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Ian H. Birchall

[On the Labour Party]

(Autumn 1968)

From Letters from Our Readers, International Socialism (1st series), No. 34, Autumn 1968, p. 28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In Paul Foot’s otherwise excellent article on Harold Wilson and the Labour Left (IS 33), there is one questionable passage. Among Tribune’s sins is listed the fact that it ‘severely rebuked’ Richard Gott for his independent ‘anti-Vietnam’ candidature in 1966. In fact, Labour Worker, the then fortnightly organ of International Socialism, criticised Gott in rather more unkind terms than Tribune.

I raise this point, not out of historical pedantry, but because I think it is important to understand that we were right to take such a stand at that time. Gott’s action did not provide the basis for a real campaign against the Vietnam war, which has developed in a much more healthy non-Parliamentary fashion since, and it did isolate the anti-imperialist movement from the mass of the workers and trade unionists who might otherwise have been more sympathetic to it.

In more general terms, we have not sufficiently analysed the strategy of work in the Labour Party. There has been a tendency to forget about it as a wasted period; of course, social-democracy did not split, in classic 1920 style; the Labour fakers were not exposed to the masses in a blinding flash of light. But it is true that many militants, particularly youth, were attracted to the Labour Party in the 1962–1966 period. Their militancy has not been destroyed; some have joined revolutionary organisations; many more have turned to direct action on wages, rents or Vietnam; the rest still provide a reserve on which a new revolutionary party can draw. It is precisely this point that is missed by such undialectical analyses as Alasdair MacIntyre’s Labour Policy and Capitalist Planning (IS 15), quoted approvingly by Foot. The installation of the Labour Government was not purely and simply a rationalisation of neo-capitalist planning; it was that, but it also had effects on consciousness that had a revolutionary potential.

A change of strategy is not necessarily opportunism. There is no need to rewrite our history; on the contrary, an honest writing of our own history is an essential part of the growth of our own self-consciousness.

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