The end of the road for Neil Kinnock

Submitted by dalcassian on 13 July, 2014 - 7:58

Neil Kinnock will, it seems, resign as Labour Party leader. Good! He has been leader for nine years, during which the Labour Party has been turned into a de-politicised one-faction organisation - a sort of right-wing equivalent of the SWP or Militant, much bigger, linked to the unions, able to win millions of votes, but still for all that a party increasingly organised as a narrow, intolerant, social-democratic sect and run on quasi-Stalinist lines (often by ex-Stalinists).

Kinnock was a socialist turncoat who tried and failed to turn himself into a right-wing Labour statesman. It was not in their own interest for the bourgeoisie and their press to let him succeed.

They would have needed Kinnock's services as Prime Minister if a mass working class movement had welled up to overwhelm the Tories, as it had in the 1970s. Because he was successful in dampening down such movements - against the poll tax for example - Kinnock lessened his own possible value to the bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoisie and their press wanted Kinnock's scalp, not his stewardship at No.10.

But this blatant traitor to the socialism he used to profess is also a tragic figure. In his own way he refracts tHe great tragedy of British Labour in the 1970s and '80s.

We began that decade with not unreasonable hopes that we could reconstruct and re-fashion the British labour movement as a fighting socialist force able to defeat not only the Tories but also everything they stood for. We are new, as Kinnock goes, ruefully assessing the damage after the Tories' fourth election victory.

Kinnock played his part in inflicting that damage on the movement he tried to serve. He was, nevertheless, one of those who set out after the June 1979 General Election, when the Thatcherites Tories defeated the Callaghan government, to ensure that from now on it would be a socialist labour movement that confronted the Tories.

He broke with the serious left when Tony Benn stood for deputy leader in 1981, and he did it in the name of a more "constructive" left-wing approach. The "cuddly" left could hold the balance, linking both the right wing and the hard left in a common movement: that is what Kinnock and his friends said. Some of them probably meant it.

In truth, the fate of the Labour left, hard and soft, and of the Labour Party in the '80s, was largely shaped before Kinnock became Party leader in 1983. In 1980 and afterwards, the labour movement had the choice of either mobilising to stop Thatcher -before the slump and unemployment bit deep, before Tory anti-union laws hamstrung militancy - or of accepting being cut down and drastically diminished.

Neither the trade union leaders nor the Labour Party leaders -long-time left winger Michael Foot and his associates - were willing to use direct action, strikes and mass mobilisations against a parliamentary majority: they had been scared out of their wits in the mid-'70s by talk of a military coup among sections of the army (the then Chief of Staff, Lord Carver, later admitted in public that "fairly senior officers" had talked of a coup).

That cravenness shaped the Labour Party. The soft left moved steadily to the right. Sections of the hard left took "power" in local government and did exactly what Foot had done when he became party leader: they bottled it.

As the Tories raged through the country in the early '80s like the Vandals of old, pressure built up in the Labour Party and unions for an election victory on any terms: the need to make the Labour Party socialist and fit to govern on behalf of the labour movement were soon pushed aside.

Soon those who referred to it were denounced for indifference to kicking the Tories out. By the time Kinnock took over, after the Tory victory in 1983, the pressure to shed or modify unpopular policies was immense. After the Tories won again in 1987, Kinnock and his erstwhile socialist friends set out to turn themselves into so many Shirley Williams and David Owens - political turncoats who had split to the right from the Labour Party.

As a socialist Kinnock was always a crude emotionalist demagogue. In this he always seemed to me to be curiously "Militant"-like. He had a Militant-like streak of brutal philistinism in him as well. He brought the same traits to the work of shedding his and the Labour Party's "socialism".

There could be no doubt of his will to do his dirty work, but he always lacked conviction as a bourgeois politician. At the end, as he made his little declarations about his "patriotism" and his love of British democracy - with one eye all the time on the press and the TV cameras - he sounded remarkably like a schoolboy reciting verses under the stern gaze of a sceptical and malignant schoolmaster. He looked like someone who could not quite believe in himself, someone who maybe heard a voice inside his head saying "what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul"? As it happens, Kinnock did not even get the Parliamentary majority in the quest for which he gutted himself.

Kinnock is going. But the entire Labour leadership is responsible for what has happened. They nurtured and sustained Kinnock. They will continue on Kinnock's road, if we let them.

SO no. 520, 14-4-92

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