1980s >> 1988 >> no-1002-february-1988

A few words to non-socialists

You are not a socialist. You do not want to live in a society where all of the resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled where factories, farms, offices, mines and media belong to the whole community, regardless of race or sex. You do not stand for production solely for use: food grown simply so that it can be eaten, houses to be lived in. clothes to be worn, entertainment to be enjoyed. You do not want a society where all people have free access to all goods and services without having to buy them – a moneyless society. The idea of a world without national frontiers, states and the weapons of militarist murder does not motivate you to political action. You are just not a socialist.

Now, there are many ways of not being a socialist. You might be a violent anti-socialist who is committed to the defence of the capitalist status quo to the bitter end. Most workers are not passionate defenders of capitalism. Most of capitalism’s victims, the working class, do not even know what capitalism is. Indeed, few capitalists are even dedicated advocates of their own system they just enjoy it while the fruits are there for them to pick. Most non-socialists are simply not bothered about the meaning of capitalism or socialism. They would describe themselves as non-political, occasionally becoming politically vocal about the odd issue, and, if they are feeling up to it, voting in elections once every four or five years – usually to keep the baddies out rather than with any real belief that the goodies are any good.

Most workers regard socialism as something to do with politics and politics as something profoundly boring. So, when the Socialist Standard seller approaches them in the street or pub. offering a good socialist read for only 30p, most workers look the other way in the hope that politics will ignore them. Politics is about power – about who has it and who does not and what the powerful can do to the powerless. If you are a worker, deprived of all kinds of basic powers over your own life – ranging from the age at which you can legally have sexual relations and with whom, to whether you and your family are to be blown to pieces in a nuclear war – politics does not leave you alone.

To the average worker in Britain socialism is a scare word. It is like AIDS and sin and Libya – you might not know quite what they mean or where they are, but you know that your mother wouldn’t approve of them. Workers fear socialism. Long years of anti-socialist propaganda by those who have a direct class interest in workers’ fear of freedom have seen to that.

Socialism, the non-socialist will tell you. is what exists in Russia. And China – which is a national enemy of Russia. And Albania – which is a national enemy of Russia and China. Socialism is what they have in Australia – and Spain – and Greece – because they have “socialist governments” in those countries, don’t they? And then there was Attlee and Bevan and Wilson and Callaghan – they were supposed to have called themselves socialists. Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Arthur Scargill: these men even use the word “socialist” so they must be the real thing, mustn’t they? Adolf Hitler called himself a National Socialist. All very confusing.

The Leftists who talk about “socialist countries” and “socialist governments” and “socialist leaders” do immense damage to working-class understanding of socialism. Most workers look at leftism and its aim of turning private capitalism into state capitalism (which the Left calls socialism) and, quite rightly, they reject “socialism”. Labels deceive.

Many workers think that socialism is a moral proposition: that it has something to do with being nice to people. Most socialists do try to live their lives as decent beings in an indecent world, but that is not what socialism is about. Socialism relates to the material conditions within which we are able to live and behave. Socialists who own factories must exploit their employees or else they go broke, socialists who are competing with other workers for jobs will not endure the punishment of the dole queue so that their fellow workers can live well. Capitalism is a dog-eat-dog system and socialists are not dogs who will not bite, but dogs who are barking in pursuit of a system where we do not need to bite. Socialism is about the co-operation of humankind for the sake of us all.

Some workers like the sound of socialism. It has the sort of sound to it as an idea, when you consider it carefully, which reasonable people tend to find attractive. Yes, it would be good if we could all share this world as one human family, but . . . But, says the non-socialist, things can never be that way. The non-socialist has a fundamental doubt about tomorrow ever being different from today. Which is a rather groundless doubt when you come to think about it. for it is the ceaseless lesson of history that the certainties of the past are repeatedly tossed aside by new ideas, new conditions, new certainties. Just as capitalism, with its world market and working class freed from the ties of feudal serfdom, once seemed like a utopian dream, so socialism is only a dream to those who imagine that the capitalist nightmare is unlike all previous historical epochs and will go on forever.

Once workers have been convinced that human nature is not a barrier to socialism, many non-socialists, while agreeing that socialism sounds worth having, are too tired, too apathetic, too busy with other things to get up and join the movement for socialism. They may offer support for The Socialist Party – perhaps even regard themselves as sympathisers. We are glad of their support. But a disorganised minority of workers who will be for socialism when it comes can and will do little or nothing to change history. Their visions will be lost in the mists of dust created by the bombs which are being prepared for use as you read this article.

There is no way of forcing the non-socialist to become a socialist. It will not happen by electing so-called socialist governments to bring about socialism for the workers even though they know nothing about it. Nor will it happen as a result of the efforts of the counter-productive Leninist sects which think that the workers can be marched to freedom with guns to their heads. There is no substitute for winning a majority of our fellow workers to understand and want socialism. The Socialist Party will not do this alone. If our efforts were the sole means of transforming society from capitalism to socialism the world would be in for a long wait. It is the capitalist system, with its relentless class struggle, which creates the material conditions within which socialists are made. The task of The Socialist Party is to take the discontent which capitalism provides for us and see that it is not wasted upon the politics of futility.

If you are a non-socialist you should think carefully about why that is. If – as will be the case with very many workers – you have never really thought about why you are not a socialist, never regarded yourself as a supporter of the capitalist system which enslaves you, then now is the time to consider your position. If you are an anti-socialist, then you have some obligation to tell us socialists why we are wrong. If you agree with what we are saying, then now is the time to do something about it: visit your local branch, place a regular order for the Socialist Standard. And if you agree with the Socialist Party, why not join?

This is not an academic article. It is not about whether Victoria was a good Queen or a useless old parasite. It is not an article for reading and then forgetting. It is an invitation to think and to act. It is that capacity which human beings possess to a higher degree than any other animal. Think, act – and who is to say what sort of world this shall be by 1990?

Steve Coleman