POLITICAL PARTIESCategory: Politics
Until about 1920, the two main parties were the Conservatives and the Liberals, but during the period following the First World War, the Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the second main party. [...]
The Conservative Party is the party supported traditionally by the rich and privileged — the monopolists and landowners. These days it is often referred to as the party of business directors. The terms, Conservative and Tory are now used indiscriminately. Tory was an Irish term suggesting a papist outlaw, and was first applied in England as a political nickname to those who-in the late 17th century upheld the hereditary right of James II (second son of the beheaded Charles I) to succeed to the throne despite the fact that he was a Roman Catholic. Toryism violently opposed the ideas of the French Revolution, Parliamentary Reform and the development of Trade Unionism, and, at the same time it was involved in ultimated imperial expansion in the 19th century.
Between the two wars it was the Tories in Britain who permitted and encouraged the Nazi rise to power. They have consistently represented a vigorous colonial policy, and it was their government that was responsible for the attack on Suez in 1956. In Home Policy they opposed vehemently the tendencies of the Labour Party to nationalize gas, electricity, coal and the railways. Their social and economic policy — wage restraint, drastic cuts in social service, etc., — led to the most serious postwar situation.
During the second half of the 19th century many wTorking people looked to the Liberal Party to provide an alternate policy to that which the Conservatives had imposed on them. The Liberal Party is descended from the Whigs (a name originally given to cattle and horse thieves) who in the 17th century constituted the rising class of merchants and finance capitalists with a section of the most powerful of the landed aristocracy. These two sections formed what A. L. MortonA in his People’s History of England calls the “respect- аЫе” face of Whiggery, behind which stood the largely Puritan middle class of the towns, predominantly radical and progressive.
In the mid-19th century, the Liberal Party represented, for the most part, the trading and manufacturing classes, supported by popular elements pressing for social reform and the extension of the franchise. “Civil and Religious Liberty” was taken as the Party’s slogan around which many leading figures rallied, intent on reform. Gladstone headed the first administration 1868—74, and for long periods up to 1914, the Liberals had a Parliamentary majority.
The membership and parliamentary representation of the Liberal Party is today almost insignificant, although it does play a certain role with the possibility of tipping the scales between the two largest parties — the Labour and the Conservative Parties.
The foundation of the Labour Party by the Trades Union Congress at the beginning o£ the 20th century, as a result of the victory of the socialist agitation within the unions for independent political working-class representation in Parliament, conducted against the old Liberal-Labour leadership, was a very significant step forward for the labour movement.
In 1900 a joint congress of the representatives of the Trades Union Congress (T. U. C.), the Independent Labour Party (I. L. P.) and Socialist bodies set up the Labour Representation Committee (L. R. C.) from which the present-day Labour Party was born in 1906.
The history of the Labour Party from its beginnings.has revealed the deepening contradiction between the working-class base, expressed in the composition of five-sixths of its membership through trade union affiliations, as well as in the role of the militant socialist’ fighters in the local organizations, and the dominant leadership of the representatives of capitalist policy or trade union bureaucracy allied with capitalism.
Labour Governments have tested out in practical mass experience the outcome of the policies of reformism. Each has collapsed in turn in face of the problems of capitalism and the class struggle. The first two were minority Governments by permission of the Liberal-Conservative majority in Parliament. The third was based for the first time on an absolute Labour majority in Parliament — the goal which had long been held out by reformists as the guaranteed road to the victory of socialism, but which ended with monopoly capitalism more strongly entrenched than ever. [...]
In 1964 the fourth Labour Government was elected with a very small majority over the Conservatives and in subsequent by-elections even this slight majority was reduced. This situation forced the Government to exercise a very cautious policy on all main issues of home as well as foreign policy. Tha Labour Government showed no radical change in policy from the Tories. Home policy continued to complement traditional foreign policy which included support for American intervention in Vietnam. The precarious position of the Labour Government with its fragile majority induced the Prime Minister, Mr Harold Wilson to hold new elections in April 1966. The Labour Party succeeded in gaining a large majority of votes — an overall majority of 97 seats in Parliament. However, the Labour Government failed to carry out its election promises of a Socialist policy. It suffered electoral defeat in June 1970 when a Conservative Government was returned, headed by the Prime Minister Mr Edward Heath (That was succeeded again by a Labour Government headed by Harold Wilson after the general election in 1974.).
Since 1924, the four periods of Labour Government, all of which have been right-wing, have been followed by Tory Governments. The social system has remained essentially unchanged.
The British Communist Party was founded on July 31,1920. It was the product of the British Labour movement and the strivings of the British working class for Socialism.
No political party ever came into being without strong historical, economic and social reasons. Out of the experience of almost a century of bitter class struggle against British capitalism, the British working class built up its great trade union movement. The great demonstrations and revolutionary actions of the Chartist period began the fight that finally won the right to vote. At the end of the last century, however, there were still only the traditional Liberal and Tory parties, the representatives of British capitalism, in Parliament.
In 1885 there was a Parliamentary Labour group of eleven, but they were still a wing of the Liberal Party.
In the eighteen-eighties the first socialist organizations arose in Britain. The Socialist movement began with the formation of the Socialist Democratic Federation (which later became the British, Socialist Party, and united with other bodies to form the Communist Party). A great expansion of the trade,union movement took place, led by Marxist Socialists. In 1900, the Labour Party was founded. Other non-Marxist bodies appeared, as the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party (I. L. P.).
To carry through its aim the working class had to form its independent revolutionary party, rooted in the factories and the workshops, based on Marxist Socialist theory. All this was rejected by the Fabian and I. L. P. leaders in the Labour Party, who were deluded by the seeming strength and ever-expanding “prosperity” of British imperialism and preached progress by reform.
In spite of the rosy picture painted by, the reformist leaders, the workers had to fight bitterly for every advance to embetter conditions. The period before the First World War in Britain was one of great strikes and struggles.
The First World War marked a turning point in the history of the Labour movement in Britain and throughout the world. The trade union apparatus was recognized as part of the social machinery of the State, because without the fullest collaboration of the trade union leaders and the machine they controlled, the working class could not be sent to fight in the imperialist war. The trade union leaders and the leaders of the Labour Party abandoned their repeated pledges “to make every effort to use the economic and political crisis created by the war to waken the political consciousness of the masses and to hasten the downfall of capitalist domination”.
The Russian Revolution had a tremendous effect on the workers all over the world. Capitalism was in crisis, and the whole of Europe was on the verge of being “lost” to the working class. Churchill and Lloyd George, French and American big business, organized intervention against the young Soviet Republic. They could not defeat it, but with the aid of the Social Democratic leaders drowned revolution in Europe.
At a convention in London over the week-end of July 31st — August 1st, 1920, the Communist Party of Great Britain was formed, as a fusion of the British Socialist Party, with the main part of the Socialist Labour Party, and with the South Wales Socialist Society. In January 1921 two small sections that had stood outside, the Communist Labour Party and the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) united with the main body, to be followed two months latex by the pro-Communist Left Wing of the Independent Labour Party.
The Young Communist League was founded early in October 1921.
The formation of the Communist Party, arising out of British experience wras not a split away from existing Labour organizations, rather ii was the coming together of a number of separate revolutionary groups..
When the Communist Party was founded, the British Labour movement, one of the oldest in the world, with a long tradition of working-class organization had already known more than 150 years of continuous struggle. But as Marx and Engels living in Britain had discerned, and Lenin so clearly explained, the fact that Britain by the middle of the 19th century had become the workshop of the world, and the development of Britain imperialism, had a deep effect on the British Labour movement. It was by no means easy to take the revolutionary road in a country like Britain, so long the centre of imperialism, where reformist ideas weighed heavily on the minds of the working people.
The Party was hardly born when it was plunged into a bitter struggle to stop intervention against the Soviet Union. Soon it was heavily engaged in an effort “to stop the retreat” before the employers’ offensive on living conditions. From the beginning it accepted its international responsibility to help the people of the British
Empire to struggle for independence and to help them organize their first trade unions and Communist Parties.
The Party has fought continuously to achieve a militant and united trade union movement. At the time of mass unemployment it helped to organize the great Hunger Marches and demonstrations, and during the General Strike in 1926, Communists were in the front ranks of the Councils of Action. In the anti-fascist struggle between the wars, and later in the peace movement the Party has played an honourable role. In the more recent period, it was the Communist Party which led the fight against antitrade union legislation and the wage-freeze.
While the Party supported any progressive measures undertaken by the two post-war Labour Governments, it warned that their general policies, far from leading to socialism, would result in the return of new Tory Governments. In the last few years the Party has pioneered the counter programme of the left and ceaselessly strove for left unity, playing a leading role in developing the swing to the left in the trade union and Labour movement, which is of major importance today.
Certainly the most powerful weapon in the fight over the years has been the Daily Worker, founded in 1930, and today the Morning Star. This paper has a fine record of struggle and has fought consistently for the interests of the working class, against the Tories, and for socialism and peace.
(From British Life and Institutions by J. Ruppeldtova)