Thursday, March 22, 2018

Put This In Your Collection of Golden Deeds. (1924)

From the December 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

You will of course have the Boudel Massacre, the Amritsar Horror, the Congo Rubber Atrocities, etc., duly docketed. The following extract from Mark Twain’s recently published Autobiography, quoted in the "Daily News,” October 25th, is a useful addition to Capitalism’s Book of Golden Deeds.

Mark Twain was roused to a white heat of anger by the killing of six hundred Moros by American soldiers in the Philippine Islands in 1906.
   "With six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright and we had thirty-two wounded.  . . . The enemy numbered six hundred—including women and children—and we abolished them utterly leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother.
   "This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.”
President Roosevelt sent a formal message of congratulation to the commanding officer. "His whole utterance is merely a convention,” comments Mark Twain. "Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half from a safe position on the heights above was no brilliant feat of arms, and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers had shot them down with Bibles and Golden Rules instead of bullets.”—From Mark Twain Autobiography extract in "Daily News,” 25/10/24.

A World of Waste, War and Want (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
We continue our series of articles describing why capitalism is a reactionary, decadent social system ripe for its abolition and replacement by a genuine socialist society.
In order to end the contradiction at the heart of capitalism between socially interconnected production carried out by the majority (the working class who produce but don’t possess) and private ownership of the means of living by a tiny minority (the capitalists who possess but don’t produce), socialists argue that the working class must become conscious of their real class interests. This means they must become conscious of the need for socialism, a new system of society based on common rather than class ownership, democratic control rather than minority power and leadership, and production for use rather than for sale and profit. If capitalism with its manifold inadequacies and contradictions is to be ended, the working class must organise itself for the capture of political power from the dominant capitalist class, and then must transform the economic structure of society by abolishing the capitalists' ownership and control of the means of living

In putting forward such an analysis of society and reasons for fundamental social change, socialists are not advancing a disembodied theory which reality does not match. This is because the material conditions for socialism already exist, having been created by capitalism itself. Firstly, there is a highly developed productive potential in the world, so much so that capitalist agencies like the United Nations and its Food and Agricultural Organisation declare that given the level of productive development brought about by the working class under capitalism, there is no reason why anyone on this planet should not live a full and satisfying life free from hunger, poverty or preventable disease.

Secondly, a class exists which has a clear material interest in bringing about a new social arrangement based on common ownership and production for use, where human activity is geared solely towards meeting people’s needs and desires. This class—the working class— exists the world over, is the largest class in society, and performs all necessary social functions, making, administering and distributing all the goods and services that exist in capitalism, not directly for themselves but for the enrichment of the capitalists.

Because of these two factors socialists maintain that capitalism has created the conditions for its own abolition. In a political sense it is now an unprogressive, decadent social system, wracked by its own contradictions and ripe for replacement by a more advanced social order. Today it is no longer natural scarcity or humankind’s inability to master nature which causes death, poverty, stress and insecurity, let alone the other evils of modem life—it is the way in which society is organised.

Production for profit, the very thing which spurred on capitalism to conquer the world and develop technology to the level it is now at, is precisely the factor which prevents that technology and productive potential from being used to satisfy the needs of the majority in society. Illustrations of this abound, and this journal for one is always full of them. Hundreds of thousands of building workers on the dole while there is a major housing problem and homeless roaming the streets; famine and starvation amid overproduction of foodstuffs across large sectors of the globe; millions dying from preventable diseases while the most advanced medical technology that has ever existed could cure them—these are all the inevitable products of a system based on the competitive accumulation of profit for the capitalists rather than for the wider satisfaction of social need. And none of it is either inevitable or natural.

Contradictory system 
It is clear that the system of ownership land distribution that exists in capitalism is entirely inappropriate and outdated given the level of the productive forces in society. For this reason alone capitalism can be termed ‘decadent’, and it probably has been a decadent social system acting as a real barrier to human progress since the beginning of this century—and most certainly by the time of the First World War in 1914. At this time a highly developed global productive system had been developed on the basis of the world market and an international division of labour The factor preventing the establishment of socialism from this point on was political rather than technical, specifically the lack of socialist consciousness among the world's working class.

That the working class has not succeeded in overthrowing capitalism has been the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. However, human organisation has not frozen at this point and the development of capitalism did not grind to a halt at the moment it created the potential for its own demise. Indeed, it was at the advent of capitalism as a truly world system that the contradictions of capitalism started to become most pronounced and its obsolescence most apparent. For instance, it has been in the period since capitalism has become in a political sense decadent that economic crises and slumps—which have always been endemic to the system of production for profit—have become truly world events plunging the working class into greater misery while production of useful articles is curtailed, not because too much has been produced for need, but too much for the market at an adequate rate of profit.

In the progressive, ascendant capitalism of the nineteenth century, crises and slumps tended to be more localised. The crises of 1848, 1873 and 1895—the most severe and significant in that they extended well beyond one region or country—were not sufficient to halt the overall growth of the productive forces being built up under the reign of the market economy. Though these crises seemed severe at the time and had devastating enough consequences for the working class, it was only in the decadent capitalism of the twentieth century that an event such as the October 1929 Wall Street Crash could have occurred with the subsequent massive world slump and banking crisis of the early 1930‘s. On that occasion total world production fell catastrophically, registering significant declines in all the major industrialised countries, while world trade fell by a colossal two thirds from its 1929 level.

As capitalism has become more interconnected on a world basis, economic crises have had the opportunity to spread and deepen more than previously, shaking virtually the whole system itself rather than just a minority of its component parts. The sectors of the globe not under the hold of the market have diminished rapidly this century, providing less opportunity than in capitalism’s heyday for the system to plunder at little cost vast resources from undeveloped areas. This phenomenon played an important part in kick-starting the rapid (and still unprecedented) period of capitalist development in the fifty or sixty years after 1850, but its influence has waned considerably and nearly all capitalist growth is now “internal” to the system itself—in other words, dependent purely on the exploitation of wage labour rather than annexation and imperialist plunder.

Since capitalism became a world system the only sustained period when real overall production increased at anything like the rate of the last half of the nineteenth century was in the wake of the massive post-WWII reconstruction. Since then capitalism has entered another phase of periodic world crises—1968, 1974-5, 1980-2, and 1990-3, with only a comparative handful of developing countries on the Pacific Rim being in any way able to buck the effects. These countries have had the advantage of cheap labour and have been unencumbered by welfare payments and other sources of high state expenditure, all of which the more advanced states have sought to cut back on to bolster sagging profit rates.

During this time of renewed global economic crisis, world inequality, poverty and indebtedness have grown at an unprecedented rate. Just 358 people in the world now own as much wealth as half of the rest of the global population put together—2,800,000,000. Meanwhile the majority in society exist on inadequate diets with insufficient medical care, with hundreds of millions living in appalling conditions of absolute poverty. Large tracts of the planet—over 100 countries—see their real incomes falling year on year, with little sign of improvement. Never before has the gap between the wealth of the richest and the poorest on this planet been so huge, or the consequences of it so disabling and destructive.

Law of the jungle
Decadent capitalism is the system that has brought about devastating world economic crises and it is also the system that has brought with it another new phenomenon—the world war. In decadent capitalism the world is entirely divided up between competing capitals and nation states. Since the imperialist scramble of the late nineteenth century there has simply been nowhere else left to conquer. Wars were barbarous enough in capitalism's ascendancy with several million killed in conflicts ranging from Crimea, to China, to the civil war in the United States. But given the increased tensions and competition that have appeared as the capitalist class has vied for control of an already carved-up planet, the twentieth century has seen the very existence of the human race put in jeopardy. This century has become the era of truly world wars and twice already the world has been plunged into orgies of destruction and barbarity the scale of which has never before been experienced. The 1914- 18 conflict left at least ten million dead, the 1939-45 war at least 40 million. 

According to the politicians whose job it is to deceive us, the period since 1945 has been one of unprecedented peace. This view, in actuality, could not be further from the truth. Since WWII the wars between the various capitalist states and blocs haven’t stopped and since 1945 there have been over 150 major armed conflicts. Indeed, since 1945 there has not been a single day’s peace on this planet. Today, at least 25 wars are raging across the globe.

On an average yearly basis the number of deaths from war in this period has been more than double that of the nineteenth century and seven times greater than in the eighteenth century. This has reflected the greater populations involved in wars and the more destructive nature of the weaponry involved, although significant medical advances have meant that many lives have been saved during wars that would have certainly been lost in earlier conflicts.

The nature of warfare has changed in many ways in decadent capitalism. In particular, civilian casualties have increased dramatically. As an illustration, over 2 million children have been killed in wars in the last decade alone, actually more than the number of soldiers killed. However, the key point is this—whereas periods of decadence in earlier systems of society led to the devastation of entire countries or even empires, world capitalism threatens the whole planet with annihilation, increasingly tailoring its production towards destruction and the development of ever more hideous weapons of war. It is horrendous enough that the policeman of the world, the United States, should be stocked up with nuclear warheads and other mass instruments of death. That the up-and-coming gangster states from the Middle East, the Far East, Africa and Latin America are developing such capabilities is a truly chilling thought And even more chilling still is that it is now only a matter of time before a terrorist organisation gets its hands on them. Terrorists in Japan have already been prepared to use chemical weapons. Who will be first with a nuclear device?

Nuclear capability for the land of Walt Disney is terrifying indeed, for the gangster states and terrorist groups it may be of literally earth-shattering import. In the light of such prospects socialists say what the ruling class increasingly think but are usually afraid to admit to the mass of the population—a society with such awesome weapons of destruction in the hands of Iraq, Iran, North Korea or even one day the IRA or the US militia men is not a society that offers humankind a serious future.
Dave Perrin

The Last Word: The Madness of King George (and the rest!) (1997)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
The Last Word column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news reports that the premier of Ecuador is off his rocker have been amongst the sunnier moments in a generally frosty political climate. The months before an election are always depressing and never more so than when you are in what is effectively a one-party state where all the policy “choices” on offer are not even disguised to appear other than identical. Waiting for the election is rather like waiting for the millennium. You know it will come and you know what the outcome will be and you know that a week later it will feel much the same as a week before.

The alleged insanity of the Ecuadorian premier who, by all accounts, referred to himself as El Loco (The Lunatic) and told those who voted for him that he could not remember what his policies were, was merely following a long tradition of rulers who were manifestly off their heads. George III was accused of being mad for taking too much interest in science and scratching himself too much because he had a skin disease. In fact, it was the psychiatrists treating him who were the real nutters, and in the end they killed him. The latest Royal to be so accused is our very own Queen of hearts. A Tory minister suggested that she was “a loose cannon” for speaking out against land mines which blow off children’s legs. No doubt, the same minister would stand to attention and salute if a bemedalled general, whose expertise was blowing up children entered his presence. When Reagan was President his wife employed a Rasputin-like astrologer to advise on the future. Millions of people voted for Reagan, not realising that the fate of the nuclear button rested upon the whims of a White House Mystic Meg. Thatcher, before they took her away, began to look as if she had been off her medication for far too long. At least the premier of Ecuador admits he’s barmy.

I once met a deck-chair attendant who insisted that he was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Albania. He was either a nutcase or an underemployed monarch. The sad point was that it didn’t matter. As a nutcase he made a perfectly good deckchair attendant. (The very idea of charging people for sitting on a chair by the sea is itself a plea of insanity.) As a king he appeared much better off getting some fresh air by the sea than sitting on a throne in a state of permanent ceremonial redundancy. The idea of Prince Charles organising the deck-chairs on Brighton beach has a definite appeal to it. How much more sane it would be than imagining himself to own Cornwall and be in charge of Wales.

The more you look at people who think they are ruling us, the more obvious it is that they would be better off doing something else. John Major would make an ideal lollipop man. There is much greater dignity in crossing children over the road safely than closing down their schools. Tony Blair should present an easy-listening music show on RadioTwo. You could fall asleep listening to him spinning discs by Bing Crosby and The Northern Light Orchestra playing instrumental versions of Tom Jones songs. Michael Howard could do something useful, like shovelling raw sewage.

At the Member’s entrance of the House of Commons one sees groups of people gathered around to wait for the leaders’ limousines to shoot past. Few of them are tourists. They are workers who believe that the sight of a famous politician will be something to tell their grandchildren about. Some of them travel in on coaches from Essex and other distant territories so that they can take photos of Big Ben and say that they caught a glimpse of whatsisname who was once on the news because he said something about something or other. I once saw Norman Lamont walk straight through such a group and nobody even noticed him. He had been forgotten; not even accorded the fame of the Ecuadorian premier who at least will be the best known inmate in the asylum.

Desmoulins once said that the great only appear great because the poor are on their knees. James Connolly is usually credited with the quote, but the truth is that he heard it and repeated it as if it were his own. The origins of the remark are unimportant. The fact is that there isn’t actually anything great about “the Great and the Good”. They have simply done a bloody good propaganda job convincing everyone else that the majority is good for nothing better than to be governed. No doubt the premier of Ecuador seemed like a thoroughly reasonable chap until it gradually dawned on people that he was round the bend. History is littered with examples of Great Men who were discovered to have been pathetic little parasites, hanging on to power by gripping tight to the greatness of the multitude they despised. Which pretty well sums up the next election. Those who run society from top to bottom, by hand and by brain, will be called upon to choose which of a gang of Nobodys is best to rule over us. The truth, of course, is that we are the best people to rule over ourselves.
Steve Coleman

The Strange Death of European Social Democracy (1997)

Pamphlet Review from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Political Economy of Social Democracy: The Swedish Collapse, The Danish Mystery, The British Mirage and the German Dilemma by Stuart Wilks-Heeg (South Bank European Papers)

Capitalism is a global system, and has become more so than ever over the last twenty years. This fairly straightforward axiom is just one important factor lying behind the failure of Social Democratic reformism not only to deliver on its pseudo-socialist promises, but also its failure to even manage capitalism successfully on its own terms.

The Social Democratic failure is often couched in terms of a collapse of electoral support, but Stuart Wilks-Heeg argues in this pamphlet that "the primary challenge facing Social Democrats is one of political economy, not one of electoral decline." In fact, one of the points made most clearly in this pamphlet is that electoral support for the Social Democratic parties has not collapsed but, rather, has begun to fluctuate, often quite wildly, after a thirty-year post-war period of fairly steady ascendancy. Possible reasons for this are put forward in the pamphlet.

The one that Wilks-Heeg spends most space analysing is the collapse of Fordism, both as a method for the mass-production of consumer goods and as an ideological system that included Keynesian economics as one of its components and relied for its smooth operation on what Wilks-Heeg calls a ‘‘class compromise”, this consisting basically of a trade-off between higher wages and higher productivity. This, he says, was the basis for Social Democratic political economy.

Wilks-Heeg seems to be under some misapprehensions surrounding this point. He states, for example, that this class compromise succeeded in “combining productivity growth, full employment, labour peace, welfare state expansion, steady wage growth and greater social equality”. Much of this is no doubt true—except, crucially, “greater social equality”. A rise in wages does not mean an erosion of inequality, particularly when profits rise at a similar or higher rate, a factor represented here by "productivity growth". While workers certainly did become "better off”, inequalities, including those of power, remained more-or-less the same, the capitalists remaining in charge, workers remaining wage-slaves.

The "success" of Western Social Democracy was largely illusory and certainly very limited as, even in its own terms, it was based on a "class compromise" that was in its turn largely a product of Western capitalism's ability to keep ahead in global capitalist competition and of the absence of severe economic crisis. When the economies of other nations and blocs, particularly in the Middle and the Far East, began to technologically "catch up", and when global profit rates fell Western economic stability evaporated along with its hegemony and took the Social Democratic mirage with it.

The shift in international economic/power relations made a qualitative change in Western methods of production necessary, as Wilks-Heeg states:
  "Today, in an era of globalisation, rapid technological change and dramatically enhanced competition, capital has sought greater flexibility and deregulation . . . Inevitably, these changes have disrupted the terms of the class compromise. In order to survive, capital has had to break from traditional relationships with labour and pressured governments to facilitate flexibility and de-regulation."
In other words, class struggle in the West has gone from a relatively muted affair into a state of open warfare, with the ruling class very much on the attack. In the face of this attack the Social Democrat reformists have simply capitulated, being openly and fully on the side of capital and Union leaders have by-and-large gone with them, apparently regarding themselves (in a time dishonoured neo-Stalinist manner) as simply the industrial wing of the Social Democratic parties, trying to keep the workers in line to facilitate electoral victories for their political masters.

This pamphlet contains much that we would not agree with but, on the whole, Wilks-Heeg presents a very pertinent and interesting analysis of the present state of reformist politics. Sadly, he continues to try and think of ways to rejuvenate reformism, failing to draw the obvious conclusion that social reform is by-and-large a failure and social revolution is both necessary and desirable.
Jonathan Clay

Letter: 'Opportunity . . . for rich pickings' (1997)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Adam Buick states Militant Labour's position has been for civil war to achieve socialism. This has never been the case.

We have always stated socialism will be carried out through democratic means and that it would be those who do not accept the democratic wishes of the majority of the people who would try to overthrow a socialist government.

If Adam Buick had ever taken the trouble to read our material he would know this. When Harold Wilson was Labour Prime Minister, certain leading figures in the armed forces and the business community discussed a possible military coup if Wilson carried out socialism.

Militant Labour has always argued for an extension of democracy. whereby MPs are accountable at all times through the right of recall, and only receive the average wage of a worker, ensuring they live in the same conditions and represent the interests of the people whom they represent.

The present system allows MPs to ignore the wishes of the electorate and vote themselves massive pay rises.

Many of them also have second or third jobs, and are open to corruption. You have to question in whose interest they act.

We have also always called for proper democratic control of the police and the judiciary so they serve the vast majority of people in this country, instead of the top wealthy 10 percent.
Brian Blake, 
Hillingdon, West London

We don’t know which is more absurd. That Harold Wilson really could have “carried out socialism”, or that certain “leading figures" in the armed forces and business community really did discuss a military coup to overthrow him.

Wilson wouldn't even have dreamed of carrying out socialism (he didn’t even know what it was—he once confessed that he couldn't even get beyond page one of Marx's Capital). But even if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to, since no government can introduce socialism for people any more than a vanguard party can.

As a system of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit demanding popular consent and participation, socialism can only be established when a majority want and understand it and show this by, among other things, voting for it. The fact that people had voted for a Labour government showed that what they wanted was Labour administration of capitalism not socialism.

Wilson was a capitalist politician elected to run British capitalism. Which he did in the only way possible: as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits. To this end, he froze wages, denounced strikes and planned to bring in anti-union laws. All this earned him the gratitude, not the opposition. of the business community. Many of them took jobs on the quangos he set up while others accepted the knighthoods and peerages he was notorious for handing out to them.

Towards the end there was some discontent over his inability to hamstring the unions in the way Thatcher was later to do. but no "military coup” was discussed. The most that might have happened was some idle talk of this amongst disgruntled junior members of the intelligence service, at least if what one of them, Peter Wright, wrote in his book Spycatcher is to be believed.

You seem to be confusing this with the book and TV play A Very British Coup by Labour MP Chris Mullins. But this was a work of fiction and. in any event, more realistically than in your scenario, has the coup fail because people back the elected government and its prime minister.

But this is not the only place where you have mistaken fiction for reality. It's the same with your claim that Militant does not envisage a civil war to achieve its aim. Militant is a Trotskyist organisation, i.e. a sect within the Leninist tradition. and Trotskyists have always argued that it is not possible for them to capture power peacefully and democratically through the ballot box.

If you doubt this, read Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism and Lenin's State and Revolution and his The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky—we are sure Militant's book service will gladly supply them for you—in which the doctrine that the vanguard party can only come to power by means of a violent insurrection is set out in quite unambiguous terms.

This does not rule out Trotskyists contesting elections but only as a tactic to win influence and build up support for the vanguard party. Militant's current electoralist “turn", and accompanying change of name to a party, is to be seen in this light. It is merely a manoeuvre to better position itself viz its rivals, the SLP and the SWP, to take advantage of working-class discontent under a future Blair government.

This is made abundantly clear in an internal document published last November entitled "The Name Debate (4)". Here Militant's Executive Committee states that "the issue of the name of our organisation is a tactical or presentational issue, not a matter of principle" (p. 4) while a member of the National Centre writes that "politics is the art of timing and there is a serious danger that if we don't come to a decision, we will miss the opportunity of rich pickings in the next period" (p. 44). How cynical can you get?

These Foolish Things: Love Me, Do (1997)

The Scavenger column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Love me, do

For Valentine’s Day. the brewing combine, Bass, launched a new alcopop especially for young lovers. It is called Smooch. It has the flavour of passion fruit and an alcohol content of 4.5 percent. In January the Health Education Authority attacked the targeting of boys and girls with specially designed alcoholic drinks and the big brewers made appropriately responsible noises. But Bass is proposing to spend £5 million promoting stiles of alcopops in 1996-7

Dear Editor (1)

“ . . . I am to have a rent increase of £7.50. pushing my rent from £37 a week to £44.50 for a two-bed flat. I pay out £88 a week on basic bills That’s now, and after my increase? Well, so what? I will just get into debt. I eat by not paying a bill, and no chance in hell of paying it off—all this out of a take- home pay of £95 for 35 hours’ work a week, including weekends. I pay into a credit union in order to finance my TV licence. Being trapped on the dole isn’t so bad as being trapped in low-paid labour . . . “ Evening Mail, 19 December.

Recycling poverty in Britain

According to figures from the University of Essex, almost half those defined as poor in a given year are above the poverty line 12 months later—but at least a third slip down the income ladder again the following year. "The picture which emerges is a churning of incomes rather than a one-way ticket out of poverty," (Professor Jenkins) said. Drawing on a panel of 8,000 households, the research shows that the bulk of the "persistent” poor are pensioners and unemployed parents. including lone parents. Families moving in and out of poverty tend to be victims of redundancy, divorce or the death of a breadwinning partner. The arrival of a baby also pushed some households below the breadline, the researchers found. Guardian, 24 October.

Dear Editor (2)

"I am 53 years old. and have been working since leaving school at 15. I am to be made redundant in April, after 1 have been paying into my work's pension scheme for the last 30 years. Calling into the Selly Oak Job Centre. I was told that because I will be drawing over £50 a week from my work’s pension, I am not entitled to any state money. So I have paid into the system for 38 years and got nowt. I will not be classed as unemployed . . . " Evening Mail, 9 January).

The richest nation

The US leads the industrial world in child poverty, according to a Christian humanitarian coalition. Around 22 percent of Americans under 18 years old live in poverty. One child in four under 13 is hungry or at the risk of hunger, according to a survey by the Bread For The World Institute issued in Luxembourg. Canada and Australia tie for second in the child hunger league table, ahead of Ireland and Israel and then Britain, where one in ten children under 18 live in poverty. A separate UN report last week counted 1.3 billion people worldwide who survive on less that $1 a day. An estimated 60 percent of the globe lives on less than $2 a day, according to the UN Development Programme. Guardian, 24 October.
The Scavenger

Greasy Pole: Getting Tougher (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was not so long ago when the competition between the Labour Party and the Tories was over which of them was the more moderate. Political extremists were dangerous, damaging, eccentric, beyond the pale. And anyway they were suspected of losing votes. Moderation was the buzz-word. There was something called a bi-partisan foreign policy, under which broad agreement between the two big parties decided how the interests of British capitalism were to be represented abroad. In economic affairs there was Butskellism, a combination of the names Butler and Gaitskill. who were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Shadow Chancellor and who were expected to agree on almost everything about working-class exploitation and making profits

This was all very cosy, even if it could cause frustration among some MPs. There was, for example, the Tory Gerald Nabarro, a loud-mouthed buffoon who sat for a well- heeled constituency in Worcestershire and who once asked out loud whether any sensible parent would want their daughter bringing home a black man. There were those Labour Members who had come to Parliament from a background in the mines or the shipyards and who persisted, in the face of all the evidence, in their belief that their party would one day transform society in the interests of the working class. No serious attention was paid to these people: moderation, bi-partisan policies were regarded as the best way to protect the interests of British capitalism.

Well things are a bit different now because the competition today is for the title of the tougher party and in this the Labour Party is doing its best to make the running. Gordon Brown, who recently dispelled rumours that he is moderate enough to consider getting married, promises that when he is Chancellor he will be tough on government spending. There will, he says, be no blank cheques, which means no uncontrolled expenditure on things which most people probably think highly desirable if not vital; things like health care, education, housing. Jack Straw promises that when he is Home Secretary he will be tough on people who wash car windscreens without being asked, noisy neighbours, kids who are on the streets when they should be in bed. David Blunkett will show he has taken over Education by being tough on homework. Tony Blair will be tough on just about everything and everyone, especially members of his party who disagree with him, because he is the Leader and he wants to be Prime Minister.

The Labour Party’s zeal to become the next government is causing its leaders to take stances which many of their supporters must find surprising, or amusing, or outrageous. In fact the leaders are only revealing the true nature and purpose of the party, a capitalist political organisation whose object is to be in power. In the past this has often been obscured by Labour leaders' pretence that their policies will transform capitalism to the benefit of the majority. New Labour has gone some way to disposing of that fallacy. When, for example, Gordon Brown talks about not signing blank cheques he is stating a fact, even if the people who, according to him, have benefited from "blank cheques"; sick people. unemployed workers, the homeless, single parents on benefit will be considerably puzzled to hear about this generosity which they are supposed to have received.

In a recent conference on homeless young people (organised by the National Children's Homes, which wants to abolish homelessness among people aged 16 to 21 within five years. No-one should hold their breath about this) Blair claimed that in spite of its get-tough policies the Labour Party still cares: "I believe you can be in favour of zero tolerance of crime and zero tolerance of homeless" was how he put it. This subtle link of crime and being without a home illustrates how Blair and his party are trying to face both ways at once on the issue. If crime is encouraged by social and personal handicaps, why is the Labour Party so keen to punish the criminals? What happened to the principle Labour once lay claim to to deal with the causes of disruptive behaviour rather than with the people who disrupt? (In fact, there is evidence that homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators. They are more vulnerable than the average; that is one reason Kings Cross is so ugly a place.)

At that conference Blair defended his New Labour policies:
   "It is only by broadening our appeal that we stand a chance of winning an election: and frankly it is only by winning an election that we will be able to do anything for the poor, the unemployed and the homeless."
The Blair strategy, of making the Labour Party so much like the Conservatives that they will benefit from the kind of voter intentions which have kept the Tories in power since 1979, may have one effect the Labour leader has not bargained for. If, the voters may ask, there is nothing to choose between these two parties what is the point of making a choice?

This attitude can already be found by anyone who gets involved in a discussion about politics with people who would normally vote for one of the capitalist parties. It is very difficult to find someone who supports the Labour Party with any passion or conviction. It is very difficult to find anyone who intends to vote Labour but believes a Labour government will be noticeably different from the present one. Cynicism rules, but is this OK?

No. Because cynicism can breed apathy. as people who are pre-occupied with the struggle to get a living ask questions about the effectiveness, not only of politicians. but of the whole process of political debate and choice. It is healthy to doubt the politicians, to use our experience to expose their opportunism, the flaws in their arguments, their inability to affect the problems they solved so easily in their manifestos. But to despair of political issues, to give up working to understand why capitalism works as it does and what we have to do to change society, is to surrender our political power.

The case for a new society docs not deal in moderate compromises with opponents. It is the clear assertion of the fact that those who run the world now can do it in their own interest instead of that of a parasite minority. It is not power to the Tories or to New Labour but to the people.

50 Years Ago: The Changing Temper of the Workers (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Right from the commencement of the Labour Government the workers have shown a determination to resist the attack upon wages and conditions that is very heartening in these dull times. We are particularly impressed with the steadfastness with which they have pursued a strike policy, striking again and again, in spite of the privations their actions have brought upon their families and their fellows, and with a total disregard of the solemn warnings about the imminent collapse of this rotten capitalist system.

One thing further may be said. The workers are receiving a salutary lesson in the futility of Labour politics which should go far to weaken their faith in programmes to reform Capitalism and in the parties that support these programmes. Maybe the time is not far distant when the workers will realise that it is the Capitalist basis of society from which alone spring the evils that afflict them. From that point it will be a short step to the knowledge that their only hope of salvation lies in the establishment of Socialism.

(From an article by ‘Gilmac’, Socialist Standard,  March, 1947)