National utopia?

Discussions have also raged in the Economy group. Here Ian Mahoney criticises the compromise document produced

The Economy working group has been one of those cited by the SLP leadership as having some “problems”. This grouping was reconvened several times, has gone through several policy document redrafts and produced minority papers for discussion by the conference on May 4. As we go to press, we await news of the latest developments.

It seems likely that the original March 2 draft presented by Scargill remains largely intact. If this is so, it should not be supported by the May 4 policy conference. Its central positions remain the standard left reformist nostrums of the left of the Labour Party. The document underlines the fact that while Scargill may have broken from Labour, he has not broken from Labourism.

The bulk of the Scargill draft consists of a superficial analysis of the relative decline of the British capitalist economy. Although the text formally states that it is “the capitalist system and not the complexion of governments which is responsible for this social and economic devastation”, the palliatives offered for the economy’s decline illustrate that in practice the problems are seen as the product of the policies of incumbent governments.

Thus, under the document’s ‘Programme for Britain’ heading it is suggested that “even Britain’s capitalist system cannot survive economically without at the very least a radical change in investment policy” (my emphasis - IM). The proposed short term economic policy of the party calls for “coal mines, steel plants, engineering works, shipyards [to be] reopened” and “all the industries that generate real wealth [to be] rebuilt”.

The proposals are therefore backward looking, essentially national reformist. There is no notion of linking the ‘salvation’ of the economy with the progressive development of international production through a world revolution, through the practical call for an economy planned on a world scale. Instead, there is the reactionary attempt to tum history backwards, to recreate a ‘British’ industrial infrastructure that has been progressively superseded by the development of capitalism itself.

This is an inevitable product of national reformism as opposed to revolutionary politics. Of course, the document genuflects in the direction of what is called ‘socialism’ when it emphasises that the economic prescriptions it advocates can only “ameliorate” the worst features of the present system. “The only way we can permanently resolve our economic and political crisis,” we are assured, “is by changing [the capitalist] system.”

Yet in a pivotal passage just a few lines earlier we have been told that “all of this [that is, the various economic reforms called for - IM] can be financed through dramatic cuts in arms expenditure, the profits from companies taken back into common/social ownership and the savings which would literally flow from eliminating the scourge of unemployment” ( a ‘scourge’ which in its turn, we are told, is also the result of a conscious “political strategy” by Tory and Labour governments - IM).

A revolutionary approach to any demand in the programme of a workers’ party starts from what the working class needs to live decent lives in the here and now. The question of whether or not such a measure can be ‘afforded’ is irrelevant to us. If such basic human demands cannot be met under the existing system, then the end of that system is posed.

The notion that revolutionaries (in whose ranks Scargill now includes himself -a step forward) should be embroiled in arguments about the ‘affordability’ or ‘practicality’ of our demands must be anathema to us. It immediately means that we have conceded the argument that the working class must accept the existing parameters of society as boundaries for the formulation of policy. It imprisons us within capitalism.

In other words, the Scargill proposals for the ‘economic’ demands of the SLP are essentially about the ‘amelioration’ of the existing conditions of the working class, as the document itself concedes. These reforms are to be afforded by cuts in imperialism’s arms budget and full employment under capitalism.

But then there is no real, living link between these mundane ‘economic’ demands and the final aim - ‘socialism’. The socialist society is perceived of as a far away, shimmering promise. In practical terms, this utopia has no influence on the practical day-to-day struggle of the movement. It can be waved in front of the eyes of the working class as the ‘ultimate goal’: in the meantime, the economic demands of the party are to be costed by utopian calls for structural changes in the capitalist economy, for rational resource allocation within capitalism.

Thus, the measures proposed “would ... save for proper use billions of pounds currently misspent” (my emphasis - IM).

We wait to see if the discussions in any of the Economy workshops have fundamentally influenced the shape of this document. We see little chance of this. Taken as a whole, this contribution is unamendable in the direction of revolutionary politics. That said, it is more than a little worrying that individuals on the left of the SLP have promoted the Scargill document as “not too bad”. Is this a product of Scargill moving towards revolutionary politics, or these comrades being drawn towards national reformism?