Tuesday, May 15, 2007

If John were Prime Minister

Now that the SWP's wish has been granted and Phoney Blair has announced the date he is going, there will be a Labour Party election to replace him as Leader by Gordon Brown, the dour son of a Presbyterian minister who wants us all to display the Union Jack on Empire Day or whatever he proposes to call its replacement. But he's not going to get a free run. There are, apparently, still some people in the Labour Party who consider themselves socialists. They have now agreed on a champion to do battle with Brown: one John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington in West London and chair of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

Ever since Blair announced his intention to go, they have been distributing leaflets, stickers and videos and are currently trying to recruit people to join the Labour Party just so they can vote for him. Although they disdain New Labour type spin, someone came up with the clever idea of calling their campaign and website “John4Leader”.

“I am campaigning,” McDonnell says, “for a Labour Party which puts people before profit, defends jobs and services, and supports peace over war. Join me.”

Until the 1990s this is what Labour used to say when not in office but what they never did when they were elected. John (as we’ve been invited to call him) doesn’t seem to have understood why. He seems to think that the putting of profits before people, cutting jobs and services and supporting war rather than peace which all Labour governments have always done were just mistaken policy choices, rather than something imposed on any government charged, as all governments are, with running the political affairs of a capitalist country in the interest of its capitalists.

All governments have to put profits before people because capitalism, the system within which they have to work, runs on them. They are what makes it go round. If profits are not given priority then problems begin to appear. Capitalist firms don’t have enough incentive to go on investing at the same or a higher level and unemployment and relocation to other countries result.


John's opponent, Gordon, has understood perfectly well that, where you have production in the hands of profit-seeking businesses, to keep production going you’ve got allow these businesses to make profits. As he told an “Enterprise Conference” in 2005:
“My message today – and my mission in government – is that Britain should be not only the most stable environment but the most attractive location to do business and to create new businesses . . . We will continue to look at the business tax regime so that we can provide the best possible incentives for investment in wealth creation and rewards for success.” (Times, 4 February 2005)

It is this understanding that businesses must be allowed to do what they exist to do and seek and make profits as “rewards for success” that makes Gordon a far more suitable chief administrator of British Capitalism PLC than John with his illusion that under capitalism people can be put before profit.

Once you’ve given yourself the “mission” – actually, faced up to the realities of governing capitalism – of seeking to create the best conditions for profit-seeking businesses to operate and flourish, the rest follows.

John wants to “defend jobs”, but that’s not the way capitalism works. Competition means that there are losers as well as winners. While the latter enjoy the “rewards for success” in the form of higher profits, the losers suffer the penalty of failure in the form of lower or no profits. Losing firms have either to cut back on production or go out of business altogether or be taken over by more ruthless competitors. In whichever case, the result is job losses.

John doesn’t say how he would prevent this but we can guess that it would be either by subsidising loss-making businesses or by trying to protect them from foreign competition behind tariff walls. This could be done (after Britain had first withdrawn from the EU and the World Trade Organisation) but, now that capitalism is more global than ever before, the results would be disastrous for the economy of any country whose government tried them. There’d be an economic slump and mass unemployment. A leftwing Labour government under John might then respond by imposing a siege economy, with shortages and rationing as in Cuba, Zimbabwe and the other countries that have gone down this road, but we don’t fancy their chances at the next following election.


It’s the same with the reforms John is promising. “I will increase the Basic State Pension to £114 a week and immediately restore the link to earnings”. “I will introduce a Real Living Minimum Wage of at least £7 an hour”. The only chance of these figures being attained is if there’s an inflation of the currency – highly likely under a leftwing Labour government – leading to an increase in the general price level. If they were to be attained by taxing profits to pay for them, this would be a disincentive for businesses to invest. In fact, it is because he doesn’t want to do this that Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been seeking to reduce taxes on profits. Which is why he and the present Labour government have been cutting back on public services of every sort, from local libraries, post offices and sports facilities to hospital wards and care for the aged.

Then, there’s foreign policy. War and preparations for war by maintaining adequately equipped armed forces are a gigantic waste of resources but one the capitalist class are prepared to bear since they know, as Blair has recently underlined, that in international relations “might is right”, the bigger the club you hold the more chance your views have of being taken into account in commercial and diplomatic negotiations. And of course the aim of every government’s foreign policy has to be to further the interests of its capitalists by helping them secure markets and safe and reliable sources of raw materials and energy.

A leftwing Labour government could, as John promises, “withdraw British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident”. It is now clear that the Bush and Blair governments made a big mistake, in terms of their aim of ensuring secure and reliable oil supplies for capitalist industry in the West, in invading Iraq. They have made matters worse and are now desperately seeking an exit strategy that will minimise the advantage they have given to Iran, their main rival for hegemony over the Middle East.

John, however, thinks that British capitalism need not be concerned about oil supplies from the Middle East or anywhere else. If I were PM, he says, “I will implement a green energy policy based on renewable power sources”. Easier said than done, given that British capitalism depends on burning fossil fuels for 90 percent of its energy and that (in fact, because) renewable power sources are more expensive. If Britain under John opted to just use wind power, tidal power, hydro power, etc this would so raise production costs generally as to render practically all UK-produced goods completely uncompetitive on the world market and we’d be back to a siege economy.

A John government would have the power to “scrap Trident” nuclear weapons but this would be tantamount to deciding to relegate British capitalism from a second to a third rate power. We don’t know who John is going to appoint as his Foreign Secretary – Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps – but whoever it is will have to realise the worst nightmare of another one-time Labour leftwing firebrand, Nye Bevan, of going naked into the Conference chamber. As Frederick the Great of Prussia, who knew a thing or two about these things, put it, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments”.

In short, John and his colleagues are not living on this planet. They have a quite unrealistic programme that, if implemented, would lead to economic chaos and mass unemployment. The only thing that could be said in their favour is that it is not really meant to be implemented. That it’s just a harmless list of pious wishes.

So, no John, we shan’t be joining the Labour Party just to vote for you. What would be the point? We have seen the past and it doesn’t work.


[An earlier version of this article appeared in the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard.]


susan press said...

Just out of interest, are you a socialist or a Tory? Can't work it out. Brown costed John's manifesto at £46billion - £30billion less than Trident.

Mondialiste said...

Reformists just don't get it. It is not a question of what is desirable but of what is possible under capitalism. Of course some of what McDonnell is promising is desirable, but capitalism simply cannot be reformed so as to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary earners. It's not as it this has not been tried before -- and failed (many times). That's why we are social revolutionaries not reformists. And why others should be too.
It's true that the British capitalist State doesn't need to have nuclear weapons, but no doubt those charged with making a decision on this know that it's a rough, tough world out there in the world arena where capitalist States and firms compete and that a capitalist State which is seen as weak is likely to have less clout in negotiations that concern the vital economic interests and profits of its capitalist class.

Anonymous said...

What londonsocialist said is true. People like grimnorth and other labour supporters will vote Labour again and again and again and that party will subsequently fail and all the time they are going to go "OMG! Where did we go wrong!?" all the time remaining clueless as to the obvious solution.

HELLO!? It's the SYSTEM, not the person, policies etc. To all those reformists (Labour supporters etc) out there, every time your leaders announce a new policy and say this and that, ask yourselves this "Can he do that without undermining the profit system?" Sooner or later, the amount of nos should accumulate enough in your heads so that you guys will realise "Hey, you know what, its the system that has to go!"

Michael said...

I love the SPGB unless global revolution happens immediately all attempts to try and make things even a teensy bit better are pointless - just let the Tories in instead, yeah, that'd be great!

How far exactly has your campaign for immediate global revolution got exactly?

"Of course some of what McDonnell is promising is desirable, but capitalism simply cannot be reformed so as to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary earners" - No shit, capital global, democracy national - but if you dont start somewhere you wont get anywhere will you. How exactly would you bring about spontaneous multi cultural, international, multi languaged economic co-operation of the largest part of the world if not by making or using the appropriate mechanism to create a platform for doing exactly this - creating a platform for socialist advance over a period in time - Treason you cry!

We could just wait for this to happen...and wait and wait and wait until we are blown up in a nuclear war becasue your all too pure to back attempts to get rid of the damn things coz thats 'reformist' yeah, what a turn you'll have done for the worlds workers when they're just piles of ash burnt onto the pavements!

"HELLO!? It's the SYSTEM, not the person, policies etc. To all those reformists (Labour supporters etc) out there, every time your leaders announce a new policy and say this and that, ask yourselves this "Can he do that without undermining the profit system?" - HELLO! Can anything be done that the left wants that wouldnt undermine the profit system? Again reformist social democracy would be all that is possible at teh national level, but being at that point when other nations also 'wake up' makes international co-operation and that international socialist advance you want more likely.

I dunno, maybe this is all a stream of infected bourgeois rationalisations, but quite frankly i'm not convinced. Enjoying the debate v much:)

Anonymous said...

Another person who just doesn't get it.

There is NO SUCH THING as Socialism working hand in hand with the profit system. The failure of the Welfare State concept should have been enough to prove this already but nooo, there are STILL people in the working class who kid themselves that profit and noble causes such as worker's welfare, environmental preservation and the like can work together.

Allow me to enumerate a recent example. In my home country of Malaysia, our Parliament recently passed the Employees Provident Fund (Amendment) Bill 2007, which cut in half contributions employers have to pay to the Fund, and the pethetic excuse was that this would "encourage" employers to retain older workers. Puh-lease.

And what about all those environmental NGOs pleading with corperations to use more expensive, cut-into-profit renewable energy sources, saying that this would bring "long term benefits". You can just imagine the businessman go "Screw long term, I want to make money, and I want it now!"

It's an "either or" situation. It's already as clear as night and day that cry and beg as one might, profits cannot be reconciled with anything noble. People in the working class need to seriously ask themselves, bottom line, what do they want? Do they still want to tolerate the continuance of the profit system, which reformist efforts only delay, but do not prevent, the inevitable nuclear explosion, or do they actually want to stop the bomb from exploding by bringing into effect, in its entirety, pure and simple, democratic control of resources, Socialism?

The SPGB have been telling the same message consistent, to the working class in its 100+ years of existence. If ever were a nuclear bomb were to wipe them out, it would be their own fault, not SPGB's.

The choice is ours to make.