1960s >> 1969 >> no-781-september-1969

Labour’s ‘social justice’

The Labour Party has recently published an interim report of a study group on discrimination against women. It is called, Towards Equality—Women and Social Security.They use the word ‘Socialism’ in at least one of these documents (unusual for the Labour Party these days), but make no attempt to define or explain what it means. Misrepresentation of the Labour Party as a party standing for Socialism has over many years caused untold confusion. The term they more often use and have been peddling for some time is ‘social justice.’ They do not attempt to define this either, which is just as well, as there is no such thing.

Under capitalism, a class divided society resting upon the exploitation of wage-labour, social justice is a contradiction in terms, a vague platitude, a mere piece of political phrasemongering. So-called justice and injustice co-exist within the framework of the private-property relationship of capitalism and are conditioned by the class interest of the people involved. Justice from the standpoint of the capitalist class must equate to the legal recognition and enforcement of their minority monopoly of the means of production. Since this leaves the working dais without means of production, a socially inferior class compelled to sell their physical and mental energies in order to live, the whole edifice of capitalism rests upon built-in privilege and inequality. ‘Towards Equality . . .’ therefore can only mean making further attempts to distribute poverty more evenly among the working class (in this case, between men and women) and has nothing to do with removing the fundamental inequality between the capitalist class and the working class.

What is really happening of course is that the Labour Party is making advanced preparations for the next election. Having got hopelessly bogged down in the dirty business of running capitalism, they know an election could happen at any time, so they have to dust off all the high sounding phrases and try to refurbish their badly tarnished image.

The Tory Party will, no doubt, study the various proposals made and lift anything they think to be a likely vote-catcher. The reforms and promises of capitalist parties are virtually interchangeable and none of them has patent rights. Also it should be noted that none of the proposals commits the Labour government to anything; they are merely suggestions put forward by a study group.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always maintained that even if all the promises and reform proposals of the Labour Party (and all other reformist parties) were carried out the poverty and insecurity of workers would remain. In fact it is the continuing poverty and insecurity of the working class despite all past reforms and legislation that repeatedly prompts further reform demands to try to keep the worst excesses of the situation under control.

The Labour Party claims that “during the past 50 years an economic and social revolution has taken place. People are infinitely better off, and the darkest stains of severe poverty which disfigured our national life has been removed”. This talk about social revolution is just so much bunk. Now, just as 50 years ago, about 10 per cent of the population own 90 per cent of the wealth. The working class still have to sell their physical and mental energies to the capitalist class in order to live, and profit remains the motive force behind production. The only meaningful use of the term ‘social revolution’ is in the context of abolishing this set-up. The Labour Party are in a more contradictory position than usual here; are they arguing that capitalism has been abolished, or that a social revolution has taken place which has left capitalism intact? Words lose all their meaning. To make matters worse for themselves they go on to claim that the Labour Party “was mainly instrumental in bringing about this transformation”. Since over the last 50 years they have only been in power for 15 years the mind boggles. Are we to believe that between periods of Labour government the Tories are in power running Socialism? At what point during the last 50 years did this ‘transformation’ start; was it during the 1929-31 Labour Government while they were presiding over nearly 3 million unemployed? Was it during the war while they were in coalition with the Tories participating in the slaughter of tens of millions of workers? Or perhaps during the post war Labour Government while they were using troops to break strikes, carrying on their wage squeeze and developing nuclear bombs?

Kiss of death
A line-by-line review of Labour Party literature would produce an epic of cynicism and hypocrisy. In their cheap appeal for membership for example, they say “Labour’s belief in the dignity of human life knows no frontiers. It embraces all mankind”. This ‘belief’ was not permitted to stand in the way of their support for two world wars, including the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their ‘embrace’ is like the kiss of death in places like Korea and Vietnam.


It is vital, in order to learn the futility of reformism, to remember that nearly a quarter of a century ago the National Health Service was heralded as a great new dawn. Poverty would disappear and a free health service with pension benefits would be available to all. Quite apart from the overcrowding and chaos in hospitals, the appalling indignities suffered by nurses, repeated increases in contributions and prescription charges, it must be emphasised that all the Labour Party now proposes is a series of modifications along essentially the same lines. Reforms beget reforms. While claiming that the Beveridge Plan was designed to abolish poverty and insecurity, they envisaged another 20 years or more with the pattern of social ‘security’ set by their earnings-related scheme. We could give several quotes from their own report admitting continued poverty, but for space reasons one will have to do:


  “That the present social security position of the unsupported mother can be summed up by saying that more often than not she is condemned to poverty without dignity . . .”


They give examples of many other groups in the same position and give figures in the appendix showing that in 1965, over 1 million women were on National Assistance. So much for the abolition of poverty, generations of reformism and their purported belief in “the true dignity of human beings”.


All this tinkering with effects leads nowhere. After all the wasted years with workers deluded into thinking that capitalism can be made to work in their interest, and the manifest failure for it to do so, the Labour Party seeks to waste more years in the futile pursuit will-o’the-wisps. It still remains for the workers of the world to understand and establish Socialism.


Harry Baldwin