Saturday, May 30, 2015

Notes From Islington. (1909)

From the December 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Islington is indubitably the home of labour quacks: all sorts and conditions of men eager to secure a seat on the Borough Council were put forward by the different organisations.

Besides the "Municipal Reformers" and "Progressives" with the usual programmes and disputes between them as to whether the rates had or had not been reduced 1¾d, in the £, we had what is known as the Progressive Labour Party, which s the local decoy duck for the Liberal Party. One of its most prominent members was once in the I.L.P., but as that organisation was always supporting the Liberal Party, he concluded, so he tell us. that the only logical attitude an I.L.P.'er could adopt was to leave that body and join the Liberals. Then there was the Islington Labour Party, the I.L.P. and the S.D.P. In the Upper Holloway Ward the last two ran conjointly, the latter issuing leaflets explaining that the rates and taxes did not affect the workers and the former leaflets advocating a half rate on empty houses. At a meeting in the Caledonian Road Baths, convened by the I.L.P. and Islington Labour Party, a speaker advocated a 5% tax on London ground rents to "ease the rates for the people." At the same meeting Mr. Keir Hardie said he "still clung to his faith in Jesus Christ" and "they must in God's name work and vote for labour candidates." The Islington Labour Party agreed to withdraw from St. Peter's Ward (in which the S.D.P. had six candidates) on condition that the latter abstained from contesting the Highbury Ward. So anxious were the Islington Labour Party to secure a seat on the Council that one of their prominent members—Mr. Copeland—asked the Liberals to allocate half the number of seats declared vacant to the Labour Party.

It was left to the Islington Branch S.P.G.B. to inculcate into the minds of the workers the principles of Socialism. We arranged a week's mission to place before the working class the Socialist position, and urged them to abstain from voting. The first night two good meetings were held, but rain prevented further meetings until Friday, when we had a fine meeting at Highbury Corner. It was on Saturday evening the strength of the Party in the neighbourhood was felt. Just prior to opening our meeting at Highbury Corner the Islington Labour Party arrived with band and banners. Several speeches were made from a cart, but not a single educational sentence was uttered. Nothing but sentimental twaddle was heard. After about fifteen minutes they departed, amid cries of "labour fakers," "labour bleeders." Commencing our meeting about 8, we had from the outset an audience of several hundreds, who listened to our speakers with marked attention. Presently we were disturbed by the arrival of a van containing the Progressive Labour Party's candidates, one of whom instructed the driver to drive right into our audience. Some of the comrades immediately seized the horse and backed the van, and the P.L.P. candidate came very near being precipitated in a most undignified manner into the gutter. Ten minutes convinced them that Highbury Corner that evening was no place for them, and as they were about to leave us in possession of that spot, one of their candidates, Mr. Roberts, again gave instructions to drive right on to our platform. But our audience, by this time numbering about a thousand, seized the van, and but for the timely interference of the police the result might have been disastrous to the P.L.P. candidate. Vociferous cheers were given for Socialism.

A good collection was taken and about 70 Socialist Standards disposed of. 

Our indoor propaganda meetings have been even more successful than we dared anticipate, the hall being packed on each occasion, and undoubtedly they will prove a means of enlarging our ever-increasing membership.

On November 6th the Social and Dance in aid of the Party Organ Guarantee Fund was held, and once again success was ours. The array of talent with which the audience were delighted was the best we have ever had, and as a result of the evening;s entertainment the Fund will be augmented by about £3. Three hundred copies of the November issue of the "S.S. have been disposed of this month.
H. A. Young

Tomorrow's Enemies (2003)

From the May 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
Since the emergence of a recognisably modern Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 international relations have been based on the political sovereignty of states in which war became the politically-motivated use of force by generally recognised authorities. Wars between dynastic states became wars between nation states. Wars of state formation and consolidation were replaced by wars of unification and of imperial conquest.
In an era of European global expansion built on the technological and military superiority of industrial capitalism, clashes also occurred between Europeans and the indigenous populations they conquered. For more than two hundred years wars between expanding European states were motivated by economic necessity driven by the need for access to markets, exploitable populations, and sources of raw materials. The growth of European (or “Western”) influence was carried out with a sense of civilising mission and justified with ideas of racial superiority.
The carnage of the First World War called the whole project into question. For the next ninety years the existence of state systems and their international relations were debated largely in terms of ideology. They were interpreted as titanic struggles firstly “against fascism” while the Soviet Union built its own brand of state capitalism, and in the post-World War II period “against communism”. The European withdrawals from direct rule over former colonial territory in the face of indigenous nationalist movements after 1945 were interpreted ideologically as wars of “national liberation”.The centrally planned economy version of capitalism eventually succumbed to its more efficient liberal free-market variety. The implosion of the Soviet Union was greeted with joy among the NATO allies and we were promised a golden age in which to spend the “peace dividend.” Spending on armaments by the major powers actually declined. However the euphoria was soon dissipated and the world was confronted with wars of disintegrating states, and continuing wars in the not quite and the not yet states.
It has become increasingly difficult for politicians and others to explain these conflicts as having anything to do with high ideals such as defending democracy. Increasingly the more perceptive observers and commentators are labelling the “small wars” of Africa and Asia as “wars of oil and diamonds”, and those of Latin America as “drug wars” characterising them as piratical acts carried out in states incapable of enforcing the rule of a centralised authority. Even so-called “peaceful” Europe had its own backyard war in the Balkans as tensions previously held in check by Cold War priorities erupted into bloody armed conflict.
End of History?
Two influential interpretations of what is happening in the post-post-cold war world have appeared since 1989. They attempt to set the boundaries within which political debate takes place and try to avoid political questions some might find upsetting regarding the true nature of present-day society.

Commenting in 1989 on the end of the Cold War Francis Fukuyama, a policy planner in the US State Department, identified a feeling abroad “that something very fundamental has happened in world history.” He characterised this as “the Triumph of the West”, a situation in which economic and political liberalism having first seen off Absolutism and Fascism had finally seen the end of Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet Union was disintegrating and this demonstrated “The total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” It was, he said, “the end of history as such” (Francis Fukuyama: 'The End of History?' The National Interest. Summer 1989 pages 3 - 18).
Oh sure, stuff would still actually happen but what had been reached was the endpoint in mankind's ideological evolution. The ideals of the French and American Revolutions had triumphed, their theoretical truth “is absolute and cannot be improved on.” The failure of “Marxism” he said was in large part a “failure to understand that the roots of economic behaviour lie in the realm of consciousness and culture.” Consciousness he said “is cause and not effect” and went on to argue for the “autonomous power” of ideas. For Fukuyama it is ideas and not interests which drive historic change, which seems to imply that we have had capitalism simply because some thought it a good idea.
Further he argued that “the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West” and that the roots of present inequalities are not to be found in the legal and social structures of society which are fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributive. The problem is not the form of society as “with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up.” These groups are themselves a legacy from the pre-modern period. This, it will be noted, is a classic piece of blame the victim excuse-making which makes the poor responsible for their poverty. It is a popular view in some circles as it fits in well with the prevailing capitalist apologetics. It represents the triumph of individualism over collective action.
And where the West had led the world would follow. Fukuyama pointed to post-1945 Japan's transition from fascism and government intervention to being a political and economic beacon of light fostering free enterprise economic liberalism in Asia, and in particular to China. He could identify no serious challenges from e.g. nationalism or religious fundamentalism, Western consumerism and the human need to be valued as an individual were too powerful to be resisted anywhere for long. True, the Third World was still mired in history and will in his view be “a terrain of conflict for many years to come.” In addition the Soviet Union was not likely to join the developed nations of the West as open societies “at any time in the foreseeable future.”
This was of course written prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall but reading it now one is reminded of the Astronomer Royal who said in 1957 that manned space flight was “impossible”, and we wonder if the State Department now thinks they were getting their money's worth.
The problem with this approach is that it is mistaken as to what constitutes history and historical agency, as to what that brings about major historical change. For Fukuyama it is economic and scientific developments and their culmination in the fulfilling of an abstract idea of “human freedom”.
Absent from his account is the collective political action by human beings in pursuit of their interests. By his account human actors on the stage of history are expected to accept their allotted roles. The contradiction between production which is collective and ownership which is private is ignored. The consequent class domination and exploitation seem not to enter the picture. And what happens when capitalism continues to fail to meet real human needs? For all its prodigious productive capacity capitalism only produces what can be sold at a profit leaving the many hundreds, if not thousands of millions in varying degrees of poverty and insecurity. Surrounded by a plethora of consumer goods many in “the West” appear to suffer what the American poet Randal Jarell called “A sad heart in the Supermarket.”
Clash of civilisations?
With the supposed “death of ideology” and the emergence of a post-modern world a new rationale for arms spending and a new bogeyman had to be found. One was not long in coming. A heavyweight journal, read mainly by academics and policy makers, published an article outlining the thoughts Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington on the matter. ('The Clash of Civilisations?' Foreign Affairs Summer 1993).

The collapse of the former Soviet Union and the emergence of a multi-polar world dominated by the USA as the only superpower was not in his view the end of history but rather it heralded a return to traditional rivalries. The divisions of the post-cold war world will, he said, be cultural ones between civilisations. He identified eight or so based mainly on religious systems of thought. Clashes between nations will be replaced by clashes between nations and groups of different civilisations. Civilisations have as their most important determining characteristic not history, language, tradition or culture but religion. Except for micro-level clashes over the control of adjacent territory the clashes of civilisations will not be concerned with the protection and promotion of vital interests so much as with the advancement of particular political and religious values.
But even here he is inconsistent. Among “civilisations” are four non-religious classifications: “Western” (by which he seems to mean Northwest European Protestant, and possibly Catholic, and their North American and Old Commonwealth descendants) “Latin American” (also mainly Christian but with an admixture of African and indigenous peoples), “Japanese” and “possibly African”. Another oddity is his hiving off of one group of Christians, the “Slavic-Orthodox” (possibly because they are for him not “real” Christians, and possibly because of their “ethnic” roots they are not “really” Europeans either?). On the other hand he seems willing to lump together all of those of the Islamic faith Arabs, Africans, and Indonesians alike while ignoring the important divide between Sunnis and Shiites. And he ignores the major clashes both between and within Islamic states (Iraq against Iran as an example of the first and the breakaway of East Pakistan to form Bangladesh an example of the second).
Civilisations have, he says, existed for far longer than nation states as organising principles. As economic modernisation and social change erode long-standing local identities, civilisations are left as the largest possible identifying principle. They will replace ideologies such as liberalism, free enterprise, fascism, communism etc. as belief systems around which alliances can be formed and enemies identified and demonised. Conflicts will in future occur “along the cultural fault lines” separating the world's eight or so civilisations from one another and will become the dominant form of conflicts in the world with the ever present danger of escalation to a global level.
Huntington's analysis does not of course explain the many wars started within his proposed “civilisations” – those of Christian Europe or Confucian China for example – nor those regions where different civilisations co-exist relatively amicably for long periods.
For those of us too dim to see exactly where he is going, he identifies Islam as the new (old) enemy as a continuation of the “centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam [which] is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.” Ignoring the British conquest of part of South Asia (partly Muslim and partly Hindu), its occupation with France of areas of the Middle East and North Africa (almost entirely Muslim in faith), and the Dutch empire in Indonesia (also largely Muslim), Huntington has the gall to warn his readers that “Islam has bloody borders.”
He gives as an example the war in the Balkans which followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. This area occupied the supposed “fault line” between the (Christian) Habsburg Empire and the (Muslim and Orthodox) Ottoman Empire. (Remember that for Huntington the Greek Orthodox is not “really” Christian.) But while the wars of Yugoslav succession were fought between and by people who happened to identify themselves as Orthodox or Catholic or Muslim or “Communist”, that is not why Yugoslavia broke up. This conflict had powerful economic motives and arose over the division of incomes and revenues between provinces having differing degrees of economic development.
Historically the proclaimed identities of the Balkan contestants were worked out by academics and intellectuals and in the main imposed on the populations by nationalists. These identities were subsequently manipulated by political elites when it suited their agendas. Bosnia fell victim to a land grab by two other Yugoslav provinces which prompted the intervention by NATO forces to “restore peace”. Turkey, a member of NATO, and the only one with a common border with the former Soviet Union against whom NATO was formed, while nominally a secular state, has a population the majority of whom identify themselves as Muslim.
What then is Huntington's agenda?
Huntington puts forward what he calls his “plausible hypothesis” warning that the economic and military strength of the “non-western” civilisations will increase relative to that of “the West”. This new situation “will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilisations” [emphasis added]. It will not go unnoticed that this thesis fits perfectly with the need to re-demonise the populations of the Middle East for example as Arab, Iranian, Islamic and “other”. What it does is provide a “respectable” theoretical justification for the continuation of the warfare state that can be repeated ad nauseum in the popular media.

Huntingdon's thesis can be shown to be flawed on a number of other grounds, the chief of which is that for at least the past two centuries the modern world has been organised around the exploitation of wage labour. No matter what the political, religious, or ideological label reads the principal economic drive has been the production of wealth for sale on the market in the hope of profit. Capitalism is now by far the dominant mode of wealth production throughout the globe. It is the needs of capitalist economies that drive a state's foreign policy as its relations with other capitalist states.
Conflict over access to and control of vital resources by competing nations have for the past one hundred years been rendered respectable by the cloak of capitalist ideology. They are no longer capable of being so masked. And as Margaret Thatcher observed, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent reduction of the threat of nuclear conflagration between the two super-powers has made the world much safer for conventional warfare as a tool of international relations.
Gwynn Thomas

The King-Makers of King Street (1949)

From the February 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communists of an older generation took pride in being aggressively anti-religious and anti-Monarchist. Their more unprincipled successors think it smarter to let nothing stand in the way of the business of catching votes: hence the presence of non-party guinea-pigs on the Editorial Board of the Daily Worker, among them the Dean of Canterbury. If the old brigade like to stick to materialism and republicanism they amy, but one must not neglect opportunities of gaining the support—and the donations—of the Christians and the monarchists. So while the Daily Worker scoffs at the doings of royalty and pleases some readers by giving only five lines to the christening of the baby Prince Charles, the Dean, speaking in New York has a different line:
"It might very well be that Princess Elizabeth's son will become king of a Communist England.
"Eventually we will arrive at Communism.
"It is possible for Communism to exist in England without doing away with the rule of the King." (Reynolds News, 12/12/48.) 

Why Beveridge reorganized poverty (1992)

From the December 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago this month the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge was published to widespread acclaim. Supporters of all the pro-capitalist political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. According to the veteran Communist campaigner Willie Gallagher there was no mistaking the attitude of the British population to the plan. He told the House of Commons:
The trade union movement wants the Beveridge Plan, the Co-operative movement wants it, the Labour Party wants it, the Communist Party wants it, and the Liberals and a section of the Tory Party want it. It is clear that the great masses of the people, as represented by these forces, want the plan.
In retrospect it may seem ironic that those on capitalism's extreme left-wing, as well as its more mainstream defenders, should have been so enamoured with the Beveridge Report. Their reformist enthusiasm certainly overlooked the fact that one of its express aims was to increase productivity and encourage the working class to concentrate on the war effort while holding out the vague hope of better conditions to come, echoing Lloyd George's 1918 "land fit for heroes to live in" homily.

While the Labour and Communist Parties jostled for a reformist advantage over the Beveridge Report, the Socialist Party analyzed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism—"if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution"—and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.

Poor relief
The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, "moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence" (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:  
Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification. (p. 6, emphasis added).
Many of Beveridge's proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover the loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.

This latter scheme was criticized in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge's proposed Family Allowances would be of principle benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners, allowing employers to make-across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targetting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained: 
wages must provide not only an existence for the workers himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages "adequate" to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.
Poor get poorer
In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing schemes of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.

As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the last 50 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in Britain in the late 1960s, the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. To confound the prediction of some supporters of capitalism (and some so-called Marxists too) that the tendency of state-assisted capitalist development is to make the rich relatively poorer and the poor progressively richer, the numbers of those in relative and absolute poverty have increased in Britain, America and a number of other leading industrialized countries. Moreover, this phenomenon currently shows no sign of being reversed, despite the attentions of the reformers.

Part of the explanation for this lies in the way in which state benefits have periodically failed to keep pace with rises in the general price level, and the systematic way in which entitlements like unemployment benefit and income support have been allowed to fall as a proportion of the average wage. In 1979 a married claimant in Britain qualified for 35 percent of average earnings, but by 1990 this was down to 27 percent. In the same period of time the number of unemployed men means-tested rose from just under half to three-quarters. The break between pensions and earnings meant that a single pensioner received only £46.90 a week instead of £58.65 and a married couple £75.10 instead of £94.05. Meanwhile in the US, an unemployed New York woman with two children receives one third less in real terms than in 1972 (Sunday Times, 6 September).

In the year 1990-1 the government spent £77 billion on health and social security, 42 percent of general government expenditure. For the current financial year 1992-3 the total is likely to be about £100 billion, necessitating the present large increases in the government's Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. With the increasing demands placed on the health service and the additional burdens placed on social security expenditure during the slump, pressure to cut back in government spending is intensifying.

Sticking plaster
As the 1942 proposals of Beveridge indicated, and experience has subsequently proved, expenditure on the welfare state can never really serve as anything more than a sticking plaster on capitalism's poverty problems. The capitalist system leaves little room for sentiment and its driving concerns of profitability and capital accumulation impinge on the effectiveness of the welfare state, as they impinge on everything else. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing.

The need to keep health and social security expenditure in check does not therefore come about because of the blind malice or hatred of politicians but because of the need to keep the amount of profit taken off the capitalists as low as possible. The spectre of a declining rate of profit after tax—restricting future investment in the profit-making sectors of the economy—is not something the capitalist class are simply going to sit back and accept. This was demonstrated by the rise of so-called "Thatcherism" in Britain and other industrialized countries in the 1980s. whose overt mission (not altogether successfully carried out) was to reduce borrowing and the proportion of the capitalists' accumulated wealth taken through tax. This, indeed, was the same mission undertaken by the last Labour government after its initial attempts to expand the economy through Keynesian economic policies ended in chaos.

Today, with the world in the midst of another economic crisis, and with future attacks on the welfare state developed since Beveridge, we can confidently re-assert our initial analysis of 50 years ago, to the effect that Beveridge represented not the "new world of hope" set out by the reformers, but a "re-distribution of misery". That misery remains and will do so as long as capitalism and its insane priorities continue to carry all before it.
Dave Perrin

Who Are The Wreckers? (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

It may be an unjustified slur on an honourable, selfless profession but it is said that there are barristers who, if they become aware that they don't have a case to put to a court, will resort to abusing their opponent. The hope is that this tactic will succeed in the absence of solid evidence because it may unsettle the other barrister, who was expecting everyone to play by the rules; it may confuse the jury so that they acquit a defendant who is plainly guilty; and it may hide the fact that the abusing barrister does not have anything pertinent to say. Of course, in the process the barrister may be exposed as a pathetic trickster, a manipulator of words and responses , which could lose them their professional standing but as the situation is desperate the risk is considered worth taking.

It is definitely not an unjustified slur to say that this strategy is often used by governments, when they are faced with the emergency of explaining away their failure to run the country as they had promised when they were campaigning for election. In that situation it is easier and more sensible – in the sense that it is less likely to lose votes – to divert responsibility onto a convenient scapegoat or to abuse opponents, who may then be inflated into figures of enormous menace.

It is not necessary to look far to find examples. Strikers (unless they are in another country, like Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s) are never popular with governments; they are more likely to be labelled as selfish disrupters of the communal well-being. When the Tube drivers of London come out they are attacked for forcing other workers to endure a journey to work even more stressful than usual. Well, there would be no point in a strike which was not disruptive in some way but the same misery is caused when the companies cut services, or cancel trains because the whole system is groaning under a burden of insufficient investment. These are experiences which reduce commuting workers to impotent rage at the very mention of names like Railtrack, Virgin, Arriva. But the companies are not considered to be threats to civilised society; instead they are prudent protectors of financial stability. Which – whatever it does to the passengers – is reassuring to the shareholders.

A group of workers who were subjected to some of the most savage criticism were the coal miners. who have now ceased to exist as a potent industrial force. In their heyday miners were able to strike effectively because they were united and they produced something which was vital to the rest of industry. For that very reason coal strikes were denounced for ruthlessly holding the nation to ransom, denying coal to homes and industries which needed it. In fact the miners were simply applying their industrial. Any protests about this were written off as the ignorant ravings of someone who simply did not understand the economic necessity for an industry to be competitive – to be profitable.

A side-product of a government searching for a scapegoat is that its members may come to believe their own propaganda, which can lead to distressing cases of paranoia. The Wilson government of 1966, for example, showed clear symptoms of this when they were confronted by the seamen's strike in May of that year. By the standards which were applied in such disputes, the seamen had a strong case but they were effectively demanding a 17 percent pay rise when the government's “voluntary” incomes policy was trying to limit rises to 3.5 percent. That, according to Richard Crossman, who was then a Cabinet minister, was what prevented the dispute being settled:
“we could have a settlement at any time, since the owners were ready to put up the cash: it was the government that was preventing the settlement because of the prices and incomes policy.”

Politically motivated
As the strike took hold it became apparent that it was not to have the dire consequences the government had predicted. What was clear, however, was that Wilson was set on smashing the National Union of Seamen. Denis Healey told the Cabinet that “Much as we would like to have a problem to solve, we haven't got one”. But Wilson behaved as if civilised society would come crashing down about Downing Street unless stern action was taken. From the depths of his paranoia he dredged up the infamous phrase about “a tightly knit group of politically motivated men” (which many people must have thought was a pretty accurate description of his own government) plotting to undermine all the work he had invested in making British capitalism everlastingly stable and prosperous and so awarding us all a life of easy prosperity. In the end the strike was settled through a kind of compromise, which did breach the government's incomes policy.

For his ready, sound-biting abuse of anyone who questions his policies Tony Blair is a worthy successor to Harold Wilson. “The forces of conservatism” was how he once described anyone brave enough to question whether his government should be so ready to throw overboard so much of what his party once (probably when Blair joined it) called its principles. A more recent example is in the opposition to the government's avowed intention to privatise, to some degree or other, important industries or services which have been under state control. We can remember when Labour supporters would argue endlessly that state control was the one and only method of taming capitalism into an ordered, controllable humane system which could then be transformed into socialism. This was not just an economic argument but a moral one as well – that state control served people better because its motivation was communal benefit rather than minority profit. But one of the premises of New Labour was that a programme of state control was a vote loser (they did not also say that it would upset many of the super-rich who they intended to persuade into backing them with lashings of money).

Blair has fought a long battle over this ground. In July 1999 he stated his agreement with those who perceive state concerns as a kind of sheltered environment for the unambitious and obstructive:
“People in the public sector are more rooted in the concept that 'if it's always been done this way, it must always be done this way' than any group of people that I've ever come across. You try getting change in the public sector and public services – I bear the scars on my back after two years in government.”

There might be more force in that argument if there were not so many examples of private industry whose operations fit in with Ted Heath's “unacceptable face of capitalism”. Railtrack, for example, has gained an enduring reputation for the lives which have been lost because of its pursuit of profit before passenger safety. Robert Maxwell's Mirror Group Newspapers was an organisation which stole (in the illegal sense) large sums of money, including an awful lot from its pensioners. The privatised British Airways and Consignia, which succeeded the Post Office, are losing money and cutting catastrophic numbers of workers as a result. Whether an industry or a service operates in what might be called an efficient way is not determined by whether or not it is state controlled or private but by other factors, usually beyond its control.

This is not say that we should accept the arguments of the nostalgics who perceive state control as a moral bulwark against private industry's greed and corruption. The coal miners, for example, did not find the monolithic National Coal Board easier to negotiate with than a bunch of fragmented private owners. A lot of penal reformers raged against the privatising of prisons, on the grounds that it was immoral to make profit out of punishing people by locking them up. But these same reformers could be relied on to denounce the shortcomings – the brutality, the primitive facilities, the aimlessness and corruption – of state prisons. The reports of one Chief Inspector of Prisons after another were notable for their bitter criticism of places like Wandsworth prison and Feltham Young Offenders Institution. Words like “unacceptable”, “corrosive”, “brutal” litter these reports.

But these are facts, which are not useful to anyone who argues on the basis of prejudice or deceit. When Blair rants about “wreckers” he is really appealing to a bewildered electorate's appetite for a scapegoat who will allow them to believe that it is still worthwhile to bother about political affairs. It is fair to ask, not only who are the “wreckers” but what they are supposed to have “wrecked”. It is apparent that many voters have stopped supporting New Labour because they cannot appreciate that it has constructed anything worth wrecking; they perceive life since 1997 as little, if any, different from how it was under the Tories. They see the same old poverty, crime, queues to get into the NHS, government sleaze and political muggings. At a recent away day at Chequers for ministers an “adviser” said: “It's no use pretending everything is lovely. There are some things in people's lives which are terrible.” This is not why millions of people voted for Blair's government in 1997. To them he must be the ultimate wrecker because he has destroyed their optimism, false as it was, that a political party can run capitalism differently. Perhaps now, instead of apathy, they might show some authentic optimism by using their own talents to run society for themselves.

Inside Left (1988)

Book Review from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inside Left: The Story So Far. Derek Hatton (Bloomsbury, 1988, £3.95)

Any reader expecting to find incisive, political analysis within the 174 pages of this book will be disappointed. Anyone looking for an unbiased factual record of the events in Liverpool during the period when a majority Labour council was controlled by the Militant Tendency should seek elsewhere. Early in the book Derek Hatton tells how he almost became an actor. It is the misfortune of the working class of Liverpool that Hatton did not take up that profession, but became instead a member of a politically dishonest group of opportunists, the Revolutionary Socialist League, also known as Militant Tendency. Hatton himself displays all the traits of the professional politician - selective memory of past events and a constant desire to be shown in the best possible light. What this book chronicles is the rise of an arrogant, ruthless, self-interested careerist. For all Hatton's rhetoric about class interests, on the evidence presented here one can only come to the conclusion that Hatton would have done very well in the present Conservative Party.

Hatton purports to show how a gallant group of "socialists" engaged in a fight against capitalism, were defeated by the actions of reactionary servants of the ruling class - the Government and the Labour Party. In fact the book actually shows up the hypocrisy of those who seek to impose "socialism" from above. The political philosophy described by Hatton bears as much resemblance to socialism as Barbara Cartland does to literature.

"When the history books are written for the 1980s the names of Militant and Derek Hatton will be right there, alongside those of Kinnock and Thatcher", Hatton writes. When the working class finally achieves emancipation from the domination of capitalist class then Hatton, Militant et al. will be consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Dave Coogan

Hogwash (1988)

Film Review from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the first wave of European colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Christian missionaries were often used as the advance guard of conquering armies. They first tried to cow the natives with religion and the bible and, if that didn't work, they sent in the guns to coerce them into submitting to their new European masters.

The Mission is set during the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of South America. It is about a group of Jesuits who establish missions in the South American jungle, win the trust of the local Indian population only to see them massacred by the advancing troops as a result of a deal between Spain and Portugal to parcel up the land between them. The film's intention is not to show the role that missionaries played in the conquest of South America -  the Jesuits are presented as being on the side of the Indians. In fact the film's story-line is weak; it is little more than a vehicle for the stars -  Jeremy Irons who plays the dedicated Jesuit father and Robert de Niro as a repentant mercenary slave-trader turned Jesuit - and for some truly magnificent camera work. The plot is pathetic but the cinematography is fantastic. It is worth going to see the film for the magnificent pictures of waterfalls, rivers and jungles. But don't get taken in by the sentimental hogwash of brave Jesuits fighting to defend the Indians from the colonial armies. Christian missionaries must bear part of the burden of guilt for the brutal suppression of the Indian population in South America even of they themselves did sometimes get caught in the crossfire.
Janie Percy-Smith