The Caught In The Act Column from the January 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Whimper, Whimper, You're Dead
During two days which did not shake the world, the Communist Party of Great Britain put an end to the long agony of its dying and proclaimed itself dead. Said party secretary Nina Temple to their 42nd Congress in November: "We joined the Communist Party to change the world. We must recognise that it was part of a tradition that has failed". In its place there is a new tradition, vague and all encompassing, of ". . . a new vision of a humane, green, democratic socialism".
When the "communists" had each worked out their own version of what that meant, did they not reflect that there are already plenty of other organisations campaigning on these issues —within their lights, effectively? Do capitalism's reformists need another one? Is there any chance of its making mark?
It is clear that the "communists" who have transferred themselves to the new organisation have learned nothing from the wretched history of their dead party. They still deal in what are politely called day-to-day issues, to case the odd problem here, to plug the odd gap there. So busy are they with all of this, they fail to notice that they are having no effect on the problems they profess to remedy.
The world today is no safer than it was when the CPGB was formed in 1920. According to one source, since peace broke out in 1945 there has been just one day when there has not been a war being fought somewhere. Tens of millions die every year from lack of food; there are millions of refugees, millions more without a house, millions more suffering avoidable disease — and then there are the hundreds of millions who endure the grind of everyday poverty.
If the "communists" had any commitment to eliminating these features of capitalism they would never have joined a party which, at the very best, stood for capitalism slightly modified by disjointed and piecemeal reforms — and at worst stood for cynical and ruthless human repression. They would instead have struggled for the revolution to a fundamentally different society.
That is what the word Socialism — habitually distorted and misused by Temple and the like — means. It is directly opposed to the grubby theories, the disreputable activities and the discredited history of the CPGB. They will not be mourned.
Coming Up In The World
There are no signs that the people who own Britain's industrial and commercial empires are thinking about throwing themselves off the top of a City office block at the prospect of a Labour victory at the next general election. In fact, the preparations they are making for such a result reveal a certain degree of confidence that a Kinnock government does not intend to damage their interests.
Of course, Labour leaders would be mightily indignant that any such anxiety should deflect the capitalist class from their business of making as much profit as possible from the exploitation of the workers. That is why they have been gorging so many banquets, making so many reassuring speeches and kneading so much overfed flesh among the rich. They are desperate to scotch the notion that a Labour government will take seriously all that nonsense in their consititution about common ownership.
This process has worked in the opposite direction as well. Some companies are willing to pay substantial money for the services of anyone who has worked closely with the people who hope to be ministers in a future Labour government. Aides of prospective Chancellor of the Exchequer John Smith and of Jack Cunningham, who will probably be in charge of their legislative programme, could ask for about £30,000.
Tony Blair is likely to look after employment and Gordon Brown industry so another high fee - about £20,000 - would be paid to anyone with inside knowledge of their work. And so on down the line, until we come to poor old Michael Meachcr whose interest in Social Security makes his helpers distinctly unsaleable to the tycoons.
The bribes are on offer in the hope of gaining some insight into, and influence over, the policies and actions of a Labour government. And the objective behind that is — well, it is not to implement Labour's supposed principle of ensuring a greater share of the fruits of their labour for the workers by hand or brain.
A Problem That Won't Go Away
Dogged by his own oratory, Aneurin Bevan was always liable to say something which he later regretted. One example of this was his declaration, when he was Minister of Health in the 1945 Labour government, that housing (which was one of his ministerial responsibilities) would not be an issue at the next general election.
What he meant was that the government would deal so successfully with the problem, which was blighting so many lives, that everyone would be living in stable, comfortable, affordable homes so that there were no votes in campaign promises about it. Well the problem persisted and. along with several others, it was an issue at the 1950 election. When Labour's majority was reduced almost to nil.
So how have things gone since then?
Des Wilson, a founder of the housing charity Shelter, recently reviewed the last 25 years: "In 1966 we highlighted that three million people were living in or near slums — Shelter argued it was a national emergency". Wilson now says there is another national emergency — three million are without a house. Since 1966 the numbers sleeping rough has risen from less than 700 to almost 3,000. The number of households in temporary accommodation — in other words homeless — has risen from just over 2,500 to almost 60,000. If this trend continues over a million families will be homeless by 1996.
Politicians who says they can solve problems like this are rarely at a loss to excuse their failure to keep their promises, they blame some sudden, unforeseen economic emergency, or a temporary need to give priority to some other need like fighting a war — or, perhaps, the perverse selfishness of millions of people who actually prefer sleeping rough or being crammed into some malodorous bed and breakfast hotel.
In spite of the politicians' words the problem endures because it is part of a wider condition of poverty which, inescapably, under capitalism, afflicts the majority of people. It can be solved only by conscious political action by the majority, to change society. Perhaps Bevan was too mesmerised by his own charisma to grasp this but the rest of us don't have even that excuse.