1970s >> 1979 >> no-896-april-1979

Running Commentary: A Win For The Favourite

One event last month which did not have the world chewing its finger nails in suspense was the elections to the Supreme Soviet.

Happening every five years, these lack the drama usually associated with elections; there is no Russian equivalent of Robert McKenzie to sit up all night predicting swings, shock results and so on. In this race the favourite always wins because there is only one candidate in every constituency.

About half the candidates are members of the Russian Communist Party; the rest are approved by the Party — selected “professional people” or “outstanding workers”. When he gets to the polling station (if such it can be called) the Russian voter is handed a ballot paper and, if he is brave or reckless enough, he can go into the private booth and scratch out the name of the official candidate. It is not surprising, that the majority prefer to drop the paper, unmarked, into the ballot box.

From this comes the predictable result — although the 99 per cent majority which is usually claimed for all the candidates is probably impossible in statistical terms.

In the midst of this cosy dictatorship of the Communist Party, a dissident group tried this year to put up two independent candidates — who are, presumably, people unlikely to be bothered by a little unpopularity. The group called itself Elections 79. Not so long ago its members might have disappeared into a labour camp, or perished in some NKVD cellar.

But so far they have been subjected to more subtle frustrations. Their nominations disappeared into the bureaucratic machinery, there to be delayed until after the closing date; the group were harassed by irritants like having their ’phone cut off.

Members of the Supreme Soviet get quite a few privileges: perhaps that is their sole function, since they meet only twice a year and then to rubber stamp the legislation put before them.

The day will come, when Russia will have a measure of political freedom which at least allows ideas to be openly discussed, even the emergence of a socialist party. Until that happens we must live with the regular farce of the “elections” there and with the transparent Communist Party lies that the dictatorship in Russia is an example of democratic socialism,

Return To Go

The history of capitalism is rather like a desert littered with the whitened bones of Chancellors of the Exchequer who were foolish enough to set out on the impossible journey of solving, once and for all, the system’s economic and financial problems.

From time to time the immediate nature of these problems might change. Unemployment, inflation, the dollar gap, or an adverse balance of trade, have all been a preoccupation of the man said to be in charge at the Treasury.

But the overall pattern endures; each crisis is presented as a tiresome, unpredictable interruption in the Chancellor’s journey towards building prosperity for us all, which will now have to be delayed a little longer . . .

For example, at this time of the 1979 Budget, it is instructive to see what advice was being offered to the Chancellor, ten years ago:

  A tough Budget is in prospect. The Sunday Telegraph Business forecast team gives a warning that the Chancellor cannot afford any sign which may be interpreted as weakness. Following last week’s rise in Bank Rate to 8 per cent, little prospect is seen of an early let-up in the renewed credit squeeze.

At that time, a doomed Labour government had been grappling with the crises of British capitalism, and fighting to hold down workers’ living standards for over five years. In the process, they had been thoroughly discredited: indeed such was the disillusionment among their supporters that at times the party seemed almost happy to break up.

Ten years later a new Chancellor, Denis Healey, threatens a “tough” Budget (not that a “weak” one has anything to offer workers). He too braces himself not to show any signs of weakness, so that the workers do not get any ideas that wages can rise free of all restraint. And Minimum Lending Rate — the new name for Bank Rate — has recently been increased to a record level.

Healey does not repeat the desperations of a former Chancellor because he lacks imagination. Capitalism leaves its politicians with no choice but to offer, again and again, the same stale, discredited “remedies” — nothing else is available to them. And that is so, because the system itself is unchanged.

All About Oil

Any American worker who, volunteering to put on a uniform and take a gun in his hand, wonders what it is all about might have been given pause for thought by the recent statements of Harold Brown, Carter’s Defence Secretary.

Brown has just come back from the Middle East and was sufficiently impressed by what he saw there to make some pretty frank remarks about how the American ruling class view that inhospitable part of the world.

Brown’s travels, and his uneasiness, have been caused by the reaction in the oil states to Carter’s recent talks with Menachim Begin about carving up the Middle East. So he had to show himself firm about what he is paid to see as the essentials of the situation.

The protection of the oil flow, said Brown, is part of America’s “vital interests”. And, in case anyone should still not grasp his point, the Defence Secretary went on to say that the US would “. . . take action that is appropriate, including the use of military force” to protect those interests.

The latter talks between the Americans and the Saudis took place under the shadow of that threat — which would, in the last analysis, have been carried out by those American workers in their uniforms and with their guns.

Those workers — and there are far too many of them — who concern themselves with the standing of their ruling class, and who are prepared to join a killing organisation to protect that standing, should reflect on the reasons for it all. Nowhere are working class interests — which means the interests of the majority — at stake. All of it — the armies, the weapons, the diplomats, the royal buffoons in the sun — are there standing for the interests of the small class of parasites who rule this repressive, strife-ridden society of capitalism.