Thursday, October 04, 2007

Demand the whole cake -- and the bakery!

Last week Ray Jones, New Communist Party SE District Chair, gave a talk to students at Varndean Sixth Form College, Brighton. The event was one of a series of lectures organised by Roy Cullen of the Politics Department covering a broad political spectrum. About 40 students attended and a lively discussion developed. What follows is the text of Ray’s speech.

LET ME START with a quote: “I don’t see how you can ever get any real justice or prosperity, so long as there’s private property, and every thing is judged in terms of money — unless you think it just for the worst sort of people to have the best living conditions, or unless you’re prepared to call a country prosperous, in which all the wealth is owned by a tiny minority — who aren’t entirely happy even so, while everyone else is simply miserable”.
Does any one happen to know who said that? It sounds quite modern doesn’t it? Phrases like, “everything is judged in terms of money” and “all the wealth is owned by a tiny minority — who aren’t entirely happy even so”, can be heard in our media today.
But it was Thomas Moore in 1515. He went on to be executed by Henry VIII and to be made a saint by the Catholic Church; although not for ideas in the quote in either case!
The point is that socialist ideas have been around for a long time and are not foreign to Britain.
But it was Karl Marx and Frederick Engels who laid the basis of scientific socialism.
In 1848 they published the Communist Manifesto — a call to the working class of the world to get ride of capitalism and replace it with a fairer and more just system — socialism.
Marx pointed out that it is capitalism itself which creates the working class and that ironically they will be its gravediggers.
Industry and mass production bring workers together in factories, mines, mills, offices and social services.
There they get a special education. They learn how employers tend to exploit them for all they can get.
They learn that isolated on their own they can do little about it.
They learn the need to cooperate with each other.
They learn how to organise to resist the employers — first in their own work place, then in their industry and then nationally.
I’m not claiming that all bosses are bastards! Although some of course are, others are not. It is not about “nasty” people, it is the nature of capitalism that forces them to try to increase profit and so try to increase exploitationSo from simple limited trade unionism the whole thing grows to politics on a national scale.
This could be said to be a sketch history of the Labour Party, which was formed initially to take the workers’ union demands for a bigger slice of the cake to Parliament.
But it took something more to move from the demand for more crumbs off the cake to the demand for the whole cake — and indeed the whole bakery!
It took people like Marx and Engels, thinkers and philosophers as well as doers and activists, to show the need for revolution and not merely reform.
The only way of ending the conflict between bosses and workers is for the working people, the vast majority, to win the conflict.
For them to take over industry, offices and services and run them for benefit of all and not the profit of a few.
And to do that they will need to build themselves a new state organisation after the old one is thoroughly smashed.They must spurn the crumbs to win the prize (to paraphrase a socialist song).
You could argue, and many people do — if they happen to be in work at the time, have a home and are healthy — “Well, things aren’t so bad, why rock the boat?
“Why go through a period of change and probably chaos [chaos because the capitalist class will, history shows us, fight tooth and nail to keep its lifestyle, power and privileges] to an uncertain future?”
Communists don’t take this argument lightly. It is probably the biggest ideological barrier to revolution in advanced capitalist countries.
There are however strong arguments against it.
The level of prosperity in countries like Britain is to a very large extent dependent on the super exploitation, and hence abject poverty, of millions of people around the world.
You only have to watch your television carefully, ignoring the vacuous celebrities and presenters, to see that millions of people in Africa, south Asia and South America are living in conditions our medieval ancestors would have known well.
No running water, inadequate shelter, bad sanitary arrangements, poor diets.
This not the fault of our working class, it is the fault of global capitalism, but it is not necessary and we can change it!
Even here in Britain there are far too many cases of extreme poverty — people down-and-out, without a home, who don’t know where the next meal is coming from.
And far too many families, who are struggling on, weighed down by debt and low pay; while the rich live lives which the rest of us can hardly conceive of.
For example I met a garden centre owner the other day who specialises in providing plants for the gardens and homes of the rich and famous. He had recently sold a number of plants and pots to a client for her balcony for £50,000.
After a week or two the plants developed a slight browning on some of the leaves. It was nothing, she was assured, that a little pruning and TLC wouldn’t put right. But no, the whole lot, including pots, had to be thrown out and new ones bought.
Then there is the state of our planet — the phrase “going to hell in a handcart” springs to mind.
Global capitalism is busy destroying our world for profit and any recent conversions to a green perspective are limited and superficial — and only taken up if there’s a quick buck in it.
Capitalists will happily take government subsidies for new wind farms and then build them in unsuitable places or to produce biofuel from crops which are harming the environment or are needed for food.
If we are to have a world worth living on workers must organise and take the power out of their hands.
Also capitalism regularly resorts to terrible wars to try and solve its problems for example to get more resources, such as oil in Iraq, or to increase its spheres of influence from where it can screw its profits.
Wars are useful to capitalism because they use up material and goods at a high rate and stimulate production in the short term.
They can take up surplus labour which might other wise get up to mischief at home.
Wars are not useful to the working people because they kill us and cause untold misery!
The above problems are not simply the result of conspiracies, although conspiracies happen, as do bad people. They are part and parcel of capitalism.
And there is no alternative system to capitalism but socialism.
But even if all these arguments are discounted, we just cannot sit on our hands and do nothing if we value our future and out children’s future.
The capitalist system is inherently unstable. It goes through regular crises, booms and slumps, which it cannot prevent.
From the terrible depression of the 1930s to the recent crash of the Northern Rock Bank which saw people queuing outside for their money (reminiscent of the scenes in Western films when the small town bank goes under after the manager absconds with the money), the history of capitalism can be traced from crisis to crisis.
Capitalism is very brittle in spite of its strength — the housing market in the United States has problems and the whole capitalist world banking system starts to crack.
One day however capitalism will just fail to recover, the whole system will collapse and everywhere will descend into barbarism.
Unless, that is, the workers act first and transform this mad, unjust, unstable system into a rational, fair and cooperative society. Into socialism.
The keys to that transformation are organisation and ideas.
History shows that to be successful the working class must have an organisation that will lead and coordinate its struggles, one that acts in a disciplined way for the whole class and not just part of it.
One that understands and can explain what is happening and can show the way forward.
The New Communist Party is attempting to build that party in Britain.
We are fighting on issues that can unite our class, such as higher wages, better education, better healthcare and against things that divide us, such as racism and fascism, sexism and homophobia.
All around the world other workers are doing the same.
In some places such as Cuba, Vietnam, China and north Korea they have done it and gone further and embarked on the great project of socialism; each in their own way, determined by their own conditions and history.
Naturally the capitalists see the challenge and attack and obstruct them as best they can, but others will follow, must follow — the alternative is unthinkable.