1980s >> 1981 >> no-917-january-1981

Editorial: A Happy New Year?

Socialists do not extend conventional New Year greetings. We do not expect

Artwork by George Meddemmen.

that the next twelve months will be happy or prosperous for the majority of the world’s population. Only relative degrees of poverty and misery await the wealth producers of the world in the year to come.

Don’t look to us for instant solutions to society’s ills. You, fellow worker, must enact the remedy or else all of us who live by selling ourselves for wages or salaries will continue to be affected by the social problems that we have come to know so well. No socialist can do your reasoning for you. Your brain is your own. You may either leave it to the manipulative forces of the status quo (the schools, media, churches and political leaders) or reclaim it for the purpose of doing some serious thinking.

We don’t need to tell you what to think about. Your experience is far greater than our descriptive powers will ever be. You know what it feels like to live in a world where your abilities are a commodity to be bought and sold so that someone else can make a profit from your labour. You may be afraid of the label, ‘Marxism’; you may not like to think that you are a slave for wages — but experience counts more than labels.

You fear war. You fear getting the sack. You fear getting ill and receiving inadequate health treatment because you can’t afford the best. You don’t like to be pushed around. You don’t need to be told that your present lot is not good enough; you are thinking that already.

We do not need to tell you why all this is so. But even then, you have only to read the newspapers and they will give you another explanation. We can tell you that unemployment arises when commodities cannot be sold profitably; they tell you that it is caused by workers not working hard enough. We say that wars are the consequence of the fight between the rich and the powerful over property and markets; they say that they arc caused by the aggressiveness and lack of co-operation of ordinary people. We say that poverty is caused by the wage-labour system and that without it there would be no poverty; they say that poverty exists when people don’t contribute enough to society.

Who do you believe, them or us? Don’t trust either explanation: use your experience to work out the answers. Are the unemployed all lazy? Is war caused by working men and women of different nations falling out with one another? II so, can you explain exactly what it is that the average Russian worker has against the average Afghan or the average Iranian worker has against the average Iraqi worker? Is it really the brainy and industrious people who get the palaces and the fools who get the slums? If so, why are the wealth-producing areas the ones which often face the greatest urban deprivation?

We don’t need to convince you that your troubles are not caused by human nature. You know that most of the men and women around you are not responsible for war, for unemployment, for social service cuts, for mass starvation. They say that politics is not for them, and leave social planning to the ‘experts’.

Human beings make their own social environment and the environment makes them. At the moment we have a world which is unfit for humans. Profit comes before need and class before equality. Such a system once played a useful role in developing the means of wealth production to their present level, but the forces which gave rise to capitalism no longer exist. Today, in a world of abundant resources and technological sophistication, nobody need starve, nobody need be homeless.

We have made our social environment, and now we must change it. To do that we need ideas. First, we need experience of capitalism. We’ve all got that. Second, we need to know how the system works. It works to produce commodities for sale on the market with a view to profit. The consequences of this can be seen in the waste and shoddiness and destructiveness of modern production. Third, we need to know how to get rid of the present system. That’s simple: it will be removed in the same way as it is presently kept in being — by the political decision of the majority. At the moment most people accept the present system, usually because they think there is no alternative. When the majority of people, in all the countries of the world, decide that this system does not suit their needs, they will politically dissent from it. How? By forming political parties that stand solely for socialism.

That sounds like a good idea. You could do with a new social order, couldn’t you? No property, no classes, no buying and selling, no wages, no profit. Yes, this sounds rather different. It’s certainly never been tried.

But would it work? Could people cooperate in a free society? Could people be persuaded to produce things if there were no wages, but just voluntary co-operation? If there were no laws would we not all kill each other? Without leaders will we know how to stay alive? The answers depend on you, fellow worker; upon you and upon all those who are in the class which lives by wage slavery.

The socialist case is that if you understand what the alternative is, and if you want it, then you will co-operate to make it work. If you cannot conceive of a co-operative society, then we urge you to think again. If you think that the new society that we stand for is a Utopia and in the next breath you wish your friends a ‘happy New Year’, you are forgetting that in a world of social chaos the search for genuine happiness will be a frustrating one. The socially blinkered may be happy in their acquiescence, but only the struggle for socialism offers the chance of something more than a happy New Year: a happy new society.