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.]