Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tony Benn: a political con-man (1981)

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even if capitalism was administered by politicians who were all selfless and honest men and women, it would make little or no difference. The evils of poverty, unemployment, war—the list is endless—are an integral part of capitalism and will not be removed until the system itself is removed. Which itself can only happen when the working class decides to do its own thinking instead of hiring out its minds to leaders. Good leaders or bad leaders—it doesn't matter.

There is, unfortunately, no sign yet that the working class is ready to stop putting its faith in leaders and it remains an endless source of wonder that they can go on, generation after generation trusting shepherds who lead them from one morass to another. How is it possible that workers could even expect people like Wilson or Callaghan to solve their problems for them? And having realised after the "winter of discontent" that the Labour government was doing them no good at all, how could they possibly think that Margaret Thatcher would be able to do other than what she has done? There now seems to be a possibility that the next miracle worker the electorate will appoint to run British capitalism will be A. Wedgwood Benn. He cut the Wedgwood part from his name to lend a spurious working-class aroma to his stock-in-trade, while carefully retaining the capitalist wealth that the name implies. It might be instructive, therefore, to look at the slogans used by this men to lever himself to the top of the Labour Party—slogans which will presumably form the so-called left-wing programme on which the workers will in due course be asked to vote.

In a report in the Guardian (2/2/81), we are told that Benn advocates five priorities for the next Labour government. It is important first to remark that one "priority" is bound to be missing: socialism. And yet, as he calls himself a socialist, one would suppose this should be the sole priority. What else should a socialist want to introduce other than socialism? What is the point of being a socialist otherwise? If you think that socialism is the answer to the problems of society, then surely the establishment of such a system in the place of capitalism must be the object of obtaining power. If you don't think that, then you are clearly a fraud of the most impudent kind. Nobody will be surprised to learn that Benn's five points make no reference whatever to socialism. And the sad thing is that this slight omission will not even be noticed by the working class in general or even by the leftists Militant faction in the Labour Party who are lending such vociferous support to Benn and denying the right to call themselves socialists to such as Shirley Williams and David Owen (well they're right about that last bit, at least).

First of the five priorities is "the restoration of full employment". Merely to state this shows the utter contempt this would-be leader has for the working class. He takes it for granted that they are too stupid to see that the very inclusion of the word "restore" is itself a piece of chicanery. How can you restore something that never existed in the first place? Benn knows full well that the Labour government, of which he was a prominent member under both Wilson and Callaghan, not only presided over a large unemployment problem (which Thatcher inherited). He knows that under that government, unemployment actually doubled from the three-quarters of a million when the Heath Tories were removed from office to one and a half million when Callaghan was kicked out. The nerve of people like Benn and Foot to lead huge demonstrations denouncing unemployment can only mean that they assume the workers have no memory.

Next we have something called "expansion of public services". Whatever that might mean, it is clearly shown up as fraudulent by the cuts in social services which were a chief cause of discontent in that famous last winter of the Labour government. Thirdly, Benn regards it as important for the working class to support the idea of "withdrawal from the EEC". In fact the question of British capitalism being in, or out of, the EEC is of no consequence whatever to the working class.

So now we get to Priority Number Four. Benn wants unilateral nuclear disarmament. If one thing above all betrays the duplicity of the man (and of Foot and the rest of them) it is this, The Labour government of Attlee the Great was, after all, the one that made the decision to build their very own H Bomb. Then, when they were removed from office, all these lefties, Benn included, became supporters of CND and were to be heard screaming "Ban the Bomb!" They should have screamed "Ban the Bomb Which We Made" but perhaps that's too long for a slogan. However, in due course the pendulum swung and Labour, including Benn, was back in power. So they could ban the bomb, scrap Polaris, kick out the American bases and anything else that was needful to carry out their high-principled policy.

As everyone knows, they did nothing of the sort. The Labour government carried on where the Tories left off, voting vast sums on improving their H Bomb at a time when they said it was necessary to make cuts in hospital beds, school meals and the like—all the very things in fact which they now blame the Tories for. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say that Benn resigned from the Labour Party to show his contempt for this disgraceful dereliction of principle? And pigs might fly. Once again, he kept mum for the whole time his party was enjoying the sweets of office. But almost the very moment they were kicked out, he and his fellow tricksters were at it again. Ban the Bomb!

Last, and one hopes least, Benn wants to "strengthen democracy at all levels in society". It is not worth wasting much of the valuable space of this journal on worrying about what this vague claptrap can possibly mean. In a society based on two classes, the minority owning almost everything and the majority owning almost nothing, there is a clear limit to the amount of democracy that is possible. But if Benn now seeks power "for more democracy" (whether t means anything or nothing), surely he should face the obvious question: As you were in power for many years until quite recently, why did you not introduce this improved democracy? Why did you not resign if your governmental colleagues stopped you? Why did we never hear so much as a whisper about it during the whole period and yet the moment you are out of office you suddenly discover what has been missing?

Enough is enough. If the working class would behave like thinking human beings, instead of like sheep, then bogus shepherds like Benn would no longer be able to fleece them.
L. E. Weidberg

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