Editorial: The Real Single Issue
A quick trawl through back copies of any daily newspaper for the last five years: Lib, Lab or Con, reveals one thing very clearly, that for many of us who work for a living the world creates much hardship and little in the way of freedom, security and peace of mind. Trawl back ten years, and the priorities shift a little, but the pressures remain the same. Trawl back 100 years and a long-term pattern becomes dismally familiar. Life in a capitalist society is always more or less of a struggle for the working class. In any month and year chosen at random, you’ll find the press reporting on some threat to our freedom, our dignity, our livelihoods and even our lives. We adapt, of course, enjoy our social life, and when circumstances permit immerse ourselves in the dubious benefits of capitalism’s consumer society. Yet we can only divert ourselves for so long, before we are forced to look beneath the surface to a perpetual story: endure, resist, fight back.
Capitalism has an endless facility for making trouble for the working class. Its exploitative nature ensures that it remains a constant threat. Its instability creates crises as a lemon tree creates lemons. And as one threat or crisis passes (or has merely worn us down and ceases to be news), another is ready to take its place. As working people, though, we have never lacked the will to resist or to fight back. Over the last century and beyond workers have taken up one cause after another and fought until they have either wrung from government and business interests some brief and compromised concession or given up in despair. The range of campaigns is impressive: workplace rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities, welfare and healthcare reform, industrial pollution, warmongering, the arms trade, tuition fees, and an endless parade of other causes. Each has identified the source of their particular problem and its supposed solution in the actions of individuals, business practices or government – to little effect. Single-issue groups have campaigned with admirable energy and conviction against everything that capitalism has thrown at them, and yet the system trundles on, with little indication that its never-ending, problem-creating machinery will be stilled in this way.
The near-sighted aims of campaign groups are not unique but reflect the limiting vision of our society as a whole. Run your eye over any mainstream newspaper published in the last five, ten or a hundred years and one thing is certain: you will find no discussion, not even a whisper, of the nature of capitalism itself, nor any acknowledgement of the profound influence that its property relationships have on the endless roller coaster of crises and threats. To accept the prevailing vision is to accept a future that promises only a continuing cycle of threat and resistance to threat. The alternative is to find an enduring solution to working-class problems by looking beyond their thousand immediate causes to the source itself – and then to act on the knowledge that brings.