The Labour Party

Barbara Humphries continues her series on the history of the Labour Party with a look at the experience of the first two Labour governments. This article was originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 49 March 1997.

Barbara Humphries continues her series on the history of the Labour Party. 1945 marked a watershed for Labour and for British society. The Labour Party won an historic victory, with a 146-seat majority over all other parties. It was won on the most radical election manifesto, before or since. This article was originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 50 April 1997.

In this last article in her series on the History of the Labour Party, Barbara Humphries looks at how the turn to the left in the 1970s was cut across and how the present Blairite clique came to dominate the party, and draws the lessons for today's activists. The present turn to the right is nothing new in the party's history. As in the past it will be followed by a turn to the left.

Those workers opposed to private parasites being brought in to run and exploit the public services are described by Tony Blair as "wreckers". Those who take action to defend themselves and their families are similarly "wreckers".

On 7th June, the people of Britain will go to the polls to elect the next government. According to all the polls Labour is set to gain a hefty majority over the Conservatives. The polls show that Labour is now leading the Tories by a massive 28 points. The personal rating of Tory leader William Hague is just 13 per cent.

The Labour Party and the trade unions remained defiant in the face of the 1931 general election defeat. The 1932 Annual Conference of the Party was told that "when the dust of battle had settled, an army of nearly 7 million men and women had rallied with unflinching loyalty and resolute determination to withstand the supreme attack of the combined forces of reaction…Labour refused to yield and at the end remained on the battleground a united formidable compact force that was the admiration

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In this article in our series on the history of the British Labour party, Barbara Humphries looks at the early years of Labour in parliament and how the development of the class struggle forced the leaders of the party to make the final break with Liberalism. (Originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 48, February 1997).

Following on from our first introductory article on the founding years of the British Labour Party, Barbara Humphries continues her series of articles that look at the issues and characters involved in the British Labour Party’s history and development. This was originally published in November 1996 in the British Socialist Appeal.

This is the speech made by Ted Grant at Labour Party annual conference in 1983, appealing against his expulsion by the National Executive Committee in February of the same year. The NEC had begun an 'enquiry' into the newspaper Militant, on the urging of the capitalist press and Tory ministers, who goaded Michael Foot, the Labour leader, with having 'extremists' in his party.

Originally published in 1974 in a period when there was a discussion on the question of workers’ control and what it meant. The right-wing leaders in the British labour movement (and internationally) interpreted it as “workers’ participation”, which meant the workers would be consulted on minor questions, but real control remained in the hands of the bosses. Today, thirty years later, this article maintains all its validity, in explaining the real Marxist approach to this question.

In this short article Ted Grant looked at the events unfolding in the Dutch Labour Party during the first months of 1970 and drew some conclusions for the British Marxists.

A few weeks into the first Wilson government Ted Grant pointed out that, "Labour must either introduce drastic measures against the insurance giants, the big banks and the monopoly concerns that dominate the British economy, or the Labour leaders will become tools in their hands." He warned that if they chose the latter, this would lead to defeat of Labour, which eventually came in 1970.

The right-wing clique around Labour Party leader Gaitskell launched an ideological offensive at the beginning of 1960, after the LP had been defeated in the 1959 election. They argued that Labour had to abandon references to Socialism and links to the Trade Unions, and undergo a process of so-called modernisation, needed to face a new epoch of "good and plenty". Ted Grant answered their arguments and appealed to the labour ranks to defeat this manoeuvre of the right wing.

On the eve of the 1959 general elections, Ted Grant explained the reasons why workers needed to get rid of the Tories. Only the bosses had gained anything after eight years of Tory rule.

In 1959, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&GWU) and the General and Municipal Workers’ Union (G&MWU) gave voice to the growing mass opposition within the labour movement to atomic and nuclear arms. Labour Party leader Gaitskell declared that the pro-Nuclear party policy would not be changed. Ted Grant expressed the Marxists’ critical support for the trade unions’ stand and exposed the right-wing policy of the Labour leaders.

Rising unemployment provoked a parliamentary debate in March 1959. Ted Grant explained the reasons for the growing unemployment and the need to reject bourgeois policies. Unfortunately, Labour leaders were tail-ending the policies of the Tory government, which also explained why the Labour Party was finding it difficult to defeat the Tories, something which was confirmed later that year in the general election.

In the run-up to the 1959 General Election Ted Grant criticised the programme of the Labour Party highlighting that promises of reforms were just words, especially in the context of the economic slump, if the bosses' pockets had not to be touched. Unless the big 600 were taken over and production rationally organised according to a democratic plan, with the full participation of the workers and technicians themselves - Grant argued - the programme of reforms was unrealistic.

A few months before the 1959 General Election, after 7 years of Tory rule, their policies in favour of the rich had alienated the mass of the workers. Cracks appeared in Tory rule but the Labour Party under Gaitskell had no real alternative to offer to British workers. Unless a sharp change to the left in policies and leadership was forced by the Labour ranks, Labour would head for disaster, argued Ted Grant.

In 1958, after 7 years in power, Tory rule was shaken by recession. The class character of Tory policies was clear for all to see. At the same time the right-wing orientation of Labour under Gaitskell was frustrating the ranks of the labour movement. Growing criticism was revealed by a Gallup Poll. Ted Grant explained that workers were prepared to fight the Tories but the Labour leaders were not willing to give a lead. The most class-conscious elements should therefore organise in

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In 1958 the economic recession in Britain undermined the stability of the then Tory government. The combination of rising unemployment and inflation and the Tory government's policies provoked a massive swing against them. Ted Grant urged that all forces of the trade union and labour movement be mobilised to force the Tories out.

In 1958 there were fears of a slump spreading from the US economy. British CP leader Campbell started a campaign in consonance with Russian foreign policy to put the blame for the slump on the "Americans" and protested against the bankers' behaviour and the shortsighted British government's attempt to "create a slump" in the UK. Ted Grant argued against this nonsense that it is not the "obsessions" of the bankers nor the "stupidity" of the capitalists and their representatives which cause

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The NEC of the Labour Party in 1954 argued in favour of German rearmament against the Soviet "threat". The Labour left argued that a re-armed West Germany, backed by the United States, would be facing a hostile and armed East Germany, backed by Russia, making World War III "inevitable." Ted Grant replied to both, putting forward an internationalist position.

Ted Grant's criticism of the pamphlet "Problems of Foreign Policy" published by Transport House in 1952 exposes the chauvinistic approach in foreign policy of the Labour leaders and their abandonment of a working class perspective.

In early 1952 fifty-seven Labour MPs voted against the Tory motion of endorsement for the rearmament programme, reflecting the deep dissatisfaction of the rank and file members of the Trade Unions and the Labour Party with the policy of the official Labour Movement. Ted Grant analysed the limits and the potential of this opposition developing around Bevan.

In 1949 the new Occupation Statute gave control of the Ruhr region, the powerhouse of Europe, to the British, French and US imperialists. The excuse was to prevent the possibility of German rearmament. Ted Grant exposed the imperialists' interests behind this measure and denounced the chauvinistic policies of both the Stalinist and Labour leaders.

In 1948 Ted Grant, commenting on the debate at the Tory Conference, argued that the Conservatives were trying to disguise with a thin layer of “social” veneer the class character of their policies in favour of the ruling class and warned against the possibility of a Tory comeback if the Labour leaders failed to deliver decisive social change.

In March 1947, Ted Grant welcomed the revolutionary opposition to the reformist policies of the leadership emerging from within the ranks of the Communist Party, especially among workers, at that year's Party conference. Differences were raised on the question of workers' control on the railways and the CP leaders' lavish support for Labour government's policies.

On the eve of 1946 post-war Britain was on her knees. The British ruling class reached a deal with the former U.S. allies for a huge loan, but the repayment conditions were very severe. The Labour leaders in office were willingly carrying out the dirty job of asking British workers to postpone any demands to improve their conditions. Ted Grant looked at the consequences of these policies for the workers.

At the end of the Second World War the Labour Party was elected into office, a clear rejection of Churchill and his anti-working class policies. But the statements of the Labour leaders revealed that they intended to continue with capitalism. The British ruling class understood they could use these leaders, discredit them and then bring back the Tories. Ted Grant warned the Labour leaders that this is what would happen.

The election of a majority Labour Government for the first time marked a definite turn in European, world and British history. In voting for the Labour Party, the mass of the British workers indicated that they wanted a complete change from the capitalist system. With such a decisive victory, the whole social structure of Britain and Europe could have been changed by a bold socialist programme on the part of the Labour leaders.

In early 1945 the radical mood within the British working class was preparing a landslide victory for the Labour Party. In this context the I.L.P. leadership raised the idea of re-affiliation to the L.P., but gave no explanation for its 13 years of independent existence. Here Ted Grant provided a sober-minded Marxist approach to the question of the Labour Party and the mass organizations of the working class in general.

In 1945 Churchill justified the brutal repression of the Greek workers at the hands of British troops. The then leaders of the Labour Party and the Communist Party in Britain hid the real meaning of the Greek events from the British workers. Ted Grant exposed this terrible betrayal in this article that appeared in the Mid-February 1945 edition of the Socialist Appeal.

In 1944 the Labour Party held its annual conference while British troops were being used to crush the Greek workers. The Labour leaders scandalously supported British imperialist policy in Greece, but even worse was the fact that the Labour left had capitulated on this issue. Ted Grant put forward a revolutionary Marxist position on the question.

Ted Grant in 1944 defends an internationalist approach towards the German workers as opposed to the utter nationalist degeneration of the Trade Union, Labour and C.P. leaders who enthusiastically joined the bandwagon of those blaming the German workers for the crimes of the Nazi regime, when in fact they were its first victims.

Towards the end of the Second World War the coalition government in Britain was pushing through the Town and Country Planning Bill in such a way that it guaranteed the property rights of the big landowners. In this article (July 1944) Ted Grant called on Labour to break the coalition and nationalise the land without compensation to the big landowners!

Contrary to the official mythology about Churchill, by 1944 he was already losing support among the people of Britain. This article by Ted Grant, written at the time and based on local election results, shows that the workers were becoming radicalised. This was to be confirmed in a dramatic way just after the war when Labour won a landslide victory.

The Labour leaders were in the wartime coalition, but not as “equal partners”. What the bosses wanted came first and the Labour leaders bowed down to this pressure. But pressure was also building up from below to meet the needs of the workers. Ted Grant looked at how all this was reflected in the Labour Party conference.

More than halfway into the Second World War the mood among the British workers was changing. The bourgeois could feel the changing mood and attempted to manoeuvre by making false promises. All this was putting pressure on the Labour Party, where the contradiction between the leaders in the coalition government and the workers in general was becoming ever more evident.

In the middle of the war the ILP was floundering. Not having a fully worked out Marxist programme, it combined opportunism and sectarianism at the same time. They could not understand the method as outlined by Ted Grant at the time, which was not to issue mere denunciations of the Labour Party leaders. It could “only be done by demonstrating to the masses, by their own experience, that their leaders are incapable of representing their interests.”

As part of a general attempt to slander revolutionary ideas as pro-Nazi, the Labour Party's newspaper, Daily Herald, ‘accidentally' included the report on the trial of the Minneapolis General Drivers' Union, also leaders of the Socialist Workers' Party (Fourth International), into a report of the trial of 33 German spies. Here is the vibrant protest of the Workers' International League, by Ted Grant.

After the first few months of war in March 1940, preparations for an even worse scenario of slaughter were being undertaken by all imperialist powers by mobilizing the masses of each country against the "enemy". The labour and Stalinist leaders' bankrupt policies left the workers unarmed. Here Ted Grant makes a balance-sheet of the first months of War.

With preparations for war in full swing the small Workers' International League gathered around Ralph Lee and Ted Grant was the only voice that stood out defending a real internationalist position. Here we provide our readers with the lead article of the August 1939 edition of Youth For Socialism, signed by Ted Grant.

As armaments were piled up in preparation for the Second World War Ted Grant explained that, “This war machine is for the defence of the trading interests and the colonial loot of British imperialism, for what is making for war is the intensified and sharpened struggle for markets between the different countries of the world.”

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