After months of demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, violence, fiery oratory and government indecision, the opinion of you, the voter, is being solicited in an attempt to solve the Unionist Party’s political crisis.
Doubtless you will be subjected to a spate of even more fiery speeches and emotional appeals by the politicians seeking your vote. To them your vote is important and they will devote a lot of time and thought to ways of getting it from you.
Might we suggest, then, that before giving your vote you, too, should spend a little time and thought on the issues that affect you, as a member of the working class, and the attitudes of the vote-seekers to those issues.
The World Socialist Party of Ireland is not putting forward candidates in this election because we feel that it is more important to devote our meagre resources to putting our case to as many workers as possible throughout the Province rather than confining our activity to one or two constituencies. Unlike our political opponents, therefore, our motives are beyond suspicion: our purpose is not to get your vote but to gain your attention in order to state our case.
No Change Expected
However enthusiastic you are in support of a particular candidate or party you know that their political success will not make any real change in your conditions of life. Yet that is what it is all supposed to be about: the speeches, the promises and the plans are all designed to persuade you that it all means something to you but, despite your enthusiasm, experience has taught you not to expect any real change and your only consolation afterwards is in the thought that it might have been even worse if the ‘other crowd’ had been elected!
It is true that in Northern Ireland the 'other crowd’ have always been kept out by the Unionist Party’s skilful manipulation of religious bigotry. You may be one of those who hold the view that the electoral success of Labour, or Liberal, or Nationalist, or ‘Communist’ politicians would reflect a substantial change, but all these ‘changes’ have been applied to capitalism elsewhere throughout the world and yet your problems remain those of the working class internationally. It is true that these problems assume different forms in the local conditions of their origin but all the problems of your class, including those that you may feel are peculiar to Northern Ireland, are duplicated throughout the world of capitalism.
The Nature of Your Problems
Let us take a look at you conditions of life and your problems as a member of the working class and try and trace the origin of those problems.
Whether you are a factory worker, high-salaried manager, teacher, doctor, dustman or scientist you are dependant on a wage or salary in order to obtain the necessities of life. In a very few instances that wage or salary may be sufficient to cover such needs as are consistent with the standard of life normally associated with your job or profession; in the great majority of cases it is wholly insufficient and in many instances it is pitifully inadequate. Whatever your wage or salary, however, one thing stands clear: you are a member of a social class whose members, in order to live are dependant on the sale of their mental or physical abilities to work and the wage or salary you earn is, generally, only such as will permit you to maintain your self and your family in the circumstances of your accepted ‘station in life’ thus assuring that you must continue to sell your skills or abilities. You are a member of the working class and, as such, we submit, you share a common economic interest with all other members of your class.
Your class problems range from dire poverty and social degradation on the one extreme to frustration and insecurity on the other extreme. It is your class that has to face the prospect of unemployment, has to live in slums and ‘working class dwellings’, has to continue with its nose to the grindstone of industry, has to face continual insecurity, has to rob its children of their childhood in order to push them through the mill of capitalism’s competitive ‘educational’ system of job apprenticeship . . . these are some of the evils of working class life and if you think about your own particular problems for a moment you will have little difficulty in relating them to the fact that you are a member of the working class.
The Other Class
On the other side of the social scale we have the capitalist class, the small minority of people who own not only the means and instruments for producing wealth but the very resources of nature which provide the ‘raw materials’, so to speak, of wealth production. The members of this class do not have to work, they can enjoy a life of wealth and privilege on the surplus value created by the working class.
This class owns, and by virtue of that ownership, controls all the productive resources of society; whether that ownership is through the medium of private or public companies or corporations or through the medium of bond holding in state or municipal enterprises, the capitalist class are the effective owners and controllers of the means whereby the rest of society lives.
Unlike ‘left wing’ reformers and moralisers, it is no part of our case to suggest that the members of the capitalist class are simply greedy or evil people: their greed is a vice of capitalism and is not peculiar to any particular class. We do not condemn capitalists, we condemn capitalism as a social system while recognising that it is an inevitable stage in the history of our social evolution. Nor is our condemnation based simply on the facts of its miseries—its poverty amidst organised waste, its degradation of human life, its wars, crises and all its other social failings: our condemnation is based even more on the fact that it has long since outlived its usefulness as a means of developing society’s productive resources and now only blocks the way of a sane alternative that can provide the material basis of a full and happy life for all mankind.
Parliament and the Law
Capitalism exists today simply and solely because you and your fellow members of the working class, who produce its wealth and endure its miseries, permit it to exist.
It is parliament that makes the law and it is the law that says it is legal for capitalists to own Nature's resources and the tools and instruments of production which the working class have produced. The law further enshrines the right of the owners of wealth production to use their property in their own interests— to produce wealth for sale and profit and not for the satisfaction of human needs.
When there is no profit in employing workers, in building homes, in clothing or feeding the needy the law does not require the owners of society’s means of production to provide these things nor does the law ensure capitalism when its profit needs create the conditions for crime, bad social relationships, violence and war.
In fact the law is made to suit the needs of capitalism and is relevant to the needs of the working class only insofar as such needs are compatible with the requirements of capitalism to disguise its function, keep down social discontent and prevent open rebellion.
It is for the purpose of getting into parliament and tinkering with such law and its social and economic by-products that you are now been showered with speeches, promises and pamphlets by the various candidates and parties. You are being asked to give your assent to the continuation of the very system that denies you even the hope of a full and happy life!
What, then, should you do with your vote in the present election—accepting that all the candidates and parties, irrespective of their political labels and speeches support the continuation of capitalism? Well, let us first tell you about the alternative to capitalism, Socialism, and then see if we can resolve the problem of what you should do with your vote.
As we have shown, it is parliament which makes the law and it is the laws made by parliament that make possible the usurpation of the means of production by the capitalist class and the consequent enslavement of the working class. Obviously, therefore, it follows that if we are to change things the working class must organise for the purpose of electing its own representatives to parliament and making the means of production the property of society to be used solely for the satisfaction of human needs.
Given such a change, all the complex mechanism of the present market economy could be scrapped. Means of exchange, money, would no longer be required, hence wages and social classes would disappear as would the need for banks, stock exchanges, doles, most of the clerks, ticket clippers, insurance and sales agents and all the vast hordes of people whose present function is necessitated only by the existence of capitalism.
All could then enter into the co-operative and efficient activity of producing the requirements of the human family and, freed from the obstacles which capitalism’s buying-and-selling imposes on production, enough could be produced to satisfy the needs of all and all would have free and equal access to the fruits of such production.
Of course it sounds a staggering proposition! Conditioned as you have been to the vast complicated economic arrangements required by capitalism, you are as staggered as were those who once thought they lived on a flat earth when first told they lived on a globe! You can accept that members of the working class can run this society from top to bottom, can even formulate the tremendous mathematical data and technical knowhow to build a computer or send a man into space and yet you are staggered by the simple proposition that mankind can own in common the resources of his world and can use those resources to provide for his needs without markets, money and all the other useless and wasteful obstacles of capitalism.
Capitalism has provided us with ample evidence that it cannot be operated in the interests of society as a whole. All the schemes and plans of its political apologists have been tried and yet the old miseries prevail, sometimes eased a little by the politicians’ schemes and just as often aggravated by them!
Yet Socialism is a feasible proposition NOW! Its introduction is delayed not by the capitalist class but by the working class: it is your ignorance that prevails against it; your reluctance to look beyond the narrow limits of capitalism that keeps that system in operation; your vote that gives it legality.
Now, perhaps, we can look again at the question of what you should do with your vote when there is no representative of Socialism to give it to. If you accept the Socialist position you will realise that in giving it to any candidate or party in this election you are pledging your support for capitalism; but you can register your disapproval of capitalism by going to the polls and writing across your ballot paper the word “Socialism”.
Next Time . . . ?
Whether you make such a protest or simply refrain from voting, what is really important is that you join with us in the World Socialist movement and ensure that next time there is a Socialist organisation sufficiently strong locally to challenge the parties of capitalism at the polls.
# # # #
Every Thursday evening from 8 to 10.30 p.m. the Belfast Branch of the WSP holds informal discussions at the branch room, 13 Queen's Square Belfast (beside Albert Clock). You are cordially invited.
Enquiries and free specimen Socialist literature from General Secretary, WSP, 13 Queen’s Square, Belfast.