1980s >> 1981 >> no-924-august-1981

Political Notes: Bad Timing

Bad Timing
How many more ex-Labour ministers can we expect to denounce the policies they supported when they were in office?

Tony Benn, as we all know, is about the most prominent in this: he makes no secret of the disenchantment which he says he suffered but claims that he was persuaded not to resign by his constituency party.

Now Benn is getting some competition, the latest being former Agriculture Minister John Silkin. Speaking to his constituency party in Deptford (Guardian 29/6/81), Silkin “ . . . declared himself opposed to voluntary as well as statutory incomes policies and accused Mr. Benn and Mr. Healey of remaining chained to discredited ideas.”

And as if that was not enough to prove his sudden enlightenment, Silkin “ . . . insisted that there was no evidence to show that inflation was caused by wages, least of all in a low wage economy like Britain’s.”

Is the man, we may well ask, quite well? Of course he is frantically vying for attention with his more famous rivals in his seemingly doomed attempt to win Labour’s deputy leadership, but there must be limits to the lengths he will go.

The last Labour government, like all its predecessors—like the present Tory government and all its predecessors—was continually absorbed by its efforts to impose, by one means or another, what was called an incomes policy but which was actually a fight against wage rises. This battle to lower working class living standards was justified by Labour ministers on the grounds that higher wages caused inflation.

Of course that was—and is—nonsense but truth is always the first casualty in any government’s war against working class interests. Is then Silkin’s abrupt concern for reality a case of bad timing? Or bad memory? Or just desperation at the prospect of failure in his attempt to lead the same party he now so fundamentally criticises.

We ought to be told.

Too Simple
Left wing, progressive, enlightened clergymen, with ready made instant remedies to all of capitalism’s woes are among the persistent targets for the barbs of right wing, reactionary Daily Telegraph satirist Peter Simple.

Of course Peter Simple is only joking, isn’t he? Only turning out word caricatures? Nobody like his Dr. Spacely-Trellis really exists, frothing out their compound of wet reformism and denatured religion, do they?

Well yea, actually they do and some of them emerged into the light of day with their tedious, predictable comments on the recent city riots. Like the Reverend Norwyn Denny (who, in spite of having a name like that, is not an invention of Peter Simple) leader of the Methodist Church in Merseyside.

Speaking in a debate in the recent Methodist Governing Conference, Denny blamed the riots onto the police, “this government”, the Home Secretary. The Conference responded by demanding a plan which, modestly, called for more policemen from “ethnic minorities”, better housing, less unemployment, a fight against racism . . . Need we go on?

There is a danger, in these troublous times, that normally peaceable but perceptive workers will feel like staging their own riot against soppy reformists who naggingly propound the same weary remedies whenever capitalism spews up some of its characteristic problems.

These remedies are usually phrased in terms dramatic enough to persuade their hapless targets that they have some relevance to the problems. In fact they evade the central point that social sores like racism, police harassment, urban decay and poverty are troubling us regardless of pious decisions from reformist conferences. They can be abolished, but only by getting rid of their cause—the capitalist social system.

But that seems too difficult a concept for people like Norwyn Denny to grasp. Or perhaps it is (no pun intended) too simple.

Sits Vac
When the last General Secretary of the Labour Party retired, it was said that there was a long queue of his colleagues at Transport House, all waiting to shake him warmly by the throat.

This gentle tale might be borne in mind by anyone thinking of applying for the job, when it comes up in a few months’ time. This is a bad time in Labour Party affairs to be trying to organise them from the top.

So any lefty-unemployed-manager type who is desperate enough to get off the dole queue to apply for Ron Hayward’s job had better look pretty closely at the terms of reference.

Of job satisfaction there can be little. If the workers elect another Labour government (and helping that to happen will be a prime concern of the new General Secretary) Labour Party headquarters, will need to be extra busy as a factory of deception.

One priority will be to excuse policies which arc daily repressing the very people whose interests Labour claim to represent. Another will be to operate a sort of Orwellian memory hole in which inconvenient history becomes lost and a Ministry of Truth where they rewrite the dictionary so that poverty means abundance, war means peace, repressive, parasitic, conflict-ridden capitalism means free, cooperative, harmonious socialism.

If anyone can work their way through that without wanting to blow their brains out for very shame, the wage is enough above average to offer some consolation. Twenty thousand pounds a year is a fair amount of money but it comes with responsibility for one of capitalism’s dirtier jobs so it is probably considered well spent.

Those concerned with truth, or human welfare, or with abolishing capitalism and replacing it with the sane, secure world of socialism need not apply.

Chinese Take On
The illusion that the people of China enjoy a socialist society is gradually fading. The Chinese State Council has been introducing a series of reforms which seem not only to allow for a more efficient exploitation of the Chinese working class, but also to abandon general policies which encouraged ideas of equality.

For the past twenty years most Chinese workers have been on an eight-grade wage scale which offered a rate based on time, irrespective of output. So not only was there the sharp division between the wealthy bureaucratic capitalist class and the exploited working class, but there was also state-graded inequality of workers. But somehow there was seen to be a notion of egalitarianism in paying every worker the same wage (which, like all wages, would amount to less than the value of what the worker had produced) regardless of his output.

Now. the Chinese State Council, in an attempt to increase the exploitation of its working class—or to use its expression, “improve productivity”—has decided that millions of workers will not be paid by the day or week but by the amount of goods they produce. Reporting the new measures the Chinese Workers’ Daily actually complained that despite bonus schemes introduced after the Cultural Revolution “there is still a tendency towards egalitariansim” and that “we ( a bit of a giveaway as to who actually writes the Daily Worker!) throw a lot of money into bonuses without adequate results.” (our emphasis)