THERE are times when events move more quickly in a month than they do in a year. Today is such a time in Britain.
For three years Harold Wilson sacrificed everything to save the pound and failed. In rapid succession we have had devaluation and huge social service cuts; and more attacks on living standards will follow.
With rising prices the trade unions must either capitulate or use their strength and fight. There is disillusionment and widespread questioning and turmoil in the Labour Party.
America’s war in Vietnam is approaching a climax. But despite everything, the Prime Minister still refuses to dissociate Britain from American policy.
When Harold Wilson was elected Prime Minister in 1964 and thirteen wasted years of Tory rule were ended, many had high hopes of a change. This was to be a different Government. № 10 was to be a powerhouse of politics. There would be an end to stop-go. The new technical revolution would herald a new social revolution, tempered with humanity, achieving Labour’s cherished dreams. We Communists did not share these views and said so at the time.
Labour won an even bigger Parliamentary majority in 1966. Since then there has been nothing but disaster.
Everything the Government has touched, economic policy, the Common Market, Rhodesia, the National Plan, has turned sour.
As a result the Prime Minister has been devalued, with his stock at an all-time low, and the millionaire press is pushing Jenkins as the new blue-eyed boy.
There is growing left wing revolt against the Government for big changes in policy. The tenants are in action. The demand to end the war in Vietnam has reached nationwide proportions, and the youth and student demonstrations get more and more numerous.
At the same time Government policy has brought strength to the Tories and Government setbacks in the by-elections. But the Labour right-wing never learns any lessons. With the acceptance of devaluation on the bankers’ conditions and the consequent social service cuts, its fury is turned against the left with the threat to discipline and expel the left MPs even if this splits the Labour Party.
As the right-wing Labour leaders turn on the left, the Confederation of British Industry, the monopolists, the gnomes, step up their attack for still more severe cuts and for even greater restrictions on the unions. They are attacking the very idea of Parliamentary government, creating a 1931 crisis atmosphere.
There is even a dangerous cynicism about all politics and parties arising out of frustration—an atmosphere which the extreme right is exploiting to the full.
How to face up to this situation is the great issue for everyone in 1968.
This is a moment of challenge. The left progressive movement for a change is the key. It must now rise to even greater heights, make the right-wing retreat, rebuff the Tory monopolist offensive and win decisive changes in policy and government. This is the only way out of Britain’s crisis.
The Crisis in the Labour Movement
WHEN the Wilson Government was returned it enjoyed that most precious thing, Labour loyalty. No Government ever had such a fund of goodwill. Much of this is now dissipated.
We Communists had warned against illusions. We said that we would support anything positive the Government did, but that unless there was a complete break with the past, disaster would occur.
As Government policy unfolded we called for resistance, for unity of the left to compel changes in policy. The danger to the movement, we said, came from the right. The only hope depended on the extent and effectiveness of the left struggle.
As 1966 went on the struggle grew, on wages, on trade union rights, on Vietnam, on rents and on closures. It increased in 1967.
These big struggles outside Parliament were reflected in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
On February 2nd, 1967, 68 MPs voted in a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting against the Government’s support of the US. in Vietnam. Around the same time the Pottery Workers’ Union, whose wage settlement had been turned down by the Prices and Incomes Board, took the decision to stop paying the political levy, an idea which has since spread. Their Secretary said: “This Government is totally anti-trade union, and it is time that the rest of the trade union movement woke up to this fact”. In our view (for reasons which we will explain later) we think this decision was wrong, but it was indicative of the growing mood of revolt.
Immediately after the Vietnam vote, Wilson threatened the left MPs with his notorious “dog licence” speech, which was a prelude to Silkin’s attack a year later. It was a typical arrogant Wilson effort while he was still riding high. A dog was allowed only one bite, was his theme, but if the dog went on biting, not because of conscience but because of viciousness, something happened to the dog. He might not get his licence renewed. Here was the implied threat of expulsion, with a forced election in which the left. MPs, expelled and confronted with “loyal” “official” Labour candidates, would lose their seats.
The political situation got worse, and with it the cum in the Labour Party. The next stage followed with the results in the GLC and local government elections. Labour lost London after 30 years. In the local elections, Labour was left with less councillors than at any time since the war. Here was the handiwork of the right-wing, bringing mass abstentions and sagging Party morale.
On May 10th, 57 MPs, despite a three-line whip, voted against the Government on the Common Market. Because of the uproar after Wilson’s dog licence speech, however, they only got a gentle rebuke.
On June 18th, the Sunday Citizen, organ of the co-operative movement for a century, appeared for the last time, killed by, amongst other things, the Government’s lack of advertising and by the Selective Employment Tax.
In a bitter attack on the Prime Minister, editor Sir William Richardson wrote: “You compromise too much, and it is hard to detect distinctly socialist principles in many of your policies... You seem so anxious to be so many things to so many men that you run the risk of earning the disinterest or contempt of all men—and what is more serious—disillusioning your lifelong supporters”.
His attack was confirmed in the string of by-elections during the year. Defeat followed defeat. After the Walthamstow result the New Statesman commented on September 29th 1967, that the result
“confirms beyond doubt that there is intense disillusionment with the performance of the Government among a large section of its most faithful supporters, and, perhaps more important, a collapse of morale among the Party workers. Unless this trend can be decisively reversed, Labour faces not just a calamitous General Election defeat, but something far worse: a challenge to its claim to be the political representative of the British working class”.
But if there was growing frustration, apathy and questioning on the political side of the movement, the position on the industrial front was different.
Here there was the possibility of direct positive action with grass roots unity of Communist and Labour trade unionists. It became one of the main areas of conflict not only with the employers, but because of the Prices and Incomes Act and the wage freeze, with the Government.
So the wages movement spread—the seamen’s strike, the car-workers’ struggle, the actions of the dockers, the railwaymen, builders, printers, electricians, draughtsmen and others. It was met with the full hatred and venom of the Government, whether the strikes or struggles were official or unofficial. Every form of pressure was used, threats of emergency powers, the smear technique as in the seamen’s strike culminating in Gunter’s notorious “winter of disruption” speech.
All this was a tribute to the militants, Communist and non-Communist, and to those trade unions and trade union leaders prepared to struggle. It was a tribute too, to the Communist Party for its resolute support of everyone engaged in struggle and its consistent opposition to the incomes policy.
Acute problems now faced the right-wing in the trade union movement and the right-wing majority of the TUC General Council. In supporting the anti-trade union attitude of the Government they were increasingly at loggerheads with the mass of active trade unionists.
The gathering struggle reached a high point at the 1967 Trades Union Congress and the Scarborough Labour Party Conference. At the TUC all the major Government policies Were defeated and left-progressive counter policies were adopted in their place. At the Labour Party Conference the Government only narrowly scraped through on economic policy, but was defeated on Vietnam and Greece.
It was clear that something important was taking place. Traditionally the power structure in the labour movement rested on an alliance of the political right-wing in the Labour Party and right-wing control of the bloc votes in the big unions. Now after three years of experience of Labour Government, the tide was turning. A distinct left progressive trend was emerging. Already it had swung the TUC. Allied with the left trend and discontent in the Constituency Labour Parties it almost swung the Labour Party Conference.
The discerning Labour correspondent of The Times wrote on October 6th from the Scarborough Labour Party Conference of this challenge to the right-wing leadership and its control of the bloc vote: “It may be the last time they will be able to do it. Several of them have warned the Prime Minister and Mr. Callaghan this week that if the employment position is no better in a year’s time, than it is today, they will not be able to hold their members. Some may no longer wish to do so”.
Trade Union Advances
What was involved here was not only policy, but the future leadership of the unions. The Times correspondent had commented on the generally progressive position of the Transport and General Workers Union. He was speculating on the then pending Presidential election in the Amalgamated Engineering Union. He hadn’t long to wait. The left candidate Hugh Scanlon won the Presidency, defeating right-wing John Boyd who had been Chairman of the Scarborough Labour Party Conference.
In rapid succession came the victory of Communist Ken Brett as the Assistant General Secretary of the AEU, and the election to the Executive Committee of the National Union of Seamen of every seaman denounced by Wilson except one, and he was defeated by only 10 votes. In London’s docks, all the militants who stood, Communist and non-Communist, were elected as shop stewards.
Here then was a significant left-progressive shift in the power structure in the labour movement. It had already started before the Labour Government was returned. The experiences of the Labour Government were driving it on. It is the product of left-Communist-progressive unity at all levels. It is of enormous importance for the whole future development and strategy of the labour movement. It could well become, it must be made to become, a decisive factor for the future.
Of course, just because of this, the right wing in the trade unions will fight all the harder to defeat and reverse this development. They will attempt to downgrade the status of the Trades Union Congress, and push through the defeated policies in new guises, including the use of left phrases.
Following devaluation things approached a new climax. When the Callaghan Letter of Intent was published showing the conditions attached to the International Monetary Fund loan, Michael Foot compared the situation to 1931. “In my opinion” he said, “the position of the labour movement is more serious in many respects than at any time I can remember”. People who supported the Labour Party were clearing out, he continued, and there was mass disillusionment. “It could lead to a disaster for the movement, which could ensure a Tory Government for years to come”.
With the social service cuts and in particular the reimposition of prescription charges and the postponement of the raising of the school-leaving age, the right-wing increased their challenge to the left MPs. They made the matter one of a vote of confidence in the Government, on which, if the left MPs disobeyed, discipline would result. In Tribune, Michael Foot warned that if the Government proceeded with this “they will tear the Party to pieces and the responsibility will be on their heads”. Twenty-two left MPs and three others abstained on the vote on the cuts.
At a stormy meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party the MPs were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party for a month by 123 votes to 66. A great number of the 123 were Government Ministers, and many MPs obviously boycotted the meeting. So the Government cannot be too happy at the result.
But the matter cannot rest there. Clearly if the suspended MPs and others continue to fight, the right-wing must proceed to more punitive measures under the new discipline code, with all that means for the future of the Labour Party.
Since then 46 Labour MPs abstained in the vote on the increase in the cost of the insurance stamp and the cuts in school milk.
Even on the part of some of the right-wing there is some questioning of the adequacy of the Labour Party as a vehicle for working class advance. The miners’ union has long been a traditional bulwark of the Labour Party. With the raw deal accorded them by the Government, comment from this quarter has been bitter. People in the mining areas had always regarded Labour as their hope for the future, said Lord Blyton, former miner and 35 years a Labour MP on December 12th 1967: “What has taken place these past few weeks has shaken their faith. It has destroyed their faith and hope that from our movement would come a different future”.
A month earlier, Joe Gormley, Lancashire miners’ leader and member of the National Executive of the Labour Party, and very much on the right, said that unless Government policy was changed, miners and others might be forced to consider forming a new political party. (The Daily Telegraph, Nov. 13th 1967).
A critical and important stage has been reached. Not for many years has there been such turmoil and soul-searching in the labour movement, such seeking for a way forward.
What is the nature of the problem? To understand it we must know what has gone wrong and why.
The reasons for the crisis
THE crisis of British imperialism is not new. It has been with us for years. Successive Governments, whether Tory or Labour, have been completely unable to solve it.
Even before the second world war British imperialism was in acute difficulties. Its position as a great colonial power was declining. Britain was a parasitic economy, technically backward, exploiting its colonies, investing abroad, conducting worldwide banking and insurance activities at the expense of investment and economic development at home. As a result there was mass unemployment and the notorious distressed areas.
Britain’s income from exports was always less than the cost of its imports. This more or less permanent deficit in the British balance of payments was covered by the so-called invisible exports—that is to say British imperialism’s super profit from colonial exploitation and investment abroad in general, its worldwide banking, insurance and shipping business (the functions of the complex of banks, investment houses and insurance companies usually referred to as the City of London).
It was in this period that sterling developed as a world currency, with many countries using sterling for trading purposes, and a number of Commonwealth countries keeping their monetary reserves in sterling in London.
The great economic crisis of 1929-31 showed the tensions and weaknesses of the capitalist world. It hit Britain hard, and this brought the ultimate downfall of the MacDonald Labour Government.
In Germany, the economic collapse brought Hitler fascism and the German-Italian-Japanese military aggression to redivide the world, culminating in the second world war.
The second world war reflected both the inter-imperialist rivalries and the joint opposition of world imperialism to the USSR and socialism.
Chamberlain and the Tory “Men of Munich” aimed by a policy of appeasement to turn the forces of fascism against the Soviet Union. In the event this policy broke down, and Britain and America had to join with socialist Russia. Fascism was defeated.
Turning Point in History
The second world war was a turning point in world history and posed an historical choice for Britain. After the collapse of Germany, Italy and Japan, socialism extended all over Eastern Europe. In Asia the Vietnamese revolution took place, to be followed in 1949 by the victory of the great Chinese Revolution. National liberation swept throughout the world, in India, Burma, Ceylon, Indonesia, in the Middle East and in Africa, as country after country won political freedom.
In Britain the political result of the war was the defeat of Churchill and the victory of the Attlee Labour Government.
The historical choice facing Britain then was: either with socialism and the forces of national liberation, a radical new road for Britain; or with imperialism, especially American imperialism, against socialism and national liberation.
The Attlee Labour Government made the second choice; and all Britain’s troubles since have flowed from this.
Only as a subsidiary ally of the stronger American imperialism could the weakened British imperialism try to reassert its former world role, in historical circumstances in which this was increasingly impossible.
It meant a new foreign investment drive to replace the overseas assets cashed in to help pay for the war. It meant the policies of the cold war and NATO and the anti-Soviet alliance. It meant a crippling rearmament programme both for NATO and the neo-colonialist policy East of Suez, the Middle East and elsewhere, with costly bases and big military forces abroad, paid for in foreign currency.
The result was disaster for the Attlee Government. In 1951 it was defeated. Thirteen years of Tory rule resulted.
Again under the Tories progress at home was sacrificed for the overseas interests of imperialism and the City of London. Stop-go disrupted the economy. British economic growth and technical advance was the slowest in the capitalist world. In addition the military expenditure abroad and British annual capital foreign investment were a steady and increasing strain on the balance of payments.
Throughout the thirteen years of Tory rule there were recurrent balance of payments crises. The worst was in 1964. This situation has plagued the Wilson Government ever since.
But Wilson’s policies have only perpetuated it.
WILSON’S failure has not been due to some lack of expertise. Indeed his whole claim was that he was going to be more “expert” than anyone. It is above all failure of policy.
He pursued and continues to pursue the same approach and basic policy to deal with the crisis as Attlee and the Tories did before him. His central aim has been the defence of the pound and the City of London, with social justice and economic growth at home a bad second. From the word go it has been an effort to put the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class.
In three disastrous years the Government borrowed from the world’s bankers over £1,000 million in foreign currency to prop up the pound, but to no avail. Devaluation was accompanied by arrangements for a huge new credit standby from the world bankers of $2,900 million, or £1,208 million.
Only fools believe that the international finanCiers give loans without conditions.
Throughout the whole piece the bankers’ line, With which Wilson agreed, was to curb the unions, increase the “permissive” level of unemployment, freeze or hold back wages and attack the social services. As a result the economy stagnated. The much publiCised National Economic Plan was abandoned and by February 1968 unemployment had reached 657,832.
In foreign affairs there was not only slavish support for the American war in Vietnam, but the effort to maintain Britain’s world role of protecting the City of London investments in the. Gulf and East of Suez and full military support of NATO. All this resulted in huge annual military budgets reaching £2,200 million .a year. Above all it meant profligate military expenditure abroad.
Not only did devaluation result, but the balance of payments crisis remained unresolved. Despite a big increase in exports, the military expenditure abroad and the capital investment. abroad together accounted for more than the huge payments deficit. From 1964 to 1966 inclusive the total deficit in the balance of payments was £1,293 million. In the same period military expenditure abroad accounted for £812 million and net capital investment abroad for £543 million or a total of £1,355 million. There in a nutshell was the problem.
Election Promises Betrayed
But of course the most serious aspect of the whole issue, that brought the greatest affront and concern to the labour movement, was the betrayal of Labour’s election promises involved in the attacks on living standards and the social services.
The notorious economic package deal of July 1966 slashed purchasing power by £500 million and introduced a wage freeze. This was accompanied by the Prices and Incomes Act designed to put legal restraint on the unions and in effect to destroy free collective bargaining. As prices were rising it meant a reduction in real standards all round.
Step by step the attack on the unions was mounted, With the threat of emergency powers to cripple strikes.
By December 31st 1966 The Economist was writing:
“... Labour Ministers, in their two years of office have now felt forced to move further to the right than the Tories in their thirteen years of office ever did; they are now feeling obliged to foster a slower pace of advance in the social serVices than the Tories did, to rely more heavily on the lash of unemployment ... to follow a more conservative line in international diplomatic and international monetary policy than the Tories ever pursued, to be at least slightly more reactionary in practically everything”.
At the beginning of last year the Prime Minister still thought his policy was going to succeed. In a speech in Swansea in February, he said, “and today a new harmony sounds from the celestial spheres. In industry, the City, the financial columns—above all, in the foreign exchange markets—there is a new spirit of optimism and confidence.” (The Times, February 4th 1967). Nine months later came devaluation. For a third time a Labour Government had been caught in a trap of its own making.
On the part of some on the left there may have been some illusions regarding devaluation. With the publication of Callaghan’s notorious Letter of Intent to the foreign bankers as a condition of the stand-by credit, many of these were shattered.
This made clear that the Government intended devaluation as a first step, to be followed by severe social service attacks, wage restraint and general deflation. This was immediately followed by the massive social service cuts on Tuesday, January 16th, covered up by promises of military cuts in the future. There are to be no defence cuts in the financial year 1968-69; the £300 million to be saved is totally at the expense of the social services and people’s needs, plus £25 million extra from increases in the health stamp. At one fell swoop the raising of the school-leaving age was postponed, housing cut, school milk in secondary schools abolished and a 2/6d prescription charge introduced—all violations of Labour’s election promises. The “selectivity” principle in the social services, that is the means test, is to be further extended.
The military cuts promised in the future will not become effective until 1970 and are completely inadequate. Great public pressure combined with sheer economic necessity has forced the cancellation of the American F-lll aircraft; some foreign bases are to be closed down in the future with a withdrawal from Singapore and the Persian Gulf. These decisions could be reversed before they become operative. But the very fact that they have even been discussed shows the effectiveness of the national liberation struggle in Aden and elsewhere, and that the problem of Britain’s so-called world role, that is its imperialist role, is at the centre of the problem.
The day before the cuts David Wood, political correspondent of The Times, wrote (Jan. 15th 1968):
“In the course of one of the most flabbergasting ironies of modern politics, it is falling to Mr.Wilson of all men to re-establish the validity of Tory economics, to make Toryism intellectually and empirically respectable again, to confess that Tory leaders, after having lost most of the battles of the past six or seven years, have won the campaign”.
There could hardly be a more fitting comment on Wilson’s record.
SO we need to probe deeper. It is not as if Wilson’s failure was the first failure of labour in government. All Labour Governments to date have failed. This is what must be faced.
It is not necessary here to consider the brief-lived first Labour Government of 1924. It is more instructive to consider in a little more detail the MacDonald Government of 1929-31, and the Attlee Government of 1945-51.
There are many similarities and yet many differences between 1931 and now. MacDonald then attempted to save the position of British imperialism and to keep the pound on the gold standard amidst the great 1931 economic crisis. This involved massive US loans with the conditions that there should be cuts in employment benefits and teachers’ pay. It caused a split in the MacDonald Cabinet and in the labour movement. MacDonald and Snowden went over to form a so-called National Government with Baldwin and the Tories. It resulted in a set-back for the labour movement from which it took years to recover. Not for fourteen years was there to be a Labour Government again. Summing up this disastrous experience, the late Hugh Dalton subsequently wrote: “We should have kicked up more row, been less loyal to leaders and more loyal to principles”.
As we have shown, the Attlee Government had the same basic approach. It started off in high promise with the long—overdue nationalisation of several industries and important measures of social reform, such as the National Health Service. But with its main aim to back capitalism and the City and to “save the pound” (only to devalue in 1949), and opting for the cold war, there came the massive disruptive rearmament programme and the Korean war. As a consequence of rearmament, the social services were cut back, wages attacked, and economic planning abandoned. Even then, in 1950, Labour still won greater electoral support than the Tories. But the defeat came in 1951, and the result was thirteen years of Tory rule.
Attack on Parliament
Now comes the failure of the Wilson Government, and again for the same basic reasons. It has brought not only a crisis in the labour movement, but an all-out attack of the whole political right and monopoly capitalism.
Alongside Tory electoral gains, big business has become more outspoken and menacing than ever. The CBI, the bankers, the millionaires, the Institute of Directors, in addition to stepping up their demands for still heavier cuts and legislation against the unions, are now attacking Parliament. The theme is that the country cannot be run successfully under the present parliamentary system.
For some time the millionaire press owner, Cecil King, has peddled this line. Now Lord Robens says Britain can be run better by businessmen than by politicians. Professor Beloff preaches the need for a coalition Government because, he asserts, “the political system bears no relation to the country’s needs”. He is joined by Lord Shawcross and The Times, which on January 20th commented editorially that few want a coalition for its own sake, “but a Government which combines the resources of both parties and of experienced men from outside the main parties would have a national authority which might become essential”.
Aubrey Jones talks about the possibility of a second devaluation with a “further discrediting of Parliament and the Parliamentary system”.
So as the economic crisis leads increasingly to political crisis, the menace to living standards is accompanied by the menace to democracy.
The monopoly capitalist attack has even extended to the Prime Minister. Their preference for Jenkins is open and unconcealed. It is pressure to get even more savage attacks on the workers and to split and disrupt the labour movement. Whether capitalism prefers Wilson or Jenkins, or presses even harder for coalition, its aim remains the same—to put the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the workers.
This is where right-wing Labour Government has brought the movement.
What is at question here is the nature of Labour Government, the nature of right-wing Labour and its theory and practice.
The right-wing which has dominated the labour movement has rejected any idea of a social revolution, the taking over of political and economic power by the working class. Insofar as it had a theory, it was that by systematic reforms, capitalism would be gradually transformed into socialism.
In practice this meant the so-called mixed economy with the 80% private (capitalist) sector and the 20% public (nationalised) sector. The commanding heights of the economy, the great monopolies that dominate the economic life of the country, were left untouched. But one of the economic laws of capitalism is economic concentration. Since 1945 by ruthless mergers, the great trusts have become super-trusts. Under Wilson, aided latterly by the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, this process has been accelerated. Since 1965 there have been 113 major economic and financial mergers. In January of this year alone, the capital value of the firms involved in mergers equalled three quarters of last year’s total. The Financial Times has hailed 1968 as the year of mergers.
Growth of Monopoly
Right-wing Labour theory and practice, therefore, has led to the even greater concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands.
These trusts operate on a worldwide scale, exploiting not only British but colonial workers. Monopoly capitalism is imperialism. Right-wing Labour theory and practice, therefore, leads to the support of imperialism. This is the reason for the official Labour policies which we have described, of support for the City of London, the East of Suez policy, colonial wars and military expenditure and bases.
Right-wing Labour has operated on the basis of the “theory” of the so-called neutral state standing above class divisions. But the state is not neutral, it is capitalist. The whole state apparatus, the. judiciary, the armed forces and the police, the diplomatic and own service are permanent instruments of capitalist administration and domination.
Far from changing this set-up, Labour Government has consolidated capitalist state power. The Wilson Government has formed new “public” bodies, the Department of Economic Affairs, the Prices and Incomes Board, the National Economic Development Corporation, the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, and so on. On all of these the direct representatives of the great monopolies play a decisive role.
Attempting to work within the framework of capitalism, to “manage” capitalism, Labour Governments have become capitalist administrations.
The failure of Labour Government, therefore, is not the failure of individuals, whether MacDonald, Attlee or Wilson; it is the result of the failure of the theory and practice of right-wing leaders. It ends up with the rejection of socialism.
Right-wing Labour Government has not brought socialism and never will. It cannot even take Britain out of the present mess.
The crisis of imperialism has produced the crisis and bankruptcy of right-wing Labour.
This is the lesson which has to be drawn from the history of Labour Government.
The Next Stage
THE development of the united left struggle to win changes in Government policy is the great and overriding issue for 1968. This, above all, is the aim of our Communist campaign.
It requires the utmost effort from everyone on the left. It is a fight for a socialist approach to Britain’s problems, for a solution which, of necessity must make big inroads into the entrenched power of monopoly capitalism.
Because of this, the greatest united action, the common effort of all Socialists and Communists, of all lefts and progressives is needed.
The strength is there in the labour movement, but it must be used.
This united struggle for a new policy involves increasing challenge to the right—wing domination, and the resolving of the crisis in the labour movement by the victory of the left.
It is clear that the big issues being contested, the separate fields of struggle on wages, rents, Vietnam and foreign policy, flow from a common cause—the crisis of British imperialism.
We Communists have always argued that important though the fight on the separate issues is, it is necessary to have a complete and connected counter-programme to that of the Government. This is the responsibility of leadership, and by this we seek to link up the separate struggles into a general challenge for political change. So we produced our immediate programme to meet Britain’s crisis. What is it in brief?
- Reject all cuts in social services and any wages stop.
- Scrap the incomes policy; increase wages, salaries and pensions; defend full employment.
- Put a price stop now on all essential goods and services like electricity and gas. Freeze all rents.
- End the US war in Vietnam; dissociate Britain from American policy.
- Cut military spending by-half; close down all overseas bases and bring the troops home from Germany as well as Malaysia.
- Dissolve both NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation, and replace both by an all-inclusive European Security Pact.
- Use the money, materials and manpower so released to expand the economy and social services, especially to increase home, school and hospital building.
- Stop the wealthy investing their money abroad, stand up to the foreign speculators and bankers; introduce import and exchange controls. Drastically prune the overseas activities of the City as a step towards ending sterling as a trading and reserve currency.
- Modernise British industry on the basis of extended nationalisation.
- Make the rich pay for the crisis. Increase taxes on profits; introduce a far reaching capital gains tax and a wealth tax on personal fortunes.
- Protect and extend all democratic rights and the freedom of the trade unions.
Other sections of the movement have also realised the need for a general programme. Many of these demands were included in the resolution adopted by the 1967 Trades Union Congress. The Tribune group of MPs have produced a declaration covering some of these points, although it was confused on incomes policy and contained no proposals for extending nationalisation.
More and more the movement is demanding that the present Government leaders carry out such a policy, or if they will not, make way for people who will. So the struggle for changes in policy and changes to the left in the Government are merging.
Progress is being made and the united struggle has developed in a variety of ways. By far the most important is the left-progressive alliance in the unions which we have already touched on. This has not been a formal process. It embraces the organised workers in the unions, manual and white-collar. It has arisen out of the struggle and for realistic objectives, a positive answer to frustration and disillusionment. It is out to achieve change not only on day to day issues, but is demanding a general change in policy and leadership.
As the trade unions are the main affiliated strength of the Labour Party, the importance of this is not only immediate, but long-term, as a political shift to the left is essential for a strategy of advance.
It is from this angle that we see the negative futility of refusal to pay the political levy as a means of enforcing change. Carried to its logical conclusion, this would split the unions from the political labour movement, something which the Tories have always been after. Not a split, but left victory in the political labour movement must be the aim.
Unity has also developed in other fields—in the regional and local Vietnam committees, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the British Peace Committee, and the peace movement, in the tenants’ committees up and down the country, in the youth movement and the Radical Student Alliance.
All these are important developments. They must be carried forward. They are vital for advance.
Now the need is clearly emerging for a new step forward, the support of the militant progressive trade union movement for the left MPs battling in the Parliamentary Labour Party and threatened with discipline.
The recent successes in the movement have arisen out of the mass struggle on wages, Vietnam, rents, student rights. As the cuts bite, more and more people will be prepared to take action on prescription charges, on education, on equal pay, and a host of other issues.
More and more the bans and proscriptions imposed by the right-wing on the joint working of Socialists and Communists must be exposed for the obstacle they are. They should be swept away, as should all black circulars and restrictions in the trade unions.
All this is the positive answer to negative expressions of cynicism and frustration.
The time is ripe for a change. We are convinced that in 1968 important policy changes can be won. If trade union strength is really used the incomes policy can be finished. On Vietnam the Government is in a hopeless and vulnerable position. The whole country is now questioning military expenditure. Things not possible two years ago, or one year ago, are possible now.
We should see not only the strength of British capitalism, but its fundamental weakness as the recurrent crises demonstrate. It is a most favourable time for action.
The crisis of capitalism is international. The dollar is under pressure too, largely because of the huge US military expenditure on Vietnam. The counter measures taken by Johnson after sterling devaluation will have a chain reaction forcing down world trade. Johnson’s difficulties have brought the huge social protest movements in the US, and the Negro revolts. Just as new political possibilities are arising in Britain, so they are arising in the US. In France there is a Communist-Socialist radical alliance which could transform French politics. In Finland Communists are in the Government. New possibilities are coming to the fore in Italy.
The growing strength of the socialist world exercises a consistent pressure for peace and progress. Every victory of the national liberation movement assists the labour movement in the West.
So too there are great new possibilities in Britain. To the extent that the alternative programme we have outlined here is won. in part or whole big political changes will result. British imperialism would be greatly weakened. Considerable inroads would be made into monopoly power. There would be an important strengthening of democracy and a corresponding weakening of reaction.
This would be a first big step to get a new realignment of Britain—a break with the American alliance and neo-colonialism and an association with the advancing world forces of socialism and national liberation, the issue we raised at the beginning of this pamphlet. It would also lead to the association of the British working class movement with the progressive movements in France, Italy and America.
Of course the Tories, the monopolists and the right-wing Labour leaders will fight bitterly to oppose the winning of such a programme. The point is that the fight is going on now and Will continue. So far on the side of the left and the working class it has been a defenSive fight. The initiative has been in the hands of the Government and the employers. We Communists are calling for the working class and the whole left movement to grasp the initiative and launch its counter offensive.
This then is the great task posed in 1968. Let us all face up to it.
A Different Party is Needed
A Party of a New Type
THE Communist Party will do all in its power for the success of the united left struggle. At the same time we are convinced that this success is bound up with the strengthening of the Communist Party.
Traditionally working class political aims and objectives have been linked with the Labour Party and Labour Government. But as we have shown it is this which is being questioned and is now challenged. I
The Labour Party, whatever its early struggles, is now largely an electoral machine. Elections apart, all other forms of political mass action are frowned on by the dominant right-wing.
Of course all working class history is the history of struggles—not only that of the trade unions, but mass movements, the hunger marches, Spain and anti-fascism between the wars, the incomes policy, the peace struggle and the movement on rents today.
Because of the political limitations of the Labour Party the Communist Party was formed in the twenties. Throughout the years of its history it has played an organised, leading and honourable role in every mass action.
In the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party there has always been the struggle between the right and the left, between those defending capitalism and those wishing socialist solutions.
In the early days the conception was of an all-inclusive Labour Party, not only with the affiliated unions, but other socialist forces affiliated too. The affiliation of the Communist Party was refused. The Independent Labour Party, once affiliated, left on the issue of discipline. So the original federal structure of the Labour Party has been modified. While its mass basis remains the affiliated unions, more rigid discipline and control of the individual membership has resulted.
In between the wars and since there have been many left movements and periodic revolts—the Bevanites and so on—with expulsions and disciplinary actions. But these movements, despite considerable effort, have never been able seriously to challenge the right-wing grip.
Defend the Left
So today’s situation in the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party is not completely new. Today however the left protest is on a wider and more significant scale, and the political position in the unions is changing.
Will the right-wing expel the left in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour Party generally and further split the labour movement? Some even speculate that this would not be a bad thing, or the left would then have to consider unity with the Communist Party.
But such speculation is to miss the main point. The whole movement, including the Communists, cannot watch this as interested spectators. For the decision to move on to expulsions would be a right-wing victory which must be prevented. Therefore an important part of the fight to change policy must be the defence of the left Labour MPs. Here the support of the trade union movement is vital, commanding as it does the majority power in the Labour Party.
In other words, far from letting the right expel the left, the left forces must move quickly to rebuff the right, defend the left, and press for left changes in the Government.
But this is only part of the problem. We Communists have always supported left Labour MPs and left Labour Party members struggling for changes in policy. We always will. This left movement in the Labour Party, we are convinced, will grow. But events have shown that this left in itself is not enough. More is needed.
The left in the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party are not an organised political party. They have no common organisation for political action and no common Marxist ideology, to enable them to make a consistent, socialist analysis of events.
Similarly trade unions by themselves, however militant, however advanced their political position, are not a political party. They are the elementary class organisations of the working class, organised on an industrial basis. They are of course of great importance, but they cannot replace a political party.
Alongside the left in the Labour Party and the left movement in the trade unions, a much stronger Communist Party is needed.
Surely this is the conclusion arising out of the present crisis in the labour movement that every thinking worker must face.
One might argue that militancy in itself is enough. Militancy is vital; we will get nowhere without it. Indeed if all the militants voted in trade union elections the right everywhere would be ousted. But militancy is not enough. Political organisation is needed as well as trade union organisation. Thousands of militants have realised this and have joined the Communist Party.
A Special Role
Why is it that the Communist Party is the organisation needed by the working class in the present situation? What are the characteristics and qualities which make it distinct and different from all other sections of the left?
first it is a political party. It is an organised force, with branches in the localities and factories, with its own publications, with district and national leaderships, able to organise political action, give leadership, react continuously to events. Its members are not confined to any one industry, trade union or movement. As a result it is able to give the movement common direction and purpose. That is why the Communist Party can play such an important part in the present events in the labour movement.
From this angle alone everyone struggling for change now should join.
Second, unlike the Labour Party, the Communist Party was formed to lead class struggle. It therefore functions continuously, campaigning and acting all the time and not just in elections. We, of course, did not invent the class struggle. It is there; it is the product of capitalist society, of exploitation. It will only end when capitalism is ended. The highest form of class struggle is political struggle, and bound up with this is the contesting of elections. Indeed, it is vital for working class voters, arising out of the last three years’ experience to develop their political position and vote Communist. A group of Communist MPs is urgently needed to help transform the Parliamentary fight. They would not be subject to Whips or discipline.
Third, the Communist Party is the party of socialism, actuated by socialist theory and practise of Marxism. It is because of this that it is able to analyse events in order to reach correct conclusions in complicated situations, to show not only what is needed in the immediate situation, but how to advance the working class to become the leading force of society.
Fourth, it is a revolutionary, not a reformist party. While fighting for economic, social and political reforms, it does not regard these as ends in themselves. It wants to bring about a social revolution, to replace capitalism by socialism. How this can be done is explained in our programme, The British Road to Socialism.
As the failures of Labour Government show, the struggle for socialism can only be successful when political power is won, the main industries taken from capitalist ownership and made socialist property, and the capitalist state transformed into a socialist state.
This is not the programme of the Labour Party. It is the programme of the Communist Party. There can be no lasting progress towards socialism in Britain without the strengthening of the Communist Party.
Fifth, the Communist Party is a party of internationalism and anti-imperialism. In this it carries out the best traditions of the British labour movement. Representing the British working class, it is the only truly national party in Britain. At all times it is associated with the independent Communist Parties of over a hundred other countries, some running Socialist countries, all engaged in the worldwide struggle for progress, freedom and socialism. The great monopolies straddle frontiers. General Motors, ICI and Shell are everywhere. The only international force to confront the international trusts (and all great trusts are international) is the force of the Communist Parties.
These then are the distinctive and indispensable characteristics of the Communist Party. This is why it is a different party from all others in Britain. It is a party of a new type.
It has in its ranks many of the best of the industrial workers, intellectuals, scientists, students—both men and women. The Communist youth movement the Young Communist League, organises the youth.
We are proud of the service the Communist Party has given to the working class and the labour movement over the years.
A Bigger Party Needed
The contribution made by the Communist Party in recent struggles is there for all to see. It pioneered the movement against the incomes policy and against the war in Vietnam. It has fought for left unity and the big changes now taking place in the trade union movement. It pioneered the counter programme of the left.
We do not claim a monopoly of the talent and leadership in the labour movement. We admire and support all those on the left in the trade unions and the Labour Party who are working for socialist change.
The point of our argument is that because the Communist Party is an organised party with a clear socialist purpose and theory it is that vital factor in the movement which, alongside the growing left development, is needed for success.
That is why we argue that victory in the day to day struggle and for a socialist way out of the crisis needs a bigger Communist Party. This in our view is also the lesson of three years of Labour Government, of the crisis in the labour movement. For the job ahead the Communist Party must be strengthened. Nothing can replace it.
For over fifty years the majority of the working class has regarded the Labour Party as sufficient to achieve its ends. If events show anything they show that this is false. All these years the Communist Party has fought for a socialist road and purpose in the labour movement. Today the building of the Communist Party, part and parcel of the labour movement, with thousands of new members is essential for the socialist future of the movement.
In this connection the working class daily press is vital. The Morning Star has played its outstanding organising and leading role, not only as the spokesman for the CommunistIParty, but for all the left. It is more than a newspaper; it is the VOice of leadership, the organiser of action. Everyone should read _it and help to gain thousands of new readers in order to do the job required of us in 1968. .
There is no contradiction in the idea of a bigger Communist Party and our plea for left unity. They are two sides of the same question. The stronger the Communist Party, the stronger the left, the stronger the unity, the greater the guarantee that the leftward .turn in the balance of power in the labour movement will be victorious.
We Communists want the unity of the left, not only for immediate ends, but also in the struggle to win political power and build socialism. Socialism can only be won by the united effort of all sections of the mass labour movement in Britain. The left struggle as we see it will break right-wing control and thus. secure for the Labour Party a vital role in the building of socialism and.the possibility of a single united working class party based on Marxism.
AS we have explained, the problems facing Britain are deep-rooted. The capitalist social system is bankrupt.
At the moment, the next stage of the struggle is to achieve the alternative policy of the Communists and the left. This would be of the greatest possible significance. But the Communist Party maintains that there will be no lasting solution to Britain’s problems until the present system is ended and socialism is introduced.
We should see the relationship between the present stage of the struggle and the advance to socialism.
The alternative policy now being fought for by the Communists and the left in the labour movement would result in the weakening of the economic and political power of the monopolists and the Tories and would facilitate social change. It would create favourable possibilities for carrying the struggle to the higher stage of the advance to socialism.
This is the aim of the Communist Party.
Right-wing labour theory and practice has led to the cul-de-sac of managed capitalism and recurrent crises. But in the socialist world the tempo of advance is such that the Soviet Union, for example, is well on the way to outpacing the United States as the strongest power in the world.
Britain needs socialism. Every succeeding merger, throwing tens of thousands out of work, urgently underlines this. These great economic empires with the power of economic decision in society can no longer be left in private hands. Only when they become socialist property can we get economic sanity and real planning.
Automation and the new technical revolution gives added weight to the argument for socialism. In the hands of capitalism it can only bring social chaos. Under socialism it would be a boon.
We have said once, we say it again, monopoly capitalism is imperialism. It breeds war. Socialism would end British imperialism and by doing so would be a force for peace and an ally of national liberation.
Monopoly capitalism menaces every hard-won democratic right. The further development of democracy is bound up with finishing it and introducing socialism.
This is the aim of the Communist Party. Socialism requires that economic and political power should be in the hands of the working class and its allies. How this can be achieved is explained in detail in the programme of the Communist Party, The British Road to Socialism.
In the view of the Communist Party the purpose of politics today is, and can only be, the winning of political power and socialism.
You can best assist that aim by enrolling in the Communist Party today.