Saturday, December 18, 2010

What are communists for?

by Daphne Liddle
THE SIGHT of thousands of angry students on the march through towns and cities throughout England has cheered the older generation of campaigners no end. And so has the emergence of unknown numbers of mostly anonymous cyber warriors inflicting real damage on the powers of western imperialism and oppression through massive revelations of Wikileaks.
Nevertheless our current economic and political situation is gloomy. We are in an economic crisis that is very likely to turn into a double-dip, under a Con-Dem government that is using the economic crisis as an excuse for ideologically driven cuts in public services and in working class living standards (greed for power and wealth is the ideology and religion of the ruling class).
We will need more than student anger and Wikileaks audacity to make our day-to-day lives better. And this is where the Communist political perspective has a vital role to play.
The students and the progressive liberals know what they are against: the unjust wars, the cuts; the exploitation and the oppression. We know what we want to put in the place of this evil system. We know what we are for: socialism. And every now and then we need to raise our eyes and look towards our long-term perspectives and remind ourselves of what civilised society can be under the rule of the working class.
And we need to go out on the streets and the on-line networks to tell all those who are angry, disappointed, frustrated, demoralised and generally miserable under capitalism how their lives could be different, if and when we throw off capitalism and start to build socialism: to tell them it is worth fighting for.
We are for:
• A world where people come home after work at a reasonable hour with still enough time and energy to enjoy being with their families, doing sports and hobbies and there are more leisure activities than collapsing exhausted in front of the television;
• A world where no one fears to lose their job or their income; where employment is a right and all are encouraged and supported to find work that is interesting and fulfilling;
• A world where workers have a right to decent housing and rents are minimal, where no one fears the bailiffs and where homes are built with enough space for adults and children to grow and to play.
• A world where people do not have to wait until they are nearly middle-aged before they can afford to start a family because decent homes and incomes are guaranteed.
• A world where personal debt is something people read about in history books.
• A world where healthcare is guaranteed, free and supplied locally without long journeys to get treatment. And where the elderly get the same standard of treatment as younger people.
• A world where state-provided high-quality childcare is freely available so parents can choose their work patterns and where employers allow parents time off to be with their children.
• A world where education is freely available at every level throughout life, where classes are smaller and every pupil/student gets the support, attention and encouragement they need to fulfil their potential.
• A world where people have the time and the energy for generations to mix and socialise and care for each other so that children, the elderly and those in between feel valued, respected and secure.
• A world where children know their own history and culture and so can recognise and respect other people’s.
• A world where all children learn how to sing, dance and make music and can recognise and reject commercial rubbish “culture” – and recognise what is really good and original.
• A world where we have the time, the energy and can afford to go regularly to the theatre, to concerts and to the cinema.
• A world where we have time to be human, where we are not just “personnel resources” existing for the sole purpose of making money for our bosses, landlords and bank managers.
• A world where there is time to stop and smell the roses.
• A world where ordinary workers can sit in summer under shady trees drinking coffee or beer and arguing intellectual philosophical points at great length.
• A world where we can talk long slow walks at sunset along sandy beaches.

I am getting carried away. But none of these dreams is asking too much in a world where technology can provide so much and it does not take a lot of human labour to provide a decent standard of living for everyone on the planet.
And none of these dreams would harm the environment – indeed it would be much better safeguarded than it is now.
Rich people already live like this but their greed for power and wealth is denying a decent way of life to everyone else on the planet.
For the working classes in the western imperialist countries now life is one long rush to work as many hours as they can, to be at the beck-and-call of demanding bosses, and fit childcare and housework into whatever small margins of time they have left.
Late night trains and buses are crammed with weary workers on their way home; many are young mothers with toddlers in pushchairs who should have been in bed hours ago. Tired workers get irritable with each other and with their children. Housework gets neglected.
Deep debt and job and housing insecurity drive workers to seek ever longer hours while depression and stress are at epidemic levels.
Holidays are impossible. One in five children growing up in England have never been on a beach or paddled. Few inner city children have ever seen the stars properly – away from the perennial glare of neon lighting.
Cinema, concert and theatre visits are out of the question. For many workers, even if they found the time and the money they would probably fall asleep during the performance. Much easier to make do with the TV – you don’t have to dress up; it doesn’t cost anything extra and it doesn’t matter if you do fall asleep.
People struggle to make time for the elderly; grandparents feel neglected and lonely. Teenagers feel that no one has time for them, not to just sit and have a proper conversation. Everyone is alienated; society is fragmented and everyone is miserable.
And we’re living under the threat that it’s all going to get a lot worse with the cuts.
We don’t have to accept this.
We have a lot to fight for – our very humanity. The danger is that so many, with their noses to the grindstone, shackled to impossible and ever more demanding work targets, rarely get the chance to look up and be aware of what they are missing, what is being stolen from them in order to make vast profits for the bosses, bankers and landowners.
In previous generations workers worked in large factories, mines and mills. They stood next to fellow workers in the same situation as themselves. They were not alone in their misery and there was a community spirit. It was this spirit that build the trade unions and the Labour Party to fight back against the exploiters.
And it won significant improvements: shortening the working day, the old age pension, unemployment benefit, the National Health Service, state-financed higher education and welfare services.
Now these gains are steadily being taken from us because, with the passing of large scale industry in Britain that proletarian spirit of community and solidarity has been weakened. And with it the strength of the labour movement has ebbed, leaving us vulnerable to the exploiters’ greed.
We must find ways of overcoming the current isolation and alienation of workers so they do not feel alone with their debts, their exhaustion and all the impossible demands on their time and energy. We must find ways to rebuild the sense of community and solidarity – and outrage at the way they are being exploited. Maybe the internet could be used to rebuild community awareness.
In the meantime we must remember that the “impossible dream” already exists in places like Democratic Korea and Cuba. The Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe did succeed in giving workers a far better quality of life than most of them have now. And in China they are working hard to lay the economic base of a socialist society.
A socialist society is not an impossible paradise: life is not perfect there. There is still bad weather; people fall in and out of love and that is still painful; there are not unlimited resources; not everyone gets a perfect job.
But the workers of the DPR Korea and Cuba work eight hours a day, health care and education at all levels are free. Jobs and housing are secure. There is still occasional hardship but everyone faces it together.
Socialism does not end all misery and it is not perfect. But it does end the causes of misery that are linked specifically to the capitalist system and it does give workers time for leisure, for dignity and for each other – time to be human.