Editorial from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
Each autumn the three big political parties of British capitalism hold their conferences and work their way, in a style established enough to be predictable, through agendas of blinkered delusion.
The party faithful gather at some favoured seaside site in the solid conviction that they are about to take part in an event of historical significance and debate motions both critical and laudatory. From time to time the party leaders take the floor to receive their ration of acclaim, from polite applause to prolonged standing ovation.
At some point, the conferences climax in the appearance of the Leader, who makes a speech denouncing the other parties and asserting that their party holds the key to freedom, prosperity, peace . . . even if there must be some delay before the gate to all of this can be unlocked. This speech is greeted with the longest, loudest ovation of them all, sending the delegates back to the constituencies flushed with the excitement of it all, inspired to work even harder at their canvassing, envelope addressing, dues collecting . . .
On occasions a conference will actually lay down a fresh policy, like Labour in 1960 voting in favour of the British capitalist class unilaterally abandoning their nuclear weapons. (There is no evidence that the British capitalist class were in any way worried, or even impressed by this piece of hysterical self-delusion.) Or like the Labour Party last year, when they voted for some changes in their constitution, which convinced their more impressionable and ignorant members that the party's basic character had somehow changed.
When a conference decision is accepted, and implemented by the leadership this is hailed with general satisfaction as evidence of the party’s essentially democratic nature. When other decisions are rejected or ignored by the leadership this is justified on the argument of the pragmatic guardianship of the greater good against depradations by the party’s wilder extremists. Somehow, through the regular experience of this type of cynicism, the party faithful keep their faith-keep canvassing, addressing envelopes, collecting dues . . .
Cruel reality is perhaps too much for them to face. The fact is that their conferences are meaningless affairs. They can debate and resolve however they will; unless their decisions fit in with what are seen as the needs and the priorities of British capitalism they will lie unregarded.
An example of this was, again, that famous vote by Labour in 1960 on nuclear armament. Whether that decision had been later reversed or not, there was there could be no serious possibility that a subsequent Labour government would have disbanded the nuclear arsenal of the British ruling class class, regardless of how the other powers of world capitalism were operating.
Capitalism works on the basis of a priority more powerful than the collective satisfaction of a few hundred excited, deluded party members. It operates on the remorseless drive to accumulate capital, to exploit workers to the highest possible intensity, to monopolise markets and to dominate sources of raw materials. It works on the basis of the demands of commodity production, leaving little scope for a concern with human interests.
If any of this gets through to the delegates at the seaside, they may ask themselves how they might enrich their conferences with some significance, and justify themselves a page in history. Well they might begin by discarding entirely their agendas of reformist pessimism and substituting a simple motion, in these terms:
This conference rejects the capitalist system of society, based on the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and giving rise to such problems as poverty, famine, disease, bad housing, war, social disharmony. We recognise that these problems cannot be ended by reformist schemes such as we have advocated, and won votes on, during our existence as a political party, which has hitherto been an exercise in futility. They can be ended only by the abolition of their cause —the capitalist system of society. We therefore resolve to campaign ceaselessly for the overthrow of capitalism and for its replacement by the common ownership and the democratic control of the means of production and distribution for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism.
Such a resolution would not imply an upsurge of collective madness among the delegates but an abrupt expansion of their social and political awareness, to the point at which they saw exposed the futility of trying to reform capitalism and the urgent need for social revolution.
It would signal the acceptance of the need for a classless society — which would mean a society without political parties, since the function of those parties—the representation of class interests—had become redundant. It would signal the end of the massive deception which is capitalist politics and of the most useful act the parties of capitalism can perform—their own abolition.
Socialism will be a truly democratic society in which public communication and decision making will centre upon agendas of hope and progress. For those who are looking for it, that offers real excitement.