Editorial from the June 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is an old established custom of the reformist movement that the astute rebels of to-day become the leaders of to-morrow, only to be pushed aside in turn by new rebels. The explanation is simple.
The reformist movements such as the British Labour Party are founded on the belief that Capitalism can be gradually improved and humanised if only the right men are put in control. It does credit to their hearts but not their heads, for it is demonstrably false. Capitalism can function at all only so long as those who control the Government enable the capitalists to make profit out of the exploitation of the working class. The most direct illustration of this is shown in governmental policy on wages. Notwithstanding the Labour Government's professed desire to see wages rise, immediately it came into power it had to start discouraging wage increases. If it had not done so higher wages would have eliminated profit and brought the system to a standstill.
So the regular phases of Labour Party internal policy are the election of vociferous rebels to leadership, their rise to governmental office, their loss of popularity through administering Capitalism, and their removal to make way for new confusionists.
And all the time the workers suffer from Capitalism and its wars, pacified by glowing promises of more reforms which end only in more disillusionment.
The latest claimant is Mr. Aneurin Bevan who resigned over the charges for false teeth and spectacles and over what he regards as the over-hasty plans for re-armament.
Following the example of all the earlier rebels who have trod the well-worn path to leadership, he claims that his policy is more truly socialist than that of Attlee. Having himself been occupied since 1945 trying to make Capitalism work he suddenly discovers that his "socialist” conscience requires him to resign and smugly writes to Attlee that “ it would be dishonourable for me to allow my name to be associated in the carrying out of policies which are repugnant to my conscience and contrary to my expressed opinion” (News Chronicle, 23/4/51). Having swallowed Capitalism whole and backed the policy of greater armaments, he strains at the gnats of charges for false teeth and too quick re-armament.
Writing in Reynolds News (6/5/51) he resuscitates the old slogan of “Socialism in our Time," claims that the Labour Party is socialist (he names it the “ Socialist Party ”), and that it has been engaged in building up Socialism and that it is only now that the question arises of “diluting our socialist policies” in order to secure electoral victory.
The truth is that Bevan, like the others, never got into Parliament on a socialist vote and if he had stood for election simply on the programme of establishing Socialism in place of Capitalism he would never have been a Member of Parliament.
How little he is concerned with Socialism is shown by his quaint remark that “the first glory of the Labour Government was the nationalisation of steel" and “the second glory . . . was the free National Health Service. That is a piece of genuine, undiluted Socialism.” (Reynolds News, 6/5/51.)
Political commentators are wondering what will be his future. We can tell them. So long as the working class can be deceived into believing that State Capitalism and reforms of Capitalism are Socialism they will refrain from establishing Socialism and will be content instead to chase after "leaders” each as futile as his predecessor.
Either they will continue to be misled by Attlee, or will choose Bevan (or some other) in his stead, and the difference between the one and the other will not matter the price of a pair of spectacles.
It has fallen to Labour Party peer, Lord Amwell, formerly Mr. F. Montague, M.P., who during the war was successively Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, to expose the hollowness of the claims of both Bevan and those he criticises. Lord Amwell has been thinking back to the time when he was in the Social Democratic Federation and he now writes to The Times (26/4/51) to tell the readers of that journal what he says he has long tried, in vain, to force on the attention of his fellow members of die Labour Party. Here are some of his remarks:—
“Bevan and his friends .... are not socialists, only ‘ sharers-out.’ ”
"The Welfare State (not originated in 1945) is part of the technique of scientific Capitalism.”
"Nationalization as part of a scheme designed to capture world markets has nothing in common with public ownership to build a co-operative society.”
"Nationalization is not what we meant by Socialism.”
It will be seen that on the above questions Lord Amwell has come round to what the S.P.G.B. has been saying for 46 years. Maybe he did hold those views long ago but nevertheless he has remained in the Labour Party and thereby helped to bring about the result he now deplores.
Which all goes, to show how right the S.P.G.B. was and how wrong Lord Amwell and the S.D.F. were on the question whether socialists could enter the reformist Labour Party to any useful purpose. The odd scraps of socialist propaganda delivered inside the Labour Party's ranks have no effect at all on its policy. It is not going towards Socialism and a change of leadership from Attlee to Bevan will not change its direction. The only place for those who do want Socialism is in the ranks of the Socialist Party.