Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Between the Lines: Return to EastEnders (1993)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Return to EastEnders
The piece in this column in the March issue on the BBC’s EastEnders provoked a mixed response from readers. Michelle Howard, of London, protested:
  I wish to comment on Steve Coleman’s review of the TV series EastEnders in which he describes the characters as, amongst other things, “unlovable, mindless lowlives” and “working class trash”.
 Using the “self-fulfilling prophecy" theory, he argues that viewers “internalize these ‘negative’ images as portrayed in EastEnders" and actually become “detestable specimens of the worst in humanity".
  I meet many, many people who are similar in personality and character to some of the “EastEnders” and, far from being the scum of the earth, are warm likeable and intelligent human beings. They may not be University-educated but that does not make them stupid. The essence of EastEnders is surely about human relationships and the kind of problems that can arise in everyday living.
 Whilst I feel that the programme romanticizes working-class life in the sense that we see a community where isolation is impossible and mutual support in abundance, I feel that it has handled a number of topical issues in a very sensitive and educational way (Cathy’s rape, Mark's HIV).
  I have shown the review to four friends (all Marxists) and they also find it patronizing. Can we have an explanation?
Joe Kenyon of Barnsley, on the other hand, asked if he can reproduce it in the newsletter he prepares for the Claimants and Unemployed Workers Union:
  The Between the Lines article by Steve Coleman was very, very apt and most interesting. It echoed my constant criticism of the East Enders. Indeed in our house we often refer to the EastEnders as "What a Rotten Lot". We sing it along with the signature tune. I was wondering if Steve Coleman would let me use it, with a few more expletives added, in a future newsletter which I am preparing (Of course you can use it—anyone can— but don't forget to say where it came from—Editors).
Please send in more letters like these: the TV column seeks to arouse heated debate. Needless to say. whether or not you are a socialist is not determined by your view of EastEnders: being a socialist means an active commitment to the establishment of a global society where resources are owned in common, controlled democratically and there is production solely for use. Whether you think that the Mitchell Brothers or Pat Butcher are “warm, likeable and intelligent human beings” is secondary.

It is secondary, but not irrelevant to how you see the world. Most novels published in the last century either ignored reference to the working class, lest the presence of the majority disturb the prettified imagery of the free and wealthy “characters” or it depicted workers as being somewhat slow-witted, untrustworthy and mob-like. In many respects the soap opera is the much more popular contemporary successor to the novel. We know that soaps have a huge influence upon viewers by offering a picture of reality to serve as an image of what living in this society is really like.

Some American soaps repeated the old novelists’ pattern of completely ignoring the working class. For example, Dallas relegated the wage slaves to voiceless Mexican servants, while the "real characters” (mainly oil millionaires, billionnaires and their lovers) dominated the action. In Britain there has been more of a tendency to try to depict the workers in soap operas. Now, there is no doubt much about workers in EastEnders which you would find amongst any group of workers in any area.
If Michelle Howard really knows people like that and really likes them, good for her. The present writer would rather sit in a cold bath with copy of the telephone directory than have to spend a social evening with a bunch of any three of the detestable characters of Albert Square.

The assumption of the people who produce EastEnders is that the working class are, as Joe Kenyon amusingly suggests, a pretty rotten lot. In the idealised world of Albert Square there is a mean mindedness to life; nobody ever does anyone much of a favour unless there's something in it for them: every expression of affection can usually be expected to conceal dishonesty and corruption; in discussions, the politics of the fascistic gut feeling is rarely far beneath the surface.

That is a very patronising image of the working class. It is one which leaves this viewer feeling that there is no coincidence in the fact that workers who read, workers who play musical instruments for pleasure, workers who attend serious political meetings and workers who care and share with one another are so conspicuously missing from EastEnders. It is as if the programme producers are of the view that mere prolies would never do those sort of things.

So. the argument with EastEnders is about what reality is actually like—and what was argued in this column two months ago was (a) that workers are not as one-dimensionally brutish as EastEnders shows them to be, and (b) the depiction of our class in this way on their media is no coincidence, but a political choice, even if an unintended one.

Any more views?
Steve Coleman

Sting in the Tail: A dog’s life (1993)

The Sting in the Tail column from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

A dog’s life

Points of View (BBC1, 26 March) dealt with a TV story about an unemployed man and his family in Barrow who were struggling to survive on state benefits. After paying the bills they were left with about £20 to feed themselves.

The man had said that they couldn't afford to feed their pet dog so it might have to be put down. The viewer reaction to this was amazing. The BBC was inundated with letters from people who offered to send food for the mutt or even provide an allowance to feed it!

“Tragically”, said Anne Robinson the presenter, no one offered the man a job. Of course the real tragedy is that people are prepared to accept a society which, even though it can provide an abundance of food, still condemns other people to feed themselves on the princely sum of £20 a week.

It’s official

After the fiasco of last October's Black Wednesday, chancellor Norman Lamont appointed seven of Britain's most notable economists, ranging from monetarist diehard to Keynesian blowhard, to give the government the benefit of their collective wisdom on the economy.

The press quickly dubbed them “the seven wise men" and they had their first get-together in February. Now one of them, Professor Tim Congdon, has given his verdict on the other six:
  It turned out that none of the other members of the panel had any clear notion of how the quantity of money affects economic activity and the price level (Guardian, 9 March).
The Prof waded into his fellow panellists and, according to the Guardian, concluded that “they did not have a clue about how the economy really worked".

Socialists are forever pointing out how little the bourgeois economists know about the capitalist system they so admire, but could we have put it more brutally than has one of their own number?

The money go-round

The budget's reduction of tax credit on company dividends could mean that 70 percent of shareholders can look forward to smaller dividends. This immediately caused share prices to fall by £5 billion while government fixed-interest bonds suddenly became more popular with investors.

Switching funds around to get that little bit extra is something investors, especially the big institutions such as pension funds, must constantly do. During the Gulf War vast numbers of shares were sold to buy gold, the old stand-by in troubled times, but when the war ended investors “sold huge quantities of gold yesterday to raise the cash needed to buy into the booming stock market" (Guardian, 18 January 1992).

When interest rates were sky-high in the early 1990s investors moved funds into bank deposits which were bringing them 15 percent, but once rates fell then those deposits were switched back into shares and this has helped raise share prices to record levels.

And so it goes on, with capital moving endlessly between shares, gold, banks, bonds, etc, and back again in the restless search for the highest possible return.

Happy Endings

Charles Dickens was forced by public opinion to change the ending of Great Expectations. Many years later Hollywood film makers learned the same lesson. Never mind the plot's progression, give 'em a happy ending. People like happy endings? How about this scenario then?

For almost 400 years the working class have been exploited. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and even worse our daughters and sons have lived in chains. Frightened and poor we have done as we were bid.

But change comes. The working class grows up. It learns of its great potential power. It organises and it abolishes the wages system. It brings about a new system of society based on common ownership.

Hey, Steven Spielberg, we'll give you the film rights for nothing!

Just in case

ICI has won the contract to re-cycle or destroy US Army surplus explosives held in one of the world's biggest munition dumps.

This is a real big deal. This INAAP—Indiana Army Ammunition Plant—is an 11,000 acre site containing 1,400 buildings. 1S5 miles of roads and 80 miles of railroad track.

It is always good to see the end of arms build-ups, but alas the story is not one of undiminished joy. According to the Independent on Sunday (21 March):
   The company gets to use a state-of-the-art. well maintained factory. In return, it will employ local people and keep the production lines warm—just in case the previous occupant needs to make a sudden return.
With memories of Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf, the US Army are merely putting INAAP in the back burner for future use.


Mrs Thatcher's famous Downing Street remark at the end of the Falkland Islands conflict of “rejoice” seems even more inappropriate with the news that Scotland Yard are to investigate the claim that British soldiers shot Argentine prisoners.

Commenting on this, the Independent (27 March) reported:
  Investigations of war crimes perpetrated by the victors in a conflict are rare. “The victors can usually shut this kind of thing up", said a Ministry of Defence official. It was the publication in 1991 of Lance-Corporal Vincent Bromley's book, Excursion In Hell, with its account of the shooting of Argentine prisoners by British soldiers, that made these alleged crimes an exception.
Socialists are opposed to all capitalism's wars. To us they are all crimes. We will do our rejoicing when we get rid of capitalism.

Editorial: The Need is Socialism (1979)

Editorial from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904—seventy-five years ago this month. Any organisation which has lasted that long must be tempted to look back and congratulate itself simply on the fact of its own survival.

We have seen two world wars, prolonged international slumps, the rise of fearsome dictatorships and innumerable smaller crises, economic and political. Progress in political understanding has been hampered by the distortions of Labour government in this country and by the misnaming of the Russian dictatorship as socialist. The intensity of working class exploitation has been increased by developments which, in a sane society, could only be for human benefit. The very existence of human life is threatened now by the stockpiles of destruction which the power blocs of capitalism keep at the ready.

It has not been, then, a happy seventy-five years but yes, we have survived. And by survival we mean as a socialist party; we have kept the socialist case extant and active. Whatever minor mistakes we have made, the basic validity of the case for socialism has not been threatened by anything that has happened during our lifetime. Indeed, the opposite has been true; the need is for socialism now. as it was in 1904.

For socialists, then, this might be a time for self-congratulation, for complacently reviewing our achievements as if that is enough. But capitalism—an impossible, menacing turmoil of a society—remains and its abolition is urgent. Working for socialism is vital and at this time of our seventy-fifth anniversary we reaffirm our resolve to carry this on.

The socialist movement offers something unique. We alone analyse the events of capitalism from a consistent, Marxist standpoint. We alone are not misled by promises of reform of easing one social ailment here, another there, at the cost of capitalism’s continuation. Experience teaches us that this is futile. So we shall continue to stand, alone, for the only effective way of dealing with those ailments—the establishment of socialism.

But capitalism can move fast. Since the war we have seen developments in travel, communication and production which could scarcely have been dreamed of in 1904. Technical problems only recently regarded as insoluble have been solved. Recent progress in the field of micro-processors makes the computers of twenty years ago, then considered the ultimate in ingenuity, seem rudimentary and clumsy. And we are still only just beginning to scratch the surface of knowledge. The socialist movement alone consistently relates such developments to the realities of capitalist society. As long as capitalism endures, all such progress will be allowed only as it answers the demand for profitable production. Only socialism will truly set free the people’s talents to build an abundant world of free access to wealth.

Socialism will bring the uniting of the human race. Capitalism divides its peoples—in real terms on the basis of their class and in the mythology of the patriots and the racists on the basis of their country or their physical characteristics. These latter divisions, unscientific as they are, are the roots of much violence. The Socialist Party stresses the essential unity of the majority of the world’s people, to give mutual support during the class struggle of capitalism and-more importantly—in the struggle to end class society and replace it with the classless society of socialism.

This struggle is long and hard and, as the socialist movement is at present so small, lonely. It might seem easier to be diverted into some vote-catching gimmick but in the long run this would make our work harder still. It would signal the end of the socialist movement and leave us with the task of rebuilding. Our weapons in this struggle are words—debate, argument, comparisons, knowledge—and these we must bring to bear with all the power at our disposal.

So accuracy, clarity, cogency are vital to our work. This has been our pride; we do not indulge in smears, or in a distortion of what our opponents say—they condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Socialists tirelessly put our case, in debate, discussion, in speaking and writing. We do this not just to win our point but also to test the validity of what we are saying—and thus the case for socialism has been proven.

We are confident that this will continue. Socialism has been searchingly tested by reality and it has stood the test. There can be no doubt that a new society based upon common ownership is the only way to end the problems of modern society. Our task, seventy-five years old, is to keep that case alive, to sharpen our propaganda and to make our party into an ever more dynamic force for socialism.

Changes in the political scene (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1925, Joseph Clayton, in his Rise and Decline of Socialism wrote that “The Socialist Party of Great Britain, which was the Marx, the whole Marx and nothing but Marx . . . never had any luck.” His single test for all political parties was ‘how many members have they?’ If their membership was small he wasn’t interested. Indeed he admitted, in correspondence, that he had not even troubled to find out if the SPGB and the fading Social Democratic Federation were still in existence. So he did not have to examine the proposition that only socialism will solve the problems of the working class, or attempt to show that the big membership parties could either solve the problems within capitalism or could establish socialism.

But the scene constantly changes. Parties, both the openly capitalist ones and those claiming to have a different and quicker policy for achieving socialism, rise and decline and new party names—if not new policies—come along.

During the 19th Century and up to 1914 power was in the hands of Liberals and Tories alternately with, towards the end, the Liberals being supported in Parliament by their allies the growing Labour party. The last Liberal victory was in 1910. Then their decline set in and after World War 1 the Liberal vote at general elections never reached that of the Labour party. By 1951 it was only about 2½ per cent. Since then, owing to voters’ dissatisfaction with Labour and Tory governments, it climbed to 18 per cent in 1974 but fell back to 13.8 per cent in 1979.

Among the smaller parties claiming to be socialist the first “success” as measured by Mr Clayton, went to the Social Democratic Federation, which in 1892 claimed 7,400 members. Thereafter, with various changes of name, regroupings, and the loss of many members to the Labour party in 1920, it faded away and disappeared in 1939. Its first rivals had been the Fabian Society which still exists, though with diminished influence on the Labour party, and the Independent Labour Party, the greatest “success” of all. In 1925 it had 50,000 members, and at the general election in 1929 more than 200 Labour MPs were members of the ILP. But as the Labour party attracted Liberal voters, and many Liberal politicians joined its ranks, it had no further use for the ILP, which broke away and ceased to count. It finally wound up in 1975, telling its members to join the Labour party.

Next on the scene was the Communist Party of Great Britain. It followed the unsuccessful policy of street fighting, armed revolt and “heavy civil war”. Now it has become an ordinary reformist political party, its earlier policies being taken over by several new ‘left-wing’ organisations.

The Labour party too has changed. In its early days, though some of its leaders like Phillip Snowden tried to play it down in order not to offend the Liberals, it represented its prime aim as the abolition of capitalism and establishment of socialism. In debates, the Labour speakers would usually declare their full acceptance of socialism as defined by the SPGB, and maintain that the difference was only about how to get socialism. As late as 1925 Attlee, who became Labour Prime Minister in 1945, declared that the Labour party believed “in the abolition of classes and in an equalitarian society”. (The Will and the Way to Socialism). There were to be no rich and no poor, no cramped dwellings and no luxury mansions. All were to be ‘equal’. It is ironic in view of the efforts of his own, and succeeding, Labour governments to hold down wages that, according to Attlee, a Labour government would seek to achieve the equalising process by a policy of “wage increases”. In 1945 the Labour party election programme declared “The Labour Party is a socialist party, and proud of it”. Nowadays, in spite of some feeble efforts of Callaghan and Michael Foot during the recent campaign to resuscitate the “socialist” appeal for the benefit of the “faithful”, Labour Party propaganda and policies are openly directed to proving that the Labour party is better at handling capitalism’s problems than is the Tory Party. In a recent interview Callaghan said
  Socialism has always been a matter of controversy in the Labour Party and there are millions of Labour Party supporters who aren’t socialists and never have been.
(Observer 3 December 1978) 
It was a different story when the Labour Party took office in 1929. The Labour Daily Herald (1 June 1929) said
  This great appeal to the public has shown that socialism has no terrors for millions of men and women in this country of all classes and callings. The magnificent results we record today are an earnest that at no very distant date the banners of socialism will be carried to that final victory of which the present triumph is only a prelude.
So the Socialist Party of Great Britain has still, by Clayton’s standard, “never had any luck”, but the parties which said they knew how to humanise capitalism have failed, and the parties which thought they had discovered short cuts to socialism have come and gone and the socialist proposition still holds the field.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: After the election (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

How and why is it that the majority of the people are worse off than their employers—the few? Mainly because the workers do not realise that their vote plays so important a part in influencing their conditions of life. Let us remember that whatever government has been in power its influence has been used, for instance, in deciding industrial disputes, even to the extent of using the police, soldiers etc; and don’t forget that those who have to work for a living are those who have the majority of votes and are themselves responsible for having elected the governments which have used their power against the workers . . . But if the majority have no decided views or are divided, the capitalist minority will go on as now, turning the world in the way which is very comfortable for them, but not for us. We tell you the way out, and we are sure that if you think about it you will sooner or later agree with us. You have tried Conservative, Liberal and Labour. We ask you to try socialism instead.

(From an article “To wives, mothers and others” by Hilda McClatchie, Socialist Standard June 1929)

Small wall of China (1979)

Democracy Wall
From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the downfall of the “Gang of Four”, the Chinese ruling class have embarked on a policy of rapid modernisation and industrialisation. The extent of their plans can be seen in some details from the Ten-Year Plan for 1976-85, which was formulated by the State Council in 1975 and endorsed by the National People’s Congress in March 1978. It is envisaged that between 1978 and 1985 the gross investment budgeted for capital construction will be equal to that for the entire period 1950-78. By 1985 it is intended that ten new iron and steel complexes, ten oil and gas fields and thirty power stations, among many other undertakings, will have been constructed. The gross value of agricultural output is supposed to increase by four to five per cent per annum, and of industrial output by over ten per cent (figures taken from Chairman Hua Guofeng’s speech to the Fifth National People's Congress).

To achieve all this will require vast resources, which will come from two sources: loans to the order of hundreds of millions of pounds from overseas banks to finance purchases of goods and technology, and the unpaid labour of the working class. The amount of the latter is to be increased by urging China’s workers to work harder and stifle any complaints, largely by dangling the carrot of piece-wages before them (see the Socialist Standard, December 1978). The first method seems to have been pretty successful, since banks are only too keen to lend money when they know their customer won’t do a moonlight flit and is likely to return cap in hand again and again. But the second method has run into problems.

At the same time as calling on the workers to put their backs into it, and with a sense of timing such as to make Jim Callaghan look like a political genius, it was announced that members of the so-called “national bourgeoisie”; the “patriotic industrialists and businessmen”, would have money and property which was confiscated during the Cultural Revolution returned to them. This is said to be because such people are experienced in the ways of the world (the capitalist world) and can help in China’s dealings with other countries. It is also pointed out that the earlier confiscations were illegal, and indeed according to the constitution “The state protects the right of citizens to own lawfully-earned income”. The beneficiaries of the repayments are former private capitalists whose property was nationalised in the 1950s in return for interest-bearing government bonds. Now they are having cash and personal possessions returned to them. The existence of privilege and inequality is thus flaunted and endorsed by the government, while the other side of the coin is seen in the recent ruling that families with more than two children will suffer cuts in their income. For instance, workers who produce a third child will have five per cent of their wages deducted for welfare expenses a kind of reverse family allowance which not even an English Tory would dare to propose.

Cynical Treatment
There are signs, however, that not all of China’s workers are prepared to accept this cynical treatment. For over the last few months there has been a remarkable upsurge of dissident activity, much of it centred on the “Democracy Wall” along Peking’s main street. It seems possible to discern three main tendencies within this activity. One, the most active in the production of wall posters, is the demand for “human rights”, specifically for freedom of speech. One poster asked President Carter to turn his attention to the state of human rights in China, on the grounds that China’s record in this field does not compare favourably with other countries.

There have also been at least two demonstrations for food and the “right to work”. One, in mid-January, was held outside Zhongnanhai, the compound in central Peking where the top rulers live. A fortnight later, as thirty thousand officials gathered at the Great Mall of the People to celebrate the Chinese New Year, a hundred and fifty peasants stood outside with banners proclaiming “We want to eat” and “We want clothes”; the demonstrators were dispersed, and an organiser arrested.

Lastly, there have been protests by young people against their being assigned to jobs in distant cities or deep in the countryside. This practice (which obviates urban unemployment) has long been unpopular among those affected by it, and Chinese newspapers have in the past given prominence to urban youths living in the countryside who have married local commune-members and decided to settle there permanently. In early February, Shanghai youths staged sit-ins along railway tracks and protested outside the offices of the city’s employment bureau. Others have returned without authorisation to their home cities, where they have turned to begging and theft in order to live without the ration coupons necessary for the purchase of rice and cotton clothing.

The government’s reaction to these protests has been typical of dictatorships everywhere. Critics have been arrested, the area available for wall posters has been progressively reduced, and anti-government posters have been speedily removed. In Shanghai new by-laws were passed restricting where posters could be placed; demonstrators protested that this was an infringement of their democratic rights, only to be told that the purpose was simply to reduce congestion in the streets. Nevertheless, the fact that protest still continues strongly suggests that the government feels itself unable to stamp down on it completely—presumably because the dissidents, however few they are in number, are too strong for this to be successful.

It is not reported that any of the protestors have appealed to the Chinese Constitution (adopted at the Congress mentioned earlier) in defence of their freedom to protest, though they may well have. Article 45 states: “Citizens enjoy freedom of speech, correspondence, the press, assembly, association, procession, demonstration and the freedom to strike”. Mind you, as well as enjoying such marvellous freedoms, citizens also have certain duties, for instance they “must support the leadership of the Communist Party of China” (Article 56).

The provisions of Article 45 are of course a complete dead letter. There are no such freedoms in China for any but the tiny minority of the country’s ruling class: the newspapers and other media are entirely government-controlled, and the arrests of demonstrators show that the other freedoms mentioned are inapplicable in practice. Strikes do occur, but not often, and in any case can be declared unconstitutional under Article 8, according to which no person may “disrupt the economic order of society”. The Chinese case shows clearly the limitations of paper rights and freedoms as enshrined in constitutions.

This does not however mean that the de facto ability to organise and discuss under capitalism is of no value to the working class. Without political democracy in this sense there is no possibility of establishing socialism. The events in China are evidence that at least some workers there have come to realise the necessity of achieving such freedoms and are prepared to run the considerable risks involved in acting on that realisation. It is tragic that their protests should be mixed up with nonsense about “human rights” and appeals to leaders of other capitalist countries. But at least some Chinese workers are well aware of the undemocratic nature of the society they live in, and others are not prepared just to accept their poverty.

Dissident Activity
It must be acknowledged that current dissident activity in China (it makes no sense as yet to speak of a dissident movement) is on a very low level. After all, ninety-eight per cent of the population do not live in Peking or Shanghai, and only a fraction of the population even of these cities are involved, though there may well be more going on than can be discerned from this distance (it is unlikely that the Western media will devote the same kind and degree of attention to Chinese dissidents as they do to their Russian counterparts as long as Western capitalism feels its interests to be served by trade and other close links with China). Moreover there is no indication that the current crop of protesters have managed to recognise the state capitalist nature of the society they live in, unlike many Russian dissidents and the Sheng-wu-lian group who flourished briefly in China during the Cultural Revolution.

In spite of the confused nature of their ideas and aims, the Chinese dissidents are an inevitable product of a class-divided society. We look forward to the day when socialist posters appear on the streets of Peking and the establishment of a socialist party is possible in China.
Paul Bennett

Letter From Europe: Congress of French reformists (1979)

French Socialist Party in session, Metz 1979. Mitterrand b/r.
The Letter From Europe Column from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Congress of the so-called Socialist Party (PS) in France took place in Metz the week before Easter. It was marked by preliminary manoeuvrings for the position of the Party’s candidate for the 1981 Presidential elections. The two contenders were the present leader, Francois Mitterrand, a recycled wheeler-dealer politician from the old IVth Republic (1946-58) now posing as a socialist, and Michel Rocard, an ambitious technocrat who was once leader of the left wing breakaway “Parti socialiste unifie” (PSU).

Both have been Presidential candidates before. Mitterrand in 1965 and 1974 (when he missed by only 1 per cent beating the present President, Giscard d’Estaing). Rocard in 1969 when he was the candidate of the PSU, standing against the official candidate of the PS, which he did not rejoin till 1974.

The real issue before the Congress was not the choice of a Presidential candidate although this was at the back of the delegates’ minds. In France the conferences of trade unions and left wing political parties do not have before them, as in Britain, a list of resolutions to be voted on one by one. Instead they have to vote on rival global strategies, long wordy statements called “motions”, presented by “currents” within the organisation. For the PS congress at Metz seven such currents had been formed to propose a motion, only four of which were significant: apart from those of Mitterrand and Rocard, that of Pierre Mauroy, mayor of Lille and boss of the PS machine in the North of France, and that presented by CERES (“Centre d’etudes, de recherche et d’education socialistes”) which regards itself as the left wing of the PS.

Reversal of Alliances
In the end, the Mitterrand motion obtained 47 per cent of the votes of delegates, Rocard’s 21 per cent, Mauroy’s 17 per cent and CERES’ 15 per cent. These four currents will be represented proportionally on the Party’s management committee and executive bureau but at the start only Mitterrand’s supporters were on the National Secretariat which runs the day-to-day affairs of the Party. A few weeks after the Congress representatives of CERES were admitted to the Secretariat so that the Party is now run by a Mitterrand-CERES alliance. Since, for the previous four years, the Party had been run by a Mitterrand-Rocard-Mauroy alliance, with only CERES excluded, this reversal of alliances is regarded as a turn to the left by the PS.

But this all depends on what you mean by “left”. It is a virtually meaningless term that is best avoided, a position which is reinforced from an examination of CERES’ claim to be left wing. For CERES (like the so-called Communist Party in France) is a staunch defender of French national independence, opposing the Common Market as an American-backed threat to this independence. Again like PCF, it wants to see established in France a nationalist state capitalist regime, cut off from the rest of the world market. Policies which, before the last war, would have been regarded as “right wing” and even fascist. In addition, many members of CERES are practising Catholics even though they claim to be Marxists (no wonder Marx once said that he wasn’t a Marxist!).

Mitterrand too is a Catholic and this illustrates a change that has come over the PS since it was reorganised on a new basis in 1971. Up until 1969, it has been known as the SFIO or “French Section of the Workers’ International”, a name it gave itself when it was founded as a uniting of rival groups in 1905 under the auspices of the Second International with the open reformist and anti-Marxist Jean Jaures as leader. In 1920 most of its members voted to affiliate the Party to the Comintern and to become the Communist Party; the minority led by Leon Blum broke away reviving the old name of SFIO. By the 1930s, the SFIO had grown bigger than the PC and it was Blum who became Prime Minister of the Popular Front government in 1936. During and after the war it was the PC that emerged as what the trotskyites would call “the party of the working class” or the party that most factory workers and trade unionists supported.

The SFIO was a militant anti-clerical party—much more so than the PC—whose strength and support was drawn from traditionally Republican and Radical areas. For a reformist party, a party seeking the support of as many workers as possible on a programme of reforms, this was a handicap since it thereby cut itself off from half its potential supporters: the Catholic-minded workers. Overcoming this handicap, which enabled the Party to penetrate traditionally Catholic areas in the West and East of France, is the main reason for the success of the new style PS under Mitterrand’s leadership.

The PS has now once again overtaken the PC as the main left wing party in France. Despite an often acrimonious rivalry, the PS and PC are both committed to the strategy of the “union of the left”; in other words, an electoral alliance and coalition government (together with a much smaller group of breakaway Radicals who call themselves “Left Radicals”). The closeness of this alliance was one of the issues which divided Mitterrand and Rocard, with Rocard urging that the PS should take a more independent line. Another issue between these two currents was the degree of central State ownership and control of the economy. Expressed in terms of arguments that have gone on in Eastern Europe, Mitterand can be said to be for a more or less centralised State capitalism while Rocard favours so-called “market socialism” and workers’ councils.

In actual fact these differences are not important since, if the PS ever comes to power, it would be faced not with the problem of putting into practice some airy principles it might have adopted but with the problem of running capitalism. It would be capitalism that would dictate the priorities, just as it has done to the various Labour governments in Britain and to the various Social Democratic governments in the other countries of Europe.

No Experience
The PS has never had experience of trying to govern capitalism. though some of its individual leaders have including Mitterrand himself. But that was before he claimed to be a socialist and his record then was not particularly “left wing”: it was he who as Minister of the Interior banned a number of PC and trade union marches in Paris in 1954 and 1955 and it was he who as Minister of Justice signed the death warrant in 1957 of a member of the PC in Algeria. Because it has not had this experience the PS has many more illusions than similar reformist parties in other countries about what it thinks it will be able to do if it comes to power. Thus the Mitterrand motion, which obtained the most votes at the Metz Congress, declares:
  The object of the PS is not to modernise or to moderate capitalism but is to replace it with Socialism.
Such language has not been used by the Labour Party in Britain since 1945, even if by “socialism” is only meant “state capitalism”. The PS missed a chance of coming to power last year when it failed to win the March general election. Its next chance won’t come till 1981 when either Mitterrand or Rocard will be put up to challenge Giscard d’Estaing, who will be seeking a further seven-year term as President. But if it does come to power in 1981 it will be to try to modernise and moderate capitalism. Not having (not even having sought) a mandate for socialism, it will have no alternative but to continue capitalism. But capitalism can only be run in one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of those who live off profits, which any PS or PS-PC coalition government in France would be sooner or later forced to recognise and put into practice.
Adam Buick