Friday, August 19, 2016

The decade ahead — socialism or chaos (1980)

From the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine a history book written one hundred years from now: “The 1970s was the last decade in which the majority of the world’s population acquiesced to what was known as the capitalist system. In the early eighties the world socialist movement began to grow, inspired by the insoluble contradictions of the profit system. By 1986 socialists were in a majority in most of the advanced capitalist countries. In no time at all they developed into a majority of the world’s population, and society was ready for the great revolution which marked the beginning of social civilisation.” We are free to dream of success in the coming decade, but reality presents us with the prospect of further frustration for our cause. Capitalism has a considerable capacity to reform itself and so to deceive workers that symptoms and not cause are the source of social problems. The means of communication are owned and controlled by our class enemy; to break their monopoly over the minds of the working class is a formidable task.

If this is not to be the decade in which social freedom is demanded by humanity, then it is inevitable that the majority of the earth’s population will continue to consent to capitalism. It will mean that, as in the 1970s, the years before us will be years of misery, degradation and exploitation for the working class. This is inevitable in a class-divided society in which one class possesses but does not produce and another class produces and does not possess. Without claiming the power of clairvoyancy, let us attempt to look forward into the 1980s and predict how capitalism may develop.

In the 1970s there was much talk of the unhealthy ecological consequences of industrial waste and pollution of the environment. The air in the big cities is filthy, houses are overcrowded and designed to be dull and cheap, and our lives are endangered by the unsafe development of nuclear energy. Reform groups like Friends of the Earth and the Ecology Party have made much noise about the need to make society clean, healthy and pleasant to live in. Some efforts, both technological and legislative, will no doubt be made to deal with the effects of pollution and waste. However, it can be said with certainty that any environmental improvements will come second to the accumulation of profits by the capitalist class. It is possible that by 1990 there will be a reduction in the pollution of the atmosphere, but this will be because ‘clean air’ is more efficient for capitalism, not because it is more pleasant for workers. With the present dangers involved in the production of nuclear power, the 1980s could witness minor — or even major — nuclear disasters. But why should capitalists invest money in alternative energy research, such as solar energy, when it is cheaper to carry on with nuclear power and risk human lives? Within the next ten years, urban poverty and deprivation will not vanish. Overcrowding, homelessness, alienated lifestyles, social insecurity and powerlessness over our local environment will still face workers everywhere.

The insane slaughter of people by people, called war (it is in fact legalised murder), will occur again and again in the next decade. It is not only nuclear war that socialists oppose, as if ‘conventional’ wars like 1939-45 and Vietnam are somehow acceptable. Every drop of working class blood which is shed in defence of the capitalists’ raw materials and markets is a profound condemnation of the profit system. Will Russia and China intensify their diplomatic skirmishes? Will America and Russia fight it out over the oil in the Middle East? How many of us will die in the process? Cambodia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Iran, the Spanish Sahara . . .  these today, where tomorrow? In Ireland we can be sure that the English capitalists who have investments to protect will not give up without a bloody fight. We can expect not only the ‘legalised’, ‘respectable’ violence of the capitalist states but the senseless terrorism of would-be powers like the IRA and the PLO. The 1980s could be the decade in which all of us, socialists and defenders of capitalism, workers and capitalists, are destroyed by the ultimate madness of the nuclear bomb. Only a society without the need of war can prevent the possibility of mass destruction, the alternative to it is to live in fear in the years ahead.

One-third of the world’s population is currently malnourished. Despite the existence of charities, which are always one step behind the growth of poverty, one can be sure that this problem will not be eradicated in the decade ahead. Think about what this means: there is a potential for the production of an abundance of food, enough to feed us all three times over on Western standards, but a third of humanity will starve because it is more profitable to destroy food than to give it to the hungry. Think of the hideous pictures of children dying of malnutrition and it will be impossible not to conclude that to allow capitalism to continue is to be responsible for such terrible suffering.

Poverty is not confined to distant lands which can only be observed on TV screens. In Britain workers are still faced with the problem of making ends meet. Of course the standard of comfort has improved, but compared with the life which is possible, can we honestly say that workers are better off? The social services which Labour politicians are constantly telling workers to be thankful for are presently being cut because the government cannot afford to pay for them. ‘Free’ health treatment, cheap school dinners and leisure centres are some of the social facilities which have been thrown as crumbs to the working class and are now being taken away. By 1990, how much of the so-called Welfare State will have been dismantled? When capitalism faces a crisis, workers’ conditions suffer. Capitalism itself will not collapse, for booms always follow slumps, but even if the 1980s is a decade of almost permanent boom (which is unlikely) this will not enable the politicians to solve a single problem mentioned in this article. If you or your relatives are sixty years old, employed and reasonably satisfied with your life at the moment, you might be seventy, living on a pittance of a pension and hardly able to survive in ten years time. Now is the time to do something about it.

Inflation has been one of the significant problems of the 1970s. As the Socialist Standard has consistently demonstrated, inflation is a government-produced problem, not an inevitable feature of capitalism. The present Tory government has so far been totally incapable of getting rid of inflation, and it is probable that governments will continue to inflate the currency as a means of temporarily side-tracking some of their economic problems. It is possible that the 1980s will see the final abandonment of the bogus theories of J.M. Keynes, but what will the economists put in their place? They will be forced to find another set of economic nonsense to enable them to produce incorrect predictions, theories which do not correspond with economic reality, and ‘solutions’ which invariably fail. Is it too optimistic to hope that more economists will turn to the writings of Marx and discover that the best remedy for economic problems is to abolish capitalism?

The 1980s will be the decade of the so-called New Technology. An article in the November 1979 Socialist Standard demonstrated the falsity of certain hysterical forecasts about the effects of the silicon chip. Ultimately, machinery designed to increase productivity will be introduced despite attempts by the unions to prevent it. What an absurd system of society this is, in which people suffer hardships because more can be produced more quickly. By 1990 there will still be unemployment (in Britain it it predicted to reach the two million mark in the first half of the decade) and there will still be politicians promising to bring about ‘full employment’. But in a society in which men and women are employed only when their labour results in profit for an employer there can be no avoiding fluctuating levels of unemployment. Some Tory MPs have suggested that unemployed workers should be ‘forced’ to accept any job offered rather than be given social security payments. So consider that if today you are employed in an average-wage, moderately satisfying job, by 1990 the system may make you unemployed and forced either to accept a marked fall in living standards or to accept an unpleasant occupation. The alternative to this is to consider not the eradication of unemployment but the abolition of employment as such.

Thirty-two years ago George Orwell wrote his classic political novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Many of the aspects of that frightening totalitarian state are present today: the power blocs, the invasion of privacy, the doublespeak, the creeping increase in police powers. In the state capitalist countries the similarity is even more striking — there, dissidents are tortured and the state machine is all embracing. The concentration of real power into fewer and fewer hands shows every sign of increasing up to and beyond 1984. The relatively innocent rise of punk rock and its lyrics of despair was the 1970s’ indication of the alienation and cynicism of youth; it could be a sign of more sinister movements to come. The two main political parties continue to defend the same system while pretending to be different. Whether the two-party one-voice system carries on throughout the 1980s or whether new pro-capitalist parties come into being, we can confidently predict that there will only be political dead ends so long as the majority class places faith in leaders.

The 1980s, like all other decades, will have no shortage of radicals, pseudo-socialists and working class heroes to suggest half-baked programmes based upon reformist demands and trendy ideas. The left, posing as political progressives, will continue to advocate their incoherent and anti-socialist policies, squandering the energies of those workers who join them in search of an alternative to the status quo.

It is for ordinary men and women like ourselves to determine the course of the 1980s. The choice is between pollution, housing problems, starvation, social service cuts, poverty, inflation, unemployment and war —all socially created problems - and the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution.

A happy (and socialist) New Year.
Steve Coleman

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