From the June 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
Leo Morris will not be voting in the election because he is in gaol and by the time he comes out there will be a new government running British capitalism and wondering what on earth they will do with all those promises they made about peace and prosperity for all if they won.
It may be of little consolation to Leo Morris but his incarceration illustrates a fact of capitalist life and those workers who are prepared to weigh up the true power of their vote at the election might ponder it, and what it represents.
Leo Morris was sent to prison for two months — the maximum at the court's power — for being drunk and falling asleep when he was in charge of a railway signal box. As a result there were long delays to trains on the main line from Paddington to Cornwall; the magistrate told the hapless signalman (or rather ex-signalman, now) that "It is very fortunate for you and all concerned that there was no accident".
Indeed. But at least this shows that Leo Morris had a job which is useful and important to the safety of human beings. There are many other occupations of which this can’t be said, where it doesn’t matter if you are drunk every day, three times a day. Mark Thatcher, for example, can be drunk or sober without affecting the welfare and safety of other people. Observers in the public gallery of the Stock Exchange during the period of labour after lunch in the City will see several people whose sobriety or inebriation is of absolutely no consequence. No member of the capitalist class has ever been prosecuted for being drunk in charge of a dividend cheque.
It is the working class, who rely on selling their labour power for their living, who do all the useful work in capitalism. Leo Morris had been on the railways for 35 years and he was doing an especially important job. The punishment he got for failing to do this job to the highest standards shows how vital it is.
So the issue is: there are two classes in society, one productive and useful and the other non-productive and redundant. The useful one is the majority and they run society now, but in the interests of the other class. It is time for the majority to take over society and to begin to run it in their own interests.
That is the real issue in this election. Whenever the working class go to the polls they have the opportunity to begin the revolution; human society is up for grabs and the evidence is there, before the voters’ eyes and in their ears, of the vital need to take it.
He was not the only one to do it but Tony Benn was characteristically quick off the mark in greeting the election as “. . . the most critical in this century". The other politicians had different time scales — for them the election was the most critical of the decade, a lifetime, in the history of the human race. It is part of their unsavoury job, to tell us that it is of crucial importance whether the Labour Party or the Conservatives rule in Westminster.
Benn was prepared to go further than that. In fact, of course, going too far is what he is famous for: "Labour’s policies had to be taken to the people with the passion of a moral crusade". (Guardian 11 May 1983.)
No details were offered about the scope of this morality — about Labour’s plans to again hold back wage rises by negotiating an overall deal with the unions, about their clear intention (whatever happens to their professed commitment to ban British nuclear weapons) to remain within the nuclear-armed NATO power bloc.
The morality of these policies fits in exactly with that of capitalist society, with protecting the interests of a minority class of parasites. They are based on a confidence that capitalism will continue, with its wars, poverty, class conflict, famine, disease . . .
An absent-minded politician might one day describe these policies for what they are — a cobbling up of the remnants of previous failures. But leaders like Benn are always alert, quick to stitch up the remnants into an historically vital crusade for an eternal morality.
Experience makes it obvious that this is nonsense. It matters not one whit to the working class — who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s people — whether one capitalist party or another is in power, trying to control the system’s uncontrollable anarchy.
Of course it might make a difference to Benn, whose ambitions are very different from the abolition of capitalism. The summit of his achievements would be to wave to the crowds from the steps of Number Ten. as British capitalism’s Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.