Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Are you a Socialist? If you have any political sense you should be!

What is a socialist? How do you become a socialist? And why is it important that you do? These are important questions.

There are many organisations and people who refer to themselves as socialists. The Labour Party is supposed to be socialist although it is their political enemies who tend to refer to them as a "socialist". The reason? Being described as a socialist by the DAILY MAIL, SUN or The DAILY TELEGRAPH is supposed to be a vote loser.

The Labour Party understands this conservative propaganda. Under their leader, Keir Starmer you will not see the word "socialism" in their political manifesto. And quite right, too. The Labour Party has never been, is not and never will be a socialist party.

What people mean by being a socialist is often vague and imprecise. For much of the 20th century being a "socialist" meant someone who wanted state capitalism or nationalisation. In many cases it still does. Those who want the nationalisation of the railways believe they are "socialists" forgetting that it was the Tories in 1844 who threatened the railways with nationalisation. Nationalisation has nothing to do with socialism.

Yet it is by association with a menu of left-wing reforms that many people erroneously describe themselves as "socialist". End austerity, tax the rich, more money for the NHS, higher minimum wage, construction of more social housing, more government aid to the poor and so on. The list of reforms associated with someone being referred to as a "socialist" is seemingly endless. Those who do propose reforms of capitalism forget how quickly they can be watered down, repealed, removed or have unintended consequences.

Consider one of the many wars the Labour party has supported: the Korean War. In April 1951 the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell, proposed to spend £1,500 million on rearmament, He was forced to make economies elsewhere, the NHS and other social welfare reforms were the victims. NHS cuts and deep cuts in public expenditure were also forced upon the Labour government of 1976 when they had to apply for an IMF loan.

And there is a group of opportunists who describe themselves as "socialists" but offer reforms that cannot be enacted. These are the Trotskyists who offer unrealisable reforms in the hope that it will make workers angry and more amenable to the leadership of whatever Trotskyist organisation are offering the reforms. A lesson in why workers should avoid these "socialists" is to look at the actions of Militant Tendency (now the misnamed Socialist Party), in the early 1980s when they were in power in Liverpool. When the Militant leadership were faced with the reality and consequences of breaking the law, council employees were sent out redundancy notices by taxi.

Dissatisfaction with capitalism and the capitalism they experience in their day to day lives usually brings workers into politics. However, dissent, rebellion and anger are not enough to become a socialist. Understanding is the key. In the Play "The Comedians", first performed at the Nottingham playhouse in 1975, the main character, Gethin Price, presents a politics of anger and hate towards capitalism but can only offer nihilism in its place. Instead of nihilism and cynicism becoming a socialist requires patience and acquisition of socialist knowledge. One of the great helps to becoming a socialist was the publication of QUESTIONS OF THE DAY in 1976 by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The questions posed nearly 50 years ago are still relevant today as is the socialist conclusion.

Becoming a Socialist: Thinking and Acting for Yourself

Foremost, in becoming a socialist, is an understanding and rejection of capitalism along with the rejection of the reform programmes associated with the various capitalist political parties. Most capitalist political parties, like the Tories, SDP and Labour Party are quite comfortable with capitalism while others believe, like the Green Party, you can have capitalism without the affects of capitalism or capitalism without its "red in tooth and claw" competition. You can't. A socialist should never give their support to capitalist political parties.

Capitalism is a global system based upon the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Capitalism is a system where a global capitalist class, of about 1% of the population, faces a world working class over the extent and intensity of class exploitation. There is not one form of capitalist ownership but several. There can be the private ownership of the means of production, or it can be corporate, individual, and of the state. Even co-operatives have to obey the dictates of the market and market competition. Capitalism, then, can be conceived as commodity production and exchange for profit. Profit and capital accumulation are the anti social objectives of the capitalist class.

Capitalism has this peculiarity. Under capitalism workers are forced to sell their ability to work as a commodity for a wage or salary. Workers forced to sell their labour power or mental and physical abilities to employers are an important point from which to understand capitalism and the profit system. It begins the explanation of class exploitation, class interest and class struggle and how the capitalists accumulate their unearned income and why the needs of the working class can never be met under capitalism, why reformism fails and only why social revolution can bring about a society of free access and production solely and directly to meet human need.

The majority of the world’s population, the working class, are excluded from ownership. Workers do not own resources, land, factories, transport and communication systems, or distribution points. These are all protected by the machinery of government through capitalist politicians. Workers cannot direct production to meet their needs. Workers just cannot take what they need for their families. Workers are employed and exploited in the production process. Workers produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. Workers endure surplus labour time in which they produce a surplus product which carries a surplus value which is realised as profits when sold on the market. Profit is the unearned income going to the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest and profit.

Once capitalism is understood, it is clear that it has to be abolished in the interest of the working class. Capitalism has no future. It holds back the creative potential of billions of workers.

Then there is the important understanding of the socialist alternative to capitalism. This raises the important question: "How do we get from capitalism to socialism?"

How do we get from capitalism to socialism?

How to establish socialism is a political question with a political answer. The right political answer will get a socialist majority safety from the profit system to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. It will be a revolution in political ideas and a revolution in how production and distribution of goods and services take place.

Without a majority of socialists, socialism is impossible. It is a sad fact that a socialist minority cannot impose socialism on a non-socialist majority. It cannot be done. So, without a socialist majority capitalism and class exploitation, wars and poverty remain. For the socialist trapped in capitalism and knowing of the potential of socialism, it is living in a secular hell.

The vehicle for a socialist majority attaining political power is a principled socialist political with a socialist objective. The socialist party should be made up of convinced socialists understanding and wanting socialism, there must be no leaders, no leadership and none led. Democracy must be practiced throughout the organization to foreshadow the socialist society aimed for.

Is the case for socialism impossible? Is the socialist wasting their time and energy? Not while the problems of capitalism persist. Environmental degradation, war and poverty are feature of capitalism that politician and reformers cannot resolve. Nor can the economists stop the social destruction of periodic trade crises and depressions with all the problems unemployment causes for workers and their families.

Socialists remain optimists. A socialist majority is possible. No social system lasts forever. Capitalism is not the first social system in human history and it will not be the last.

So how do we believe a socialist majority will act? Well, to achieve socialism workers have to take control of the machinery of government which includes the armed forces of the state. Without capturing political power socialism is impossible. A socialist majority will have to send socialist delegates to parliament to ensure that capitalism and private property ownership is abolished democratically. Once the machinery of government is secure socialists will be able to transform production and distribution directly and solely to meet human need.

A socialist does not have a leader. Socialists think and act for themselves. Socialists take democratic decisions on informed evidence and reason. They are informed by socialist principles not enslaved by them. There was never an experienced socialist who did not make a bold guess and there was never a bold socialist whose opinions were wrong. Dogma and intolerance are the enemies of the socialist. As Marx remarked in a questionnaire given to him by his daughters: "doubt everything".

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