Monday, January 2, 2017

Alright for some (1985)

Editorial from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not the exclusive brain child of Home Secretary Leon Brittan to increase the deposit an electoral candidate must lodge against securing a defined proportion of the vote. The idea has been around for a long time, as inflation has reduced the significance of the £150 deposit as a deterrent against frivolous and eccentric candidates; its implementation would concentrate the contest into the hands of the few big parties with a chance of being elected. The predictable protests from the smaller parties, such as the Ecology Party, may have forced second thoughts on the government; such opposition has succeeded whenever the idea of putting up the deposit has been floated in recent years. Although of course Leon Brittan does pride himself on being an unusual Home Secretary . . .

The Ecology Party is not among those classified as frivolous; that is reserved for the likes of the Raving Loony Monster Party, or Screaming Lord Sutch (who seems to win more applause as a daft parliamentary candidate than he ever did as a singer) or Commander Bill Boakes with his mixture of traffic, public hygiene and race neurosis. The opposition to the increase argues that it will not prevent such devaluation of the elections; it will simply confine the frivolous candidates to those who can afford it.

The argument for the higher deposit rests on the assumption that Screaming Lord Sutch is playing games when he stands for parliament while parties like Labour and Conservative are giving the matter a proper gravity.

But this is to confuse minority opinion with frivolity. What of the bigger parties? How do we describe an organisation like the Conservative Party, which has a long history of presiding over intense human misery and deprivation yet still claims to stand for a Better Britain? Are we expected to take seriously a political party which tells us that mounting unemployment and ever harsher impoverishment for the working class is really prosperity? Should we laugh or cry when Tory speakers assure us that the terror and pain and murder of war is really the height of glory and human achievement? It is surely frivolous for the Conservatives, after their appalling record of repression of the mass of the people, to persist in asking for working class votes?

Then what of the Labour Party? They tell us now that unemployment is avoidable, that it exists in Britain today by Thatcher's own personal design and that they have the cure for it. Yet they know that during their last term of power the figures of people out of work doubled; they know also that they began the financial fumbling with state expenditure restrictions which they now castigate as the road to longer dole queues, as if spending cuts were the Tories' exclusive policy. Is not this toying with the truth frivolous? The Labour Party now makes great play with the Tories' warring relationship with the unions, implying that they have the secret of a better, more productive way of handling industrial disputes. In this they ignore the history of their own governments, going back to the 1920s and 1930s. during which they were constantly in conflict with the workers over their policy of lowering living standards for the useful, productive class in society while protecting the privileges of the parasitic minority. Are the Labour Party to be taken seriously, when they now ask for the votes of trade unionists on the appeal that they will give them a better deal?

In this sorry mess, it is easy for the Liberal/SDP Alliance to denounce the Tories and the Labour Party as the Old Gang, implying that a New Gang under Steel and Owen would not have the same problems. But the Alliance produces no policy which is basically new or different from those of the Old Gang; it simply rehashes what the other capitalist parties have to offer, relabels it and promotes it through different salespeople. Is not this a frivolous waste of time? The same can be said for organisations like the Ecology Party, who attempt to analyse some of the problems of capitalism but offer remedies for them which leave the basic cause untouched. No worker should regard appeals to vote for reformism under yet another name as anything other than a sour joke.

In contrast, the candidates which the Socialist Party of Great Britain puts forward at elections are in deadly earnest. Socialists aim at capturing the seats of power, to dispossess the capitalist class and transform the basis of society from one of class ownership of the means of life into one of communal ownership. Very few votes are registered for that proposition, against the name of a socialist candidate. We have never approached anywhere near saving our deposit, so Brittan's proposal may be cripplingly expensive to us. But the lack of support for the ideas of socialism is not a measure of their validity; what socialists have to say is desperately urgent.

We argue that capitalism is essentially a social system which cannot meet the needs of the people. It must repress us with wars, poverty. famine, disease, ignorance, frustration . . . The parties which ask for our votes on the grounds that they can eliminate these problems while keeping capitalism in existence are claiming to be able to do the impossible; they are the ones who must not be taken seriously.

Only a social revolution can get rid of the ailments which afflict human society today. That revolution cannot be masterminded by leaders; it must be carried through by a politically conscious, participating working class, worldwide. This is at present a minority viewpoint but it is anything but eccentric or frivolous. It is the very stuff of social progress to a free, co-operative, abundant world.


No comments: