Rarely have the political defenders of the profit system looked less savoury. The Left is all but dead, buried beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall, the most despicable side of which they had spent their histories celebrating or apologising for in the name of socialism. The Right survives, grotesquely repeating the excesses of its past in its more extreme forms, but, more generally, diminished to the corrupt post-Thatcherite ethos of the Bingo Hall.
The Left seeks to persuade us—and itself—that it is not really dead, but lying down. Like the unemployed actor who was never much good, the Labour Left and the other impotent radicals within the capitalist parties insist that they are merely "resting". But this is not true. All that is left of the Left is Tony Benn, destined to become a patronised elder statesman of a lost cause: Dennis Skinner, a parliamentary court jester; countless leftist sects of diminishing proportions selling meaningless newspapers mainly to each other; and Tony Cliff doing the Trotskyist music-hall circuit with increasingly implausible, incredible and embarrassing Lenin impersonations intended to inspire amongst the highly-impressionable the conviction that a British Bolshevik revolution is going to be the denouement of the Major chapter in history.
Of course, the remaining leftist believers will not give up—they will simply become less and less relevant, even to radically-minded workers, until the day will come, not far from now, when to read the works of Lenin will be as socially eccentric as is the study of Ron Hubbard's scientological madness now.
Perhaps the most spectacular example of leftists doing what doesn’t come naturally and facing up to the historical truth is that of the Communist Party of Great Britain which simply dissolved itself in disgrace. The charmless cult members of the SWP or the RCP can be expected to enter into no such collaboration with historical reality.
The membership of the Labour Party is now more than ever made up of people who owe their jobs to Labour local authorities. The days when schoolboys in Barnsley or Leith rushed to the library to study the writings of the old reformers and then, flushed with the belief that the future was theirs to take (gradually, of course), threw themselves into the Labour Party, are long, long gone. Which schoolboy or girl of the 1990s would study the sterile thoughts of a plain John Smith or a presidential Tony Blair? And if they did they would be more likely to blush with embarrassment than perspire with enthusiasm. The nearest that Labour comes to exciting anyone are the wisecracks of Dennis Skinner. But if one-liners made a revolution Ben Elton would be head of the Fifth International.
If the Left has perished, the Right is a shadow of its former self. There was once a time when the British political right had about it a kind of political dignity; its leading lights were personally harmless old twits like Macmillan. Home and even Heath. It was possible to march in the streets against what Rab Butler or Willie Whitelaw stood for, but few felt motivated to march against them. They were only doing the traditional job of the keepers of the capitalist system, and both upbringing and temperament allowed them to perform it with what what now looks like an almost quaint aristocratic remoteness.
Bingo hall ethos
The Thatcher years changed all that. Too much has been written about those ghastly times for it to be worth saying more here, but the enduring memory is that of aggressive audacity. They not only robbed workers blind, but robbed blind workers, their faces straight as they lied, their hands bloodstained as they celebrated the freedom of the jungle.
Now that capitalism is in this deep crisis which has cast to the litter bins the Eighties’ manifestoes of a property-owning democracy, the remaining advocates of the Right are characterised chiefly by the non-erasable tattoo of the estate agent: they are a shifty, witless lot. From the odious Kenneth Clarke to the wimpish Major to the lamentable Lamont to the hateful Michael Howard, the spectacle is one of anaemic Thatcherites. Of course, socialists are never slow to stress that we are against the system and not its upholders as people, but when the upholders come to resemble so closely the image of the system it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between the body and the scabs.
The most manifest rottenness of the modem Right comes not from the ranks of the party of Maastricht, but from their supporters in the press. The smarmy Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, is the perfect political figure in this age of intellectual emptiness: a man with no loyalty or principle. only an unstoppable commitment to profit. The Murdochian assault upon the monarchy is not a concession to workers' distaste for unearned privilege, but the spiteful vengeance of the plebeian estate agent against those who have greater attachments to culture than to commerce.
Andrew Neil and his ilk object to snobbery because snobs quite rightly look down upon them. Richard Littlejohn, a Sun columnist with his own three-hour daily phone-in show on London local radio, epitomises the victory of semi-literate vulgarity over anything vaguely resembling the pursuit of knowledge. In the world of Littlejohn, just like the world of little John who became an accidental Prime Minister, there are only "good blokes" (mainly the English), "loony lefties” (anyone who is not a right-wing lout) and "scum” (the criminal legions whose growth is all because the government won’t listen to the Sun and give them all "a good flogging”).
Rarely more explicitly was all of this plain to see than in the political reactions to the James Bulger tragedy. The dying Left raised itself from its life-support machine to publish banal explanations about unemployment, Tory policies and the need for more social workers. (It is not that these points are all wrong, but why can the Left never dare to extend its vision beyond the blinkered world-view of economic determinism?) Devoid of a cogent radical voice, the Labour leaders simply endeavoured to outdo the Right in calling for more law and order. The sight of Tony Blair as a red-rosed cop was not pretty. Meanwhile, Clarke, the Home Secretary, spewed loutishly about "vicious little thugs” and the tabloids delighted in their favourite pastime of calling everybody "scum" (which is what in fact they seem to think that most of their readers are).
Marx spoke of capitalism becoming increasingly more miserable. He was right—it has. Its defenders have become more miserable too. They are intellectual degenerates. Just as popular culture has climbed into the pit of tasteless baseness with the cult of the new Madonna, so the politics of the deviant mind now prevails.
To enter the ranks of the Leninist left is less a wrong than an act of necrophily; to jump into bed politically with the modern Right is to flirt with the intellect, but not the body, of the tabloid-made Samantha Foxes. If there is any light out there in the hateful capitalist world it comes from the thousands—maybe millions—who know that there is something wrong and cannot believe that there is nothing better than what is on offer. They will understand what this article has been about.