THE GREAT DECEPTION. How Parliamentary Democracy Duped the Workers, Donovan Pedelty (ISBN 978-1-873976-00-5), £2.71, ChristieBooks. PO Box 35, Hastings, East Sussex, TN341ZS. First published by Prometheus Press, Powys, Wales, in 1997 as The Rape of Socialism. This fully revised ChristieBooks (Kindle eBook) edition published 2013 Check out all Kindle editions of ChristieBooks titles NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE —eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf) Also available from Kobo and Kindle
‘An elegantly argued and searing indictment of the economic and sociological background of the British political system of “representative” democracy in general, and parliamentary socialism in particular. The first hundred pages or so examine the evolution of the British Conservative Party over the past two centuries; the remaining four-fifths of the book focuses on the British Labour Party and how it corrupted the socialist ideal. An important and challenging book that should be read by ANYONE interested in politics, especially those who put their faith in the “Labour Movement”’ — Stuart Christie
A hundred years or so ago socialist thinking, in tune with the rising tide of labour protest, presented a serious challenge to the capitalist hegemony. However much they differed over ultimate objectives and how to reach them, the socialists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were at one in their conviction that possessive, individualistic, capitalism would have to be overcome to establish a just, equitable and sane society. They were equally certain that the huge advance in productive capacity which capitalism had helped to bring about, by proving that poverty could be abolished, had made such a transformation possible, immediately or at least within the near future.
So what went wrong? Donovan Pedelty, in this wide-ranging, fascinating and sometimes darkly humorous anarchist critique, explores the answer to this question through a study of the development of parliamentary socialism during the last hundred years or so, focusing principally on what is falsely described as the British Labour Movement (i.e. the Labour Party and the bureaucratic unions — with their full-time paid officials — affiliated to it, membership of one of which was once, let us not forget, the only way to obtain individual membership of the party) since World War II.
The labour movement — without capitals — means the workers in struggle, wherever and whenever. However, despite the no doubt sincere intentions of the original founders of the Labour Party, under the corrupting proximity to power the goals of the parliamentary party soon gave way to the individual political aspirations of its members. The Labour Party ‘spin doctors’ hijacked the term Labour Movement and sought to impose the monopoly of their own limited, official, incorporated body of pretense, pomposity and sell-out. The intent of the capitals, like the name Labour Party, is clear — to lead the workers to follow the party into class collaboration. “How can you struggle against your very own party, your very own unions? WE are the way — YOU are the waverers. Back into line!’
Within the framework of what apologists for capitalism have always dismissed as ‘utopian visions’, but which socialists have shown to be realisable, this book traces, in Part One, the evolution in Britain of ‘fully representative democracy’ through the jockeying for power of the bourgeois political parties, while it highlights the contradiction between this development and those parties’ commitment to capitalism.
Part Two analyses the reasons why the party formed to challenge the dominance of capital failed to use that ‘democratic power’ to implement social justice — and ultimately fell in with vested interests, defending them against the working class. It is the story of how Labour engineered ‘The Great Deception’
A biographical note and some thoughts on the life behind the thinking…: When I was demobbed in June 1947 I was, in terms of legal status in those days, scarcely into my manhood. I had been a schoolboy evacuee for three years, a budding journalist in wartime London for two, and a soldier for two years and 243 days, for the last period of my active service, before sailing home on a hospital ship, in Palestine as Britain prepared to abandon its mandate. As young men tend to, I reckoned I’d learned quite a lot already and that at any rate I knew what I stood for. During what turned out to be my last year at school, when I turned 16, in my favourite subject, history, we had studied Britain and Europe from the French Revolution to the First World War. I identified passionately with ‘the cause of the people’ in their struggle for the vote and for a decent standard of living, and too with the right to self-determination for national minorities. If I had been a bit slow in freeing myself of the illusions of my boyhood romance with heroic tales of the Empire, I was by my late teens a virtually flawless moulding from the workshop of the British liberal school of history.
By the time I was called up, in October 1944, my mind was free of the distorting effects of religious faith; and, largely thanks to my subscription to the Rationalist Press Association, to challenge each and every ‘utterance’ as I read, heard, or thought it had become like a reflex action to me. In a few months of my return to civy street, this subscription was to change my life in quite another way, when I spotted in the columns of the RPA’s journal a notice for a dance to be held in Conway Hall, a well-known venue for cultural events and radical meetings in central London. There I met the girl who was to become my wife – a fateful consequence of my subscribing to reason that was to afford her amusement for the rest of her life.
Ingeborg was a refugee from Vienna. Her father was Jewish, and when Hitler annexed his homeland to Germany in March 1938, the family (mother and father, Inge and her older half-brother Richard and younger sister Margit) escaped to Prague. Six months after the Anschluss came the shameful Munich Agreement, in which Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to cede a fifth of its territory to Germany, only to be completely swallowed up in March 1939 with no graver consequences for the Third Reich than a demarche from the guarantor democracies. On the day before German troops occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia, the two girls, aged nine and six, along with eighteen other children, flew out of the country on a plane chartered by the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. Their parents and Richard remained in Prague, their father dying there at the hands of German ‘doctors’, Richard subsequently escaping to Palestine and joining the British army, and their mother surviving to go back to Vienna after the war.
To return to that momentous chance meeting on the dance-floor, it was also indirectly responsible for a shift in my fundamental political outlook, from the classical liberal view that all government is evil so the least government is the best government, to a far more radical view. The two little girls from Vienna had grown up as refugees in Sussex. Inge met and became best friends with a girl whose family home was in Chelsea. There at a New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1949, fourteen months after we married, I met my first anarchist, John Olday.
The conversation that began then we continued in Johnny’s basement flat through the afternoon and evening of New Year’s Day. And so began a close and at times intense relationship between the three of us which lasted until, in March 1954, he sailed to the other side of the world with the Australian artists he had been working alongside as wardens in the galleries of the Wallace Collection. Minstrel and artist, Olday was always a storyteller, often with revolutionary epic or vagabond tales as his subject matter; and with brush and pen, voice and guitar, he knew well how to play on the heartstrings. In his ‘den’, we met and made friends with a man of very nearly the same age as me who also had been recently demobbed. Fired by Johnny’s tales (in many of which he himself played a part), this new friend and I accepted the offer of a stack of paper and a bed for printing stencils, and so produced our own revolutionary magazine.
Only two numbers of the shabby-looking, hard-to-read Prometheus appeared, so the impact it had among small groups of malcontents on both sides of the Atlantic was quite astonishing. In London, Freedom, the anarchist paper with its roots right back in Kropotkin’s time, actually republished my main article in the first issue, a piece with the title ‘The Anarchist Revolution’ that took the anarchist movement to task for its alleged general quiescence, which they would have been justified in dismissing as typical of the ardour and arrogance of the recently converted.
However, while I made and retained friendly and not unfruitful relations with people in and around the Freedom circle, it was not with them I became a close comrade, but with activists who had left that circle to form a section of the International Working Men’s Association, anarcho-syndicalist successor of the First International. This actually happened because they invited me to join them; but there were reasons why this was the right move for me. By the time I first heard through John Olday’s lips the rebel names that so fired him – Bakunin and Kropotkin; Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and the Spartakists; Ernst Toller and Erich Muhsam, I had shed my illusions that democracy as we know it was anything like the democracy trumpeted by the historians and the professors of politics, democracy as portrayed in Abraham Lincoln’s ringing cry ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people.’ It was very clear to me that to call the kind of society in which we live ‘democratic’ was grossly to misrepresent the reality; and, indeed, that to talk of ‘representative’ or ‘parliamentary’ democracy is to utter an oxymoron, since, by definition, the decisions enacted into laws to which every citizen is subject are actually made by a tiny minority of individuals, and the pressures determining those decisions are more proportionate to the views of the economically powerful than to the wishes of the people at large.
The essential insight that had come to me by the time my friend and I produced Prometheus was that, far from being inimical to each other, as was commonly considered, freedom and equality were mutually dependent. Neither could exist in a society in any high measure without the other also being substantially present, so for either to become manifest, an alloy had to be forged, or, to change the metaphor, a symbiosis had to take place. The argument, made by pundits with a Nietzschean Ubermenschen-and-the-common-ruck mindset, that to promote excellence inequality was a good thing, had to be exposed as specious. Those who made it were not championing liberty as full freedom at all, but liberties, that is to say privileges, for the few, the elect. And now that none but the mad, the malign, and the myopic deny that human activities contribute substantially to global warming which is a factor in the natural disasters that occur and is threatening all our futures, there is a powerful new reason to strive for the reconciliation of freedom and equality: to ensure that production and transportation are primarily for need, based on fair distribution, and that excess demand is greatly moderated.
My main problem in subscribing to anarchism was not with the goal but with the question of whether, in practice, there was any way of getting there, or at least of moving much in its direction. While anarchists in the Freedom circle were of varying persuasions, they seemed predominantly of the individualistic live-the-life-and-social-change-will-follow type; whereas, as somebody whose deepest concern was with social justice, my belief was that only through collective (and ultimately mass-collective) action, could society be transformed. At the same time it had to be ‘armed’ collective action to be a meaningful countervailing power to the coercive forces held by the State, and so the least that was necessary was a form of organisation capable of mass withdrawal of co-operation with the institutions of the State. At the same time such collectives had to remain under the effective control of the individuals forming them, or they would have in part given away their power to their own leaders, as is the case with orthodox unions. Furthermore, where unions were organised by craft or trade and not by industry, they lost a large part of the workers’ countervailing power against employers and the State to greater conflict of interests amongst themselves. Only anarcho-syndicalist organisations fulfil all these conditions. Hence, in April 1953, I joined the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation, British section of the IWMA.
While it attracted members in many parts of Britain and Northern Ireland, the SWF was too small to form workplace syndicates anywhere, but operated as a ginger group. We were a presence at most leftwing and radical causes’ demonstrations, went to many protest meetings (quite a few at that Conway Hall that lay on my line of destiny!), took part in debates with rival socialist groups, and produced such a stream of campaigning literature as our funds and energy could run to. For ten years I wrote articles for the SWF’s regular organ, Direct Action, and for World Labour News, the bi-monthly which stood in for it between 1960 and 1962, and contributed to pamphlets we published, most substantially to two critiques of perverted socialism, How Labour Governed, our charge-sheet on Attlee’s post-war administrations of 1945-1951, and The Hungarian Workers’ Revolution, our indictment of the false ‘workers’ state’ communism shackling the people under Soviet rule.
During those years in which I had a modest claim to being an activist in the struggle for a better world, most of my days were of course spent simply working and living, taking seriously my family responsibilities. Money was always tight, near subsistence level when I was out of work, and as our boys were still infants, my wife was not earning, so we had to claim National Assistance. Nothing out of the ordinary as experience goes, of course, and you could say my fault, since I had come back from the war dissatisfied with the quiet life in my old quite well paid sub-editor’s post with the Amalgamated Press and sorry to have missed out on that taste of life as a university student I had expected to have. Deficient in respect of the normally required educational qualifications, as an ex-serviceman I managed to get taken onto a general degree course at Durham University. I stuck it for a term and a bit before deciding it was not for me. With a wife and new anarchist friends back in London, that’s where all the action seemed to me now. So I abandoned my academic study of philosophy, politics, history, English literature, and classical Greek in favour of living versions of all but the last. That summer of 1951, at John Olday’s suggestion, I went on a six-week hitchhiking trip through France and down the Italian boot to Florence with his friend Philip, who had come to England from Germany as a Kindertransport refugee.
In those days most people got no more than a week or two for their summer holidays. I had lots of time because I was out of work and didn’t get a job until the beginning of 1952, and then it was only a temporary one, lasting till mid-June. A month later our first child was born and I was gifted the wonderful experience of being with him almost as much as his mother was for the first six months of his life. Fourteen months on a stingy salary with a publisher of the occult followed, before (by odd chance, just before the birth of our second son) I got a real break.
Being taken on by the Book Department of a major publisher of newspapers and periodicals, Odhams Press, not only brought a great improvement to our family life from my much better income and, a couple of years later, through a loan from the firm, the good fortune of garnering enough money for a deposit on our own home; but gave me another field for campaigning for a better world.
Anarcho-syndicalist policy is that wherever their numbers are too small to form workplace syndicates, individuals should join and play an active part in an appropriate trade union. The unions operating at Odhams had succeeded in establishing a situation in which it was a condition of employment to do so; and so the National Union of Journalists became for me an important arena of activity. After moving from encyclopaedia work at Odhams to editing children’s annuals at Longacre, I became a committee member of the NUJ’s Periodical and Book Branch and a delegate at its annual conferences. Back in those days book journalism was hardly more than a chance appendage in the union, a consequence of outfits mainly concerned with news and periodicals having branched out into book publishing. Chance was to make me a tiny footnote in NUJ records.
The work I was doing had lost all its zest with the swallowing of my giant firm by an even bigger monster, the loss of all outlets for individual inspiration, and the downmarket direction in which our publications were moving. So I jumped at the chance of becoming editor of a theme-centred volume for a set of encyclopedias, assisted by a small team of specialists with the combined talents needed for the whole book. Working with this team and with the contributing authors was intellectually stimulating, and as long as the firm’s higher management left us alone to get on with our jobs, the ethos was fine. But, as always, conditions needed bettering and rewards made more generous. So I proceeded to recruit. From most of those I invited to apply for NUJ membership the response was enthusiastic, and we soon had a decent-sized and spirited chapel seeking recognition and negotiations for an agreement. The management of a publisher presenting itself as a promoter of progressive causes responded by establishing a company union. Long after I had been forced out, recognition was won; but the more widespread consequences of this case came from a nationwide campaign launched by the P & B Branch of the NUJ, which created for me a new post of Books Organiser to encourage editorial staff in book publishers to join the union.
But for me, journalism now looked like a much shrunken field for an ongoing career, and after two short spells with other firms, I made up my mind to switch to teaching. So my working life turned out to be divided pretty evenly into two halves. Six years in secondary schools (picking up a degree after four years’ of evening classes at Birkbeck College along the way) were followed by eleven years as a lecturer in a college of further education. School teaching offered me little chance for political activity; teaching in an FE college too much for my own good. However, this did have the advantage of making my employers very willing to let me go with enhanced retirement pay nearly eight years before I reached my state pension age. At last I had time to tackle at depth some of the political and social issues that had concerned me all my adult life.
Not long after this my wife, who had been teaching Home Economics in a state secondary school not far from our home, retired on health grounds, also with an enhanced pension. In fact we now had something like one teacher’s pension between us. At the end of February 1985 our elder son and his wife returned from a two-year assignment teaching English in state schools in Malaysia. Our younger son and his wife, who had also been teaching English abroad and then taken on temporary jobs in London, and now had a nine-month-old son, were also without jobs. Both of our sons had sprouted a passion for growing plants and trees and wanted to try their hand at market gardening. We had agreed to sell our house in North London to finance the venture. In mid-Wales we found a house for sale that was large enough and had enough land to make the venture feasible. In mid-March the deals went through, and in July, on my wife’s birthday, we moved there.
While my sons dug and delved, my main work was once again moving words about on paper, pressing on with my testament (as I thought of it), while making sallies into political debate in the press – and very occasionally, since we now lived far away from most such arenas, at meetings or conferences – when the opportunity arose. However, the rage I felt at the ravages inflicted on society by Margaret Thatcher’s regimes was to me a summons to take part in whatever form of licit protest I could. So, having moved from a London parliamentary constituency that was overwhelmingly Conservative-minded in its sympathies to one in Wales where three parties were in with a chance, I joined the Labour Party, as did my wife, my younger son, and his wife. And I played as active a part as possible, taking up the post of constituency political officer and even accepting an offer to join the party’s political education group at its London headquarters.
This kind of activism was hardly in accordance with anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist principles, and some people I knew roundly told me so. Anarchism is at odds with Marxism and all forms of Social Democracy in arguing that Socialism cannot be reached through taking control of the State, since holding State power in itself divides people into the rulers and the ruled, the few and the many. The institution of representative government, based almost everywhere by our times on universal adult franchise, makes no fundamental difference to the injustices of life for the many: it confers the comforting illusion of choice while imposing a divide-and-rule reality operated by one or other group of rulers. This means that taking part in the usual forms of political action, predicated on a periodic, perhaps all-change, poll, is normally at best a diversion of energies, because, for the vast majority of the choosers, substantial power lies only in forming a collective to take disruptive action against the current ruling group. Workers’ collectives of whatever kind, faced by intransigent bosses, in the private sector or agents of the State, have to resort to withdrawal of co-operation and disruption of one sort or another, to direct action grounded on the self-reliance plus the solidarity of the workers themselves.
I agreed with these principles, these aims and the arguments concerning the way to realise them when I joined the SWF, and I still agree with them now. Despite that, I was an active member of the Labour Party from 1984 until my wife and I resigned in January 1992, three months before its fourth defeat in a row. The final straw for us was the kangaroo-court expulsion from the Parliamentary Labour Party of the radical socialist Dave Nellist; but we had watched once-upon-a-time firebrand Neil Kinnock steering rightwards since his election as leader after the party’s devastating defeat in 1983. At the time we quit, of course, we had no idea that a cuckoo-in-the-nest would take the party so far to the right that keeping ‘Labour’ in its title should make it liable for legal action on the grounds of advertising under false pretences.
I felt no allegiance to the Labour Party. Indeed, at the very moment I joined it I was drawing up a charge-list, an indictment of the repeated failure of its leaders genuinely to strive to live up to their words. So why did I join it? I can put the answer in a nutshell; although in doing so I put myself in the line of fire of all those who take the word ‘pragmatic’ to mean ‘with no concern for principle’. I am a ‘pragmatic anarchist’, living in a world in so many ways far removed from the values I hold, and I strive for those values as best as I can. Reason impels me to take whatever action seem likely to me to lead to a better consequence than would the alternatives I see. Which is why, for example, I consider it daft to refuse ever to vote in elections because one doesn’t approve of the political system, when situations may arise in which participating might bring a better outcome than shunning the polls. And to argue that to vote for a candidate is tantamount to endorsing whatever he stands for is a nonsense.
At a time when I felt the whole ethos of the land where I lived was being warped by its new rulers, I joined Labour because it gave me another channel for protest, and perhaps joining was more important for me as I no longer had workplace or union through which to express my anger and show my solidarity. I had gone to live far from all my friends and comrades, but in time made new ones. From when I was a little lad, all the way through life, again and again I have been surprised at finding how much I had in common with people who at first had seemed so different from me; and when it comes to campaigning, to setbacks and to struggles, the need for solidarity overrules everything else. Forging that is infinitely more important than what one calls oneself, and as it happens I often have had splendid comrades whose choice of isms was not to my taste. Personally I hold to honouring those who devote themselves to making life better for their fellows, even if in many respects our views may differ. It was in this comradely spirit that I wrote this book, even while hoping to convince my readers that to seek socialism through representative government is to pursue a chimera.
Donovan Pedelty, Builth Wells 2013