We can end cuts, crisis, and capitalism
Hannah Sell is the deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, the sister party of Socialist Alternative in England & Wales
Socialism is back. For decades the pro-capitalist establishment politicians that dominate parliament have told us that socialism is irrelevant and outmoded.
Now the official leader of the opposition has been elected by a landslide saying he is fighting for a society where: “We each care for all, everyone caring for everybody else – I think it’s called socialism.”
The Blairite politicians that still dominate Labour’s machine, backed by all the forces of the capitalistestablishment, are doing their best to extinguish the spark of socialist ideas that has been lit but, whatever happens in the Labour Party, they will fail.
Many of the young people who have been enthused by Jeremy Corbyn’s election are anti-austerity, and perhaps anti-capitalist but not yet socialist. But their first taste of socialist ideas are – far from being irrelevant and outmoded – new and exciting to them.
As one young attendee at a Corbyn election rally put it in the Guardian: “People say he is an old left winger or an old Marxist but to my generation his ideas seem quite new.”
Her generation has been failed by capitalism. Britain today is a country where a baby is allowed to die living homeless with his parents in a car because they had been evicted from one property and could not afford the extortionate deposit for another. It is a country where more than a million people are forced to use food banks to feed themselves and their families.
It is a country where young people are saddled with a life time of debt if they go to university, have no prospect of secure or affordable housing, and are largely consigned to low paid, insecure work.
It is the growing rebellion at this endless austeritywhich has led to both Jeremy Corbyn’s election and the search for an alternative to capitalism. If you look up ’capitalism’ in the Collins English Dictionary it suggests you compare it with the alternative – ’socialism’.
Socialist ideas have been developed over centuries in the course of humanity’s fight for a better life. Today they remain the only viable alternative in an increasingly unstable and brutal, capitalist world. It is this reality that ensures that socialism is not a spent force but the wave of the future.
Britain is a rich country. During four weeks of Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign alone the richest 1,000 people in Britain – with a combined wealth of £547 billion – became £2.3 billion richer.
That £2.3 billion is enough to pay the grocery bills of all users of foodbanks for at least two years. The problem in Britain is not a lack of wealth, but the concentration of that wealth in a tiny number of hands.
This is also true globally; according to Oxfam the richest 85 people on the planet – a double decker bus full – have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.
It is not much to expect a job with a living wage, a secure and high-quality home, and a dignified retirement with a living income. Yet in 21st century Britain these are becoming unobtainable luxuries for millions.
The obstacle to achieving these modest aspirations is capitalism: a system that puts the production of profit for the few – the millionaire and billionaire capitalist owners of industry and the resources of society – before the social needs of the majority – the multi-billion poor and working class throughout the world.
Capitalism is an economic system which has the exploitation of the working class at its heart. Profit, which provides its driving force is, as Karl Marx – the founder of scientific socialism – explained over 150 years ago, “the unpaid labour of the working class”. From this flows all the inequalities of capitalism.
In 2008 capitalism plunged into its worst crisis since the 1930s, which is still ongoing. The crisis began in the finance and banking sector. Yet the bankers in Britain have received £80 billion in bonuses since 2008.
Meanwhile, in one of the biggest con-tricks in history the lie was systematically spread that the crisis was caused by the public sector and that the only solution was privatisation, cuts and austerity. By coincidence the cuts in public spending so far implemented are around £80 billion.
The economic crisis is being used by the Tories, on behalf of the capitalist class, to pursue a scorched earth policy against all of the historical gains of working class people – the elements of socialism if you like – that remain; the NHS, the right to claim benefits if you are in need, pensions, the existence of council and social housing and so on. This is an attempt to turn back the wheel of history to the 1930s, or even to the Victorian era.
Despite mass opposition – including a public sector general strike in 2011 – they have so far gotten away with the misery of endless austerity. As the Socialist Party has pointed out, however, in doing so they have stored up enormous anger which would, when it found an outlet, become a powerful movement against austerity.
In Scotland this was demonstrated in the independence referendum, in England it has begun to find a voice in Jeremy Corbyn’s election.
The capitalist class, however, are desperate to crush, or if that isn’t possible in the short term, to imprison and cow the anti-austerity movement that has begun. To avoid this requires mobilising a movement which stands firmly for the anti-austerity policies on which Corbyn was elected such as nationalisation of rail and the energy companies, a £10 an hour minimum wage, free education, council house building, and repeal of the anti-union laws.
It is clear that even these very modest and limited demands are an outrage to the capitalist class, who will fight tooth and nail against any policy which transfers even a small amount of wealth from their pockets into the pockets of the working and middle classes.
Hence the hysterical indignation at the supposedly ’inflation causing’ proposal for ’Peoples Quantative Easing’ (QE); whereas QE for the banks was considered a ’sensible’ and ’rational’ policy. If the QE carried out so far had been for the people rather than the banks every family in Britain would have had an extra £24,000; this is what is outrageous to big business!
The opposition of the capitalist class to reforms which are in the interests of the majority is not new; it has been the case with every gain our forebears made, from the right to strike to the NHS. History has repeatedly shown that we will never push society forward by attempting to reach a ’reasonable compromise’ with the 1%, but only by standing firm and mobilising a mass movement in support of our just and reasonable demands.
It is a mistake, for example, for Jeremy Corbyn to have limited his proposal for renationalisation of the railways – supported by 72% of the population – to a very gradual nationalisation which would mean only a third of railway lines were in public hands by 2025.
Instead of waiting for the current franchises to expire we call for immediate renationalisation of the railways, under democratic working-class control. Compensation should be paid to small shareholders but not a penny should go to the fat cats who have already made a fortune from our railway system.
If a Corbyn-led government was to implement this and other socialist policies it would be enormously popular with the majority, but would face determined opposition from big business and the financial markets. The new shadow chancellor John McDonnell has rightly said he stands for the overthrow of capitalism.
When asked by BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg if that is what he wanted he said “it’s already happening, bit by bit”. But it is not possible to gradually reform capitalism out of existence.
As long as they have power, the capitalist class will always be relentless in taking back any gains won by the working and middle class as soon as they get the opportunity – just as they have spent the last decades trying to snatch back everything gained by previous generations.
Only by carrying through the process of taking control out of the hands of the capitalists through to its conclusion would it be possible to avoid this. This would mean nationalisation not just a handful of industries but the commanding heights of the economy, in order to create the basis for a socialist planned economy, under democratic workers’ control and management.
The capitalist media will shriek that this could never work, pointing to what happened in Russia. But this supposed ’failure of socialism’ was nothing of the kind.
For the first time, in an extremely poor country, in 1917 the working class took power and initially began to establish a planned economy under democratic control. They understood, however, that it would not be possible to build a democratic socialist society in one country, particularly not one as poor and economically backward as Russia
Workers in other countries did attempt to follow ’the Russian road’ but tragically did not succeed, leaving Russia isolated and allowing its degeneration into a brutal bureaucratic dictatorship.
The coming to power of a socialist government in Britain or any other economically advanced country in the future would be completely different. Workers and the population are more educated, and have access to modern technology.
They would not allow a greedy, bureaucratic elite to usurp power. Real workers’ democracy would mean the election of all officials, the right of recall and for no official to receive more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
At the same time, if workers in one country were to break with capitalism it would not remain isolated, socialism would spread like wildfire around the globe.
The creation of a society which was able to provide decent housing, free education and well-paid work for all, and also began to harness all the talent and human potential that is wasted under capitalism, would become unstoppable.