From the January 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Well, this is it! This is what? The brand new century—a row of virginal 0s waiting to be filled in. So what? So . . . so, it's time to take stock. Of what? Of where we are . . . who we are. History. Bollocks!
The first thing to realise is that history does not arrive at midnight, like a rabbit out of a magician's hat. History makes nothing, brings nothing, stands for nothing. History is social motion and the speed and texture of that motion is made by men and women. We make it out of the material environment that exists and in making it transform the material environment and our own existence. We make our own future; it does not arrive as hero or demon, but is the product of our own energy.
Secondly, there is a harsh truth to recognise. The battle to make the future better than the past is about power, not ideals. We all want to be happy, but happiness for Rupert Murdoch is achievable in a different way than for a single mother in Brixton. Murdoch needs to hold on to his power and expand it. The single mother needs to gain power. Murdoch has a class interest based upon the ownership and control of property. The working-class interest is based upon its non-ownership and control of property. Consciousness of these interests and organisation to promote them is the key to changing history. So, the question is not about what the future will bring, but about what we have the intelligence and the political force to take for ourselves.
Thirdly, the future is not a moment and is not Out There, like a Star Trek story. It is a process in which the present second is always a part. The beginning of the future starts with an understanding of where one is. There are no solutions until the problem is recognised. The complexities of our future are inextricably connected to the contradictions of the present. That is why stargazers and prophets are always faintly ridiculous, obsessed as they are by imagined destinies.
We owe them a future
By 2100 it would be rather nice if the world could have seen the last of
- Nation states—homely prison enclosures in which the inmates sing the prison song and coloured rags fly overhead to remind you of which wing you're in.
- Banks—repositories of paper and metal tokens that people need in order to buy existence.
- Sir Cliff Richard—the singing ayatollah of creepy Christendom who has managed against all odds to put a tune to the act of fraud.
- Wages and salaries—the price on our heads, always less than the value of what we produce, which are the stale air provided for the semi-suffocated majority in a world where they produce much and possess little.
- Telephone muzak—designed to drive us slowly mad while we wait to speak to people we probably don't want to speak to about matters we'd rather not be discussing.
- Charities—which redistribute poverty, enabling the abjectly poor to benefit from the guilt of the moderately poor.
- America—the ultimate trash-empire, based on the principle that no-one ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the inhabitants.
- Markets—which are presented as channels of economic access, but are obstacle courses which ration access in accordance with the callous priority of profit accumulation.
- Lenin-worshippers—those insufferable lefties who see their role in this world to lead the witless masses into a state dictatorship where the Lenin-worshipers will become commissars.
- Hymns—see Cliff Richard.
- Government—the means whereby we are coerced into class regimentation by the force of law.
- Socialists—a redundant label once the job is done.
New millennium—new social order?
The biggest failure of the twentieth century was the failure of humanity to grasp the need for a new social order based on need rather than profit. The consequences have been devastating. The thought of sustaining those consequences, embedded as they are in ever-increasing contradictions of anarchic global capitalism, is not only uninspiring, but deeply depressing. Although there is a prevailing political illusion that Capitalism Has Won, there is a remarkable absence of confidence, even among its supporters, in the capacity for humanising the global market.
The most pressing challenge this century will be to remove capitalism and establish a new social order based upon
- Common ownership
- Democratic control
- Production solely for use
- Free access to all goods and services
Such a system has never been tried. It conforms to the highest needs of humanity to create a world where order is based upon equality, friendship and freedom. It is humanity's objective in humanising its social environment.
Capitalism reduces us to conformity and obedience
There will be those who raise objections. They should. The most important next step is that at least there should be debate. Others will raise no objections, but continue to uphold the present system in a state of inert, apathetic and cynical resignation. They are the bulwarks of global capitalism which relies not upon enthusiastic support but hopeless acquiescence. Shaking such hopelessness, and offering what Raymond Williams called "resources of hope", may well be the most important political task of our age.