The Voice From The Back column from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Failure of Reformism
The Socialist Party have always argued that a policy of reforming capitalism by a series of legislative acts while leaving intact the basis of this class divided society is doomed to failure. The Labour Party and other reformist organisations have maintained that this is the only way to deal with social problems. So what do these reformers make of the following report? “Millions of people have been condemned to live under “social apartheid” by 30 years of poor housing policies, a damning report on council estates will say this week. The 107-page report, to be published on Friday, condemns successive governments for pushing poorer people into what it condemns as “social concentration camps” set away from private housing, jobs and shops. Children born on such estates are more likely to end up unemployed, suffer mental health problems and die younger than their counterparts in private housing, says the study by the Fabian Society. … According to the Fabians, children bought up in social housing now have far fewer life chances than half a century ago, because they are concentrated on increasingly ghettoised estates. Those born after 1970 in council homes are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems than those born in 1946 in public housing, 11 times more likely to be unemployed and not in training or education, and nine times more likely to live in a household where nobody has a job.” (Independent, 3 May) It is somewhat ironic that this report has been prepared by the Fabians – an organisation whose very basis is one of a policy of reformism!
Not So Boastful Now
Not so many years ago it used to be the boast of industrialists and politicians alike “What is good for General Motors is good for America”. This simplistic mantra was always trotted out in defence of capitalism during the post war boom of US industry and trade but supporters of US capitalism will have to look elsewhere for consolation today. “General Motors, North America’s biggest carmaker, reported a $6bn first-quarter net loss and an accelerating cash drain on Thursday, underlining the pressure it faces to gain concessions from stakeholders or face bankruptcy. The troubled automaker warned that prolonged uncertainty over its financial condition risks creating a vicious circle of shaky consumer confidence and falling production and sales.” (Financial Times, 7 May) It is in no sense in a “told you so” mood that socialists note the boom and slump nature of capitalism has asserted itself once more. After all it is our fellow workers in the US and elsewhere who will have to bear the prospect of unemployment, re-possession and insecurity. What we ask the working class to do is to consider the socialist alternative to this mad market system. We asked you to do so during the boom. We continue to ask you to do so during the slump.
The Failure of Labour
One of the illusions fostered by the Labour Party is that for all its shortcomings at least it is better than the Tories, but recent evidence seems to point out that even this modest claim is erroneous. “That relative poverty – the gap between rich and poor rather than the absolute availability of basic necessities – should be higher than it was when Harold Macmillan was prime minister is a galling discovery. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a sort of non-partisan unofficial opposition party equipped with massive brainpower, tells us that the distance between our richest and our least fortunate citizens is as high as it has been since their data starts, in 1961. Which leaves open the possibility that Brown’s Britain may be more unequal than we were before the creation of the NHS and the modern welfare state.” (Independent, 8 May)
From time to time everybody receives a charity appeal. It may be posted through your door or a leaflet in a newspaper. We receive so many of them that we tend to become a bit blasé about the whole charity thing, but a recent appeal from the Plan charity contained some particularly harrowing statistics. “It’s a tragic reality that one in five children born in the poorest countries won’t live to see their 5th birthday. …600 million children worldwide live on less that 70p a day – that’s ten times the UK population. Working for more than 70 years and with over 100,000 child sponsors in the UK alone, Plan aims to help more children realise their full potential – and improve the lives of future generations.” Despite the sincerity and undoubted humanity of the Plan people the problem has got worse in the last 70 years. Workers contributing a pittance to relieve the problem of world hunger is pointless. What we need is a transformation in the basis of society to one where all food, clothing and shelter is produced solely to satisfy human needs not to make a profit.