Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Busmen's Problem: New Unions or old (1938)

From the August 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the Socialist Standard will remember the bus strike of May, 1937.

The Busmen's Rank and File Movement, an unofficial “ginger up" organisation, operating within the Transport and General Workers' Union, had secured a majority on the Central Bus Committee, the negotiating committee of the London Bus section of the Union. When the General Executive Council of the T. & G.W.U. granted powers to the Bus section to strike for a 7½ hour day, this committee was the one upon which fell the responsibility for the conduct of the strike. After four weeks the G.E.C. withdrew the powers previously granted and sent the Busmen back to work. An agreement was negotiated on the basis of proposals which the men had rejected only a few days before the end of the strike.

Following the strike an enquiry was held by the union into the activities of certain of the more prominent members of the section with the consequence that a number of the leading Rank and File Movement members were suspended from office and others expelled from the union. These suspensions and expulsions were subsequently endorsed by the 1937 Biennial Conference of the T. & G.W.U.

Mr. W. J. Brown, Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association, offered his services to the London Busmen if they desired to form a breakaway union. His offer was rejected by the Rank and File Movement leaders.

Responsibility for the conduct or misconduct of the strike is in doubt. Lacking further evidence there are no grounds for accepting the conflicting statements made by either side. Many Busmen were disgruntled at the treatment they had received, and when, on February 18th of this year, the National Passenger Workers' Union was formed, it was from this disgruntled element that this organisation recruited its membership. The promoters of the N.P.W.U. are, in the main, ex-members of the now disbanded Rank and File Movement. Mr. W. J. Brown is the Hon. President.

In a pamphlet entitled, “A Real Union for Passenger Workers," the promoters of the new organisation state their case. Briefly it is ". . . that the Transport and General Workers' Union has not only not been an asset, but a positive obstacle in achieving a remedy . . ." for the grievances of the Busmen, and that ". . . there is no hope of ever making the Transport and General Workers' Union an effective instrument to this end " (page 13). The existing Central Bus Committee of the T. & G.W.U. replied with a pamphlet, “The T. & G.W.U. IS THE REAL UNION for Passenger Workers," in which it is claimed that “this union IS an effective instrument to this end.” Further literature appeared, but nothing else of much interest was contributed to the argument.

It is not the business of The Socialist Party to take up the cudgels on behalf of either the new Transport Union or the old one, but there are certainly factors relating to this position which require examination in order that the workers may learn from the experience.

For a breakaway union of this kind to be successful, from the Busmens' point of view, the first necessity is that the bulk of the Busmen should pass into it. At no time have there been grounds for expecting to be able to gather all the Busmen into a new organisation. If those responsible for the breakaway considered otherwise they deluded themselves. Alternatively, they must have conceived that the Busmen split into two camps could be no worse off than they were under the leadership of the T. & G.W.U. In fact that is their claim in the pamphlet mentioned. But is this so? If it is, then no harm has been done.

That the London Busmen have grievances which have not been remedied is undoubtedly true, but it is equally true that they have been able to maintain their wages and working conditions at a level which would certainly have been lower were it not for their resistance. This has been made possible by the readiness of the Busmen for united action. Negotiations have often faced them up with the need for united action and their readiness for this has frequently resulted in success. The result of negotiations by a union always reflects the preparedness and the ability of the members to act in unity. If the Busmen have not been involved in a larger number of strikes it is because of this ability to act unitedly that a single organisation has been able to afford them. Negotiations on behalf of a body of men split up into two camps will reflect the weakness that this position gives rise to, since the ability to act unitedly is destroyed. So, with two organisations in existence, antagonistic to each other, the conditions of the Busmen are menaced. Numerous times in the past the London Busmen have been engaged in disputes which have not received the official sanction of the T. & G.W.U., but the Busmen were at no time disunited among themselves. That is why their unofficial strikes have so often been the means of gaining them some slight improvement in their working conditions. Now they are disunited amongst themselves.

If the new organisation can capture the membership then, of course, the split will be healed. But will such a new organisation be able to offer more than the old, or will it embody the same weaknesses? If it can offer more then it is reasonable to expect that in time it will attract all the transport workers to its ranks.

The form which the new organisation would take, assuming, of course, that it secured recognition, would be determined by the circumstances in which it had to work. It would be bound by certain limits, which, if it attempted to go beyond them, would only serve to wreck it. These circumstances under which it would be bound to function are dictated by the needs of the industry. In this instance, by the needs of capitalism organised as a public service.

Recognition must be sought, but will only be conceded if the organisation is capable of disciplining its members and binding them to agreements. Where the membership is taught to expect so much from its leaders, as in the case of the T. & G.W.U., the leader must be in a position to pledge his membership and sign agreements in their name. With any such organisation based on the principle of leadership this must apply. The membership will look for agreements as the result of successful negotiations, with the consequence that the leadership will tend to degenerate into the function of special pleading. It is a matter of time, with developments along these lines, when the new union would become indistinguishable from the old. Leadership is the weakness of the older organisation, it can well become the weakness of the new.

The supporters of the National Passenger Workers* Union claim that permanent officialdom will not be tolerated in that organisation. All officials are to be elected. The constitution of the N.P.W.U. is modelled along similar lines to that of the old London and Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers. That union was absorbed by the United Vehicle Workers, which eventually amalgamated to form the Passenger Section of the Transport & General Workers' Union. This development was, to an extent, in line with developments in the passenger carrying industry. Attempts to build a new union along the lines of the old Licensed Vehicle Workers' Union should be critically examined to be sure that such a step, instead of being a step forward in working class organisation, is not really a step backward.

The elective principle of securing officials prevailed in the old L. & P.W. of L.V.W., but was not found to be so very beneficial. Negotiators require to have great experience to be able to explore all that an agreement implies. The gaining of such experience is rendered difficult where the elective principle applies. There is the further point that elected officials have to pay much attention to attempts to usurp their positions by other job seekers. Intrigue, scandal and carping criticism are the weapons so often used by would-be officers that the time of an elected officer is all too frequently devoted to combating such schemes as his opponents embark upon in an endeavour to bring him into disrepute with the membership. It is not always the experienced man who gets elected under such conditions, but the most popular man, the man who is often the most unprincipled and unscrupulous.

A full-time official of a union is an employee. A capitalist, when he requires an employee, goes to the labour market and selects the man who is best suited to serve his purpose. He employs the man and dispenses with him when he no longer suits. The trade unions have found this to be the most satisfactory method of staffing their offices. The elected official on the union administration staffs has practically disappeared. On the executive side the elective principle is necessary in order that the organisation shall retain its democratic basis. The Executive Council must always remain an elected body and, as such, it can only reflect the degree of understanding and the amount of activity of the members.

When officials have to go to the membership for re-election they quite often find it to their advantage to keep their members ignorant of many affairs and they find an apathetic membership a great help towards re-election. Active minorities within a union’s ranks are always regarded with disfavour by the official element. Even where active minorities exist, apathetic majorities will often be the means of keeping incompetent and unsatisfactory officials in their jobs. The Vigilance Committees of the old Vehicle Workers' Union found this to be true, as also did the Minority Movement and, later, the Rank and File Movement. Should it be necessary to repeat the lesson ?

One function of trade unions is to endeavour to obtain some security of employment to its members. The members must expect to have to guarantee some security of employment to their officers. An apathetic membership allows officials to entrench themselves in their jobs by surrounding themselves with cliques and by adapting a union’s constitution to suit their purpose. The London Busmen, and, for that matter, the workers as a whole, still appear to want to be led. Thus can more be expected from a new union than can be obtained from an old one? Just a change of leadership with the right to be able to change it again when desired is rather poor satisfaction.

The pamphlet issued by the National Passenger Workers’ Union contains a criticism of the officials of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. It claims that they have done nothing for the Busmen. That means that in maintaining their wages and conditions at the present level, despite attacks by their employers, the Busmen have no one to thank but themselves. It means that the men have by their own effort, and without official aid, been able to defend their position. That being so, there must be scope for the Busmen to express themselves in the Transport and General Workers’ Union. If there is not, then the credit must go to the officials.

We fear that too much is being made of the domestic grievances of the Bus Section of the Transport Union and not enough attention paid to its functional results. The interests of the Busmen are likely to be sacrificed in the struggle over domestic affairs.

Advocates of the breakaway union continually make reference to “progressive unionism.” The impression they convey is that trade unionism can lead to some condition of society wherein the workers’ lot will be a satisfactory one. Trade Unions can be considered progressive in only two senses, in their ability to adapt themselves to the changing conditions of capitalism, i.e., to the growth of Transport Boards, etc., or by their ability to improve the conditions of life of their members. In either direction the T. & G.W.U. can make good claims despite its many faults and weaknesses. As regards a union being progressive in any other sense, those who consider this possible are living in a vacuum. They are Utopians.

Men do not join a union merely because they desire to be members. They join because a union offers them the means of improving their working conditions by collective bargaining. Trade unions exist in conditions where the worker sells his labour power to the capitalist. They serve to regulate the conditions of sale. So long as the worker has to sell his labour power to live, so long will his status be one of an exploited wage slave. No trade union organisation can alter that. The poverty, insecurity and other attendant evils which beset the working class will remain as the source of the grievances which trade unions cannot eliminate, no matter how “progressive” they may consider themselves.

Emancipation for the worker lies in the abolition of the relationship of buyer and seller of labour power. This achieved, then trade unions as a means of regulating this relationship will become redundant.

Arguments are being advanced in favour of a breakup of the existing trade unions in this country. The criticism of the promoters of the N.P.W.U. against the T. & G.W.U. to the effect that the Busmen are at the mercy of the various other trade and industries who constitute the majority of the membership of the older organisation, is partly justified even though exaggerated. With the workers still subjecting their class interests to sectional, trade interests, and with various trades represented in one union, conflict of opinion is sure to arise. The fault lies more in the lack of class consciousness by the workers than in the nature of the union organisation.

The old, old lesson must be repeated. Active minorities cannot push or drag the workers against their will. Impatience to achieve something worth while is admirable, but when it causes men to act prematurely it is often disastrous. Many sincere and hard-working fellows become the dupes of unscrupulous and self-seeking schemers because they are too impatient to spend the time getting down to the task of convincing their fellow workers of the need for a certain line of action.

When the workers give up their sectional outlook and realise that they have a common class interest, then they will establish a new social system in the place of Capitalism, but this will be achieved by political organisation. Until then we suggest that all workers, if faced with a similar position to that of the London Busmen, should look before they leap. They may be acting without due regard to all the circumstances which surround them; just jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
W. E. W. & F. W. J.

Blogger's Note:
With regards to the authors of this article, 'W. E. W.' was Bill Waters, a longstanding and very active member of the SPGB, who also happened to be a militant rank and file trade unionist in the bus workers' union over many decades. My (educated) guess is that 'F. W. J.' was the initials of Frederick William Johnson who, before joining the SPGB in 1931, was a member of the Communist Party. Johnson retained his membership of the SPGB from 1931 until February 1962, when he had to resign his membership because he emigrated to Australia. Waters also joined the SPGB in 1931 and retained his membership of the Party until his death in 1970. (There's a pitifully short obituary for Waters in the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard.)

Why did this particular rank and file union dispute receive so much coverage in the pages in the Socialist Standard? Arguably, it was because there were SPGB members involved in both sides of this union dispute. Though it's not mentioned in the article itself, one of the prominent leaders of the breakaway union was an SPGBer, Frank Snelling. Snelling, a former member of the Socialist Labour Party, was from South London - he originally joined the Tooting Branch of the SPGB in 1929 - and was an on/off member of the SPGB up until he was lapsed from membership in 1952. 

Adam Buick goes into greater detail about this dispute - and the debate amongst party members involved in this dispute - in his review of Ken Fuller's book, Radical Aristocrats: London Busworkers from the 1880s to the 1980s,  which appeared in the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Notes of the Month: Behind the Struggle in Spain (1938)

The Notes of the Month column from the August 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Behind the Struggle in Spain

The Workers' Age, New York, May 14th, publishes the following from Humanit√©, official organ of the Communist Party of France: —
“On March 15th the Spanish Government received from Paris something quite different from a sign of sympathy; it received advice to capitulate. . . .”
The Workers' Age comments on this as follows : —
“Who gave the Spanish Government this advice to capitulate to Franco and his allies? The then People’s Front Government of France, the Government of the Socialist, Leon Blum, the Government supported by the very Communist Party whose spokesman now rails against it! ” 
No one would seriously dispute that the Communist Party will only "rail” when they consider it good tactics.

The information quoted from Humanité indicates something more than that. Spain is the cockpit where rival capitalist powers outside of Spain are fighting out a semi-imperialist quarrel; it illustrates how the struggle taking place there is used as a bargaining counter by powers whose interests are bound up with seeking direct or indirect political dominance or in preventing it being established by rivals. France has been attempting to negotiate a pact with Italy on the lines of the Anglo-Italian agreement. It is not unlikely (at any rate, it is quite possible) that the advice to the Spanish Government to capitulate was, like the closing of the French-Spanish frontier, a hint to Mussolini that the French Government would sell out its interest in Spain as expressed in its resistance to German and Italian dominance there, in exchange for an agreement with the Italian Government. An agreement, quite obviously, which would limit Italian threats to French capitalist interests or compensation for them elsewhere.

It is tragic that such a struggle in which the Spanish capitalist Government might easily have emerged victorious over the semi-feudal political remains of the older propertied classes in Spain, with obvious advantages to working-class organisations, and without a protracted war, is overshadowed by the super-imposed struggle of rival capitalist powers, to whom even immediate working-class interests are only a secondary question in the struggle.

No more Atrocity Stories

In an article in the Daily Telegraph (June 9th) Mr. Churchill shows what excellent service the anti-Nazism and anti-Fascism of the Labour and Communist parties in this country is rendering to British capitalism. He says:—
In 1914 the well-to-do and so-called ruling classes were at first more convinced of the duty to fight than the wage-earning masses. It required the German atrocities in Belgium to rouse the whole people. Now it is somewhat different. The wage-earning classes are resolved not to submit to Nazism or Fascism, and there is more doubt and division in the other ranks of society. (Our italics.)
When Mr. Churchill says ”The wage-earning classes are resolved not to submit to Nazism or Fascism,” he expresses, confidence that organised workers will follow the lead of Labour and Communist leaders. He is probably right.

But note the unconscious irony in the suggestion that, after twenty years of Labour Party pacifism and advocacy of disarmament, Labour leaders can be so relied upon to urge workers to fight that atrocity stories (real or manufactured) might be unnecessary.

An Ugly Lie

A journal called the Seaman (June 22nd) has an article called “The Fifth Column,” by a slimy gentleman who signs himself "Peter Petroff,” and who is obviously either a Communist or has Communist leanings, together with an excessive dose of the Communist disease of downright lying misrepresentation. In the article which pretends to comment on the Spanish situation and Nazism and Fascism, he expands on what he describes as the activities of the ”Fifth Column.” This is expressed in the insidious and cunning tactic of posing as the friend of opponents who would be stabbed, in the back at the first opportunity, as shown, for example, in the activities of supporters of Franco in Spanish Government territory, or. of Nazi agents and spies in Great Britain. The article goes on to say: “ The propaganda of the Fifth Column is widespread. Its agents are to be found everywhere; even Labour organisations are not immune. Lately the small Socialist organisations are being invaded—at times from an orthodox S.P.G.B. platform a Nazi speech may be heard." (Our italics.)

Just that: no evidence, not even a hint of justification for the statement. It has angered some of our friends, who have written and asked us to do something about it.

We shall quite naturally take the matter up with the publishers of Seaman and other journals responsible for lying statements of this kind. Having a respect for working-class intelligence, however, we suspect that most workers know what credence to place upon statements coming from opportunists who mouth Socialist slogans while waving Union Jacks; who fantastically attack mediocre and pink Labour candidates at by-elections as agents of Trotsky; who heralded Caballero as the “Lenin of Spain" and afterwards denounced him as one of Franco's “ Fifth Column."

“ Petroffs"article also appeared in “Labour." published at Transport House.

Nationalisation and Prosperity

From Forward (July 16th, 1938):—
“It is evidence of the wisdom of the settlers in Queensland, and the source of their present prosperity, that 94 per cent. of all the land remains publicly-owned."
We would make a bet that when the next world crisis arrives and has its inevitable effect on the “prosperity" of the settlers in Queensland, that Forward will have little to say about their wisdom.

An I.L.P. M.P., and the Communists
“ The difference in method between Hitler, Franco, Communists of Spain and Stalin is similar to that between Chamberlain, Churchill, Simon and Malcolm MacDonald."
Thus Mr. McGovern, M.P., in Forward (July 16th, 1938), after having accused Spanish Communists of organising “ the imprisoning and murdering of their Socialist and Anarchist opponents." Mr. McGovern might ponder on the question that Communist policy and practice is not unconnected with Communist theory and aims, and that his party, the I.L.P., is at the moment posing as the true propounders of Bolshevik theory and practice. 

Should Insurance be Nationalised?

The monthly editions of Fact are interesting and informative little books. The June issue, “The Insurance Man and His Trade," is a particularly good example of the publisher's excellent value for money. Most people take insurance and the large profits from it for granted as inevitable necessities. Therein lies opportunities for doubtful practices. Canvassers driven to get more business press policies upon the ignorant (and on these matters most people are ignorant), which are illegal and which the insurance companies refuse to pay out on when called upon. It is estimated that at least half-a-million a year is pocketed by the insurance companies and societies every year by these means. Of the amount paid in by workers, as much in some cases as nearly eighty per cent. is taken up in expenses. The lowest estimate is thirty-nine per cent. Compared to Government Health Insurance, the expenses are four times greater, though the income to Health Insurance is £20,000,000 less than the income to the companies and its benefits are £5,000,000 more. Another abuse is the so-called “free policy," which is given to the insured when he or she can no longer afford to keep up payments on a policy on which perhaps many pounds have been paid. When settlement of the policy is made the insurer is faced with the unpleasant fact that the policy is worth only a few shillings. In fact one instance is given where the insurer, having ceased his weekly payments a few weeks before the date when the policy officially lapsed, received nothing when settlement was made because the payments owing were considered as a debt and deducted from the few shillings which were the nominal value of the policy! Similar abuses seem to affect every sphere in the insurance world.

It is always interesting to the Socialist to know the process by which the possessing class obtains its wealth, particularly of a commercial undertaking graced by directors from among the wealthiest and the highest in the hierarchy of the capitalist class.

Quite naturally the revelations made by Fact have prompted the supporters of Nationalisation into enthusiastic activity. They are proposing that the State takes over life insurance and organise it on a similar basis to Health Insurance. On the face of it not a bad idea on general grounds. But one very clear and insistent fact seems to have escaped attention. That is the worker who has spent a life of toil in producing all the marvels of wealth for his Capitalist masters can only provide the few pounds needed for his burial by contributing a few pence each week to an insurance company or, as in other countries, to the State. That state of affairs exists because he is poor. Nationalisation does not propose to end that.

Think it over, Nationalisers!

A Communist who would Fight against Russia

The policy of reformism and compromise with capitalism has driven Communists into some queer corners. After having toasted the King’s health in Moscow at a banquet given in honour of Mr. Anthony Eden, after glorifying Nationalism and showing how patriotic they can be, anything might seem possible. But the news from the U.S.A. concerning Earl Browder the American Communist leader, surpasses any previous position. According to the New York weekly newspaper, Workers' Age (July 9th, 1938), which describes itself as “a paper defending the interests of workers and farmers," the following is the testimony of Earl Browder given before the McNaboe Joint Legislative Committee in New York City.
Questions to Browder:—
“If it came to a war between the United States and Russia whom would you bear arms for?” 
“I refuse to admit the possibility of such a war." Pressed further by McNaboe, Browder said:— “ Under any conceivable possibility of war I would fight for the United States."
Under further examination Browder admitted that that had not always been his attitude.

It is not the intention of the “ S.S.” just to jeer at Communists when driven into a comer. It is our job to note how they got into it. And that is simpler. Never having accepted Socialist principles as a basis for political activity, the acceptance of one compromise after another has ultimately driven the Communist .Party into the position of stoutly defending capitalism. When the present period of capitalism has passed, the Communist Party, if it survives it, will be embarrassed by any mention of its present equivocations.

It is no defence of the admission that he would fight for the U.S.A. against Russia for Browder to “refuse to admit the possibility of such a war.” Even as a hypothesis Browder’s admission unmasks the Communist Party’s rabid Nationalism and political opportunism.

Such is the outcome of treading the slippery slope of compromise and reform.

Paralytic Phrases

M. Blum, at the Congress of the French Socialist Party, said: —
“ I should like national unity to prevent war. There are moments when it is necessary for the whole of France to give the Government sudden authority in its dealings with her potential adversaries.” 
He went on to say that the expression “collective security” was ridiculed, but he still clung to the hope. It must be “pushed to its logical conclusion, which meant the acceptance of a risk of war to prevent war.”

That “war to prevent war” is suspiciously like the phrase ”war to end war,” which will be remembered by those who are yet not so old.

The Co-Ops. and Profits

An American friend writing from Jacksonville, Florida, having read the article, “What is Wrong with the Co-operative Movement " in the March “ S.S." sends us a leaflet issued by the Florida Co-operative Council and asks our opinion about it. The leaflet announces the introduction of a “ Co-operative Credit Union,” which is described as a “democratic savings bank with loan privileges." Its purpose is very noble and uplifting, it is to prevent its customers from “ having to pay from 20 to 42 per cent,.interest on personal loans.” Now it is painfully true that millions of workers in America and elsewhere have to seek credit in order to live. It would appear that the Florida Co-operative Council desired no more than to prevent impecunious workers being exploited by the money-lending sharks who grow fatter as the worker grows thinner. But read more from the leaflet about the “ Co-operative Credit Union.” ” It will pay four per cent. on Time Deposits ”. . . and “ interest on personal loans will not exceed one per cent. per month on the unpaid balance.” The difference between four per cent, and twelve per cent. is eight per cent., which, whilst it is lower than the rates of interest of the small-town and back street money-lending sharks, is also rapacious plunder when compared with the rates of interest of banks and financial institutions. Our correspondent expresses the opinion that the policy is “short-sighted and unethical.” On that we will not try to adjudicate. It does, however, show that the Co-operators are capitalist trading institutions pure and simple, and that they will adopt all the tricks of competitive capitalism.

The Mad House

During the last two months of 1937 and the first two months of 1938 Germany bought 700,000 tons of iron ore monthly from France which was used largely for armaments. In March the German orders were reduced to 70,000 tons. Thereupon the trade unions of Meurthe-et-Moselle and certain great industrialists appealed to the French Government for help in persuading the Germans to buy the original large tonnage.—World Events (June 15th, 1938). From Forward (July 9th, 1938).

Only capitalism could produce a situation where workers in one country provided the materials for the workers in another country with which to blow the former to bits

The Progress of the “Daily Worker”

During the Derby race week in June the Daily Worker boosted its tipster “as instrumental in getting for the unemployed worker a few extra shillings.” Forward (July 16th, 1938), commenting on this, asked why the Daily Worker did not take the advice of its tipster in order to get the £464 which it had announced had to be raised “ within the next few days.”

And why not take it further and demand that the tipster take the place of the U.A.B. ? 
Harry Waite

John Strachey's What Are We to Do? (1938)

Book Review from the August 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Are We To Do ? by J. L. Strachey. Gollancz, 10s. 6d., and Left Book Club.

In this book we have a considered statement of the present policy of the Communist Party, the policy of the People’s Front. And as such it serves to demonstrate, if demonstration were needed, the complete political bankruptcy, poverty of thought, and dishonesty of purpose of the Communist Party. Above all, it is an awful warning of the fate that can overtake an “ intellectual ” who embraces a party instead of a principle.

The first part of the book is devoted to an examination of the growth and development of the British Labour movement, while, at the same time, seeking to analyse its failure to accomplish anything in the permanent interests of the working class. The second part is devoted to what Mr. Strachey considers to be the remedy, and the working out of a programme suitable for a People’s Front.

Capitalist societies, remarks Mr. Strachey, spontaneously generate Labour movements, which, in the end, are driven to aim at a new form of society, which they call Socialism. The fate of any particular Labour movement will depend on the kind (!) of “ Socialism ” it adopts, then, you see, the Labour movement has the choice of different kinds of “Socialism,” some better than others, no doubt, but, nevertheless, all Socialism. All we have to do, then, is to see that the existing Labour movement—and by that Strachey means the Labour Party—adopts the right kind of Socialism. Preferably the variety propounded by Mr. Strachey himself.

“ Of any comprehensive Socialist philosophy,” we are told, ”. . , the pre-War Parliamentary Labour Party was destitute,” page 43 (our italics), “ but that, on the whole . . . we may say that the post-War British Labour Party was Socialist; but that its Socialism was of a peculiar Fabian or British variety” (page 118). Notice the precision of language, the clarity of thought! The entire book is characterised by such equivocal and ambiguous language, and this, as we shall presently show, is not an accident, but a necessity imposed on Strachey by the task he has set himself.

What are the facts? The Labour Party is not, and never was, a Socialist Party. Its main function, the sole justification for its existence, is that it serves as the political expression of a working class seeking reforms within the capitalist system. But, unfortunately for the trade union and Labour Party bureaucracy, the capitalist class demands its quid pro quo. In return for the privilege of holding, as Mr. Strachey has said elsewhere, “ he umbrella of social reforms over the heads of the workers," capitalism requires that when capitalist expediency demands it the influence and control over the workers which accrues from this privilege should be used in making a worsening of conditions acceptable to the working class.

For this reason it is necessary that a fairly close understanding exists between the capitalist State and the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy. Mr. Strachey once knew this full well. Indeed, he went so far as to claim in his “Coming Struggle for Power,” page 293, that ” These organisations ” (i.e., Labour or Social Democratic Parties) “ have now become . . . the principal and essential bulwarks of capitalism . . . the machinery of the trade unions and Labour Parties has become an apparatus, not used by the workers to control the capitalists, but by the capitalists to control the workers. ...” Now, on page 25 of “What Are We to Do?” he says that the modern capitalist class exercises pressure against the existence of trade unions, and that they will make “. . . resolute efforts to suppress all forms of working-class combination.”

Mr. Strachey used to hold the view that “All the more moder employers realise, however, the inevitability of trade union organisation. Accordingly, they do all in their power to strengthen the hands of the existing unions ” (“Coming Struggle for Power,” page 336).

But the Labour Party, and this applies to all reformist organisations masquerading as Socialist Parties, fulfils another very valuable function on behalf of the capitalist class. It serves to canalise, to render harmless and ineffective the anti-capitalist sentiments of the masses. And this also Mr. Strachey once knew quite well. Then, did he not tell us—he is speaking of the Labour Party— “That a very extensive political machine has been created. Hundreds of competent orators tour the country with unexampled frequency, expressing, liberating, and thus very largely dispersing, the anti-capitalist impulses of the workers n (”Coming Struggle for Power,” page 299). And the fact that the Labour Party and trade unions are largely working class in their composition and support does not make these bodies any the less anti-working class in their politics. To quote Mr. Strachey once more: ”. . . unless the whole social democratic machine was in quite a real sense working class, it would be unable, any better than an ordinary Liberal Party, to cater for the increasingly anti-capitalist mood of the workers” (”Coming Struggle for Power,” page 300).

Why, then, does Mr. Strachey, against his better knowledge, seek to prove that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party, but that all that is wrong with it is that its brand of Socialism is the wrong one? Because he seeks to justify the affiliation of the Communist Party to the Labour Party as something which would be in the interests of the working class. (And so perhaps it would be, but not quite in the sense Mr. Strachey would have us believe.) Then, if all that is wrong with the Labour Party is that its choice in “Socialism ” was unfortunate, who can better put the matter right than that body of “social scientists,” the “New Model Party" . . .  the Communist Party?

It is curious to note that Mr. Strachey is at great pains to establish that which the Socialist Party of Great Britain has been asserting ever since its inception, namely, that it is lack of Socialist knowledge that prevents the workers from achieving their emancipation. Thus we read (page 60): “ In the real world a working-class movement can only come to a comprehension of Socialism by means of an active process of freeing itself from the domination of capitalist ideas." Again: “Nothing was lacking to the organised British workers except knowledge and the will, faith, self-confidence and power that knowledge alone can give ” (page 144). And we can heartily agree that “Until they equip themselves with a political knowledge; with, above all, an adequate, comprehensive, Socialist science, the men and women who do the hard daily work of the British working-class movement will always have to accept any policy which a small group of leaders at the top chooses to put before them.” And that, Mr. Strachey, applies not only to the Labour Party and trade union movement, but every word to the Communist Party as well.

It is also interesting to note that unlike most Communist Party members, Mr. Strachey does not subscribe to the idea that it is impossible for the majority of the working class to reach an understanding of Socialism. “For the relative blindness of the workers," we are told, “. . . to the full implications of the struggle in which they find themselves engaged is curable. It is the prime duty of those who take on the heavy responsibility of leadership in a working-class movement to take off the bandage with which capitalism blinds the eyes of the workers. But, instead, the existence of that bandage is made the excuse for every inadequacy, for every inaction, and for every surrender." “ What Are We to Do?" (page 285). Apart from the question of “leadership," this would make an admirable text for all those "revolutionaries” who are more concerned to prove that the working class can never understand Socialism than to put the matter to the test.

In spite of this, needless to say, unacknowledged agreement with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, that does not prevent him indulging in the usual cheap sneers. On page 309 he invites “anyone who wishes to see how far sectarianism can go, (to) study these societies." Our record, Mr. Strachey, is open for inspection, WE have nothing of which to be ashamed, to conceal from the working class. But what about YOU, Mr. Strachey, and the Communist Party in whose name you speak ?

The programme Mr. Strachey formulates for the People’s Front is based on the defence of peace, democracy, and the national standards of living. Peace is to be saved by “rebuilding the system of collective security, and in no other way"; the national standard of living is to be defended and, presumably, improved on, by the adoption of a string of reformist nostrums, the majority of which, indeed if not all, would meet with the whole-hearted approval of no less a person that Herr Hitler. As a matter of fact, Nazi Germany has adopted most of the measures outlined on page 339. And this advocacy of reforms is justified on the specious plea that such reforms are incompatible with the further existence of a “declining" capitalist system. “ For events will show fast enough that even those reforms and ameliorations to-day involve a large measure of Socialism! " As Mr. Strachey remarks (page 331): “ Men who are by no means Socialists will support a Socialistic measure—as, say, the nationalisation of the mines, or the compulsory acquisition of slum property for giant rehousing schemes” (our italics). Agreed, Mr. Strachey, non-Socialists will support such measures, precisely because they are not Socialist and have nothing in common with Socialism.

Although Strachey has serious doubts as to the possibility of maintaining peace and capitalism at the same time, this does not prevent him from urging all those with anti-war tendencies to organise for the purpose of achieving that which, even in his view, is impossible. He exhorts us to put the matter to the test of experience, but unfortunately he does not indicate at what point experience will show the futility of endeavouring to eliminate effects (war), while leaving untouched the cause (capitalism). It simply doesn’t occur to this political genius to pursue the only worth-while policy, that of telling the working class that wars are the outcome of the struggle between hostile capitalist States, or groups of States, and that this struggle has its origin in the greed for raw-materials, spheres of investment and exploitation, and for markets where the surplus-value wrung from the working class may be realised. The only honest way is to make dear to the workers that so long as capitalism exists so will war or the possibility of war—and that not all the “peace alliances," not all the “collective security,” will alter this indisputable fact.

Mr. Strachey is not in the least dismayed that his much-vaunted collective security might conceivably lead to war. In discussing sanctions and their likely effect, he says, page 196: “It was perfectly clear that the fear of war did not in 1935 restrain the leaders of the British Labour movement from opposing Fascist aggression.” And then goes on to say: “In this our leaders were perfectly right” (our italics). Yes, Mr. Strachey, the task of converting the workers into cannon fodder for the purpose of defending the interests of their own capitalist class is a task in which our “leaders" will never fail. How long will’ it be, Mr. Strachey, before you, together with the Pollits, the Gallaghers, the Bevins, Daltons and Citrines, are urging the workers to sacrifice their lives in defence of one form of capitalist administration (democracy) against another form of capitalist administration, namely, Fascism?

Our standpoint on these matters is quite dear. A social system which can only exist by ruthlessly exploiting and condemning to poverty and insecurity vast masses of the people in the interests of a minority, a system which uses the most refined scientific methods for fashioning instruments for accomplishing death and destruction on a colossal scale, which condemns women to the production of human cannon fodder, or makes them cannon fodder themselves, such a system, no matter under what political guise it may be administered, is clearly in irreconcilable conflict with even the most elementary interests of the majority of the people. Fascism or Socialism, Peace or War? When all is said and done, the final answer to these and similar questions rests with the working class, and with the working class alone. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has dedicated itself to the task of seeing that the working class gives the right answer, and it is the duty, and should be the privilege, of all who understand the Socialist position, to give us their whole-hearted support in this work.

For Mr. Strachey, “ Socialism is an abstraction." And no doubt it is—for him. But in the task indicated above there is nothing abstract—it involves the fearless recognition of social realities; it means hard work and a grim determination to reach our goal. But this is something the Stracheys are not prepared to face.

This does not constitute an exhaustive review of the book in question. To deal with all the evasions, half-truths, and dishonest ambiguities would demand a volume. Mr. Strachey has travelled far since he wrote the “Coming Struggle for Power," and he has not improved in the travelling. But perhaps we can best conclude by saying of Mr: John Strachey what Mr. John Strachey once said of the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald : “ One would not . . . like to say . . . that he had abandoned Socialism. It is rather that he has emptied the concept of every shred of meaning."
Arthur Mertons