The Alternative to Wilson
A Socialist Labour League Pamphlet - 1967
1. Labour Stands at the Crossroads
After almost three years of Wilson’s government, the rank and file of the trade unions and in the Labour Party are beginning to turn away from the leadership and its pro-tory policies. In April large numbers abstained from voting in the council elections and the Tories romped home in some areas where there had not been a Tory council for over 30 years.
The Labour leaders took no notice and now comes the second warning.
The Trades Union Congress, which is the most representative body in the trade union movement, by almost 1½ million votes condemned the government’s attitude to unemployment, its support for the American imperialist war in Vietnam and its proposals for a means test in the field of social security. Had the Amalgamated Engineering Union vote been decided by its delegation, the majority against the government would have been over three millions.
These are unmistakable signs of the change of political mood against right wing Labour. True enough, to read the Fleet Street press one would imagine that Wilson had in fact scored a victory at the TUC; he and Woodcock are supposed to have so many “trump cards” up their sleeves; but this kind of illusory reporting is cleverly designed to cover up the weakness in the capitalist camp.
Within the Tory Party there is also a major political crisis. The carefully concealed, but obvious conflict between Heath and ex-Party chairman du Cann is only one aspect of this. The Tory Party have never recovered from the Profumo crisis of 1963. They have not yet the kind of tough, right wing, dictatorial leadership available to replace Wilson, so they set out to give him as much support as possible in their newspapers in case he should falter in his attacks on the trade unions.
However, it is not difficult to assume that if a general election was held tomorrow, so many Labour voters would abstain that the Tories would be almost assured of victory, whether they are prepared for it or not. With bold, decisive socialist leadership now, they could be destroyed for ever, but the net result of Wilson’s government over the past three years has been to open the doors for their return to power.
Is the labour movement to take the road of Ramsay MacDonald, or is it going instead to take the socialist road?
2. The Crisis and Leadership.
When Labour became the government in October 1964, the same old capitalist forces as in the time of MacDonald were still there to dictate its policy. The international bankers and their Tory allies demanded that their economic crisis should be overcome at the expense of the standard of living of the working class. Wilson, Callaghan and Brown agreed. Through the Prices and Incomes Act, which ties the trade unions to the capitalist state, they legally froze wages. Following faithfully in the footsteps of a previous Tory chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd, they initiated a policy of deflation in July 1966, and created a pool of almost ¼ million unemployed. Still following Tory policy, they found themselves in office at a time when the application of the Devlin Report on the docks, the Geddes Report on shipyards and the crisis of the fuel industry all require that thousands of men in some of the old established Labour areas must lose their jobs.
We are in a situation where unemployment is not only caused by deflationary policies, but through industrial plans encouraged by the previous Tory government. Growing unemployment not only brings hardship and suffering to many. It is a direct threat to organised labour, and it has been deliberately introduced by the Labour government.
This is by no means the end of the story. The economy of the entire capitalist world, from the United States to Western Europe, is now more insecure that at any time since the 1930’s. Production has declined in the United States as well as Britain. The dollar, like the pound, is an inflationary currency. In Western Germany, France and Britain, unemployment is on the increase. There are important capitalist spokesmen who fear that an economic depression is already on the way.
Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to increase. Wilson pursues both an inflationary and a deflationary policy at the same time. Relaxation of hire purchase controls is followed by an increase of 20 per cent in electricity charges, to be joined later by substantial increases for gas. Council rents in many areas are being substantially increased. The purchasing power of wages is steadily on the decline.
Since the wage freeze became law in 1966, there has only been a trickle of increases. The pipeline between the trade unions and the Prices and Incomes Board is chock full of wage demands which have been negotiated over many months and are now awaiting decision. By firmly opposing the wage demands of the railway guards, the government has already shown what this decision is to be – they are going to stand firm on their policies, thus encountering more and more opposition from the working class who elected them into office.
Wilson and his government have decided to fight the working class, the people who elected them, to save the pound and capitalism.
The next few months must see important struggles against unemployment and for an improvement in wages. The old trade union bureaucratic leaderships are today at sixes and sevens with each other. They are like rats in a trap. Right up to the last minute they supported Wilson, and then when the pressure from the rank and file became too great, they scuttled down to the TUC in Brighton, prefacing their speeches against Wilson’s policy with praises for “dear Harold” and his government. Last year many of them condoned the very same policies which today they condemn.
How can any trade unionist have the slightest confidence in such men? The time for change is here and the biggest change of all will be in the leaderships of the trade unions, because it will take more than left talk to satisfy the rank and file in the coming period.
It is not just Wilson, Callaghan and Brown who are to blame for what has happened. The TUC must take their share as well. The entire right-wing leaderships of the Labour Party and the trade unions have betrayed. What faces the rank and file is the necessity for new leadership pledged firmly to fight for socialist policies.
3. The Next Step.
How do we fight the present right-wing leaders of the Labour and trade union movement without letting the Tories back? This is a question which occupies the attention of many sincere people.
We say that it is possible for the Labour and trade union movement to pursue a course of action which will deal a mortal blow to the Tories, as well as clearing up the right-wing mess.
The election of labour governments in 1964 and 1966 was the culmination of a mass movement against Toryism. This movement is now being frittered away by Wilson in his support for Tory policies, but it can be speedily re-invigorated.
The vast majority of the rank and file want to fight and change Wilson’s policies, and they can do this whilst still retaining a Labour government in Parliament. There are those left MP’s who have declared opposition to Wilson and his policies, but who so far have refused to openly oppose him within the Parliamentary Labour Party. This dangerous, opportunist game adds to the frustration of the rank and file, especially since there is no need for it. The constitution of the Parliamentary Labour Party allows left MP’s the opportunity to present their opposition against the leadership of the present government. If this were done, then the rank and file would immediately be rallied in the struggle to change the leadership and policy of the Labour Party and replace it with people pledged to fight for socialist policies.
The left MP’s hesitate because they do not adhere to socialist policies. They simply talk left in order to create a diversion by letting off steam. These people should be exposed and the way to do it is to demand that they fight, or get out of the way. The demand of the Socialist Labour League for making the left MP’s fight Wilson for socialist policies is the only realistic policy to rally the mass movement for alternative leadership and expose those inside the Parliamentary Labour Party who talk left but do not want to fight.
We say that the labour movement has had enough from such traitors, on the left and the right – a new, alternative leadership has to be built. If there are any left MP’s who want to break from Wilson, now is the time for them to do so. By keeping quiet, they pave the way for the return of Toryism, just as much as he does.
All opportunist roads to socialism by class compromise must be rejected. This is a time for the working class to be politically educated in the course of its experience with the betrayals of the Labour government. In 1964-66 the Socialist Labour League urged its members and supporters to vote for a majority Labour government in order to expose its policies in practice to those millions of workers who still believed it had a future. This is now taking place, and we have the same attitude to the left MP’s when we demand that they fight Wilson.
At the same time, if on a single issue the Labour government had fought the Tories, we would have given it our critical support insofar as it did this. If the left MP’s now break from Wilson and challenge him in the Parliamentary Labour Party, they will also have our critical support. We are concerned here with taking the working class through all the experiences necessary in order to expose the bankruptcy of the right-wing Labour leaders and the fake left MP’s, thus preparing the way for the building of revolutionary leadership.
4. Trade Unions and Politics
There must be no separation of the mass movement in the factories from the struggle in Parliament. These are related to one another. The issues will not be simply decided by a mass movement in industry, but by the struggle for political power. This means that all Parliamentary illusions will have to be exposed by putting them to the test. The mass movement has to be politically and industrially guided in a revolutionary and socialist direction.
Trade unionism needs new policies and a new outlook. During the period of the inflationary boom militant shop stewards’ organisations have been able to increase wage rates on the factory floor far in excess of those negotiated by national agreements. The Prices and Incomes Act has changed all this. Wage demands are now subject to direct government intervention. If the government says “no”, then the trade unionists face a fight against the government which shields the employers. This is where politics comes in.
The present government is a political institution which enables capitalism the rule in Britain. Trade unionists cannot fight this government without engaging in politics. This is our short, simple answer to those who say “keep politics out of the unions”. Such advice strengthens the employers because it disarms trade unionists at a time when they should be clear on the need for political action.
But political action cannot be decided from above. It must be built up and worked for inside the factories. Gone are the days when militant shop stewards believed their activities were outside politics. Now they are called upon to explain why there is government intervention and why it prevents them from achieving wage increases. In other words, a militant trade-unionist today must become a political trade unionist.
It is not enough to condemn Wilson and the Labour leaders. One must understand that they are following a system of class compromise which has now led the movement to the brink of disaster. The rank and file have to be educated by the necessity to take the revolutionary road against capitalism and to reject completely the reformist political policies which have led to the present betrayal.
The Socialist Labour League works and prepares for the political education of the working class in the course of their struggles against the employers and the government. We are the only real defenders of trade-unionism today because we fight to extend the scope of militant trade unionism from the inadequacies of purely industrial militancy by combining it with political action. This is the way the mass movement can be prepared and organised in the factories. It has to be guided by Marxist theory which must be demonstrated in leadership and explained day in and day out to the rank and file in the struggles ahead.
We reject contemptuously the anarchist and syndicalist slogan “keep politics out of the unions”. This is what the employers like to hear because they want to divert the trade unions from a real struggle against them. Through a political preparation of the trade unions, we seek to develop militant trade unionism towards a revolutionary trade unionism, and the construction of the alternative revolutionary leadership.
5. The Socialist Labour League.
Labour needs a new socialist alternative to Wilson, and the only force which is building such a leadership is the Socialist Labour League.
In 1959, when we were members of the Labour Party, we were proscribed and expelled because we opposed Gaitskell’s policies which Wilson has since taken over. The proscription and banning of the Socialist Labour League was, in fact, part of the preparation for the present betrayal.
The Young Socialists, from 1960-64, fought a continuous battle against Wilson’s policies in the Labour Party and won a majority for a change in these policies. Wilson and the right wing stepped in just before the election in 1964 and had the Young Socialists proscribed and their leaders expelled.
Bans and proscriptions were the methods used by the right wing in order to prepare the defeat of the working class.
What has been revealed most of all by the Labour government is the utter bankruptcy of the policies of Fabian reformism and class compromise. The working class can take the power and establish socialism only by an uncompromising class struggle against the employers and their government. The outcome of such a struggle will be determined by the building of a strong alternative revolutionary leadership. This leadership must boldly lead the working class at every stage in the struggle against the capitalists and their government.
This cannot by its very nature be a peaceful road, as the Communist Party would have us believe. History teaches us that the international struggle of the working class, particularly in Britain, has always been stormy and bitter. The question of whether or not there is a peaceful solution does not rest with the working class. It rests with the owners of property, the capitalist class. These ruthless men are determined to use all force necessary to protect their property and privileges. It is, therefore, a barefaced lie to tell the working class who are moving into action today that their road will be peaceful. Such a lie will be nothing more than the sowing of illusions at a time when the Labour and trade union movement needs to be alerted as never before.
Naturally, the working class do not like violence and want to go forward to socialism as peacefully as possible. It is the capitalist class who provoke the violence and leave the workers with no alternative but to fight back. Since the beginning of capitalism, this has been the history of the struggle of the wage workers against the property owners and capitalists.
If the history of the working class is one of struggle, so also is the history of the Socialist Labour league. Together with the Young Socialists we fought for socialist policies against Wilson. We were expelled for doing so because we were right. Now, more and more workers, young and old, are joining our movement.
The League is also different in other respects. We do not want people to join us simply to be normal members. We work to politically educate and prepare them to be active inside their trade unions and other working class organisations, so that they in turn can educate and organise wider layers coming into politics for the first time. We have a constant series of education classes in all the main cities for this purpose. A working class leader has to understand the history of the Marxist movement. Only the Socialist Labour League provides such a training.
Our members are the best trade unionists in their places of work. They constantly fight for the principles of trade unionism, but in a way completely different from the non-political trade unionist.
Trade unions are organised for defending the standard of living of the working class under capitalism. As such they cannot assume the role of the revolutionary party and take power. We seek to broaden the understanding of the trade union movement in a political way so they can be organised and influenced by a revolutionary party under conditions where this party appeals to all sections of the working and middle classes. The political struggle to build the revolutionary party is the only way, therefore, to strengthen trade unionism today.
Revolutionary trade unionism will arise when the trade unions have leaders who understand the political nature and the role of trade unions in the struggle for socialism.
In January 1966, the Socialist Labour League and the Young socialists were the first to organise a demonstration and lobby of Parliament against the Prices and Incomes Act. We supported the seamen in their struggle and fought against the witch-hunt launched by Wilson. We supported the recent conference of trade unionists in Oxford on September 2 which called for:
(a) Repeal of the Prices and Incomes Act;
(b) Restoration of full employment;
(c) Implementation of a policy of paying full wages whilst working short time.
(d) Nationalisation of the basic industries, including the motor industry.
The Socialist Labour League has a consistent record of supporting all workers in struggle and at the same time encouraging them to build the alternative revolutionary leadership. We shall be celebrating the 50th. Anniversary of the Russian Revolution on November 5. This anniversary is much more than a memory. It is a living reminder of the historic tasks which the working class in this country now has to face. Labour reformism has failed. The road which will eventually extend the October Revolution to Britain is opening up. Thus we celebrate the 50th. Anniversary, not in an atmosphere of memories, but as part of the struggle to build the party.
The Central Committee of the Socialist Labour League, meeting on September 9 and 10, have initiated a £5,000 development fund to help us with this great task. The target figures for increasing our membership in all the areas have been adopted by the Area Committee of the League.
We now appeal to you, as a reader of this pamphlet, to seriously consider joining us. If you do not think you are yet politically mature enough for this task we are only too willing to discuss with you and provide you with all the assistance necessary in our discussion groups.
The task of building the revolutionary alternative to Wilson cannot be postponed. It is now up to you to take the most important decision of your life by joining the Socialist Labour League.