From the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
What is the way forward: trying to deal with separate problems one by one or dealing with their common cause?
The World Socialist Movement, of which the Socialist Party of Great Britain is a part, is a global movement committed to a fundamental change in the way we, the vast majority, live. Simply put the objective is common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources and the abolition of the wages system. This requires, first and foremost, a much deeper and wider understanding by the worldwide community of the underlying reasons necessitating such a radical change; second, a recognition of the common threads linking the numerous single issues, thus enabling and strengthening a holistic approach; and third, a thorough understanding of an outcome which goes way beyond anything on offer from mainstream politicians anywhere in the world.
It is widely accepted that the so-called 'western democracies' fall short of popular participation and that there are few spaces in which most ordinary folk can become involved and make any significant difference, even as cries on the street build to a crescendo of demands unlikely to be met. Globally, protest has never been more apparent than it has been in recent years, mainly because of the rise of alternative, independent media and the internet, and it has manifested itself on every continent. For bread-and-butter reasons, for democratic reasons, for environmental reasons, for humanitarian reasons, for social reasons: and it is specifically in support of women, minorities, animal welfare, freedom of speech, alternative energy, and against war, apartheid, discrimination, corporations, austerity and neo-colonialism.
Protest is a response or reaction to being repeatedly and deliberately ignored, bypassed and abused on many levels but protestors have disparate claims and dissatisfactions which tend to keep or set groups apart from each other. One person's beef is another's side issue. Different emphases are dependent on personal situations and viewpoints. 'There's strength in numbers' goes the old adage – but drawing disparate protest groups together under the same umbrella means first of all convincing those involved of how their particular 'issues' have the same underlying causes as those of the others and how they can all be resolved by coming together under this all-encompassing umbrella. However far removed the cut-and-thrust of one protest seems from another, traced back to their roots the fundamental they have in common is that they are fighting a system which determines outcomes by reference to a single measurement, that of the profit motive. It is this that results in the denial of sufficient representation, a lack of democracy in decision-making processes, and the failure of having dissenting voices heard.
Why can't we just change things bit by bit, with different groups working in the areas that particularly affect them? The blunt answer is that this is precisely what populations have been struggling to do for centuries. Winning a minor concession here and there only to have it clawed back before too long or in a roundabout way. Slavery was supposedly abolished over a century ago but what is today's people trafficking for sex or forced labour if not slavery? The working class globally has continuously had to fight for improved pay and conditions; it is enslaved to a system that exploits it non-stop. Whatever gains have been made they have been vulnerable to being eroded. Endless strikes, walkouts, work-to-rule, picketing and protests have gained little long-term for the mass of workers worldwide. Each group has to face battle alone as sectors are threatened by or forced into wage freezes, layoffs or permanent unemployment.
The crux of the matter is the system of exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few; the system of profit which enslaves the working class. The ongoing battles are always civil organisations and pressure groups from the working class against corporations, big money and the governments which uphold the system that supports the capitalists. If it were possible to change the system piecemeal we would surely have seen the results by now – and we do see those results; we are now experiencing living under the changes we have gradually forged over generations – and they are an abject failure by most measurements. It is a proven wrong approach.
What is the connection between the anti-war movement and campaigns to halt global warming, between those protesting cuts in healthcare services and others protesting increases in further education provision, or between the Occupy movement and those calling for 'green jobs' or a 'fair wage'?
The system does not allow space for meaningful involvement in major decision-making on a social level. Governments believe that cursory elections every few years authorise them to make all decisions on behalf of citizens. Sometimes we hear of 'consultations' when a particular location may be negatively impacted by a proposed scheme but, in reality, this usually means a small body or panel of chosen people, themselves not truly representative of the opposition movement, will be invited to give their perspective before a final (pre-planned) decision is given.
Those who are instrumental in affecting decisions are representatives of capital – corporations, big companies, who wield big money, who buy and sell, export and import, and who can withhold contracts and favours, can choose to move production and other facilities abroad and who consequently exert non-democratic, economic pressure on politicians. The politicians are or become tools of the system and work in opposition to most of their electorate most of the time.
What the separate issues have in common is that they are up against the capitalist system's imperative, both ideological and legal, to seek maximum profit. Any concerted effort by any protest group is seen as antagonism to that imperative and presents a problem for the governance of capitalism. Proactive citizens are often problem citizens.
Need for socialism
The capitalist system manipulates discrete sections of populations into thinking issues can be tackled separately, that maybe they can have some minor influence here or there. It's convenient to allow small triumphs and gains to reinforce the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this particular protest might bear fruit. However, regarding the huge concerns plaguing world society such concerns are out of the hands of citizens whether or not a part of the electorate. Inequality and the enormous discrepancies between the haves and have-nots; global warming, poverty, hunger and disease; warmongering and the massive accumulation of war material on an unprecedented scale; ongoing neocolonialism and quasi-empire building for control of resources and influence – the vote is of no help in such matters. People have no part to play in decisions of this magnitude. People are excluded and will continue to be excluded – unless and until the people decide they will play a part and overtly use the political process to challenge the capitalist system.
Socialism entails inclusion, active involvement and equality of possibilities for all. Self-determined individual world inhabitants living in communities of their choice, contributing to society as ability and will decide, enjoying free access to the common wealth as need requires, shall together guide the direction of society without the encumbrance of the former hierarchical elite. All topics (including any currently perceived as single issues that continue) will be open for full discussion and participation before any decisions are taken in a transparent and democratic fashion.
Unless and until – the crucial factor in bringing about the revolution to socialism, to a socialist society, is just that. Unless and until the majority sees clearly that the way ahead lies in totally overturning this system that suppresses and oppresses us and comes together to work to achieve that end we can only continue on this treadmill which has repeatedly and endlessly failed us.