Labour leaders hold workers back
[Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 8, May 1942]
The recent bye-elections have been the means of demonstrating the present mood and feelings of the British masses. Rugby, Wallasey, Grantham, Cathcart, and Cardiff—all these present a broad cross-section of the mood among the people—not only the workers, but the middle class as well.
What is striking about these elections is the clarity with which they reveal the change in outlook of the working people. All of these constituencies were previously represented by Tories—some with big majorities. Now we have the situation where, for the first time since the outbreak of the war, the government is suffering defeats, while a substantial vote is recorded for the ILP in the constituencies which they have contested.
Coupled with the growing restlessness in industry, as evidenced by the growing strikes among the miners, dockers and engineers, the defeats underline the rapidly developing distrust of the masses of the people in the rule of the capitalist class. The reasons for their disillusionment are becoming clearer daily: the military defeats, the incompetence and bungling of the military officer caste; the profiteering, chaos and mismanagement in production; the pauperisation of the small businessmen—all these have played their part in developing an anti-capitalist sentiment among the working class and the general radicalisation of the masses as a whole.
Despite all the attempts of the labour and trade union leadership to drive the Labour supporters into the camp of the Tory candidates, the elections show that only a negligible proportion of Labour supporters have allowed themselves to be led in this direction. As a matter of fact, a substantial proportion of the former Tory voters are steadily moving to the left by voting against the official government candidates, while large numbers have become apathetic and indifferent.
The feeling prevailing in the country is demonstrated by events in Rugby where a large number of workers—socialists, trade union militants, and shop-stewards, Labour Party and members of the Trades Council—came together to discuss the putting up of an independent “socialist” candidate to fight the official government candidate. They went so far as to elect their nominee. The intervention of W. J. Brown, on a fake left programme, caused their nominee to withdraw. Despite the particularly vituperative attacks of Transport House, Brown was enabled to win the seat by a narrow majority. In Grantham, on a pretence of supporting a “labour” programme, the independent candidate was elected. But the clearest and most decisive indication of all was given by the result of the Wallasey election. On a programme of “common ownership of the means of production”, the former Labour Party member Alderman Reakes was elected by a large majority! This in a constituency with a strong middle class vote and formerly a fairly safe Tory seat. Cripps’ brother, who intervened on a “non-party” independent platform, did not even succeed in retaining his deposit.
In the areas which the ILP contested, they received a substantial proportion of the Labour vote but did not win the majority of working class supporters, primarily because of their pacifist or semi-pacifist position and their negative sectarian approach.
A particularly pernicious role in these elections was played by the so-called Communist Party. In all the elections, they attempted to influence the voters to support the government candidate. These “communists” attempted to utilise the stirring resistance of the Red Army in their appeals to the electorate to support the representatives of big business! Despite all their propaganda, the decisive majority of the workers refused to be diverted from expressing their growing opposition and mistrust of the capitalists and bankers who control the policy of the Churchill government.
The capitalists and their representatives have realised clearly the lesson of these elections. Commenting on Sir Stafford Cripps’ speech appealing for “economic democracy” after the war, the Times comments:
“The country is in a mood to respond to such a programme. Recent bye-elections are among many symptoms which show that the challenge of a positive appeal will bring fresh heart and fresh enthusiasm to the ordinary citizen bearing without complaint [!] the burden and the drabness of war on the home front. The candidate who can offer such an appeal will in the long run win the suffrages of the electorate.”
The ruling class has seen the striking fact that all the anti-government candidates achieved victory on the basis of left demagogy; of an anti-capitalist, anti-profiteering appeal on the basis of a more efficient organisation of production to “prosecute the struggle against Hitlerism”; and lastly, on the basis of more help for the Soviet Union.
Unmistakably, despite all the efforts of the Labour leaders, despite all the efforts of the Communist Party leaders, to hold the masses in check, the war itself is pushing them irresistibly in the direction of socialism. The only thing holding this development back is the betrayal of the Labour, trade union and CP leadership. The verdict of the working class electorate is clear. They are demanding by their votes an end to the electoral truce. They have given a vote of no confidence in the policy of the official labour leaders.
Comrades of the Labour Party and trade unions, comrades of the co-op, comrades of the factory committees, comrades of the whole labour movement! Is it not clear that the policy of the labour and trade union leadership is false and shameful? They claim to be in the government in the interests of waging a war against fascism in the interests of the working class. But they have entered into a truce with those elements who represent the bankers and financiers who subsidised, armed and helped to organise Hitler and his gangsters. They talk about “equality of sacrifice” while the big monopolies continue to pile up profits at the expense of the toilers. They ask the workers to accept lower rations, while the rich live well. They shout for increased production by greater strain and effort on the part of the workers, while the profits and greed of the bosses impedes and sabotages production. And they persist in remaining with the capitalists as their obedient tools and lackeys.
They tell us “national unity” is necessary to defeat fascism! But the feeling among the people is that “national unity” with the ruling class is leading the people to major disaster, both on the home front and the military front; that “national unity” is leading to the strengthening of reaction at home and fascism abroad. In reality, the reason is that these “leaders” are content with the present line up—they are content to remain tied to the millionaire combines and banks. If the labour leaders would end the so-called political truce and fight for a general election on a fighting Socialist policy—on the programme of the Socialist Appeal—they would obtain an overwhelming majority throughout the country. In the past, the Labour leaders have always used the excuse that the workers were not ready for a “full socialist case”. Today that excuse is shown to be completely exposed. It is these so-called leaders who are holding the struggle back. The workers are only waiting for an enthusiastic, positive lead. They are looking for a way out of the impasse in which they have found themselves.
Shame on those who have no faith and no confidence in the working class. These bye-elections have been a means of demonstrating the correct class instincts of the workers. Their progressive aspirations are being utilised and misdirected by these fake left opportunists. Now is the time to harness this feeling in the interests of socialism.
Workers’ International League believes that the solution of the problems which confront the working class can only be solved by the workers taking power into their own hands. But the first step in this direction must be re-establishment of the independence of the organisations of the working class from subordination to the bosses. While the workers still have faith and trust in their leaders we will fight side by side with them to put these leaders to the test. In this way we believe that the correctness of our ideas will become apparent to the whole of the working class.
The Labour leaders claim to represent the interests and aspirations of the workers: the workers have demonstrated their desires! The coalition must be ended! Labour must take power! Put into force the programme of the Socialist Appeal!