Our Answer to the Witch-hunt and
Our Policy for Labour
By Gerry Healy
During the past few weeks the capitalist press have been engaged in a furious witch-hunt against trade unionists and Labour Party members whom they call “Trotskyists”.
They have paid particular attention to the national rank-and file Conference called by The Newsletter on November 16.
They wrote about the Conference under such headlines as “Red Club Exposed. Men behind it: Secret Documents Revealed” (News Chronicle, November 13). “The Men You Must Watch”, (Sunday Mercury, November 16), “The Aim is More Strikes”, (Reynolds News, November 16), “600 Plot 24 Hour Strike”, (Daily Sketch, November 17), “Red Club Men Hold a Secret Conference, (News Chronicle, November 17).
Not for many years has the capitalist press engaged in red-baiting on such a scale and with such venom; but it is no accident that it has chosen this time to do so.
Every trade unionist knows who owns the mass circulation newspapers of Fleet Street, who pays the Fleet Street piper, and who therefore calls the tune he plays. Behind those powerful organs for moulding public opinion and influencing people’s minds stand millionaire representatives of the employing class.
These organs and their millionaire owners are now extremely sensitive to developments inside the trade unions and Labour Party. They realize that the growth of unemployment and the attempts by the employers to weaken trade unionism in industry are bound to provoke reactions among the rank and file.
They know that a general election is not far off, and they want at all costs to weaken the Labour Party and ensure a substantial Tory victory.
The technique of Fleet Street is as old as the hills. Select some individual victim, build him up as a villain and conspirator, and retail his alleged misdeeds on the front page day after day. But never, never print one line or word or syllable of the policy for which he stands, the arguments which he adduces in support of that policy, or the stand he takes on vital questions affecting the happiness and welfare of the workers. “Strikes are caused by Red Club men”, scream the press in chorus.
Contented Workers, Wild Agitators
There is nothing new in this allegation. In the eyes of the capitalist class every strike is a conspiracy. Workers are quite contented, whatever happens to them, until some wild agitator comes along and disturbs their tranquillity.
By describing workers as conspirators or the dupes of conspirators Fleet Street hopes to turn public opinion against strikers and so help defeat them.
For decades trade unionists in pretty well every industry have been patiently pointing out that strikes do not take place because of the intervention of “agitators”, but because the workers have a burning grievance which cannot be expressed in any other way. No body of workers will down tools, with all the sacrifice that often entails, without powerful reason for doing so.
To read the capitalist press, one would imagine that the McAlpine dispute came about through the intervention of a handful of Newsletter “agitators”; the Financial Times last Monday again gave currency to the lie that The Newsletter “helped to organize” this stoppage.
Ignores the Stubborn Fact
This is to ignore the stubborn fact that McAlpine, and not The Newsletter, gave 1,250 men their cards for the purpose of “weeding out the worst militants”, as the Financial Times itself revealed at the time.
Britain is today witnessing a large number of strikes, for the simple reason that the employers have decided to fight the trade unions and, in particular, to weaken the shop stewards movement as much as they possibly can.
Mr. C. S. Garland, retiring president of the National Union of Manufacturers, said on November 27 that the shop steward system was “thoroughly bad” and “one of the greatest menaces that we employers have had to face”; and a “solution” must be found “in legislation.”
It is the employers’ attacks which cause the strikes, and their newspapers are using the old red bogy to cover up the downright conspiracy of their own class, a conspiracy in which these newspapers are participating, against the workers’ jobs, living standards and workshop organisation.
Here are two examples to prove this.
The News Chronicle prides itself on its cleverness in rooting out and exposing a “Red Club”. This Liberal paper is in the very forefront of the witch-hunt.
Sir Oscar’s Own Charter
At first site, this might seem surprising. But it is less surprising when we learn that the joint editor of its City column, Sir Oscar Hobson, is busy advocating a Charter of Employers’ Demands including the following points:
(1) Strikes to be illegal until an inquiry has been held.
(2) Secret ballot before “the withdrawal of labour”.
(3) Political strikes to be illegal
(4) Unofficial strikes not to have the protection of the Trades Disputes Act
(5) A court to deal with “restrictive practices and…
(6) To deal with abuses “in the relationship between members of a union and the union itself.
These were the demands put forward by Sir Oscar, the eminent stable companion of Mr. Roy Nash, in the November issue of the National Provincial Bank Review.
This is a programme for making the trade unions part of the official machinery of the state and for putting the full power of the state machinery behind their permanent officials.
As team-mates in the News Chronicle Club, Sir Oscar and Mr. Nash are jointly responsible for moulding the public opinion of their readers along the lines desired by their employers, the famous cocoa kings.
Game is Very Clear
The game is very clear. While Mr. Nash is very busy on his witch-hunt against union militants, Sir Oscar is busily preparing a charter for destroying trade unionism as we understand it.
The industrial correspondent clears the way for the City man to get on with the real job. Of course, Sir Oscar has not yet dared to come out into the open – the readers of the National Provincial Bank Review are far fewer than those of the News Chronicle. But there is a clear and significant division of labour here.
Here is the second example.
The Sunday Times boasts a correspondent who claims to be well-informed about “Trotskyists”, and who signs his articles “A trade-unionist”. In fact this stool-pigeon who is afraid to sign his name to what he writes is known to be very close to the very highest circles of the Trade Union Congress.
By a Strange Coincidence
“A Trade Unionist” recently devoted a good deal of space to attacking the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers in the northern ports.
A couple of weeks later the TUC, by a strange coincidence, decided to suspend the NASD (and it did so at a very convenient time for the officials of the Transport and General Workers Union, when unemployment is growing on the docks and there is being prepared a move on the part of the employers to cut the dock register).
By placing the “blue union” outside the pale the TUC leaders are entering into a conspiracy with the leaders of the TGWU – aided and abetted by Lord Kemsley’s Sunday Times – to deprive militant port-workers of their livelihood because they do not hold a union card of the right colour.
Has “A Trade Unionist” a crystal ball in his office? Or did he know what was coming, and was he given the task of preparing public opinion by means of the old red bogy, so that this shameful attempt to split the trade union movement on the docks would pass without protest?
It is here and not in the activities of Marxists and other working class militants who have spent their lives in the service of their class, that one should look for “conspiracies” and “plots” against the trade union movement.
Since the Newsletter conference Mr. Nash has turned his attention to the Labour Party. He notes with glee that as a result of his efforts it is possible that the right-wing leaders of the party will start a witch-hunt against left-wing members, and may even expel them.
The same people who want to destroy the shop stewards’ movement want to split the Labour Party, so that some of its most active and devoted workers will be driven out of the Party at the time it most needs them to help ensure a Labour victory at the general election.
To the News Chronicle anyone who speaks out strongly for socialist policies is a “Red”. To these practitioners of journalistic ethics any Labour Party meeting where the class struggle is discussed and support given to workers fighting in defence of their jobs can be described as a meeting of a “Red Club”, if it suits the book of the Cadbury family and those whose pens they have hired.
Guilt by association is no longer the prerogative of the late McCarthy; it has been imported into Britain by Mr. Roy Nash and some of his Fleet Street colleagues and competitors.
Must Be On Guard
Trade unionists and Labour Party members everywhere must be on guard against the methods of the millionaire press.
Behind these attacks on militants and on socialists there is a conspiracy to compass the defeat of the Labour Party in the next general election, split the trade union movement, and pave the way for the harshest reactionary anti-trade union legislation if the Tories are returned to power.
Recent events contain a solemn warning, in the light of such past experiences as the Campbell case and the Zinoviev Letter. At all critical times, when the Tories and the employers are bankrupt of policies, they resort to red scares of all kinds to divide and confuse the working class.
Once more they are in difficulties. Unemployment is increasing. In adjacent columns you can read red scare stories and accounts of sackings, short-time working and mounting unemployment. One aircraft company is threatening to sack 1000 workers, at least 4,000 miners have been sacked. These are almost daily occurrences.
Endorse Their Class’s Policy.
The News Chronicle and the Sunday Times are not campaigning for full employment. They endorse the policy for which their class stands, the utilization of unemployment as a means of “disciplining” the workers.
When The News Letter proposed to give the rank and file the opportunity to discuss the growth of unemployment and how to resist it, it was attacked by the press because it was drawing attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of human beings, condemned once again by an obsolete social system to poverty and all its degrading effects.
Though the Tory Party publically declares its anxiety about the growth of unemployment, both Heathcoat Amory and the Economist have blurted out that even the present figure is “excessively” low.
The fight against unemployment is a political question. It is the touchstone of a real socialist policy. The right-wing trade union leaders have demonstrated their utter incapacity to stand fast against the employers on this question.
The only real resistance has come from the shop stewards. That is why the stewards and all who seek to bring the rank and file together in united action in defence of jobs, have become the main target of the employers hostility.
We say quite frankly that every trade union leader who helps the employers to victimize a shop steward in nothing more or less than a tool of the employers inside the trade union movement.
Have Served Him Well
Those trade union leaders who agreed with the sacking of the Shell-Mex workers and their shop stewards have served Sir Robert McAlpine and his class well, and have betrayed the interests of their own members.
Tory policy for the working class is hunger and war. The capitalist system is bankrupt.
All the right wing Labour and trade union leaders who want to patch up this system are holding back the advance to socialism in Britain. But neither witch-hunters nor glossy pamphlets can hold back this advance for long.
I want to address some remarks on the witch-hunt to members of the Communist Party.
First by their silence, then by their slanders against the Newsletter Conference, the leaders of your party have in practice endorsed the witch-hunt against The Newsletter and the Conference. They have thereby split the anti-capitalist struggle and left your own ranks open to similar witch-hunting attacks.
It is not possible to resist the attacks on the London North district committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Electrical Trades Union while at the same time delivering side-swipes at The Newsletter.
When the capitalist class embarks on a witch-hunt, it does not care whether its victim is a member of the Communist Party or the Labour Party. Communist Party members and “Trotskyists” are all “Reds” to them.
Against the Whole Working Class
The witch-hunt is aimed at the working class as a whole, even though the immediate victims are individuals. Not to come out against the witch-hunt when it starts, as a matter of principle – whatever one’s political disagreements may be with the initial victims – is to make a rod for one’s own back.
Look at the experience of the American workers. During the second world war the U.S. Communist Party supported the use of the Smith Act against the Trotskyist leaders of the Socialist Workers Party.
During the cold war this same Act was used against the leaders of the U.S. Communist Party, (and the SWP incidentally, protested and campaigned against this persecution). Isn’t there a lesson here for Gollan and Pollitt? And for the rank and file of their party?
The trouble with the British Communist Party is that its leaders have never been able to get to grips with Stalinism.
Yes, they paid lip service to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes – but they never drew the lessons from it. Instead, they sought to lull their members to sleep.
Stalin represented a privileged bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. And Khrushchev continues to represent that bureaucracy today. If he was forced to denounce Stalin, it was because that bureaucracy is being threatened by the power and might of a revitalised working class in Russia.
The leaders of the British Communist Party, by continuing to support Khrushchev in the same uncritical way they supported Stalin, are carrying on in the old Stalinist manner.
That is why, instead of having an honest discussion about left-wing unity in Britain, they go on using the word “Trotskyist” as a swear word, thus evading political problems rather than giving serious answers to them. The logical outcome of this is that they find themselves echoing – or anticipating – Fleet Street attacks on Marxists in the Labour Party.
Blind support for Khrushchev in the Soviet Union leads to collaboration with the right wing in the British trade union movement – and that is why many Communist Party full time union officials are indistinguishable from their right wing counterparts.
Communist Party members should press their leaders to wage a united campaign against the witch-hunt, as a matter of principle. And they should judge their leaders by their readiness to wage such a campaign, which is the acid test of their sincerity as socialists.
The next Labour Government cannot survive unless it bases itself on the defence of the shop stewards’ movement and gives trade unions complete freedom to act on their members’ behalf.
The middle class will be won to the Labour Party only when the Party decides to take action against the big monopolists, who are the mortal enemies of the middleclass. This action cannot be taken unless the industrial working class is mobilised behind the Labour Party.
All those in the Labour Party who treat the trade union rank and file as some kind of skeleton in the cupboard, while placating the middleclass with soft words and promises, reveal that they are not socialists at all, but liberal apologists for capitalism.
Unless the Labour Party takes real socialist measures to solve the problems that capitalism places before the British people, then the middle class will be won over to fascism.
As soon as it returns to power the Labour government must introduce legislation protecting shop stewards against victimization.
Employers who persist in provoking strikes and industrial unrest by attacking wages and working conditions must be smacked down – hard.
Only by such a militant socialist policy, carried out on behalf of the class that built the Labour movement, can Labour hope to defeat Toryism once and for all and go forward to a socialist Britain.
Labour’s demands as outlined in “The Future Labour Offers YOU” are completely inadequate to deal with the present crisis. This pamphlet contains no peace policy. On foreign affairs its proposals, apart from the suspension of H-Bomb tests, would mean virtually the continuation of the present Tory policy.
The pamphlet proposes to continue squandering huge sums of money on armaments, while the world remains poised on the brink of disaster.
It proposes to keep Britain in NATO and SEATO, the war alliances of Wall Street imperialism, which were designed for the purpose of making war on Russia, the eastern European countries and China.
So long as a Labour government pursues an imperialist policy, then all hope must be given up of finding the money to reorganise British industry in the interests of the community as a whole, to build schools, homes and hospitals, to care for old people and give proper recreation facilities to the young.
Withdraw From War Alliances.
The first step towards a socialist Britain would be for a Labour government to withdraw from NATO and SEATO, to end arms expenditure, abolish manufacture of the H-Bomb, close down the rocket bases – and devote the money and labour thus saved to the well-being of the people.
Some may say this would encourage Khrushchev and Company to go to war. So-called socialists who argue in this way are imperialists in disguise. The most powerful weapon against war is the international working class, responding to the socialist appeal of a socialist government, taking decisive action against war.
The diplomatic position of a Labour government will be strengthened a thousand-fold if it is able to go to the peoples of the USA, the USSR, China and the rest of the world with its policy for outlawing war altogether.
An immediate and direct appeal, over the heads of the statesmen, to the workers of the world, would galvanise the international Labour movement and win millions of allies.
A Labour government must say that under no circumstances will it use the H-Bomb against the Soviet Union, the Eastern European countries or China at the behest of American imperialism.
It must give the American military staffs in Britain their marching orders, at the same time explaining to the American workers in uniform here that it has no quarrel with them, but only with their ruling class.
Under no circumstances must British Labour have anything to do with the war plans of imperialism. And if war does break out, Labour must urge the workers to oppose the war-makers by fighting for socialism
A most serious weakness in Labour’s present policy is its failure to declare for withdrawal of troops from Cyprus, Northern Ireland and other British colonies and semi-colonies.
British troops are in Cyprus as part of the commitments of British imperialism to NATO, and they have earned the hostility of the entire Cypriot people.
Labour must end this useless slaughter and bring back these boys to their homes, where they can engage in useful occupations, instead of being turned into brutes and thugs in the interests of imperialism.
Friendship with the colonial peoples can come about only when imperialist armies are withdrawn from other countries. Then these people will be the friends of a socialist Britain. We shall right the wrongs our rulers have done to them, and our example will encourage them to take the path of socialism too.
The only way to end the menace of unemployment is to bring about the nationalisation of the basic industries. But nationalisation is not given a chance to work if huge sums are handed out in compensation to the ex-owners.
The present nationalised industries are dominated through and through by capitalists and their hangers-on. The rich have been milking these industries for years.
The National Coal Board is a case in point. Once again miners are faced with unemployment. Before the war Labour won the support of large sections of the working class by its demand for nationalisation; but nationalisation will become more and more discredited if nationalised industries are run without the workers’ participation and against their interests.
On return to power a Labour government should legislate for the nationalisation of all basic industries without compensation. A national plan should be drawn up for the running of industry under the democratic control of the working class.
Labour must legislate to stop the export of capital, to extend workers’ control to the banks and finance houses, and to establish a monopoly of foreign trade.
When these steps have been taken it will be easy to explain the facts of the economic situation to the working class, obtain their full and enthusiastic co-operation in the construction of socialism, and on such problems as wages and working conditions.
Once the working class themselves own and control the means of production, the wages that can be afforded will be a matter for social discussion and decision.
Lead to World’s Workers
Until this has been attained, then the law must guarantee that wages are geared to the cost of living, as determined by an index drawn up on a realistic basis by the trade unions themselves.
Labour must declare that it will never again permit the working class of Britain to live in poverty.
But, above all, the next Labour government will stand of fall by its attitude towards the international working class.
Unless its policies give a lead to the workers of the world and encourage them to go forward to socialism, then we must say with all frankness that whatever the good intentions of Gaitskell and Bevan may be, mankind is doomed.
But if workers refuse to be deluded and split by slanders and witch-hunts, if they rally their ranks and go forward in a determined counter-offensive against reaction, then mankind can win a socialist future of undreamed happiness, prosperity and plenty.
Article in Labour Review, vol. 1, No. 5, Jan. Feb 1954