Why socialism is still relevant
Little, it seems, has changed in the one hundred years of our party’s existence. At the time of its foundation our members were duelling in the letters pages of the left-press, against the advocates of indirectness, palliation and reform of capitalism; insisting instead that “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. This simple point, it seems, has yet to be grasped by the Left.
Where we have a controversial war in Iraq to contend with, they had a controversial war in South Africa. Where they had the main Marxian sect – from which they actually split off – the Social Democratic Federation, doing dirty deals with Tories to help defeat Liberals, we have the Socialist Workers Party doing dirty deals with religious confusionists to try and take votes off Labour. Where the jingo press of 1904 wailed and trembled about floods of immigrants from eastern Europe, today’s wails and trembles about floods of immigrants from Eastern Europe.
This is not because there is nothing new under the sun, but because the essence of our social system has not changed. Despite the spread of telecommunications, electricity, internal combustion engines, synthetic fibres and sundry consumer goods, the basic logic of our social system remains the same.
We remain trapped in a world organised into units of property called nation-states; a system that prompts periodic wars over who has – or can deny – ownership of natural resources and trade routes. Within those nation-states, the owners command the forced labour of the populations, who are compelled into wage slavery under threat of poverty. They hand their ability to work over to these national proprietors to be used to produce a profit. Having thus sold their abilities, they then have to use the wages they receive to obtain the goods they need to go on living and selling their skills.
In order to keep hold of their property against an overwhelming majority and their rival owners, the master class sows all the while division and fear of strangers among their workers, via their ownership of the means of mass communication, that jingo press.
No profit, no production
Then, as now, the three hard and fast laws of capitalism obtained: can’t pay, can’t have – irrespective of how dire is your need. No profit, no production – no matter how useful the goods are. No profit, no employment – no matter how skilled or devoted you are. Demonstrate a profit or you’re out. Then, as now, the first principle of society is that the tiny handful of parasites who own it must be satisfied above all else; making us dance like marionettes on strings of property law, financial chicanery and effective demand. The predominant activity in the modern world is producing goods for sale in order to realise a profit. In short, the cause of our Party’s formation, capitalism, continues.
Not just continues, but grows. In Britain today, there are some 28 million people engaged in wage slavery, working an average of over 40 hours a week – a record. It’s no wonder then, when we spend all that time working for our masters, that we have such little time to look after ourselves. This, not ‘Tory cuts’ or ‘Labour incompetence’ is the source of the intractable problems of useful services. It is that our society is not run for us but for its owners.
It is portrayed as a triumph of the Labour government that more people than ever before are exploited in wage slavery. The entirety of the Labourites’ ideas extends to trying to make capitalism work. If the state, they say, can remove impediments to the market, we can make the market work for all. This has been the mantra of Labour from its very inception: if the right people can get into powerful positions, the interests of the workers will be looked after, and all will be well. New Labour is not some aberration, a betrayal of the old glorious cause; Labour is about trying to make capitalism work under new management.
Our Party was formed to oppose the Labour Party
We do not want more jobs, more employment, more prostitution of our lives’ energies to the gain of the profit takers. We do not want a society where we are told we live in a democracy, and yet all our security and future happiness depends on the tides of money-owners’ whims. Where we are told we live in a democracy, yet spend the best years of our lives obeying dictator bosses lest we be sacked. Where we are told we live in a democracy, yet all we can do is elect politicians who appoint ministers who go cap in hand to the people who own our society, and ask them very nicely if we can have a little consideration, some of the wealth we have produced, back.
We have had six Labour governments, six attempts at running capitalism in the interests of the wage-slaves. Each and every one of those governments has run aground, when the time came for it to implement policies in the interest of the profit takers against the interests of the wealth creators. The present attempt goes on with its plans to increase services, to end child poverty within the next two decades, and yet all it has achieved is a decline in the growth of the divide between poverty and riches.
Even, let us imagine, if they meet their child poverty targets, this still means decades more of the horrors of poverty for millions of children. This, apparently, must be so because Holy Property must not be infringed, and the right of one person to untold wealth comes before the very right to live of scores of others. All they can do is tinker with the wages system, wrap up their help in the contract of the sale of labour-power.
The means to end poverty, though, are with us now. They have been with us for a hundred years or more. That has, though, gone unnoticed, and the working class have gone on supporting Labour, and thus supporting capitalism. Who, perhaps, could blame them, when the only alternative appeared to be offered by the Leninist left, who offered the same as Labour, except with more soldiers and secret police?
We need to be clear here – the working class has continued to support capitalism, else Labour would not have proposed its capitalist policies to win their votes. They accepted the existence of the labour market, of the three core principles of capitalism. The buying and selling of all in life has taken on the appearance of a fact of nature, rather than as the man-made artefact it is. So the possibilities of producing for needs, of using our energy directly to end poverty did not come to mind, and only schemes that abided by the law of ‘can’t pay can’t have’ have ever been considered.
The Socialist Party, though, has always sought to debunk this mythology of capitalism. To show how our present system was made by humans, and so can be unmade by them. To show how these apparently natural laws of capitalism are in fact the vested interest of a tiny section of our society. To show that poverty is not a question of things and how they are distributed, but is fundamentally linked to the productive logic and priorities of a profit-based system of production.
The continued existence of the Socialist Party, then, holds out the hope of the working class coming to understand those possibilities for abolishing poverty and acting in accordance with them. The Socialist Party continues to put its unique case: democratic revolution to establish the co-operative commonwealth.
Our principles are developed from, and build upon the analysis of capitalism by Marx and Engels. Where they saw, though, the newly formed working class as being outside and against their society, we see the working class now running society from top to bottom. A self-disciplined working class that turns up to work and voluntarily implements the interests of the property owners. The waged and salaried class reproduces capitalism through its own labour, and by the same means it can transform it into socialism. The revolution will be made by workers asking themselves: how does my workplace help society, and how do we make it do it better?
For this reason, we reject the leftist course of a vanguard seizing power down the barrel of a gun. Such a course is doomed to failure. Socialism cannot come about unless and until the working class consciously wants to change the system of society. You cannot create the free association of producers by the crack of a commissar’s whip. Without the conscious application of the workers’ organisational knowledge and skills, the building of socialism is as likely as the chances of the famous monkeys typing out Shakespeare.
Hence we reject war and violence as a means of making revolution. Where other parties are able to stand up and promote murder as a means of achieving their ends, we understand that it can only ever weaken our class, a class dependent upon an integrated system of production for its well-being. Mayhem and destruction are the political tools of bygone ruling classes. The feudal rulers for whom war was their reason for being. The capitalist class, willing to pursue lethal force as a competitive edge. The strength of the working class, though, is our creative power, our task to build a new world, not smash an old one. We are the last defenders of civilisation when all other parties turn to barbarism as a quick fix.
We have seen that once millions of workers take to the streets and begin to demand change, no force can stop them. All parties vie for the workers’ votes, with promises of jobs and security. When the workers move, society moves with us. We are the politically determining class. Hence the mutation of the Tories from the party of old Etonians to that of organised business run by grammar school social climbers, with a membership and internal democracy. Even the bastions of natural right give way before the world-view of the working class.
Revolution, though, isn’t just about street power. Where political democracy exists, it offers us the chance to come together and transform the machinery of state from being an instrument of rationing into an administration for co-ordinating our free labour.
We have everything we need to make the revolution in the way we live, now.
All is in readiness for the belling of the capitalist cat, all that has to happen is for us to decide to do it. For this reason, the Socialist Party continues to put forth a clear conception of socialism: a properly democratic and classless society, where the free development of each shall be the condition for the free development of all, and where all can share in the common treasury without buying and selling,according to their needs. Where our free labour is the source and guarantee of our mutual freedom.
Where others have abused the name of socialism to lead the workers to the gulag, the prison camp or the police state, we have stood firm, and refused to compromise our understanding of socialism. Though at times it feels like we may be talking to thin air, we continue to put the socialist case. We do not chase the chimeras of China, Cuba, Venezuela or wherever some form of revolt within capitalism appears. We stand fast by our case for socialism and nothing but.
Just as when we were founded the left was creating the Labour Party, so now they are trying to rebuild it according to their dreams of what it should have been. Now, as then, they are mistaken. Now, as then, the case for socialism needs to be heard, lest the working class pursue another sterile century of Labourism and capitalism.
Though we have waited a hundred years, we still believe in our principle that we call upon the workers to join with us “so that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system that deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom” – not just because we can, but because we must.
(Text of a talk given at the centenary meeting of the Socialist Party on 12 June)