From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
Speaking at a recent Fabian Society meeting, Alan Whitehead, the Labour leader of Southampton City Council, ably demonstrated the confusion that exists in the minds of those who place their trust in "the broad church”. Coming less than twenty-four hours after the Greenwich by-election the first ten minutes of the meeting were taken up with the defeat of the Labour candidate Deirdre Wood. Naturally the blame was laid at the door of the wicked capitalist press. Smears and nasty personal attacks had misled the voters to such a degree that they had elected a Social Democrat as their MP. Heads nodded in agreement and the meeting commenced.
Organised as morale booster for the faithful, the talk concentrated on how Labour won and held Southampton City Council. Although it was a public meeting the speaker doubtlessly thought he was addressing fellow Labourites only. In his speech Alan Whitehead freely used the words socialist and socialism. It was as if he had written the speech, like some enthusiastic cook spicing up an unappetising meal, by liberally shaking “socialist" and "socialism" all over his creation. From "socialist governments" to "socialist schools" to "socialist councillors" and "socialist" holes in the road. Carried away by the excitement of it all Alan Whitehead even claimed there are "many forms of socialism". It was this revolutionary spirit that had led to the Town Hall lights being changed from blue to red on the first day in office.
Moving on to the council's finances, the words "deceit" and "deception" were used. These methods were necessary to keep the money out of the hands of those devious Tories — "What we like to call creative accountancy". We were also told that a deal had been done with merchant bankers Morgan Grenfell — which exposed the double standards of capitalist banking. What it told us about Southampton City Council was left unsaid. To retain power it was necessary to use "Stalinistic Discipline". All members are told how to vote before meetings. Such undemocratic phrases were part and parcel of Alan Whitehead's speech. This dangerous, elitist nonsense was openly put forward as socialism. In stating "that there are many forms of socialism" this hotchpotch of ignorance was offered as one of them.
Coming to the question and answer session, the usual display of confused ideas and half baked theories were paraded. One Labour member complained that present parliamentary candidates "spent too much time on the ethics". Others asked about socialist buses, socialist houses and even a socialist arts festival. On being asked to clarify his position by giving a definition of socialism. Alan Whitehead tried to evade the question. After shuffling his papers like a demented newsreader anxious to get off home he spent a further five minutes ho-ho-hoing like a trainee Father Christmas.
The Chairman joined in on the joke, saying it would take all night to define socialism. Told he was being evasive, Alan Whitehead made a half-hearted attempt to relate what had "influenced his socialist ideals". Drawing from his vast knowledge (he has a PhD) he managed to mutter something about Gramsci. Sidney Webb and Austro-Marxists. Like a drunk trying to stagger home he bumped into something solid. Lenin! Feeling on safe ground he warned us about Leninism, Marxists-Leninists and fellow travellers. And that was it. Marvellous! A speaker that spends nearly an hour talking about something that he cannot or will not define. Is it any wonder that workers are confused? To give a pot of muddled thinking another stir the chairman added that socialism could be interpreted in different ways by different people.
Perhaps both of these "leaders" had forgotten (or not read) a manifesto signed by Sidney Webb. Hyndman, G. B. Shaw. William Morris and others which said:
On this point all Socialists agree. Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end forever to the wages system, to sweep away all distinction of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis.(Manifesto of English Socialists 1893)
Since those early days what was to be a means has become an end in itself. Any trick or con to gain power and hold it is permissible. This duplicity is made possible by the electorate giving support to the Labour Party, in the belief that it can manage capitalism on their behalf by tacking a phoney socialist sticker to it.
But as more and more people come to understand capitalism and how it operates less and less people will be fooled by this bunch of opportunists, who can then go back to what they are suited to best —changing the lights on Southampton Town Hall.