Saturday, July 15, 2017

Observations: Labour pains (1986)

The Observations Column from the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour pains
So the Labour Party, struggling to shake off its traditional tendency towards militant state-capitalist left-wingery, has spawned instead the transparently empty slogan: "Freedom and Fairness". Neil Kinnock, Labour's latest experiment in a long and unwholesome line of backsliders, underwhelms us absolutely as he patronises and exploits comedians and little girls, or as he glad-hands all and sundry with his implied "Oh. what a decent fellow I am. Let me lead you to the promised land". Never prepared to offer much more than the odd placebo, tossed to an uninformed, if not downright deceived, constituency from a thinly-veiled platform of undiluted capitalism, Kinnock and the Labour Party are now thrashing about in a quagmire of political duplicity that must have the ghost of Niccolo Machiavelli wishing he could re-write The Prince.

Naturally, nothing resembling socialism must ever be permitted to infect the Party's counsels. But how do these same leaders retain the loyalty of all those supporters, especially among the "idealistic"' and energetic young, who have no desire to find themselves transposed, by sleight of hand, as it were, into members of a down-market version of the SDP? And after all, most of these people remain convinced that Clause Four of the Party’s Constitution — anathema to the top brass — corresponds to the Holy Grail. The truth is, surely, that divisive sectarianism is the fate of all those who say one thing and do another. And in this respect the Labour Party is a sorry mess indeed. Should they succeed, through their superficial PR banalities, in conning enough voters to win them the next election, then it can be guaranteed that the customary disaffection, both within and outside the party, will begin almost as soon as they take their seats in the Commons. What a pity such protest must once again prove so uninformed!


Death of a delinquent
No matter what blunders, omissions and deceits they are responsible for in their prime of life, politicians find that all is forgiven when they reach their dotage. The older they are, the better; then they can mouth all manner of outrageous lies, distortions and conceits because everything they say is admiringly and reverently absorbed.

The most recent example of this was Emmanuel Shinwell, who died last month at the age of 101. The Labour Party seems always to have a few members like Shinwell — Philip Noel-Baker, Fenner Brockway — who each year at their annual conference totter frailly to the rostrum and deliver themselves of some meaningless and complacent drivel. The audience love it, for people of Shinwell's age have a licence to indulge in orgies of senile delinquency.

To the end of his life, Shinwell was called a socialist, which in his case meant that he had once been a famous strike leader, had roared into the Commons as one of the Red Clydesiders. had been the minister responsible for nationalising the mines. In truth these were evidence, not of any unusual socialist principles, but of a commonplace concern with trying to reform capitalism.

That Shinwell stuck to this for all those years, through all those battles, says a great deal about his unwillingness to learn from experience. He actually had no doubts about which society he supported, under all that ballyhoo about being a rebel. This man who was sent to prison for ""inciting a riot" when the police attacked strikers in Glasgow in 1919 became a prominent minister in the 1945 Labour government, which devoted a lot of energy to breaking strikes. This opponent of the 1914/18 war became Minister of "Defence" responsible for organising, and improving the efficiency of, British capitalism's state killing machine and urged the government at the time of the Falklands war to "get on with the fighting and hang the expense". This firebrand of the left grew into a great admirer of Winston Churchill, whose contempt for, and enmity towards, the working class was matched by his admiration for Shinwell:
. . . his sterling patriotism  . . . heart was in the right place where the benefit and strength of our country was concerned . . . The spirit which has animated Mr Shinwell . . . added to the strength and security of our country.
The leaders of capitalism come in many guises. At times they recommend themselves because they are young; at others because they are old; at times women, at others men; or aristocrats and plebians. The possibilities are many — but staggeringly irrelevant. It is not the politicians' image, whether achieved by them or thrust on them, which matters but what they stand for.

By that assessment Shinwell died, as he had lived, an enemy of the working class. No socialist will mourn him.


Brave face
Putting a brave face on election results is something with which the capitalist parties are well familiar. At times they manage this to such effect that it seems as if, whatever the result, no party has actually lost.

Now it is the Tories' turn to stiffen the upper lip, as their poor showing at the recent by-elections and council elections pronounces an ominous — for them — verdict on their seven years of power over British capitalism. They were equal to the task; one of their spokespeople, commenting on the by-elections, employed the elegant evasion that no party ever wins an election — it's just that the other side loses.

This is all of a piece with that well-used Tory explanation, whenever there is any falling away in their support, that the reason is their failure to get their case across to the electorate. This has some engaging possibilities, for it implies that the working class are really imagining the misery of their lives under capitalism. People who suffer the extra impoverishment and indignity of being on the dole are actually living a life of luxury; the slums of Britain are really sumptuous palaces; pensioners do not actually die of the cold in winter because they can't afford to eat as well as keep their homes warm; the despair and sense of alienation symptomised by crime and drug addiction are, in truth, harmony and security. All it needs is for the people to be told that they are happy and cared-for; they will then come to their senses and stuff the ballot boxes to overflowing with Tory votes.

What has actually happened is that millions of workers who were, until recently, impressed enough with Tory promises to vote for a Thatcher government are now having second thoughts, as the reality of experience bears in on them. So far, so good; no worker should ever insult their intelligence, and abuse their power to bring about a fundamental social change, by voting Conservative.

Except that when they decide against voting Tory, workers usually switch to Labour or, if they are in a mood of extreme adventurousness, to the SDP/Liberal Alliance. They do this under the delusion that they are voting for change. No Labour government has ever succeeded in controlling capitalism or in keeping their promises to make it work in the interests of the majority. That is why, one after another, they have gone down in wretched defeat.

The Alliance offers no real alternative to this dismal mess. In policy and personnel they are no better than a re-arrangement of what is on offer by the other two parties. A vote for them is like shaking up the pieces of a kaleidoscope so that the superficial pattern changes while the basics remain the same.

So every vote cast in those elections was wasted, for they all went to support a continuation of capitalism instead of for the radical solution to our problems of abolishing this system and replacing it with socialism.

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