Editorial: Populist pay-off?
Ronald Reagan’s announcement that he will run for President again this year may be seen as further evidence of the success of a re-emergent style in the deceptions of capitalism’s politics. Not so long ago, left wing governments were fond of representing their job of running capitalism as a complex business, which could be confidently undertaken only by heavily qualified experts. So the governments of Harold Wilson were crammed with economists, ex-university dons and the like; by sheer brainpower, it seemed, the problems of slump, war, poverty and social conflict were to be made tractable.
Well that particular intellectual honeymoon lasted only so long, until the very reality of capitalism brought it to a sour and fractious end. Since then the British working class have been governed in, and have responded gratefully to. a rather different style. Whatever the true situation in the corridors of power, in public Margaret Thatcher shows a confidence which, she claims, stems from simple, eternally sound convictions about what is right and what is wrong. More properly called prejudices, policies such as rampant nationalism, the bare-faced screwing down of workers’ living standards. tolerating no dissension, have done Thatcher no electoral harm. She has exploited the populist style to advantage and can get away with mouthing the most arrant nonsense. So far, the British working class have shown no resentment at being treated like naughty pupils in a rigidly disciplined school.
In the same way Ronald Reagan has made a thespian speciality of presenting issues to the American workers as innocent as possible of any complicating mental exertion. It is all very simple, in Reagan’s mouth. America is good, it is free, its people are industrious and ingenious and peace-loving. They are of course also staunch and courageous in the defence of all this goodness, freedom, industry and pacifism. They are told that the Kremlin is populated by evil beings whose obsessive ambition it is to destroy all that is good in America, through subversion or outright force.
There are of course some snags to this theory. One is that in every capitalist state the working class are nurtured on roughly the same Reaganist principles. Thatcher pronounces the word Britain in the same devoted way that Reagan does the word America. The workers in Russia are encouraged to believe that their rulers’ military power exists to defend peace and freedom and “socialism” against he “war-mongers” in Washington. It goes in the same way for Japan, Germany, China. France . . .
One other snag is that the earthy, populist appeal may bring in the votes but it does not match up with the facts. America possesses an arsenal of a power to reflect its standing as one of the world’s mightiest states. By a press of the button (perhaps, in the case of cruise, two buttons) Reagan could unleash a destructive force to wipe out much of the settled life of modern society. What was left of it would probably disappear with any counter stroke. It is not credible that such a potential is kept in being to protect the workers’ freedom to organise in unions, to openly discuss political ideas, to campaign for the modification — or, in the case of socialists, for the abolition — of capitalism.
In fact, if he ever experiences any moments of insight or candour, Reagan himself should concede this very point. His government, like its predecessors, is not famous for its defence of human freedoms in Central and South America, or in Korea, or Vietnam, or Africa, or in the Middle East. While at one time it may find itself in support of a state which can be described as a political democracy, at others it will give military and economic back-up to a government noted for its ruthless suppression of opposition. The motive in American policy in those spheres is not human freedom and welfare but the interests of the American capitalist class. In that cause mass murder, or starvation, or disease, or widespread destruction, or genocide, are all to be justified. This is not a policy peculiar to American capitalism; in the same way the so-called communists states have hands as bloody as any other.
It is no accident that politicians like Reagan and Thatcher can mouth about freedom and security while condoning dictatorships and mass killing. The key to understanding this situation is in the fact that each capitalist state machine operates in the interests of is ruling class. At one time these interests may require support for a “democratic” government; at others they may require an alliance such as that between Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany in 1939, or between Stalinist Russia and America and Britain in 1941, or between Britain and South Korea in 1950.
The world’s capitalist class have the common interest of exploiting the workers, and using the material resources of the world, to the point of maximum profit and accumulation of capital. Within the capitalist class there is a maelstrom of opposing interests which causes persistent international conflict. That is the root cause of the mighty arsenals which are held in readiness all over the world by every capitalist power of any consequence. The interests of the capitalists have nothing to do with human welfare; in their rivalry it is not only permissible, but vitally necessary, to plunder, destroy and murder.
This is the awful reality behind the hypocrisy of Reagan, Thatcher. Chernenko, Mitterrand and the rest. There is as much menace for the working class in a leader’s relaxed, folksy style of communicating capitalism’s cynicism as in the rantings of a Hitler. The workers throughout the world must reject them all, whatever their style, and build a new society for themselves — before it is too late.