Connecting the dots
Remember the “Good Old Days” before Nintendo, when the cutting edge of gaming technology was a page full of dots and numbers in some comic or magazine? Starting at 1 a line was drawn sequentially through all of the numbered dots and gradually a pattern emerged until eventually we were presented with an elephant or some other familiar creature, building or wonder of engineering. Sometimes the compilers of these dot-pictures were pretty clever and by adding background or texture they could keep you guessing for ages before the brain sorted the apparently random outline into a recognisable pattern. Most times it was possible to catch on really quickly and the general response was an immediate loss of interest and a move on to the next page of dots and numbers where the pattern would be repeated, over and over.
Understanding capitalism, our answers to it as Socialists and why it’s so important for us to spread awareness of Socialism is, I find, a bit like joining the dots.
The capitalists want to keep everyone on Join the Dots Book 1; get up – open the book – pick up pencil – start – get up – open the book – pick up pencil – you get the picture. The pattern on each page is obvious, easy to see and unchangeable. Getting a little bored? Another chocolate, episode of Big Brother or shopping trip for stuff you don’t need or really want will keep you docile and pliable. Oh! and don’t forget to keep turning the pages and joining a few dots, there’s the rent or mortgage to pay, remember?
As Socialists we’ve moved on from Book 1. We’ve got beyond the “Well, I know the system’s not perfect, but what else is there? There’s nothing I can do” stage. Some of us might still be joining background or texture dots, and we may not have sussed the complete picture yet, but it’s certainly not that same old, tired elephant and, in fact, it’s looking more and more like an albatross.
We workers in the developed world are still slaves to capital, despite some outward appearances. The actual chains and leg-irons may have disappeared but their virtual equivalents are still there in the form of the need to exchange our labour power for the means of survival and to meet our responsibilities to our families.
Think about it. What a clever dot-picture capital has created; in the beginning the slaves were chained to the galley oars and the masters beat the drum and wielded the whip. But how to enjoy the fruits of their labours when every hour was taken up with thumping the drum and keeping the slaves in line? The answer was simple enough, unchain a couple of slaves from the oars, give them status, a title (overseer or manager), and a whip. They would need a set of virtual leg-irons (do the job right or you’ll end up down there with the slaves again) of course, but otherwise capital has got itself a very useful ally and can now retire to the yacht in Cannes secure in the knowledge that someone else’s labour will pick up the tab for the Pimms, canapés and roulette chips.
The ruse is simple and is presently working well enough; if enough of us are kept reasonably satisfied with our lot and reminded often enough of the dangers of bucking the system (loss of income, loss of status, debt, homelessness), if we allow ourselves to be anaesthetised by capital’s drugs of consumption, trivialisation and obsession with personalities, then the future is indeed bleak for the majority of our world.
Moving beyond Book 1 is not a matter of education or intelligence but is a matter of awareness. Understanding the big spin-off for capital from its strategy of divide and conquer, and doing something to counter the lies and propaganda is what our job is all about. In the developed world many think they stand above the majority of humankind, as a foreman or manager, totally failing to realise that there is a common cause among all workers, whatever we earn.
How often do we hear the opinion, amplified in the capitalist media, that “I’ve had to work for everything I have” or “I don’t pay my taxes to give hand-outs to parasites and illegal immigrants” or “Bloody foreigners, taking all our jobs”? The list is endless. Us against Them, except it’s the wrong “Them”. How can we be so stupid that we eulogise about Bill Gates giving away millions to the poor and desperate of the world, without a single question being raised about why the poor and desperate are in that state in such numbers and about the role played by the likes of Gates and his ilk in their condition?
This illusion that we are not in shackles will take some cracking; people earning a wage or salary can’t see them as the chains of capital. They feel so free that they actually think that they are paying taxes for the good of their country when in actuality wages, taxes, social insurance, etc. are all simply an overhead of capital, an overhead well worth carrying in order to buy off unrest and perpetuate the divisions between the workers of the world.
Our challenge as socialists is to help others move on from Book 1 to Book 2 and beyond; to help people see through the mind-numbing illusions to the reality of what Capitalism is; what it’s doing to them and what it’s doing for the capitalists. We need to be bridges for people, helping them to shake off their conditioning, enabling them to find out more for themselves. In the process they’ll join up more dots – and so will we.