April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism creates many problems and subjects the working class to all kinds of pressures. What is somewhat puzzling about the whole painful business is that, despite so much experience in protesting and all the accompanying disillusionment, people still persist in trying to deal with individual issues in isolation and make little if any attempt to relate either one problem to another, or to relate all the problems to a common cause. It seems that for every outrage committed by capitalism, and for every inhumanity and frustrated need, there is a group of people ready to mushroom into an organisation and start protesting.
Socialists are not opposed to the idea of protesting as such. What concerns us is to get it into its social perspective so as to achieve a more fruitful form of expression. The fact that the horrors of capitalism do produce some response in terms of protest demonstrations etc., is more hopeful than an attitude of indifference.
But, unless workers learn from previous fruitless experiences to avoid going over the same ground again, nothing is gained.
Take, for example, the biggest mass protest movement to spring up since the war, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND spread rapidly and enlisted the enthusiastic support of tens of thousands of young people. It received wide publicity through all the modern media for mass propaganda and to many people its success seemed assured. Instead, CND reached a peak and declined. Almost all the energy and enthusiasm are lost and the vacuum filled with despair. The situation existing at the end is as bad, or worse, than when it started. Nor is this the whole story, because CND and similar bodies are prone to internal strife, as the factions of which they are made up fight among themselves.
In such organisations, emotional appeals take the place of a clear understanding of the social system within which they work. Personalities and leaders are indispensible to these groups.
The basic weakness of protest movements is that when they come to realise that their aims demand political expression, they are forced to take their place alongside the existing reformists in the general clamour to mitigate some particular evil within the framework of capitalism. Thus they inevitably get involved in helping to perpetuate the very conditions which give rise to the evils against which they protest.
Furthermore, they all share one common illusion — that capitalism can be made to work in such a way that its worst effects can be avoided. It is quite wrong to assume that politicians can at will adopt policies which would remove the problems endangered by capitalism. In this country, the Labour Party is the classic example.
Starting out back in 1906 with high-sounding phrases like “the greatest good for the greatest number”, Labour saw themselves as a workers’ party. The plight of the working class was clear enough to see. They suffered from unemployment, poverty, slums and wars. Their wages were always insufficient, their conditions miserable and insecure.
The trade unions struggling on the industrial field felt they needed a political party of labour so that their voice could be heard in Parliament. Then, with trade-unionists representing the workers on the floor of the House of Commons, wages and conditions would be defended. The Tories and Liberals were parties of the boss and of landlordism, but — “once we get a workers government in” — things will change.
There was certainly plenty to protest about — there always is, and the Labour Party embodied the hopes and dreams of a generation. Under its large umbrella, where there was just about room for anyone, there were many protest groups rolled into one. So long as you felt indignant about some damn thing you were all right. Never mind if you understood nothing of the workings of capitalism, and the more vague you were about Socialism, the better.
The emotional attitude of hating the Tories and blaming it all on them, was enough to satisfy the ambitions of those at the head of this blind unwieldy mass. Well, if ever the chickens came home to roost, in this case it was with a vengeance.
It is a pitiful spectacle, to see the Trotskyists and the so-called Communist Party still urging workers to vote Labour in spite of all that has happened, only to find themselves protesting against the policies of the very people they have helped to elect. Of course, the reason Trotskyists and Communists can see no further than the Labour Party is because they are reformists themselves and if they got into power, nothing fundamental would be changed.
This fact is demonstrated by Russia, China and the Eastern European countries, where all the basics of capitalism exist, but unfortunately they don’t know how to interpret the evidence.
Events have turned full cycle. We now have in power the former champions of protest — the political voice of trade unionism. Their commitment to capitalism is total. Their vicious attacks on trade unions which do not fall in line with their ruthless legislation is equalled only by their cynical attitude to workers on strike.
They are at the helm now, running capitalism. Mr. Wilson has made it clear; ‘‘We intend to govern”. This means looking after the interests of the British capitalist class at home and abroad. It means engaging in the international struggle for markets and natural resources. It means building armaments and, if the rat race threatens vested interests, sending workers to war.
It inevitably means clashing with the workers — trying to get them to work harder for less. This is the only way to “govern” in a society divided into classes. This is the only possible end for any group of protesters who stop short of seeking to remove capitalism.
Socialism demands that a conscious majority of workers shall organise to get it. The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain and its Companion Parties are the beginning of that organisation. If we lack the glamour of the bigger parties, we also lack their disillusionment.