Wednesday, January 13, 2016

If I ruled the world . . . (1986)

A Short Story from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Well, what if you did? Just supposing you alone ruled it? You’re a decent, sociable sort of person who woke up one day to discover you were the absolute governor of the Earth. Alright, it's daft. It's no dafter than some of  the ideas people produce in the grim attempt to defend this system, but it's a bit silly all the a same.

Only think about it. Think of the power. Think of what you could achieve. It would probably make your head swim.

Some people have these fantasies. It 's not always wild megalomania. Sometimes it's simply frustration. They look around at all the fragmented and petty pressure-groups that offer sincerity instead of strategy and they feel frustrated. Nukes. Whales. Blood sports. CND. Vivisection. Health. Housing. Ecology. Feminism. Endless just causes. Endlessly lost. Who wouldn't despair sometimes? It's no wonder people fantasise.

And they get to thinking: suppose I was in total charge What I could achieve! My head's swimming. 

Not that any of us are going to be Universal Despot of course. But some are so in love with the idea of having leaders that they do the next worst thing: they vote for one. So let 's assume you are Leader and see where it gets us.

First of all you have to consolidate. With the best will in the world it's no use being Supreme Sovereign if you haven't got supreme power. So the programme of reforms will have to be shelved for the moment.

What you need is support. You need to offer to your would-be supporters something you're not going to offer to anyone else. But what could that be? This isn't the nineteenth century. In 1986 there is the capacity to feed the world four times over. There's plenty of energy and still plenty of raw materials. There are plenty of houses standing empty, and bricks to build plenty more. The fact is, right now there isn't really anything you can offer which doesn't already exist in abundance. With the best will in the world, you have to create meaningful privilege somehow or you won't last the lunch-hour.

The socialist version of this fantasy stops here. You can be World Leader if you like and pin medals on yourself but you can't gather a single supporter because you have nothing they can't get just as easily somewhere else. You will be humoured by sensible socialists as you strut impotently in your Napoleon hat. You'll be the harmless village idiot.

Being a world ruler has far more standing however when there is a scarcity of things people need. Like food. Or houses. Now you've got something to offer your supporters - not the things themselves simply, but a virtual monopoly of the means to produce them. Your first act as benevolent (because we've giving you the benefit of the doubt) dictator has to be to create or maintain a small, privileged class. That means depriving the rest. With the best will in the world, that's the only basis for power.

It can be a very small class at that. All that matters is that they keep the rest down. So they have to have the important monopolies of life, the mines and the land and the factories. not just badges that say "BOSS" and light up in the dark. And they have to keep armies of course, in case the rest don't like this. And they have to force the rest to work producing things so that life goes on. But they have to steal all this produce otherwise the rest won't stay down. In the face of such problems of control, the reform measures have to be deferred a while longer . . .

It's quite easy to achieve all this when you happen to be in sole charge of scarce resources. It would seem like a logical impossibility to impose scarcity on a world of abundance, and yet you must if you believe leaders are necessary and conquering power is the answer. Just how do you or someone else stay on top as World Leader for even a week?

The capitalist version of this fantasy doesn't stop here. It goes on and on. You know what the answers are. Capitalism creates artificial scarcity. Money is the trick. Money is the basis of scarcity, of power and of enslavement. You must have the money system if you are going to keep power and force through your enlightened reforms on whales, foxes and decent houses. But in the process look where you've ended up.

Simply by choosing to impose good ideas by force you have become a vicious tyrant And there's more. You have effectively recreated the system which causes the very problems you wanted to solve. Oh yes. the system causes them. Whales die for profit, don't they? Nukes are made for wars which are caused by competition for profit, aren't they? Women and blacks are conditioned as cheap labour and the robbed and cheated are kept cleverly divided among themselves for the sake of the system. Thanks to you, the despot or the supporter.

That is where good intentions and poor thinking will lead any revolution which tries to impose or coerce or obligate. It is the lesson of the Russian revolution, of Iran, of Cuba, of Zimbabwe. It will be the lesson of Nicaragua even without the Contras and the Philippines even with free elections. It must be a lesson learnt right now by anyone who thinks minority rule is a solution. The Socialist Workers' Party thinks that. The Communist Party thinks that. Militant thinks that. They do not understand socialism any more than the Labour Party.

Socialism can only be voluntary. It is the co-operation of the majority in a climate of abundance. The abundance exists now Only the money system stands in the way. Co-operation exists everywhere and always has. Only we re conned and cajoled into thinking we're incapable of it. There is no need for bottles and barricades. No-one has to kill or maim to get socialism. If they try they'll just make life worse for us all. All that is needed is for people to agree that capitalism is unnecessary and undesirable. The power is in our hands. We are the workers who run society. Without us nothing moves, nothing functions, nothing gets made. If we refuse en masse to support a system of poverty, wars, states, prisons and money-scarcity, it cannot continue to operate. What else does being a worker mean?

The next time you are tempted to fantasise, think instead what we could achieve if we combined together without leaders. But don't be tempted to think that socialism is an idle day-dream. It can be a reality. It can be established immediately. It is the sole alternative to chaos, and the only real way to achieve equality and freedom. And that is a thought to make your head swim.
Paddy Shannon

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