1990s >> 1995 >> no-1096-december-1995
An Open Letter to Arthur Scargill
So at last you’ve come to see through the Labour Party. You now realise that it’s indistinguishable from the Democrats in the United States and the Liberals here in England. In other words, that it’s a left-of-centre party of capitalist reform not a party committed, if only on paper, to furthering the interests of the working class. All its leaders want is to have a go at running capitalism which they say they can do better than the Tories. What took you so long? Still, better late than never.
To give you credit, you arc prepared to go one step beyond Tony Benn. He openly admits that the Labour Party is not a socialist party and never has been, but has said he’ll never leave it. From which we must conclude that he thinks there is a need for a left-of-centre party of capitalist reform and that this is more important than the need for a genuine socialist party. If that’s his view, then he’s welcome to it. Anyway, he’s always been more of an old-fashioned radical democrat than a real socialist, so perhaps his place is in the modem equivalent of the old Liberal Party.
But, you, you are calling for a new Socialist Labour Party to be set up to oppose Labour at the next election. (We suppose you are aware of the historical significance of the name “Socialist Labour Party” but are prepared to run the risk of being mistakenly taken as seeking to revive Daniel De Leon’s confused “socialist industrial unionism”.) If you actually go ahead with this, you will show yourself to be a man of principle compared with other left-wingers, and some amusement will be had from the problem this will cause the Trotskyists and their policy of “Vote Labour till Doomsday”.
We agree with the need for a genuine socialist party, but insist that this should be on a sound basis, namely a clear definition of what Socialism is and a clear refusal to advocate reforms of capitalism. This is where our doubts about your project come in.
What do you mean by Socialism? Although you once told an incredulous David Frost that you stood for a moneyless society, we suspect that you mean nationalisation and state control—in other words, state capitalism. The fact that over the years you gave uncritical support to the regimes in Russia and eastern Europe (remember how you refused to support the Polish miners when they went on strike in 1980 and 1981 and how they returned the compliment, by producing coal for export to Britain, when the British miners went on strike in 1984 and 1985?) heightens this suspicion.
If it is still your view that Russia under Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev was socialist and that this is your model for Socialism, you don’t need to form a new party. You might as well join the Communist Party of Britain who still bring out the Morning Star. But, as we suppose you arc well aware, you wouldn’t get much popular support for anything like that, and rightly so. If you have changed your mind about the Russian and the other former state-capitalist regimes in eastern Europe once being socialist, you should come out and state so publicly and unambiguously.
As to reforms, we know you will favour your proposed new party advocating these. We can make a good guess at what they’ll be: higher pensions, more spending on hospitals, schools and housing instead of on war planes and warships. Nice, if you could get this, but you can’t. It’s all been tried before, without lasting success. As you yourself once said: “History is littered with abortive attempts to reform capitalism. You cannot reform this system out of existence. What we need is a complete and utter change of society.” We couldn’t agree more, so why will your new party be wasting its time advocating reforms, i.e. trying to reform capitalism?
We are not saying that workers shouldn’t try to get the best they can out of capitalism, but that’s the job of trade unions and other similar organisations, not of a socialist political party. In our view, the job of a socialist party is to advocate “a complete and utter change of society” to socialism and nothing but this.
History shows that a party that advocates reforms inevitably becomes the prisoner of its reform-minded supporters and eventually ends up giving only lip-service to the socialist transformation of society. Why do you think that instead of the Labour Party gradually changing capitalism, as some of its members once used to want, the opposite has happened and capitalism has gradually changed the Labour Party—into what it is today and which you feel is no longer worthy of support? Why make the same mistake again ?
So, Arthur, before you do this, we hope you won’t think it is presumptuous of us if we suggest you read the enclosed pamphlet From Capitalism to Socialism. There you will find set out the ease against capitalism and the ease for organising on sound, socialist lines. If you find yourself convinced by the arguments then you can abandon your project of re-founding the Labour Party and apply to join the already-existing Socialist Party.
Yours for Socialism,