50 Years Ago: Zilliacus

Konni Zilliacus, who died last month, was the Left winger to end all Left wingers. The only man who was in step; thepersistent thorn in his leaders’ sides; Labour’s unsleeping conscience. So they said.

Zilliacus had many disagreements with his party, especially on its foreign policy. He was one of those Labour M.P.s who found to their astonishment after the victory in 1945 that Bevin handled foreign affairs very much as they had expected a Tory Foreign Secretary to.

He was in almost all the rebel movements and eventually he paid for this, with expulsion. What Wilson has called “dog licences” were as necessary then as they are now; Zilliacus could not get back into Parliament until he had given the Labour leadership the necessary assurances about his future conduct, and they had accepted him into the fold once more.

Zilliacus was a prime example of what are called honest politicians. Perhaps we can accept this—although he never took his disagreements with Labour to the extent of resigning, nor did he come back on his own terms—but the fact is that such men are dangerous.

The so-called Left wingers encourage the idea that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Labour Party, that its only fault is a temporary deviation from the straight and narrow path, that a change of leadership is all that is needed to put everything right again.

No one will ever know how many futile votes this idea has won for Labour. No one will ever know the extent of the confusion and the cynicism it has caused.

What we do know is that the problems of capitalism are as acute as ever and that the political ignorance and apathy which supports the system is still there, encouraged by the Labour Party, by its members honest and dishonest, its leaders and its rebels.

(from ‘Review’, Socialist Standard, August 1967)

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