Saturday, July 1, 2017

What Comes After The Labour Government? (1947)

From the July 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Shinwell, Minister of Fuel, has resurrected an old legend. Speaking at Margate on May 7th he said: “There was a lot of talk of what kind of a Government would come in after this one, but there was only one possible kind which could come in and that was a Government even more to the left.” (News-Chronicle, May 8th, 1947.) Ever since the first Labour Government in any country took over the hopeless task of making the bitter fruits of capitalism palatable to the exploited class there have been a series of defences put out by Labour leaders. This is one of the series. The first, which does not long survive their taking office, is that Labour Government is very successful. The next is that it isn't successful but just remember the difficulties it faces. The third is that all would have been well if the workers had not embarrassed it by demanding higher wages. The fourth is that its policy was successful at home but that it ran into trouble with foreign countries (or alternatively that its foreign policy was sound but it was weak in home affairs). Fifthly and lastly, that it isn't much good, being too "right-wing," but that it will be followed by something better, something more "Left.” Space precludes going into the woolly nonsense that lies behind those terms “Left” and “Right,” beloved of the hazy and lazy-minded, but one thing we can do to enlighten Mr. Shinwell. Probably he sees himself cast for a leading role in the “Left" successor to the present Government. What he overlooks is that the reputation of being a “Leftwinger” is lost as easily as it is gained, and once lost is gone forever. All the ”Right-wingers” whom Mr. Shinwell loved to trounce in his earlier, irresponsible days as oppositionist started as he did, on the "Left." They lost their status when they joined Labour Governments and accepted responsibility for defending capitalism. Mr. Shinwell is now among them; the erstwhile critic of increased production campaigns, of conscription, and of the use of troops in strikes has now got to defend them all, and a harsh world insists on judging politicians by what they do, not by what they used to say twenty years ago.

On another score Mr. Shinwell's myth lacks foundation. History is all against it. There have been numerous Labour Governments and their experience makes nonsense of the theory that electors, having tasted of the diluted Labour brew and found it unsatisfying demand a more potent draught of the same brew next time. In Britain the 1924 Labour Government was followed by a Tory Government, the 1929 Labour Government by a Tory-Liberal-National-Labour coalition. The Australian Labour Government which was swept out of office at the 1931 election was heavily defeated by the anti-Labour United Australia Party. The present Federal Labour Government in Australia and the Labour Government in New Zealand have been losing support and seats but not to what Mr. Shinwell would call "Left-wingers.” In Western Australia a Labour Government in office for 14 years lost six seats at the recent election and is likely to be succeeded by a Liberal Government. In Germany as a whole, and in Prussia, Labour Governments after the first World War were succeeded by anti-Labour Governments and coalitions and eventually by Hitler.

It not only happens thus but it is all very natural. Those electors who supported Labour Parties ‘‘as an experiment,” or “to give them a chance,” are much more likely, when experience disappoints them, to turn back to the Tory or Liberal parties. In Germany the sequence of events was particularly disastrous. The failure of the Labour Governments to make a success of capitalism brought the Parliamentary system itself into disrepute and paved the way for the Nazis.

Only when the workers have finally shed the belief that capitalism can be made to work in their interests will they decide not to support any party of capitalism. When they do reach this level of understanding we shall not have a “ Left ” Government but Socialism.

Mr. Shinwell may perhaps have in mind the experience of Russia where the Kerensky “Labour” Government was overthrown by Communists who promptly abolished the elected Assembly because it had not a Communist majority, installed their dictatorship, and suppressed all the opposition parties, including parties like Mr. Shinwell’s.

If Mr. Shinwell shares the opinion of most of his Labour colleagues he does not regard the Communist dictatorship as an improvement on the British Labour Government and therefore cannot be hoping that the latter’s “Left” successor will be a Communist Government : If by chance he does think that a Communist Government is better than his own Labour Government he would be under the obligation of explaining his position in the Labour Government and Labour Party and of explaining why he remains in a Government that has so signally failed to harmonise its foreign policy with that of Russia.

The fact that Mr. Shinwell should feel it necessary to look on the prospect of a Government to some extent different from the one in which he serves is an indirect admission of the correctness of our case that Labour administration of capitalism is bound to fail; for if Labourism can succeed, as Mr. Shinwell and the Labour Party say it can, why should the workers want anything different from what they have got under Mr. Attlee and Mr. Shinwell? Yet, as the Manchester Guardian points out (April 29th, 1947), in all the resolutions placed by Labour supporters on the agenda of the Labour Party Annual Conference, there was hardly one that did not criticise the Government and demand a different policy. Almost the only resolution expressing approval was one from Dulwich: “That this Conference fully approves the present policy of the Government, which is ethically sound, and, therefore, must be politically right.” Even this reads more like an attempt to convince themselves that the policy must be right than a confident belief that it is. 
Edgar Hardcastle

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