Prospects and Tasks for the Left in the Labour Party
“Conference demands that the government should press for an international agreement on complete disarmament, and in the meantime, demands the unilateral renunciation of testing, manufacture, stock-piling and basing all nuclear weapons in Great Britain.”
This is now Labour policy. By 3,303,000 votes to 2,896,000 the Scarborough Conference, , decided to break with the traditional foreign policy alliance with the Tories. No matter what the newspapers may say, Gaitskell and the right wing were decisively defeated. All the journalistic enterprise of Fleet Street cannot obscure this important fact. Gaitskell’s right wing cronies may issue all the threats they like, but they are no longer in a position to speak in the name of Labour.
Such a great victory cannot be snatched away from the left wing by high-sounding pro-Gaitskell propaganda. The more serious newspapers recognize this. The Financial Times of October 6 says that “It amounts to a major defeat and his (Gaitskell’s) resignation sooner or later seems to be the only outcome”. The Economist of October 8 reminds us that Mr. Gaitskell “Will now come before Labour MP’s themselves and ask for support – in effect support for a policy of telling conference that he will not obey it.”
“A split”, says The Times of October 6, “now seems almost unavoidable; if contained within bounds it would now be salutary; though with memories of 1931 in mind the painful prospect of bitter rancour and accusations of bad faith must be expected. The split cannot be allowed for long to fall between the conference and the Parliamentary Party, for, as the executive’s statement on the Party constitution observes, “The Parliamentary Party could not long remain at loggerheads with annual conference without disrupting the Party.”
There is still confusion in the camp of the right as well as the left about what happened at Scarborough. To listen to Gaitskell one would imagine they are still in control of the Party and to listen to the left is to listen to the inconsistent voice of doubt and hesitation. Michael Foot, who is one of the pioneers of the struggle against the H-bomb inside the Labour Party, talks about the debate continuing. In reality the debate is over and the fight now begins. The left must decide how it will fight and what its policies are going to be. Above all, it must try to realize the full implications of the victory which has been achieved.
WHAT HAPPENED AT SCARBOROUGH?
A number of important developments lie behind the Scarborough decision. The British Labour Party is based upon the trade unions. These unions organise the vast majority of productive workers. They represent and reflect the sentiment and feeling of the working class. The Labour Party is therefore subject to pressures which emanate either directly or indirectly from the working class. It is all very well for Mr. Gaitskell to discover that the block vote is no longer what it used to be. The Financial Times (October 6) attacks the block vote and says that Britain has “the most reactionary trade unions”. Here are remarkable conclusions. For almost six decades the block vote assisted the right wing to foist capitalist policies upon the Labour Party. During these years nobody in Fleet Street quarrelled with the block vote.
“What has gone wrong?” asks The Financial Times. “How is it that the German Social Democrats, for example, have been able to carry through changes more fundamental than any Mr. Gaitskell proposed without any fuss at all.”
“The Answer”, it says, “must be found in the structure of the British Labour Party, in the existence of the block vote swayed by very few individuals”. A correct, but a one-sided conclusion. When the individuals were right-wingers The Financial Times remained silent. Now that some of these individuals have moved to the left, The Financial Times objects. The answer, of course, does not lie solely in the personal opinions of Frank Cousins or other trade union leaders like him. These men are subject to the fluctuations of the class struggle.
The Transport and General Workers Union, under the control of Ernest Bevin and Arthur Deakin, was used as a powerful force to strengthen reaction, but times have changed. The working class in Britain are no longer prostrate as they were after the 1926 General Strike and the 1930’s. They are capable of taking the offensive against the employers. In open clashes with the Tory government, they display considerable courage and initiative. We got a very real glimpse of this during the seamen’s strike and in the St. Pancras rents struggle.
The movement to the left inside the working class is the basic force responsible for the opinions of Frank Cousins. He has assumed the leadership of the Transport and General Workers Union when the working class as a class is stronger than at any time in its history. Here is what the Financial Times is really complaining about and not just the influence of individuals inside the unions.
Mr Gaitskell is being called to order not so much by Frank Cousins as by the working class.
What should be the main lesson for the left? Since the working class are responsible for the great change in the policy of Labour, then the policy of the left must seek to strengthen this class and mobilize it for further action against the right wing. The left should therefore campaign for a socialist policy which will answer the problems of the working class, by explaining the practical applications of the Scarborough decisions.
THE NEXT STEP
The left have now a considerable advantage inside the Labour Party. They stand for the policy of the Party as decided by conference.
The right wing will go all out to confuse the working class along the lines that this inevitably must mean that Britain will “go it alone”.
What is necessary, therefore, is to elaborate a socialist foreign policy which would enable the left to expose the right wing. The essential basis of such a policy would be twofold. Firstly, it would declare the intentions of the Labour movement to establish international connections with the working class of all countries, based upon agreement on the Scarborough decisions. Secondly, it would outline a programme for socialism in Britain which would include the nationalisation of the basic industries, freedom for the colonies and the withdrawal of all British troops from overseas.
The Labour Party must immediately carry the fight into the Socialist International and demand that the European parties in particular take a stand on Labour policy.
An approach will have to be made to the working class of Eastern Europe, China and the Soviet Union with the view of making a joint appeal to the working class of the United States to join with the forces of international Labour in forcing U.S. imperialism to abandon the manufacture of the H-bomb. Leading trade unionists such as Frank Cousins should visit the United States and campaign against the H-bomb.
In the struggle against the H-bomb, internationalism remains inseparable from the fullest support for the colonial people struggling against imperialism. The struggle against the H-bomb must be based upon the international struggle for socialism, which means in practice a constant appeal to the working class of the capitalist countries to join hands with all those who are fighting for socialism and an end to the H-bomb suicide.
Propaganda along these lines cannot be expected to bring immediate results. At the Labour Party Conference in 1957, approximately 700,000 votes were cast against the H-bomb. This has now grown to about three-and-a-half million. The trend of opinion is with those who fight the bomb. Constant internationalist propaganda against the H-bomb will tend to loosen the ties between the working class and the imperialists inside countries such as the United States. Gradually the justness of the argument will be understood. Such an appeal is the only real answer to the suicide argument of the H-bomb as a deterrent.
Inside Britain, the Labour movement must immediately campaign for the closing down of all atomic plants engaged in the manufacture of the H-bomb and other nuclear weapons. The suggestion of Harold Wilson that the defence industries must be nationalised is a splendid one. There can be no real control over the H-bomb until all the engineering and allied industries are nationalised.
Trade unions which have members working in atomic enterprises should begin to educate these members on the necessity to fight the menace of the H-bomb. Such propaganda will link up with the campaign of the Labour Party against the bomb and assist in the overall preparation of the working class for the struggle against the H-bomb supporters.
The left in the Labour Party should immediately launch a series of public meetings, demonstrations and conferences throughout the country, mobilizing support for the Scarborough decisions. The central feature of this propaganda campaign would be to explain the different economic basis of the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe and China. In spite of the bureaucracies in these countries, the basic economic structure remains that of workers states. They are not imperialist; but they are the objects of imperialist aggression. These countries can therefore only consider giving up such weapons as the H-bomb when the struggle of the international working class is strong enough to force the imperialists to abandon theirs.
The real consolidation of the unilateral programme is, therefore, contained in the international appeal for working people for working people in the capitalist countries to struggle against those who manufacture the H-bomb.
THE EXTENSION OF NATIONALISATION
The Scarborough conference decided to press for more nationalisation in certain industries. This is a useful beginning. Socialism in Britain demands the nationalisation of all basic industries, the establishment of workers control in these industries and the payment of no compensation to former owners except in needy cases.
The struggle against the H-bomb is part of the struggle to extend nationalisation. The application of the unilateral answer to the bomb means the broadening out of the struggle against the
H-bomb to include the nationalisation of the giant capitalist enterprises which must be incorporated in a socialist planned economy. To consolidate the Scarborough decisions, therefore, a socialist policy along these lines is necessary.
WHAT NEXT FOR CND?
The members of CND have now to examine the importance of the Scarborough decisions. All talk about the campaign against the bomb being non-political is completely inadequate. The most powerful results yet in the fight against nuclear weapons have been gained in the political field. All CND members should consider joining the Labour party in the light of these developments. By joining local Labour Parties they will help to strengthen the left. They could provide the backbone of a great membership campaign which would isolate the right wing in the constituencies.
The possibilities for a united struggle of all sections of the Labour Party are opening up. It is one of the best answers to right-wing propaganda that Labour will lose votes as a result of abandoning the H-bomb. Nobody will deny that here and there votes will be lost, but in the long run a propaganda campaign waged by all sections of the left will help to clarify the issues for the electorate.
This is the answer to right-wing attempts to win middle-class votes by blurring the socialist image. It was the sons and daughters of the middle and working class who marched to Aldermaston against the bomb. Here is the policy to inspire and recruit youth to socialism.
THE ATTACK FROM THE RIGHT.
We can now expect the Gaitskell clique to continue its policy of disrupting the Labour Party. There can be no reconciliation with these people. The main task is to isolate them inside the Labour Party as much as possible.
The spokesmen for this group talk about Frank Cousins and other trade union leaders paying attention to the domestic needs of their rank and file. This is indeed a very dangerous weapon for the right wing to adopt. Nobody would disagree with the idea that trade union leaders should pay attention to the needs of the rank and file, but since these needs can only be satisfied by militant struggle, it may well be that this demand from the right will rebound at a later date. We note that several bus men have sent messages to Mr. Cousins asking him to pay more attention to their affairs. This means that they want him to intervene more energetically against the bus companies and large corporations. Nobody will quarrel with this request. It is entirely in accordance with the struggle to abandon the manufacture of the H-bomb. The fight can best be waged by merging the industrial and political struggles against the main enemy.
LIFT THE BANS AND PROSCRIPTIONS
To meet the attack from the right, the left must extend its struggle from the political to the organisational field. Alleged refusal to accept party policy has been the means whereby a considerable number of Marxists and militants have been expelled from the Labour Party over the past period. Not one of these, as far as we are aware, ever went as far as Gaitskell in declaring at a public conference of the Party that they would not accept a Party decision.
The right wing have always been a small faction at the top of the Party. They have decided their policies in behind-the-scenes discussions with small groups of right-wing supporters in the various large unions. These methods have always been carefully camouflaged by the press. Gaitskell and company have been pictured as people who are defending the official decisions of the Party arrived at democratically by annual conference. Everyone can now see that this is a lie. Surely the time has come to begin a struggle against the bans and proscriptions?
No one ever remembers an organisation on the right being banned or proscribed. The bans and proscriptions have always affected the organisations on the left. The Newsletter, which supports the Scarborough decisions, is banned by the Labour Party, but the right-wing Socialist Commentary, which flouts Party policy, is allowed to continue. The struggle against bans and proscriptions will enable new forces to engage in united action with all those who are fighting Gaitskell and the right wing.
If the right wing undertakes to accept and fight for the conference decisions they may continue the argument inside the Party. The left wing, of which the Marxists are an integral part, have nothing to fear from such a debate. What we cannot tolerate is a small clique of fellow-travellers of the Tories obstructing the implementation of policies decided by annual conference. If Gaitskell and company continue along this road then a split in the Party is unavoidable. The strategy of the left should be to try to minimise the effects of such a split, but not to be frightened by it. Anyone who hesitates in face of this danger will only strengthen the right. The time has come for the left to act decisively.
Published as a News Letter pamphlet entitled After Scarborough the Battle Begins