Martin Kochanski’s web site / Politics


Ending the Serfdom of Socialism

The anti-slavery movement is one of the greatest political failures of modern times. Two hundred years ago, the movement's leaders were household names and its campaigns swayed governments; today, hardly anyone even knows that an Anti-Slavery Society still exists.

Some people would not count this collapse as a failure; after all, slavery and the slave trade were abolished, and so the movement achieved its aim. These people are not politicians. No political campaigner can calmly face the prospect of becoming redundant in middle age because his campaign has succeeded and he has worked himself out of a job. in politics, the aim is not to achieve, but to survive.

The dangers of a successful campaign affect socialists more than Conservatives. Conservatives are not by their nature campaigners, so they are unlikely to be scuppered by accidentally picking a winner; socialism is inherently unattractive to all except nihilists and bureaucrats, and can attract support only by posing as a crusade. How, then, has the Labour Party managed to survive for so long without ever running out of campaigns?

There are three ways to ensure that a campaigning organisation does not die of its own success. The first is the constant expansion of its terms of reference, so that as any goal is achieved, it turns out not to have been the real goal at all. "Poverty" as defined now (for instance, by the Child Poverty Action Group) would have been called "riches" in many earlier ages. In a similar vein, the child sex abuse industry ensures an ever growing problem and ever growing attention by redefining as sexual abuse things (such as being groped in crowds) that most people would regard as a regrettable but not catastrophic part of childhood, so that its statements about real abuse are discredited. Although the expansion of terms of reference is a favourite first response of a campaigner, there are limits to its use, because the public will eventually become bored or cynical. It is just about acceptable to cry "Wolf!" when you see a Rottweiler, but crying "Wolf!" when you see a spaniel puppy will bring you nothing but ridicule.

The second way of ensuring survival is to invest in a broad-based portfolio of issues: even if some mature and thus become worthless, others will carry on. Properly done, such a strategy has an additional merit: you can come to be seen as a friend of the disgruntled even when you happen not to be campaigning on their behalf. If the portfolio is too broadly based, then it may not be effective: the Labour Party saw this during the miners' strike, when fraternal visits by male lesbians' support groups were not welcomed by miners whose morals were as upright as their politics were suspect.

The third and final way of giving a campaigning organisation a long-term future is by far the best: it should itself ensure the continuation of the evils that it purports to oppose. The Labour Party has become a master at this. To combat the scandal of extortionate landlords, it passes Rent Acts which drive all landlords out of the business except the criminals and the fools. To combat the lack of resources given to the education of the working classes, it imposes comprehensive education, so that the children of the middle classes come and monopolise those resources and the teachers' attention. To combat the problem of unmarried mothers with nowhere to live, it promises them housing, so that having a baby out of wedlock becomes the only sure way to be given somewhere to live. Because black children seem not to do well at school, it tells teachers not to expect them to be able to do as well as whites - effectively, not to bother to teach them. To allow individual workers to stand up against powerful employers who determine who shall work, when, and for how much, it encourages the growth of powerful trade unions, which determine who shall work, when, and for how much.

This litany of perverse consequences could be extended indefinitely. It is important to realise that they are not just the sort of run of bad luck that might happen to anyone who tries to set the world to rights. However individual socialists might wish to benefit their clients even at the expense of their own careers, socialism itself depends for its continued existence on its failure to achieve its goals. To put it simply: if serfdom is abolished, what is the use of a party that looks after the interests of the serfs?

We could, of course, say to ourselves that the means that socialism uses to ensure its continued existence are a quaint curiosity and no business of ours: they may have unfortunate consequences for some unfortunate people, but the victims are not likely to be voting for us anyway; besides, life is a lot easier for us if our old enemies don't suddenly become extinct just when we have learnt how to fight them. Official Conservative policy operates along these lines (hence, for example, the halfhearted reform of the Rent Acts ten years too late), but it ought not to. Socialists do not have a monopoly of conscience, and we should not refrain from being compassionate simply because they make a living out of pretending to be. On a more selfish party-political level, the existence of abscesses of poverty and deprivation weakens the whole country; and, worst of all, it irritates the tender feelings of voters who, in prosperous times, feel that they have more money than they deserve and who will then vote Labour out of sheer guilt.

Conservatives ought to help the weak and the poor, and they are uniquely well placed to do so. They have the duty, as once the aristocracy had a duty to look after its peasants; they have the motive, since success will not threaten their whole raison d'Ítre; and above all, they have the means, since Conservatism alone is a rational philosophy. While socialists wear their hearts on their sleeves, and care desperately about everything (professional carers as sincere as the professional mourners of earlier times), we can afford to seem heartless, and set about putting things to rights calmly and dispassionately.

The great tragedy of the past decade is that the "one nation" Conservatives, whose principal care it was to help the weak become strong, first tied themselves to the losing side in a macro-economic argument and then become imitation socialists. Like the makers of Hollywood sequels, they tried to use the same ingredients to attract the same audience, and like them, they got it wrong. They tried to outdo the socialists in cooing soothingly to people that needed help, instead of unemotionally doing something about their problems. Conservatives should not coo, they should do. There is still some money left to spend, and a little time to spend it in. All we need is good sense and political willpower, and we can banish socialism for ever by removing the reasons for it.

The defining characteristic of socialism is the insignificance of the individual. Administration and control are the purpose of life, and they are made easiest when all people are equally powerless against an all-powerful State; in really enlightened societies, people may be given the illusion of power by being allowed to grumble: "The key to keeping people docile," my headmaster once told me, "is to give them something to grumble about." In practical terms, one can control people by keeping them poor; by keeping them from moving about; and by making them look to the State as the source of all goodness and of all action.

Even after ten years, there is no shortage of areas that we should tackle if we are to set the people free, and there is no room to do more than sketch out one or two of them here.

We must restore freedom of movement: today, council tenants cannot move from one part of the country to another, and once they have bought their own houses, people cannot move from North to South, because of high prices, nor from South to North, because they will never be able to move back again. The private rented sector is the only sure way of allowing freedom of movement, but the Government has done too little about this, ten years too late. Government intervention killed private renting, and it is not enough now merely to permit such renting; government intervention is needed to revive it.

In employment, the system is geared to a socialist pattern in which many insignificant individuals work for a few large companies. The pattern of the future is more complex, with people working for themselves or for each other, and quite possibly doing several different things each week; the present tax system is not geared to this either administratively or structurally. If I employ a gardener, I have to earn £3 for every £1 he can actually spend, because everything is taxed twice, first as my income, then as his. If this sounds like a complaint of the affluent, consider the plight of those who are unable to garden (or paint, or build) for themselves, or of mothers who cannot go out to work because they cannot afford a child-minder. Only the very rich or the dishonest (whose "farm workers" take care of the garden) can benefit from such a system. It should be altered - perhaps by making income tax reclaimable like VAT, thus giving everyone an incentive to get a tax receipt out of his window cleaner instead of paying him in untraceable cash: the black economy will vanish at a stroke.

Even if the poor earn a little money, it is soon lost. Few of the readers of this article could lose everything they have in a single theft. But the poor do not have the same panoply of investments and portfolios, accounts and insurance policies; and they can literally find themselves penniless at a stroke: by burglary if they are lucky, by mugging if they are not. Socialist rhetoric about police oppression is designed to obscure the simple fact that freedom from crime is prerequisite of civilised life, and that condemning people to live in constant fear of theft or assault is the worst form of oppression. We should not let ourselves be deceived. Poor areas and troublesome council estates should have their security improved so that there is less crime than in rich areas, however much money this costs.

It does not automatically follow that improved security must necessarily involve more money being spent on more policemen. Two other means that could be employed are by local and voluntary security forces, on the lines of the Guardian Angels; and video cameras and tapes. The reader will naturally replace these with the words "vigilantes" and "surveillance"... which just shows how efficient socialist indoctrination has become, even among Conservatives. In reality, a voluntary security force would be a cross between the special constabulary and a neighbourhood watch scheme -"barefoot policemen" on the analogy of China's "barefoot doctors." Equally opposed by the police (who feel that their jobs are threatened) and by the socialists (who prefer their citizens to be passive and pavid), the barefoot police would, like the Guardian Angels, do nothing beyond apprehending miscreants until the real police arrived, but would give security to their locality and the experience of responsibility to themselves. As for video cameras, these are a mass-market product and thus easily affordable; their use can be strictly controlled so as not to impair civil liberties (for example, by erasing tapes within 24 hours and allowing them to be played only to solve an already detected theft or assault); and they could do more than frequent policing in removing the fear which prevents the old and the weak from venturing beyond their own front doors.

In a similar vein, the advent of the poll tax could do more than anything else to wake up the inhabitants of council estates to the fact that councils use their money to provide them with services, and to make them more vocal in demanding adequate services and adequate value for money. Once the link between local taxation and local government is re-made, the principle could be extended. Just as the residents of garden squares in Kensington and Chelsea pay an additional rate towards the upkeep of the garden - a rate whose proceeds are administered by a committee of the residents - so neighbourhoods in general should be given limited powers of self-taxation for specific kinds of improvement. Even if the pessimists' worst fears are realised and the poll tax loses us the next election, it may be worth losing power if we have truly established a basis for self-reliance.

The most significant way in which taxation can be used to promote a responsible society made up of responsible citizens is, however, connected with the funding of charities. The voluntary sector is, by its scale and organisation, the best vehicle for many forms of support and social improvement, and substantial charitable giving needs to be made a habit among the population as a whole, so that everyone is directly responsible for helping others in some way. Tax cuts and general exhortation are not good enough: however much people may intend to give their windfalls to charity, their good intentions are usually forgotten before they are translated into action, and under the present tax system, charities are net losers whenever the tax rate is cut. A radical change in attitudes is needed, and a radical method should be used: the rate of income tax should be cut by 1% provided that that 1% is given to charity. This could be done either by charities issuing receipts which would count against an individual's tax liability, or by the Inland Revenue accepting instructions on the tax return to pay the 1% to one or more designated charities.

The administrative problems would not be insuperable; simple rules could eliminate most of the potential tax fiddles; do-gooders would not be able to complain about the immorality of tax cuts; charities' income would be increased but not too suddenly (the charitable sector's annual turnover is currently (£13bn); and the Exchequer would lose less than it usually does from a tax cut, because of the number of people who would be too lazy to give away their 1%. The most important effect, and the reason for the whole exercise, would be that people would realise that they themselves have a substantial amount of money with which they can do some kind of good, and that they alone (not the State) must decide where it should go. Once habits of thought of this kind are well planted, they will develop with little further intervention, and the voluntary sector may progressively replace the State in areas where it is more efficient at delivering support and services.

The final point on which socialism must be attacked is the one in which socialists feel most secure. In black people, they think that they have found a race of hereditary untermenschen, condemned to act as a perpetual outlet for compassion and condescension, and as a perpetual source of votes. The triumph of socialism is that discussion of race is not even permitted any more (this issue of Crossbow will be ritually burned for mentioning it). Negroes and Asians are equally "black" and oppressed; Nigerians, Dominicans, and Jamaicans share a curious thing called "Afro-Caribbean" culture, an absurd invention, akin to giving Scots, Swiss, and Bulgarians a common "Greco-Belgian" one. Despite socialism, the latest crop of non-white immigrants will ultimately be assimilated into British society in not much longer than earlier white ones, who usually took at least a century or so; but we should not leave them to struggle alone. In the United States, responsible black community leaders condemn the over-enthusiastic, conscience-stricken provision of welfare, as leading to the phenomenon of "welfare mothers" and to a slave mentality which is worse than real slavery because it cannot be abolished by legislation. It was the Republican Party that freed the slaves; and it is the Republican Party, in states such as New Jersey, which is pioneering the "politics of inclusion" that offer the best hope of real progress. It is hard work, distinguishing the ways that different groups of people can best find their place in society, contribute to it and benefit from it; but it must be done, and socialists, for whom emotion is a substitute for thought, would be incapable of doing it even if they wanted to.

If the Conservative Party has a fault, it is intellectual docility. The socialists tell it that it is the enemy of progress, or of the poor, or of non-white races, so it obediently believes them. The ideas I have suggested could have a thousand arguments levelled against them (and should have, as they are hammered out into policies), but the attacks that should be ignored are the ones that attack us as wanting to bring back Rachmanite landlords; to revive parlourmaids and the indignities of domestic service; to crush the Working Class under the apparatus of a police state and outlaw its traditional pastimes; and to practise overt racism by admitting that races exist. We could be supine about this, and let the prospect of these attacks dissuade us; for everyone wants to be loved, and no-one wants to be derided as oppressive or unfeeling. We could do nothing, for fear of committing political suicide: for if socialists can only continue in existence while the evils they oppose still exist, who will vote Conservative if there are no socialists to defeat? We could stop where we are, and leave the country with a stockmarket socialism, where tiny customers of a distant nationalised enterprise have become equally tiny and insignificant shareholders of a distant denationalised one; with a supermarket socialism, where our thoughts are directed not by the all-wise State but by the advertising agencies. That is the easiest course to take; but if we take it, then in ten years' time the Thatcher revolution will be forgotten, except perhaps as a blip in the onward march of social control.

Published in the Autumn 1989 issue of the Bow Group's quarterly "Crossbow".