Fear of Socialism
The Real Issue for the ‘Vainglorious Seven’
by Gwydion M. Williams
- Reversing Thatcherism
- Imaginary Capitalism
- Feed-the-Rich Corporatism
- Winners and Losers
- Labour Anti-Semites?
The Labour Party from its 1900 creation saw public ownership and trade union power as fine ideas.
Tony Blair thought otherwise. Removed Clause Four, the aspiration for ‘common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’.
Yet he gave victory, and had some left-wing policies. He raised taxes, got some new employment rights and a National Minimum Wage. He spent more on the NHS.
Follies like the Iraq War are part of Labour tradition. Most of the party supported World War One. The 1945 Labour government helped suppress popular Communist movements in Greece and Malaya. Oversaw the Amethyst Incident, when the Chinese Communists won an artillery duel with several medium-sized Royal Navy ships. Would not allow foreign warships on a river in the middle of China, which the Chinese ‘nationalists’ were too timid to oppose. Which the British Empire under Labour was hanging onto.
The Iraq War was a blatant blunder. But many in Labour like the notion of meddling in lands once dominated by European Imperialism. More might still happen.
Labour started the drive to give Britain independent nuclear weapons. Keeping them is still Labour Party policy, despite Corbyn’s personal objections.
A Labour government under Corbyn might not be much different from Labour governments before the 1980s. But it would certainly throw out Thatcherism and the New Labour capitulation to its values. And that is the main issue.
Almost as important is ordinary Labour members asserting their own views. Not meekly accepting what MPs see as the limits to the possible.
Fabian Socialism, important in creating the Labour Party, was nice upper-middle-class people telling ‘the masses’ how to live their lives. With the best of intentions, of course, and actually doing a lot of good. But there was always a tension between this and Trade Unionism, which was about power for ordinary people.
Power for ordinary people includes a duty to respect the group decision, based on voting majorities. This awkward detail was foolishly attacked by 1960s radicals. Then much more cleverly attacked by the New Right, who said that the rights of The Individual must come first.
Asserting the rights of The Individual on social matters was a broad liberation, though with some negatives.
Asserting the rights of The Individual on economic matters gave the richest and most aggressive individuals a wholly unfair share of the social wealth.
If anyone can undermine agreed majority policy, the main gainers will be the rich. People are slow to recognise this. But it is the visible outcome of nearly four decades of upholding an asocial vision of The Individual.
Law, the ultimate Closed Shop for lawyers, is a comfortable niche for Independent Professionals. Chuka Umunna began as a lawyer, as did Tony Blair and his wife. Likewise Barak Obama and both Clintons in the USA. This encourages fantasies about units of The Individual making a perfect world.
English law retains 18th century slowness, inefficiency, unfairness, and expense. Back then, the local lawyer, school teacher and doctor were social equals, with the local clergyman superior. Teaching and health are modernised and industrialised: the church is marginalised. Lawyers get enormous salaries if they are at all successful.
Blair could have stayed within Labour Right traditions. But he swallowed the Thatcherite notion that common ownership was undesirable. That a profit motive was needed to avoid waste and inefficiency. Having promised to remove Thatcher’s ‘internal market’ for the NHS, in his second term he chose instead to extend it.
Labour lost popularity, despite Tory weakness under a series of balding and unpleasant leaders. Lost to Mr Cameron, with his excellent impersonation of a nice and very competent fellow.
Ed Miliband wanted something like Labour as it had been, but lacked the guts to push this. Lost the 2015 election. So members who had stuck with Labour all through the Blair years elected Corbyn, who clearly meant what he said.
The Establishment, including most Labour MPs, were horrified at democracy operating against their wishes. Thought Corbyn must be horribly unpopular with the voters. But Labour in 2017 got 12.87 million votes. Much the best result since Blair in 1997, when it was not yet clear he wanted nothing to do with socialism.
The Vainglorious Seven, briefly the Hateful Eight, made a show of being Real Labour fleeing Corbynite extremism. But were then joined by Tory ladies, who joked they must be the Three Amigos.
Amigos or not, a party that pro-Austerity Tories can happily join is blatantly not Real Labour. Nicely Mindless Moderates? Or if Chuka Umunna emerges as leader, Uncle Tom’s Centrists? He must know that only Labour is ever serious about attacking racism. That Centrists and the Centre-Right will do as little as possible. They excluded non-elite women and non-whites, until they came under left-wing pressure.
The modern elite vaguely wish for their women to get an equal slice of the privileges of the privileged. Are callously indifferent to the plight of ordinary needy women with no hope of joining that elite.
For the modern elite, those without hope of joining the elite barely count as human. They should get no more than is needful to avoid embarrassment for their betters. If a lot of them die – as they do under the infamous Tory system of ‘Universal Care’ – this is something the elite are comfortable with.
The media have ignored the issue, with the odd exception of a lead article in London’s Evening Standard. A paper owned by an exiled Russian oligarch with a legal but unearned chunk of the wealth of the Russian people:
“Corbyn’s political project is first to reverse Thatcherism and then to erect a new economic model in its place: to have a counter-revolution in his first term in office and a revolution in his second.
“To do that, he will need to replace at least some sitting Labour MPs and be able to hold the threat of replacement over the rest in order to pass his reforms.”[i]
But could Corbyn do more than reverse Thatcherism, which is growing ever less popular? That remains open. Yet many MPs nurtured by New Labour fear a world where the dogmas of the 1980s are rejected.
The Vainglorious Seven are embodied legally as Gemini A Ltd, a private company started by one of them. This apparently let them lawfully hide the names of their major financial backers. I’ve no doubt it includes some Jews: but I suspect that the non-Jewish names would be vastly more interesting.
They defend the excessive slice of wealth that a rich ‘Overclass’ have gained since the 1980s. Chris Leslie, a former shadow chancellor, said that Labour were ‘hostile to business large and small,’ and ‘make impossible promises that everyone knows, in their hearts, couldn’t be kept without putting the economy at risk. And they constantly pit one part of society against another’.
Corbyn is one of many who want to reverse the shameful flow of wealth to a more-than-millionaire elite. This is worst in the USA, where 90% of the society have the same slice of wealth and income they had in the 1970s. Not as bad in Continental Europe. And middling in Britain.
Capitalism as described by Adam Smith did not exist when he wrote. It still does not exist. Right-wing pundit Ayn Rand even wrote Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, though she failed to explain why it could be so good for us without really existing. Transubstantiation seems quite straightforward by comparison, and does not claim to be other than supernatural.
Despite a highly successful Mixed Economy following Roosevelt’s semi-socialist New Deal, a wave of protestors wrote hymns to Imaginary Capitalism, claiming it the source of all things good and nothing bad. They devised fancy maths, but it is unconnected to how real economies work. Maths is a set of languages that allow exact and testable descriptions of weird events, particularly for subatomic particles and for the universe as a whole. But you can write gibberish in those same languages, like any other.
To speak of ‘the snowy vistas of the mountains of East Anglia’ is valid English, but unreal. Or you could imagine men in bowler hats, black leather jackets and tartan kilts doing a clog-dance at the centre of Lords Cricket Ground, while the London Symphony Orchestra plays Pop Goes the Weasel. But this won’t actually occur.
Britain’s Industrial Revolution was overseen by a ruling class based on inherited ownership of land worked by tenant farmers. They decided to do nothing about a vast growth of industry outside of conventional controls in Birmingham and North Britain. Guilds for particular trades had raised Britain to a high level of wealth, while protecting small property. But the ruling class, which did not need them, let them be destroyed in many small local struggles. Likewise small farmers, shopkeepers and comfortable local businesses.
The ruling class also stopped protecting the wages of workers left powerless by gigantic new industries that could easily replace a disobedient workforce. But the results were so bad that a Tory government allowed Trade Unions from 1824. Imposed some very basic Factory Acts in the 1840s.
Britain in its heyday astonished the world, but did this with annual growth of less than 2%. In the run-up to the 1914-18 War, the British Empire was being overtaken by both the USA and United Germany. That war left the British Empire much weakened. Outside of the Soviet Union, the world struggled to get ‘back to normal’. And it failed.
The world before 1914 was the nearest we ever got to Imaginary Capitalism. Between the wars, several countries turned away from it and opted for Corporatism – treat the society as an organic whole. Don’t try abolishing private property and keep a role for capitalism – but insist that the state must regulate and subsidise for the people’s welfare.
The first experiments were mostly fascist, but Roosevelt with the New Deal showed that the same thing could work in a multi-party democracy. Though it was only allowed in the face of massive unemployment, and with the support of racist Southern Democrats. Black people got only half a loaf – but that was well worth having.
Fascism was quite successful as a peacetime system, though brutal and inefficient when it went to war. Hitler got as far as he did, because he inherited the high skills of the Kaiser’s army. He bungled his task of large-scale management.[ii] With his defeat, the world as a whole moved leftwards.
I’ve detailed elsewhere how progressive ideas pioneered in the Soviet Union became the new normal in the West.[iii] How it was a huge economic success, overtaking the Soviet Union. How the Soviet leaders then bungled reforms that might have been just as successful as China’s post-Mao reforms.[iv] But left-wing thinking back then was dominated by two failed versions of Leninism: Trotskyism and Khrushchevism / Brezhnevism. When in the 1970s there was the real prospect of a left-wing advance within the existing system, they were bitterly against it.
The ideas of Tony Benn, which Corbyn has inherited, were much closer to what might have been. Including Workers Control, which is almost forgotten about.
In the 1970s, the Corporatist system that the West had run successfully in the 1950s and 1960s was under strain. It had depended on mild subordination: depended on women, the working class and the wider non-European world ‘knowing their place’. Also on a feeling of the nation as ‘one family’, strong in World War Two and fading for the Baby Boomers.
‘Togetherness’ was not helped by massive non-white immigration into societies where casual racism was normal.
The left fumbled. Trade unions brought down Labour governments that were doing their best for them. The way was open for a revival of the 19th-century Liberal dream of Imaginary Capitalism.
This happened within the Tory Party, of course. Part of the failed Liberal Party collapsed into Toryism. And with Thatcher, it emerged as something else. Rather like the parasitic worm bursting from the body of John Hurt in the horror-film Alien. Someone should make a cartoon of it: since both are dead, England’s vicious Libel Laws do not apply.
The residual Liberal Party, only superficially changed by the ex-Labour Social Democrats, would sometimes sound different. But they, like New Labour, accepted Imaginary Capitalism as a grim reality that progressives had to live with. (And could also gain nice jobs and book contracts, and join an elite that was doing nicely out of inequality.)
But none of it was real.
Even before the 2008 crisis, both Britain and the USA had grown slightly more slowly than they had in the 1950s and 1960s, when hideous state power was supposedly stifling the wonderful creativity of the business class. Western Europe, where the idea of a Mixed Economy with much state power had been taken further, suffered a much sharper decline from the 1980s. Likewise Japan.
China, with much harsher curbs on the business class than anyone would contemplate in Europe, continues to have record fast economic growth. So too does India, with very different values but also rejecting Imaginary Capitalism.
Winners and Losers
Radicals like to talk about the 1% and the 99%. But it is not so simple, and people add themselves to the 1% who do not belong there. One US survey found as many as one in five believed this.
I prefer to talk of a more-than-millionaire class. Whether measured in dollars, euros or pounds, millionaires are clearly rare and privileged. And overpaid:
“The top 1 percent have doubled their income share… The ultra-wealthy control more of the income ‘pie.’ In 1980 they received 10.7 percent of pre-tax national income. In 2014, it was 20.2 percent. The bottom 50 percent of earners have seen their share of the pie shrink – they took home 19.9 percent of pre-tax income in 1980, but only 12.5 percent in 2014.”[v]
Most people can’t aspire to join them, short of winning the lottery. Yet the 1% are so privileged and rich that a genuine millionaire might still belong in the grade below.
The grade below I call the Next Nine, or the Comfortable Classes. £70,000 would put you in the middle of it; in the top 5% of wage-earners.[vi] It is also below the basic salary for a British MP, leaving aside all the extras they can legally earn.
The Comfortable Classes haven’t gained or lost a lot from Thatcherite changes. But a lot of them – and especially MPs – can aspire to rise into the Overclass.
The remaining 90% of us should be called the Cheated Classes. This includes the classic working class, obviously. Also most of the middle class, whether you use the British definition or the much broader US understanding, which includes lorry drivers. Regardless, these people are the true source of the undeserved wealth of the Overclass.
The people who elected Jeremy Corbyn, though some of his ideas are too left-wing for them.
Intolerance is encouraged by social stress. Jews are one target, but not the only target.
The standard demand is to treat hostility to Jews as much more important than hostility to anyone other minority. This had vague justification after the mass killings by the Nazis. But that was part of a philosophy of Race War, which the British Empire had applied outside of Europe, though with Jews generally accepted as part of a Superior White Race.[vii]
There are also Conspiracy Theories, which are foolish and diverting. And made worse by the obvious fact of a social malaise.
For a long time, many people felt that if there was some sort of conspiracy running the Western world, it was doing quite a good job. And could probably be persuaded that the truth was more like H. G. Wells’s Open Conspiracy: like-minded people who work individually and have no central authority telling them what to do.
The malaise from the 1980s was not caused by any conspiracy. It comes from an unwillingness to control the business elite. They are by nature an irresponsible Overclass, and have gained power as traditional ruling classes decay.
And Jews do often get blamed.
My guess would be that a considerable majority of British Jews would be in the Cheated Classes. But that rather more than 9% of them would be in the Comfortable Classes, and rather more than 1% in the Overclass. So if people think in terms of rival communities rather than rival classes, Jews are likely to be blamed.
But current aggressive and right-wing policies by Israel make things worse. And also leads to false accusations against Corbyn and others who have fought hard against racism of all sorts. Who are consistent in putting equal value on the lives of the two main Semitic peoples, the Jews and the Arabs.
Israel’s policy from the 1990s suggest a wish to exclude all non-Jews from the Palestinian Mandate that the British Empire carved out of what had been the Ottoman Empire province of Greater Syria.
You are supposed to praise Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. It is a democracy for Jews, indeed. Non-Jews who hung on when Israel was created can vote, but are marginal in actual politics. Millions more Arabs in occupied territories have no meaningful vote, but the sensible idea of letting them form a real Palestinian state has been blocked. They remain Occupied Territories, and there is no prospect of them becoming more.
Though the Balfour Declaration spoke about preserving the rights of the existing Muslim and Christian inhabitants, this was clearly just a cover for eventual Jewish domination. Had Greater Syria been maintained, a Jewish majority would never have been feasible. And in a similar spirit, Lebanon was created to make a regional majority for the Maronite Christians: remnants of the Crusaders whom France favoured.
Maronite Christians got an advantage in the country where they already lived. Designating the newly-created British Mandate of Palestine as a home for Jews was more complex. Some Jews rightly feared that Europe’s rising nationalist movements would say that Jews belonged there and nowhere else. They opposed Zionism for just this reason. When the Balfour Declaration was made, Edwin Montagu as the only Jew in the British cabinet was against it.
In 1948, when Israel was created, Europe and its US offshoot dominated most of the world. Zionist wishes might have been met by designating some portion of the vast territories taken for European settlement as being for those Jews who wished to be keep a separate identity. But none of those European settlements liked the idea: only in the Soviet Union was a peculiar Jewish republic set up in the Far East, and it was never popular.
The solution favoured at the time was to give a chunk of Arab territory to displaced Jews, who were not wanted in European countries or the USA. Not wanted because of a widespread feeling that existing Jews were quite enough already, and more than most countries wanted. Those Jewish minorities had made enormous contributions, and further Jews allowed to settle would have done more, but actual prejudice back then was far higher. As was a view that Arabs and others outside of the White Race did not matter and could be safely shoved about.
Though the Tory party includes some people who hate Jews, and many more who hold the grossest prejudices about them, they are comfortable with whatever Israel chooses to do to Arabs. The two attitudes can live happily together: they might hope that some Jews and all of the strongly-self-assertive Jews will abandon England and go and live in Israel instead. And some Zionists have said similar things, for Britain and other countries, suggesting only that in Israel can Jews find safety.
Except it probably won’t work, in the long run. The foolish intervention in Iraq undermined the Arab Nationalism, which was the main alternative to Islamic extremism.
Saudi Arabia has been a global promoter of Wahhabism, an extremist Islamic sect. Almost all of the Islamic terrorists have come out of Wahhabism.
The real policy of Saudi Arabian governments has been to keep Israel safe, while making a big show of being hostile. And from the 1991 Gulf War onwards, it has waged war on other Muslims in alliance with the USA. How long will ordinary Arabians tolerate this?
It would be hard to stitch together a grand alliance including Pakistan with its nuclear weapons and Turkey with its efficient NATO-trained military. But it could happen. What then would be the future for Israel?
First published in Labour Affairs, March 2019 issue. There, the last paragraph was accidentally omitted.
[ii] See for instance https://gwydionwilliams.com/44-fascism-and-world-war-2/how-hitler-might-have-had-a-victorious-peace/