Labourism - a historical straightjacket for the working class
No-one can build on sand. If a party which truly represents the political interests of the working class is to emerge, it will have to be built on a clear assessment of what the Labour Party is today, what it was yesterday and why its critics among the Labour Left have failed time and again to make any real impact on the political scene.
For nearly a century the Labour Party has totally dominated working class politics in this country. For 80 years of that time, ever since World War I, the Labour leadership sought consistently to use its control over the working class through the trade-unions as a bargaining chip to win the "privilege" of managing the affairs of British capital in government.
Throughout this period, there was never even any question of the bourgeoisie being prepared to grant any reforms in exchange. By the time the Labour Party had won enough weight to be of any use to capital, the British bourgeoisie had already gone past the peak of its ascendancy. It was an ageing class whose profits were threatened from abroad by competitors who were younger and considerably more dynamic. When subsequently Labour got into government as a result of a general election, it was always with the agreement of the capitalist class. Each time, the bourgeoisie's aim was to win a spell of social peace, not in order to facilitate a massive expansion of their operations, but rather to see them through one crisis or another and protect their profits by stepping up the exploitation of the working class. The British bourgeoisie could still afford to reward the Labour Party bureaucrats and their associates by offering them positions in the state apparatus, but it could no longer afford real reforms that would benefit the working class itself - at least not without jeopardising their own class domination. In that sense, the Labour Party came too late in history to play the role of a real reformist party.
The idea of a different social organisation which would put an end to private profit and social injustice - the socialist idea - had been the common motivation of many of the activists who were instrumental in the fight for an independent party of the working class before the Labour Party came into being. Very soon, however, the straightjacket of Labour's policies turned this very idea on its head, reducing social change to what was presented as the "best possible deal for the working class" - i.e. a Labour government with a sprinkling of Labour Party and trade-union nominees in the various institutions, committees and quangos whose function it is to take care of the interests of the capitalist class.
These policies did not go unchallenged. Right from the early days of the Labour Party, many uprisings of the working class came to reassert the need for social change - from the trade-union explosion which initiated the drive for an independent workers' party before the turn of the century to the unofficial strike wave of World War I or the 1926 General strike. But once workers had expressed their aspirations and tested their collective strength, they were left with no other perspective than that of Labour's "parliamentary cretinism", to use the phrase coined by Friedrich Engels about some of Labour's forerunners. On every one of these occasions, the lack of a clear political perspective next to the old traps and deadends offered by Labour, left the working class disarmed and, ultimately, resulted in its defeat.
The cost of these repeated defeats was high for the British working class. From the national unity government of World War I to that of World War II, from the crisis governments of the Great Depression to the social contract governments of the 1970s, the Labour leadership was able to get the working class to submit, albeit unwillingly, to the needs of the capitalists. From crisis to crisis the British bourgeoisie owed its survival, or at least its success in squeezing more sweat out of workers, to the noose tied by the Labour leadership around the neck of the working class.
The only real challenge against Labourism over this long period, came from outside the ranks of the Labour Party, when, for a few decades, the Communist Party raised the red flag of social revolution. But even then, the courage and dedication of the CP's working class activists was unable to make up for the degeneracy of their leadership under Stalin's influence. They failed to shake or even to weaken significantly the grip of the Labour bureaucracy on the working class.
What then of the socialist currents which had been instrumental in setting up the Labour Party and were always prominent within its ranks ever since? Why were the activists of these currents - what has been known over the past decades as the Labour Left - unable to alter Labour's policies, let alone counter the Labour bureaucracy's quasi-monopoly over the working class, by offering a determined class perspective to workers? No-one aiming to challenge the policy of the Labour Party in today's crisis, especially once it is back in government, can afford not to provide a clear answer to this question.
From the unsocialist roots of the Labour Party...
Contrary to a recurring myth spread by the Labour Left - which Scargill endorses enthusiastically in his advocacy of a return to Labour's historical roots - the original aims of the Labour Party had nothing to do with socialism.
The union leaders themselves were, in most cases, suspicious of political ideas. If their sympathy went to anyone, it was more often to the Liberals than to the socialists. And it was only the way in which they were repeatedly let down by their Liberal partners which convinced some of them of the need to have their own spokesmen in Parliament and therefore, to stand union-backed independent candidates in parliamentary elections.
The move to set up the Labour Party was not even aimed initially at creating a political organisation as such, in any case certainly not one which could become a fighting instrument for those workers who wanted to reshape society. The Labour Party came to existence merely as a Parliamentary party in the Commons, in order to accommodate the 29 union-backed MPs who were elected in the 1906 general election. Even at that stage many, if not most trade-union leaders remained loyal to the Liberals and were hostile to the setting up of a party which would appear clearly as a direct competitor of the Liberal Party. It was only the need to organise more effectively the collection of funds for the election campaigns of union-backed MPs and to provide a mechanism for the union machineries to control their MPs, which prompted the development of national structures for the Labour Party outside Parliament. Even then the primary role assigned to the new party remained that of promoting "legislation in the direct interests of Labour", no less but no more.
This does not mean of course that socialists played no part in the setting up of the Labour Party. The idea of "a Labour Party with an independent class programme" had been first advocated by Friedrich Engels himself, back in the 1880s. Already, in the mid-19th Century, Marx and Engels had put great effort into trying to bring the most prominent union leaders into the First International on the basis of a clear socialist programme. Their aim had been to establish socialist ideas on a solid and clear working class basis. And such was still the function assigned by Engels to the future Labour party - that of a socialist voice for the trade-union movement which would transform the petty-bourgeois dominated socialist current into a working class movement and, hopefully, put an end to the eternal squabbles between socialist factions.
In the end, far from being such a socialist voice, the Labour Party emerged as a mere election machinery which offered little space if any at all to socialist ideas but proved very effective at drowning socialist activists in the routine and in the compromises of parliamentary politics. What it did offer, though, at least for the next twenty- five years, was an instrument which the socialist current could have used to respond to a series of crisis situations by putting forward a class perspective in front of the large layer of workers who identified with the Labour Party. But this did not happen. Though the socialist current always represented a sizeable force in the Labour Party throughout that period, it never had the political will to stand up against the Labour machinery and by-pass its hierarchy in order to address itself directly to the working class at critical times when it would have been vital.
... To the birth of the Labour Left
What was the state of the socialist current then? It was a shambles. By 1893, when the drive to build the Labour Party really got off the ground, it was more or less divided into three main warring tendencies.
The oldest among these, Hyndman's Social-Democratic Federation, was described by Engels in a letter to the German socialist Adolf Sorge in the following terms: "Anglo-Saxon sectarianism prevails in the labour movement, too. The SDF... has managed to transform our theory into the rigid dogma of an orthodox sect; it is narrow-minded, exclusive and thanks to Hyndman has a thoroughly rotten tradition in international politics." Indeed, the SDF was a strange mixture of middle-class moralism and socialism. For instance, the SDF's response to the attempts by socialists like Thorne, Burns and Mann to use the opportunity of the 1889 strike wave to build new unions was that this was "a lowering of the flag, a departure from active propaganda, a waste of energy". The idea, which was central to the tradition established by Marx and Engels, that socialist ideas should become a weapon for the working class through the class struggle was totally alien to the SDF's middle-class moralism and, in fact, to all the British socialist currents.
Next to the SDF came the Independent Labour Party. Set up in 1893 as a loose confederation of socialist clubs, it was another kind of mixture. It had a small but sizeable working class base among young skilled workers who had been politicised by the strike wave of the late 1880s. But it was dominated by the white-collar and professional layers. Its initiators were former SDF members who had objected for all kinds of reasons, good and bad, to the tight discipline imposed by Hyndman on his organisation. The most radical among its leading figures retained the moralistic approach of the SDF and saw their task as being solely propagandistic, like Robert Blatchford who argued that "The best way to realise socialism is to make socialists... Give us a socialist people and socialism will accomplish itself." This pedagogical approach left a free hand to the dominant parliamentarian trend among the ILP's leadership which manifested itself right from its founding conference by opposing successfully the inclusion of the word "socialism" in the name of the new party for fear of... repelling potential voters. This electoralist orientation attracted like-minded individuals, people like Ramsay MacDonald, an election agent who found himself at odds with the establishment of the Liberal Party and was to become the ILP's best-known and most-hated figure. As to Keir Hardie, today certainly the most celebrated figure of the Labour Left tradition, Engels described him in the same letter to Sorge, as a "supercunning Scot whose demagogic tricks are not to be trusted one minute... This man is the greatest obstacle at present. He appears in Parliament only in demagogic occasions, in order to cut a figure with phrases about the unemployed - without getting anything done."
Finally, there was the Fabian Society. It was not a political organisation as such, but rather a political club bringing together famous intellectuals who claimed to stand for socialism. Significantly they steered clear of all the initial attempts at setting up a socialist organisation distinct from the mainstream parliamentary parties. Instead they preferred to brush shoulders with the well-established Liberal politicians. Engels described the Fabians to his friend Kautsky as "a clique of bourgeois "socialists" of diverse calibers, from careerists to sentimental socialists and philanthropists, united only by their fear of the threatening rule of the workers and doing all in their power to spike this danger by making their own leadership secure, the leadership exercised by the "educated"... The means employed by the Fabian Society are just the same as those of the corrupt parliamentary politicians: money, intrigue, careerism. That is English careerism, according to which it is self- understood that every political party pays its agents in some way or other or rewards them with posts. These people are immersed up to their necks in the intrigues of the Liberal Party, hold Liberal Party jobs, as for instance Sydney Webb who is in general a genuine English politician. These gentry do everything that the workers have to be warned against."
Such were the socialist currents which co-operated with the union machineries in the run-up to the launch of the Labour Party. And, judging from Engels' assessment - and Engels, at the time, was certainly by far the most experienced socialist activist in Britain - all of them had already drifted away, in one way or another, from the socialist programme.
The SDF was to pull out of the project at an early stage, objecting to its parliamentary orientation. But while being outside the Labour Party when it was launched, the SDF remained in its orbit and ten years later, it was to affiliate to the Labour Party under the name of the British Socialist Party (BSP).
The ILP and the Fabians remained, therefore, the main socialist currents inside the Labour Party. Their role in the early days was quite significant since, for instance, the majority of the Labour MPs elected in 1906 came out of their ranks. On the other hand, their relatively small numbers could not match the weight of the trade unions. But nor were most of the leading socialist figures particularly keen to assert their ideas and programme too forcefully.
In Parliament, the socialist MPs stuck to the union bureaucracy's alliance with the Liberals by supporting them in government - they preferred to face the anger of the socialist grassroots than the prospect of losing their seats at the next election! And at the Labour Party's 1908 conference, the most prominent socialist figures joined ranks with the union bureaucrats to oppose the writing of socialist principles into the constitution of the Party - even though a resolution passed by the conference had endorsed these same principles.
The following year, at the ILP's conference, the party's heavyweights, including Keir Hardie and MacDonald, threatened to resign unless the conference condemned the refusal of Victor Grayson, the ILP's MP for Colne Valley, to take the Labour whip in the Commons. Never mind the fact that Grayson's motives had been to use the parliamentary platform in order to expose the policy of the Liberal government against the unemployed, something which the Labour whip opposed, in accordance with the Lib-Lab alliance. But for the leadership of the ILP, parliamentary combinations and manoeuvres were already more important than the interests of the working class. As Lenin was to write a few years later, "it is quite justly said that this party is "independent" only of socialism but very dependent indeed on Liberalism".
The reasoning behind these compromises was simple - rather maintain good harmony with the Labour Party hierarchy at the cost of some concessions, than take the risk of going back to the wilderness outside the ranks of the party, losing the positions gained in Parliament and the regular funding provided by the unions. Such reasoning could, and indeed did, justify anything, including the worst abandonments. Since the starting point was that there was no future for socialist ideas outside the Labour Party, there was almost no limit to what the socialists would be prepared to swallow from their partners in the Labour hierarchy. This timorous and opportunistic attitude was to remain the trademark of what has since become the Labour Left.
Facing the first imperialist war
Eight years after the launching of the Labour Party, the working class movement was faced with an acute crisis throughout Europe, with the outbreak of World War I. The same working class leaders who had voted enthusiastically, at the recent conference of the Socialist International, an appeal which said "Workers stand together for peace! Down with war! Down with class rule!", were now closing ranks behind their respective capitalist classes and endorsing the most jingoistic policies.
The Labour Party was no exception. Its opposition to the war lasted for exactly three days after its outbreak. Then the TUC and Labour machinery joined the war effort. From 1915, Arthur Henderson, a former union official and Liberal MP who was now chairman of Labour's parliamentary party, joined the government. The following year, he became one of the five ministers in the War Cabinet, while other Labour Party figures joined the government in minor positions.
What was the response of the Labour Left? True, in 1914, in protest against the party's support for the war, MacDonald resigned his position as chairman of the parliamentary party, leaving his seat to Henderson. Of the seven MPs who were members of the ILP, five opposed the Labour Party's support of the war effort, although no disciplinary action was ever taken by the ILP against the two who did not. Of the main leaders of the ILP, Snowden was already well-known for his consistent and vocal condemnation of strike action during the four years of industrial unrest which had preceded the war. He was certainly not going to encourage British workers to use their class weapons in order to oppose the war effort! As to MacDonald's own opposition to the war, it had nothing to do with internationalism or working class interest for that matter. From 1914 until the end of the war, the main thrust of his activity was focused on running a pressure group called the "Union for Democratic Control" which aimed at regrouping politicians - mostly from the Liberal Party - around the demand that the Foreign Office should be made more accountable to Parliament. But when it came to formulating his attitude to Labour's participation in government, and therefore in the war effort, his line was that "the mind of peace" should be maintained in wartime and that "whatever our views maybe of the origins of the war, we must go through with it" - meaning that there was no reason for Labour to waste the first opportunity it had to sit on the government bench. On the whole, MacDonald's critique of Britain's participation in the war was that it had not been properly decided by elected politicians!
The ILP rank-and-file, by contrast, took their opposition to the war to heart. They were the driving force behind the "No conscription Fellowship" and hundreds of them ended up in jail for that reason. But their outlook did not go beyond that of pacifism. When opposition to the war effort broke out into an explosion of strikes in the war industries, allowing hundreds of thousands of workers to measure their collective strength in the largest unofficial unrest ever seen in the country, the socialist Left of the Labour Party was of little use to them. The leading figures of the strike wave were often members of the smaller British Socialist Party, which had just affiliated to the Labour Party, and of the Socialist Labour Party, which was completely outside of it. But none of the leading figures of the ILP, the only socialists who were in a position to use the Labour Party as a platform, were ever seen trying to use it to provide the workers' mass rebellion with a political perspective - ironically, their abstention was due to their fear of losing the benefit of this platform! But what was the point of having such a platform in the first place, if they stopped short of using it when it could have been decisive?
Not that the British working class had reached the point where it was bidding for power, as was the Russian working class in 1917. But it had certainly reached the point where it was able to see that those responsible for the war were the same capitalists whose greed they had fought so bitterly already during the four years of industrial unrest before the war, and that the future depended not on speeches in the Commons but on the social balance of forces in society and, in particular, on the intervention of the working class battalions on the political scene. There was, possibly, a unique opportunity to drive a decisive wedge between the mobilised working class and its self-proclaimed political and union leaders who were, by that time, sitting comfortably in government committees, helping the bosses to squeeze more sweat and more blood out of the working class. There was, possibly, the opportunity to build a genuine mass working-class party "with an independent class programme", as Engels had argued two decades before, that is, in the conditions of the time, a revolutionary socialist programme. The Labour Left chose to ignore this opportunity. It was already much too integrated in the institutions of capitalist society, through the structures of the Labour Party, to be willing to jeopardise its cosy position.
The heyday of the Labour Left
The end of the war was marked, once again, by a coincidence of factors which could have made possible the realisation of Engels' objective. Many workers had accounts to settle with the Labour Party leadership because of its support for the war. A layer of working class activists had developed the independent shop-stewards organisation and behind it tens of thousands of workers went through the experience of large-scale strikes which had been run from beginning to end against the active opposition of the union machineries. Finally there was the immense hope raised by the proletarian revolution of October 1917 in Russia. The chances for the socialist programme to root itself in the British working class had never been so promising.
The Labour Party machinery was well aware of the potential threat to its control over the working class. Under the pretext of "reconstructing" the Labour Party, they embarked in a series of pre-emptive moves primarily aimed at protecting the Labour Party from the growing influence of socialist ideas and working class militants. The rules for electing Labour's National Committee were changed. The NEC was now elected by the whole conference which meant that the union bureaucracy, who wielded a large block vote, effectively controlled who would be on the NEC at the expense of the ILP. MacDonald's response on behalf of the ILP, had been to say that "if a split were to come owing to the opressive use of the block vote of some of the larger unions, I would do what I could to form a new Labour combination for political purposes." Had Scargill been around in those days, would he have still favoured the union block-vote... at the expense of socialist ideas or joined the ILP in threatening a split? One wonders...
The following year, the Labour leadership made another pre-emptive move against the ILP by allowing individuals to join the Labour Party through new local branches which would be in effect in competition with the ILP's local branches. The new branches were given representation through five reserved seats on the NEC while four additional seats were reserved for women. Fenner Brockway, later a prominent ILP leader, recalls:
"...in 1918 the individual sections of the Labour Party were established and in many parts of the country they entered into competition with the ILP. Many in the ILP wished to challenge the effort of the Labour party to build up an individual membership; this view was held vigorously in areas like Scotland, Bradford and Norwich, where the ILP was strong and where for all practical purposes it served as the individual membership of the Labour Party."
In addition, through the adoption of a new constitution full of socialist-sounding language, the post-war modernisers made their own adaptation to the spirit of the times. This was mostly the work of the Sidney Webb, who by then, as his wife Beatrice boasted, was seen as "the intellectual leader of the Labour party". The famous "Clause 4", in particular, provided the Labour constitution with new left clothes. But it was rather like the Big Bad Wolf disguising himself as Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother. It was certainly aimed at swallowing up the innocent. It was vague enough to be interpreted as offering a half-way station to those attracted by the Russian Revolution, while at the same time not departing from the gradualist, anti-marxism of the Webbs. Symbolically, the special conference which was held in June 1918 to endorse the new constitution invited Kerensky, the reformist leader of the pro-capitalist Russian Provisional government overthrown by the October revolution, to address the delegates.
Meanwhile unrest was growing again in the working class in reaction to the war, especially after the huge loss of life in the Western Front in the closing months, and the drastic food shortages caused by German submarine patrols obstructing the Channel. This mood was sustained throughout the period of the wartime Coalition Government, until their resignation in October 1922. There were continual waves of strikes in the coalfields, on the Clyde, and in other industrial areas.
Arthur Horner, later a founder member of the Communist Party, recalls: "At a later stage in the Post-war struggle, Mardy gained the title of "little Moscow"... you could say that the whole Welsh coalfield and most industrial areas of Britain were 'Red'. There was bitterness and anger at the mounting evidence that the pledges given during the war were going to be broken."
In fact Horner himself, a product of the socialist agitation in the Welsh coalfield before the war, had been a member of the ILP and chairman of the Miners' Unofficial Reform Movement. He had smuggled himself over to Ireland to enlist in Connolly's Irish Citizens' Army after the crushing of the 1916 Easter Rising. He had opposed the war on Marxist, not pacifist grounds, and was eventually caught during a visit home, and sentenced to six months hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. He was by no means exceptional amongst a significant layer of workers, politicised by the war.
By 1920, as Horner recalls, the resistance amongst workers against Britain's intervention in Russia, started gathering momentum: "We held meetings in every part of the coalfields in support of the campaign, appealing all the time to the men not to be induced to join the interventionist forces. We found plenty of support, not only from those who supported us ideologically but also from ex-servicemen who knew war at first hand and were determined not to be involved in a quarrel with which they had no concern. Finally the movement grew so powerful that the Labour and Trade Union leadership had to give it recognition, and when the London dockers refused to load arms for the Interventionist forces in Poland, the Government had to give way."
How did the ILP react to this situation? They could have chosen to break with the Labour Party and thrown their weight behind the building of the new Communist Party, which was launched in 1920, just as the majority of the BSP did, together with a sizeable minority of the ILP. With such forces, against the background of the Russian revolution and the growing industrial unrest in Britain, the launching of the CP could have signalled the renewal of the socialist programme in the working class. Instead, at the 1922 conference of the Labour Party, MacDonald who was in the leadership of the ILP, chose rather to attack the new Communist Party, declaring that the attempts of the CP to affiliate to the Labour Party were only aimed at stabbing Labour in the back, and recommended refusing them entry. He made common cause with the LP chair, who described communists as "the intellectual slaves of the Asiatic mind". This seems to have attracted little if any protest on the part of the ILP, who were later to endorse MacDonald once more as Labour Party leader.
When the Coalition government finally collapsed in October 1922, amid industrial unrest and rising unemployment, the ILP chose to use this opportunity not to build on this militancy, but to regain the favours of the Labour Party hierarchy, in order to get their own MPs into Parliament. So they put their back into campaigning for a Labour victory, promising that this was the best way to get the nationalisation of mines and industry that workers aspired to. This fitted their radical reformist approach - that the Labour Party itself was to be the vehicle for socialism, through getting into government. In working class Glasgow, where Labour won 10 out of 15 seats, all of those elected were members of the ILP. Altogether, Labour won 162 seats, 30 of which were occupied by Scottish MPs.
James Maxton, the Glasgow MP, was by now becoming one of the leading lights in the ILP. He was famous for his "revolutionary socialist" rhetoric and had the credit of having spent a year in jail during the war for sedition, plus an association with the Red Clydesiders, having shared many a platform with the Communist, William Gallagher. It was he and the other Clydeside MPs who gave MacDonald his first real opportunity to show his colours as leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. In a speech in the Commons, Maxton accused the Tories of murdering children when they withdrew milk and food supplies and free hospital accomodation as part of their economic policy. He and three others were suspended from the Commons, while MacDonald and the front bench opposition MP's abstained on the vote. The LP leadership then held its own "court martial" of the so- called "Clydeside wreckers" who refused to apologise and so remained expelled from Parliament. Maxton and the ILP used this pretext to organise meetings and demonstrations up and down the country, in endorsement of their actions in disrupting parliament, which actually resulted in thousands joining the ILP - but also the Labour Party by the same token.
The ILP turns to the left.... in words
From the early 1920's, because it was more visible, the ILP was able to make more rapid gains than the fledgling Communist Party out of the politicisation of the working class due to the intractable struggles taking place in this period. This allowed the ILP to establish itself as a national organisation with full time organisers on relatively generous salaries. Clifford Allen, elected Treasurer of the ILP in 1922, had moved the ILP into palatial headquarters in Westminster.
Allen of course, was no radical. In fact as he explained to Brockway after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1920, he thought Lenin's methods far too drastic. "Our task," he said, "is to make the fundamental change to Socialism as speedily as and thoroughly as it has been done in Russia, but by the method of persuasion rather than force. We must state the case for Socialism so convincingly that all people of intelligence and goodwill will turn to it."
He changed the name of the paper from "Labour Leader" to "New Leader", turning it into a glossy review, with a "Nature Notes" feature, artistic woodcuts and theoretical and literary features. His target was clearly not the ordinary worker, but the middle-class intellectual.
Between 1923 and 1924 the number of ILP branches rose from 637 to 1,028. As Brockway, by then Party secretary, recalls: "The Labour Party was rising to the crest of its strength and wealthy careerists buzzed around us, anxious to be adopted as candidates, proffering contributions in the hope of securing rewards after the manner of the old parties."
But the ILP could have several tricks in its bag. While they were trying to woo the middle-class, their recruitment came from the working class. This was reflected in the radical language used in the 1923 Party progamme, "Socialism in our Time", which was designed to attract the newly radicalised workers. It laid down a minimum living income for all, requiring industries to pay this within a specified period, nationalisation of the banks, land, mining, electrical generation and distribution, and transport. Any industry that refused to pay the minimum wage would be taken over by the state, or be provided with a subsidy in return for proportional public control. But who was to enforce this radical programme? They did not say. By inference, it was to be carried out by the Labour Party itself, once in government, of course.
While MacDonald refused to accept such a programme - the title "Socialism in our Time" probably being enough on its own to put him off, the ILP quite happily supported his leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party when it took office in 1924. The working class was given its first opportunity to judge the efficacy of a Labour Government. Arthur Horner recalls: "At that time the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) had called a strike against wage cuts and worsened conditions for the Loco men demanded by the National Wages Board. The National Union of Railmen had accepted the cuts and the new Government quickly showed its hand by dubbing the strike "unofficial" although it was called by a union affiliated to the Labour Party. Mr JR Clynes declared that in its approach to strikes, the Government would act as a "national" and not a "class" Government. When the dockers struck, Ernest Bevin declared "I wish it had been a Tory Government. We would not have been so frightened by their threats." So much for the virtues attributed by the ILP to a Labour government!
Only after the fall of MacDonald's government did Maxton dare to put up any challenge against him. In October 1925, MacDonald was taken off the editorship of the "Socialist Review" and by Easter 1926, Maxton was elected National Chairman of the ILP with the largest majority ever. Ironically this was seen as the triumph of "real socialism" against gradualism, typified by MacDonald... But how was Maxton's "real socialism" different? As Maxton said in accepting the ILP leadership: "It is the place of the ILP to lay stress on the mind and will of man as the determining factor in bringing about a change in social and economic affairs, and to work for and propagate socialism with speed but without catastrophe." But, of course, that "determining factor" was however subordinated to achieving a Labour majority in Parliament.
This was a vague, humanist formulation, making out the ILP to be the good socialist conscience of the Labour Party, and most certainly not its militant wing. More importantly, it was vague enough for anyone to understand in it what he wished to understand. Beyond the ILP's radical sounding programme, this was as far as Maxton, the so-called "red Clydesider", was prepared to go in criticising the fundamental objectives of the Labour Party. But significantly, this "redness" never prevented the ILP from allowing MacDonald to retain his membership, for instance.
The General Strike, another missed opportunity
By 1926 the ILP was in the hands of the so-called "left". The big salaries for officials were stopped and the New Leader temporarily discontinued. Then came the General Strike, and an unprecedented opportunity for a radical organisation to play a leading role in the class struggle.
On Mayday 1926 the miners were finally to be locked out. The government had been negotiating all the time with the members of the General Council of the TUC and quite rightly did not believe that the Trade Union leaders wanted a general strike on their hands. So when the print workers working on the Daily Mail refused to print an editorial against the miners, the Government broke off negotiations with the TUC in order to call its bluff.
Thus began the famous 9-day Strike. While the Communist-led Minority Movement had been attempting, against the opposition of the official leadership of the TUC, to prepare councils of action since the end of March, this was successful only on a limited scale. Their catastrophic strategy - inspired by Stalin's foreign policy and expressed in their slogan "all power to the General Council", left workers without any lead, at least from the CP.
But what did the ILP do? Maxton led the Scottish Labour Representatives back to Glasgow to organise the workers for struggle. He however made it clear to them that they should on no account take part in riots. He returned to London after a week to issue a manifesto in support of the miners which said: "The National Council calls on its 1,100 branches to place themselves unreservedly at the disposal of the miners and the Trade Union Movement in the biggest struggle in which British Labour has ever been engaged."
Yes, the ILP put themselves passively at the disposal of TUC and even took on the editorship and production of the TUC official newspaper during the strike. For this purpose, Fenner Brockway was selected and sent up to Manchester to get on with it. Then on the 12th May he was told to expect to do a special edition. He relates that he could not at first believe the message they got about the calling off of the strike. Nevertheless he produced the required copy, and the paper was distributed. Of the anger resulting he said later, hypocritically: "It looked like the end of the strike might be the beginning of the revolution." Yet the assessment he gave was simply that the TUC had been "misled" by the government. There was certainly no inclination on the part of the ILP to provide a lead for this "revolution" Brockway felt might be on the way.
Yet, in the face of the betrayal of the working class by the left union leaders, who had been wooed by the CP, what would have been needed at this crucial moment was an independent class perspective. Many workers, even when the strike was called off, stayed out on strike. Indeed in some areas, the strike even grew after it was called off, and the miners remained on strike for another year. The ILP certainly had the physical means at its disposal to at least attempt to provide an alternative perspective through the "councils of action" which had been set up in many areas of the country both during the strike and in its immediate aftermath. They chose not to do anything. Thus did yet another opportunity for the working class to score a victory against the system end in defeat and demoralisation. And the ILP had its own hand in this defeat, even if it was less conspicuous than that of the TUC.
Towards the split
In 1928, the Labour Party's new programme, "Labour and the Nation", reflected the defeat of the working class with a marked shift to the right by putting nationalisation in the background. As Snowden explained it: "We are going to get our socialism largely through a public corporation controlled in the interests of the publiic by the best experts and businessmen." Any resemblance with Blair's "partnership" with private business is, of course, not fortuitous at all..
The 1929 election brought back another joint Labour-Liberal government led by MacDonald, who spelt out his plans saying that "the Labour Government would show the country, notwithstanding Mr Winston Churchill, that it knew how to govern."
The Party conference had endorsed a pledge to "take every step in its power to ensure that the provision for unemployment is humane and adequate, and will meet the additional costs by State grants so that they fall neither on the workers contributions nor on the cost of production." But all the Labour Government did was to slightly increase the allowance to dependents but not to unemployed men. Nor did it remove the "Not genuinely seeking work" clause. This led the ILP to table in Parliament their own minimal demands which were, in fact, no more than the LP's pre-election promises.
Already by 1930, Maxton had been under attack from ILP MP's like Shinwell for voting and speaking against the Labour government. But he still narrowly maintained the support of the majority of members in the ILP. He was re-elected ILP leader at the annual conference in 1930 in Birmingham and his position in voting against the government was endorsed, but only 17 of the 140 MPs who were members of the ILP agreed to implement this decision.
When the next Labour conference took place, the ILP could still not find a more credible policy than to call on government to introduce a "bold socialist programme" and stand up to the capitalist parties! But it stopped short of exposing clearly the anti-working class nature of Labour's policies.
Finally there was a clash in the government over the implementation of cuts which would have resulted in 300,000 unemployed losing their benefits, MacDonald called a snap election, forming a National coalition with the Tories, the Liberals and a minority of Labour MPs. The union machinery took over full control of the Labour Party to tighten its ranks against the attraction exercised on the Labour machinery by MacDonald's "National" Labour. But at the same time, they turned against the left to prevent it from taking advantage of the situation. ILP candidates failed to get Labour's endorsement in the election and only three ILP MPs were elected.
At its next conference, the ILP was split over what attitude it should take. A section was in favour of leaving immediately and affiliating to the Communist International. Finally a majority voted to stay within the Labour Party provided that the liberty to express ILP policy could be secured. But when it turned out that this was not the case, a special ILP conference was held in July 1932 in Bradford and disaffiliation was voted with a 62% majority.
Brockway, while claiming that the ILP had its roots in the working class, complained that union activists who were members of the ILP "were frequently not permitted to take part in any political discussion in a trade union branch, they were removed from official positions which they held, and they had to resign their delegations to Trade and Labour Councils." For the first time ILP activists were experiencing the same treatment by the union bureaucracy that CP activists had endured for years. The difference was that the CP members held their ground whereas the ILP had not prepared its membership for such a dramatic change and many left the ILP as a result of these pressures.
Between reformism and the revolution
The ILP was frought with disagreements within its own ranks. In retrospect, Brockway says of these times: "In the course of this inner struggle the ILP experimented in many directions, at one time approaching the Communist International and at another moving towards the Trotskyist position, at one stage attaching its hope to united fronts and at another reverting to purism, at one period going all out to prepare for soviets and at another recognising again the value of Parliament.... Since 1932 the Party has been a crucible of the change from reformism to revolutionism. Into that crucible every idea, every tactic, has been thrown and has worked itself out; it has been a microcosm of all the conflicts of theory and practice which have stirred so deeply the world movement."
Of course the ILP was no more the potential crucible for revolution than the Stalinist Communist Party was. But certainly there were many influences both domestically and internationally which affected these developments. For one thing, by the time Hitler was elected in Germany, a layer of activists began to reject Labour's parliamentary road and to see the need to fight the rise of fascism by revolutionary means. This radicalisation provided a new boost both for the CP and for the ILP.
It was at this juncture, that Trotsky described the ILP as being half-way between parliamentarianism and revolution. Of course he was speaking about the membership, not the leadership, who had long ago made their choices. They had chosen to break away from the LP in order to capitalise on a trend in the working class, in the absence of the possibility of short term gains being made by staying inside. They hoped to win some influence. And indeed they did attract radicalised workers, but remained noticeably absent on the domestic political scene. They pulled away from the influence of Trotsky who they found too radical, only to be caught in the nets of the Stalinists.
It was Harry Pollitt of the CP who had suggested the coming together of the ILP and CP on an equal basis. "The CP has failed to build a mass revolutionary party. So has the ILP. Together we can do it." Then the 1933 conference of the ILP voted narrowly to instruct the National Council of the Party to "ascertain in what way the ILP may assist the work of the Communist International".
After a series of long detailed correspondence with the Communist International, however, the next annual conference rejected a resolution in favour of sympathetic affiliation. Despite this, ILP Chairman, Brockway, said "we slipped into a united front with the CP, however, without considered attention." He was "persuaded" by Pollitt to co-operate with the CP in various campaigns, hunger marches, and the general agitation around benefit cuts, rent disputes and unofficial strikes.
Yet this again caused a division in the ranks of the ILP, which was exacerbated when Stalin signed a Trade Agreement with Germany - while CP leaders were jailed by Hitler's regime and CP members were shot or put in camps. When Russia joined the League of Nations and began negotiations for a political and military alliance with the French Government, Brockway used Lenin's description of the League as a "Thieves' kitchen" to distance the ILP from the CP. His argument was undoubtedly tainted with a dose of hypocrisy and anti- communism. But his purpose was to use the genuine doubts which existed among the ILP's ranks about Stalinism.
Then came the Moscow trials. Brockway argued: "Stalin may make a purge of his critics; but this trial has been a bad day's work for Soviet Russia. Putting the most favourable impression upon it, it leaves in the mind a picture of antagonisms and repressions which are far from the free, happy and united society which socialists everywhere hoped was being built in Russia". However, this did not prevent the ILP from rejoining a united front with the CP in the so-called "Unity Campaign" of 1936-7.
The idea behind this was to get the ILP and CP accepted as affiliates of the Labour Party. In this campaign, they were joined by the Socialist League, a left grouping which was still inside the Labour Party, led by Sir Stafford Cripps. This campaign actually struck a chord amongst many members and the public at large. Tens of thousands apparently signed "pledge cards" in favour of unity of the left. The manipulations of the Stalinists soon resulted in the liquidation of the Socialist League however and when the Moscow trials continued and news came through of the repression organised by the Communist International against the POUM, the ILP's sister organisation in Spain, the "Unity Campaign" disintegrated.
At the end of this period, on the eve of the war, the membership of the ILP had fallen to an all-time low. The wavering of its leadership and the absence of any clear perspective for the organisation, had demoralised many who had believed in the ILP's radical language. Many others, in particular in its youth organisation, had gone over to the CP which seemed, at least, to know what they wanted. Another significant section had simply rejoined the Labour Party, feeling that since by then Labour was in opposition, they would at least be more effective in opposing the austerity policy of the Tory government. A wealth of genuine radicalised energy and enthusiasm had been wasted due to the inconsistencies of a handful of reformist leaders who had for a while only toyed with radical ideas and radical rhetoric for their own purposes.
Another war, another betrayal
History does not repeat itself and the political situation created by World War II was not comparable to that of World War I. There was no revolutionary upsurge anywhere in the world, as there had been in Russia in 1917. Nor had the last years of the war seen the emergence of a relatively structured movement of opposition to the war in the working class, as had been the case with the unofficial shop-stewards movement from 1916 onwards. The political opportunities opened by the end of the war were, therefore, certainly more limited this time round.
But there were some opportunities. For instance in the early months of 1944: in February, 100,000 miners went on unofficial strike in South-Wales, soon followed by another 80,000 in Yorkshire; then, in late March, 50,000 engineering apprentices came out on strike throughout the North, forcing Bevin to give up his plans to use young workers to reduce the shortage of miners by forcing them to go down the pits. Later that year, a campaign against the wartime anti-strike laws attracted unusually large audiences in working class towns. There may have been no sign of an imminent class uprising, but there were definite signs of a growing militancy and politicisation in the working class, and of a determination to settle accounts with those who were responsible for yet another mass slaughter.
What had the ILP and Labour Left done to prepare for such developments? The Labour Left, for one thing, or rather what little was left of it, was largely influenced by the Communist Party and had been behind the war effort all the way. The ILP, on the other hand, had buried itself in the same mixture of passivity and pacifism as during the previous war. Admittedly the ILP's membership had shrunk considerably. But it still retained in its ranks four MPs and some of the most prestigious names of the socialist movement. Anyway, its membership could not have been smaller than that of the tiny Workers' International League, the Trotskyist group whose leaders were arrested and tried by the courts for the role they played in helping the apprentices to organise their strike. If, apart from the occasional fiery speeches by Maxton and others, the ILP did not have a higher profile during the wartime period, it was the result of the same political choices which had led to its pathetic decline in the late 30s.
But no sooner was the war over and the prospect of a Labour government back on the agenda, than the Left outside and inside the Labour Party sprang back into life... to offer their unconditional support to the Labour leadership while tapping the aspiration for change among the population.
A majority of the ILP's leading figures were now regretting bitterly not to be in a position to run as Labour candidates. They immediately approached the Labour leadership to apply for re-affiliation. They were told to get their house in order first, which they did obligingly by expelling from their ranks a number of "troublemakers", including most of the ILP's organisation in Tyneside which was accused of having worked with the Trotskyists in helping to build up the 1944 apprentices' strike. The ILP even made the additional gesture of standing only five candidates in the general election and, of course, calling unreservedly for a Labour vote elsewhere. To no avail. The Labour leadership did not budge and the ILP's aspiring politicians remained in the wilderness. Not for long, in fact, as most of them soon returned individually into the fold of the Labour Party, where they were eventually allowed to make a respectable career. Having had no policies the ILP now had no leaders - it ceased to play any political role.
Meanwhile, in Wales, Aneurin Bevan, then probably the most respected figure of the Labour Left, described the coming election as "a real struggle for power... between Big Business and the People" and the key to the victory was, of course, to vote Labour into office. In Barrow-in- Furness, another Labour Left candidate went even further, arguing quite rightly that "only a complete socialist transformation of society can solve the economic problems of our time", but then stating shamelessly about the coming Labour government that "a socialist government, with the firm backing of the common people, will introduce socialist measures that would pave the way for a new classless society from which poverty and insecurity will be forever banished". With such an enthusiastic backing from its own Left, Herbert Morrison, the wartime Home minister in the coalition government, could afford some resounding demagogy like in this statement made on the BBC: "If the nation has to give marching orders to big business, the nation must give them... Big business has got to toe the line of public need - and the phrase is - got to".
The Labour Party had spent six years in government doing the dirty job of the British bourgeoisie, sending one part of the working class to the killing fields of the war while turning the screw of capitalist exploitation on the other. But that was still not enough for the Labour Left. In their frenzy to prove their servility to the Labour Party hierarchy and earn its favours, they had to resort to lies which, coming after six years of suffering and deprivation for the working class, were as blatant as they were abject.
In the end, however, as a political current, the Labour Left did not even benefit from their cowardice. In most respects, they did not survive the 1945 Labour government, or rather came out of this period as a different kind of current, which had lost any real links with the working class, and therefore any chance of having ever any real weight on the political scene.
The great myth
This "socialist government" whose election was supposed to represent "a real struggle for power between Big Business and the People" for the Labour Left, has remained to-date, for every current in the Labour Party, whether on the left or on the right, including for Arthur Scargill, the example of what wonders the ballot box can achieve for the working class. And yet, the 1945 government turned out to be the most repressive and oppressive Labour government ever.
We will not go back here over the real significance of the so-called "achievements" of the Attlee government - the nationalisations, the setting up of the Health Service, the welfare state, etc.. - except to say that these constituted the logical continuation of the wartime economy and that such plans had been discussed and agreed long before, in the capitalist circles that mattered. Had Churchill been prime minister, instead of Atlee, these plans would have been implemented anyway, and possibly more thoroughly because the Tories would not have had the same fears of upsetting the capitalist class that Labour had. On the other hand, had Churchill been in the driving seat, the working class might not had felt their hands tied, as they were by the union machineries, and unable to oppose the most unacceptable aspects of these plans, in particular the colossal handouts to the British bourgeoisie which they involved, and the institutionalised chronic poverty which was "awarded" to the unemployed and the aged under the welfare state.
But there were many other aspects in the Attlee government's policies which only a Labour government, with the help of the union bureaucracy, could hope to impose on the working class. For instance the continuation of the wartime army mobilisation in peace time, well into the 50s. What for? To defeat some totalitarian regime abroad? No, to smash the popular uprising led by the Greek Communist Party or to occupy the Iranian oil fields for the benefit of British shareholders; or to crush the nationalist movements in the Middle-East, in Burmah, in Malaysia and, finally, in Korea! And what of the food rationing which was enforced in Britain until 1954, well after it had ceased even in Germany, not to mention the drastic pressure on workers' wages which was maintained throughout the lifetime of this government, under the well-known slogan of "winning the peace".
Someone had to pay for the defence of the imperialist interests of the British bourgeoisie abroad and for the compensation paid to the shareholders of the nationalised industries so that they could invest in the emerging markets of the time. The Labour Party made sure that the working class paid the bill and no-one else. Those workers who stood up against this vicious austerity, had to confront not just the bosses and the state, but also the whole spectrum of politicians and the trade-union machineries. Many of them had to face the army too - the Attlee government sent the army against fourteen strikes in less than six years, far more than any subsequent government. And, in the last years of the regime, when the Labour Party chose to use for its own purpose, the red-baiting campaign launched in the US by senator McCarthy, its main target, once again, was those militant activists who had not given up the fight in the ranks of the working class.
Yes, if anything, the postwar Labour government was one of the most reactionary seen in Britain this century, certainly the most reactionary compared to the aspirations of the working class when it came into office. But did the Labour Left stand up, even verbally against its policies? No. It kept in the safe waters of idle quarrels over the government's foreign policies and its relationship with the two emerging blocks. But when, in February 1947, coal rationing was introduced, the Labour Left attacked Attlee for being too soft on workers, with Harold Laski writing in the Daily Herald, that "we cannot waste thousands of workers upon pools and dog-racing and midweek football... Let us face it quite frankly, we cannot have two world wars in one generation and expect not to have a hard time" - but the capitalist class could, of course! It was over this issue that the most prominent Left faction of this period came to existence. The "Keep Left" group included such people as Michael Foot, Ian Mikardo, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, etc.., all of whom were to reach the front bench of subsequent Labour governments, within only a few weeks in the case of Wilson. The main "action" of this group was to issue a pamphlet arguing that the only way out of the crisis for Britain was to increase its exports to 65% above their pre-war level, and that to reach such a level, workers' energy to work harder had to be mobilised through the restoration of the wartime joint production committees - the same committees through which the union bureaucracy had imposed military discipline on the working class during the war. The only response of the Labour Left to the plundering of the economy by the bourgeoisie was to militarise the working class!
Of course, there was Bevan's spectacular resignation from the government, followed by that of Harold Wilson and another leftwinger, in 1951, in protest against the imposition of prescription charges in the NHS. Undoubtedly this gesture won them some credit. But was it a coincidence if it came at a time when everyone knew that the days of the Labour government were counted? Politicians have always very good at rocking the boat when it was already sinking. For all his charisma, Nye Bevan was no exception.
The Left shadow of the Labour Party
By 1951, the Labour bureaucracy reached a degree of integration in the state machinery which was unprecedented. Through its participation in the myriads of committees and institutions which make up the fabric of central and local government, it had acquired a social weight which gave it a significant degree of independence from the grassroots - from the Labour and union membership but also, thanks to the two-party system, from the working class electorate who did not have any other credible party to vote for. This independence was not even significantly weakened by Labour's terms in opposition, not even by the sixteen years of continuous Tory government since 1979, as has been demonstrated in the most graphic way, over the past decade, by the right- wing shift in the Labour Party and trade unions. Of course, the low level of militancy and politicisation of the past decade in the working class has only contributed in strengthening the bureaucrats' independence.
These changes are the main reasons why after the war the Labour Left never regained the potential weight it had enjoyed until the 30s. On the one hand it was risky for politicians to stake their careers on expressing the militant and social aspirations of the working class as long as these aspirations did not represent a significant force in the class stuggle. On the other hand there was little incentive for the Labour hierarchy to allow such aspirations to have a voice in the Labour Party since their own social weight did not depend on the active support of the working class nor did their chances to return to office.
The shift to the right of these last years in the Labour Party, which has become more blatant under Tony Blair but was started long before under Kinnock, is only another illustration of the same phenomenon. It reflects the voluntary adaptation of the Labour Party machinery to a situation in which a decade of very low levels of militancy has made the bourgeoisie less willing to tolerate the slightest reference to the aspirations of the working class. And the Labour bureaucrats are willing to oblige, even if it means upsetting some minor union leaders, like Scargill, but also others on the right-wing of the union establishment, whose weight in the Party is bound to be weakened by this shift.
As to the Labour Left, we will not, go through its rather dull history since 1951. Let us just say that it was only a pale shadow of what it had been in the past. Its activity was primarily focused on issues which could not really affect the policies of the Labour leadership, let alone the balance of forces between classes in society, like nuclear disarmament, women's rights, etc.. Even in the early 80s when it regained some strength for a short period of time, after the "Winter of Discontent" and the 1979 general election, the Labour Left remained cut off from the working class, concentrating on tokenistic gestures rather than the real issue of the day - which was, and is still now, the need for the working class to resist the profit drive of the bourgeoisie and to stage an effective counter-offensive.
The leading figures of the Left - the Foot's of the 50s and 60s or the Skinner's and Benn's of the 80s - have been mere shadows compared to such predecessors as Maxton. They were capable of making speeches but not of attracting the interest and support in the working class that the ILP did in the 1930s. And not being prepared to look for ways of building such support, not being even concerned by their failure to have it, the Labour Left was confined to doing little more than posturing, providing a left image for the Labour Party when it was useful to the hierarchy and its unconditional backing when it was demanded.
The crisis and the working class
This is why, by contrast, the militant language used by Scargill and the SLP may sound new to the milieu of disgruntled Labour activists and supporters to whom it is addressed and could create some illusions.
But in fact the whole rhetoric used by Scargill leaves no doubt as to his political choices. His harking back to the mythical "good old days" of a Labour Party which really represented the aspirations of the working class; his idealisation of the positive role of the union block-vote and of Clause 4; his frequent references to the need for social change without ever spelling out how this changes are to be achieved; all this is nothing but a refurbished version of the old myths which the Labour Left has always used to justify its abdication in front of the Labour leadership's policies.
The experience of the ILP's split in 1932, has shown the consequences of using a radical language while abiding by the rules of parliamentary politics in a period of crisis. It has also shown that being outside the Labour Party did not prevent the ILP from sticking to the Labour Left tradition. And yet the ILP of 1932 had a lot more assets in its hands than today's SLP - both in terms of the quality and experience of its leading activists, and, of course, in terms of its influence among the working class.
Once again we cannot say today what the SLP will be tomorrow, what forces it will have gained from the ranks of the Labour Party and the unions, and what fresh forces it will be able to attract from the ranks of the working class. Scargill seems to be saying now that he does not expect major reinforcements for the SLP before Labour gets in government. He seems to be thinking as well that he will then be able to attract a significant layer of union activists. We do not know whether his calculation will prove to be correct.
But the more forces the SLP manages to attract, the more hopes it creates, the more damaging its policies could turn out to be for the working class, if they remain what they are at the moment.
To confront the crisis that has been building up for over twenty years and the offensive of the capitalist class which has already affected the lives of a large section of the working class of this country, the working class needs effective weapons to arm itself and weld its ranks. It needs to understand without any ambiguity that its chances to win future battles will depend entirely on its capacity to confront not just the bosses and their politicians in government, including those of the Labour Party, but also to confront the bureaucratic machineries of the unions. Being suspicious about the union leaders is one thing, and most workers are, but being prepared morally and politically to organise against them if need be is quite another. Not only does it need convincing, it also requires going through a series of experiences, maybe on a small scale but not necessarily, in which real attempts are made in that direction and lessons are learnt, possibly at the cost of a number of partial defeats. This is precisely one of the primary tasks that a party aiming at representing the political interests of the working class would have to set itself.
But so far, and not unexpectedly, Scargill has carefully dodged this issue. He launches a party which has nothing to say about the policy of the union leadership, that of yesterday, of today, let alone of tomorrow. And the odds are that the SLP will keep silent on this, if only because Scargill himself, together with a number of his associates among the initiators of the SLP, are seasoned union bureaucrats whose outlook is not fundamentally different from that of the rest of the union bureaucracy.
On a broader level, the illusion that the working class could begin to regain some of the ground lost in the crisis, without engaging in a major confrontation involving not just one but many sections of workers joining ranks in a political battle in the streets and the factories, could be deadly. The capitalist class could, under serious pressure, give in on wage demands, even on a large scale, because its profits have been very high for a number of years now. But to go further than that, and this is what beginning to regain some of the ground lost would mean, would require demanding a lot more.
How could the working class begin, for instance, to impose a significant reduction in the mass unemployment which has been the rule for twenty years now in this country? There are not all that many possibilities: one is to impose the effective banning of further job cuts, at least in those companies which are making a profit; another is to impose the creation of new jobs paid by the bosses and the sharing of the workload between all workers without loss of pay for anyone; yet another is to impose that the dozens of billions of state funds which are used every year to subsidise private profits through all sorts of channels, should be used by the state to create jobs where they are needed, in the public services, to build good affordable housing and transport, etc.. Whichever way is chosen, it means a drastic reduction in the present and future profits of the capitalists. It even means more than that. Who is to decide for instance which company should be allowed to cut jobs, which should be ordered to create jobs and how many? Functionaries, accountants, union leaders, the bosses themselves? Who among them can be trusted? To be effective this would actually require the direct control of the companies' finances by the workers themselves. All this only to implement the minimum emergency measures needed to stop the growth of unemployment! It is a tall order, but not an impossible one.
Even if one was to assume naively that a government could have the political will to implement such measures, how would they be able to impose them on the capitalist class? They would not. This is why, armed with the wishful thinking of the SLP's programme, and its reliance on the reforms that a mysterious "socialist" government would implement using its magic wand to impose its law on the capitalist class, the working class can only go down the road of defeat.
No, the bourgeoisie would not give in on such vital issues, unless it was faced with a mobilisation of the working class so massive and a balance of class forces in society so unfavourable, that it felt it had no choice but to comply.
This would not necessarily mean a revolution, at that point, but it would certainly mean a social uprising by a working class which is both determined and armed with a clear consciousness of its aims, that of imposing its control over the capitalist system - and that means armed with the revolutionary programme of a party which has decided once and for all that the only way forward for the working class is indeed that of the revolution.