The entry of Labour leaders into Mr. Churchill’s National Government on May 11th makes the fifth occasion in the history of the British Labour Party on which prominent Labour leaders have occupied Cabinet posts and been wholly or partly responsible for the affairs of government. The first time this happened was during the first great war, when Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. John Hodge, Mr. J. R.. Clynes and others entered the Government. It ended rather ingloriously with Mr. Henderson resigning in August, 1918, because the Government refused his and the Labour Party’s wish for a restatement of war aims and an international conference of Labour Parties, and with his Labour successor, the late Mr. G. N. Barnes, signing in 1919 the Versailles Peace Treaty. He did so in defiance of the declaration of the Labour Party National Executive repudiating the Treaty because “The Treaty involves a violation of the principles embodied in Labour and Socialist Conference decisions.” (Manifesto of June 4th, 1919, issued by the National Executive of the Labour Party.)
The second occasion was the minority Labour Government of 1924, which ended with the Zinoviev letter and the election of October, at which the Labour Party’s representation was reduced from 191 to 151.
In 1929 the Labour Party were back in office. Then, after two years of mounting unemployment and falling confidence, the “crisis” found their leaders, MacDonald and Snowden, entering the National Government, but repudiated by the bulk of the Labour Party.
Now, in order to prosecute the war, Mr: Attlee, Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr.. Greenwood, Mr. Bevin and others, take office under Mr. Churchill.
Speaking at the Labour Conference at Bournemouth, where the decision to join the Government was endorsed by 2,413,000 votes to 170,000, Mr. Greenwood explained that the Labour Party had for years “built up a strong policy of resistance to aggression, and when at long last a wavering Government plucked up its courage to resist, the Labour Party had no alternative but to accept the implications of its own policy.” (Daily Herald, May 14th, 1940.)
He went on to prophesy : —
“Because we have the courage of our convictions as a movement now, we shall have greater power when it is over than we have to-day. We shall have a trembling capitalist system which can never recover again. We shall have broken the back of the vested interests, and we can build a socialist commonwealth which will be a powerful factor in the world.”
Socialists would wish that the words were really prophetic; but time will show them to be otherwise. Socialism does not spring from the catastrophe of capitalism at war any more than it came from the other catastrophe of capitalism, the crisis of ten years ago. No doubt Mr. Greenwood hopes that something else as well as victory may come out of participation in the Government; but Socialists remember similar hopes in the last war when the Labour Party, in its 1918 declaration of policy, “Labour and the New Social Order,” affirmed that it would not tolerate the revival of the social and economic system which the war was supposed to have destroyed, but would seek to build up a new social order based on co-operation in production and distribution for the benefit of all who labour by hand or by brain.
Nothing came of those hopes, and the men who cherished them still do not show that they understand why. They spent years preaching peace and disarmament, and trying to lessen international antagonisms, and tried equally hard and unsuccessfully at home to lessen the evils of the social system. The two things they never frankly faced up to are that there never will be or can be any real solution to the twin problems of poverty and war until capitalism has been replaced by Socialism. So, little by little, each one of them had to abandon his belief in Peace by disarmament or appeasement or League of Nations. It is not, as Socialists have been at pains to point out, that war is a kind of capitalist conspiracy—the view of the Communists—but that capitalism forces states into deathly rivalry even though at a given period one group of states may be doing their utmost to preserve peace against the encroachments of their rivals.
The Socialist is consistent in opposing the Labour Party policy.
The Communist critics of the Labour Party can claim no such consistency. Apart from having vigorously supported in the opening weeks the war that they now oppose, they are in the curious position of denouncing a Government which is as nearly as possible their own choice.
Communists Get the Government they Asked for
The Communist Party is annoyed about the new Government. They do not like the Government led by Mr. Churchill, which includes Mr. Attlee and other Labour leaders, along with Sir Archibald Sinclair and other Liberals. The Daily Worker of May 10th, 1940, says in its editorial: —
“The Daily Herald thunders against Chamberlain, but it is silent about Churchill.What a man to take under the wing of the Labour Party !”
The next day (May 11th, 1940) the Daily Worker had another fierce article against the National Government, under a headline “Fight against Labour participation in Churchill’s new War Government.”
So far it is clear enough, except to those who recall that, only in September last, after the war had broken out and Churchill was already in the Government, the same Daily Worker was backing the war wholeheartedly and writing of “determination that now that war has come it shall be fought in our cause, and to a finish. This war must be made a people’s war to end Nazism, and its attendant evils of oppression and violence for ever.” (Daily Worker, September 16th, 1939.)
By the time Mr. Churchill had become Prime Minister in order to fight the war to a finish, th Communists no longer wanted the war.
But further examination shows more mystery. The Communists now do not want the war, or Mr. Churchill, or Mr. Attlee or Sir A. Sinclair It was not always so. Only last year the Daily Worker was campaigning for a Popular Front Government and urging that the men of its choice should get together and form an all-party Government in order to carry out an active policy of “collective action against new aggression and threats of aggression” from Nazi Germany.
And who were the men of the Communist Party’s choice ? None other than Mr. Churchill, Mr. Attlee and Sir A. Sinclair ! The front page of the Daily Worker (March 30th, 1939) carried in bold headlines : —
“COMMUNIST APPEAL TO ATTLEE, SINCLAIR AND CHURCHILL—URGED TO DEFEAT CABINET AND FORM NEW GOVERNMENT.”It went on to say: —“In a swift and sensational move to get practical action to save the country in the rapidly deepening crisis, Harry Pollitt, on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain, yesterday addressed to Major Attlee, leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Sir Archibald Sinclair, leader of the Liberal Party and Mr. Winston Churchill, most prominent of the Conservative ‘rebels,’ an appeal that they shall get together without another minute’s delay.”
We live in tragic days, when wrong theories have culminated in appalling consequences for the workers of all countries. One of the most tragic aspects of the situation—as tragic as working-class support for Nazism in Germany—is the spectacle of workers accepting misguided Communist theories.