1980s >> 1985 >> no-967-march-1985

Editorial: Think Global—Think Socialist

The world socialist movement continues to exist and to struggle for the society of communal ownership, partly through the failure of the reformist movement. If, as the reformists claim, it were possible to run capitalism leaving its basis undisturbed but with a few superficial changes and in that way to eliminate the problems which now afflict the world’s people, then there would be no reason to abolish capitalism. The social relationships would be in harmony with the mode of wealth production. The world would be at peace; poverty would not exist, neither would economic crises, famine, avoidable disease. Everyone would thrive in abundance and freedom. Why should we do anything to upset so benign a social arrangement?

It is only necessary to put this proposition for it to be seen as nonsense. Capitalism does not and cannot operate in that way. For one thing, there is scarcely a single scheme for the alleviation of some social ailment which can operate unhampered by the system’s basic principle of the production of wealth for sale and profit There is. for example, a popular demand for better housing, more efficient hospitals, greater care for the sick and the aged. These are all highly desirable objects, which take a lot of the reformers’ time and energies, but they are all frustrated on the grounds of cost, with the implicit reminder that capitalism’s wealth is not produced to satisfy human needs but for the profit of the owning minority. On this rock of reality the case of the reformists persistently comes to grief. In spite of all their efforts, capitalism still operates as it must, as a repressive, impoverishing, killing society.

Socialists observe the reformists’ failure but there is more to us than that. In one sense we cannot be separate from their struggles, for as individual workers we must endure the problems they profess to be able to deal with. So ours is not an exclusive, sectarian attitude but collectively and politically we are not just separate from, but actively hostile to the reformists. Socialists argue that reformism misleads the workers into the belief that capitalism can be allowed to remain while its essential problems are removed — in other words that there is no need to replace capitalism with socialism. This deception is reactionary, anti-working class, anti-socialist. While we are hostile to the reformist movements, we engage with them in debate, encourage them to question their failure and to ask why their theories do not fit in with reality.

One explanation they should consider is their inability to think in any way other than national. Pressure groups in the poverty business — like Child Poverty Action Group and Shelter — may do a valuable job in exposing the symptoms of capitalism’s sickness but the remedies they suggest are always in terms of alleviating symptoms here in Britain. The government is offered plenty of advice about how to to deal with unemployment, all of it based on an assumed desirability of protecting the jobs of British workers only. Even when the campaigners turn their attention abroad theirs is still a national outlook, concerned with what they feel the British government should do to ease famine in Ethiopia or some other disaster in some other country.

This activity is fashioned by the idea that it is possible for a country to keep at bay external problems while developing itself into a cosy haven of security and plenty. The economists who press for higher state investment to “create jobs” for British workers are not concerned that such a policy might operate at the cost of workers abroad. The reformists think national although it must be clear to them that capitalism is a world society, producing the same problems and the same conflicts wherever it exists. Thinking national is part of the cause of the reformists’ failure and of the continued need for the socialist movement.

In contrast, socialists think global. We argue that the capitalists are an international class. While they are in conflict at one level — over competition for markets, for example — as a class and in the global sense their interests are united, to protect their privileged standing and to resist any encroachment by the working class. Essentially, as a class, they must oppose their own abolition, they must struggle to prevent the revolution for socialism.

The workers also are a global class. At one level they may be in conflict — when they compete as individuals for scarce jobs, for example — but at the level of their class their interests are in unity. Above nationalism, above any prejudice of race or sex, the working class throughout the world must assert their essential unity in the work to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism in its place.

That will be a society based on the communal possession of the means of production and distribution, characterised by the principle of everyone contributing to their ability and having free access to society’s wealth according to their self-determined needs. At present, as they turn from one reformist futility to another, the working class seem to be a long way from the political awareness needed for the democratic establishment of world socialism. It will be a significant step on the way, when they cease to think in terms of national or regional solutions to world problems and begin to think global.