1980s >> 1982 >> no-932-april-1982

Political Notes: Any Advance?

There are certain promises without which no political manifesto is complete. For example there is the housing problem: not so long ago there was a kind of auction going on between the Labour and Conservative parties, with each trying to outbid the other in the numbers of working class homes they were going to throw up 300,000; half a million . . . Where would it have ended?

Well of course for the working class there is still a problem of housing, but this now is to some extent overshadowed by another—the issue of unemployment. This is particularly susceptible to an auction, in which the promised figures are always falling.

The first bid comes from Peter Shore, who is likely to be Chancellor of the Exchequer if there is another Labour government in the near future. Shore has easily forgotten his time in the last Labour administration—how they were quite unable to control the economy and were reduced to watching helplessly while unemployment rose. “The task,” he now says with the confidence of a born auctioneer, “. . . is to cut unemployment to below the million mark . . .  we shall need over the lifetime of the next five-year Parliament to create at least 2½ million jobs.”

Next to raise a finger is Roy Jenkins who, by the time these notes appear, will know what the voters of Hillhead think of his bid. In fact it is a pretty cautious one; Jenkins promises to create only 600,000 jobs and to cut unemployment by only one million, although this within two years. Perhaps Jenkins is cautious because he is still smarting over the memory of his own failure to control unemployment when he was Labour’s Chancellor.

There is no reason to believe that this auction has any sounder basis that that over housing. If it were that easy to abolish unemployment, of course Shore and Jenkins would have seen to it when they were in office. They were unable to do so because the economy of capitalism can’t be controlled: its problems can’t be abolished or even, very often, moderated. It is not possible to “create” jobs, to conjure away unemployment.

The vital question is, how long will the working class encourage the auction to continue?Whom did Butler serve?

When the Tories twice turned down the chance of making R. A. Butler their leader—and so Prime Minister—it seems we had a narrow escape from being governed by one of the greatest men in the entire history of the human race.

Just look at some of the tributes paid to Butler, when he died last month.

“. . . great intellectual qualities . .  .” (Lord Home)
“. . . one of the finest politicians of his generation.’’ (Ted Heath)
“. . . one of the outstanding minds in politics in this century.” (Enoch Powell)
“. . . always had it in him to be Prime Minister. . .” (Harold Wilson)

Butler will be remembered for his work on the 1944 Education Act, which the working class were very grateful for because it contrived a more efficient way of schooling them for their life of wage slavery.

Another of his notable achievements was to regroup the Conservative Party after their crushing defeat in 1945, to push through a reassessment of their programmes and to recast their image. In some ways this was a curious business; workers strolling out of a Saturday evening were often startled to find one of these new look Tories speaking up for capitalism on a platform at a street corner. Some things, they might have reflected, can be taken too far

But Butler’s schemes worked and when the Tories came back to power in 1951 it was to be for a very long time. It was then that Butler illustrated so well the basic affinity between the two big parties of capitalism. His policies as Chancellor were so alike those of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, that The Economist coined a new word for them—Butskellism.

Butler’s place in the history of politics will be that of a man who worked with surpassing skill and devious imagination to persuade the workers that capitalism does not have to be the degrading, insecure, murderous society that it is. He stood to gain much by this, as he was himself a very rich member of the ruling class.

No worker should mourn his end; their task is urgently to organise the death of the society of class privilege which Butler so slyly represented.

Golden anniversary

In the days when Macmillan’s wind of change was sweeping across Africa, the new state of Ghana was widely admired as the finest example of the alleged benefits of alleged freedom from colonial rule.

Ghana, which had been called the Gold Coast, had a lot going for it; apart from anything else there were rich natural resources in gold, bauxite, timber and cocoa. It was ruled by Kwame Nkrumah, the supposedly incorruptible hero of supposed freedom fighters everywhere.

And then things began to go wrong. Nkrumah’s life style was anything but that of a humble voice of the world’s oppressed peoples. He lived, remotely, in a castle which stood as a derided symbol of the deposed colonial power. Symbolically too, one of his ministers raised a storm by buying himself a massive gold-plated bed

It was not long before Nkrumah’s personality cult developed into a dictatorship, corrupt and—as many dictatorships are—ramshackle. Prestige projects collapsed into disarray; factories stuttered along on a trickle of raw materials. Food and other essentials were in desperately short supply. Ghana was in chaos.

In 1966 a military coup overthrew Nkrumah but this did nothing to lessen the corruption until, 13 years and several other coups later, there was touch of farce—a coup led, not by a general but by a lowly Flight Lieutenant with the demotic name of Jerry Rawlings.

Last month Ghana celebrated—if that is the word—25 years of independence (again, if that is the word). As an embryo capitalist state it is bankrupt and exhausted. Rawlings has a classical remedy; only “hard work” (by which he means more intensive exploitation of the Ghanaian workers) can save the country (by which he means the ruling class there).

It has been a quarter century of corruption, terror and confusion an object lesson to those who mistakenly believe that there is anything for a country’s people to gain from changing one set of oppressive exploiters for another.