1980s >> 1987 >> no-995-july-1987

Editorial: How do we change things now?

The 1987 general election will probably be remembered for the fact that the Labour Party pinned their hopes on a slick, three weeks campaign to wipe out workers’ knowledge of what sort of party they really are. They seemed to hope that it needed only meticulously planned, leader-obsessed rallies for people to forget the chaos and conflict of their last time in power. Soft-focus shots of Kinnock slaving through the night at his papers were intended to obscure the history of the support he gave, as a back-bench Labour MP, to the Callaghan government during the winter of discontent. A glossy manifesto was supposed to paper over the broken promises, the internal feuding, the wretched abandonment of what Labour was once proud to call its principles.

It is difficult to believe that the Labour strategists really thought, in the face of all the evidence, that they might overturn that massive Tory majority from 1983. More likely, they reasoned that the best they could hope for was to win enough Conservative seats to secure Neil Kinnock as the Labour prime minister after the next election and to give them a springboard for victory at that election. Their failure to achieve even that may well mean they are in for more of the agonised inquests which followed the defeats of 1959 and 1979. As a capitalist political party, Labour exists to win power over the system, to run it in the interests of the capitalist class. Nothing secures a leader like electoral victory; nothing menaces them like defeat. This applies equally to the Alliance. All their optimism, their promises, their posture as the caring, rational, moderate new departure have come to nothing. They have suffered a mauling from which they may never recover.

The Thatcher government were condemned for deliberately closing down huge swathes of industrial activity, for creating unemployment thereby, for slashing back the Health Service and for tightening the screw of poverty on the most vulnerable people in society. In fact the Labour government which preceded Thatcher in 1979 themselves carried out such policies — not as voluntary, deliberate acts but in response to the recession which was in its early stages. Healey, the last Labour Chancellor, began the programme of restrictions and cut-backs which has been carried on by Howe and Lawson. For there are no fundamental differences between these parties. They all stand for the continuation of capitalism and for running the system in the only way possible — against the interests of the majority. Whatever differences they have are trivial matters of style or of emphasis.

If the election was no more than a choice between the names to go on the doorplate of Number Ten. if it meant no difference to our lives as workers, what point is there in the whole business? The Socialist Party was confined. through our size and resources, to nominating only one candidate — in Islington South and Finsbury. Less than 100 votes were cast for him as the representative of a new society, against over 40,000 for the representatives of capitalism in that constituency. The socialist was the only candidate to offer the chance to opt for a world working on different social relationships — a world free of the problems typical of capitalism, which dominated the programmes of the capitalist parties.

Elections which are worthwhile will be those which address those problems. The working class produce everything but own virtually nothing; they have the power to change society so that class division, war, poverty, famine, avoidable disease are things of the past. Until they realise that power there can be no hope of the more secure, abundant, happy society which human beings are capable of.

The election of 1987 was another one not to count. A revolutionary change in society needs the working class to understand why capitalism operates as it does and why it must be abolished. With that knowledge they will have no need or use for leaders to swamp them in false emotion and to tell them how to think, how to vote, how to keep themselves in chains. There is time now, before the next election, for this change to happen. The evidence of capitalism’s decay, its redundancy, is persistent and overwhelming. The working class, who now run capitalism in every way, need only to see this evidence for what it is and then to opt for the social system which they can run in the interests of the entire human race. It could be that the next election is the one to count, when we begin to change the world.