THE «MODERNISATION» OF THE LABOUR PARTY
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The «modernisation» of the Labour Party
- or the emperor's new clothes -
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Spring is here, the sap is rising and ones thoughts turn to courtship. Can this be why the British Labour Party is casting off its shabby old image for a brand spanking new one? If it plasters on a bit of make-up, will its newly rejuvenated image lure back a few of those who have deserted its ranks?
Through the media, the proletariat is invited to express «opinions» on the performance of this seedy old mannequin, as it struts about grotesquely in borrowed plumage. And what is this new suit of clothes that conceals the embarrassing nudity of opportunist politics? It is, the Labour party policy review!
So, as the Tory government cuts bite deeper, homelessness increases and society regresses to nineteenth century levels, what does this «newlook» Labour party, red roses and all, propose to do?
To find out, let us consult the grandiosely entitled leaflet: «Social justice and economic efficiency - A productive and competitive economy». This scimpy 4-page document is part of «phase 1» of «the review», and was brought to us courtesy of «the Productive and Competitive Policy Review group». In the appendix, we are informed that this august body
«was established to consider:
the democratic socialist approach to enterprise and ownership, markets, industrial (including science and technology) policy, trade, energy, employment and training strategies, including the international dimensions».
Sounds pretty important, huh? So, after dipping our toes in the water, let us now immerse ourselves further in the alluring depths of «the review» and see what lies below the surface.
The first paragraph is entitled «The challenge of the 1990s». Let us then gird our loins. But what is the challenge? It is the following:
«in the 1990s (...) the European and world economy in which we must earn our living will have become sharply more competitive as other advanced economies harness the new technologies - and as the newly industrialising countries undercut our established industries. The competition of the EEC internal market will add to the competitive pressures» (our underlining).
Oh dear! That are we supposed to do about it then? In paragraph 2 we are told:
«Economic success in the 1990s requires a new approach to the central question of how best to help the companies, the entrepreneurs and risktakers, the managers and workers, and the scientists, technologists and trainers, who will meet the challenges of the next decade».
Well, the workers will be flattered to know that they will have their part to play - on an equal footing with all those other clever people!
So apparently «we» need a new approach, we've got that far, now what? Well,
«Britain will not increase Its share or even hold its own in the home, European and international markets if present policies continue. The complete failure of the current mix of monetary targeting and laissez-faire ins evident in the fact that manufacturing investment has still not returned to its 1979 level, and in Britain's growing balance-of-payments problem. Correcting the failings requires a macro-economic policy of steady expansion, competitive exchange rate and low inflation».
But hold on a minute. That's all this garbage got to do with the working class? Our writer decides for one brief moment to despense with bourgeois economists jargon and talk plain english to us: for the aim of all these economic strategies is none other than:
«to improve competitiveness in foreign and domestic markets».
Phew! at last! First of all tries to baffle us with high faluting language and make us think that «economy» can only be understood by the «experts». Then, after having impressed upon his readers their mental inferiority he deigns to throw a sentence their way that they can understand. In fact we can understand more from this sentence about the labour parties policies than all the rest of their «theoretical» outpourings put together. We can understand that the labour party is purely and simply a party for capital.
But let us stop a moment and look at what is involved in this concept of «economic success» and all the mumbo-jumbo recipes to achieve this aim. It is important because it is an old ploy of capitalism to try and get the proletariat to link itself to capitalist nationalist interests so that «more jobs can be created». Every day on «the news» we are updated on new jobs that have been created or jobs that have been lost. At the trade union and labour conferences, over and over again a reactionary policy can be pushed through under the cover of this simple formula «it will create jobs». It is though this is the final word, the final touchstone for all reformists and opportunists of various hues.
It is a clever ploy on the part of the capitalists because it strikes home at peoples basic survival instincts. But here already we have an unsaid assumption - that survival involves the individual against all other individuals, and the individual nation against all other nations. This is the real Trojan horse that has been launched in our midst, for such are the basic assumptions of capitalism (and indeed all class societies) for this is the ideological template from which all the rest of its ideologies and culture are made.
But here we must be circumspect. We must neither reject nor accept capitalist contentions about jobs and their availability or otherwise, for who can deny that we need money to survive? In this system we are wage earners and we work in this factory or that factory, this institution or that. If we find that jobs will become available in our area we may be pleased if we have been unemployed for a long time, but that it is a different kettle of fish altogether to sacrifice the interests of the working class as a whole to a few new factories.
And another thing, how often does the quality of the work get raised as an issue in the «important» debates discussed between our «professors of labour»? Most of these new jobs we hear about are, not to put too fine a point on it, absolute crap, and mindlessly boring into the bargain!
What about the workers?
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The working class is an international class and it will only achieve its aims internationally. The miners strike for instance was broken partly through Polish coal being imported. Perhaps Polish workers thought it was a nice little boom, jobs were «being created», but where are they now, now that the little «hiccup» of success is over and the halycon days of a few extra consumer goods is long gone?
It won't be easy for the working class to operate as a world class, sacrificing immediate and individual interests to the wider ones, and nobody would ask for gratuitous displays of abstract martyrdom. But the working class will have to find a way whereby it isn't constantly drawn into situations, often out of apparent necessity, where it has to cut off its nose to spite its face, where different sectors of the international working class cancel out each others efforts in the daily effort for survival. This will only become realistic in the context of organisation at an international level and to be organised at the international level means to have an international class party.
At this point, all the cabalistic economic incantations that have been designed to baffle and confuse the working class will be seen as so much rubbish. For the working class under capitalism has no economy and after it has taken power it will have no economy. Before the revolution this is because the working class has nothing, but afterwards it is because it has everything and has destroyed all classes leaving only the human community with no oppressing and oppressed classes, with economy resolved into the rational management of production.
Let us then return then to dip in the stagnant waters of this labour party document and see how this vision of the collectivity is distorted under capitalism:
«industry has an important role to play» (...) «it is essential that government agencies and local authorities work in partnership with firms, trade unions, the CBI [Confederation of British Industry - the bosses union - ed.] trade associations and the chambers of commerce»
Note that again we can see this implied sense of a partnership in the creation of jobs. A halcycon image of everyone having their place. Hark! We can hear the old refrain from the hymn to capital «all things bright and beautiful».
«The rich man in his mansion
The poor man at his gate
To each God gives a station
and orders his estate»
In addition, various propositions are put forward for modernising and redistributing new industries in the regions. But standing out in high relief as true opportunism, is a really pathetic attempt to find a halfway house between privatisation and nationalisation in. the public utilities:
«We therefore need to protect the consumer's interests by obtaining guarantee that monopoly suppliers do not abuse their position».
Strong medicine indeed! But for fear this feeble «ticking off» might hurt the poor monopolies feelings, this statement is retracted in the next sentence!:
«In any case, we have to recognise that these monopoly enterprises have another role as providers of essential services to the economy and the community in general, and that we need to some degree to insulate them from the short-term pressures of the market».
Protecting monopolies from the market! It's incredible isn't it?
If all this is the best the labour party «image makers» can do «to attract new members», then they may as well give up, but how odd in any case, shouldn't they rather be moving to the left to win the hand of the working class?
No: this task, intentionally or otherwise, is left to the «Militant Tendency». This group, leading a clandestine - but everyone knows - existence within the party, have taken it upon themselves to weld the labour party into - don't laugh - a revolutionary party! These misled individuals tend to do most of the actual work when election time comes around, but when the party is preparing for power, there is one of the famous «witch-hunts» and they are promptly dropped like a brick. After this, they fire off a few salvoes from their press, before slipping back grudgingly into the fold. There is no doubt however that this fraction serves a useful function as it keeps alive the notion that the labour party could «be retrieved» and become a Marxist party even if it isn't the case at the moment. But it all provides a bit of fireworks and injects a bit of interest into a party which specialises in «razzamatazz» to disguise its ideological bankruptcy. It can organise rock concerts, its leaders can mingle with show-biz, it can throw out radical anti-capitalist slogans but it daren't and never will, put forward a clear, unambiguous, consistent class programme.
As a postscript, we cite some passages from an article in the «Guardian» which paint a lurid picture of the cobwebby apathy that dominates at a local level. The writer goes to a branch meeting wryly commenting that he never expects
«labour party branch meetings to resemble an assault on the Winter palace».
His surmise is correct, for here he immediately finds the atmosphere
«miserable and unwelcoming, with about fifteen unenthuisiastic looking people sitting in rows. People who'd sat in that room once a month for five years barely acknowledged each other. The fraternal comrades don't like each other much. There was a short, dull talk on the E.E.C. At the end, when questions were asked for, no one spoke. Later, when people were to be elected to posts, the comrades were reluctant to offer themselves (sic) later in the evening, the chair talked of how tired the party seemed, of what little energy people were prepared to put into it».
And the above example is by no means an isolated example of the average labour party meeting. In fact it give a good picture of the overwhelming majority of the local organisations. The labour party, despite some still maintaining that it is the famous «mass party of the working class», has in fact relatively few members who have joined as individuals (as distinct from the block memberships derived from affiliated trades unions). In fact it is an empty shell, with little to fill the vacuum apart from the substantial rumps of the «right-wing realists», the new «moderate» realists, and a few trotskyist entryists «working for the masses». All defend capitalism including the trotskyists who take it upon themselves to defend the latest trendy forms of capitalism - giving the Japanese bosses something to have a good chuckle about.
For anyone who has had enough of capitalism and wants to «try and do something», be warned, there are many tired, disillusioned people who thought changing the world would be as easy as joining their local labour party branch.
Don't fall for it, you'd be wasting your time...
Source: «Communist Left», No. 1, July - December, 1989
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