Socialism and nothing but
Attempts to reform capitalism have a very long history, as long as capitalism itself. The original Communist Manifesto of 1848 listed some progressive reforms, but ceased advocating them by 1872. William Morris gave a lecture in 1884 where he stated: ‘the palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganized partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organization which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side.’ It would be incorrect, however, to deny that certain reforms won by the our class have helped to improve general living and working conditions.
There are examples of this in the fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. However, such ‘successes’ have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families functioning and, while it has taken the edge off the problem, it has rarely managed to remove it completely, as the profusion of charities – nearly 170,000 listed at www.gov.uk – attests.
Mote in our eyes
The whole point, missed by charities like Child Poverty Action, is that the privations afflict the working class – the top 1 percent have no such worries because they do not depend on working for their living. Mervyn Pike in 1966 as the then Conservative Shadow Minister of Social Security stated ‘we all recognise that all large families, except those who are very rich, have greater difficulties than smaller families.’ Poverty persists worldwide. ‘The little girl hated going to the bathroom at school. The pit toilets were so dark, dirty and crumbling. Many children were so afraid of them that they simply relieved themselves in the schoolyard to avoid the ordeal. But as she played with her best friend during recess, the girl, Ziyanda Nkosi, a 6-year-old first grader, really had to go. She stepped warily inside the closet-like latrine. Even with the gentle pressure of her tiny frame, the floor caved in. Ziyanda flailed wildly, clinging to the edges of the hole, frantically trying to keep herself from falling in and drowning in the fetid pool below. “Mommy! Mommy!” she screamed, managing to hold on long enough for an older boy to run in and save her. Hundreds of parents…demanded justice from the provincial government led by David Mabuza, a former math teacher who had become one of the most powerful figures in the African National Congress and was positioning himself to become South Africa’s deputy president’ (‘South Africa Vows to End Corruption. Are Its New Leaders Part of the Problem?’, nytimes.com, 4 August).
The revolutionary alternative
History shows that organisations which claim to want socialism, and which
also promote reforms, ignore socialism and spend their time working for reforms. The Social Democratic Federation had its first meeting in June 1881, yet by December 1884 some 200 members including William Morris resigned saying they had not joined a socialist organisation to advocate reforms. Today, every major party in Europe, the US and elsewhere, whether originally socialist – even the Humpty Dumpty variety – or not, seeks the opportunity to govern capitalism by offering various reforms. They repeatedly fail dismally as far as our class is concerned. If you are convinced, however, that groups or parties promising reforms deserve your support consider:
1. The campaign, whether directed at right-wing or left-wing governments, will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system, i.e., the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain.
2. Any reform can be reversed and eroded later if a government finds it necessary.
3. Reforms rarely, if ever, actually solve the problem they were intended to solve.
In other words, although individual reforms may be worthy of support, the political strategy of reformism – promising to win reforms on the behalf of others is a misery-go-round. The profit motive of capitalism is a major cause of the problems we face in today’s society – ever increasing inequality, poverty, alienation, crime, homelessness, environmental degradation, the list could go on and on. There are countless ways in which the working class (even members of the capitalist class) suffer as a result of the profit system. Unless we organise and choose the revolutionary road, the profit system will continue on its blind, unswerving path.