Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Labour Party in Perspective by M. Blum. (1950)

From the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leon Blum, whose death was announced recently, was a Social Democrat—that is, a reformist of the Labour type who, while using the name “Socialist,” took part in the administration of capitalism whenever allowed to, holding ministerial posts at times. However, he seems to have understood the position of such reformists far more clearly than the British Labour Party; for in a fraternal “Letter to British Socialists” published in Tribune during the election (17/2/50) he made the following observations, which must have perturbed even readers of Tribune (who are accustomed to regard themselves as the lonely conscience of the Labour Party): —
“ My comrades of the British Labour Party . . .

“[In France] the Socialists have maintained all the essential economic and social reforms which have been introduced since the liberation, despite a counterattack by capitalist reaction.” (Our italics.)
He sympathises with the British Labour Party in office:—
“There is perhaps no more difficult task than that of a government working within the framework of a capitalist society and having neither the power nor the mandate to transform it completely at one blow." “ It must defend at the same time both the special interests of the workers and the general interest of the nation —which are not always identical.” This surely is only possible if the interest of the nation is equated to that of a minority, for those same workers are also the overwhelming majority of the nation.

“The Labour Government has . . . achieved a number of economic and social reforms . . . without changing the existing class structure . .. [The Conservatives] will interfere with scarcely any of its striking achievements.”
This certainly makes clear the considerable common ground the Labour Party shares with its opponents, and this worries Tribune quite enough as it is. But before his British comrades have risen from their gloom he goes on:—
“European capitalism . . . no longer maintains free competition, but moves towards monopoly capitalism, which is concerned above all with securing legal protection for its profits. It is incapable of offering a solution which will conform to its principles for to-day’s weighty problems.”
Ah, this is more what we are used to—general attacks on the idea of profit. One simply does not attack the Labour Party, old man. Recognise the difficulties, and all that. But Blum is not yet done with his unwitting wounding of his British friends—he deals a blow at the Labour Party’s belief that State control and/or ownership can be equated to Socialism in the following paragraph.
“The history of Soviet Russia proves another truth which no Marxist could have predicted fifty years ago and which I myself should have rejected outright in my youth. It is evident now that even a complete and revolutionary transformation of all property rights does not automatically lead to the true emancipation of the worker. In Soviet Russia the capitalist system of property has been completely destroyed. Yet a régime of wage labour persists, the material conditions of the workers remain miserable, and elementary liberties are pitilessly crushed.” (In point of fact of course only the private capitalist system of property has been abolished.)
The attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain has from its foundation been quite clear about the feasibility or otherwise of Socialism either “in one country” or in any society in which production and education are not at a high level and which has not developed the habit of democracy. Articles from The Socialist Standard on the Bolshevik regime from its inception are collected in our pamphlet, “Russia Since 1917,” and will be seen to be perfectly consistent about its oppressive and non-Socialist character. There is nothing particularly clever or clairvoyant in this, merely an absence of the self-delusion afflicting the Communist Party. In any case, it is regrettable M. Blum never picked up a Socialist Standard, if not fifty then forty-six years ago, for he would not have had to confess such disappointment.

In his closing remarks M. Blum says: “ [In] Britain under the influence of the Labour Government . . . the capitalist system of property has not yet been abolished,” thus nailing the Labour lie “Five years of Socialism have brought us, etc.” And having completely undermined the morale of the Labour Party, who thought they were after something different, he finally wishes them luck at the hands of the fickle workers, who as events have turned out cannot be relied upon to know when they are well off, and awaits the poll “ with great excitement.”

Before the war Mr. Attlee wrote a pot-boiler called “The Labour Party in Perspective.” Now the Labour Party really has been put in perspective, but by Mr. Attlee’s Gallic counterpart. Whether M. Blum was actually trying to educate his British comrades (he would keep calling them that, and it must have upset them), or whether he took it for granted that any party with pretensions to being Socialist would at least have read “all that Marx stuff, you know,” we can only guess. If an attempt at education, it seems doomed to failure when it is remembered that the Labour Party thinks of Tribune as its black sheep, edited by people who don't go into division as they are told and have nothing better to do than to spill inconvenient beans about Seretse and the (Unilever) East Africa Co. monopoly. In the issue of 31/3/50 Ian Mikardo opines that Harold Laski died heartbroken by the last five years of Labour government. It will be interesting to watch the fate of the Tribune group in the mighty democratic party which (also says Mikardo) expelled Zilliacus unheard. Yes, the Labour Party is indeed coming into perspective at last


Imposs1904 said...

". . . it is remembered that the Labour Party thinks of Tribune as its black sheep, edited by people who don't go into division as they are told and have nothing better to do than to spill inconvenient beans about Seretse . . . "

I was curious what this related to. A speech by the Labour MP, James Griffiths (Llanelly), in the House of Commons that dates from 1956 gives you some indication of what this was about:

Griffiths: "I desire to draw the attention of the House to the case of Seretse Khama, and in the course of what I will have to say, I will put before the House some proposals which my colleagues and I have already put privately to Her Majesty's Government and which we shall once more urge the Government to adopt and act upon in the case of Seretse Khama.

In order that what I shall propose shall be seen in its proper setting and context, it is essential that I should begin, I hope without wearying the House, by a short recital of the history of this case. I think I shall do that best if I set out very briefly, but I hope accurately, the decisions taken by the Labour Government in 1950 and by the Conservative Government in 1952. In 1950, arising out of the situation that developed in the Bamangwato Reserve and among the people of the tribe following the marriage of Seretse Khama, the Labour Government decided to take certain action.

That action consisted, first, of a decision to withhold recognition of Seretse Khama as chief of the Bamangwato Tribe of Bechuanaland; and, secondly, to exclude Seretse and his uncle Tshekedi Khama, who was the Regent, from responsibility in the Reserve. Following upon that, it was decided to vest for the time being the functions of the Native Authority in the District Commissioner, and it was also decided, particularly in view of what had happened, to seek to establish in Bechuanaland, and particularly in the Bamangwato Reserve, a system of councils which would progressively assume responsibility for the administration of the tribe. These were the decisions taken and acted upon by the Labour Government in 1950, and announced in the House in March that year. "
(Hansard, Wednesday 1 August 1956)

Imposs1904 said...

P.S. That's the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard done and dusted.