Highlights from ‘In Defence of Radical Politics’ – 1
“The utopia of shared work and the emancipation of time to realise the full potential of every human being is worth any amount of struggle in the face of grotesque inequalities and environmental breakdown that could, if we let the capitalist elite prevail, lead to the destruction of all life on the planet”.
And opens: “Politics is in my blood. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the political process in general and working-class politics in particular. The fundamental challenge raised by the founders of the Labour movement in the 19th Century remains as vital today as it was then – how to combine working-class representation with a programme that is unambiguously directed to the creation of a post-capitalist economy”.
He recalls the extraordinary achievement of those pioneers, constructing an intellectual and organisational framework for socialism through the trade union movement and a mass political party and adds (resonating with the careerists’ charge that Corbyn is not keen of achieving parliamentary power):
“But parliamentary representation was never the ultimate objective. Labour governments could provide significant evidence of progress but they served as nothing more than weigh-stations towards the complete transformation of industrial society and an end to capitalism. Economic power had to rest directly and irreversibly with working people through the common ownership of land and the means of production. All necessary work would be evenly shared, liberating time for individual and social creativity that was the essence of the human spirit”.
Schofield rightly says that judged by those standards, the experience of 20th Century and early 21st Century politics has been an abject failure:
“Democracy has been swamped by a rapacious, globalised capitalism run by a corporate elite that dominates Western political and economic institutions. The social-democratic contract that claimed to balance capitalist accumulation with improvements to the lives of working people has been exposed as a sham. Neo-liberal capitalist ideology rules supreme, while the fabric of the welfare state and workers’ rights has been systematically ripped to shreds.
“The sum of political ambition should not be to ameliorate the worst aspects of capitalist exploitation. Instead, that original vision on how to transform working-class lives beyond the narrow confines of representative politics has to be re-asserted and directed to the fundamental challenges of the 21st Century – the massive economic and social inequalities between rich and poor, and the global, environmental catastrophe caused by capitalist forms of production”.
After an illuminating account of events his early years, labour, Labour and socialism, he describes his growing awareness of the strong anti-trade union bias of the media and the turning point when Macdonald and other Labour leaders split the party to form a national government, effectively dominated by the Conservatives:
“The Party was still successful at the local, municipal level with councils using their own, admittedly limited powers, to carry out improvements such as slum clearances and house building. But for many working people, the over-riding emotion during the 1930s was one of betrayal felt against the national leadership and a sense of abandonment by many working-class communities”.
The legacy of the Attlee administration: evidence of the transformative potential of parliamentary government
“Faced with the aftermath of a devastating war following its decisive victory in 1945, it managed the extraordinary achievement of demobilising millions of men and women from the armed forces, as well as the transition from arms manufacture to civilian production in a post-war economy that effectively provided full employment. Despite severe budgetary and debt constraints, it was also prepared to use government expenditure on social priorities, including the establishment of the NHS, free at the point of use, and a national council housing programme, both of which brought clear and material benefit to millions of working people”.
Schofield points out that the leadership’s direction for economic and industrial policy was flawed:
“instead of nationalisation being seen as the vanguard for democratic control of industry, power was centralised around management bureaucracies many of whom had held senior positions prior to nationalisation . . . The Attlee government also began the process of re-armament in support of the United States’ invasion of Korea at the beginning of the Cold War. Essentially, the UK became a US military subsidiary, ‘America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic’. Military expenditure increased, diverting billions of pounds from productive areas of civil R&D and manufacturing, while welfare spending was cut and charges introduced for NHS prescriptions”.
Next week: part 2: post 1979
Posted on November 27, 2016, in Democracy, Economy, Labour Party, Politics and tagged Attlee administration, environmental breakdown, grotesque inequalities, slum clearances, Steve Schofield, utopia of shared work, working-class politics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.