AMID all the repetitive criticism of Labour, an original complaint surfaced over the weekend’s campaigning.
It seems that Labour isn’t offering full-blooded socialism but at best is presenting electors with a kind of “milk and water” Scandinavian-style social democracy.
It is true that even if fully implemented, Labour’s programme of mildly progressive income taxes on the better-off and professional/managerial end of the employment spectrum, combined with an increase in corporation and profit taxes that take us somewhere along the road to restoring the levels obtained when Thatcher assumed prime ministerial office, will move us towards the taxation norms that a middle-of-the-road Scandinavian social democracy might consider normal.
It is true that restoring the basic utilities of rail and mail, water and power would put us somewhere where Harold Macmillan, the post-war Conservative leader who once competed with Labour on how many council houses his Tory government could build, might find himself.
But is it true that Labour’s manifesto commitments amount to nothing more than a restoration of the status quo?
To think in this way is, of course, quite mechanical. Or as Marxists might say — undialectical.
It doesn’t take into account the context the framework in which Labour’s carefully considered policies actually are designed to lay the basis for a future advance.
The whole point of denying the profit-seekers the chance to plunder the public purse and cream off the revenues which our utilities and public services produce in their day-to-day operations is to make these social enterprises, which serve the common good, deliver their necessary social product in the most efficient manner.
In the service of common good Labour intends to squeeze out the distortions which the market economy introduces. That it denies a parasitic class of property owners — the rentier class — a source of income which they accumulate without personal effort is, of course, a source of great satisfaction to millions.
But it isn’t socialism.
Socialism is when the whole basis of political power rests on the working class constituted as the ruling class.
This requires a radical and profound transformation of the whole of society and if anyone thinks that the next Labour government, or even the one after, is going to institute such a state they have not been paying attention. Or, in the case of the monopoly media, they are giving voice to the unspoken fear of their owners that even the most marginal assault on the wealth and power of the class that actually exercises hegemony over our society opens the door to something more profound.
And in this our ruling class is right to be concerned.
Socialism is not something handed down by a government.
It doesn’t emerge as the result of a majority of people in a legislature decreeing it. It cannot be fashioned out of paper decisions.
It can only come about as the result of an immense shift in the way millions of people begin to think and act. It is only possible when the main props of the existing order can no longer guarantee the continued existence of exploitative social relations.
But to come about it requires the whole of the working population in a capitalist society to want something that that society, as presently organised, cannot deliver.
And that consciousness, that sense of its own power, is the basis of the fear which, whether fully conscious of it it or not, is what animates what we might call our class enemy.
And if Labour’s programme opens the door to such a change in the way millions of people think, then the fears of our ruling class will be justified.
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