From the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Some people never learn. They cherish the most absurd hopes, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Some Labour supporters imagine that things will get much better for them under a Labour government. Maybe they will get a little better. For many groups—the unemployed, the low paid, the retired, the sick relying on a crumbling health service—they can hardly get worse. But don’t count on it.
At every election, including the one coming up, the Socialist Party has had to contend with those “socialists” who are convinced that, though Labour isn’t perfect, it represents the best way forward for the working man and woman. Confronted with the socialist case against all administrations of capitalism, such people argue that you should choose the lesser of two evils. Which is the lesser evil today? Because of the relentless move of both major parties to the centre, in a desperate bid to get votes, giving an answer to that question is more difficult today than at any previous election.
Labour’s status quo
Something might be said for choosing the lesser of two evils if one is markedly less evil than the other, and if you feel that by so choosing you can help to bring nearer the kind of world you really want. I remember feeling that way in the late 1940s when labour had introduced “socialist” measures such as the National Health Service. These, I and many others thought at the time, were steps in the right direction. If there were enough of them, we would eventually have socialism.
We were wrong, of course. Despite the short-term attractions of reforms, Labour had to run the system in the only way it can be run: in the interests of capital. Without majority socialist understanding, the profit system is the real world.
Because of New labour’s persistent drive away from being the party of labour and towards claiming to be the best party to administer the status quo, it is now very hard for Labour supporters to maintain the “lesser of two evils” argument. The discovery of more-than-trivial differences between Labour and Tory policies requires increasing powers of detection.
Taboo at Blackpool
The always-provocative John Pilger wrote a challenging piece under the discursive title The taboo subject at Blackpool was that a Blair government is quite likely to be nastier and a greater threat to democracy than the Tories (New Statesman, 11 October). The piece was worth reading, not because it puts the case for socialism (it doesn’t) but because it implicitly puts the case against the policies of the party most often traditionally thought of by working people as the lesser of two evils. Here are some extracts:
“In Bolton I met Janice, aged 20, who lives alone with her baby in a damp dangerous place. The few jobs that come up pay less than the cost of childcare; she has tried them all. She shares teabags with girlfriends. Last week she ate nothing but baked beans. From Blackpool, Gordon Brown offered her prudence and discipline. . .
When Doreen MacNally, a docker’s wife, went to Blackpool last week, hoping to explain to the conference the importance of the dockers’ struggle in opposing the spread of casual, cheap labour all over the country, she was prevented from speaking . . .
Instead of regulating rampant markets, Blair leaves no doubt that he will regulate people. He will reform welfare . . . Too many people go on benefit to stay there, said Blair in Singapore, having just expressed his admiration for Lee Kuan Yew. The likes of Janice will not stand a chance."
“Under Labour there is no suggestion that MI5 and the police will be deterred from continuing their shoot-to-kill policy. There is no question that the war industry and arms trade developed by Thatcher will continue to be subsidised from taxes.”
It’s a pity Pilger didn’t go on to draw conclusions from this sorry saga. He could have said that changing one set of leaders for another to run capitalism is just wasted effort. He could have said that it’s the basic nature of the profit system that causes the problems and the human miseries, not the individuals elected to run it. He could have said that the sensible thing to do is to get rid of the present system and replace it by socialism. He could have said that the only way to do this is to organise democratically for such a change, in a party that has the establishment of socialism as its sole object.
He didn’t say those things. So we say them.