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New Left Review I/34, November-December 1965

Bob Rowthorn

The Trap of an Incomes Policy

When the Labour Party came to power last year, it was widely believed in the Labour movement that this was the beginning of a long period of socialist construction. Planning would replace the anarchy of the market and Britain would be forced to the left, both by the logic of planning and by the insistent demands of the trade union movement. Optimistic articles appeared in Tribune [1] Michael Barratt-Brown and Royden Harrison, Tribune January 8th, February 5th, 1965, Henry Collins, May 14th, 1965, Royden Harrison, May 28th, 1965. Other articles putting forward much the same position are: Ken Alexander and John Hughes ‘A Socialist Wages Plan’ 1959; John Hughes and Ken Alexander ‘A Plan for Incomes’ Fabian Research series No. 241; Henry Collins, ‘An Incomes Policy for Labour’, Views Summer 1964. hailing the incomes policy as an unprecedented opportunity for the Left to break out of the defensive positions it has held for so long, and take up the offensive. Opposition to the policy was confronted with Lenin’s words ‘. . .the whole task of the Communists is to be able to convince the backward elements, to be able to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them by artificial and childish ‘left-wing’ slogans.’ Welcoming the incomes policy, Michael Barratt-Brown and Royden Harrison said: ‘It is imperative that the Labour left should grasp the revolutionary possibilities of the situation. For two hundred years trade unions, in Marx’s words, have been fighting with effects rather than the causes from which these effects proceed.’ [2] Tribune, January 8th, 1965.

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Bob Rowthorn, ‘The Trap of an Incomes Policy’, NLR I/34: £3

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