1980s >> 1982 >> no-929-january-1982

Labour: who will mourn?

Who will mourn the Labour Party if, as seems likely, it is in its death throes? Prudent political commentators must even now be composing its obituary. Who will there be to shed tears if the end comes?

No doubt there will be thousands of workers, people who have tramped the streets in election campaigns, stood out in harsh weather to listen to some Labour leader, who will mourn. They were convinced that the reformism of the Labour Party offered some hope of a better world. They clung to this conviction in the face of years of evidence to the contrary; often, in the end, they were reduced to claiming that the Labour Party was the best of a bad bunch better, at least, than the Tories. Some of them might even have thought that Labour stood, at some time and some place, for socialism, although their conception of it was extremely vague.

There will be many trade unionists to mourn; workers who linger stubbornly in the Labour Party tradition that, having sprung from the trade union movement, the party must always represent the interests of union members. For some, as Labour governments fought the unions over wages and working conditions, as Labour ministers urged workers to break picket lines, it must have needed a special effort of obduracy to keep the faith. Those who did will mourn.

Some members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will mourn. They may be convinced that Labour’s conference decision to support unilateral nuclear disarmament would have meant something to a future Labour government. They will have been notably insensitive to political history and to the manner in which the governments of capitalism are liable to treat the idealism of a minority of their followers. Insensitive and ignorant, CNDers will be there to mourn.

Muddle-heads on the left wing will mourn. The Socialist Workers Party, for example, has devoted a lot of time to telling the workers that the Labour Party is their enemy but that they should vote for a Labour government. The SWP must be very grateful to the Labour Party, for providing so fertile a soil in which to sow such confusion. If Labour dies, where will the crazy militants of the left find an adequate substitute? So, without a doubt, they will mourn.

Racists among the working class will regret the passing of the Labour Party who, after all, gave racist laws the stamp of respectability; if a “socialist” government wanted to restrict the entry of coloured workers then it must be all right, mustn’t it? Crude patriots whose support for the Labour Party was rooted in a defence of their standards of poverty, who would fight to the death for their jerry-built home, the drudgery which is “their” job, the sub-standard care they get in hospitals; they who found much comfort in Labour’s racism will mourn the party’s end.

Among the British capitalist class there will also be many mourners. They saw the reality of Labour rule, with eyes unstarred by distorted history or by current deceptions. They knew that the Labour Party has always done its best for the interests of the British ruling class, that it has always done what it saw to be necessary for those interests to be protected and advanced. They had no cause to complain at their treatment at the hands of any Labour government. And it was all done while the working class were being told they were experiencing a socialist society. If only in gratitude, members of the British ruling class will mourn.

Abroad, also, there will be capitalists who will grieve that Labour is no more. The American ruling class, for example, who found in the governments of Attlee and Wilson such sterling allies, will no doubt pay tribute to a fond memory. The Attlee government gave its full support to the Americans dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the Americans declared war on North Korea, that same Labour government was eager in its support, sending British workers to die in the war there to protect the interests of their masters. Similarly, the Wilson government was a steadfast ally of the American war effort in Vietnam, supporting it through all the horrors which that war produced. The American capitalist class, in the person of President Johnson, expressed their gratitude at the time and it was well deserved. No doubt, the master class of America will mourn.

Socialists will not mourn the end of the Labour Party. We know it to be a party of capitalism, which stands for the interests of the minority owning, exploiting class in society. The effect of Labour rule has never been to leave that master class in any weaker position; in fact, if anything. Labour has gone out of office leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer. Every Labour government has attacked the living standards of the working class and because it has called this socialism, has thrown up a mountain of confusion.

What of those Labour Party members who, anxious to throw off the burdens of their position as workers and to alleviate the sufferings which are the everyday experience of workers everywhere, will mourn the passing of their party as the only vehicle they know to the society of freedom, peace and plenty? They are fatigued with disappointment and doubt. They will find the case for socialism refreshing.

Socialism requires that there is a majority of workers who understand and want it. That consciousness immunises a socialist against the deceits and the assurances which bolster the politics of capitalism. Socialists are alert to the fact that only a society based on common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution will abolish the problems of capitalism. We are aware that no reforms can do this and that parties which have a programme of reformism are seeking only to postpone socialism in other words to maintain capitalism.

The socialist alternative to the Labour Party, dead or alive, is a society in which all human beings stand equally in their access to the common wealth, a society in which all people co-operate freely to produce the things society needs. This will be a world without frontiers, without nationalities or senseless patriotisms or racism. It will be a world with only one people, all working together for the common good. It will be a world without war, poverty, starvation and much of the disease which now shortens our lives. It will be a society of freedom and abundance.

Workers who mourn the Labour Party must consider the alternative of socialism. For them, after the agonies of confusion and doubt, it will be like a life after death.