Fifty years ago the world stood on the brink of a war that was to kill millions — a war of countless wasted resources and unspeakable miseries. In Nazi Germany, where jackbooted lunatics had been driven to the most excessive barbarities by the crisis of the capitalist economy, many workers must have known that something was badly wrong, but they put up with life as it was. "It’s inevitable that things must be this way" they said. In Stalinist Russia, no less of a monstrous dictatorship (and an ally of Hitler at the beginning of the war), vast numbers of workers were being butchered in the purges which have since been recognised as a reign of terror. In Britain there was mass unemployment and poverty for millions. They accepted their lot: “That's the way things are".
In 1987 much has changed superficially but little has changed in real terms. Today we stand on the brink of the next world war which is spoken about by politicians and pundits alike with all the complacency of David Coleman predicting the winner of the next FA Cup. The next war will not be like the last one: it will make Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden and Coventry look like sparklers at a Guy Fawkes party. The next war will explode bombs which can destroy cities and enough of them to destroy every city. "It's inevitable" say many workers: there is no alternative; all that is left is to sit and wait and watch Dynasty. The Nazis have gone, but there is no shortage of ruthless dictators: half the world is governed by them. Stalin may be dead, but Stalinism lives on within the oppressive bureaucracies of the state- capitalist nations. The prisons of the world are still holding plenty of political prisoners. Thousands of children are locked up and tortured in South Africa. Trade unionists are imprisoned in Poland and Zimbabwe. And that is just a little of what we know about; how many atrocities go on in this age of class monopoly of the means of mass communications which we never hear about?
None of this is inevitable. Workers are conditioned to think that it is. but it is not. Capitalism has not always existed. And when we decide in our millions, as a conscious majority, that we have had enough, it will no longer continue.
But what do we put in its place? The term "socialism" has been abused and distorted by countless opportunists who have sought to run capitalism. From Lenin to Jaruzelski, from Ramsay MacDonald to Kinnock. the name of socialism has been dragged through the mud of capitalist politics. Socialism has come to be associated with a way of running capitalism and an unappealing way at that. If the bosses had to think of a method of putting the workers off socialism they could not have done much better than the pseudo-socialist leaders have done.
Yet still socialism stands as the only practical alternative to this system of minority ownership and control and production for sale and profit. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth and everything in it and on it. Instead of producing goods and services for sale and profit and denying people access to what can be produced if they have no money with which to buy it, socialism will produce solely for use. There will be free access to the common store of social wealth. No longer will men and women be employed (exploited, to be more precise) by bosses for wages or salaries: instead people in socialist society will work according to their abilities and take according to their needs. Indeed, we are talking here about a fundamentally different way of running our society and consequently a revolution in the way we live. It is a revolution long overdue, for who but a boss, or a worker who has been conditioned to poverty and fear, can be contented as we are living now?
In 1987 millions are unemployed, thrown on to the scrapheap of capitalism's wasted labour. Millions exist on the indignity of a pension. Millions live in hunger, with literally tens of thousands of human beings dying daily through malnutrition. (UNESCO puts the figure at 40,000 a day). Even the employed worker, bringing home a "fair" wage, is not only being robbed of the fruits of their labour but faces life alienated from real power over social life. And with the bombs piling higher and higher only fools have the courage not to worry about when the button might be pushed.
The capitalists can only continue with this insane system as long as the workers let them. Without us they are nothing. That is why it is so important to them that the workers believe in capitalism — believe in it like children believe that the bad witch will haunt them if they don't eat all their dinner. We are asked to believe that we are naturally fitted for inferiority — that the bosses are our natural betters. Or that human nature destines us to unco-operative social existences. Or that god requires us to be obedient to the status quo. Above all, we must not think that we are capable of determining the course of society for ourselves: both the right and left wings of the capitalist political vulture urge us to accept leaders, as if we are imbeciles who would be lost without them.
So it is time to get excited, the media tells us, for 1987 will be election year — a chance to elect our new rulers to carry on where the old ones leave off. The only proper response to this electoral nonsense is to vote for none of them, but to vote for SOCIALISM which none of them stands for. Even if there is no candidate in your constituency put up by The Socialist Party (and there is a good chance of that because we are only able to put up one this time) you should write SOCIALISM across your ballot paper. The election itself is not a farce, for it at least allows us to register our position in relation to capitalism but the electoral tactics of the parties seeking our votes are nothing other than farcical.
When enough workers — men and women who do not own the world, the vast majority of us — decide consciously that the way we live now is neither inevitable nor desirable, then socialism will be established. But workers will not wake up to the urgency of the socialist alternative by accident. Persuasion is required. More than anything else the role of The Socialist Party is to "make socialists" by discussing and acting on ideas. Our May Day resolution is to pursue that struggle — a struggle which the Right imagine we are destined to lose and the Left regard sneeringly as a waste of time, for the workers must be led to socialism — without compromise. Fifty years ago the socialist message was not heeded. The last fifty years have been the price paid for that political deafness. Now the task is more exciting and urgent than ever.