The new year: have your say in Saturday’s Socialist speak out
A new year brings thoughts of a better world and renewed optimism to the fore among many many people. In the developed West this hope is most often individualised – I will lose weight, spend more time with the kids, give up smoking, change career, get a (better paid) job…
All of these are explicable in materialist terms – the profound alienation that is capitalist society, the dominance of the neoliberal agenda from the 80s, the lengthening of the working day, the other attacks on wages and conditions and the social wage of public health, education and transport, the precariousness of work exposed by the GFC , the ease and profitability of fast food etc etc.
While revolutionary socialists work at understanding why things are as they are, they also want to change the world for the better. As Marx put it: ’The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.’
We revolutionary socialists are optimists. We believe that the working class can and will change the world. As Engels, in a foreword to the Communist Manifesto said: The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself…’
Working class consciousness influences whether workers will change the world through revolution, through the transfer of power from the tiny minority of the bourgeoisie to the vast majority, the working class. The task is immense both because ‘the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class’ and because the sale of labour power creates and reinforces the aspirations for reform within capitalist parameters.
The question – of movement from a class in itself to a class for itself – occupies the minds of revolutionary socialists. It was one of Lenin’s great contributions to socialist thought and its organisation that he bridged the gap between thought and action with a revolutionary party. Not a party separate from the working class but the working class organised.
Now, apart from the thousand or so revolutionary socialists in Australia and the slightly (in comparative terms) larger number around the world, this discussion might seem like madness. The best description of the working class in the developed countries could be inactivity, or defensiveness, or perhaps confusion. Nowhere in the advanced capitalist countries can it be said the class is in the process of becoming a class for itself, entering or about to enter the stage of history.
Certainly the idea of a vanguard of radical workers cohered around the emancipatory ideas of revolutionary socialism, of democracy and production for need, seems for most workers and others completely divorced from reality. This is true even in countries like France, the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Spain where workers and students have been fighting back against the attacks of capital.
In Australia, the ongoing boom has shielded the bourgeoisie and their two parties from the need to go totally on the offensive against the working class. Couple this with 30 years of class collaboration that have produced low levels of unemployment and real wage increases, and the ideas of revolutionary socialism and organisation building seem to most even more bizarre.
It makes for a seemingly bleak environment for revolutionary socialists. Yet we remain optimistic.
First, crisis is endemic to capitalism.
That doesn’t mean resistance automatically follows from the bourgeoisie’s attacks on the working class. The situation is more complex and depends on range of factors. But it does mean as the lies and inadequacies of the ideology and practice of capitalism are exposed there may be openings for socialists in the short to long term. The Stalinised Communist Party for example grew rapidly in Australia during the Depression.
Second, the history of capitalism is the history of resistance. Workers have time and again, in country after country, risen up against the exploiting class. They will do so again.
Third, we revolutionary socialists are sustained by our hope for the future. Let me reproduce a few quotes from one of the great revolutionaries of the last century, Leon Trotsky, to make the point.
Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.
As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!
As the new year begins, let us join together, united by our hope for a new world, one free of war, poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. Let us continue our daily, systematic, unglamourous work towards, as Trotsky wrote, a society cleansed of all evil, oppression and violence.
In Australia, Socialist Alternative has branches and regular meetings in cities across Australia. If you want to change the world why not come along?
To have your say on this or anything else, hit the comments button.