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The Socialist Party's book, 'Socialism in the 21st Century', sets out to answer the question: What Is Socialism?
It is clearly not because socialism is widely publicised. None of the major political parties are socialist, socialism does not feature on the national curriculum in schools, and the TV is not packed with programmes arguing in favour of it.
On the contrary, if you were to judge purely by the media, parliament, or the education system, you would decide that socialism is a spent force.
And yet, it clearly isn’t. Ideas traditionally associated with the left are increasingly popular. In a Mori poll in 2001, for example, 72% of people supported the re-nationalisation of the railway system, despite none of the major political parties arguing for it.
Over the last decade our city centres have been transformed. There are shiny new shopping malls and fancy shops that used to be found only in London.
Coffee bars and bistros abound. Cinema multiplexes offer all the latest blockbusters five or ten times daily. In the big cities, supermarkets are open 24-hours a day for the consumers’ convenience. In our homes and about our persons many of us possess electronic hardware that we could scarcely have imagined ten or 15 years ago.
But the gleaming towers of commerce and the products that they sell are only one side of the picture. Britain has been transformed in other, more fundamental, ways. Outside the upgraded city centres, in the housing estates and suburbs where people live, conditions have also changed – not for the better but for the worse.
In the Houses of Parliament serious debate is a distant memory. On every crucial issue the three main parties are in almost complete agreement. With a few exceptions MPs accept the policies of neo-liberalism as an article of faith.
Their belief in the necessity of privatisation and cuts to the public sector show just how far they are removed from the lives of ordinary people, who are overwhelmingly in favour of a turn away from the policies of the last 20 years. But the lack of a mass socialist alternative to the endless stream of sameness that pours from parliament, leaves millions knowing what they are against but as yet unsure of whether an alternative is possible.
Capitalism's abject failure to provide the vast bulk of humanity with the material means for a dignified existence is not only due to the greed of individual billionaires or the failure of politicians.
If it were, changing society would be a far simpler question of reforming the excesses of capitalism and dealing with the bad apples. But inequality and poverty are part of the fundamental nature of capitalist society.
Over 150 years ago Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto. It has become the most influential political pamphlet of all time. In 1999 a new edition entered the bestsellers list. Marx and Engels were the founders of scientific socialism. In The Communist Manifesto, and later works such as Marx’s Capital, they were the first to give a thorough and scientific analysis of the laws and workings of capitalist society: why it results in the polarisation of wealth and, vitally, how it can be overthrown.
Britain, the world’s first capitalist superpower, is now the puny relative of the heavyweight capitalist countries.
Like a little leaky boat caught in the backwash from an ocean liner, Britain is buffeted by the fortunes of the major powers - above all those of the US.
British manufacturing industry is in catastrophic decline. Manufacturing remains the base of any modern economy because it is primarily responsible for the creation of new value. In 1978 this sector employed seven million people, almost three times as many as in financial services. Today only 4.3 million are employed in manufacturing while the service sector employs 5.2 million.
In the 300 years or so of its existence capitalism has transformed the planet over and over again. Rail, electricity, the internal combustion engine, flight, space travel, telephones and electronic computers, the list is endless.
The world economy is 17 times the size it was a century ago. In 1900 there were only a few thousand cars worldwide. Now there are 501 million.
Engineers built the first electronic computers in the early 1940s. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine predicted that
Is socialism obsolete? Is there a new ‘21st century alternative’ to capitalism that is ‘more practicable’ than socialism? Is it possible to reform capitalism?
These are important questions. There is no point in making life harder than is necessary. If it were possible for some form of capitalism to take society forward and to improve the living conditions of humanity, socialism would remain nothing more than a dream. Instead, it is the very nature of capitalism which will lead to socialism becoming an idea which catches the imagination of millions.
Over the last decade increasing numbers of young people have declared themselves to be ‘anti-capitalist’. This is an important step forward: it represents a new generation deciding to fight to change society. The anti-capitalist movement has a strong conviction that the existing order of things is unjust. However, there is no similarly clear conviction about what the alternative to capitalism should be. In general, the anti-capitalist movement has, as yet, only a vague idea of what it is fighting for, as opposed to what it is fighting against.
The Socialist Party is not just an organisation that argues the case for socialism. We use our Marxist analysis as a tool to attempt to guide struggles to defend and improve the living conditions of working-class people.
Even in the 1960s, when we had very small forces, we played a crucial role in a number of battles, such as the 1964 apprentices’ strike. In the 1980s and the early 1990s we led two of the most important mass struggles of the working class of the time, the battle of Liverpool City Council and the mass campaign against the poll tax. We were then called 'Militant' and were the major Marxist current within the Labour Party.
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