Running Commentary: Defeat at Greenham
Unless, under Heseltine’s Law, any of them chooses to rush the fences and get themselves shot, the Greenham Common demonstrators are now reduced to watching despondently as the American transport ‘planes drop into the base with their cargoes of cruise missiles.
The protests have been inspired by sincerity and concern for what may be left of the future of the human race but that is not enough. Their first objective was to prevent the base being set up. It was set up. Then they tried to stop the missiles coming. The missiles came. Then they declared an intention of preventing the missiles becoming operational. The missiles have been set in working order, ready to fly off and do their deadly, obliterating work.
Between the protesters and their objectives stood the forces of the state, which erected the fences and the wire and stationed the police and the soldiers who were ordered, if there should be no other way. to shoot the intruding demonstrators. The Greenham women joined together and protested on the assumption that they could defeat the state machine by hanging dolls and baby clothes on the fences, by breaking through the wire, by daubing the ’planes, by getting themselves arrested. They were wrong; the state is still there, intact in its intention to protect the base with its murderous implements.
Greenham Common is only the latest example in capitalism’s history to illustrate the futility of challenging the state machine through anything less than a policy of socialism. The state has survived many such assaults on it, some of them more popular than the anti-nuclear movement is at present. This survival happens because — as was clearly demonstrated at the last election — the working class would have it so. Capitalism, with its state and military agencies, does not exist through the will of people like Michael Heseltine but through the support it receives from the very people who are damaged and destroyed by it.
This vital fact has yet to make any impact on members of CND many of whom, although hating the effects of capitalism, ardently support the system through organisations like the Labour Party, Communist Party and the Liberal/SDP Alliance. The Greenham demonstrators may feel more cheerful if they realise that they can learn from their dismal, wasted experience. There is a way to defeat capitalism, to end state coercion, to abolish war and all its weaponry. It is a matter of getting it right, of grasping the need for social revolution above doomed efforts to reform capitalism — and then working for it.
For that, there is no need to get shot, either.
Smug about poverty
Any smugness in the Labour Party at the news that working class conditions under the Thatcher government have worsened dramatically was, like the announcement of Mark Twain’s death, rather premature. According to a recent report by the Department of Health and Social Security, there are now 15 million people living in what is officially defined as poverty, compared to 11.5 million in 1979. It will help in understanding these figures to remember that the official poverty line is based on the level of Supplementary Benefit, which tells only part of the story.
Especially hard hit are families with a lot of children and one-parent families. The increases are largely due to the rise in unemployment, which is steadily changing workers’ everyday poverty into deep deprivation, at times outright starvation. And all of this after nearly five years of Tory rule, which was going to usher in a new age of monetarist prosperity. Should the Labour Party, then, feel smug and justified? Did the voters make a big mistake in preferring Thatcher to a Labour government?
The facts say otherwise. Under the last Labour government — which was a great disappointment to the whole poverty lobby — unemployment doubled to 1½ million. Unemployment benefit became worth less in relation to average earnings and when it ran out, after 12 months, the new system of means-tested Supplementary Benefit which Labour introduced ensured that the claimants were worse off than before. Meanwhile, according to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, under Labour the richest ten per cent had their share of wealth increased from 57.5 to 60 per cent.
And that was only the beginning; Labour’s policies in response to the gathering slump paved the way for Thatcher and Howe and Lawson. It was the Tories’ bad luck to come into power at such a time in world capitalism (although it does not yet seem to have done them much harm) and they have sturdily carried on where Labour left off.
So there is really nothing to choose, except in terms of trivial detail, between the two of them. The mistake the working class made in 1979 and again this year was not in choosing between Labour and Tory but in failing to make the election a choice between the parties of capitalism and a new social system.
In deepest Cambridgeshire, a recently formed company is applying for planning permission to build a large fallout shelter — which does not mean, Reagan and Andropov will be pleased to hear, that such formalities will be needed before the bombs and missiles are loosed off.
A place in the shelter — the company-calls itself Phoenix and wants to build all over the country — will cost about £2000 for each person. This price covers what is known in the holiday trade as Full Board; the shelters will have water for 14 days and food for six months. Like any good seaside guest house, they will also provide a car park for the patrons, although there are probably no plans to issue tickets for reclaiming the vehicles after the nuclear holocaust.
But when the holiday is over, or the food and water run out, the guests will have to emerge into a landscape which will not necessarily persuade them that they did the right thing by so carefully staying alive. And being well fed and watered, they may be seen as an unexpected food source by any demented people who have survived on the surface.
The prospect of nuclear war is its own particular madness. Is it really possible, at a time when human life is blighted by so much impoverishment, that so vast an amount of energy, knowledge and resources can be given to wiping us out? Even worse — that the enterprise can be given so high a priority in the allocation of resources?
And the answer, of course, is yes it is perfectly possible, even consistent, once we accept the basic premise of the social system we live under, whose priority is to protect the interests of the world ruling class. Beside that the welfare of the rest — who are the useful, working, productive majority — is of little account. It is to protect the interests of the ruling class that wars are fought and arsenals of incredible power are laid down. In the event of their being used, the best that the majority can hope for is to buy a place in a fragile shelter. In death, as in life, the ruling class assert their privilege.