Monday, December 14, 2020

Political Notebook: Boo, Hiss (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Boo, Hiss.

In politics it is like panto time the whole year round, with all the capitalist parties having their demon king for the others to boo and hiss.

Tony Benn, for example, is guaranteed to cause nervous Tory ladies to have more nightmares than The Exorcist. Rhodes Boyson has the ability to reduce keen Labour supporters to a small cloud of indignant steam.

Each of these demons plays the part; Benn has a formidable stare, to convince all the spinsters of Bournemouth that he will have them raped under their beds. Boyson’s high dome and jungle of side- whiskers are straight out of Dotheboy’s Hall; quite clearly, he is plotting to starve all schoolchildren and to bring back hanging for theft of a hankerchief.

But the pantomime tradition has a habit of undermining itself, as the political bogey men become respectable — even loved — and sometimes in power, Churchill, for example, was once hated by many committed Tories. Aneurin Bevan, as he died, had almost cast off the diabolical image and seemed about to mellow into Gaitskell’s compliant right hand man. And Wilson, who was once thought to have ambitions to serve notice to quit on the fiddling business men of British capitalism, ended up by giving many of them honours, at the same time as he took one himself.

One of the uses of the demon kings is to draw the opposition’s fire and to become a personalisation of the popular misconceptions of their party’s policies. And if they are very clever, they can judge correctly when to stop being the demon king and start being the good fairy.

The danger in all this is that, like the panto, it is a diversion: it attracts attention away from the real political issues. Whatever the guise of the people who get into power over capitalism at any time, their basic function is the same—to try to run the system and survive politically. The workers who vote for or against them because they are entranced or frightened by the spectacle are living a fairy tale—and one with no happy ending.

Teddy Bares His Soul.

Edward Kennedy has everything—or almost everything. He is rich, famous, handsome, atheletic; and now, in a dramatic baring of his soul, he has revealed that he has the added quality of generosity.

For years he has been resisting the efforts of his friends who want him to take over running American capitalism. At one time Kennedy protested that, with a glut of fatherless nephews and nieces, his family commitments were too pressing. It was also hinted that, not surprisingly, he was reluctant to end up being assassinated like his two brothers.

But now the pressure has proved too strong; Kennedy has relented and will contest the Democratic nomination— and he is doing it all for the good of the American people. Having originally supported Carter for the presidency, Kennedy has suddenly found out that American capitalism is in an awful mess—and he has decided that Carter is to blame.

Even more, he is persuaded that only he can sort the mess out, although it is unusual, to say the least, for a sitting President to have to fight for re-nomination. At times, Kennedy’s enthusiasm seems to be getting the better of him; on a recent campaign tour in Carter country in the Deep South he was rash enough to promise that he would “roll back” rising prices (how many politicians have lived to regret that one?)

And, even more enthusiastic, Kennedy has persuaded his wife, who was driven to alcoholism by the stress of his life style, to totter to the platform to support his candidacy.

If such open cynicism succeeds, it will be because the Carter administration is so thoroughly discredited; even the media have stopped showing him to be a nimble, active man and have begun to put out pictures of him stumbling and falling to the ground, just like they used to with Gerry Ford.

None of this promises that it will be a dignified, analytical election campaign. Carter’s government has had no more success in doing the impossible—controlling capitalism so that it works in the interests of the American working class than has any other. The Kennedys are famous now as ruthless operators of a political ambitions machine—and Edward Kennedy is perhaps the most ruthless, ambitious and unsavoury of them all.

So it seems the campaign will be a savage, cynical affair. The best man may or may not win (if there is a best man) but in any case it will not matter—the victor will carry on trying to do the impossible and capitalism will come out on top.

Stormy Front.

Like some malignant tumour, the National Front took root and flourished through a sort of cellular subdivision among other racialist organisations in this country. For some years, it has led the field in this particular brand of anti-working class propaganda, trumpeting its object of making racism respectable. It has had some ominously successful election campaigns.

But behind this facade—and behind the dramatic, flag-forested parades, the strutting leaders, the hooligan rank and file all has not been well with the NF. It has gone through a succession of leadership crises and has seen its votes fall away.

Now the Front is experiencing yet another schism from which, perhaps, another equally obnoxious party will emerge. This schism is reported to revolve around the objectionable personality of the NF propaganda specialist Martin Webster, who has indeed never gone out of his way to cultivate a reputation as a sensitive artist in human relations.

There is a certain irony in this struggle. If the Front were in power it is likely that the losers of the battle within its ranks would suffer a consequence a lot less gentle—and a lot more final—than that of simply being expelled from the organisation. So perhaps they have something to be thankful for, in those poor election results.

If there should be an open split in the Front, there will probably be rejoicing among such bodies as the Anti-Nazi League and the Socialist Workers Party, who will see this as a triumph over racism. In fact, the pernicious ideas put out by the NF and the like will always find a receptive audience among workers who are degraded, exploited, poverty-laden and confused about the reasons for their condition.

Racism is the nomination of a scapegoat for the evils which capitalism brings. The most effective weapon against it is not in violence or repression but in a clear, consistent analysis of capitalism and of how it causes workers’ problems. No banners are waved in that but it is more enduring—because it answers to reality—than any parade.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Unsigned but it reads like it could have been written by Steve Coleman.