Beyond cynicism

‘The battle against capitalism seems to me to be an impossible task.

You say socialism can only be established by the majority wanting it—this is true but capitalism will never let that happen. They control television, media and education and they are experts in propaganda tactics. Leaflets, posters, talks, meetings, etc. are not powerful enough. The capitalists know this and that is why they let you operate.

If socialism did spread here in the capitalist western world and the capitalists saw it as a real threat they would stamp it out immediately, by any means necessary, remember they have everything to lose. But they wouldn’t even need to take any drastic measures, it would only take a few propaganda programmes on TV and a few articles in the tabloids anyway. The majority are easily manipulated, conditioned and controlled.

The majority are not even concerned with politics or life on a global scale, most people are more concerned with materialism, wealth, sex and violence. I know I must sound like I lack faith in the human race but I must admit I do. When do you realistically think socialism on a global scale can come about? Are we talking decades or hundreds or thousands of years?’

This doleful missive of defeatist pessimism has been sent to us by a reader from Surrey. It is fair to assume that he is not consumed by high expectations for the future. In this he is not alone. Most people today are hopeless, in relative degrees of dejection about the future of society. They have come to expect the worst, and all too often experience worse than the worst that they expected. We who are socialists, filled with a passion fed by understanding that history does change and the future can be different and better, would be foolish to ignore the political sighs of such Jeremiahs as our correspondent. For hopelessness itself is the enemy of positive action and the anticipation of failure to build a decent society makes real such failure. The cynics should not be ignored or sneered at as fools. Negativity is not answered by the constructive intones of derision, but on the basis of scientific logic and historical vision; nothing less will do.

This has been a century of cruelly extinguished hopes. The embarrassed blushes of those who applauded the ‘justice’ of the Stalinist purges and heaped praise upon the state-capitalist hell-holes which posed as ‘socialist states’ will not conceal the false faith in the Religion of Leninism which pseudo-socialists promoted, so distorting everything that the real hope of socialism offers; the workers who rejoiced gullibly in 1945 as British industries were nationalised as ‘public utilities’ have had to see how in half-a-century the profit motive, which was always built-in to state-managed capitalism, has crushed the hopes of the public who were tricked into thinking that industries belonged to them; those who believed that scientific reason would culminate in a rationalised capitalist system this century have had to watch in sheer horror as millions of humans were pushed into the gas chambers and the gulags, as bombs of unimaginable destructiveness wiped out whole cities and populations, as the gross inhumanity of the mass torture of millions through slow starvation has proceeded while food is destroyed lest profits fall. To cultivate boundless optimism amidst the ruins of hope and the realities of capitalism’s manifest evils is not a task for the faint-hearted.

False hope of piecemeal reform

What has been the most pernicious lie of this century? It is that hope for the future lay in the gradual, imperceptible, but certain amelioration of capitalism through the process of reform. The false hope of piecemeal improvement of an essentially cancerous system captured the imaginations of millions, exhausted their energies in the reformist struggle to humanise the profit system, and then left them dumbed by frustration. Whether the changes were to come through the division lobbies of Westminster or by gaining control of local councils or trade union committees or by humanitarian slogans or empty ‘green’ appeals for a nicer, gentler world, the system which puts profit before need has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. The progressive enthusiasm of millions has been stamped out in this way.

Dare we imagine how different it would have been if that energy—or even a half or a tenth of that energy—which has gone into reforming capitalism had gone into abolishing it? With a movement great in number, if still a minority, how much stronger would we be if our fellow workers had not experienced that bitter disillusionment of failed reformism and the indignity of abandoning principles for the sake of short-term gains? Should we who struck to undiluted socialist principles- the world for the workers with production solely for use, and nothing less—be the ones to bow our heads in defeat when the policy of Reform, not Revolution, has so miserably failed?

Yet how easy it is to step out of the shadow of reformist frustration and commit the two errors of our hopeless correspondent. First, deny that workers are intelligent enough to ever see through their own oppression and exploitation. Claim that they are suckers and suckers they will forever be. Second, attribute to the small class of parasites who now own and control the earth and its abundant resources huge powers of persuasion and coercion. Imagine that the capitalist will eternally have a confident smile on his face and you can be sure that he will. These are not verifiable observations, but the sigh of a battered wage-slave who begs to be persuaded that his misery for the future is unfounded.

Is it really true that workers will put up with this system forever? One percent of the population in Britain alone own a quarter of the marketable wealth and five percent own more than half. In several other countries the statistics of class inequality are more stark; in all modem nations do such figures of class division apply. Will the overwhelming majority of the world’s population forever consent to live and die for the profits of a small minority? We know that the workers of the world form the overwhelming majority of the population, and we know that it is the workers’ intelligence and hard work which keeps society going (from the building site to the operating theatre), and we know also that it is the nature of human intelligence to explore ever more and expand ever further.

Indeed, the propaganda of those who have a vested interest in workers’ political ignorance has been remarkably successful so far, but against what has it had to contend? The organised voice of principled socialists has been so small that the fraudulence of religion and the misinformation of education and the trickery of the tabloids have had an easy run. This will not be so when the considerable numbers of those discontented under capitalism move from self-defeating schemes to improve the system to a scientific movement to remove the system. The history of organised socialists is even shorter. It is a mistake to deduce from such limited experience that workers will never apply their intelligence to removing the cause of their problems. It is not a case of having ‘faith’ in humans, but of reaming from history that humans are characterised by a tremendous ability to adapt their social environment to fit in with their need to survive in greater contentment.

Seeing through the lies

Will the capitalists be able to stem the flood of working-class socialist consciousness by simply putting an article in the Sun or running a scare story about socialists on the TV? It is precisely when the socialist movement is growing that such tactics will be counter-productive. The more lies an intelligent human is told the more he or she will rebel against the liar. It is now, at a time of majority political ignorance, that such tactics may work, not when workers are getting up off their knees. Take the example of the Christian religion in Britain: for years it dominated the minds of peasants and workers because the victims were ignorant and therefore scared to criticise; once criticism began the efforts of the religionists to defend their mumbo-jumbo by accusing materialists of gross depravity and claiming that they had never stood for nonsensical beliefs (which they always had) led them into even greater discredit.

As for the claim that the capitalists might use violence to stop the establishment of socialism, well they might, but what chance would they stand against a conscious movement of well-organised workers? Killing its opponents is hardly likely to win converts to the cause of capitalism; on the contrary, it will create ever more dedicated enemies. What evidence is there that the armed forces and police, who are only wage slaves in uniform, would allow themselves to be used to murder their brothers, sisters, parents and friends whose sole crime would be to stand for a world in which nobody would be so degraded as to have to become a state killer or a cop? The suggestion that the simple alternative to such class war would be for the capitalists (many of whom may come to realise that they as humans have much to gain from a society of humane equality) to publish a few articles in the tabloids and thereby wipe out the political intelligence of the entire movement which has threatened them is an incredible scenario Sure, those who are deluded can be made more deluded by the media of delusion-making; but can a whole movement which is so strong that the media needs to attack it be forced to regress intellectually as a result of the cunning efforts of the Murdoch press?

Evidence of history

The cynical loss of faith inhumanity is not a matter upon which socialists can offer consolation to our dispirited correspondent. Our expectations are not based upon faith. Faith is a substitute for reason. The question of historical change is not a matter of optimistic or pessimistic moods, but of examining real material social relations. Are the relations of contemporary society in line with how we could live, given the development of the forces of production to a level where we could produce enough goods and services of a high quality for everyone- indeed, for several times the current population of the world? Clearly, these are outmoded social relationships. Wage labour and capital are obsolete obstacles to the realisation of decent and materially satisfied lives for all of us.

The evidence of history, as Marx so ably explained, is that when there is a conflict between the forces of production and the relations of production the latter fall in line with the former. Production for profit is out of date, it is harder and harder for defenders of this system to think of policies to make it sound attractive or even workable. That is why all political parties supporting capitalism now speak more than ever with one voice: the unconfident monotone of the ideologically bankrupt. Production solely for use is long overdue. Socialists do not believe that the pattern of historical development will be different in our own age from the long past when those with an interest in change have ultimately opted for change.

Of course, the socialist transformation of society is different from all previous ones. It must be the work of the majority acting for themselves by themselves. There has been no shortage of diversions along the way. Pitiful has been the wasted energies of workers who, instead of uniting uncompromisingly for the socialist alternative, have gone for reformist or statist or other futile options. But such is history: we socialists are made of stronger stuff than those who would give up on the entire human species just because the greatest change in human history has taken a few decades being talked about but not yet enacted.

And how much longer must we wait? Our correspondent, thousand-year diary in hand, seeks to know the date of victory. He is already an expert on the dates of failure. No doubt he had counterparts in South Africa who told black workers that it would take decades—nay, centuries—before they would win the vote. And surely the barroom dissident in Bucharest, Moscow or Prague who suggested that with force of numbers the workers could deny power to their state capitalist dictators was regarded with more than the occasional cynical sneer. How easy it is to plot a prosperous future for this misery-causing system; to be sure, nobody will mind and nobody will care if such banal hopelessness proves prophetic. There are no prizes for predicting that the future under capitalism will be lousy. But the prize to be gained by transcending the rut of cynical inaction is the world and its abundant wealth which will be ours—the property of all—as soon and as long as the majority cease to be in mental bondage to the illusion of the impossibility of their own freedom.