Unique among governments of the Left, the Labour Government has done more than fail its friends: it has even disappointed its enemies. Disillusion over its foreign policy is almost universal. The liberal opponents of socialism have been criticizing its inert conservatism for some time; now even the pillars of real Conservatism, like the Times or the Telegraph, clearly feel that the government’s foreign policies are too candidly reactionary, too nakedly subservient to Washington. On the domestic scene, everything is still dominated by the chronic ailment of British capitalism. Labour always made it plain that hope of real progress with reforms depended upon curing this ailment. But during its period of office, the crisis has not yielded, on the contrary in some respects it has become more dramatic. The government’s new instruments for dealing with it, the Incomes Policy and the National Plan, are still in process of formation. Nobody knows how they will work, or whether they will work. But faith in them is about as widespread as respect for Labour’s foreign policies, and this climate of scepticism is itself a major handicap to the programme. There is a general apprehension that the fog of uncertainty will finally roll away only to reveal the conclusive elements of disaster.
An aggravation of the financial-economic problem, another sterling crisis, the failure of the Incomes Policy and the Plan? Then presumably the defeat of the Labour Party and a return of the Conservative régime which—only six months ago—appeared so totally discredited aud impotent itself.
How, why, has this fantastic situation come about? No-one can know at the moment how long the government will last, or whether it will have any chance of winning again at the next election. But the symptomatic thing is precisely the common notion of the government’s ‘lasting’, or ‘hanging on’, as if this was all one could reasonably expect it to do, given the circumstances, and its performance so far. Yet few governments have come to power escorted by such expectations of virile action, such a rhetoric of dynamism, even if its ends were contested. Why has this action failed to materialize, why is the Labour Government disappointing the most pessimistic prophets?
The most important lesson hammered in by Labour’s return to power is this: that the whole dynamic of British politics (whichever of the parties is in office) is dominated by one closely related group of facts, a kind of nexus which tends to control both what happens internally and foreign and colonial policies. Most of the forecasts made for the Labour régime did not take this sufficiently into account. Perhaps the main value of the experience of the last six months will be that the Left will never undervalue such facts again.
An understanding of the fatal nexus of British politics demands that one look outwards. To a great extent, an ever-increasing extent, the internal economic evolution of every capitalist country is determined by the whole complex of relations between it and the rest of the capitalist world. The cause of this development lies mainly, of course, in the continual expansion of the great international oligopolies, which long ago left behind the restrictive borders of their home-countries. The iron law of profitability forces their competitive expansion into an international market. Hence the accelerated formation of this market among the advanced capitalist nations, and its outstanding traits: the creation of the European Common Market and American penetration into Europe.
But a distinctive peculiarity of British capitalism is its partial, persistent exclusion from this process. Although obviously, given its grade of industrial development, and the size and position of many of its great firms, it should have played a leading part, in fact it has been unable to participate in it fully. This is surely no more than the reverse face of a familiar medal: the relatively poor performance of British capitalism for many decades, its chronic inability to grow at a competitive rate. Exclusion was part cause, part effect, of such weakness; just as the process of accelerated interpenetration was the concomitant, both effect and cause, of rapid economic growth in other European countries.