Thursday, February 25, 2016

Whose side are you on? (1985)

Editorial from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Movement membership is a tiny minority who think in terms of a social upheaval to establish a different order of human relationships. In socialist society the attitudes which people have to each other — how they relate to one another — will be fundamentally different from those which operate today Some things which now have to be taken for granted, because life under capitalism would otherwise be impossible, will be inconceivable in socialism. Nothing, for example, will be produced for sale; there will be no presumption that society is operated in the interests of a parasitic minority. On the other hand the presumptions of socialism, such as free participation in society’s work and unfettered access to the common wealth, is totally at odds with everything which characterises capitalism.

We might put this in another way: socialism will change, among other things, how people think, in much the same way that the development of industrial capitalism changed ideas from those of mediaeval society. Clearly, we of the socialist minority have taken on an enormous task — to encourage and stimulate a world-wide change of attitudes to the extent that a majority of the world's thousands of millions of people consciously opt to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism. How then do socialists — getting their living as wage slaves, struggling for the socialist revolution — think?

Socialism is a matter of class interests. It is the only political objective in the interests of the class who depend on the sale of their labour power for their living. The parties of the World Socialist Movement are the only political organisations worthy of working class support. But can capitalists also join a socialist party? And what happens if a worker in a socialist party becomes miraculously elevated into the capitalist class? Would they then reverse their political opinions, attacking the ideas they once supported and vice versa? Would those lucky workers have to abandon their membership of the party?

The first thing to be said in reply to these questions is that all people should be expected to act in their class interests. It may be that a few individual capitalists, for motives perhaps of altruism or because they cannot stomach a society of universal repression, murder and disease, decide to join the struggle for socialism in the knowledge that they are working to deprive themselves of their privileged standing in society. But as a class the capitalists cannot and do not act in this way. As a class, internationally united whatever their national disputes, they protect their position as owners and rulers. For one thing, they ensure that every effort is made to persuade the useful, productive majority that capitalism's deprivation and exploitation represent the ultimate in rational, beneficent social organisation.

It is rather different with the workers. In their case only a small minority act fully in their class interests, by joining the struggle for socialism. The overwhelming majority are on the other side. Whatever reservations they may have about the system's effects, workers in the mass agree that capitalism is the sanest and the best of all possible societies and they dismiss the idea of a classless, moneyless, leaderless, war-free system as at best a crackpot utopian dream. At elections, in their tens of millions, they affirm this attitude in their overwhelming and consistent support for the parties which stand for the continuation of capitalism.

That is to view the situation across a fairly wide, historical and social spectrum. What happens when we take a narrower view of the day-to-day and immediate events of capitalism? When we do this we can see that workers are often compelled to act in accordance with their class interests, whatever misconceptions they may have about their social standing and whatever their view on the issue of capitalism as against socialism. An obvious example of this is when workers combine to resist an attack by the employers on their living standards, or try to enforce an improvement in those standards. In such cases, where the workers are genuinely acting in a cooperative assertion of their united class interests, they have the support of socialists.

In giving this support, socialists apply a rigorous, unbending judgement of working class interests. For one thing, we look beyond those side issues which so often absorb so much attention during a strike. In the case of the coal strike, for example, there were many such side issues, which stimulated some powerful emotional responses. There was the fact that many thousands of working class people suffered extremes of impoverishment in face of the resolve of the employers and the Tory government to crush and starve them into defeat. Then there was the courageous, poignant reaction of the strikers — the communal self-help which did so much to feed and clothe the miners and their families, to keep them warm and to uplift their morale. There is evidence here of the power and efficiency of human co-operation and mutual support. And then there were the sights and sounds of the police, provoking, insulting and beating the miners.

An immediate, emotional response to this was to support the miners because we are of the same class. But not all workers' actions, no matter how courageous and inspiring they may be, are in their own interests. It is, to put it at its most tentative, debatable that the interests of the working class — as a class, internationally — were ever at stake in the coal strike. The miners may argue that some national, short-term interests were involved, which in turn raises the question of whether even those interests are served by a strike which dragged on for so long and which cost the strikers so much. Then there is the fact that those ugly, sneering, brutal policemen are themselves members of the working class, holding a job which is by definition opposed to their class interests. Miners, along with some other traditionally militant sections of the workers, are not untainted by such criticisms. Just after the war there was an organised resistance in the coalfields to the employment of Polish and Italian workers, just as there now is to the import of coal from abroad. And it was, of course, the London dockers who marched in support of Enoch Powell just after his "rivers of blood" exercise in racist demagoguery.

Workers should not, then, take up the attitude “this is my class and I stand with them through thick and thin". The class struggle is not a game. It is a deadly war between two sections of society whose interests are opposed — immediately over the division of wealth under capitalism and ultimately over the ownership and control of the means and instruments to produce that wealth.

Socialism will be a classless society of communal ownership, free access and human co-operation. To bring it to reality needs a conscious, united act by the world working class. Consciousness is not developed or raised through mental confusion; it is only hampered and diverted. Socialists struggle for the next social order through our uncompromising, searching analysis of capitalism. It is a commentary on the present state of political awareness, that this analysis brings us more often to oppose working class actions than to support them because we know which side we are on and where the workers must stand.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

A strange editorial. I'm not sure I agree with it in places.