Book Review from the August 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
Alan Doig: Corruption and Misconduct in Contemporary British Politics. Penguin, 1984. £4.95
It is not part of the socialist ease against capitalism that it is objectionable because [it is] corrupt. Capitalism without corruption would be just as oppressive. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the present social system, with its emphasis on competition, profit and material wealth, provides a framework within which corruption and other misconduct can flourish. In fact, we can go further and say that bribery and corruption are completely in keeping with capitalist “morality”. In a dog-eat-dog business world, there can be no complaint if some members of the pack try to bend the rules in their favour. In any case, it would be difficult to see any true difference between what capitalism regards as corrupt and what it regards as normal business practice.
In the light of this, remarks by the powers that be in defence of integrity and propriety can be seen as so much sanctimonious nonsense. For instance. Doig quotes the then Attorney-General saying in 1948 of standards in public life:
on the maintenance of those standards, those rightly very high standards, depend in a very large measure both the respect and the confidence which people place in the Parliamentary system of Government, and also perhaps the general standards of conduct and honesty in the country as a whole.
But if our “betters" are meant to set the general tone of behaviour, they do so rather poorly. Doig chronicles many instances of corruption in government circles, from Reginald Maudling to John Poulson, bent policemen to local councils where redevelopment schemes were sought-after prizes in the corruption stakes. One point he makes is that the domination of a local council for years by a single party — usually the Labour Party — could breed the kind of apathy and lack of opposition which permitted corruption to thrive.
At the 1976 trial of a property company and the South Wales councillor bribed by it, the judge remarked:
Greedy and avaricious men cause more damage to the community than 100 or more thieves with whom we pack our prisons.
Of course, greed and avarice are acceptable to the judge and his ilk when they are the motives behind "honest" profit-making, which means, after all, taking from the workers the fruits of their unpaid labour. The thieves who rob by means of exploitation — the “respectable" capitalist class — are lauded and ennobled, not imprisoned.
Doig's book may be of interest to those concerned with the symptoms of a sick society rather than the disease itself. But socialists will find it a tedious yawn.