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Workers’ Government

Susan Green

What Is a Workers’ Government?

How Does Workers’ Government Differ
from “Labor Government”?

(1 March 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 9, 1 March 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We present below the first in a series of articles on What Is a Workers’ Government?

Is it puzzling, this distinction between a workers’ government and a labor government? Surely, labor means workers. Then, what’s the difference?

History has taught us that if the workers are to go forward out of the mire of capitalist chaos, unemployment and war – to a socialist society – they must use the instrument of a workers’ government.

History has likewise taught us that what has come to be known as a labor government is an instrument of the capitalist class for maintaining its power over labor.

The next article in this series will deal with the historic examples of workers’ governments, what they were able to do and what promise they hold for today. In the present, article labor governments as tools of the ruling class are on parade.

MacDonald Ruled For British Bosses

The most perfect example of a labor government was the Ramsay MacDonald government in England in the early 1920’s. MacDonald was head of the then powerful British Labor Party, was appointed Prime Minister and created a ss-called Labor Cabinet. You would think that the scene was all set for marvellous strides forward – that the control of the capitalists over British society would be undermined and way made for the control by the workers of their own destiny.

The exact opposite happened. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his highly recommended little book, Whither England?, MasDonald, as Prime Minister, “brings to bear all the methods of capitalist oppression and hands over these instruments of force intact to its Conservative successor in office.”

As a matter of cold fact, the labor government ruled as stooges for the British imperialist gang whose oppression the workers no longer wanted to tolerate. The First World War left British imperialism one of the military victors, but staggering economically. Its empire was badly shaken and its markets with it. So that the British workers were suffering from unemployment. To maintain profits, wages were being cut right and left. There was a series of tremendous strikes, and workers flocked into the Labor Party for redress through political action. The influence of the Russian Revolution was strong and gave the British workers a revolutionary outlook and hope for a socialist society.

The British ruling class was incapable of stemming this tide of working class rebellion single-handed. It, therefore, called in its lieutenants in labor’s own ranks – the misleading labor leaders – to do the dirty work. THAT WAS THE MacDONALD GOVERNMENT.

The Conservatives had passed many laws against labor – which the labor government proceeded to enforce. To make it easier for British capitalists to compete in the world textile market, it permitted the miserable wages of the textile workers to be cut. It sanctioned a law providing for the lengthening of hours in the mines – also to assist the capitalists in world competition. It upheld the extreme Tory policy of oppression in India. And continued to build battleships to prepare British imperialism for the present World War. And, the biggest plume in his bonnet, is the credit history gives MacDonald for crushing the general strike of 1926.

To be sure, MacDonald made “socialist” speeches, of a kind – as all misleading demagogues do – but not one step was taken in the direction of socialism. On the contrary, the MacDonald government did everything in its power to bolster and strengthen imperialism at home and abroad. It used its influence with the workers to run their discontent into

the ground and to dissipate their revolutionary energy – WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THE RULING CLASS REQUIRED FROM MacDONALD.

“Labor Government” Crushed German Revolution

Another outstanding illustration of “labor government” betrayal of labor comes from Germany. In January 1919, the German revolutionary movement, involving the broad mass of workers, was crushed in blood. The murderous business was carried out by a government of so-called “socialists” – Ebert, Scheidemann, Bauer, Noske. The frightened ruling class invited these labor turncoats to take over the reins of government, and from that vantage point to use their influence over the masses to get them to give up their revolutionary activities. When persuasion failed, these blood-hounds for the German Junkers used the armed forces of the capitalist state – outdoing the Junkers in Junkerism – to decapitate the revolutionary movement, jail thousands of workers, destroy their press and meeting halls.

At the juncture when the German workers had already formed their Councils of Workers and Soldiers as the basis for a true workers’ government – the German ruling class pulled out of its hat the Ebert-Scheidemann “labor”government to destroy the embryo workers’ government.

And in France – The People’s Front

Almost two decades later, in the spring of 1936, a government of “socialists,” Stalinists and radicals came into power in France – forming; that ill-fated and ill-famed People’s Front government – another so-called labor government with “socialist” Blum at its head. Just like the MacDonald government and the Ebert-Scheidemann government before it, it came into being to act as stooges for the capitalist class against the workers who were taking revolutionary action to overthrow the capitalist class.

Leon Trotsky wrote a remarkably lucid analysis of this period in French history in his pamphlet Whither France? This revolutionary period reached its height in the wonderful, strike movement of 1935. Not only were the workers taking over the factories. They were setting up efficiently, functioning factory committees to carry on in the place of the existing agencies of capitalist government. All the workers needed was honest, clear-headed, purposeful revolutionary leadership to guide them toward the socialist goal. They got the Blum sell-out government – WITH THE COMPLIMENTS OF THE FRENCH IMPERIALISTS.

The first thing it did was to placate the workers with a few reforms such as the 40-hour week and vacations with pay. But these reforms became meaningless in view of the widespread unemployment, the increase in the cost of living and all the other evils brought on the workers by the crisis in French capitalism.

Like any capitalist government, the Blum government began to mend the unmendable fences of French imperialism. It undertook an unprecedented armament program. It blocked aid to the Spanish workers in their fight against fascism because it feared workers’ power. At home it sent the Mobile Guards against striking workers – WHILE THE FRENCH FASCISTS THUMBED THEIR NOSES AT IT AND FLOURISHED LIKE STINK WEEDS.

The “socialists” and Stalinists in the People’s Front government, together with the radicals, did signal service in saving French capitalism – for the time being – from overthrow by the workers. That was what they were put there for – even at the expense of strengthening the fascist elements.

The British Coalition War Cabinet Today

Today there is nowhere in the world a labor government like the MacDonald set-up, the Ebert-Scheidemann-Noske counter-revolutionary government or the People’s anti-labor Front. But there is in England today a war coalition government. That is, so-called labor leaders have entered into the capitalist war cabinet to work with the ministers of the propertied classes. These so-called labor leaders are Bevin, Morrison and Attlee.

Professor Harold J. Laski, of the University of London, recently wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine – printed in part in last week’s Labor Action – in which he showed that British big business runs the British government, including the “labor” members thereof, namely, Bevin, Morrison and Attlee. The role of these three servitors of the British ruling class has been to sell the reluctant British workers an unpalatable bill of goods, i.e, the maintenance of British imperialism at home and abroad.

“All pivotal positions – economic, political and diplomatic – remain in the hands of the old ruling class,” writes Professor Laski. The laborites in the government are doing their share to keep the workers from upsetting this status quo. That is what they were put there for. How much longer they will succeed in their work of betrayal, remains to be seen.

In the United States, where labor has not developed along the same political lines as in England and where there has been no powerful nation-wide Labor Party, there has never been a labor government. Even today the ruling class here does not find it necessary to include labor in a war coalition cabinet as in England. Perhaps American labor is backward only to develop along more advanced class-conscious and revolutionary lines.

But the American ruling class has drawn labor leaders into the agencies of government, into the various war boards to do here the job that Bevin, Morrison and Attlee do in England. The function of the Murrays and Reuthers, the Greens and Tobins, has been to get labor to “cooperate” in making all the war sacrifices the ruling class demands from it.

The management-public-labor trio is a two-to-one arrangement under which the labor leaders buckle under to the pressure of capitalist interests represented by management directly and by the “public” indirectly. The same thing is happening here as happened everywhere and every time labor leaders enter into the capitalist government. In cooperating with the capitalist class, they serve the interests of that class against the interests of the working class.

For instance, the War Labor Board more and more makes unanimous decisions. In the case of the New York City transit workers, management, labor and the public all agreed that the transit workers are orphans without even the right to place their case for a wage increase before the WLB – perfect unanimity behind Boss LaGuardia.

Again, not only do labor leaders utilize the conventions of labor unions to ram down labor’s throat the no-strike pledge, the relinquishment of double time for Sunday work, the Little Steel steal, etc. – but these leaders shamelessly turn over the rostrum of workers’ conventions to capitalist politicians and officials of the capitalist government to propagandize the workers against their own interests.

Neither the MacDonald government in England nor the Ebert-Scheidemann government in Germany nor the People’s Front in France nor today’s war coalition cabinet nor management-public-labor representation on government boards in this country – none of these have even a remote relation to a workers’ government that can emancipate the workers from capitalism and lead on toward socialism. As shown above, they are all instruments for preserving capitalist class rule – for betraying working class interests. This is the historic pattern and purpose every time so-called labor leaders take over and run the government – AS IT EXISTS IN CAPITALIST SOCIETY. The same is true when so-called labor leaders or “socialists” enter the government in coalition with capitalist politicians.


In the next article you will read an explanation of why a real workers’ government cannot be within the framework of the capitalist governmental structure. As stated above, the next article will also review the historic examples of a workers’ government, what they accomplished, what promise they hold for the future.

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Last updated: 21 March 2015