1990s >> 1997 >> no-1109-january-1997

It Could Be You!

So, you think the idea of a socialist society in which everyone cooperates to provide the things which we all require to live decent lives free from poverty, unemployment, homelessness, war and want is a utopian dream; you think abolishing the wages system and along with it the slavery of employment is too far fetched to bother with, well keep doing the Lottery — who knows, you might win!

Were it not for the poverty and misery of capitalism two institutions would not exist: the National Lottery and the Socialist Party. Both are responses to real problems and genuine discontent.

The lottery exists as an illusive escape from working-class life for millions of people who have been conned into believing that becoming a multi-millionaire by gambling is more likely than being struck by lightning. The same mugs do the football pools and keep the bookies in business. They speculate upon the worst bet in the world and then pour more money into Camelot’s profits to ensure that they will be in with a chance of losing again the following week.

The Socialist Party exists because some people—very few of us at present— have asked ourselves why it is that there is poverty and misery in the world. We have concluded that it is a consequence of the way society is organised. Production for sale with a view to profit means that needs will always come a poor second to profit-making. As profits are accumulated by the small minority of the earth’s population who own the productive resources but produce no wealth, and as unmet needs are largely those of the working-class majority who do produce all of society’s wealth, we have concluded that the profit system works against the interest of the majority of us. Capitalism is a bad bet for the working class and a safe bet for the capitalist class. The capitalists win the lottery every week. How? They pay us less than the value of what we have produced for them to sell on the market.

So, unlike the main parties which canvass working-class support, the Socialist Party says that the profit system— capitalism—the market economy—(these all mean roughly the same thing) —should not be maintained or reformed but abolished. We are an anti-capitalism party. No promises from socialists that if you vote for us you will have more chance of winning the lottery or even getting an extra tenner in your pay packet. We say unequivocally that it is the system which pays workers to produce profits for the few which is the cause of the problems facing the majority.

The right choice
Our remedy for capitalism’s problems is not better capitalism but no capitalism. We stand for unadulterated socialism. Not state capitalism like they had in Russia or China or Cuba, but a new system of society in which production is solely for use.

We contend that producing for use is both more practically efficient and democratically desirable than continuing with capitalism and all of its inevitable problems stemming from profit before need. Get rid of capitalism and replace it by common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution.

In a socialist society productive resources will be owned by all, without discrimination of race or sex, and will be democratically controlled by the whole community. Because production will be simply for use there will be no need for the market. There will be no buying and selling. There will be no money. There will be free access to all goods and services.

Most people would prefer to live in a socialist society, as we have described it, than the present capitalist one. Few people like the poverty and misery caused by capitalism: we know that because so many are trying desperate measures, such as giving money to the lottery, as a way out. People go in for all kinds of hopeless gambles to escape from capitalism. They borrow large amounts of money from banks to set up small businesses, most of which fail because they can’t compete with the big capitalists. They emigrate to other countries in the false hope that poverty will not be found in distant lands They steal and end up behind bars for long stretches. They prostitute their dignity doing horrible jobs which no self-respecting person would choose to do. They cheat on their friends and neighbours. They pray. All of these are more-or-less useless. There is no escape for workers from the effects of capitalism within the confines of the system.

So, what about the socialist gamble? For most people, appealing as socialism sounds in contrast with the present system, the prospect of achieving socialism is too small to be worth the risk of dedicating time to working for its establishment. It’s a tempting argument. After all, being a socialist involves hours—which can turn into years—of trying to persuade others of the logic of the case for changing the system. Trying to win a majority to socialist consciousness can meet with derision and ridicule. It involves the time-consuming effort of organising democratically and co-operating with fellow socialists. It can leave you angry at times that people who could benefit so much from socialism are wasting their efforts on useless pursuits like trying to reform capitalism or hoping that they will win the lottery.

Those who consider the gamble and decide against joining the socialists will often attempt to justify their inaction by resorting to common, but utterly false, arguments. They will say that socialism is against human nature. Even though private property, the market and money have only actually existed for a small fraction of the time that humans have lived on the earth. (Were the majority of humans who ever lived not “naturally human”?) They will say that the workers are too stupid to understand the need for socialism. In that case, how did they come to understand it—and how did we who are socialists? They will say that the media will always keep the people mentally enslaved. Now, that’s a strong argument, but history abounds in examples of people who have overcome the propaganda of religion, education and the mass media and overthrown regimes they have not liked.

Picking a winner
The most honest argument of the person who sympathises with socialism but refuses to join the socialists is to admit to being lazy about changing society. “I’ll be with you on the day,” they say, as if socialism could ever come about if a majority of people decided to sit back and wait for it. The truth is that there will be no socialism without conscious socialists, just as there could be no Socialist Party without democratically organised socialist activists. We are not active because we like being in a minority, but because we have good historical reason to believe that in time and with effort we can be in a majority.

If we are wasting our time as active socialists, the present writer’s view is that it’s better to waste time and be right than to devote energy to a growing movement which is based upon a wrong analysis of how society works and how it needs to be changed. There is some satisfaction in knowing that your political position is invincible. (And if it’s not, let our critics show us where we are wrong—enough have tried and failed.) But even so, the satisfaction of being correct is not enough.

The problem is far greater for the people who nod their heads and smile in passive agreement with socialism and then conclude that the gamble will be a waste of their time. You see, the choice is not between socialism as it could be and life under capitalism as it is. One of the special features of capitalism is its tendency to take people who are just about surviving, perhaps even in a bit of comfort, and kicking them into the ditch of dire poverty. The problem for the workers who bet on capitalism is that it could be them—not winning the lottery, but losing everything.

Think about the risks of supporting this system. What would happen if tomorrow morning you lost your job? And how many couples need both partners in employment for them to survive? What about if you or a close family member falls ill and the only way of helping them properly is to pay for private medical attention? What about if your child becomes a victim of the next Chernobyl or the next Bhopal? What if the big powers decide to fight over the spoils once again and powerful fingers start getting itchy near to nuclear buttons? What control will you have over any of those situations? It will be too late then to decide that it would have been better to have done something earlier to bring about a new system of society in which none of these problems could occur.

Just as the lottery gambler is a pathetic figure standing in a sea of filth with an empty perfume spray, so the worker who agrees with socialism but will do nothing about it is a fool to him or herself. The continuation of the profit system relies upon the inertia resulting from such folly. The future of society, as we move from a system which fails the majority to one which is sane, co-operative and practical, depends upon overcoming that folly and ignorance of the majority. And overcoming it is not up to someone else. We need more active socialists now—and it could be you.

Steve Coleman