hold that they stand either for a reformed Capitalism (Labour) or State capitalism (Communist), we do recognise that they are in a way different from the Liberals and Conservatives. These openly proclaim that they stand for Capitalism. The Labour Party does not; it claims to be a party of the working class.

Under Capitalism there is inevitably working class discontent. The more politically conscious workers organise to seek a redress of their grievances. But as long as they are not Socialists, no matter how “ radical” they may be, their programme will be one of capitalist reform. They will form the “left-wing” of capitalist politics. This was the origin of the Labour Party; it was the party of working class discontent, vaguely protesting against the effects of Capitalism but having no understanding of their causes. “Labourism ” preached the need for a Labour government which would somehow be different from a Conservative or a Liberal government. Liberals and Conservatives could not be expected to sympathise with or understand the workers, it was argued, but a Labour government would be different This belief was based on the assumption that Capitalism could be administered in the interests of the working class.

The experiences of the first two Labour governments should have shattered this delusion, but there was always the excuse that they were in office but not in power. There was no such excuse in 1945. Once installed, the new Labour government settled down to the task of running Capitalism. This inevitably brought them into conflict with the working class. Thus we found them using troops as blacklegs, prosecuting strikers and, in the end. trying to impose “wage restraint” and a ” wage freeze” on the ground that wage increases would harm exports. Their foreign policy was based on protecting the overseas interests of the British capitalist class. To help them in this task they continued conscription and began production of the British nuclear bomb. As far as the working class were concerned there was little difference between this Labour government and previous Conservative ones. Their attempts to get higher wages were, as always, resisted. As before they were sent abroad to die defending the interests of the British capitalist class.

At the 1951 election the working class threw out the Labour government. The Labour Party had failed to produce Utopia. What changes they had made left the position of the working class much as it had been before. Once again experience confirmed our analysis that a Labour government would be no more able to solve working class problems than would an avowedly capitalist government.

The fact that the Labour Party failed did not mean that its leaders were consciously dishonest. It just meant that their theories of how Capitalism worked were wrong.

The Labour Party believed, and still believes, that social problems can be solved piecemeal—first defence, then housing, then redundancy, and so on. This again is a delusion. The social problems of Capitalism—bad housing, boring work, lack of educational opportunities, increasing crime, increasing mental illness, shoddy goods—arise from the fact that the workers do not own the means of production. This means that these problems cannot be solved within the capitalist system. Attempts to alleviate them will fail, for no sooner is one aspect cleared up than another appears.

There are many examples of this. In housing the answer to exorbitant rents was thought to be found in Rent Control. This affected the problem temporarily, but it has led to another; as a result of Rent Control the landlords have neglected their property so that today a major aspect of the housing problem is how to renovate decaying houses. One of the measures the last Labour government introduced was dividend restraint This led to a situation where companies had large reserves and low share values. As a result some time later, amid Labour protests, there was a spate of takeover bids. Then again, the Street Offences Act has merely led to the spread of the call girl racket. Trying to alleviate Capitalism’s social ills is like doing Sisyphus’ task. No sooner do you roll the stone to the top of the hill than it rolls back down again.

In recent years a change has come over the Labour Party. After losing three elections on the run the party decided that old-style Labourism was out of date. The image of the Labour Party as a backward-looking trade unionist party had to go. It was to be replaced by that of a modern, progressive, radical, national, dynamic, scientific, party. This change means that the Labour Party now accepts the capitalist system without qualification. It is the end of the road for “Labourism.” At one time the Labour Party could be said to hast had some principles even though they were hopelessly mistaken. Once it had a vision of a New Society. It had a strong pacifist and anti-militarist tradition. This is no longer so. Today the Labour Party is one of the two great electoral machines competing for power against the background of the capitalist system. It is Tweedledum to the Conservatives’ Tweedledee.

Mr. Wilson and his colleagues can hardly wait to get into office. But this time their party will not be coming to power as an avowed workers’ party but as a party determined to stand no nonsense in its attempts to modernise British capitalist industry. It is unlikely to look with tolerance on unofficial strikes and restrictive practices. It is likely to impose an “incomes policy”—in other words, wage restraint. The working class have nothing to gain from backing the Labour Party. But they can’t say they haven’t been warned what’s in store for them.

Adam Buick