Book Review: ‘The Left’
The “Labour Movement”
‘The Left’, edited by Gerald Kaufman (Anthony Blond, 18s.)
This book is a collection of essays by supporters of the Labour Party, mainly journalists, on what is called “the labour movement”: constituency Labour parties, trade unions, the co-ops, the left-wing press, the “fringe left” and so on. The essays are of varying quality and interest.
In recent years Labour has shed its old confused ideology (trade unionism, nationalism, anti-imperialism) and become “a classless, radical, pragmatic Party”. Roy Hattersley, now a junior Minister, describes the changeover which was completed in the years after the 1959 defeat: the determination to get power at all costs; the jettisoning of old slogans because they didn’t appeal to voters; the employment of public relations techniques to catch votes.
“Efforts were concentrated on what came to be known as ‘target voters’, that tiny percentage of the electorate whose decision to vote for one party or the other (and whose decision to vote at all) can be changed by persuasion and propaganda. Their habits, their hopes, and their aspirations were projected as the keynotes of Labour’s campaign.”
Could Labour’s opportunism be stated more frankly?
Over 70 per cent of Labour’s money comes from the Unions which raise the money through a political levy. All members of affiliated trade unions pay this levy unless they can be bothered to contract out. Many don’t bother. Many, perhaps most, don’t know they are financing the Labour Party (and organisations like Anti-Apartheid and the British Committee for Peace in Vietnam). In other words, much of Labour’s money is got by subterfuge. Yet one writer discussing this issue on connection with the co-ops, tries to contrast the Tory and Labour attitude to the matter:
“Though the Tory Party has never shown qualms in accepting money from companies who give their individual shareholders no option in the matter, it would not be in accordance with the democratic principles of the Labour Party to act in the same cavalier manner.”
This is hypocritical to say the least. If Labour is so concerned with democratic principle on this matter, why did they, so soon after getting power in 1945, replace contracting-in by contracting out? If they are so sure that no-one is giving money to their party through apathy, ignorance or fear, why don’t they restore contracting-in? Or, are they afraid of what might happen to their funds?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain gets a brief mention in an essay on “the fringe left” by Llew Gardner. Gardner has the illusion, obviously inherited from his days as a member of the so-called Communist Party, that:
“Involved in a strike, an SPGB member is likely to stand up to tell his fellow workers that their wage claim is pointless and that they must unite to destroy the capitalist system.”
While it is true that Socialists always draw attention to the ownership of the means of production by a privileged class, the Socialist Party does not say that strikes are pointless. We have always urged workers to keep up the struggle for higher wages and better working conditions all the time, under Labour as well as Tory governments, in war-time as well as peace-time. In fact, no other party has given such unqualified and consistent support to this economic side of the class struggle. Gardner’s lie is particularly insolent from a member of the strike-breaking Labour Party who now writes for the Daily Express.
And talking of insolence, how dare the publishers ask 18 shillings for a mere 180 pages?