Scargillism or socialism?

The June elections to the European Parliament were notable not only in having the lowest turn-out ever in a national election but also for being the first national election in which every elector in Britain had a chance to vote for at least one party using the word “socialist” on the ballot paper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a chance to vote for real socialism.

Only those in the North East had that chance. Apart from the Socialist Party the other parties calling themselves Socialist stood on anything but a socialist programme. Arthur Scargill’s SLP stood on a patriotic anti-Common Market programme. Tommy Sheridan’s SSP stood for Tommy Sheridan and Scottish separatism (the six words they used on the ballot paper were: “Scottish Socialist Party (Convenor Tommy Sheridan)”. An electoral coalition of Trotskyist groups including Militant and the SWP which contested the West Midlands under the name of “Socialist Alliance”, stood on a programme of minimum reforms such as “No to tuition fees and student loans”, “No to private toll roads”, “£5 an hour minimum wage”, “Oppose the Euro”, with no mention of socialism not even as a long-term goal (and not even as their mistaken definition of it as state-run capitalism).

Scargill’s party stood in all 11 Euroconstituencies in mainland Britain and in all but three of them was the only standard-bearer for the word “socialist”. But what a disgrace to the word his programme was!

The SLP’s main electoral slogan was “VOTE TO GET BRITAIN OUT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION”. Socialists know that it doesn’t make any difference to workers whether or not the British capitalist class are in or out of the European Union. Whether or not they stay in this businessman’s club is their problem, not ours. The problems we face as workers are caused by the class ownership of the means of life and production for profit, not by the trading arrangements of our capitalist masters.

The SLP’s election manifesto, however, did not make such a socialist analysis. Instead, it echoed the analysis made by the UK Independence Party and the BNP that all our problems are due to Britain being in the Common Market—and indeed that those of the capitalists are too, since the SLP manifesto expressed great concern about their trading prospects and about how much of the surplus-value extracted from the workers they have to pay over to Brussels.

According to Scargill’s manifesto:

When Britain joined the European Common Market the people were told that membership would protect British industries and British jobs—but the very opposite is true . . . Membership of the European Union has led to mass unemployment, the closure of steelworks and coal mines, engineering industries and the near-destruction of Britain’s manufacturing base.

Or, as the BNP put it in their manifesto:

Being in the EU makes it illegal for us to protect our own industries, including manufacturing, fishing and farming, from the foreign competition which has destroyed millions of jobs. The BNP says ‘no’ to EU insecurity, and—unlike the pro-free trade UKIP—’yes’ to protecting British jobs. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Well, actually, no, it doesn’t, since the implication of the SLP/BNP position is that if British capitalism hadn’t been in the Common Market these closures and job losses could have been avoided. But how? Since they were caused by changes in world market conditions in the form of a world-wide economic slowdown it would have made no difference whether Britain was in or out of the EU. If Britain had not been in they would still have occurred.

The fact is that we are living in a global economy and there is nothing a government of any particular state can do to opt out of the effects of a global economic downturn. No doubt an SLP government—or a BNP government—would have tried to protect “British jobs” by putting up tariff walls to keep out “foreign” imports. But this is to forget that Britain, as part of the global economy, is also necessarily an exporting country; in fact its speciality has been transforming imported materials into manufactured goods for export. Keeping out cheap “foreign” imports would have meant forcing exporters to use more expensive British-made substitutes, so increasing their cost and making them less competitive on already over-supplied world markets. This, quite apart from the retaliatory action other states would be likely to have taken against imports from Britain to their countries. In other words, if such a protectionist policy had been pursued British exports would still have fallen off leading to . . . factory closures and job losses.

A siege economy, whether under Arthur Scargill or John Tyndall, is no way out of the global capitalist crisis. In fact there is no way out for workers other than socialism which, because capitalism is already a global system, has to be world-wide too. This is elementary Socialist thinking, but it’s the last thing you are going to hear from Scargill’s party.

Instead, we are told:

If a country like Norway—not a member of the EU—can have one of the most prosperous economies in the world outside the EU, why not Britain?

But Norway is an openly capitalist country (which didn’t in fact escape from the effects of the world slump), so the SLP evidently believes that the problems workers in Britain face can be solved within the context of capitalism. This mistaken conclusion follows logically from the SLP’s mistaken analysis: if the EU rather than capitalism is the cause of workers’ problems then the solution lies not in getting rid of capitalism but simply in getting out of the EU.

We suspect we know why the SLP chose Norway as its example of a supposed paradise outside the EU. The examples they normally give in their literature—Cuba and North Korea—are rather less attractive vote-pullers.

Although all this is enough to show not only that the SLP is not a socialist party at all but that it is a petty British nationalist party, the various Trotskyist groups were urging workers to vote for them, except in Scotland where they preferred Sheridan’s even pettier Scottish nationalism and in the West Midlands where they stood themselves, but including the North East where a genuine Socialist list was standing. This doesn’t surprise us as they have more in common with Scargill than they have with us and, in any event, we only want those who genuinely understand and want socialism to vote for us. They too are Eurosceptics, though not as extreme as Scargill, the BNP and UKIP in wanting a complete withdrawal. Their slogan of “OPPOSE THE EURO AND MAASTRICHT”, i. e. stay in but keep the pound, puts them rather in the camp of Thatcher and Norman Tebbitt.

The correct socialist position on the euro was put in a letter from one of our members published in the Newcastle Journal on 14 January:

To euro or not to euro, that is the question. Or is it? Does it really make any difference if you pay your bills with euro, dollars or pounds sterling? Would your life change if the money in your pocket no longer had a picture of the richest woman in England? The real truth is the rich will still be rich and the poor still be poor. Joining the euro will benefit the flow of business capital. Why? Because we live in a global economy. The European nations must compete as a trading bloc against their strongest competitors, the American and Far East economies. If this planet with all its vast resources was owned and democratically controlled by the people, money would be obsolete. Socialism means that the farms, factories, railways, etc are run for the benefit of all. Without the insanity of the boom-slump profit system, the Stock Exchanges of the world will become museums and the floor traders can stop running around like headless chickens wearing blazers.

The North East, in fact, was the one region where voters attracted by the mere word “socialist” on the ballot paper did have a choice between the SLP’s position and the genuine Socialist one. Of the 6021 voters in this category, 4511 voted for the SLP and 1510 for us. In other words, 25 percent opted for real socialism rather than Scargill’s British state capitalism. What is interesting is that in those areas where we had been active in putting over the Socialist case, in other elections and in letters to the press, the percentage opting for socialism rather than Scargillism was higher. In Jarrow it was 44 percent and in Easington 35 percent.

This would suggest that where those interested in socialism are given the opportunity to hear the socialist case on a regular basis they can be won over to supporting the real thing and not just the name. Many of the 86,749 people who voted for the SLP will have voted not for, but thankfully despite, its reactionary, non-socialist programme, as a way of showing that they rejected the Labour administration of capitalism and saw “socialism”, however vaguely defined, as the way out.

There is talk of getting all the various parties calling themselves “socialist” together in an electoral pact so as to win seats under proportional representation. We want no part of such an alliance. The SLP, the SSP and the Trotskyist groups may as well know that we will continue to put the case for socialism, against them and the other parties which all support capitalism in one form or another, at election times whenever we can. We shan’t be forming any electoral pacts with them since their objective of reforms now and state capitalism later has nothing in common with ours of a world community without frontiers based on common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources with production to satisfy people’s needs not profit.


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