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Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Will Hutton: Saviour of British Capitalism?

Will Hutton. If he did not exist, then surely some satirist somewhere would have invented him a long time ago. He is your stereotypical liberal intellectual to be found inhabiting the treacly quagmire that passes for the Guardian and Sunday Observer newspapers. There he has established a particularly sticky patch from which to write articles either promoting a “fairer” and “good” capitalism or the establishment of a socially cohesive and conflict-free “stakeholder” society.

Hutton is everywhere – an omnipresent fixture on the media. He is given free rein to air his opinions on the crisis facing British capitalism. He is keenly sought out to give his views on the problems facing the economy. And his belief in the cause and cure of the unremitting bleakness of contemporary social and economic life, which he refers to as the “state we’re in”, is uncritically acclaimed. Like Keynes he sets out to become the saviour of capitalism complete with sermons, miracles and the resurrection; a Messiah complex of truly epic proportions. He is capitalism’s conscience; the ideas consultant, whose prescriptions can put right the apparent intractable social problems of poverty, social alienation and plutocratic privilege if only politicians would listen to his sage advice.

There is a problem. Everything Hutton has ever written about capitalism; from his support for the economic doctrines of Keynes (THE REVOLUTION THAT NEVER WAS, 1986), a partnership between labour, capital and the State (THE STAKE HOLDING SOCIETY, 1998) through to the benefits to world capitalism of European Federalism (THE WORLD WE'RE IN, 2002), including his predictions about the trajectory of modern-day profit system (GLOBAL CAPITALISM, 2000), has been utterly wrong but that does not stop him writing one book after the other offering prescriptions which either fail in practice or politicians do not touch with a barge-pole. An intellectual car crash of a career beginning as an earnest economics presenter on NEWSNIGHT and ending up as provost at Hertford College, Oxford where he is best remembered as “the Godfather of New Labour”: surely fitting sobriquet for the “saviour of capitalism” and surely merits him wearing a crown of thorns?

Now Hutton has another book published: HOW GOOD WE CAN BE: ENDING THE MERCENARY SOCIETY AND BUILDING A GREAT SOCIETY (2015). The publication has hit the Sunday supplement book reviews just in time for the forthcoming May general election where, no doubt, it will be given critical acclaim by his many friends in the media. Here, in 304 pages, is his plea for a responsible ethical and equitable capitalism for all. You could not make this pious drivel up.

Who are “we” in the title of the book? Who is going to build the “great society”? And will it leave class exploitation and privilege behind? Hutton’s answer is predictable and disappointing. “We” is nothing more than a resurrection of his failed “stakeholder capitalism” where capital and labour will live together in perfect harmony. And his “Great society” is his utopian vision of capitalism without poverty, unemployment and social alienation. Capitalism meeting the interests of all society really would require a miracle to get off the ground.

Hutton’s solution to the state we are in under capitalism is premised on the widely held belief among intellectuals that Tory policy is inherently evil and emanates from the depths of hell. Not so, the Labour Party, who Hutton believes has the potential to become the force for moral good. Given the right leader and receiving the correct wisdom to frame a Manifesto from the likes of Will Hutton, the Labour Party, could, he opines, produce policy from heaven. This is the political narrative of the madhouse. If we consider the last Labour government’s record on war, attacks on trade unions and workers generally it is enough to turn your stomach.

So what does Hutton understand about capitalism and the class system in which the means of production and distribution are owned by the capitalist class to the exclusion of a working class majority? Not a lot. In his book THE STATE WE ARE IN (1995), he denigrated the powerful interests of the City, the Banks, commerce and landed property owners (a group whom he referred to as the beneficiaries of “gentlemanly capitalism”, a term Hutton lifted from the academics P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkin’s two volume history of British Imperialism) in favour of industrial capital.

At least he understands class interests and the role of the intellectual in producing ruling class ideas. He articulates class interests all right, rooting for the industrial capitalist over the banker, financier and rentier. And he wants a “revolution” but only a capitalist revolution necessary to replace in political importance the interests of one section of the ruling class (the industrialists) with another (bankers and financiers). A socialist revolutionary he is not.

And what about his favourite agency of revolutionary change, the Labour Party, which exists at the centre of his political philosophy? How does it get the right leader with moral vision when Hutton admits that Blair, Brown and their predecessors all ran capitalism for a small minority against the interest of the working class majority?

Has not the great thinker overlooked the origin and development of the Labour party, first as a trade union pressure group then as a party of capitalism forced to change by the very system it administrated finally to end up no different from the Tory Party Hutton so despises? Under Blair and Brown, the Labour Party even embraced the “gentlemanly capitalism” of the City until the economic crisis of 2007 ended the cosy relationship which had seen the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown praise Lehman Brothers just prior to its collapse while simultaneously telling the world that there would be no “boom or bust” on his watch.

Hutton is unable to understand capitalism and the exploitive mechanism of surplus value at the heart of the profit system as shown by Marx in Capital and elsewhere. Marx is dismissed as old-fashioned and dated by Hutton for holding a Labour theory of value which he informs us has been superseded by the subjective utility theory of value in a “marginal revolution” at the end of the 19th century on the spurious grounds that this is what economists tell us what happened: Marx as Old Testament, Hutton as a New Testament Keynesian, so to speak.

Unable to have access to the penetrating insights provided by Marx’s critique of political economy informed by his labour theory of value, Hutton is unable to give a scientific account of capitalism, the destructive trajectory of capital from one crisis to the next; from one war to the next but he has no practical political agency for realising his woolly and futile social and economic reforms. And after dismissing any socialist alternative to capitalism as “utopian” what has Mr Hutton got left to offer? For the working class, absolutely nothing!

Hutton is of the mistaken view that socialism is dead and buried in the twin graves bearing the epitaphs Old clause 4 and the Soviet Union. True, these two unmourned graves do exist but they have nothing to do with the socialism of Marx and the Socialist Party of Great Britain and everything to do with the failed nationalisation or state capitalist policies of the Labour party and the Bolsheviks under Lenin. State capitalism and the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society are not the same thing.

Another error committed by Mr Hutton is his view that society is becoming more “middle-class”. A view very difficult to believe when some 85 individuals in the world own as much as some 3.5 billion people and this disparity is set to increase. Hutton misleadingly views society as an hour glass with a large “middle class” and a diminishing working class but fails to grasp that class is a social relationship to the ownership or non-ownership of the means of production and distribution where the majority of society is forced, as a working class, into employment to sell its ability to work for a wage or salary.

The real question is not what someone happens to do but whether you have to sell yourself as a commodity, what Marx called, someone’s “labour power” or whether you live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. The workers Hutton misleadingly describes as “middleclass” are in fact members of the working class which would include employees like Hutton but not those who pay his salary to produce ruling class ideas.

Hutton’s economic and social reform proposals will find no future Labour leader prepared or capable of implementing them. Hutton it turns out is no saviour of capitalism. Instead he is like an absurd Beckettian character waiting endlessly and in vain for Godot. There is no “Good capitalism” and “bad capitalism” only capitalism whose economic and social problems require a socialist revolution by a conscious and political motivated working class majority to resolve. The working class is the agency of revolutionary change not a Labour Party infused with the half-baked ideas of Mr Hutton.

In a correspondence with this writer over a decade ago Hutton railed against the idea of even questioning the wages system let alone abolishing it. He wanted the impossible; capitalism without the effects of capitalism, social justice and equality existing on top of exploitive class relations and a Labour Party in power acting in the interest of all society. And he has the temerity to call us “utopian”!!!

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