|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
The brutal face of Toryism behind the ‘liberal’ mask
This September saw the death of Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar who, as Ian Gilmour, was a Tory MP from 1962 to 1992, sitting in the cabinets of both Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.
The obituary columns described Gilmour as ‘an old-school Tory’, an opponent of Thatcherism, who "put down a marker for a Toryism reaching beyond tax cuts and class war" (The Guardian, 24 September). But while Gilmour indisputably became an opponent of Thatcher within the Tory Party (he was sacked from her cabinet in 1981), his differences were at the level of tactics not ends. He was a staunch defender of capitalism, a conscious strategist of 'class war' in fact, but he feared that the economic and political consequences of Thatcher’s brutal policies would undermine the social basis of the system that they both represented.
This theme, how best to ensure the continuance of capitalism, was explored by Gilmour in the book, Inside Right: A Study in Conservatism, published in 1977 under the Labour government of Jim Callaghan, when Gilmour was a member of Thatcher’s shadow cabinet. On the occasion of his death, we are reprinting a detailed review of Gilmour’s book by PETER TAAFFE, first published in Militant International Review (Issue No.14, Summer 1978).
The version of the article published in Socialism Today has been shortened for reasons of space, with the original version appearing in full here on our website.
WHEN IT WAS first published last autumn this book attracted a lot of attention from capitalist commentators. Some hailed it as a definitive answer to all shades of ‘socialism’ and elevated its author Ian Gilmour – Tory MP and a member of Thatcher’s shadow cabinet – to the level of a new Tory guru. Here at last was an ‘intellectual’ justification of Toryism and capitalism. Even the right wing of the Labour Party was forced to sit up and take notice. They were stung into exchanging salvoes with him in the pages of the capitalist press. Gilmour accused them of not facing up to the left within the Labour Party. One thing is clear; many of the ideas floated in this book have become part of the arsenal of Thatcher and her crew in their grab for power at the next election. For this reason alone the book would be of interest to active workers in the labour movement. But there is an additional and even more important reason for analysing Gilmour’s book.
Here is spelt out in the most brutal language – something which could not be done in the Tory ‘popular press’ – the manoeuvring and intriguing of the political representatives of the British ruling class against the rights, conditions and organisations of the working class. It therefore provides a timely warning to the labour movement of the terrible dangers to itself on the basis of a continuation of a diseased and clapped out system.
Under the stewardship of the capitalists British society has been brought to the brink of ruin. Almost daily we witness new examples of the collapse of British capitalism. In steel, motorbikes, electronics, cars, etc the British bourgeoisie is outstripped and beaten not just by the major powers but increasingly by the secondary capitalist powers. Thus Italy now out produces Britain in steel. Moreover a recent Financial Times article pointed out that steel output per capita is now higher in Russia than in Britain. Britain is being reduced to an industrial wasteland.
THE CAPITALISTS HAVE seen profits increase from just over 2% in 1974 to 8.77% of gross domestic product last year. But the degenerate British bourgeoisie still refuse to invest. During 1977 investment was down 4%, the lowest level for ten years. Total investment will be 4% lower in 1979 than in 1974 according to even the most favourable estimates. Manufacturing industry increased last year by a derisory 0.5%. The greedy and myopic British bourgeoisie have refused to re-tool industry preferring to invest in agricultural land and other speculative enterprises. Thus the Financial Times recently reported on the colossal increase in the buying of agricultural land in America by British companies. And it is the working class which is paying the catastrophic price for the collapse of British capitalism.
Mass unemployment has returned to haunt the valleys of South Wales and the industrial areas of Tyneside, Merseyside and Clydeside. Moreover the formerly sheltered areas of the industrial West Midlands and London, which in the 1930s provided some kind of escape from the ‘depressed areas’, now have unemployment figures which rival those of the industrial North and South Wales. The whole of Britain is now a gigantic ‘depressed area’. At the same time the bourgeois Cambridge Economists Group estimate that on the basis of present trends there will be five million unemployed by 1990!
Nor do the capitalists now expect any kind of redemption from North Sea oil. The Marxists pointed out from the beginning that the ‘El Dorado’ of North Sea oil was a chimera. This year it will contribute about 1% to government revenue! It has proved as illusory as entry into the Common Market as a lifeline for British capitalism.
This is the background to Gilmour’s book. In the section dealing with the economy he shows the same stupidity as the Tory leadership in relation to manufacturing industry. He writes: "Some... seem to think that the structural fault in Britain’s economy of too few people in the productive sector is the sole explanation for our poor economic performance". (p229) His shadow cabinet sidekick Howell argues that investment abroad is the key to the revival of the British economy! In this respect the Tory leadership is reflecting the pressure and the arguments of finance capital in the City of London. So blind and palsied are these representatives of British capitalism that they have forgotten that the real source of wealth is not bits of paper but production itself. And it is these worthies who use millions of words and acres of print to accuse the working class of sabotaging the economy!
Gilmour begins his book with an historical excursion and analysis of those figures whom he believes constitute the pantheon of Toryism. He points out that "A Tory was originally an Irish robber and outlaw; a Whig (out of this Party came the Liberal Party) was a Scottish outlaw". (p24) What emerges from this section of the book is that the Tories have been able to survive, at least until the recent period, as the most successful bourgeois party in Europe by a combination of trickery and by adapting themselves to changing circumstances.
At the beginning of the 1850s Karl Marx expected that the Tories would disappear and be absorbed by the Liberals. The opposite has happened with the Tories as the major force and the Liberals as the junior capitalist party (Macaulay the historian described them as the front and back legs of the same horse).
MARX’S PREDICTION WAS based on the expectation of the growth of the revolutionary movement of the working class around the Chartists. This in turn would have compelled the various wings of the bourgeoisie to organise a common front within the same party and the Liberals were at that stage the party of industrial capital. But Marx wrote on the eve of the economic upswing of 1851 to 1873 which resulted in the decline of the Chartists and the restriction of the workers’ movement to the trade union field for a whole epoch.
The bourgeoisie used the struggle between the Liberals and Tories as a means of ventilating the grievances of the workers in an attempt to prevent the growth of an independent Labour Party. But the increasing threat to British capitalism, particularly from German capitalism, led to the discrediting of ‘free trade’ (the Liberals watchword) by ‘protectionism’. Together with the growth of imperialism this led to the supplanting of the Liberals by the Tories as the main capitalist party. The development of the Labour Party was largely at the expense of the Liberal Party.
But it is not just the ‘cleverness’ of the ruling class which allowed the Tory Party to survive for so long and so successfully. The main reason was that, resting on its wealth and power, with a mighty Empire at its back, it was enabled to give concessions to at least a layer of the working class, particularly to white-collar workers and also to the middle class. Even in the post-war period, with the rapid decline of British capitalism, it was still possible to do this. This enabled them to skilfully camouflage the real nature of the Tory Party, masquerading as one representing the whole ‘nation’ not as a capitalist party. Their traditional policy has been to blunt class antagonisms and thus prevent a collision between the classes.
Indeed Gilmour states: "capitalism as such in so far as people know what it is, is not very popular". (p131) He adds: "The Conservatives have lost every election since the war when they did not get 50% of their vote from the working class". (p257) What is even more horrifying is the fact that "the renewal of the electorate has been helping Labour; there are more new electors reaching voting age from Labour than from Conservatives homes, and as there are more elderly Conservatives than Labour voters more of them are dying". (p258) Thus capitalism and its social reserves are literally withering away and dying!
But the support of the backward sections of the working class for their own worst enemies has also been due primarily to the fact that the leaders of the Labour Party and trade unions have been incapable of advancing a programme which could solve their problems.
INDEED THE LABOUR and trade union right wing leadership have in the past been the most reliable bulwarks of the system. Leon Trotsky pointed out that capitalism would not last for six weeks without the support of the trade union leadership. The Labour Party leaders were pliable tools of the capitalists. In policy, outlook and even their social origins they did not differ substantially from their Tory opposite numbers. This was summed up by the ideas of ‘Butskelism’. The capitalists in effect controlled both parties through controlling the leaders.
In his own inimitable fashion Gilmour recognises this. Thus he correctly says of the right-wing Labour leaders: "British social democrats or revisionists do not believe in socialism". (p172) He also writes: "I remember a conversation with the formerly left wing John Strachey in 1956 or 1957, in which he explained to me that now that capitalism was working so well it was obviously pointless to try to get rid of it". (p129) At the same time the right-wing trade union leaders were there to add their ‘muscle’ in support of Strachey, Gaitskell and co: "Up till the mid-sixties, the trade unions were more often than not a brake on Labour’s extremists. ‘Our job now’, Vic Feather (then general secretary of the TUC) told me in 1962, ‘is to keep the Labour Party sensible, to support Gaitskell and squash [the left-wing MPs] Mikardo and Silverman’." (p239) Not a whisper then from Gilmour or the Tories about the ‘tyranny’ of the trade unions or the ‘undemocratic’ trade union block vote at the Labour Party conference. The trade union leaders were then on the side of the angels ie the capitalists and their shadows within the labour movement. Gilmour argues that a ‘tame’ Labour Party and trade union leadership was a vital ingredient of the ‘constitution’ and British stability.
But alas, and alack, events did not continue along this groove. The period of Tory reaction between 1970-74 resulted in an enormous shift towards the left within the Labour Party and the trade unions. ‘The revolution sometimes needs the whip of counterrevolution’, wrote Marx. With horror and with something approaching hysteria does Gilmour survey the results of this period: "Up to 1970 the Labour Party was firmly in the British empirical democratic tradition; that has not been so during the last few years. There is probably a greater desire in the Labour Party today to nationalise everything in sight than at any time in the party’s history". (p185)
Gilmour puts these "frightening" and "shocking" occurrences down to the lack of backbone of Harold Wilson and the "ignominy and cowardice" of the social democrats.
How different things would have been if Gaitskell and not Wilson had been in the saddle during the 1960s and 1970s: "Hugh Gaitskell’s courageous leadership seemed about to bring Labour into the modern age". (p184) Here Gilmour betrays the short-sightedness and limitations of his class. With Gaitskell in the leadership his crude right-wing position would have probably provoked tremendous upheavals at an earlier period within the Labour Party. With his Lloyd Georgian demagogy, by talking ‘left’ while carrying out pro-capitalist policies, Wilson was able perhaps to temporarily delay the process of radicalisation within the ranks of the Labour Party.
But the shift towards the left and the growth of socialist consciousness within the Labour Party and the unions is the result of the experiences of the working class accumulated over the last eight years in particular and not because of the failings or otherwise of Wilson as compared to Gaitskell.
Gilmour seems to recognise this when he deals with the possibility of the ‘social democrats’ regaining their lost positions: "only if there is to be a counter-revolution in the Labour Party and Labour returns to being a genuinely democratic party acting in the free empirical tradition of British politics". (p211) What is meant by a "return to a genuinely democratic party" is indicated by the ideas of the right wing on the Labour Party structures. Thus in a recent issue of the Labour right-wing journal, Socialist Commentary, they suggested annual meetings of local Labour Parties, with the wards and constituency general committees transformed into tea parties! At least Gilmour’s statement has the advantage of calling things by their right name! A return back to the dark days of right wing domination, of witch-hunts and thought control, would indeed be a "counter-revolution". Gilmour foams at the mouth at the prospect of an end to the threat of witch-hunts. This is what he writes about the recent attempts in this direction:
"In 1973 the ‘proscribed list’ which declared various far-left organisations ineligible for affiliation to the Labour Party and members of those organisations ineligible for membership of the party was abolished. This opened the way for far-left MPs to co-operate with the Communist Party and with other outside left organisations. In 1975 Ron Hayward, the general secretary of the Labour Party, visited East Germany and described the German Communist leader, Herr Honecker, ‘as a man of wisdom and experience, very proud of the German Democratic Republic and with every right to be proud’. In 1976 a report on Trotskyist infiltration into the Labour Party was for months ignored by the National Executive Committee which then appointed a Trotskyist to be the party’s youth officer. From 1974 onwards Mr Prentice and other MPs were under threat in their constituencies from various local Soviets and Commissars".
‘Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are’. The ranks of the labour movement will note that it is the vicious reactionaries like Gilmour and the capitalist press which has looked with dread towards the prospect of a Labour Party armed with a Marxist programme. Those sections of the right wing and Labour Party officialdom who still hanker after a Labour Party purged of its left wing are doing the dirty work of the capitalists. They want a tame, ‘controlled’ Labour Party and trade union movement which will attempt to mute the inevitable resistance of the working class to the programme of savage cuts in living standards which the bourgeoisie consider is vital for the maintenance of their system.
But this prospect seems to have completely receded so far as Gilmour is concerned. The right wing are incapable of preventing the ‘lurch to the left’. In the tones of an outraged benefactor Gilmour lashes the right wing for not, in his opinion, putting up a fiercer resistance. He now considers them redundant and therefore unworthy of their former lush living. Ponder for a moment the following statement of Gilmour: "In the British system the duties of Opposition are almost as important as those of the governing party. Their prime responsibility is to preserve the allegiance of their followers... to parliamentary democracy and to the freedoms that go with it. This is in a sense a governing function, and that is why the leader of the Opposition is paid by the state... the opposition should be helping to deliver the consent of their party to the parliamentary process... Wilson drew his salary as leader of the Opposition but failed to perform the duties of his office". (p204)
By ‘parliamentary democracy’ Gilmour means capitalism, as we shall see later on. Thus the payment of a massive salary to the Labour leader together with the thousand and one privileges and perks doled out by the capitalists is conditional on the right wing being able to keep the ranks of the movement ‘in line’.
Because they are now incapable of doing this they are washed up and no longer deserve their former privileges. This is the substance of Gilmour’s fulminations against the right wing and the recent sly hints in The Times and other capitalist journals about their ‘life-style’.
But if the right wing are incapable of checking ‘socialism’ what other measures must the capitalists undertake? Gilmour is pre-occupied with this question and in fact it is the main theme of his book. The sheer hypocrisy of Gilmour and the strategists of capital is shown here. He contends that Britain faces a "constitutional crisis". In the past the hallowed British constitution was the best in the world, argued the bourgeois ideologists. The ‘two party system’ of ‘ins and outs’ and of ‘first past the post’ was superior to any system yet invented. With lofty disdain did they view the idea of ‘proportional representation’ which resulted in ‘instability’ in France, Italy, etc. No matter what proportion of the vote a party got, ‘a majority of one’ was sufficient as Churchill argued.
But now everything is turned on its head. ‘Reason becomes unreason and unreason becomes reason’. Gilmour writes: "The two party system in this country is crumbling and will continue to crumble". Horror upon horror, the Labour government was elected in 1974 on a minority vote and the two major parties together only polled 55% of the total electorate! The government has no ‘mandate’ from the people because people don’t read manifestoes, shrieks Gilmour!
What factors have wrought this astonishing change in the attitude of the bourgeoisie in Britain? After all Gilmour freely confesses that ten years ago in a book he subscribed to De Gaulle’s praise of the British constitution! Most governments since the war have only received a minority of the votes cast in elections. The highest percentage for Labour was 48% of the votes cast in the 1945 election. Nor did the Tories hesitate to invoke the doctrine of the ‘mandate’ to launch their vicious assaults on the working class and trade unions when they were in power. It is not at all accidental that Gilmour and other bourgeois thinkers have raised the need for ‘constitutional change’ at this stage. They have noted the processes at work within the labour movement. They have also reflected on the experiences of their cousins in other countries. Looming in the future they see the coming to power in Britain of a left Labour government similar to Allende’s in Chile, probably led by Tony Benn. Although Allende received only 36% of the vote in the 1970 election when he came to power the masses pressed forward and compelled his government to nationalise approximately 30% of industry, introduce a land reform, and ratify the ‘illegal’ occupation of the land by peasants. This in turn resulted in the Popular Unity parties, primarily the Communist and Socialist Parties, increasing their vote to 44% of the vote in the March 1973 congressional elections.
CHILEAN CAPITALISM WAS only able to check this development by the methods of ruthless civil war. The lessons have not been lost on Gilmour and his ilk. This is what he writes on page 214: "The only sure way to prevent a revolution is to prevent a revolutionary situation arising". One way of doing this is, he maintains, to prevent the coming to power of a left Labour government. Therefore the electoral system should be changed to some kind of proportional representation system. He estimates that this will keep Labour in the position of a permanent minority. At the same time, it could, hopes Gilmour plaintively, lead to a "return to sanity" by Labour and a "moderate" resurgence within its ranks. This is an example of what Marx called ‘parliamentary cretinism’, which in turn is a reflection of the degeneration of the British bourgeoisie and its strategists.
Firstly an attempt to move in this direction would provoke the furious resistance of the working class. Secondly if it appeared that Labour was kept in the position of a permanent minority – by a Tory, Liberal and Nationalist coalition which Gilmour clearly favours at some stage in the future – the working class would be forced to the left and into the extra-parliamentary arena.
Moreover it cannot be assumed that Labour will never receive a majority of votes just because this has not happened in the past. The Portuguese revolution showed that on the basis of a stormy revolutionary upheaval those parties which stood for ‘socialism’ received a crushing majority of votes. Events in Britain will raise the British working class to their feet on no less a scale, indeed on an even greater scale, than in Portugal. The upheavals of 1970-74 are a dress rehearsal for such events, particularly if Thatcher, Gilmour and co return to power.
At the moment the Thatcher leadership of the Tory Party, in its lust for a monopoly of power, has rejected the idea of proportional representation and coalition. Nevertheless, events, and particularly the failure of a Tory government, will revive the interest of the bourgeoisie and the Tory Party in this idea. At the same time Gilmour also raises the urgency of transforming the House of Lords from an unelected second chamber into one that is elected or partially elected.
In so doing he is not at all motivated by a desire for greater democracy. In order to prevent the ‘elected dictatorship’ in the House of Commons from going "too far and too fast and in the wrong direction", a "bulwark against revolution" (p214) is necessary. Thus the bourgeoisie with all the checks and balances at its disposal – including the monarchy, clearly referred to by Gilmour as a "reserve" weapon – are so afraid of the pressures which a left Labour government would be subjected to by the working class that it is preparing itself, is building trenches, to bar the way forward for such a government.
This is the clearly stated aim presented by Gilmour in this book. He can see the pressure already generated within the Labour Party for the complete abolition of the House of Lords. The last Labour Party conference passed resolutions virtually unanimously in favour of its abolition. A ‘second chamber’, no matter on what basis it is cobbled together, will be a weapon aimed at frustrating a Labour government from carrying through radical measures. Gilmour’s book provides the evidence to show this.
He also proposes the use of referenda by Tory governments. Thatcher has subsequently taken up this idea and threatened to use it against the trade unions in a situation like another miners strike for instance, if she comes to power. This is another demonstration of the idiocy of the Tory leadership. It could completely rebound on Thatcher if she was ever to use it. The working class would not accept the verdict of a referendum with the bias of the press, radio, and TV. Nor would it mean necessarily that a Tory government would always get a majority. Its defeat would precipitate its downfall. Nevertheless as outlandish as this proposal is it shows the direction in which the bourgeoisie in Britain are moving. Referendums are the usual devices of Bonapartist regimes ie military police dictatorships. No longer able to rely completely on parliament the ruling class is searching for other means of thwarting and curtailing the powers of the working class. Gilmour’s mentor Hailsham has suggested another ‘safeguard’ against parliament, the strengthening of the judiciary with the right to reject legislation passed by parliament! In the long term they foresee a head-on collision with the labour movement. This is underlined by Gilmour’s remarks on ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ and his hysterical denunciations of the trade unions.
On to the shoulders of the working class is heaped the blame for the catastrophic position of British capitalism. Even while dealing with the remotest historical figures Gilmour cannot refrain from hurling abuse at the working class, its leaders and organisations. Disraeli, he claims, showed that "all government is oligarchic, but the extent obviously varies. The Labour Party enshrined oligarchy in its constitution when it gave the block vote to trade unions at the Labour Party conference. And the ‘Venetian’ oligarchy of today are the leaders of the TUC who sometimes reduce the leader of the Labour Party to a mere Doge". (p84) The real oligarchy in Britain is the handful of millionaires who own and control the monopolies. They in turn exercise an iron grip over the Tory Party and fill its coffers to the tune of over £3 million every year.
On page l89 Gilmour growls: "No baron in the fifteenth century acted with such arrogance or with such sublime indifference to the national interest as have Mr Scargill, Mr Buckton and many other trade union chieftains... great economic damage has been caused by trade union leaders’ ruthless use of the strike weapon in pursuit of their own interests. All this is often accompanied by considerable intimidation. Business morality may occasionally be deficient (!); all too often trade union’ morality seems non-existent".
THE LOCKHEED BRIBES, the British Leyland slush fund scandals, not to mention the Poulson affair and the Watergate conspiracy, are just a few blemishes on an otherwise spotless ‘business’ banner! Gilmour also makes the ritualistic denunciations of the ‘closed shop’ and wistfully hopes that it will become as outmoded as ‘duelling’.
The vicious denunciations of the trade unions by this worthy shows that the bourgeoisie in Britain understand that the chief danger to their position comes from the trade unions. Forced to tolerate them the bourgeoisie examine every avenue in an effort to limit and restrain their power. In a really cold, calculating and brutal fashion Gilmour discusses the various alternatives open to his class in its approach towards the unions. He gives a glimpse of the kind of discussions which take place in the board rooms and fashionable clubs: "A possibility favoured by some is to smash trade union power by very high unemployment". (p242) This is rejected not on any ‘moral’ grounds but solely because of its impracticality – for the time being – and the consequences for capitalism if such attempts are undertaken: "The trouble is that a free society would probably be smashed at the same time. At the very least, high unemployment is unlikely to help the promulgation of free-market doctrines or to cement loyalty to the country’s free and democratic institutions". In a sly dig at Thatcher and her high priest Keith Joseph, with his philosophy of letting the market rip and cutting spending on social services to the bone, Gilmour is warning that capitalism itself will be called into question if such policies are pursued.
THE FORMER TORY premier, Ted Heath, has recently issued the same warning. But in the long term the capitalists will be forced to take such measures. In Gilmour’s ruminations on ‘democracy’ can already be discerned the outline of the terrible threat which is posed to the working class in the future. Time and time again he accuses the labour movement of wanting to establish an ‘East European’ state, of threatening ‘liberty’ and cherished ‘freedoms’. It is obvious from this and all the recent speeches of Thatcher – where this has been a constant theme – that the Tory leadership is contemplating fighting a scare election campaign. In 1945 Churchill attempted to make the flesh creep by warning that Labour wanted to establish a ‘Gestapo’ regime. According to The Times recently Mrs Thatcher is considering "an unashamed socialist scare argument, a scare election in which Mr Callaghan is shown as the Kerensky of an irreversible socialist revolution".
This is a desperate attempt by the Tories to grab power but also to link the labour movement and Marxism with totalitarianism. This clearly emerges from Gilmour’s book. On the one side he boldly declares: "If there is no private property there will be no freedom". (p149) Freedom for whom? The Chilean regime is the armed gendarme of private property. It denationalised industries and restored them back to the former owners thereby restoring the ‘freedom’ of the capitalists to ruthlessly exploit and starve the Chilean workers and peasants. At the same time the real freedom, the real democracy which existed in Chile, the right to vote, to strike, a free press and right to assemble, has been stamped out by the junta. The same thing happened in fascist Germany under Hitler, in Italy under Mussolini, and in Spain under Franco. Gilmour lumps together the fascist and Stalinist regimes as an example of "collectivism".
BUT THIS TRICK can easily be countered by the labour movement. Hitler oiled and financed his Nazi machine out of the coffers of the German capitalists. When he came to power and murdered millions of German workers and trade unionists he was supported by British capitalists like Vickers.
Stalinism, Gilmour says, is the ‘inevitable’ outcome of Marxism. On the contrary it is the result of the isolation of the Russian revolution in a backward country. It is also a demonstration of the impossibility of constructing socialism in one backward country.
It was Gilmour’s mentors like Churchill who organised and financed the intervention of the armies of imperialism against the young Russian workers’ republic and contributed to its isolation. It was also the pressure of capitalism on the workers’ state which resulted in the rise of a privileged caste and a totalitarian regime in Russia. Moreover this regime is of the greatest value to Gilmour and the capitalists. They fear the attraction of a planned economy for the British workers but at the same time these regimes provide them with a scarecrow to frighten the working class away from ‘socialism’. With Robespierre they could say ‘if it did not exist it would have been necessary to have invented it’. But a socialist Britain would not be totalitarian. It would allow the greatest flowering of democracy in the history of this country, indeed the world. For the first time the mass of people would be enabled to manage and control society. The cultural level of the British working class, together with the colossal resources which would be opened up by a socialist Britain, would mean an immediate cut in the working day together with an enormous increase in living standards. This in turn would allow the participation of the most exploited and hitherto oppressed sections in the running of the affairs of society.
Even Gilmour and Thatcher and the Tory party would be allowed to preach the advantages of a return back to capitalism! Such would be the advantages of a planned economy and workers’ democracy that they would be seen as historical relics whose only interest to society would be to remind us of our barbaric past.
No! It is not the labour movement which threatens democratic rights but Gilmour and his class. This is spelt out in black and white in this book. We do not believe in selective quotes and distortions of the arguments even of the class enemy. It is therefore worthwhile quoting the whole of one particularly telling passage:
"Conservatives do not worship democracy. For them majority rule is a device. Each individual no doubt should be the best judge of his own interests, and if he were, majority rule would be more than a device to the Tories. But individuals do not always act in their own interest, as Halifax and many others have pointed out; still less do groups. Rational, economic, utilitarian man exists only in the imagination of some economists and philosophers. Similarly, majorities do not always see where their best interests lie and then act upon their understanding. For Conservatives, therefore, democracy is a means to an end not an end in itself. In Dr Hayek’s words, democracy ‘is not an ultimate or absolute value and must be judged by what it will achieve’. And if it is leading to an end that is undesirable or is inconsistent with itself, then there is a theoretical case for ending it.
"Yet as Sir Karl Popper has remarked, ‘there are only two kinds of governmental institutions, those which provide for a change of the government without bloodshed, and those which do not. But if the government cannot be changed without bloodshed, it cannot, in most cases, be removed at all... I personally prefer to call the type of government which can be removed without violence ‘democracy’, and the other ‘tyranny’. Conservatives wholly accept Popper’s distinction, which cuts through much cant and hypocrisy about democracy. ‘Numbers in a state’, said Burke, ‘are always of consideration, but they are not the whole consideration’. In practice, no alternative to majority rule exists, though it has to be used in conjunction with other devices. And in the Conservative Party unlike the Labour Party there is no extreme wing which hankers after the death of parliamentary democracy and the imposition of dictatorship. If our free institutions are overthrown or totally perverted, the left not the right will be responsible. There is no danger of a right-wing coup. Only if the constitution had already been destroyed by the left, might the right react and the left find itself overthrown in its turn by a counter-coup from the right". (pp211-212)
Every serious member of the labour movement should reflect on these words. Remember this is not a maniac of the fascist National Front who is writing but ‘Minister of Defence’ in Thatcher’s shadow cabinet! Gilmour betrays here the real thinking of the British bourgeoisie: "majority rule is a device... democracy is a means to an end not an end in itself... if it (democracy) is leading to an end that is undesirable... then there is a theoretical case for ending it". A future direct challenge to the right to vote, to organise, to strike, to assemble etc is thus posed by this Tory theorist, if ‘democracy’ is leading to an ‘undesirable’ state of affairs, ie if the working class and its organisations are threatening the continued existence of the rule of the bourgeoisie.
This is what Gilmour says. He adds the ritualistic defence of ‘parliamentary democracy’, of course. But what does this actually amount to? He writes: "no alternative to majority rule exists". He could have added, ‘at the moment’. Three years ago the bourgeoisie were openly discussing the possibility of a military coup in Britain. Both Harold Wilson and Jack Jones, the Transport & General Workers’ Union leader, have since confirmed that discussions along these lines were taking place behind the scenes in bourgeois circles.
Pondering on the experiences of the ruling class in Portugal, Greece and Chile, the British bourgeoisie rejected any idea of a coup at that stage. It is one thing to impose a dictatorship but the inevitable dismantling of such regimes unleashes mass pressures which threaten the very existence of capitalism itself. The Portuguese revolution which has been mulled over by the strategists of capital together with the developing Spanish revolution confirms this. It is this factor and not any squeamishness about ‘bloodshed’ or hostility towards ‘tyranny’, as Gilmour pretends, which leads him and his class to reject this road at the present time. The long-term threat to the working class is shown precisely in the careful formula of Gilmour about a future coup: "There is no danger of a right-wing coup. Only if the constitution had already been destroyed by the left might the right react and the left find itself overthrown in its turn by a counter-coup from the right". The phrases about the ‘constitution’ and the ‘threat’ of a ‘left-wing coup’ are a smokescreen to disguise Gilmour’s thinking. In Chile in 1973 Allende’s ratification of the nationalisation of many firms, following their occupation by the workers as an answer to the failed June 1973 right-wing coup, was interpreted by all the bourgeois parties as a gross violation of the constitution! The Chilean equivalent of the Tory Party, the Christian Democratic Party, called for the overthrow of the Allende government, and its right wing obviously had prior notice of this when it subsequently occurred.
At the same time they greeted the junta of Pinochet as ‘saviours’ who had prevented a ‘left wing coup’. There is no doubt that the right-wing of the Tory Party, probably coalescing with some former members of the ‘liberal wing’, would act in like manner in a similar situation in Britain.
The labour movement in Britain can ignore the warnings contained in Ian Gilmour’s book only at its peril. A military dictatorship, backed up by fascist bands, is not on the agenda in the next period. On the contrary the next few years will see a further shift towards the left after the relative pause in the workers’ movement in the past three or four years. But the organic crisis of British capitalism demands further attacks on the already reduced standards of the working class. A Tory government led by Thatcher will attempt to take up where the Heath government left off.
Thatcher has correctly characterised the next election as a ‘watershed’. Such are the desperate straits of the British ruling class that they have been compelled to abandon all those policies based on so-called ‘class harmony’. They have resorted once again to the brutal policies of class war. This is the only hope they see of salvaging their system.
On the other hand the British workers will resist these policies. They have extended a period of grace to the Labour government, ‘their government’, in order that the Labour leaders be provided with an opportunity to ‘put the economy on its feet’. All their sacrifices have been in vain. The colossal bonus given to the big monopolies has been squandered by the greedy owners of industry. This has stoked up the anger and bitterness of the working class. If a Tory government comes to power this will burst open. Attempts to roll back the clock in wages, conditions and rights will result in a might collision between the classes which could end with a general strike.
EVEN IF A Labour government was to be returned the working class will present the bill for payment for their sacrifices over the past four years. No matter what the results of the general election the Labour Party and trade unions will shift towards the left. The process is already visible in the hitherto inert and backward layers who have swung leftwards in the past period. The same developments will also take place in the engineering union and the electricians’ union notwithstanding the recent results of the election of Duffy and the consolidating of the right wing in the AUEW. The upswing in the class struggle will undoubtedly affect these unions. The growth of Marxist ideas within the Labour Party will also be paralleled in the unions. An opportunity will be provided to rearm the labour movement with the programme of Marxism. And in these titanic events which impend in Britain it is only this programme which is capable of completely eliminating any possibility of the programme of Gilmour and his like from being realised. In the meantime his book should be used by the active workers in the labour movement to acquaint all workers with the real, brutal face of Thatcherism. It will be an invaluable source of ammunition in countering the Tories’ scare tactics in the forthcoming general election.