Ted Grant

Defend Labour’s Socialist Programme

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 2 no. 1 (January-February 1960)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

The insidious attempt to undermine the basic class policies of the Labour Movement is being continued by the “Frognal coterie”[A]. After Douglas Jay’s demand that Labour abandon the attempt to extend nationalisation, Gaitskell’s disguised attack on the Socialist objectives of the Labour Party under the guise of modernising the constitution, comes Tony Crosland’s statement to an international Labour conference in Holland that social changes have “rendered the traditional anti-capitalism of the Left irrelevant.” He echoes the veiled attack on the trade union connections of the Labour Movement by Douglas Jay, and implies that the continued use of the name “Labour” is an electoral liability.

These ideas were expressed at the conference over the week-end January the 9th and 10th. Everything in the capitalist garden is apparently neatly in order…“we have full employment, the Welfare State and the prospect in 10 years’ time of a car to every working-class family. For a party of protest there is a good deal less to protest about.”

Thus the rosy picture fills in any gaps in the claim of Macmillan: “You never had it so good.” Except perhaps that Macmillan’s boasts are a little more moderate and restrained.

Arguments [of the] right wing

Let us for the moment accept the arguments of the Right Wing. In that case what would be gained by hiding the class basis of Labour’s programme? It would be transparently easy for the Tories to expose it, consequently Labour would get an even bigger hiding at the polls. On the other hand if as they desire Labour changes its policy to what would amount to a Radicalism hardly distinguishable from that of Liberalism, or the Bow Group of Tories, why should the electors, as the Tories vulgarly expressed it, change their support of a “winning team”.

What would be the purpose for the working class if capitalism can continue to deliver the goods indefinitely, for the existence of an alternative Party of Socialism? The real essence of what those people are suggesting is not something new but a return to the system which existed before the First World War, of alternative Liberal and Tory Governments, of which in reality there was no fundamental difference of principle! It was a question of Tweedledum and Tweedledee! The position in America today of the artificial divisions between the Democrats and the Republicans. (In America the tendency of the workers is to become more and more discontented with the position of the Labour Movement as an appendage of the Democrats. It may not be too far in the distant future before the American workers form their own Party of Labour, in opposition to the two parties of Wall Street capitalism).

The Crosland-Jays want to throw us 50 years backward. But at least 50 years ago the trade unions were an unofficial appendage of the Liberal Party. Now Crosland wants to break the connections as discrediting the Labour Party!

Labour traditions

Fortunately the British Labour Movement was built over decades of struggle to break the links of class collaboration, for the trade unions and working class to function independent of capitalism; and for a transformation of the social system. It is no accident that nearly all the trade unions have a clause in their constitutions, making Socialism, or the common ownership of the means of production, one of their aims. The workers learned this lesson in bitter experience.

If the conditions of the working class in the “overtime state” are somewhat better this is because of the organisation and struggle of the workers through the trade unions and Labour Party. The fact that the majority of the American workers families have motor cars did not prevent the magnificent struggle of the American steel workers for a bigger share in the wealth they have been producing. If as Crosland argues the “public” (does he mean the middle class, influenced by the capitalist press?) is hostile to strikes, then all that it proves is that the trade union and Labour Movement hove failed in their duty to explain the facts to the people. The working class share of the wealth they are producing, according to official Government statistics has dropped enormously in the last decade. The share of the capitalists in the division of the national income has enormously increased.

If for a fleeting few years the standards of the workers have increased by overwork, by the capitalists exploiting the entire family, instead of only one wage earner, that does not mean a fundamental change in the nature of capitalism. The total workers’ share of the increased cake has dropped. The superiority of Marxism over all other tendencies in the Labour Movement is that it bases itself on the science of perspectives.

Gaitskell, Crosland, Jay and other Right Wing intellectuals reflect the pressure of capitalism, of the ideas and interests of the capitalist class, within the Labour Movement. They reflect the momentary upward swing of the capitalist economy. They are remote from the real problems of the workers. With their comfortable middle class incomes and outlook, how can they feel the indignities of the railwaymen, of the miners faced with redundancy, of the motor car workers subjected to unbearable tension and strain on the conveyor belt, of the engineers who have practically doubled productivity in 10 years, and whose wages do not remotely approximate to this increased wealth, of the labourers fighting an impossible battle to bring up families on £7 or £8 per week.

Abandon Socialism

In any case the present state of capitalist prosperity will change to that of disastrous slump at a later stage. The very piling up of wealth, and the decreased share of the workers and consumers guarantees that at a certain stage in the development of the capitalist economy. For 30 pieces of silver, in a modest increase of the standards of living—grudgingly conceded by the pressure of the Labour Movement—they are willing to abandon Labour’s historic programme.

Despite the so-called prosperity, capitalism is completely incapable of salving the problems of the British and world peoples. There is the colossal wastage of armaments, the insanity of national frontiers in the age of atomic energy; there is in Britain the criminal backwardness of the machine tool industry, because it would not pay the capitalists to modernise it. This has reduced it to the same obsolete state as the steel, coal and other industries ruined by capitalism in the last 50 years. It required nationalisation before these industries were modernised. The inadequacy of science, of education, and modern technique is notorious. This threatens to reduce Britain to the status of a third-class power, far inferior in these respects to China, Poland and the Balkan Republics of yesterday, which were among the most backward countries in the world.

These petty, smug, self-satisfied parliamentarians, without breadth of vision, without perspectives, without idealism, wish to reduce the Labour Party to the level of a second rate Liberal Party. Although within a measurable period of time the hopeless incapacity of the capitalist system to even guarantee a decent standard of living for all will be exposed in all its nakedness. Even from a “national” point of view, which seems to be their prime concern, only the overthrow of capitalism could lead to the maximum use of the resources of science and technique. This would mean undreamed of vistas of culture, prosperity and progress if industry were nationalised and run democratically. Instead of production being run anarchically for the benefit of the handful of monopolists controlling 600 firms which concentrate the major part of production in their hands, it could be planned and organised for the benefit of all.

Defend common ownership

Had this perspective been presented to the workers it would have meant victory either in the last election or the next one. If Jay, Gaitskell, Crosland and the other Tory and Liberal fellow travellers infiltrating the Labour Party do not accept the aims of the constitution, we suggest that the Labour Party does not change its name…the best course for them would be to change to a Party more congenial to their point of view!

In the coming conferences of the trade unions and at meetings of the Constituency Parties, all Socialists should support resolutions moved in defence of clause 4 of the constitution which states: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best possible system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”


[A] The clique around Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell, a small coterie of “cultured intellectuals” and visiting foreigners who met at his house in Frognal Gardens, Hampstead.