Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Undermining Arthur (1983)

From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Arthur, never one to shun publicity, has been at it again:
Arthur Scargill unveiled a blueprint for his perfect Britain yesterday. It would be a sort of golden age of socialism . . . A Utopia for ordinary folk. Money would disappear — he couldn't quite explain how — and there would be an end to "greed and avarice” (Daily Mail, 19 September. 1983).
It’s not often that we get to hear this sort of talk from the famous bovver boy from Barnsley, as he is less-than-affectionately portrayed in the press, so let us indulge in a little more:
When socialism arrived there would be no need for people to own and control industry. But everyone would be allowed to own his own house and garden. And, of course, in a society with an abundance of goods and facilities, there would be no need for money. (ibid)
These views, explained Arthur to an incredulous David Frost on TV-am, are not just his own — they happen to be "enshrined” in the rule book of the National Union of Mine workers.

So, could it be that the socialist movement with its objective of a moneyless world of common ownership, has had all along and unbeknown to all concerned, a staunch and powerful ally in the shape of the NUM? Well, no. Attractive though the thought may be, there is no evidence to suggest that capitalism is being undermined from deep within the bowels of the earth. In the glare of daylight the reality is rather less romantic. When it comes to the election crunch, mineworkers like every other group of workers at the present time will overwhelmingly vote for one or other of the political parties of capitalism. In this case one would imagine that the main beneficiaries of this lack of class consciousness would be the Labour Party which, most assuredly, does not have the slightest wish to bring about the abolition of the money system. And it is to the Labour Party that the NUM is formally affiliated and of which Arthur Scargill is himself an active member.

Indeed, just as we began to detect something like the faint gleam of gold in Scargill's musings, down came the predictable flood of silt. In socialism: “Everything would be nationalised . . . Industry, banks and insurance companies. The lot” (ibid). Though it was not made clear what we are to deposit in our local socialist bank if not money — sticks of rhubarb from the local kolkhoz, perhaps? — at least we now know why “there will be no need for people to own and control industry". The answer is, of course, that the state will take on itself this awesome responsibility, leaving the people free to potter around in all those lovely homes and gardens we are so graciously to be “allowed" to own. In short, while we are to get utopia, the state will have to settle for the ulcers.

Needless to say, no self-respecting left-wing militant in the Labour Party will want to hear of the holy cow of nationalisation being disemboweled in this unseemly fashion. And yet nothing can be more acutely embarrassing than to confront the argument that state ownership has nothing whatsoever to do with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production that socialists seek. Surely, he or she will protest, these are one and the same thing.

How ironic, then, to find a state insisting quite explicitly, and not just demonstrating through its actions as all states do, that such a distinction does indeed exist. Doubly ironic when that state calls itself a “Marxist” regime. We do not know whether Arthur is aware of the recent pronouncements of fellow “Marxist”, the Ethiopian leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam. While in Britain we can only look forward to a "golden age of socialism” in Ethiopia, it would seem that all this has now come to pass. In an address to the nation marking the ninth anniversary of the bloody coup that overthrew Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu complained bitterly that his economic goals were not being met because of wastage, laziness and theft and because “nationalised properties are being treated as if they have no owners” (Guardian, 15 September 1983).

So you see, there is not a lot to choose between Great Britain Ltd and Messrs Bloggs and Co. But then we shouldn't really have to tell Arthur this. You would have thought that much was patently obvious considering who it is that sits on the opposite side of the miners’ negotiating table.
Robin Cox

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