On 8 February Mike Foster, the Socialist Party candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon was invited to address a group of electors in Oxford. Here is what he said.
Thank you all for taking the time to come along this evening to hear why I wouldn’t make a very good MP. Definitely don’t put a cross in the box for the Socialist Party of Great Britain if you somehow come to the conclusion that I would play the Westminster game for the benefit of everyone. Because I couldn’t, even if I tried. No-one can. The state, and the very way that our society is put together, can’t be made to work in the interests of the vast majority of people. MPs who start out with good intentions about reforms and representing their constituents soon get stifled by the cumbersome bureaucracy and made to follow vested interests or the dictates of the elite. MPs who don’t start out with good intentions probably have an easier job.
If you vote for the Socialist Party, you wouldn’t be voting to put me in that position, thankfully. Instead, you’d be making the point that the whole system which we live under has to be replaced.
We would say that to aim for a better world, we first have to understand how our present society is arranged. For the last few hundred years, society has been divided into just two main groups, or classes. There’s the overwhelming majority of us –well over 90 percent – who don’t own much in the big scheme of things and can only get what we can afford through our wages, savings or state subsidies. If we’re able to find employment, we get our money by selling our time and our abilities to companies and organisations. These same companies and organisations then sell the services we run and the products we make back to us. But collectively, we don’t get back all that we put in. It’s a lop-sided arrangement. All the economic clout is with the corporations and landowners, owned by a tiny minority of people, possibly around 5 percent. Owning the means of production allows them to cream off a profit or a surplus for themselves, and they do this by exploiting the rest of us. Their economic power is backed up by political power. The state is there to try and manage the status quo, and protect the interests of those with all the wealth. This doesn’t mean that they have control over the economy, though. Market forces fluctuate between growth and slump regardless of what politicians and corporate strategists want. Instead, they’re more likely to be playing catch-up and trying to keep things financially viable in a shaky economy. It’s like being on a fishing boat on a choppy sea, struggling to stay afloat while the boat’s owner, Captain Birdseye, relaxes on a desert island.
This arrangement leads to massive inequalities in wealth, not just within this country, but across the globe. Goods and services only go to those who can afford them, not to those who need them. Those who can’t afford the basics risk falling into a lifestyle of poverty it’s hard to escape from. Living in an unequal world where everything is rationed creates divisions between us, leading to prejudice and discrimination. Even those of us with a reasonable standard of living never have enough real involvement or sense of ownership in where we work and live. Although we’ve all got our own role in making society tick along, we’re never really satisfied with it. We often feel powerless to influence what really matters to us. We end up stuck in unfulfilling jobs, stressed about whether we can afford to pay the bills, or frustrated by our lack of independence.
Reform or Revolution
Other political parties support the basic way society is structured, or just assume it’s the only way things can be. They would say that it can be improved from within, by changes to the law, or finding more funding for public services. Reforms or increased public spending may help some people in the short-term. But they only last as long as they’re financially viable or politically acceptable. A reform has to fit in with the economy and the political climate, which run in the interests of the elite. The needs and wishes of the vast majority of people aren’t as important.
People have been campaigning for higher wages or increased funding for the NHS for decades, without long-lasting, satisfactory resolutions ever being found. It’s the same with campaigns to protect the environment. Concerns about reducing pollution or preserving wildlife tend to be over-ruled when there’s money to be made. Our society treats the environment as a commodity, as something to be exploited to make a profit. Whereas surely the environment should be treated as a precious resource which shouldn’t be squandered? The same problems keep resurfacing again and again: funding shortages, low pay, climate change, terrorism, war, famine. This shows that they haven’t been addressed at their cause.
We would say that to solve the problems in society, we have to change the way society is structured. This means going from our world where the means to produce and distribute wealth are owned by a minority, to one where those resources and facilities are owned by everyone in common. Then, goods would be produced and services would be run directly for anyone who wants them, without the dictates of the economic market. Industries and services would be run just to satisfy people’s needs and wants. This doesn’t mean that resources would be squandered. Our present society is much more wasteful, not only in its exploitation of the environment, but also in the effort and energy used up by the bureaucracy of pushing money around. The new world we advocate would be able to manage our natural resources in a sustainable way, as the waste and short-term profitability which lead to environmental damage wouldn’t be there.
All this could only be achieved by fundamentally changing the way society is organised, a revolution. The kind of revolution we want is one which involves the vast majority of people across the world. Every country now is part of an integrated global economy and class structure. So, people across the world would have to want to change society. The only legitimate and practical way this could be achieved is by organising equally and democratically. This means voluntary, creative work, with decisions and responsibilities agreed through everyone having an equal say. This would mean a much broader and more inclusive use of democracy than we’re used to today. Different democratic organisations or procedures would apply in different circumstances. This doesn’t mean having leaders or groups with more authority than others.
The kind of society we aim for is reflected in the way the Socialist Party is organised. We don’t have leaders or hierarchies, all work is voluntary, and our principles are decided on democratically. This approach has worked for us for over a hundred years. We publish literature and audio-visual materials, hold discussion groups and talks, and we also stand candidates in elections, hence me being here. We do this to use what limited democracy we have in our current society to advocate a better world for everyone.