Editorial from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
The politicians are at it again. Over the next few months, urged on by the media, they will bombard us with promises, polemics and their own puffed-up personalities. We are supposed to be impressed and to vote for one or other of the parties on offer. Yet experience of past elections and past governments shows that it doesn’t really matter who wins.
Whichever party forms the government things go on as before. Inequalities of wealth and income survive; poverty, bad housing and hospital queues persist; unemployment goes up or down in accordance with the business cycle; those in work still have to struggle to keep earnings in line with inflation; pollution continues; international tensions and threat of war remain.
Despite the competing candidates, there will be no real choice in the election.The three main parties all stand for the same thing. They all support the minority ownership of the means of production, whether through stocks and shares or through state control. They all agree that the aim of production should be sale with a view to profit. They all insist that the majority of us should get a living by working for an employer and that we should have to buy rather than have access as of right to the things we need to live. In short, they all stand for capitalism.
Such differences as exist between them are merely superficial details over how this system should be run. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats may favour private enterprise capitalism slightly more than Labour, and Labour state intervention slightly more than them, but on basics they are agreed. For them there is no alternative to the present system of minority ownership and production for profit. They accept its framework and agree to work within it.
This is why their record in office is one of miserable failure to honour their promises. It is not because they are dishonest or uncaring or incompetent or self-seeking—though they may be these things too— that the politicians fail but because in seeking to make capitalism work to serve human interests they are trying to do something that just cannot be done. They are trying to make a leopard change its spots.
Capitalism is a profit-seeking system that can only work as that. It is a system governed by blind economic laws which no government can control or alter and which decree that profit-making must be given priority over all other considerations including meeting needs. All governments, whatever their original intentions, inevitably end up—Labour governments included—administering the system on its terms, giving priority to profits, restraining wages and salaries and cutting benefits and services, and generally presiding over the economy as it staggers through its boom-slump cycle. Governments dance to the tune of capitalism, not the other way round.
We in the Socialist Party decisively reject this approach to politics. An election in which the issue is which particular gang of politicians is to preside over the operation of capitalism is a meaningless irrelevancy. What is required is a fundamental change in the basis of society. Private and state ownership must give way to common ownership and democratic control. On this basis, class privilege is abolished and we all have an equal say in the way things are run. Production is directly geared to meeting needs and we all have free access to what we need. This—production for profit or production for needs—is the real issue.