The evolution of the British situation since World War 2 (part two)

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The
Labor Party: Government Team and Loyal Opposition

9.
The party of the bourgeoisie which corresponds most closely to the
overall needs of British national capital -- not just in the current
conjunctural crisis but in the whole epoch of decadence -- is the
Labor Party. Its specific structure and orientation are best suited
to deal with the requirements of British capital, particularly since
World War II, in relation to the needs for:

--
the statification of the economy

--
the support of the western bloc

--
the containment of the struggle of the working class.

While
it would be a mistake not to recognize the flexibility of the
Conservative Party, a product of the maturity developed as the most
experienced party of the oldest capitalist nation-state, the
experience of the recent period has only underlined the role of the
Labor Party -- for the last decade has produced a profound economic
crisis, an intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry and the
greatest upsurge of proletarian militancy since the last
revolutionary wave. At first sight this argument may not appear to be
clear-cut -since the two parties have been in power approximately 17
years apiece. But this statistic masks the two important factors:

--
the longest period of Tory rule, from 1951 to 1964, had the major
objective of trying to hold the Empire/Commonwealth together as
market preserves for British capital. This effort failed and such a
requirement for a corresponding government will not return;

--
since the onset of the open crisis, the two occasions in which the
Labor Party has been ousted from power have both been during upsurges
of class struggle and when the capacity of the Labor Party and trade
unions to contain the proletariat has been considerably eroded by
periods when the left party had been in government office holding
down their living standards. At these times the Labor Party and the
unions have gone through phases of ‘opposition’ in which they
tried to regroup their forces in a more effective way to meet the
conditions of proletarian militancy. But even in opposition, the task
of trying to derail the struggle of the working class remains
predominantly with this faction of the bourgeoisie.

Thus,
as we examine the evolution of the situation since 1945, we can see
that the most effective defender of the national capital is the Labor
Party. It is consequently the most dangerous enemy of the
proletariat’s struggle.

10.
When we examine the maneuvers of the parties in this period
and relate them to the issues facing the bourgeoisie, we have to
remember that:

--
if the differences between the Labor and Conservative Parties are not
as great as their propaganda tries to make out nonetheless they do
correspond to different visions of the program for British capital.

For
example the Labor Party is far more committed to state control over
the economy than the Tories who retain a greater loyalty to
particularistic interests in society; Labor has a far stronger
connection to the union apparatus which the Tories can’t replicate;

--
the program defended by each of the parties are not static, but
change in response to the pressure imposed on the national capital
and the options presented in a given period. This pressure comes from
immediate circumstances as well as from the long-term effects of the
permanent crisis of capitalism. For example, with regard to
increasing statification (which is now a historical necessity for all
national capitals) the Conservatives have shifted far to the left of
the position they had, say, ten years ago;

--
each party has several currents or factions within it, reflecting
different programs for dealing with the problems of the national
capital. No matter how monolithic a bourgeois party tries to make
itself out to be, internal faction fights go on all the time. Shifts
in party policies can therefore also be achieved through the
assertion of one faction at the expense of another;

--
both Labor and the Tories are constrained by the parliamentary
framework and the electoral system which require them to construct
‘appeals’ to different sections of the electorate. This is a
burden on the capacity of the bourgeoisie to get the governing
faction it wants, though in Britain’s case it has provided an
important source of mystification against the working class. However,
the bourgeoisie is willing and able to suspend the electoral charade
when the need is felt -- as it did, for example, between 1939-45,
with the formation of the national coalition.

11.
At the beginning; of World War II the British bourgeoisie had in
power the very faction of the Conservative Party which had tried to
avoid the war. It fell with the end of the ‘phoney war’ and was
replaced by an alliance of those sections of the bourgeoisie which
saw their primary task being to stop German expansionism. The
coalition government led by Churchill included a substantial
representation from the Labor Party for two main reasons:

--
the Labor Party had the necessary capacity to organize and impose the
domination of the state over all aspects of the economy, and to
subordinate the economy to the needs of war production;

--
only the Labor Party had the ability to mobilize the working class
for the austerity and high rates of exploitation demanded for war
production, and for conscription into the army.

Despite
the majority of Conservatives in the government, the real weight of
the organization of society for the war was borne by the Labor Party
and the trade union apparatus. And, indeed, even the fall of
Chamberlain and the Conservative’s choice of Churchill to replace
him were due, in considerable measure, to the efforts of the Labor
Party.

The
war was prosecuted with several objectives, most of which were shared
with the US: to defeat Germany and Japan and to contain the Russian
threat to Europe. However, the coalition government resisted the
threat represented by the US to the British economy and to its
colonies -- the British bourgeoisie did not want to become a
dependency of the US. A measure of this resistance is given by the
fact that, despite all
the efforts of the US bourgeoisie, it was not until the Suez crisis
of 1956 that Britain finally and openly collapsed as a world power.

With
the Labor Party playing such a strong role in the coalition, the
bourgeoisie was much more able to see the need for a program for the
aftermath of the war to defuse any potential working class
struggle; the bourgeoisie had drawn the lessons from the consequences
of the unplanned end to World War I. The Beveridge Report was thus
commissioned to continue and further statification while appearing to
offer palliatives aimed specifically at the working class.

12.
The Labor government under Atlee, elected in 1945, corresponded to
the situation immediately following the war. Faced with a profound
dislocation of the economy it maintained many of the war-time
measures to continue the supply of workers and raw materials between
industries. It implemented a massive nationalization program which
included the Bank of England, coal, gas, electricity, iron and steel
as well as sections of many other industries, Externally, the
government recognized that there would be no reversal of the
new world order -- the US was master of its bloc – and that the
days were numbered for the retention of the Empire, since the
economic and military cost of preserving it could not be sustained.
The granting of independence to India was therefore not
such a fundamental wrench as it would have been for sections of the
Conservative Party. Although it tried to minimize
the worst of American economic measures against Britain, Labor was
well suited to the implementation of the austerity measures demanded
by the US. By working together with the union apparatus it was able
to hold down the workers’ living standards for years. To the
workers it presented itself, first of all, as the party of ‘full
employment’.

The
Labor government was only just returned in 1950 and fell from power
in the election held the following year. This electoral turning to
the right was a result of several factors:

--
the reconstruction was helping to stipulate the economy and tended to
strengthen the resistance of sectors of the bourgeoisie to plans for
further nationalizations and for possible losses of other colonies;

--
the successful containment of the workers by the Labor government had
removed the fear of major social upheaval from the bourgeoisie as a
whole;

--
resistance to the US’ economic policies towards Britain was
growing. This acted against the Atlee administration which was
associated with their implementation.

13.
The next thirteen years in which the Conservative Party remained in
power corresponded
to the years of major economic benefit from the post-war
reconstruction -- although there was a need for a succession of
deflationary and inflationary measures to maintain economic
equilibrium. In addition, there was a general
quiescence of the proletariat: the class struggle was dampened by the
new-found capacity of the bourgeoisie to draw palliatives from the
relative health of the economy. The policies of the Conservatives
towards the economy had become more appropriate to the period because
of the shift in the party towards a more realistic acceptance
of a higher level of state capitalism, marked by the adoption of the
‘Industrial Charter’ in 1947. Sections of the party who had drawn
up this document were by
this time prominent in the party, first under Churchill, then under
Eden, and finally under Macmillan who had most clearly represented
the state capitalist tendency inside the party as far back as the
thirties.

Macmillan
also represented the tendency in the party which saw that the Empire
could not be maintained in the same old way, and had argued for a
reassessment of the measures needed to keep the former colonies under
British economic domination. This tendency was therefore brought to
power after Eden’s Suez intervention demonstra­ted the
impossibility of holding on to the colo­nies. One of the main
tasks was to draw up a program for colonial independence, and this
goal was underlined in Macmillan’s 1961 Cape Town speech on the
‘wind of change’ blowing through Africa.

On
the question of ‘Europe or the Commonwealth’, the bourgeoisie
still tried to have it both ways, attempting to get access to
the markets being built up in Europe while maintaining the system of
Commonwealth preferences. Though the Conser­vative government
favored staying outside the European Economic Community at the time
of its formation in 1957, by the sixties it was opening negotiations
to join since the benefits of the old Commonwealth trade were
disappearing before its eyes. But it was not until the seventies that
leading factions of the bourgeoisie felt that Britain’s economic
position had weakened to the extent that it had to join the EEC, an
essential tool for the organization of a substan­tial proportion
of the western bloc’s economic activity.

By
the early sixties, it was clear that the Tor­ies had no further
policy to stimulate the economy and make it more productive,
something which was becoming more urgent in the face of growing
German and Japanese competition. There was also, in the second half
of the 1950s, a growing resis­tance by workers to government
attempts to impose ‘wage restraints’ and increase exploitation.

Though
the level of class struggle was generally far lower than in the late
sixties/early seventies,
the bourgeoisie was becoming alarmed at the increase in wildcat
strikes.

14.
A Labor government under Wilson was brought to power in 1964 to deal
with these problems. It aimed to pursue a far more rigorous state
intervention towards the economy than the Cons­ervative
government. It had limited goals in regard to outright
nationalization (mainly a re-nationalization of the steel industry)
but a greater commitment towards overall state planning and direction
of economic resources to build up the productivity of British
capital. It also aimed to tighten control over the national wage bill
by pulling unions and employers’ organiza­tions under a state
planning umbrella, and to deal with the rising tide of wildcat
strikes through legislation on the trade unions.

To
take part of the burden of military expendi­ture off the economy,
Wilson ended the maintenance of most of the British military
capabilities east of Suez. Like the previous Attlee govern­ment,
Wilson had a positive orientation towards the US, shown in his
support for the US’ inter­vention in South-East Asia.

The
grandiose plans of this administration for the regeneration of the
British economy crashed in the face of two major problems:

--
the runs on sterling, which had been a regular feature of British
economic life since the war, culminated in a massive onslaught which
the bour­geoisie could not withstand. This resulted in the
sterling devaluation of 1967 which not only ended sterling’s role
as a major reserve currency, but in fact heralded the new period of
open crisis for world capital;

  • the
    eruption of a wave of proletarian militancy not seen for over forty
    years and which signified a qualitative change in the nature of the
    period.

The
years which followed saw a profound disruption inside the Labor
government, the Labor Party, between the government and the unions,
etc. Consequently, at the time when the bourgeoisie most needed this
apparatus to work together to contain the intensifying struggle of
the workers, they were in disarray. The Labor government fell in 1970
only to be replaced by the Heath administration which was even more
inept.

To
explain how this disarray came about, and how the Labor Party and the
unions regrouped their forces between 1970 and 1974 in order to again
confront the class, it is necessary to examine the major tendencies
inside the party and the union apparatus.

15.
Because of its historical origins the Labor Party ‘system’ is a
complex amalgam of institu­tions tied together at different
levels with links of various strengths. At the annual conferences the
main organizations represented are the constituency parties and the
trade unions, and they and the Parliamentary Labor Party (PIP) have
places on the National Executive Committee (NEC). Outside this
framework, in Parliament, the Labor MPs elect the leader and certain
others, with the composition of the cabi­net (or Shadow cabinet)
being determined by the leader. Direct links also exist between the
NEC and the PLP and, since the early 1970s, between the government
and the TUC through a liaison committee. (Of the Labor MPs a
significant proportion
are in fact sponsored by trade unions).

On
the ideological level we can broadly split the Labor Party into two
major groupings -- the left and the right - although in reality
neither of these is constant nor homogeneous. Though subject to
variation the major differences in orientation between the two can be
outlined as follows:

--
regarding the economy, the left has tended to push for the
acceleration of statification in the most direct ways -- through
outright nationaliza­tions and for more direct and physical
controls. The right on the other hand has put more emphasis on the
mixture of the state and individual com­ponents of the economy,
with overall state cont­rol being accomplished through less
direct means;

--
although the Labor Party as a whole accepts US domination of the
western bloc the right wing has always been more compliant than the
left which has stood for a more ‘independent’ line -- during the
immediate post-war period a section of the left vigorously fought US
policy and argued for the creation of a ‘third force’ to counter
Russia on the one hand and the dictator­ship of the US over
Britain on the other;

--
in front of the workers the left has tended to emphasize the class
nature of society far more than the right. For example, they argue
far more for ‘industrial democracy’ and workers’ control --
ideas from which the right has tended to shrink.

These
ideological currents distributed through the entire Labor Party and
trade union apparatus with their relative strengths and
concentra­tion being determined by a combination of factors.
These include:

--
in a general way, the objective situation reg­arding the economic
and military problems confron­ting British capital and the
pressure from the working class;

--
the relative proximities of different sections of this apparatus to
the centre of the state machine;

--
the specific functions served by different parts of the apparatus --
for example, while both the constituency Labor Parties and the trade
unions exist for the service of British capital, the tasks they have
to perform are not identical;

--
the vulnerability of different parts of the apparatus to electoral
pressures.

With
these differences between the major ideolo­gical currents
existing throughout this apparatus we can understand why different
factions have dom­inated the party and the unions at different
times and what the arguments between them have meant.

16.
The composition of the post-war Labor gov­ernment was determined
by the needs to comply with the severe economic and military dictates
of the US, to ensure that strong mechanisms of state control over the
economy were maintained, and to impose an austerity program on the
working class. The party and the unions were dominated by the right
wing, a coloring which had come about not least because of the fact
that the British bourgeoisie dominated a crushed working
class through the thirties and during the war. The Attlee
administration therefore corresponded well to the situation:

--
it consolidated the state control achieved in the war years in a way
which avoided too much resistance from the still-powerful sections of
the private bourgeoisie. In this respect the government also had to
restrict the nationaliza­tion program to an extent tolerable to
the US. The US bourgeoisie put restrictions on the natio­nalization
process through the conditions for the receipt of Marshall Aid, as
they perceived such British state moves as a possible source of
restraint on their own export program:

--
in a period of acute rivalry with Russia, the Attlee government
agreed to the maintenance of strong military capacities in Europe,
particularly in Germany;

--
although the balance of class forces was well in the favor of the
bourgeoisie the government still saw the need to mystify the workers
by sell­ing austerity with the idea that the country was being
rebuilt with a clear goal of raising work­ers’ living
standards. To manage the ‘welfare state’ a representative of the
left, Bevan, was chosen as Minister of Health. This use of the left
was strengthened further after a few years when one of its main
spokesmen, Bevan, was made Minister of Labor.

17.
In the period of opposition during the fifties and early sixties a
redistribution of forces took place within the Labor Party and the
union apparatus. In the early fifties there was a strengthening of
the left in the constit­uency parties, largely over the question
of foreign policy and rearmament. As the threat of the third world
war receded, the left had argued against the continuation of high
military expen­diture (exacerbated by Germany’s reduced support
to the British forces based there) and the con­sequences of US
military policy in the Far East. There, expenditures were too onerous
for the economy and the left’s resistance to the US’ strictures
on Britain was growing. However, in the leadership of the trade union
apparatus the strength of the right remained as the low level of
class struggle provided little basis for the left to develop.

In
the middle and late fifties the picture began to change. The gradual
improvement in the econo­mic situation produced a general
electoral swing to the right which put enormous pressures on the PLP
to shift in the same direction in order to maintain its electoral
appeal. The response to these pressures was best expressed through
the Gaitskell faction of the party, which by 1960 was arguing at the
party conference for a re­writing of the party program. The
Gaitskell faction wanted to discard Clause 4 -- ie the party’s
theoretical commitment to the nationaliza­tions of the whole
means of production. This, of course, met with intense opposition
from the left, not only in the constituency parties but also in the
unions, in which had been developing; a shift to the left throughout
the latter half of the fifties. In contrast to the early years of the
decade a higher level of class struggle was developing. This was
expressed through a substantial growth in unofficial strikes against
which the entrenched right wing of the union machine could not really
make the most effective stand.
The left therefore began to make more headway. The first major
landmark in its progress was with the election of Cousins in 1956 of
the TGWU (Transport and General Workers’ Union) after the death of
Deakin. This leftward movement in the leadership of the major unions
continued into the sixties as Scanlon, Jones and others came to
prominence, replacing those such as Deakin, Lowther and Williamson.

The
late fifties and early sixties was a period of intense turbulence
inside the Labor Party. The left in the party and the unions were
strong enough to defeat the efforts of Gaitskell to abandon Clause 4
at the 1960 conference. At the same conference the left also managed
to push through a resolution calling for British unilat­eral
nuclear disarmament, though this decision was reversed the following
year. Although the right still dominated the party, the left had
nonetheless strengthened its position substan­tially. It was with
this mixture of forces active in the party that Wilson (who took the
leadership after Gaitskell’s death) came to power in 1964.

18.
The general goals of the Wilson administra­tion have already been
outlined, including those which focused on the working class.
Economic difficulties, particularly relating to the strength of
sterling, confronted this government almost immediately, and
therefore made it feel the need to draw up a program to attack the
working class. This was to be achieved by the imposition of a
concerted policy to control wages and to deal with the unofficial
strikes through legislation. It was hoped that strikes could be
better controlled more closely by legally binding the unions to the
government. To this end, the Donovan Commission was set up in 1965 to
provide the justification for the proposals which appeared in In
Place of Strife
in 1969. This approach was a direct reflection of
the strong Gaitskellite presence in the govern­ment, and shows
just how out-of-tune this adminis­tration was with the needs of
the unions, which actually had to deal with the workers’ struggle.
Consequently, the Seamens’ strike of 1966, rather than being seen
as a warning about the need for a more flexible approach to the
unions, merely stiffened the government’s resolve to act in a more
rigid way towards the unions. Under the pressure of the workers’
militancy a break took place between the unions and the government
across the ideological ‘fault line’. In the event the government
had to back down and accept ‘voluntary’ restraint by the unions.
Unable to deal with the workers’ struggle and split by the whole
argument with the unions, the govern­ment fell in the 1970
General Election.

19.
The main concern of the whole bourgeoisie in the subsequent period of
the Heath government was the struggle of the workers. This
government’s ability to deal with the situation was no better than
that of the previous Labor team -- yet it was the best the Tories
could find as it followed policies of the left-wing of the party.
Making the same mistakes as the previous Labor govern­ment, it
passed an Industrial Relations Act which the unions fought.

In
opposition, the Labor Party and the union machine regrouped their
forces, with two major accomplishments:

--
a
significant strengthening of the left wing took place;

--
formal organizational links were made between the TUC and the Labor
Party through a Liaison Committee in an effort to avoid a repeat
perfor­mance of the previous years’ events where they did not
function in concert.

Heath’s
collapse in front of the unyielding mili­tancy of the miners in
1974 brought Labor back to power, albeit narrowly. But in the course
of the election the unions and the Labor Party were able to function
together and dragoon the workers to the ballot box.

20.
Under the new Labor government the consoli­dation of the previous
year’s work continued and produced:

--
a government with stronger representation for the left;

--
a ‘social contract’ which enabled the govern­ment and the
unions to face the workers together in order to impose the austerity
and discipline which the crisis-ridden economy demanded.

Because
of their inexperience at these levels of militancy, the workers’
perspectives for the struggle were very limited, and together with
the fact that the government and unions were again working together
against them, the workers’ struggle ebbed, as it had begun to ebb
in other advanced capitals. In the subsequent phase of quiescence of
class struggle austerity was imposed harder and harder.

Though
there was a shift to the left in the new Wilson government and even
more so under Callag­han, it was tempered by the need both to pay
attention to those interests among the British bourgeoisie who feared
too far a movement to the left and to allay fears of the US
bourgeoisie. In addition, the drive for a further move to the left
was rendered unnecessary by the reflux in the struggle of the
workers.

However,
in the context of the resurgence of class struggle since the end of
1978, the pressures have again built up for a leftward shift in the
policies and membership of the PLP. Thrown out of office in May 1979
because of their inability to maintain their austerity program on an
increasingly militant working class, Labor is once again in the role
of the opposition party and once again in the throes of a faction
fight to equip itself for the coming turmoil by contin­uing its
leftward shift.

21.
The major conclusions we can draw concerning the roles of the Labor
and Conservative Parties are:

--
the Labor Party is the most appropriate party for the overall defense
of the interests of British capital -- not only for the present
con­juncture, but for the historical period;

--
the maneuvers of the Labor Party in the face of the problems of
British capital must be considered in conjunction with those of the
trade unions. Over the past two decades we can see that the
indispensable ideological and organiza­tional links between the
different parts of the ‘Labor movement’ have been greatly
strengthened;

--
the manner in which the Labor Party and the unions carry out their
tasks is determined to a great extent by the parliamentary framework
which the British bourgeoisie has evolved over the years.
Consequently, they do not have a perman­ent position in
government and their attack on the proletariat is geared according to
whether they are in power or in opposition. Either way, this part of
the state apparatus is the most deadly for the workers because it has
evolved in the recognition of the proletariat as capital’s
gravedigger.

The
balance of class forces

22.
The change in the relative strengths of the two major classes in
society since World War II has been of historic proportions. That
event marked the apex of the bourgeoisie’s class power, and the
nadir of the proletariat’s. Yet today the proletariat does not
merely stand in the way of further world war but is showing through
its defiance and resistance to austerity that the historic course is
once more towards revolution.

The
fact that World War II was not followed almost immediately by a third
between Russia and the US was because the controlled reconstruction
of the world economy attenuated the inter-imperialist rivalries
sufficiently to create a pause in the ever-present tendency towards
war in the epoch of capitalist decadence. As the reconstruction of
the economy took place at such a global level it provided a far
longer period of economic stimulation than had been possible after
World War I. This extended period -- which lasted more than a
generation -- has allowed the working class to recover from the
prostrating effects of the long period of counter-revolution.

While
these assessments about the historical course come from a global
perspective on the balance of class forces, it is nonetheless
possi­ble, and necessary, to examine the actual experience of the
change of course in specific countries.

23.
During the whole period of counter-revolution the workers never
stopped struggling. For all the weakness of the class its militancy
never died, not even during the war. In Britain, despite the fact
that all strike action was declared illegal by Order 1305 there were
many wildcats, especially by miners and engineers who were among the
most brutally exploited during the war. Vicious propaganda was
leveled against them; on the eve of the apprentice engineers’
strike they were threatened with conscription if they didn’t go
back to work; the Betteshanger miners were imprisoned -- although the
strike was so militant the state bureaucrats had to contin­ue to
negotiate with the strikers in gaol. None­theless, the
overwhelming advantage was of course with the bourgeoisie, which
achieved a total mobilization of the population for the war effort,
especially at the point of production where the union apparatus and
the now-flourishing shop stewards’ movement attained levels of
exploita­tion which were the envy of the rest of the world’s
bourgeoisie.

In
the period following the war -- under the Labor government -- these
conditions of brutal austerity were maintained. (Rationing, for
example, did not end until the mid-fifties.) The workers’ response
was still fragmented but there were pockets of strong resistance such
as the miners and dockers whose strikes led to more failings and
prosecutions by the government using the
wartime laws. Still the weight of the bour­geoisie was enormously
strong.

During
the early fifties the class struggle tend­ed to remain at a low
intensity as the austerity measures were steadily relaxed and some
portion of the ‘benefits’ were won by the workers, inclu­ding
the maintenance of full employment. All the same, the trade unions
continued to support the Labor and Conservative governments’
policies of ‘wage restraint’, it was not until 1956 that the TUC
withdrew its formal support for such policies, thereby giving an
indication of the growing resistance developing among the workers.

24.
The latter half of the fifties brought a substantial rise in strikes
which particularly concerned the bourgeoisie because they tended to
be concentrated in key sectors with dockers, electricians and car
workers in the lead. The bourgeoisie used several tactics to deal
with the wage claims and strikes:

--
prolonging the ‘negotiations’ between the unions and the
employers to delay strikes for wage claims;

--
channeling these struggles into the inter-union rivalries over
demarcation which were endemic in the late fifties (and were related
to the process of concentration going on in the apparatus of the
unions at the time);

--
the granting of higher wages which the expansion of the economy still
permitted with only a slow erosion through the relatively low
inflation rate of the time.

Through
the sixties the pressure on the workers increased and palliatives
could only be found in return for more and more productivity,
heightening the rate of exploitation to levels which later became
explosive. At the same time, there were several, industries which
underwent enormous run­downs in manning levels caused by the
introduc­tion elf new technology. Where these factors were most
prominent, so were the highest levels of militancy to appear -- in
the mines, car plants, docks, railways, steel, etc.

Thus
by the mid-sixties, just prior to the onset of the open crisis, there
were certain conditions which were to affect the conduct of the
coming battles between the major classes. The working class had been
given time by the reconstruction to recover from its past horrendous
defeats but had experienced only low levels of class struggle which
could be contained within a framework of economic expansion. The
bourgeoisie too had little recent experience of high levels of class
struggle, and in addition, its primary apparatus for mystification
and control of the workers -- the
Labor Party and trade union apparatus were not fully synchronized,
and had pronounced ideological differences.

25.
With the onset of the crisis and its intensification of class
struggle, the economic, political and social equilibrium were all
destroyed. The first wave of proletarian militancy in Britain had
several noteworthy characteristics:

--
it lasted for a long time – from 1968-74 – with the phases of
rise and dissipation being quite slow;

--
it drew into itself, at one level or another, the whole of the class
and contrasted dramatically in this respect with the struggles of the
forties, fifties and early sixties;

--
despite the convulsions into which society was thrown by these
strikes, the struggle never expressed itself on the political level.

The
reaction of the bourgeoisie was first to retreat, to regroup its
strongest forces; and then, when the struggle was ebbing, to
counter­attack:

--
the ‘retreat’ was a stepping back from the direct confrontation
against the workers as their upsurge continued. Recognizing the
dangers, the bourgeoisie limited the use of the repressive arms of
the state against the workers. The trade union leaders had to back
off too, as in the early phase they became less and less able to hold
the workers at bay. The most dramatic example of this was the 1970
picketing of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) headquarters
(guarded by police) by furious miners against the union bosses who
were trying to break their wildcat. Such warnings were clear and the
unions were forced to allow the class to ‘let off steam’ for a
while. It was in this period that the Wilson government fell.

--
the Heath government recognized many of the dangers, but not as
clearly as the left of the bourgeoisie; it drifted down the path of
confron­tation and in so doing put itself forward as the
personification of the anti-working class move­ment in society,
to the benefit of the Labor Party and the unions which were thus able
to organize the biggest mobilization of workers since the twenties in
the fight against the Industrial Relations Act. During this period
there was the regroupment of forces in the Labor Party and the trade
unions that we described earlier. In the meantime the task was given
to the shop stewards to ‘go with the class’ so that they could
later grasp the reins and slow the struggle down. They concentrated
on keeping strikes isolated from each other, and from other sections
of the class not on strike -- a strategy epitomized by the wave of
factory occupations in 1971 and 1972. The use of the 3-day week and
the General. Election in February 1974 to break the miners’ strike
permitted a now-strengthened Labor Government to face the class
again;

--
the counter--attack began in earnest after the Election, against a
now-ebbing wave of militancy. Working far more closely together than
they had been able to do in the sixties, the Labor gov­ernment
and the unions built up to a crescendo the campaign for the social
contract, sealing it in July 1975. After conceding relatively high
percentage wage settlements for a time, the Labor government once
more returned to its natural role: covering itself with sanctimonious
concern for the national interest, it became again the party of
austerity.

26.
The austerity measures held fast in Britain and were a model for the
bourgeoisie of the west­ern world. As the reflux settled,
austerity became tougher. The repercussion at the ideological level
was that the formal rules no longer had to be agreed to -- in 1977,
after two years of the social contract, the pretence of the ending of
an agreement was put forward by the unions with great gusto. Instead,
‘guidelines’ were adhered to -- with the objective being to
maintain austerity and to reduce the association between the unions
and the measures of austerity.

However,
while this has been the intention, it is also true that the austerity
program has eroded the credibility of the unions and the left.
Consequently, the bourgeoisie is faced with the problem that the use
of its left face today undermines further shifts to the left in
future. This has already been seen throughout 1979 with stronger
challenges being made to the authority of the unions and shop
stewards, and with a widespread indifference to the maneuver­ings
of the Labor Party being exhibited by the workers.

27.
The current strike wave, which erupted during the 1978-79 winter,
shows that the working class is beginning to emerge from these past
years of reflux and reassert itself on its own class terrain. And if
the major left fac­tions of the bourgeoisie, the Labor Party, has
been removed to the position of ‘loyal opposit­ion’ the
better to refurbish itself then this is not because of a
strengthening but because of a weakening of the ruling class in the
face of an increasingly combative proletariat. Truly, the workers’
struggle exacerbates the political crisis of the ruling class.

Once
more the struggle of the proletariat has become the axis of the
entire social situation.

***********************

This
text has traced only the general lines of the evolution of the
situation in Britain since World War II. It has covered a period in
which the balance of class forces has been predominantly in favor of
the bourgeoisie, and has outlined the general context from which the
future, titanic movements of the proletariat will emerge. The
specific way in which the current, second wave of class struggle
since the onset of the open crisis in 1968 is developing is described
in ‘The Report of the British Situation’ in World Revolution,
no.26.

Marlowe