Thursday, June 15, 2017

No alternative (1985)

Editorial from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Margaret Thatcher acquired the unlikely nickname of Tina not because of any fairylike quality but because it is an acronym of one of her earliest catch-phrases - There Is No Alternative. The message of TINA was clear: the government were aware that under their policies a lot of people were in acute suffering but there really was nothing else for it. Their policies may be tough but they were the only ideas which promised to eliminate problems which had been plaguing Britain for a very long time, which no other government had been resolute enough to deal with. If the people in the dole queues and the hospital waiting lists and the like would be patient, toughness would bring its reward in a prosperous, secure nation. Of course the government might try to curry favour by policies such as massive state investment in industry and public works; that might make things better for a while but would only postpone the inevitable. The Day of Reckoning, when it came, would be much more terrible for the delay. So the Thatcher government claimed that they were following the only possible way

One problem about this, for the government, was that it forced them to insist that their policies could be seen to be working. They have, after all, been in power for six years and it is time now for at least some of their pledges to be fulfilled, in the shape of better lives for the people. To argue in this way the government have had either to ignore little matters like the level of unemployment or to suggest that it had something to do with personal failings on the part of the unemployed. Thus Norman Tebbitt's incautious admonition to the workless, not to riot but to bike it around the country to search for non-existent jobs. Thus Nigel Lawson's lament that this year's Budget would have been an historic bonanza of state generosity except that the government had been forced to spend so much on the coal strike. Thus Thatcher's declaration last year, when interest rates began to rise and the pound/dollar exchange rate to fall, that this crisis could easily and quickly be ended if the miners went back to work. They did and it wasn't. Thus the Tories' claim that it is not their policy to reduce spending on things like hospitals, education and social services but only to re-arrange them so that they are better than ever.

TINA must mean that there is no poverty in Britain — nobody struggling to make ends meet on a wage or a paltry state benefit, nobody living in dank slums, nobody dying of the cold because they can't afford to heat their homes in the winter. TINA means ignoring reality because to face it — and this is a familiar story — to face reality would involve the government in an act of self exposure. showing them up as impotent or ignorant or deceitful.

These problems do not afflict socialists; we have no difficulty in facing reality — indeed it is our work constantly to illuminate it and to point to its lessons. The reality of TINA is that the Thatcher policies have failed. Six years of Tory rule have not built a country which is happy, secure and abundant. The social and bodily ills which disfigured Britain when Thatcher came to power are still here, in many cases even worse than they were in 1979. Socialists also point to the reality that the so-called opposition parties — Labour and the Liberal/ SDP Alliance — offer no hope of improving on the Tories' showing. In many ways the term of office of the last Labour government opened the way for the policies of Thatcher; the evidence is that if Labour had kept in power in 1979 they would have been forced to operate much as the Tories have done since then. There is no more optimism in the Alliance. Although they claim to be breaking the mould of the more established capitalist parties they are actually no more than a reconstitution, personally and politically, of the others' failures.

The opposition's fondness for blaming our current problems onto something called Thatcherism implies that the level of unemployment and of poverty in this country have been erected, piece by piece and person by person, by the will of the Prime Minister alone. On what is called the far left — that strange world of self-deception where reality is always barred from entry the priority is to smash the Tories (a policy which is never defined or described in any detail; meanwhile the workers continue to elect Tories to offices of various sorts). But there is never any encouragement from the loony left to consider what should follow, if the Tories were to be "smashed". In the past the working class have thrown out many a Tory government but, such has been their confusion, they have replaced them with other governments just as strongly committed to running capitalism. There is no point in changing one style of capitalism for another; if the world's problems are to be eliminated the radical, enduring solution of a new social order must be applied.

And here, it must be noted, we are not discussing just "Britain's problems", as would the Tories or the Labour Party or any of the other capitalist parties. The problems which matter are those of the working class world wide and there is no solution to them other than a world solution. Socialism will be a society different from capitalism in all ways, from its basis upwards and outwards. The means which human beings apply to produce wealth and distribute it will be in the ownership of the world's people. This will mean an end to production for sale and a beginning to production for human use, to meet human needs. Satisfying human needs must mean that wealth is communally available for all people to consume on equal rights of free access. It is hardly necessary to add. that such a society will not be divided into classes for the basis of class division — the private ownership of the means of life — will have been abolished. As class society is ended social relationships will change so that people will come into contact. and deal, with each other on the basis of a free and equal standing in society.

In such a world the problems which are the stuff of life for capitalism — war. poverty, famine, slums, avoidable deaths and disease — will have their cause removed and will, therefore, cease to trouble the human race. To establish socialism is the only way we can bring that about. The innumerable, agonisingly prolonged, attempts to reform capitalism have failed; it is now an historic monster which has the power to wipe most of us off the face of the earth. Socialism will work. It will be efficient. It will meet human needs. It will bring a world of peace, freedom and plenty. There is no alternative.

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