Those who take on the responsibility of running the capitalist system have not much choice in the way they do it; their policies are largely determined by the system itself. In theory the Labour Party profess to recognise this. In their “Programme of Action ” published in 1934 under the title “For Socialism and Peace,” they declared that “the choice before the nation is either a vain attempt to patch up the superstructure of a capitalist society in decay at its very foundations, or a rapid advance to a Socialist reconstruction of the national life. There is no halfway house . . .” They recognised, too, that anarchy in the relationship of nations is as much the result of capitalism as is economic anarchy—“both spring from the fundamental and incurable anarchy of capitalism.” Their Programme made the following claim:—
“Because it is a Socialist Party, the Labour Party believes in the brotherhood of man. The advance of science has bound the peoples of the world together by a thousand ties. It has also produced instruments of destruction so potent that the institution of war has become incompatible with the survival of civilisation: The Labour Party regards war as senseless and wicked, a blasphemy against the human spirit. It detests natural and racial as much as class barriers.”
Now that the Labour Party is in power its promise to introduce Socialism at home and to pursue the “brotherhood of man” abroad is being put to the test. Instead of attempting to introduce Socialism (for which it did not receive or even seek a mandate at the election) it is extending state capitalism by nationalising various industries while retaining all of the basic features of capitalism—the wages-system, production for profit and the exploitation of the workers for the benefit of the owning class. The only difference is that some of the owners are in future to hold Government Stock instead of company shares and are to have no hand in management of the undertakings.
Being thus confined within the limits set by capitalism their foreign policy is likewise pre-determined in all its broad lines. With the “brotherhood of man” on their lips they are engaged, like all their Liberal and Tory predecessors, in a high-powered drive to capture foreign markets for British exports. On taking office as Foreign Minister, Mr. Bevin was reported to have said: “British foreign policy will not be altered in any way under the Labour Government” (“Evening News,” 26th July, 1945). This continuity means carrying on the centuries-old policy of controlling trade routes, holding down colonies and protecting foreign investments. All the other Powers, no matter what the political complexion of their government, are engaged in the same cut-throat struggle. Some Labour Party supporters—willing enough to accept the continuity of capitalism at home—are naive enough to imagine that there can be a change of policy abroad. They are becoming suspicious of Mr. Bevin as Foreign Minister. Mr. Harold Laski, Chairman of the Labour Party, is one of these.
Speaking at St. Pancras on 14th November, 1945, he said: “It is a matter of regret and bitter shame that British and Indian troops should be used to restore tyranny in the Pacific areas” (“Daily Mail,” 15th November). He went on to say that they had not fought to free Holland so that financiers in Amsterdam should be allowed to continue exploiting the people of Java, and declared that there was still a marked absence of real will to help in the making of a free India. “We have to decide,” he said, “whether we are capable as a Labour Party to go forward swiftly to the proud day when we can claim to have assisted in the freedom of a great people. I can think of no more acid test of the bona fides of our party than its willingness to go forward in this task of emancipation.”
Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P., illustrates the doubts some Labour M.P.’s have about Mr. Bevin's foreign policy by the observation that during House of Commons debates on foreign affairs Mr. Eden, former Conservative Minister for foreign affairs, got more cheers from Labour M.P.’s than did their own Foreign Secretary, Mr. Bevin. The applause for the latter came, he said. “mainly from the Opposition ” (“Sunday Express,” 25th November, 1945). Mr. Thurtle, who goes on to say that “on all the really big international issues Britain presents a united front to the world. And it is a good thing that it should be so,” fails to realise that this united front on foreign affairs means the representation of capitalist interests. The alternative—a policy based on the common interest of the workers of the whole world against the world capitalist class—would mean opposition to British capitalism at home, not acceptance of it.
Another Labour supporter, Mr. Hannen Swaffer, writing in the “People” (30th December, 1945) takes a different view. With his customary superficiality he finds in Mr. Bevin a very successful Foreign Minister. “Ernest Bevin undoubtedly is the Man of 1945.” Swaffer goes on to compare Mr. Bevin with Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was Foreign Minister in the Labour Government of 1929-1931, and declares “ . . . Henderson’s work at Geneva was monumental, and Bevin is today the most influential man in world politics. Very largely it was he who made the Moscow meeting a success. Yet., not long ago, people talked of ‘the ruling classes’.”
The most interesting thing about Mr. Swaffer’s praise of Bevin and Henderson lies not in what he said but in what he forgot to say. He forgot to mention that exactly the same kind of empty claims were being made (notably by Mr. Swaffer among the rest) for Ramsay MacDonald, who was Foreign Minister as well as Prime Minister in Labour’s first government, 1924. Subsequent events, including MacDonald’s lining up with the Conservatives, have amply shown that the claims were baseless. Time will do the same with Mr. Bevin’s reputation. The “Labour Magazine ” (November, 1924, published by the T.U.C. and Labour Party) claimed that “it is no exaggeration to say that Mr. MacDonald’s activities as Foreign Secretary set the seal upon Labour statesmanship. It was a wonderful thing to succeed where his predecessors failed in reconciling France and Germany, and bringing Europe as a whole to accept the Reparations plan as a practicable method of testing the economic possibility of paying reparations without injuring the organised life of the nations concerned. The work of the Labour representatives, headed by Mr. MacDonald, ail the Fifth Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva was even more fundamental. It brought world peace and reduction of armaments into the field of practical politics . . . War has been recognised as an international crime.”
We have had the second world war since then, and again the Powers are working hard to be prepared for another. As a footnote to the claims made for Mr. Bevin, the following extracts from the Press need no comment.
Mr. Bevin, in the House of Commons when announcing his policy for Palestine on 13th November, 1945: “I will stake my political future on solving this problem ” (“Daily Telegraph,” 14th November).
Report from the “Daily Express” next day: “The outbreak [of riots in Tel Aviv, Palestine] started as a mass demonstration, broke up shouting 'Down with the White-paper government. Down with Bevin.’ ”
Time will show that the contradictions of capitalism will be no more amenable to the wishes of Mr. Bevin and his Labour Party supporters in the future than they were to his predecessors, Henderson and MacDonald, in the past.