Labour Party – 100 years
of faithful service to imperialism
here are people in the left movement, including some calling themselves communists, who make the assertion that the Labour Party is a party of the British working class, which can be an instrument of socialism in Britain. They are wrong. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that Labour right from its inception (not just today) has been a most resolute defender of British imperialism, a purveyor of racism and anti-communism among the working class. Instead of representing a step forward, the existence of the Labour Party has all along been a formidable obstacle to the development of a truly revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.
Two parts of this article have appeared in previous issues of
. In this issue we conclude the article.
First Labour government
Once in office, Labour got on with the job of defending British imperialism with unprecedented zeal. Although before the Election it had opposed the reparations regime imposed by the victors upon the vanquished through the Versailles Treaty, within two days of coming to office, Labour, having made a 180 degree turn, had accepted it. The Labour Cabinet, stuffed full with men who were labour aristocrats, racists and imperialists to their finger tips, very early on made known its brutal determination to defend the Empire against revolutionary challenge from the subject peoples – by force if necessary. This is what the Labour Prime Minister, MacDonald, had to say in this regard:
I can see no hope in India if it becomes the arena of a struggle between constitutionalism and revolution. No party in Great Britain will be cowed by threats of force or by policies designed to bring Government to a standstill; and if any section in India are under the delusion that is not so, events will sadly disappoint them
” (quoted in M.N.Roy,
, April 1924, p.207; also quoted by R.Palme Dutt, ‘Empire and War’, in
Within weeks of the formation of the Labour Government, on February 28, 1924, the Rt.Hon. J.H.Thomas, as this traitor to the cause of the working class had deservedly become, expressed himself, in a pious tone, on the question of the “
sacred trust of Empire
“; the hope that “
it would be realised when the time came for them to give up the seals of office, that they had not only been mindful of their responsibility, but had done nothing to weaken the position and prestige of this great Empire
” (quoted in
, March 7, 1924).
Sidney Olivier, a Fabian, and now in charge of the India Office, made his opposition to Indian self-rule in these flagrantly racist, smugly arrogant and imperialist terms:
”The programme of constitutional democracy … was not native to India. … It was impossible for the Indian people or Indian politicians to leap at once into the saddle and administer an ideal constitution. … The right of British statesmen, public servants, merchants and industrialists to be in India today was
the fact that they had made the India of today, and
that no Home Rule or national movement could have been possible in India had it not been for their work
” (quoted in M.N.Roy,
That this same worthy Fabian, who from 1907 to 1913 was the Governor of Jamaica, had scant regard for the dignity of the colonised peoples anywhere, is made patently clear by this remark of his: “
I have said that the West Indian negro is not fit for complete democratic citizenship in a Constitution of modern Parliamentary form, and I should certainly hold the same opinion with respect to any African native community
” (quoted in F. Lee,
Fabianism and Colonialism -the life and thought of Lord Sidney Olivier
, Defiant, 1998, p.117).
Nor was Olivier alone in these sentiments. The leading lights of the Fabian Society, the chief theoreticians of the Fabian Society, as well as of the ILP and Labour Party, the people who drafted Clause IV, the Webbs, were shockingly racist. In 1913 the Webbs expressed their racist views in the
in the following blatant terms:
Into the scarcity thus created in particular districts, in particular sections of the labour market, or in particular social strata, there rush the offspring of the less thrifty, the less intellectual, the less foreseeing of races and classes – the unskilled casual labourers of our great cities, the races of Eastern or Southern Europe, the negroes, the Chinese – possibly
resulting, as already in parts of the USA, in such a heterogeneous and mongrel population that democratic self-government, or even the effective application of the policy of a national minimum of civilised life, will become increasingly unattainable. If anything like this happens, it is difficult to avoid the melancholy conclusion that, in some cataclysm that it is impossible for us to foresee, that civilisation characteristic of the Western European races may go the way of half a dozen other civilisations that have within historic times preceded it; to be succeeded by a new social order developed by one or other of the coloured races, the negro, the kaffir or the Chinese”
(quoted in F Lee
Almost the first act of the Labour Government was to stage a political trial -the notorious Cawnpore trial -in an endeavour to suppress the emerging, if still weak, Communist Party of India, which represented a mortal danger to British colonial rule and its imperialist interests in India. Eight leading Indian communists, including Dange, Muzaffer Ahmed, Shaukat Usmani and Das Gupta were arrested and charged with attempting “
to use the workers’ and peasants’ associations to secure the complete separation of India from Great Britain, with such an economic programme as could easily appeal to ignorant people
“, and with conspiring “
to organise a working-class party in India, and so deprive the King of his Sovereignty
“. After the trial in an obscure District Court, four of them were sentenced to four years’ imprisonment each, on the basis of the evidence of police agents. The only crime of the accused was that they were communists!
As regards the Middle East, the first Labour Government went on further to stabilise the gains secured by British imperialism at the Versailles Conference, refusing at the same time to entertain the legitimate claims of Egypt over the Suez Canal. Within six months of the formation of the Labour government, Iraqi tribal villages were being subjected to aerial bombardment on the instructions of Labour’s Secretary of State for Air, Lord Manson.
With regard to China, the Labour government supported the Canton Merchant Corps’ rebellion (August – October 1924) against Dr Sun Yat-sen’s nationalist Canton government, which was striking revolutionary blows against warlordism, feudalism, comprador capitalism and foreign imperialism alike. Ostensibly organised under the leadership of Chen Lien-po, a comprador capitalist of the British-owned Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the real power of the `Merchant Corps’ was none other than British imperialism, or more correctly the Labour imperialism of the first Labour government.
From beginning to end, the imperialist record of the first Labour government was flawlessly consistent. In its final week in office before the General Election of 9 October, 1924, which ousted it from office, the Labour government authorised the Indian colonial administration to promulgate the notorious Bengal Special Ordinances, which gave the authorities arbitrary powers of indefinite internment or imprisonment by executive order, without specific accusation, trial or judicial sentence. All the major nationalist leaders of Bengal were arrested under these Ordinances. Perhaps the following quotation from J R Clynes could just be used as an epitaph on the tomb, not only of the first, but also of each subsequent, Labour government. Answering the accusation that British Labour had a disrupting effect on the Empire, he maintained that, on the contrary:
“In the same period of years, no Conservative or Liberal government has done more than we did to knit together the great Commonwealth of Nations which Britain calls her Empire … Far from wanting to lose our colonies, we are trying to keep them” (J R Clynes,
Vol II, 1924-1937, Hutchinson, 1937, pp.54-55).
On the industrial front in Britain itself, all the major disputes in that short period involving railwaymen, shipyard workers, dockers, etc., represent a host of defeats or unsatisfactory settlements for the workers produced by the united front of the employers, the capitalist media, and the reactionary Labour leadership, fully supported by the Labour government, which combined the use of moral blackmail (i.e., the damaging effect of any strike on the Labour government) with the threat of the use of troops, sailors, police and the Emergency Powers Act (EPA) to inflict these defeats on the working class.
In view of the conduct of the first Labour government, it is hardly to be surprised at that the CPGB should have condemned the Labour government as
“the servant of the bourgeoisie”
and characterised Labour Cabinet ministers as
“the missionaries of a new imperialism”,
“brag of the glory of the Empire”.
It must be admitted that for a short 9-month period, representing the entire life of the first Labour government, the above achievements in the service of British imperialism were no mean feat. In government, as out of government, Labour proved its fitness to govern on behalf of British imperialism and thus exposed itself fully as an imperialist party.
The General Strike 1926
After the fall of the first Labour government, the most important issue to confront the British working class was the General Strike of 1926. The TUC leadership, against its own will, and most reluctantly, had been forced to call the General Strike. Just as the strike began to gain strength, the TUC leadership, mortally afraid of its success, and in total betrayal of the working class, called it off. In the aftermath of this capitulation, humiliatingly savage settlements were forced by the employers and the government on the railwaymen, transport workers, and others.
The General Strike proved conclusively that in any major confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between labour and capital, the TUC and Labour leadership would unfailingly betray the proletariat. The TUC and Labour leaders drew from the events of the General Strike one conclusion, from which they have never departed, namely, ‘Never again’ would they be party to such an enterprise, which they had not wanted in the first place, and which they had called off at the earliest opportune moment. From then on they were to pursue the course of co-operation of the workers with the capitalists in the rationalisation of industry and increased productivity, with the hope of being granted higher wages and trade-union recognition. With this servitor’s logic, the TUC leaders entered into discussions with a powerful group of employers headed by Sir Alfred Mond, the founder of ICI, on such questions as rationalisation, industrial strife, redundancy, speed-ups and wage cuts – all this at a time when the entire capitalist world was headed for the worst economic crisis. In the aftermath of the General Strike, the Labour Party also confirmed its lack of faith in any kind of direct action. From then on, persuading the middle-class voter rather than leading the working class was to be the higher priority on its agenda. It is not difficult to see that the present-day TUC and Labour leadership are worthy successors to their nefarious ancestors of the earlier part of the 20
Anti-communist witch hunt
Since the young and small, but disproportionately influential Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), through its leadership of the Minority Movement, stood in the way of the TUC-Labour Party leadership’s pursuit of their policy of class collaboration, the latter conducted a witch-hunt of medieval proportions against the CPGB, expelling members from the Labour Party who would not break off all contact with the CPGB, disaffiliating entire local Labour Parties who refused to expel those of their members who were also members of the CPGB, and preventing the election of communists to trade-union offices.
No wonder then that in the light of the above development the CPGB, in its pamphlet
Class Against Class
– the programme with which it entered the 1929 General Election – correctly characterised the Labour Party as
“the third capitalist party”,
along with the Tories and the Liberals.
Labour government of 1929-1931
In regard to India, the jewel in the British imperial crown, if the first Labour government (1924) had supervised the Cawnpore trial against leading communists, the second Labour government saw to it that the rising Indian working-class movement was decapitated through the trial, on trumped up charges, of prominent working-class leaders and the long sentences doled out at Meerut. The suppression of the Indian liberation struggle of 1928-1931 was the most shameful example up to then of Labour’s naked imperialism, for it eliminated the possibility of the Indian working class’s leading role in this struggle, which from then on became the preserve of the Indian bourgeoisie, whose representative spokesman was the Congress grouping led by Gandhi. It was during this period, too, that one of the greatest Indian patriots, fighter for liberation and socialism, Bhagat Singh, along with his fellow revolutionaries Rajguru and Sukhdev, was judicially murdered by British imperialism.
In the Middle East – in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine – Labour continued its bipartisan policy of total support for imperialist subjugation of the people of the region. As regards Palestine, Labour proved to be more pro-Zionist than any previous British government. In August, 1929, the MacDonald government suppressed with unprecedented brutality a general strike of Palestinian workers and a peasant revolt in the countryside against ceaseless Zionist expropriation of Arab land and increased Jewish immigration.
Consequent upon MacDonald’s defection, the second Labour government fell in August 1931. Labour remained in opposition until 1940, when its leadership accepted Churchill’s invitation to join his wartime coalition cabinet, whose chief preoccupation was the preservation of the Empire, rather than the defeat of fascism. Churchill’s persistent refusal to open a second front to defeat Germany, while the USSR single-handedly fought the entire might of the German army for three whole years, had the full support of Clement Attlee and the rest of the Labour leadership.
Labour governments of 1945-1951
The Attlee governments of 1945-1951, which have been portrayed by the Troto-revisionist and ‘left’ Labour renegades to socialism as the most shining example of socialism, rested firmly on the twin pillars of alliance with US imperialism for a crusade against communism, and the reconstruction of the war-torn British economy at the expense of the colonial peoples inhabiting the British empire.
“I am not prepared to sacrifice the British Empire,” declared Ernest Bevin, Labour’s foreign secretary, with commendable candour,
“because I know that if the British Empire fell … it would mean the standard of life of our constituents would fall considerably.”
Had it not been for the intensified exploitation of the colonies, the post-war construction of the British economy would have been a far more hazardous affair, risking social unrest, if not revolutionary upheavals, for it would have to have taken place by relying solely on the exploitation of the British working class. The ‘socialist’ Attlee government succeeded in reconstructing Britain’s shattered economy, delivered on the front of nationalisation, the NHS and full employment – but at the cost of millions upon millions of colonial slaves, tens of thousands of whom died in revolts put down with rare barbarity by our ‘socialist’ government. And if, after all this, the Trotskyite-revisionist and Labour ‘left’ applauds the achievements of the Attlee government, this can only be explained by the fact that this ‘left’ too represents the privileged sections of the working class, whose culture is thoroughly corrupt; that this ‘left’ is prepared to defend its privileges even if such defence involves sacrificing the lives of millions of super-exploited workers and peasants abroad.
Here, briefly, are the ‘achievements’ of Attlee’s ‘socialist’ administration:
It played a significant role in the suppression of the Greek liberation struggle in the aftermath of the war.
It helped restore French imperialist control of Indochina. British troops led by Major General Gracey armed the defeated Japanese fascist and French quisling troops, paving the way for the return of French rule.
By similar methods, and at the cost of 40,000 Indonesian casualties, British troops, under General Christison, helped restore Dutch imperialism’s rule in the East Indies.
To protect Britain’s high-yielding investments in rubber plantations and tin mining, both noted for their dollar earnings, Labour, using the most medieval methods of torture, murder, head-hunting and collective punishment, launched a barbaric colonial war against the liberation struggle of the Malayan people. It was to take 12 years before British imperialism succeeded in imposing its will.
In 1949, Labour played a significant role in helping US imperialism establish the warmongering NATO and, shortly thereafter, it went on to give its full support to US imperialism’s genocidal war of aggression against the Korean people, which cost 3 million Korean lives – a war in which the Korean people, with Chinese and Soviet support, fought US imperialism and its partners in aggression to a bloody standstill. To this day the tragic partition of the Korean peninsula is a legacy of this dirty war, in which the Attlee ‘socialist’ government played such a shameful role.
In the Middle East, while refusing to withdraw from the Suez Canal, Labour endeavoured to instal a whole host of puppet regimes to safeguard British imperial
m’s oil riches and almost went to war with Iran over the nationalisation by the latter of the Anglo-Iranian oil company.
In Africa, not a single country obtained independence from Labour.
The Wilson-Callaghan governments
In the defence of British imperialist interests, the Wilson-Callaghan Labour governments were second to none. Here is a list of their shameful deeds:
he Wilson government maintained full trade links with the
It turned a blind eye to the unilateral declaration of independence by the racist white minority Smith regime in Rhodesia.
It fully backed US imperialism’s war of aggression against the Vietnamese and other Indochinese people.
In 1969, it sent troops to Ireland to suppress the nationalists and put on the statute book the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and presided over the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6 trials, which have turned out to be the most scandalous judicial frame-ups of recent times.
In the area of race relations, Labour proved its racist credentials by taking away the right of East African British passport holders, almost all Asian, to enter Britain. In 1969 new legislation aimed at Asian women barred women from bringing into Britain their fiancés and husbands. During 1974-1979, the Labour governments presided over mass deportation of black workers and carried out virginity tests on Asian women coming into Heathrow. Already gasping its last breath, the Callaghan government sent 5,000 police to protect, in the name of ‘free speech’, a National Front meeting in Southall. The resulting police carnage left one dead (Blair Peach), 1000 injured, 800 arrested and 342 tried on trumped-up charges.
The thrust of Labour’s policy was to drive working-class living standards down through a host of devices such as productivity deals, statutory wage restraints, incomes policies and the notorious social contract. As a result, disposable incomes fell, accompanied by a dramatic fall in state expenditure as a ratio of GDP, from 49.35% in 1975 to 43.25% in 1978 – with its harmful effects on the poorest sections of society.
Labour’s attacks on wide sections of the working class produced the Winter of Discontent when, in the winter of 1978, poorly-paid Council workers struck. In the General Election of 1979, a combination of abstentions on the part of a sizeable section of the poorer workers and the defection from Labour to the Tories of a significant section of the skilled workers (‘C2 voters in the pollsters’ terminology) brought the Tories to office under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership.
Labour in opposition
Between 1979 and May 1997, Labour was in opposition. After each electoral defeat it responded by moving further to the right in an effort to win the votes of the privileged layers of the working class and sections of the petty bourgeoisie – portions of the population who play a crucial role in determining the outcome of elections. As to the poorer sections of the population, the deprived, whether at home or abroad, they formed no part of Labour’s calculations. Here are a few examples of Labour’s rabidly anti-working class and undeviatingly imperialist stance in opposition.
During the 1981 Hunger Strike, in which ten Irish prisoners, including Bobby Sands, became martyrs in their fight for recognition as political prisoners, Labour supported the government. This is not surprising since it was Labour which had deprived the Irish liberation fighters of that status in the first place. It beat the jingoistic war drum even more loudly than the Thatcherites during the Malvinas (Falklands ) conflict and enthusiastically supported British imperialist participation in the Gulf war against Iraq. It confirmed its commitment to the war-mongering aggressive NATO alliance and to Britain’s nuclear weapons.
At home, Labour made sure of its total condemnation of all and any resistance by the working class and the oppressed; it denounced in no uncertain terms the 1981 and 1985 revolts of the youth in inner city areas of Britain; it opposed all mobilisation against the hated poll tax.
However, during this period, the NUM coal strike of 1984-85 was the single most significant battle, which brought to the fore not only the split within the working class (privileged upper layer, the labour aristocracy, versus the mass of the working people), but also made strikingly clear that Labour was on the side of the privileged layer, committed to the defence of the latter’s interests, which in turn required the defence of the interests of British imperialism, it being economically impossible to defend one without defending the other. So, the Labour and trade-union leadership joined forces with the Coal Board, the Thatcher administration, the Nottinghamshire miners (who enjoyed conditions of relatively better job security and terms of service), the media, the police and even the intelligence services, to defeat this historic struggle. On top of the Nottinghamshire miners, who became willing hirelings of the Coal Board in the latter’s attempts at defeating the strike, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC), abetted by Bill Sirs, co-operated with non-union labour to unload coal at Hunterston, thus keeping the Ravenscraig plant in commission for weeks. EEPTU, the power workers union, led by the notorious Hammond, too, decided against supporting the miners. Len Murray, the TUC General Secretary, did everything possible to sabotage any working-class action in support of the miners.
As for the scab-in-chief, to wit, Labour leader Neil Kinnock, with characteristic hypocrisy and double standards, he condemned the miners for defending themselves against police violence. From the rostrum of the September 1984 TUC Congress he nauseatingly proclaimed:
Violence, I do not have to tell this Congress … disgusts union opinion and divides union attitudes … and is alien to the temperament and intelligence of the British trade-union movement”.
This self-proclaimed apostle of peace and non-violence had little difficulty in accepting daily police violence against the mining communities and pickets, let alone his enthusiastic support for the imperialist Gulf War against Iraq and the barbarity of the Zionist state of Israel against Palestinian and Lebanese people.
The powerful range of forces arrayed against the NUM – from thousands of police to covert operations run by MI5, the Special Branch and the government’s spy centre, GCHQ, from mass electronic surveillance to pressing into service millionaires and business funding – are graphically detailed in Seumas Milne’s book,
The Enemy Within.
Even after the strike was over, the government and the bourgeoisie tried their best to destroy Arthur Scargill, using the
newspaper to spread a false story to the effect that Scargill and the NUM Secretary, Peter Heathfield, had used Libyan money to redeem mortgages on their homes. While this smear story was shown to be false, it is just as well to remember that Maxwell, the owner of the
, embezzled £400 million of his employees’ pension funds and committed suicide.
The most shameful section in Milne’s book, however, is that which treats of the Labour Party’s dirty tricks in defeating the NUM. The Labour and TUC leadership hated Scargill and the NUM no less than did the Thatcherites. Not only had the Labour leadership known of the
smear story in advance, but the active involvement of Kevin Baron, Labour’s coal spokesman, and Kim Howells, former NUM employee and now MP, shows also that the smear campaign had its full endorsement. Representing as they did the spirit of resistance against the daily encroachments of capital, the miners and their leader presented a challenge to the Labour Party – this proven representative of the interests of the labour aristocracy and British imperialism alike – no less than to the Tory Party. By their heroic resistance, the miners were setting an eloquent example to other sections of the working class, an example which could not but rouse the fury of the parties of imperialism, Labour included.
As Milne so correctly remarks:
“The Scargill Affair depended on a coincidence of purpose between an exotic array of interests, foremost among which were the Thatcher administration and the Labour leadership.”
By way of sending a final signal to the bourgeoisie in order to win acceptability from it, at a special conference held on 29 April 1995 at Westminster Hall, Labour ditched the infamous Clause IV from its Constitution, thus giving a
effect to that which had been there
for the 76 years preceding the removal of this Clause.
Notwithstanding the noisy threats issued by the Troto-revisionist ‘left’ as to what it would do if Clause IV were removed from Labour’s Constitution, this despicable gentry has continued to act as a figleaf of Social Democracy and to support it.
Present Labour government
Having thus done its shameful best to convince the bourgeoisie of its (Labour’s) impeccable imperialist credentials, and with the Tories in total disarray, Labour was graciously allowed by the bourgeoisie to assume governmental responsibility to carry out the behests of British imperialism at home and abroad. And, it must be admitted that it has not disappointed its imperialist masters, for Labour has attacked the poor and the disadvantaged at home with as much venom as the oppressed abroad. At home it has attacked the lone parents, the unemployed, the disabled, the refugees and asylum seekers. It has refused the repeal the vicious anti-trade union legislation passed during the 18 long years of Tory government. It has fixed the minimum wage at a paltry £3.60 an hour. In the field of education and health, it is presiding over a system of two-tier services, which serves the privileged sections well, but the poor sections ill. Abroad, Labour continues to participate in the continuation of inhuman sanctions against Iraq, which claim every year the lives of more than 60,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. Only a year ago it participated in the genocidal war of aggression launched by the 19-strong NATO neo-Nazi alliance against tiny Yugoslavia. It continues the policy of working to a Unionist agenda in Northern Ireland, refusing to fulfil the commitments it undertook in the Good Friday agreement. And, of course, it continues to do its best to deliver Britain into European monetary union. The Labour Party made no promises to the poor before the election and has done nothing for the poor since it was elected to office. On the other hand, all the promises it made to monopoly capital, and these were many, are being scrupulously kept.
In the light of the foregoing, it ought to be clear, except to the politically blind who shut their eyes so as not to see and stuff their ears so as not to hear, that the Labour Party is an incurable enemy of the working class. The British proletariat has every right, nay, every duty, to treat the Labour Party as the enemy within. Unless it learns to do so, it will be able to see victory no more than a person can see his own ears.