Editorial from the February 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
Political groups are nowadays two-a-penny. Facing the Tories, National Liberals and National Labour Party, which make up the Chamberlain Government are the opposition Liberals, the Labour Party and its affiliated parties, the Co-operative Party, the I.L.P. and the Communists. Then there is Lloyd George’s Council of Action, the Labour Co-operative joint campaign, the Churchill - Sandys - Atholl Hundred Thousand" movement, and the latest addition, the Cripps' Manifesto for an alliance of all genuine friends of democracy and opponents of the Chamberlain Government. Sir Stafford Cripps argues that if all the genuine friends of democracy got together, they would be numerous enough to defeat Chamberlain at the next election, but lots of genuine friends have lost no time in telling Cripps that he is a disruptionist, and they will have none of him and his movement. They include the overwhelming majority of members of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party, on which Cripps had a seat, and their denunciation has been backed by Mr. Bevin and other trade union officials. Also, Sir Stafford Cripps will himself have no dealings with a rival group of ”friends of democracy,” the Churchill group; for, says Cripps, in a memorandum to the Labour Party, the object of the Hundred Thousand movement is really “to capture the youth for reactionary imperialism” (Manchester Guardian, January 16th, 1939). He fears that, though this movement has been checked for the moment, some such group, while preaching a ”democratic front," may actually be leading the youth “into what are substantially Fascist paths." Though the Cripps’ group object to Churchill and the rest of the Hundred Thousand movement, they approve the Duchess of Atholl, who is its Acting Chairman.
Naturally, Sir Stafford numbers among his supporters that indefatigable promoter of new parties, Mr. G. D. H. Cole. It would be difficult j to point to any period in the past quarter of a century when Mr. Cole was not founding a new political cult or burying an old one.
Socialism in Cold Storage.
Both the Labour-Co-operative joint campaign to secure the election of a Labour Government and Sir Stafford Cripps' plea for united action have as their ostensible justification the critical nature of the present political situation, particularly the international situation. Both programmes are designed to appeal to non-Socialists, though Cripps is candid about it and the Labour Party is not. Cripps says, frankly, that he proposes to put Socialism into cold storage for the present, and drafts his programme accordingly. The Labour Party offer just the same kind of programme but indignantly deny any abandonment of Socialism. As recently as December 2nd, 1938, the editor of the Daily Herald, Mr. Francis Williams, wrote an article in answer to “people who declare themselves Socialists but who want Socialism to be put into cold storage for the time being.” Mr. Williams, using arguments that have often appeared in The Socialist Standard, maintained that “a great Socialist crusade” is needed to answer Fascism. It would, he said, ”win an immense number of converts,” but such a crusade "can only be harmed by alliance with those who do not share our Socialist beliefs.”
Now the crusade has been launched by the Daily Herald of January 14th, 1939. It has seven points, as follows: “£1 a week pension at 65,” "Work for all at fair wages," ”Plenty of food at fair prices,” ” A fair chance of health for all,” ”A clear policy for peace,” “ Build up our strength,” and " Put Britain's safety first.”
The first four are self-explanatory. Number five proposes linking up with “other peaceful countries," so that the dictators ”will not dare to attack any of us.” Number six means the development of agriculture, industry and transport. The seventh and last means the provision of adequate anti-aircraft protection.
The above new programme is so like all the old ones that it needs little comment. It will be observed that the “Socialist Crusade” has no slightest tinge of Socialism.
Sir Stafford. Cripps (see Manifesto in Manchester Guardian, January 16th) wants his Popular Front to be based on the following points: Effective protection of democracy, collaboration with ”France, Russia, America and other democratic countries," co-operation with the trade unions for advances in wages, etc., higher standards of nutrition, better provision for the unemployed, improved old-age pensions, educational reforms, a policy to deal with unemployment, agricultural reforms, and national control of transport, mining, and the Bank of England.
Socialists will perceive that Sir Stafford’s programme also contains nothing of Socialism, but not because he has put it in cold storage. When he says that the Labour Party should join his proposed Popular Front, but at the same time affirm that it remains “convinced that the only ultimate solution of the national and international difficulties was along the lines of its fullest Socialist program me." Sir Stafford is talking with his tongue in his cheek. He knows, as well as anyone, that the Labour Party was built up on a programme from which Socialism was excluded, and that the exclusion was as necessary to the Labour Party as he recognises it to be necessary for his all-party group. Those who want non-Socialist votes must put forward a reformist programme which will appeal to non-Socialists. Sir Stafford says that in “normal political times" he is all for Socialism and independence, but the present times are not normal. Those who look up his political career will find that times apparently never were normal, for all of his own election campaigns have been fought as a Labour candidate on the usual reformist programme.
The Partnership of Sheep and Wolves.
Behind all these manoeuvrings of the Labour and Co-operative Parties, and Sir Stafford Cripps and his supporters, is the decisive factor that the vast majority of electors are not Socialists. To get a majority the opposition must therefore always make a non-Socialist appeal. As long ago as 1931 it was pointed out in The Socialist Standard that the workers' experience of two Labour Governments had so knocked the gilt off Labourism that it was hard to conceive of any situation in which the Labour Party could ever hope to gain a majority, unless in alliance with the Liberals or other parties or groups. The Labour-Co-operative campaign and the Cripps’ Popular Front are a tardy recognition of this situation. But neither group candidly admits the price that has to be paid to get votes. The Labour Party puts forward a non-Socialist programme and labels it "Socialist Crusade," while Cripps writes glibly of an all-party alliance, in which nobody “would be expected to relinquish any part of their beliefs or programme except for the specific and limited purpose of the present emergency and for the creation of a temporary combination to fight the National Government.”
Fine-sounding phrases, but what is the new Government going to do when it gets into office, except carry on the administration of capitalism? They could not introduce Socialism, even if they wished, because the electorate is opposed to such a course, and the openly capitalist elements have not the slightest intention of putting capitalism in cold storage as their part of the bargain. Nor do they even pretend to have that intention. Like the Duchess of Atholl, who wrote an article on “My Creed" in Reynolds (January 15th, 1939), they desire “to maintain private property as an institution." The Socialist sheep is asked to join in a pact of mutual assistance with the capitalist wolf under the blessed guise of genuine friends of demoracy, but while the sheep is to give up Socialism the wolf carries on in the accustomed way.
Cripps and the Labour Party both talk of “ fair wages." Every capitalist, including the worst sweaters, will hasten to sign on the dotted line to such a nebulous phrase, but it will be noticed that neither the Labour Party nor Cripps embarrasses its potential capitalist supporters by proposing to repeal the 1927 Trades Disputes and Trades Union Act: that would be construed as an unfriendly act by the “genuine friends of democracy," who, in truth, care all about protecting the private proverty institution and nothing at all about fighting Fascism, unless they consider the latter a means to the former.
Neither a Labour Government nor a Popular Front all-party Government would advance Socialism one iota. Nor will they even improve the prospects of democracy. Doomed to fail and disintegrate, like every Government administering capitalism, they may very likely encourage the growth of Fascism among the disappointed electorate.