Saturday, October 24, 2015

Emptiness of New Labour economics . . . (2000)

Book Review from the December 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Political Economy of New Labour. By Colin Hay, Manchester University Press.

If economics is the dismal science, then political science must be its poor cousin. Colin Hay's book is another in that long line of critical studies of the Labour Party from leftist commentators wishing they could run capitalism better in the fervent belief that the politicians have the power to effect real changes.

Hay's solidly cultural materialist analysis of Labour's political development since the 1980s begins with a look at the cult of novelty within the Labour Party, and the way in which the signifier "New" has been used to create a distance from an unspecified past to an equally indistinct present political position. Hay then backs up this analysis with an elegant description of the "hotelling" model of voter preference and political competition: i.e. that political parties, much like high street retailers, will tend to try and converge on the same best pitch for securing votes.

Hay then describes how Labour has been trying to catch up with the significant changes to the political apparatus wrought by the Tory party during their period of office. Hay proposes that Labour has surrendered to their perceptions of the new voter consensus, and that New Labour is the product of "preference accommodation" as opposed to "preference shaping" on their part, i.e., that they adapt to voters' views rather than trying to change them. Hay ascribes this as being in part an undue attachment to finance capital, as opposed to industrial capital.

Hay delineates what he perceives as being the main problem for British capitalism—the persistent under-investment of capital within the British economy. He then poses a wish list of reforms: the creation of regional government to promote investment and changes to pension fund laws (including possible regional pension funds) in order to allow them to invest more in British manufacturing. His aim is explicitly to make capitalism work—he even approvingly cites Engels's definition of the state as an idealised capitalist as being the state of affairs that should pertain.

Although successful, to some extent, at analysing what has happened to the Labour movement on an empirical level, Hay does not demonstrate why Labour has chosen to follow preference accommodation rather than shaping. He does not analyse the movements within the party, nor the structures of dependency and power that sustain them. Nor, for that matter, does he analyse the perceptions within the capitalist class that have led to them seeking to pursue one particular economic consensus over another. In other words, aside from his airy reforms, Hay does not look at the operation of economic conditions as a driving force for political ideas. In his support for capitalism, and his wish to make it better, he overlooks that capitalism is the ultimate limiting factor on political attempts to save it.
Pik Smeet

See also:

'If I Had a Go' (1949)

A Short Story from the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

If ever I stood before the microphone and was asked by Wilfred Pickles what two thing I disliked most, without hesitation I would say Poverty and War. Furthermore, if I was asked what one thing I would like to do before I died, I would reply that I would like to play a part, if only a small part, to help to establish a new social order, in which the whole earth and the fulness thereof would become means to the comfort and happiness of all. Likewise the aforesaid means of wealth production and distribution would be democratically controlled by and on behalf of the whole community, regardless of their sex or colour.

Then waxing rather eloquent, I would inform my astonished audience, that under the new social order there would be no landowners, no property owners, no rent books, no title deeds. As for their rent books, the ration books, identity cards and their bank books, etc., they could cast them into the bonfire. Then Armies, Navies, Air Forces and Police Forces would not be required, as the causes of war and private property had been abolished. There would be no Secret Service, no espionage, no counter espionage, no Gestapo, no Ogpu, no M.I.5, no F.B.I., or any other form of Secret Police. There would be no Frontier Posts, no Customs, no Excise. This would gladden the hearts of my listeners,—there would be no Entertainment Tax, no Purchase Tax nor Income Tax. There would be no Millionaires, Dollar Millionaires, Sterling Millionaires, or Russian Rouble Millionaires. Neither would there be required a dog licence, a car licence, or a wireless licence. I would then ask my listeners if their wireless sets were now playing better.

Then the audience would gaze and wonder when I informed them that there would be no Popes, Cardinals, Bishops or Priests. No Deans of the Red Variety, nor Deans of the Dean Inge Variety. And the audience would gasp when I informed them that there would be no longer be required a Home Office, a Foreign Office, a War Office, no Board of Trade, no Import Boards, no Coal Boards. Finally I would inform them that when they thoroughly understood the real causes of their poverty, squalor and war, they would make a rapid decision that would speedily end the Social System which is the cause of those evils. They would no longer be content with half a loaf, but would take possession of all the bakeries of the world
. They would also take possession of all the textile machines and all the millions of yards of cloth, make good, beautiful clothes and wear them, no money or price being required. Also they would take possession of all the stone, clay, concrete and steel and make strong, beautiful houses and live in them, again no money, no price, no rent book, no mortgage or building society.

They would require no Leader, no Messiah and no Saviour. They the Working Class would have to transform Society themselves. When they commenced to do these things, it would usher in a New Social Order and it would be known throughout the world as Socialism.

Then Wilfred Pickles would say, "Barney, give him the money."
Nat Posner 

The "Cruelty" of Capitalism (1929)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the February Socialist Standard (see page 94, column 2) our contributor, A. Kohn, pointed out that Socialists do not object to capitalism as a "mistake" or a "monstrosity," but "recognise its place in social evolution as a pre-condition for the coming of Socialism." A correspondent, "Humanitas," writes to protest that a system of society which is based on gross inequality of wealth with the resulting "tragic consequences of life" must be regarded as "a mistake and a social monstrosity."

"Humanitas" continues as follows: —
Such stark injustice  . . . . condemns any system, whether it leads to Socialism or any other state. In the name of logic and scientifically-grounded philosophy how can social injustice and (implicitly) the cruelty that initiated and continues it be justified or excused on any grounds?
In the first place. "Humanitas" has misunderstood our contributor's point. The statement was not a "justification" for capitalism, but a mere statement of fact. It is a fact that capitalism has made Socialism possible, but the Socialist does not "justify" capitalism on that ground. The reason for the existence of capitalism was that if offered the means of bettering the conditions of life of society as a whole. Capitalism is developing in Russia, for instance, because as a literal fact it offers a higher standard of living to the Russian workers and peasants than is, with Russia's low development of industry, obtainable otherwise. To talk about capitalism being "initiated and continued" by "cruelty" is a mere empty phrase. Capitalism was initiated by persons who—both capitalists and wage-earners—stood to gain thereby. It is continued by capitalists and wage-earners in this country because both, the former correctly and the latter incorrectly, think that they still cannot do better than continue it. The Socialist points out that the functions formerly performed by the capitalist class (functions which made it worth while for society to accept the existence of a property-owning class) are no longer performed by them. The capitalist system can now, with advantage to the majority, be dispensed with.
Ed. Comm.