From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard
Few things so ill become the ruling class as the way they believe their own propaganda myths about their position and importance in society. They have put it about that business banquets and board meetings are indispensable to the production of food, clothing, shelter and the other amenities of life.
Some of the more weird aberrations of some of our masters were described in a series of article by John Pilger in the Daily Mirror during March. We were informed that:
With a Tory government in power and the unions in revolt, the old conflicts of class in Britain have begun anew. But in 1971 the Class War is not what it seems.
It would be interesting to learn more from Pilger about this phenomenon called “the Class War”, and in particular where it goes to, and what happens to it, when the Tories are out of office. But we must proceed.
To get the setting right and to conjure up the proper sense of occasion, John Pilger takes us to Chilham Castle, near Canterbury, in Kent where lives the thirteenth Viscount of Massereene and Ferrard who has, among other things of course, no less than nine names. The talents of this gentleman extend to salmon-netting, fox-hunting and giving mediaeval banquets. He has a favourite fairy story which begins “Once upon a time there were 750,000 jobless workers who ordered taxis to pick up their dole money and take them on to the betting shop” — and, perhaps, give the occasional mediaeval banquet?
Gathered at the Castle are the ginger group of the Tory Party known as the Monday Club. Every hoary old reactionary notion is trotted out from anti-contraception to anti-trade unionism. There is a lady present (we had better not call her just a woman!) who thinks the Rhodesian government is doing “splendid things for the natives” like “building them little houses”. At this point Enoch Powell joins the august gathering and a respectful hush falls while they listen to the learned phrases of their Guest of Honour. The Monday Club claim to have 34 MP's including a Cabinet Minister and that the decision to sell arms to South Africa was due to their pressure.
These political primitives somehow manage to delude themselves that they are our betters and feel destined to rule us. Jonathan Guinness, of the multi-millionaire brewing family, says:
I want to see an end to the Welfare State as we know it now. I believe that people at the lower levels tend to be rather passive, and handouts stop them making an effort.
It is a cheek for men like Guinness to talk about “handouts” and “making an effort”. Everything he owns is a handout. What effort has he ever had to make? The “lower levels” to which he refers are people who have lived in slums, suffered from a retarding environment, mis-education and unemployment so that life has very little meaningful purpose for them (not a very praiseworthy achievement for capitalism!). Yet, however little effort the least able of these people makes it is greater than that of Guinness and his ilk. And any so-called hand-outs workers may receive come from the wealth produced by their class.
The Monday Club backwoodsmen forget the reasons capitalism developed the “welfare” state in the first place. A working class rife with tuberculosis, rickets and dental decay presents its ruling class with serious problems when recruiting an army in war-time, while in “peace” time employers need a minimum standard of efficiency from their workers in order to make more profits.
There is a lesson here for all advocates of reforms. Most of the trivial-enough gains, made on the boomtime swings, can be lost on the slump-time roundabouts. Nor is it the case that the ruthless men of right-wing Toryism will callously do things which no Labour government would stoop to. Capitalism, in its various phases of expansion and contraction, imposes quite narrow limits on the policies and actions of politicians and governments.
Just as in the 1930’s we saw the mocking irony of a Labour government cutting civil servants’ wages and preparing cuts in the dole-money, so in recent years it was they who first took milk away from school children and increased charges on the once vaunted Health Service. The Labour government also sold arms around the world, including South Africa. The Monday Club, for all its “belief in yesterday” (or, living in the past) and sympathy for the National Front, could also go no further than the prevailing winds of capitalism would take them.
There is nothing in capitalism for the working class, whoever runs it.