Issue 185 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
In his article 'In the Balance' (February SR) Tony Cliff rightly points out how much the Tories are hated and how volatile the class struggle is at the moment. Workers are willing to support other workers in struggle, usually in a passive way, while not always confident enough to take action themselves.
However, I do not agree with his optimism. He assumes that because the rank and file are not under the influence of the Communist Party then the SWP is in a better position when (and if) the upturn comes.
Despite all its faults, not having a large organisation such as the CP on the left is not something to be glad about. If people were turning away from the CP and turning towards other left wing organisations then I would agree with Cliff's optimism. Unfortunately workers are not turning towards left wing organisations, mainly because the left (as a whole) is not growing in Britain at the moment. Workers are not just disillusioned with the Tories and the Labour Party, they are also disillusioned with politics in general. A lot of militants are dropping out of political activity altogether.
It is for this reason that Cliff is wrong to assume that 'the slow recuperation will continue'. Cliff should know better than to assume that workers will continue to be more and more militant as the Tories get more and more vicious. A lot could happen over the next few years. With a Labour government looking more and more likely, 'new realism' could rear its ugly head again. As the struggle at the moment is not generalised enough, the militancy could easily dissipate. In two years time we could end up with a Labour government just as vicious as the Tories or another Tory government. In comparing the class struggle in the 1970s with the situation today, Cliff is guilty of exaggerating the militancy.
If the two replies to my article are anything to go by, I must have written a fairly incomprehensible article on Disney (December SR). To Howard Medwell (February SR) I would say this: I wasn't suggesting Disney was 'progressive'--it's not a word I use--nor was I suggesting that Disney films are 'opposed to middle class culture'. I was saying, as John Parrington (March SR) pointed out, that Disney dabbles in contradictory material.
I did not claim that Alice in Wonderland et al 'represent a uniform political and cultural entity'. I was trying to point out that within the continuity of the British middle class (economically and institutionally undeniable) these children's books are 'liberal' and, in their own way, subversive and self mocking. I described Alice as a 'pre-suffragette' and said that Rabbit and Owl in Winnie the Pooh are 'parodies of self-important middle class adults'.
I was talking about Disney and English children's literary classics in the same breath not because it was me who was 'counterposing' them (Parrington) but because I was looking at the way that these two cultural types are used and opposed by critics. Of course I think that both types are 'contradictory'. It was the superior, anti-American tone of the liberal intelligentsia towards Disney that I was having a go at. But then I am happy to concede that writing an article that is really 'criticism of criticism' is a bit of a naff thing to do.
I think it is generally agreed that Labour's Clause Four debate is untimely and, frankly, foolish. Now that the debate is reaching its climax, however, I think it is important to begin thinking about a further aspect to the 'nationalisation' issue.
It is time that serious consideration is given to the notion of the 'continentalisation' of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The Socialist bloc within the European Parliament, being in a majority, must be prepared to forward its socialism as that parliament gains greater and greater powers. A continent wide Clause Four should be adopted as a minimum by that party, and ideas for the socialisation of Europe should be planned and tabled.
Whether Labour retains Clause Four or not, the present leadership is never going to revolutionise British politics. Maybe our focus should now be placed on policy within the European Parliament. Not only would such a policy pressurise the left parties of Europe, but such action by European socialists would combat the domestic Conservative/Christian Democrat parties of Europe also, and would pose a check to resurgent nationalism in today's Europe.
We also need to discuss the reinvigoration of the trade union movement. The report made on this issue in Socialist Review (March 1995) was commendable, but it ignored the Europe wide potential for worker combination. A European shop stewards' congress and the merger of European trade unions into single continental bodies is something which must develop side by side with the political union of socialist parties throughout Europe.
Luri Steklov called for a 'federation first of Europe, and then of the entire world'. Europe is on that road, though, admittedly, led by the bourgeoisie. Now that the inevitability of a federal Europe is upon us, it is surely time for plans for a socialist hijack of that federal system to be made. The age old problem of governmental strikebreaking through the stockpiling of imports must cease to be a threat to the advancement of workers' power.
The socialisation of the Socialist bloc of European left parties, starting with a call for the 'continentalisation' of the means of production, distribution and exchange, combined with continent wide trade union organisation and solidarity are the ways forward. The Clause Four debate has made this fact obvious. Socialists must drop their covert nationalism and grasp the internationalist nettle.
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