Letter to the Editors from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Here’s a polemical question for the readers of Socialist Standard: 'Do we now have more power as consumers, texters, and members of the Twitteratti, than we have as mere voters?’
We know that our so-called leaders and their camp followers in the political chatteratti are increasingly out of touch and that Napoleon’s dictum ‘the people are just three hot meals away from revolution’ has never been more apt. You only need to substitute the words pay-day loan, mortgage re-payment, zero-hours contract, health emergency, or pension crisis. And there you have it –life in contemporary Britain for millions of people.
We even have a new social type –the superfluous graduate, someone with no future who works in a dystopian culture where you practically need a degree to be an employee in a shoe shop. There is now a tidal wave of tertiary educated youth enslaved by student debt, stuck in a never-ending series of McJobs –with low wages, poor conditions, short-term, temporary contracts, no pensions, no benefits, no security, and next to no job satisfaction. This group knows full well that it’s only the sons and daughters of the privileged 1 percent who can take on those unpaid internships which lead to secure, well-paid, fulfilling careers. Unpaid internships are also a great deal for the bosses. Unlike the old-time slave owners they don’t even need to house, feed, or clothe their workers!
The 99 percent also understand that the concept of social mobility is dead and that many of them will be the first generation in their family’s history to be less prosperous, less contented, less healthy, and die younger than their parents.
When will the electorate collectively realize that they have no more choice in our political leaders than in our selection of baked bean brands? We can only buy what’s placed on the supermarket shelf. Or, in the case of our dysfunctional voting system, the candidates who are shortlisted for the rest of us by the corporations, the media, and the 1 percenters.
The old joke that if democracy really changed anything they wouldn’t allow it, has never held more meaning – we pretend to vote and they pretend to govern. Have political parties been reduced to useful tools which the political establishment then use to shape the proletariat? If the Right is the hammer, then has the Left just become an anvil?
If so, is the game up for democracy and what will the coming revolution look like for the remaining 99 percent in the age of the internet? Won’t political parties become increasingly irrelevant and eventually redundant if our only real power comes via our functions as consumers, texters, and members of the online Twitteratti? Please note – I’m not saying this is a good thing – but just a reality of the human condition in the age of new technology.
If so, then it’s obvious, to have real power we must simply stop feeding the beast. The only fear for the corporate plutocracy is the disruption that would ensue if we simply stopped consuming en mass and paralyzed the economic system. Their worst nightmare is a text message that goes viral and calls for a boycott of a particular company or product. Imagine if millions of people stopped banking at RBS, ceased filling their petrol tanks at Shell, or refused to buy Coca-Cola – if only for a few weeks.
Think this could never happen? Wrong, it’s already happening! Using the website Change.org a customer of Verizon Wireless organized an online petition garnering over 165,000 signatures which within hours forced the company to back down on its plans to introduce a $2 ‘convenience’charge for the rip-off ‘privilege’of paying bills by phone or online. A similar ploy received over 300,000 supporters and defeated Bank of America’s avaricious scam for a $5 usage fee for credit cards.
This is just the beginning –consumers have barely begun to flex their internet muscles. If there is a political manifesto for today it must read: ‘We the people simply demand a sharing of the wealth, a sustainable economy which preserves the environment, the dissolution of central power, a guarantee of personal freedoms, and an end to corrupt corporate power elites’.
TED NEWCOMEN (by email from USA)
The saying 'if democracy really changed anything they wouldn't allow it' is indeed old, but that doesn't make it true. It does, however, reflect the experienced fact that 'changing governments changes nothing' but this is not the fault of political democracy. It is because governments govern in the context of capitalism and capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the majority as it is based on minority ownership and production for their profit. To blame political democracy when capitalism is the real culprit is to make the mistake many voters in Germany did in the 1930s when they voted the Nazis into power.
The saying is also wrong in suggesting that political democracy is something that the ruling class can choose to allow or not. Universal suffrage is something that the majority had to struggle for against the ruling class and which they had to impose on them and so which our rulers can't just turn off or on at will. They have since learned to adapt to it and how to manipulate it and they now find it a useful way to chose governments to run things on their behalf and also to bring an air of legitimacy to their rule. All the same, it remains a gain for the majority class of wage and salary workers and a weapon they can use to dislodge the ruling class.
We have nothing against twitter and other social media. No doubt they will play their part in spreading the idea of a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources as the only practicable alternative to capitalism. But, while they may be able to organise a campaign to get some capitalist corporation to reverse some maybe ill-judged decision, they will not be able to get them to stop seeking profits, even less to get the owning class – those you call the '1 percenters' – to give up their ownership rights. That will have to be imposed on them and the best way to do this is through political action – by an informed majority winning control of political power and using this to declare all property rights and all corporations null and void. In fact, this is the only way that a framework can be created within which the problems you list facing members of the excluded majority can be constructively tackled and lastingly ended.
You ask us to consider what would happen if millions stopped banking with one particular bank or refused to buy one particular brand of fizzy drink. We ask you to consider what would happen if millions stopped voting for pro-capitalist politicians and used the power the vote gives them to elect instead delegates mandated to use political power to end capitalism and usher in socialism –Editors.