Editorial from the August 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
So Tony Blair is the new leader of the Labour Party. A man whose insincerity is patent, reflected by his permanent false smile. A barrister, his profession is to sell his advocacy skills to anyone wishing to hire them, equally prepared to argue that white is black as that black is white.
Such flexibility is a useful — indeed essential — ingredient in the make-up of capitalist politicians who want to succeed. Because, when in office, they are called on to find plausible explanations for all the unpopular measures which the workings of capitalism force them to adopt. But for a Leader of the Labour Party?
Why not? Since when has the Labour Party not been a haunt of capitalist politicians? In recent years unsuccessful rather than successful ones, it is true. But that's the point. The professional politicians who lead the Labour Party have the same ambitions as their counterparts in the Tory Party: to enter the corridors of power and taste the fruits of office. Membership of a mere shadow cabinet is not the goal.
It is because they believe that Blair can bring them these fruits — by dishing the Liberals in the South of England — that the majority of Labour MPs backed him. But what about the rank-and-file Labour and trade union members who, for the first time, had a direct vote in the election of a Labour leader? What made them vote for a man like Blair who so obviously has nothing whatever in common with them? A man who could just as easily have been a Tory politician as a Labour one - in fact who nearly was.
During the campaign the candidates all felt compelled to pronounce a word that has not been heard in polite Labour circles for a long time: "socialism". Not that this was something to be welcomed. The less the Labour Party is associated with the word "socialism" the better, as far as we are concerned.
We would be only too happy if Labour politicians were never to use the word again. In view of their record over the years in administering capitalism in the only way possible — in the interest of those who live off profits and against the interest of the rest of us — they have no right to use it. They have brought on it nothing but shame.
But cynical politicians that they are, the three candidates calculated that, faced with an electorate of Labour and trade union activists rather than the voters generally, this might pick up a few votes for them. Even Blair let is be known that he was a bit of a "Christian Socialist" (whatever that might be).
Christian maybe, but Socialist never. He openly supports the market economy and all that goes with it: profit-making, keeping wages down to be competitive, means-testing state benefits, maintaining weapons of mass destruction, export or die, etc, etc, etc. So, of course, do Prescott and Beckett, not that that prevented the SWP from arguing in its own tortuous way for a vote for Beckett "without enthusiasm" but only as Deputy Leader not Leader (work that one out if you can).
As Blair re-assured capitalist investors via the Financial Times (11 June): "We want a dynamic market economy. It is not merely that I, as it were, with hesitation acknowledge that this is the way we have to go. I say that it is positively in the public interest to have a dynamic market economy."
Nobody who can praise the capitalist economy in this way can be a Socialist, even if his conscience might lead him to toss beggars a few coppers rather than kick them.
But the candidates needn't have bothered to pretend to be socialists. It wasn't "socialism" that swayed the Labour rank-and-file but the same consideration that swayed the MPs: who was the person most likely to get disillusioned Tory voters to vote Labour rather than for Paddy Ashdown and his Literal Demagogues? Who, in other words, was the best Liberal look-alike?
Blair's election means that the Labour Party will now complete even more rapidly its transformation into a Liberal party. Labourism, as the doctrine that the working class can improve its position by sending trade unionists into Parliament to enact pro-worker reforms within capitalism, is dead.
We are back in the situation that existed a hundred years ago, before the Labour Party was formed, when both the major parties were united in their commitment to uphold and promote the profit-driven market economy that is capitalism. In those days the choice at election times was between Sir Graball d'Encloseland and Mr Samuel Sweater. Today it is between Alan B'Stard and T D'Stard. It's back to square one, a measure of the complete failure of Labourism to do anything about getting rid of capitalism.
Instead of Labour gradually changing capitalism into something better, capitalism changed Labour into another openly pro-capitalist party as committed to the profit system and the market economy as the Tories and Liberals.
Labour never was a socialist party, so socialists never had any place in it. This is now even more true than ever. The place of socialists is in a separate Socialist party, committed to democratic action to bring about a society of common ownership, democratic control and production directly for use not profit, and with it an end both to class privilege and the market economy.