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Year 2001 Number 8, January 17, 2001Archive Search Home Page

Society Must Care for the People

Let the Working Class Occupy and Expand the Space for Change in Order to Prepare the Ground for a Modern State

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Society Must Care for the People
Let the Working Class Occupy and Expand the Space for Change in Order to Prepare the Ground for a Modern State

10th Anniversary of Gulf War:
End the Sanctions and War against Iraq!

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Society Must Care for the People

Let the Working Class Occupy and Expand the Space for Change in Order to Prepare the Ground for a Modern State

The conception of a modern state is one in which the state is organised with the aim of meeting the needs of the people, of improving their wellbeing, as its central concern. It is a state where the problem of democracy finds a resolution, where the myriad of social arrangements enable everyone to care for themselves without having the individual onus of having to fend for oneself. It is a state which is given coherence by this aim and by advancing along an enlightened path which gives a theoretical and ideological underpinning to all that is best in human society. It is a state in which the broad masses of the people are sovereign and the producers of the wealth in society themselves are the ones who take control of it and decide on its distribution.

Such a state arises out of the concrete conditions of the society as it exists and not as a project which is built out of ideas. In particular, the ground for such a state is prepared by fighting the broad attack on society that is being carried out by the financial oligarchy and their political representatives. It is also prepared by the all-round work of the progressive forces themselves in identifying the space for change which objectively exists and organising to occupy and expand that space.

Right at this moment, the government is pressing home its attack on the very notion that society has the obligation to care for the people. But it is characteristic that it is creating incoherence in the name of coherence, keeping the people marginalised in the name of empowerment, reversing the gains of the 20th century in the name of progress, abandoning the national economy in the name of economic competence, entrenching the status quo in the name of renewal, and committing crimes against humanity in the name of humanitarianism.

According to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a quiet revolution is under way in the relationship between the state and voluntary action. Its theme is that there must be a partnership between the state and civil society. There is to be a renewal of community. In this partnership, what is increasingly being elaborated are the responsibilities of the community that Gordon Brown summed up in the slogan, "Let the people look after themselves." Under this slogan, the "voluntary sector" must take up responsibility for child care, for the unemployed, for crime prevention, for social inclusion and for a renewal of the family.

His call for voluntary and community action is based on the "Third Way" notion that the state must not swamp civil society (as it allegedly does under communism, or the approach of the Old Left). So while the government pursues public policy, advancing public interest, it is the community which must undertake initiative and action. This is carried out in the name of bringing the power closer to the people. And while this is done by usurping the opposition to the reactionary call that there is "no such thing as society", claiming this era is at an end, it must also be done by bringing to an end the era of centralising government. The new era that is being ushered in is "an age of active citizenship and an enabling State".

This developing "Third Way" scenario deliberately shies away from the notion of bringing people to political power. Power is to be devolved from the centre. Funding will be provided, not to social programmes for a healthy economy and to meet the needs of society, but to community and charitable organisations and private providers. Change is to be made not to enable the human person and their participation in decision-making but so that individuals can join together in voluntary and community action. Renewal is to be carried out not so that the rights of all are recognised and guaranteed but so that a civic society can be created where rights and responsibilities go together. This is the "great British society founded on a new civic patriotism that we seek to build".

It should be noted also that this elaboration of voluntarism, of partnership between government and civil society, comes after the government has spent some time inculcating the notion of social partnership between employers and workers. These are not partnerships between equals. It is the state which has the power to enact the laws which protect the interests of the employers. The crisis of the political system and institutions is bound up with the fact that the people are excluded from any part of the decision-making process and that the legislation passed does not represent their interests. Meanwhile, it is supposed to be making businesses more competitive and profitable that is supposed to benefit the entire society.

It is against this backdrop that Tony Blair visited a community centre in Stepney, East London, on January 15, giving the speech entitled "Opportunity for all, responsibility from all: a new commitment to neighbourhood renewal". Its message was that everything will be fine as long as people accept that the basis of prosperity is the economic stability that the government has created through its tough choices. Within this alleged prosperity, there is to be opportunity for all – that is any individual. But this opportunity is subsumed under the purpose of rebuilding the community, and this is the responsibility from all. The government will provide the funds for this bottom-up approach, which "is a totally new approach to public investment".

The old approach to the regeneration of inner cities, according to Tony Blair, was flawed, because it was not based on spreading the prosperity obtained through the tough choices to every part of Britain, but instead concentrated on rebuilding the inner cities and carrying out programmes of welfare. The new philosophy of the government is to act as "partner not master". Through a Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, £800 million will be provided to deprived local authorities, but only if they have set up "local strategic partnerships" with residents, business, health and education services and community organisations. "It is a deal, not a hand out."

If the government is to provide these funds to renovate estates, then it is only to be expected that it will act "when tenants behave unacceptably". If there is "anti-social behaviour or lawlessness", the government "will put in both the police and the laws to stamp it out". But, of course, the onus is on the local people to take up responsibility. Extra resources will achieve nothing "if the rights and opportunities they provide are not matched by responsibilities". It can be seen that this logic is completely upside down, which is that in a modern society, people have the responsibility to participate in governing, and therefore every resource should be given to provide them with the opportunity to do so and enable them to exercise that right.

The whole logic of the government as to how society operates is therefore as follows. Workers should unite behind their employers and make any sacrifice so as to make the businesses successful in the global marketplace. The raised productivity and sustainable growth that this produces, together with the tough choices such as fiscal prudence and giving the Bank of England control over interest rates, will produce prosperity. This prosperity will give increased opportunity for all. However, together with this increased opportunity must come the responsibility of renewing communities and making them secure. Meanwhile, those who work in the health and education sectors would be failing in their duty if they did not match the government’s commitment with a voluntary commitment of their own, and therefore the government will monitor their standards. With this new civic patriotism from all and sundry, British society will be made great again. This goes hand in hand with a modern international role for Britain. This role takes up the burden of intervening wherever it chooses to defend abroad these same values as it is imposing at home, but of course with the aim of removing tyrants and eradicating world poverty.

Who could then not agree with such a scenario? The danger here is those that pursue a different course, whether from the "left" or from the "right", will be branded as going against the common good, will be viewed by the state as being part of the forces of conservatism. The higher purpose of building the national community will be threatened. But this scenario, far from solving the problems of society, is a scenario for intensifying the anti-social offensive. It is the contemporary form of "there is no alternative", while claiming to provide prosperity and opportunity.

The working class must engage in the battle over the direction of society, affirming that it must be built on the recognition of the rights of all, and advancing on the line of march that will bring about a society which is organised to meet the claims of the people.

Article Index

10th Anniversary of Gulf War:

End the Sanctions and War against Iraq!

January 17 marks the tenth anniversary of the start of Operation Desert Storm, the criminal US-led attack on Iraq.

Today the British government is isolated as the champion of and participant in the genocidal policy of sanctions against Iraq and the daily bombings in its undeclared and silent war against that country.

WDIE vigorously condemns the British government’s stance and actions, and joins with all those who on this day are marking the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War by demanding that the sanctions are lifted and the bombings ended.

It calls for all progressive people to redouble their efforts to bring about a world order based on the right of a people to sovereignty, of the equality of all nations, and the non-interference in internal affairs of nations, the right of all peoples to determine their own path of development.

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