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Editorial: The Choice is Always Ours

The media have not been short of political drama to occupy them in recent months: the rise and rise of UKIP, the defections of two sitting Tory MPs , the accusations of dirty tricks, or the ‘nail-biting’ drama of the Rochester by-election.   Anyone following all this might be forgiven for thinking that the political process is a media soap centred on the rivalries and intrigues of a cast of political celebrities.  They might think, too, that it is a game of little consequence for the lives of working people whose only role in all this is to be persuaded to vote this way or that.  With the declining turnout at the polls in recent years, it seems that working people, the majority of voters, think so too. 

But then in September a remarkable 84.5 percent of the electorate north of the border went to the polls to vote in the Scottish referendum on independence.  If working people in Scotland were disillusioned with the current political establishment, then they showed themselves still strong in their belief that their future depends on having the right national institutions and leaders to run the capitalist system. Whichever way they voted, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they demonstrated their ongoing willingness to give away their power to political leaders, representatives of the capitalist class.

Then, in November, alongside the reports of political recriminations and infighting, the media sought to bring a patriotic lump to our throats by reporting on an ‘art installation’ at the Tower of London.  The installation consisted of an assemblage of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in the ‘Great’ war.  (An insult, you might think, to those conscripts among the dead who objected to the slaughter). The unintended symbolism of the event went largely unremarked, but revealed the nationalist and militarist sentiments underpinning it – for the poppies, forming a blood-red sea of lost working-class lives, were set in the defensive moat of the Tower of London,  a building deliberately erected to represent the authority of the state in eleventh-century Britain and the power of the economic elites that controlled it. 

Millions of working people of many nationalities followed the orders of their political and military leaders and slaughtered  one another on the battlefields of WWI – the ‘business war’ as it was known. Yet it was also tens of thousands of working-class Germans in uniform that helped bring the slaughter to an end by their refusal to carry on the fight. We should also remember that had the fragile internationalism of working-class organisations before the war been more firmly cemented, their pledge not to fight one another might have withstood the onslaught of nationalism. War would then have been prevented and millions of lives spared. Our past failures as a class stand as lessons to us for the future.

We always have a choice: we can continue to place our power as a class into the hands of institutional leaders who use it to pursue the narrow interests of a capitalist elite, or, we can take responsibility for it collectively and democratically, use it to further our own majority interest and, in the process, act in the interests of all humanity.