Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A plague on them all (1962)

Editorial from the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

September and October were the months of concentrated party conferences. Liberal, Labour and Tory followed each other in quick succession, and the average worker may well have found the whole business a bit overwhelming. Conference reports can be boring and tedious, even though the press ruthlessly condenses the speeches. So who can be blamed for wanting to toss his newspaper aside with a snort of exasperation. Yet perhaps we should be thankful that the very closeness of the conferences meant that the agony was fairly short-lived, and for Socialists, anyway, there was an added advantage. It was easier to compare the policy pronouncements of the various vote seekers without too great a strain on the memory.

Now that the delegates have dispersed along with the hot air, there is one lesson which Llandudno and Brighton should have taught us. Despite the hero worship, despite all the speeches of the “greats” from the rostrums, they know well that none of them can hope to govern without working class support. The humble vote, multiplied by millions, will decide their fate, so they must keep their electional weather eye open. They cannot ignore the possibility that the present government may go to the polls before its full five years term has expired, particularly if Mr. Heath manages to get an early completion of the Common Market negotiations in Brussels.

Do not be misled by the bright and smiling picture of itself which each of these parties tries to paint for you, by “Auld Lang Syne," “ Land of Hope and Glory," or any other emotional finale to their deliberations. After all, if we are to believe the conference speeches, they have all never been so united, they all have the best possible leaders, and they are all going to win the next election. Rather should we look at the sort of things that were discussed and the decisions which were reached.

Some of the loudest shouting has been done by the Liberal Party whose conference was the first of the batch. It is a far cry from the great Liberal governments of the turn of the century, and the modern Liberal was saying things at Llandudno which would have shocked the old leaders. But then. Capitalism has come a long way since then and the old doctrine of free trade has given way to that of the Common Market, the forcefulness of Lloyd George to the almost unbearable smugness of Jo Grimond. The Liberal Party has undergone a revival of sorts after many years in the political wilderness, and perhaps there may be a Liberal government again one day. but the prospect does not enthrall us. And what evidence exists that the Liberals of the 1960s would be any more successful in solving Capitalism's problems than their Labour and Tory counterparts?

Although nobody can be quite certain, of course, it still seems likely that the next battle for power will be fought out between the Tories and Labourites. The Common Market negotiations may have given Mr. Gaitskell’s party an issue which will enable it to paper over some of the other cracks of recent years and fight with some semblance of unity. But unity for what? The unity of the Labour Party which fought and won the 1945 election is probably something which its present leaders remember with nostalgia, but when in power, it administered British Capitalism in much the same way as the other parties would have done.

In fact, the Conservatives’ Industrial Charter of 1947 was very cagey when discussing possible future moves to undo Labour’s nationalisation acts and had to admit that most of the state control would be left intact. Now, fifteen years later (“exceptionally slow even for Conservatives,” said The Guardian of 11/10/62 tartly), this document is foisted into the Llandudno limelight, all because something they said was gone for good is with us again—redundancy. “Let us humanise industrial relations,” bleat delegates from the floor, by which they do not really mean humanise (for that is an impossibility under Capitalism), but merely see that those who have worked the longest get a bit more compensation when they find themselves out of a job due to the march of “ progress."

It is all very much a sign of the times. With British Capitalism running into choppy waters again, its administrators, of whatever party, will be casting about them for policies to keep it on an even keel. But, as usual, the problems which have always baffled them continue to do so. There has been a slow but stubborn increase in unemployment, and after all this time they are still talking about urgent measures to solve the housing problem, as witness the agitated debate at the Tory conference.

Lacking knowledge of the real cause of these problems, workers will cast their vote in despair from one capitalist party to the other. There is even a risk of them supporting an anti-democratic body such as the Colin Jordan outfit. It is only the Socialist who says “a plague on all their houses” and works on for the day when the alternative of common ownership will be known on a mass scale and Capitalist Society will be no more.

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