Editorial from the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
Budgets and Budget speeches follow more or less regular patterns year after year. First it is the deep gloom type—”We are on the brink of disaster and only a desperate effort will save us.” This is normally followed by the “don’t rock the boat” type—"if we keep on a steady course we shall make it”; and a year later by the "let us rejoice, prosperity is round the corner and we can afford a few tax reductions.” In the fourth year it starts again on gloom and disaster.
Thorneycroft and Gaitskell
The budget this year is type number two. The last budget of the Labour Government, introduced by Mr. Gaitskell in April, 1951, was type number 1. It put up income tax, levied another 4½d. a gallon on petrol increased entertainment tax on cinema seats, introduced charges for spectacles and false teeth, and stepped up some purchase tax rates. On the other side it raised the marriage and child allowances for income tax and increased old age pensions from 26s. to 30s. for single persons and from 42s. to 50s. for married couples.
Certain features turn up every year whether the Chancellor is from the Dalton, Cripps, Gaitskell team or from the Tories, Butler, Macmillan, Thomeycroft. One is the eternal nagging of the workers to work harder and not press for higher wages, coupled with the Government's solemn pledge to keep down the cost of living. The other constant feature of budgets is that the Chancellor sorrowfully regrets that his limited resources prevent him from pleasing everybody as he would have liked to do; while the Opposition screams that he has wickedly and wantonly neglected all the really deserving cases and if only they were in office it would be a very different story.
Hope Springs Eternal
By now it might have been expected that budgets would have been seen in their true proportions, but, as the poet Pope wrote 200 years ago, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and every year there is the same wave of excitement and curiosity about what the Chancellor will produce from his little red box. Pope, who was cynical, could have had this budget-fever in mind in his second line, “Man never is, but always to be blessed,” for in truth, for the mass of the population the hope that some day a Chancellor will do something really nice for them is the purest illusion. The little differences that budget policy make one way or the other to them are trivial compared with the worker’s everyday problem of his wages and what they will buy. Governments come and go and budgets let out a little there and take in a little here, but no Government ever urges the workers to fight for higher wages, always the opposite. And the big things go on unchanged from one generation to another. The rich minority still own almost everything that matters in the country we live in. and it is they, as company shareholders, who stand to gain when prices go up and wage increases are denied under the Tory-Labour policy of wage restraint
Low Prices and Low Taxation?
But it must not be thought that because high prices bring their hardship that a remedy could be found in low prices and low taxation. Prices and taxes were far lower before the war than they are now but workers' wages did not buy any more. Each pound note bought more, but there were correspondingly fewer notes in the wage packet. Workers, the great majority of the population, live by selling their energies to an employer and whether prices are high or low the struggle over the selling price (wages or salaries) goes on. The employers, including the boards of the nationalised industries, try always to pay as little as possible. Less interest in the vote-catching manoeuvres of Chancellors and more attention to the struggle for higher wages would be a better attitude for the workers to take.
Another Social System
But this, though the more fruitful policy, still does not lead anywhere; and that is why the Socialist Party exists. And we must repeat for the benefit of those who do not yet know it that Socialism is quite different from the aim of other organisations. Socialists are not trying to carry out an improved Labour Party programme.
The elements of the problem are simple. Nine people out of ten live frugally and with little to hope for, on wages that never leave any worth-while margin beyond necessities. And the social system we live in does not even produce enough consumer goods to satisfy reasonable human needs; nor will it ever do so. At present the means of production and distribution—land, factories, transport systems, etc., are owned by the propertied minority and used by them to make profit out of the sale of the products. Goods are not produced solely for use but for profit, and national groups, coming into conflict through rivalries about markets and trade routes (like the Suez Canal), and sources of raw material (Middle East oil), are all forced into their costly and inhuman armament schemes and H-bomb tests.
The Socialist aim is to get to the root cause of these evils of poverty and war by changing the basis of the social system so that things would be produced not for sale and profit but solely for the use of mankind. Only by this can war and poverty be abolished, and along with them class and national rivalries and hatreds.
Fantastic! say the thoughtless opponents of Socialism, including supporters of the Labour Party. All great social advances of the past, including the abolition of chattel slavery and serfdom, have appeared to be fantastic until they came about.