Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Monday, May 25, 2009

From the memory hole

'I had never heard of the book before, so I took it away on the Easter holiday. It turned out to be the most relentless and comprehensive attack on the theory and practice of the New Labour government I have ever read. It mocks the government's supposed commitment to education, complaining bitterly that its "crucial requirement is not a broadly educated workforce of the many but the visionary entrepreneurship of the few: an individual combination of energy, initiative and drive for selling or trading that thrives in a kind of caricature economy more like the rag trade than the real thing". As for transport, "almost everyone except government ministers recognises there is a need for an integrated transport system, and such a system would be a more efficient use of national resources. Yet since the government abandoned the idea of co-ordinated transport planning, the transport system has become increasingly chaotic."

The book points out that the government's election manifesto "said little about privatisation", yet ministers promptly embarked on an orgy of privatisation. "The main beneficiaries of privatisation," it reminds us, "have been the City institutions which organised the sales and the top executives who now run the privatised companies." Then comes a familiar question: "And what about the workers? They have done less well. No dramatic pay rises for them and not much pride of ownership either."

Are there any real advantages in privatisation? "There is little evidence," the book proclaims, "to justify the automatic benefits of privatisation." On the contrary. "Privatisation has been a costly experiment whose benefits have been at best dubious." And yet "there is no declared limit to the government's privatisation plans. One government minister has suggested that the boundary between private and public sector should be refined so that only defence, law and order and some basic regulatory tasks should escape privatisation. Grey areas where the private sector would become increasingly involved included, in his view, health and education, and already such developments are taking place."

All this happened against a background of growing inequality. "The distribution of income in Britain has now become so unequal that it is beginning to resemble that of a third world country." Who has gained? "The real beneficiaries of tax reforms have been the few at the top of the scale. Not only income tax changes have favoured the very rich. Changes in capital and inheritance taxation have helped them too, making Britain's inequalities even greater."

The author was infuriated by the inherent contradiction in the government's attitude towards rich and poor. "How is it that incentives for the rich and poor are so very different? How can it be that for the rich the only stimulus to economic endeavour is that the rewards become increasingly lavish, while the poor are in continual need of the spur of their poverty?"

I hope I've given you enough of a taste of the book's socialist inspiration and its indignation at government policies. Sadly, though, you might find it hard to get hold of a copy. It is entitled Where There is Greed, a spoof quotation mocking Margaret Thatcher's stomach-churning reference to St Francis of Assisi when she went into Downing Street. The book was published by Mainstream in 1989. Its author was a dynamic Labour MP called Gordon Brown.'
Paul Foot, 'New Labour's Hypocrisy', The Guardian, 17 April, 2001

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