Year 2000 No. 37, February 29, 2000

A Party Cannot Be Judged Just on its Words

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

A Party Cannot Be Judged Just on its Words

African News: Peter Hain at Odds with Zimbabwe

News In Brief:
Surge in HSBC Profits
Train Drivers Call off Plans for Further Strikes
Insurance Firms to Make 1,250 Redundant
Fears over Rolls Royce

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A Party Cannot Be Judged Just on its Words

The speech by Tony Blair at its centenary celebrations on Sunday has been characterised as an appeal to the grassroots, to the Labour Party faithful. As such it laid its emphasis on the continuity of the present Labour Party with the Labour Party and its political figures of the last 100 years, as well as "the biggest heroes of all – the party members who stuck with us through the bad times as well as the good". In this context, various trade union leaders and Labour Party activists are reported to have warned Tony Blair not to ignore the membership and have seen the speech as a response to growing disillusionment with New Labour.

There can be little doubt that on this occasion, Tony Blair’s audience was not the financial oligarchy, the businesses that his energies and that of the Labour Party go so much into the attempt to make them successful and compete in the global marketplace. But it would not be warranted to come to the conclusion that therefore more pressure should be put on Tony Blair to listen to the membership – referring to the working people – and thereby bring about a move back by New Labour to its "socialist" roots.

Tony Blair in his centenary speech was at pains to draw out what has been described as the "Blairite thread" of the past 100 years. For example: "harnessing collective power to recognise the equal worth of all and to develop the potential of each individual"; "We are reformers: those who want to change the world not preserve it. Those who know that no change benefits those who hold power, and change helps those without"; "we understand the hard work in most people’s lives, the daunting job of bringing up a family, the anxieties, the worries, and we want to make life easier and more fulfilling for those families"; "now as one hundred years ago, we do not believe free markets on their own produce happiness. We believe not in riches for a few, but power, wealth and opportunity for the many". The central theme was: "It was our reforms that civilised the 20th century. We were the civilising force." The whole speech, therefore, was shot through with phrases and sentiments designed to inspire the souls of those working people who are taking up the fight against the anti-social offensive and move them to the realisation that the Labour Party is indeed on their side.

However, such words should not obscure the reality of what the role of the Labour Party is at this present time. Nor indeed should they be allowed to fool the working class as to the motion of society over the 20th century, eliminate the history of the imperialist First World War, the profound effect of the October Revolution and the first workers’ state in putting on the agenda for solution even such questions as universal suffrage, the role of the victory over fascism in inspiring the working people to progress and for a socialist society. In other words, history shows that the advances in Britain which Tony Blair attributes to the Labour Party were quite independent of it. Its role today is not only not to take these advances further but is to undo the gains of progressive humanity in the 20th century.

The Labour Party cannot be judged, and conclusions about the necessary course of action for the workers drawn, from the centennial words of Tony Blair. His intention is that the Labour Party should keep its grip on office and take further the anti-social policies of handing over social programmes as means for the rich to make the maximum profits. He is trying to win the confidence of the workers by idealistic language so that in practice his insistence that they should engage in social partnership with their exploiters is not opposed. He is attempting to cajole the "traditional supporters" while burying any question of an independent party of the working class.

In truth, while such an aspiration was the goal of the workers in 1900, the Labour Party has never been such an independent party with a programme that was independent of the bourgeoisie. But the fight that it should take up this role has long since become an anachronistic struggle. Today, the objective role of the Labour Party is a party of neo-liberalism and the monopolies, whose "historic mission" is not that "we can defy life’s odds" but one of attempting to wipe out any other ideology but "what works" to pay the rich.

Article Index


African News:

Peter Hain at Odds with Zimbabwe

The Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Peter Hain, who is Kenyan-born, has been engaged on a week-long tour of southern Africa.

Last Thursday he accused Zimbabwe’s government of perpetuating the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He said in an interview that some members of the Zimbabwe government were profiting from human misery by acquiring lucrative diamond and mineral concessions in the Congo. "Zimbabwe has got involved in commercial interests, diamond concessions and so on and army commanders and some senior figures in the government have private interests," he said. "That is very serious. Once the war is privatised once you start making profit on the side, then you are likely to stay there even though it is bleeding your public finances dry." He also said that peaceful countries like Kenya and Tanzania were becoming affected by the conflict because of the proliferation of small arms in the region, laying the blame for the arms sales, in defiance of an international embargo, at the door of former members of the Soviet Union, singling out Belarus and Ukraine.

Peter Hain is speaking in the manner of the 19th century imperialists, who took up the "white man’s burden" and blamed everyone but themselves for the plight of the colonised peoples. It seems to have slipped his mind that Britain, as a colonial and imperialist power, extracted and continues to extract vast wealth from the rich African continent and has bled it white while subjecting the mass of the African peoples to poverty and starvation. It was only in 1980 that Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain. Not only that, the British arms industry is notorious for selling arms to African countries. One only has to recall Sierra Leone when the British government itself was supporting the forces opposed to the then government.

Peter Hain has in recent months maintained a barrage of invective against the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, accusing him of pursuing disastrous policies. In this, the Foreign Office Minister is taking up the refrain of official British government foreign policy which is that only countries which follow the Eurocentric values of multi-party democracy, a free-market economy and rights based on private property will be supported and should have any right to exist. It is reported that Hain has also written to the IMF requesting it not to release any funds to Zimbabwe because of "lack of democracy and human rights abuses". The IMF suspended an aid programme for Zimbabwe last year, citing concerns over government policies and in particular its deployment of 11,000 troops in the DRC.

John Nkomo, the National Chairman of the party in power in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF, reminded Peter Hain, when told by him that the Zimbabwean government should be forward looking instead of reverting back to history, that "the history he wanted us to forget had a bearing on the present status quo and that we can only solve the present problems by addressing the injustices of the past".

The Zimbabwean newspaper the Sunday Mail reported in its most recent edition that the British government is resisting Zimbabwe’s efforts to compulsorily acquire land for re-distribution because some of its top official, including Peter Hain, own land in Zimbabwe. The compulsory acquisition of farms was one issue in the referendum held in Zimbabwe two weeks ago, in which the proposal for a draft constitution which would have vested power in the government to do so was rejected. British Deputy High Commissioner in Zimbabwe Ian Hay Campbell said that he needs enough time to verify whether there are any British top officials who own land there. Peter Hain has denied the allegation and the Foreign Office issued a statement denying that Hain owned land in Zimbabwe.

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NEWS IN BRIEF

Surge in HSBC Profits

Profits at the banking group HSBC surged 21% to £4.9 billion in 1999. HSBC was formed by a merger of the Midland Bank and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. It still makes 38% of its profits in Hong Kong. The jump in profits was said to be because of the improvement in the economies of East Asian countries.

Train Drivers Call off Plans for Further Strikes

On February 18, train drivers’ union ASLEF called six one-day strikes in protest at what they described as a breakdown in industrial relations at Connex. The first one was due to take place today. However, following talks last week, a deal has been accepted by the ASLEF executive.

Insurance Firms to Make 1,250 Redundant

Insurance and pensions companies Pearl and NPI are to make 1,250 staff redundant by the end of the year. The decision was made by their parent company, Australian insurance giant AMP, which is looking for £80 million in savings from its operations in Britain. About 750 jobs will go at Pearl, up to one-third at its headquarters in Peterborough. The rest will be spread across the branch structure. The 500 NPI job cuts will be at bases in Tunbridge Wells and Cardiff.

The announcement of the job losses came in a week when the merger of CGU and Norwich Union has cost 4,000 jobs in Britain. It is reported that Royal London and United Assurance are also looking at their costs after their £1.5 billion merger.

Fears over Rolls Royce

BMW is due to take over the company name of Rolls Royce in 2003. It is reported, however, that "industry insiders" fear they may decide to switch production to Germany for economic reasons. Rolls Royce cars have always been made in Crewe, which is currently making Bentley models.

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