Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Labour Party Conference (1958)

From the November 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labourites went to Scarborough this year, but having arrived, they had nowhere else to go. Why should they? Apparently Labourites have not yet grasped the fact that after the 1945 term of office they had no claim to be considered in the eyes of the voters as an alternative government. In 1945 they went in on a wave of post-war enthusiasm. They put into effect what was for Capitalism a necessary reorganisation of certain sectors of British industry via nationalisation. They initiated the necessary policies for restoring the debilitated condition of the post-war economy and bringing the social services in line with the requirements of Capitalism.

What else was left in their political ragbag? Only dull odd remnants which did not show up so well with the more brightly coloured Tory jumble sale, and now to vary the metaphor the Labour Party’s only appeal to the voters: “Play the game, you chaps, you’ve put the other side in twice, let us have a turn at batting.”

Nationalisation, which was once the great plank of the Labour Party, is now a heap of sawdust and shavings which was quietly swept up. Even the 50 odd year Labour project, land nationalisation was rejected. Nationalisation, which once helped to float S.S. “Labour,” is now in danger of sinking it. Nationalisation rouses no enthusiasm among electors and is a source of disillusionment to the Labour rank and file.

The slogan of the Labour Party should be. “Divided we stand—United we fall,” for it is only when there are internal conflicts within the Labour Party is it at one with itself. It is only when it has a vociferously organised element demanding a more militant approach and offering vague threats about storming the citadels of privilege, which give the Labour Party the semblance if not the reality of being different from the Tories. It is only this which raises the pulse and tingles the blood of the hard core of the rank and file and makes them believe that the movement has not yet lost its ideals. Without this there is despondency and gloom and the Labour Party is divided against itself.

At Scarborough there was no Mr. Bevan riding cap- a-pie against Mr. Gaitskell. Instead, they sat on the same steed with Mr. Gaitskell in front holding the reins and Mr. Bevan behind, not even pulling the horse's tail. The Bevanites without their leader and shepherd would only utter a few piteous sheep-like bleats.

Mr. Driberg, the conference chairman, wanted a new public face—he called it an image—different from the public face of the Tories. But there was nothing at the conference which could lead anyone to any other view than that the parties were “ identical twins.” And even if the Labour Party went in for political plastic surgery or whitewashed their “public face,” it would still have the same old dirty Capitalist look.

On Education the Labourites were at one with the Tories. They want smaller classes and more teachers. So do the Tories. If and when they were returned to office Labourites said they would take steps to overcome the teacher famine. But they never concretised what these steps would be. The one thing it seemed was not mentioned in order to overcome the shortage was improved conditions and wages. Labourites want the “ best education,” it’s only the educators they want on the cheap.

They proposed to abolish the 11-plus, but were still going to keep the rat race of competitive scholarships going. They, like the Tories, are anxious to scoop off what they call the cream of working class children essential for the technical and commercial needs of Capitalism, their so-called educational proposals simply want to make the cream scooping more efficient and bigger.

The conference also voted against the abolition of Public schools. Many moons ago Labourites used to refer to them as seminaries of ruling class education. Now it seems they are of some value to the community. Perhaps if only for the reason that many prominent Labourites have gone there in the past and many more future Labour leaders might take advantage of them at the present. It may be that “On the playing fields of Eton the elections of England are won.”

The debate on the Hydrogen Bomb was not as explosive as the year before and as a result there was less political fall-out. That the Hydrogen Bomb would be an issue was fairly obvious because as there were no domestic issues which really divided them from the Tories, whatever differences there were had to be exploited in other fields.

As usual, there were those who opposed the manufacture of the Hydrogen Bomb and wanted this country to join up with other countries in a sort of non-nuclear club. Their motives like their thinking were confused. They don't want to abolish armaments, they merely want the time-honoured, decent and humane armaments, like tanks and bombers, liquid fire and atomic artillery.

Apparently none of the anti-H. B’ers. were prepared to cut all N.A.T.O. commitments. And so, in the event of this country going to war in alliance with the U.S.A., Hydrogen Bombs might still be dropped on “our behalf,” but at least we would not have made them. Surely this is a piece of moral perversion.
 
It was left to Mr. Gaitskell to say what we had ourselves said a year ago, that if America and Russia went it alone, no one could predict the outcome. And even if there was an attempt on the part of British Capitalism to isolate and get other countries to isolate themselves from military commitments with U.S.A. Capitalism, its effects might initiate an even more ruthless policy by American Capitalism, and in turn by Russia, and with it increased strain and tension. The notion that this country could escape a possible holocaust is a piece of dangerous and delusive thinking.

The left wing idealists might also ponder the fact that the abolition of the H.B., if it were possible, might well increase the probability of war.

And if some of the same well-meaning idealistic left-wingers were to take the ideas to their logical conclusion and opt for military isolation from America that, it is pretty certain, would lead to economic isolation, too, and its effects on British Capitalism would be quite disastrous. Such is the unreal world in which many of the would-be militants of the Labour Party live.

The Labour Conference agreed then by a big majority to go on manufacturing the Hydrogen Bomb. But with a broad sweeping humanitarian gesture it decided to suspend testing them. And in this way they sought to assuage their guilt

But at the very moment certain people raise their cry for the abolition of the H.B., other countries have decided to have a bash. France, Sweden, Switzerland and China have derided to take steps towards joining the nuclear as against the non-nuclear group. Soon it will be unfashionable for a country not to have an Hydrogen Bomb.

Perhaps the U.S.A will give a small Hydrogen Bomb to Israel as a token of friendly relations and Russia might do the same for Nasser, and Nasser with an Hydrogen Bomb can hardly be conducive to one's peace of mind. No doubt the Hydrogen Bomb chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance, and there's nothing the Labour Party can do about it.

The Conference at the end went through their usual emotional purging by singing the Red Flag. Then the delegates went home, but why did they ever leave their homes in the first place?
Ted Wilmott



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