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Mary Bell

The Road Ahead for British Labor

(3 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 36, 3 September1945, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The eyes of the world’s workers and oppressed have been turned hopefully upon England, just as those of the world’s rulers and exploiters have turned anxiously in the same direction ever since the election victory of the British Labor Party.

The English workers, through their tremendous mandate for thorough-going social change at the polls, have given a mighty impetus to the battle of all workers for complete emancipation from capitalist exploitation and ushering in a new era of prosperity, peace and socialism.

If British labor were to cast off its profiteering, imperialist ruling class, this would be only the beginning of a chain-reaction which would spread immediately to the enslaved continent of Europe and the colonies and to the United Slates as well.

How far the British Labor Party can go toward achieving the ideal of world labor depends upon many things: (1) how far the Labor Party itself pushes its avowed program of nationalization of basic industry and banking, (2) how militantly the British workers press for a solution of their problems, (3) how strongly British and world reaction wage a counter-fight against the Labor Party and (4) how swiftly world labor advances toward social change.

Grave Problems for Labor

The tasks that confront the British workers and the British Labor Party are immeasurably difficult. British imperialism, although on the victors’ side in the war, emerges in little better position than a vanquished power. She is debt-ridden as a result of the war. She suffered tremendous physical destruction through the bombing raids during the war. She who lives by international trade, has lost many of her markets in the war. Six years of war have resulted in a heavy loss of markets and credits. Being the oldest capitalist nation, Britain finds herself handicapped with antiquated machines and factories, which add to her difficulties in competing with the United States, her chief economic rival.

This is the legacy that Tory imperialism bequeaths to the Labor Party. Such a heritage – which produced the poverty, slums and bombed-out houses of the English working class – is the major reason that that working class put the Labor Party into office.

Since Britain is so nearly bankrupt, she depends upon foreign loans and economic concessions to prime the pump of British industry. Foreign loans come exclusively from the United States, the seat of world financial power. The abrupt cessation of lend-lease, therefore,was an unbearable blow to both British capitalism and the new Labor regime in England.

Sir Stafford Cripps, new president of the Board of Trade, warned that “If lend-lease were cut off at once, obviously it would be a difficult problem to get enough imports to keep us alive, much less rovide us with beautiful clothes.”

U. S. generosity is tied to its purse-strings, and as long as lend-lease served the common interest of England and America to defeat the Axis, American aid was forthcoming. Now American capital is racing its rival to get its export products to the market first.

If the U.S. is opposed to nursing enfeebled British capitalism normally, how much more aggressively she is against aiding a Labor government which is “pledged” to do away with private property in certain mass and basic industries. This explains the abruptness of the lend-lease termination,

American Tories Squeal

Typical of the American reactionaries expressing this opposition is the statement of Mark Sullivan in the Herald Tribune of August 28: “Help from us would be an aid in making the British experiment in socialism successful.” The British Labor Party hasn’t even begun to execute its mild “experiment,” but U.S. reaction is ready to crush it in the egg.

Sullivan continues to explain how socialization would affect U.S. capital adversely, in that:

“... any help we gave to Britain under an extreme socialist government would work to our detriment in international trade. In Britain under socialist government international trade must become a government monopoly ... At present an American business firm can do business direct with an English firm ... But if Britain makes international trade a government monopoly the condition changes, greatly to the disadvantage of American business. All business in Britain becomes one buyer or one seller, as the case may be, while in America business remains hundreds of buyers and hundreds of sellers acting individually. Where in any transaction there are on one side 100 sellers and on the other side a single buyer or 100 buyers withone seller, the individual is under a hopeless disadvantage ...

“In short, with British international trade a government monopoly, American business would be forced to one of two alternatives. Either we should be obliged to abandon international trade, with seriously detrimental effects on our own property and standard of living, or we should, in self-defense, make our own international trade a monopoly. The latter course would be on our part a long step toward going into socialism ourselves.”

While the squeeze put on Britain affects capital as well as the Labor Party, and throws Churchill squealing into the same chorus with Attlee and others, other Tories are busy pointing the “moral” to the Labor MP’s.

Said Oliver Lyttleton: “If you wish, to obtain assistance from the United States you must be careful about the nasty things you say about private enterprise that will affront American opinion.”

The Tory ex-president of the English Board of Trade is saying, along with the American Tories who wish to cut off loans to “socialist” England: “Don’t touch private property, boys, or Uncle Sam’s going to get you.”

For a Bold Policy

That the U.S. and British Tories had “got” the Labor government for the moment was evidenced by the immediate announcement of Cripps that even with the war over, clothes rations will be reduced and the numerous statements of others that Britain’s standard of living threatens to sink beneath the low mark of the blitzkrieg days.

U.S. action in stopping lend-lease is the cue for the British Labor government. It should make good its promises to nationalize the Bank of England and the joint stock banks as well. If capital is needed to run British industry, let the wealthy profiteers furnish it. And since support will be lacking from foreign capital for British enterprise, the only method of assuring support is for the Labor government to follow a socialist international policy as well. That would mean immediate and unconditional freedom of the 400 million Indians and the inhabitants of the crown colonies now ruled by England. It would mean a renunciation of the reactionary, pro-imperialist foreign policy speech of Ernest Bevin, the new Foreign Minister, a speech to every word of which Winston Churchill agreed. A truly socialist program abroad and at home would win to British sympathy the legions of labor in every country, including the United States.

If ever an internationalist working class program was dictated to a labor movement that wanted to achieve socialism – and it is dictated to all – it is doubly true in relation to the British. Their island geography, their concentration of industry, their lack of self-sufficiency, their dependence upon export and import all demand a program of appeal to the international working class.

Labor Party On The Spot

In view of the foregoing, all the more criminal and harmful to British labor interests as well as those of international labor was the support given to Bulgarian, Rumanian, Hungarian, Greek and Spanish reactionaries!

There are cynics who like to say to socialists who want a Labor Party, a Labor government and socialism, that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” However, the pro-imperialist speech of Bevin and the wishy-washy internal actions of the Labor government thus far are not due to their being corrupted by office. They are due to the heterogeneity of the Labor Party and the reformist program it holds.

In the statement of its so-called left-winger, Harold Laski, whose “extreme” policies have already been disclaimed by Bevin and Attlee, the most the British Labor Party stands for is a GRADUAL changing over from capitalism to socialism, making a “revolution by consent,” and compensating the property owners for the confiscation of their property (property which was obtained by its owners through years of confiscation without compensation to peasants and workers!). And one has only to recall that no ruling class in history has ever “consented” to a revolution, to realize how utopian their program is.

But one cannot reckon without the rank and file of the British working people. Their mandate in the elections was clear. They want an end to poverty, joblessness, insecurity and war. They will demand more drastic action on the part of the Labor Party. They will find their desires may be achieved only through socialism. If the British labor leaders betray them, they will take other means to achieve their end.

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Last updated: 14 December 2017