1990s >> 1996 >> no-1098-february-1996

What makes a socialist?

Socialists are not fabricated. They are people who have reached a state of understanding about the society they live in, known as capitalism, and all its attendant problems and iniquities. Out of understanding arises the desire to forge an alternative, a new society free society from poverty, oppression, war, apathy . . . So what does make a socialist? What makes a mind reject the disreputable and repugnant basis of capitalism and opt instead to follow the course of sanity and logic in committing itself to the ideal of socialism? So let’s hypothesise for a moment.

Let’s take the case of a young person, newly enfranchised, who in 1983 decides to vote Conservative. Within the narrow scope of capitalist thinking this may seem to be a sensible option, the Tories ostensibly being the party most likely to run the economy efficiently, with their free-market philosophy and sound business policies. Labour of course are simply out to disrupt industry and nationalise anything that isn’t growing wild, and on top of that they’re in the pocket of the unions.

So our new voter is quite happy with his choice, apart from one or two niggling doubts. Being a fair-minded person, he is perturbed at the great variations in the amounts of wealth that accrue to different levels of society, but of course enterprise and hard work are always rewarded.

The miners’ strike

Then in 1984, comes the miners’ strike, the last great showdown between organised labour and the capitalist establishment. Our voter is partisan, and condemns the reckless behaviour of the striking miners while praising the actions of the strike-breakers. The strikers have of course been duped by NUM leader Scargill’s spurious claims of a few pit closures; the idea that the government had any plans for the decimation of the coal industry was of course preoposterous.

Then comes a turning point. Our voter (who let’s say lives in a coal-mining area which is fully in support of the strike) is involved in a discussion about the strike between a few colleagues at work. One of the contributors, a union representative, defends the strikers against criticism regarding tactics used against the police. He points out that with the threat of pit closures the dispute differs from many others because it is an attempt to defend the livelihood of miners and their families, and to protect the communities they live in.

If there can ever be an equivalent for an atheist of “seeing the light”, then this is it for our voter. he begins to realise that his support for the Conservative Party is misplaced, and to think that only the unions and the Labour Party will fight for his interests. Having diverted his thinking on to a new track, he begins to ask more and more pertinent questions, the principal one being “why do we need money?” Why indeed. It is gradually becoming clear that society isn’t merely flawed, it is utterly insane and full of paradoxes. Our voter concludes that money has become a barrier to equal and free distribution of wealth. Why else would there be people starving when the EC destroys or stores food it can’t sell? Why else are there unemployed builders and yet thousands of homeless people? Why are people dying of curable diseases when there are ample resources and workers to help the,?

Our voter, now turned sceptic, hasn’t quite arrived at the answer to these questions, and in the meantime inquires about joining the Labour Party. Fortunately before he does so, he spots a small advertisement in the back of a magazine. The advertisement is offering free literature published by an organisation unknown to our sceptic—the Socialist Party. He replies to the ad, and is astounded to find that the ideas espoused by the Socialist Party precisely coincide with conclusions he has reached independently.

That is but one example of how a person may become a socialist. As you’ve probably guessed, the story is not hypothetical; it was my own experience. I thought it worth recounting here to demonstrate that even someone as dogmatic as an electronic rottweiler can grow to understand what and who is really calling the shots in our lives.

Hope and understanding

What really makes a socialist is not wool (thought wool is often applied in the visual region to deceive us), or indoctrination, or deception, or proselytisation. The making of a socialist can be attributed only to the utilisation of one of the most fundamental faculties of the human brain: the ability to reason—to ask “why?” Why do things have to be this way? And by simply asking the question, you have already partly answered it: things are the way they are not because it is unavoidable but because we, the dispossessed working class, allow them to be.

Nick Brunskill