“It’s a nice idea, but it will never work,” is a common refrain from those encountering the genuine socialist case on the streets, or reading socialist material for the first time. And when hearing the numbers who actually adhere to socialist ideas and actively go out of their way and campaign to promote them, the response is that the “revolution” is highly unlikely and hardly worth campaigning for at all; that it is much simpler just to carry on reforming the present system, as the numbers in favour of this approach are huge, the odds are stacked in favour of the underdog and history shows that the gradualist method does bear fruit.
But the history they cite to counter the socialist case and promote their “it’s better to settle for crumbs” line, which is what it amounts to, also reveals that most periods of massive social and political change – which is what a revolution is – have been heralded by derision, doubt, and incredulity. Indeed, to the feudal peasants and their masters, tied to a society based largely on agriculture, the proposal for a capitalist system of society would also have sounded utopian, and likewise with their counterparts living in a system dependent for its part on chattel slavery if feudalism had have been advocated.
There was a time when the 36 hour week and universal suffrage and woman bosses would have been considered utopian, the same with the rise of atheistic beliefs. Countless ideas, mammoth changes to our way of life over the past few hundred years, were mocked and would have been preceded by scorn. So it’s no big surprise that socialist ideas are similarly met with mirth and dismissed as utopian fantasies today.
And it is not as if the vast majority of workers are accepting the capitalist political and social system as the “best of all possible worlds” its defenders claim it to be. You only have to look at the statistics for political abstention at election time. Right throughout Britain, in elections the trend is for far more people to actually abstain from voting and many will indeed argue it’s a waste of time, that no matter who you vote for nothing changes, that “they’re all damned liars and out to feather their own nests”.
And there is the history of protest, resistance, and non-conformity that many workers are unaware of, especially in the US, and which writers like Howard Zinn have spent a lifetime attempting to bring to wider attention. In 2003, an estimated 2 million people took to the streets of London to protest against the invasion of Iraq and at the same time there was similar massive right across the world. Never had there been such unified protest and protest borne of an awareness of the damned lies politicians spout at every opportunity and a protest borne of a genuine empathy with the long-suffering people of Iraq.
And look at the discontent out there in cyberspace, the number of popular radical websites in existence and the millions of personal blogs pouring scorn on the current system. Cyber-protest has become so frightening for our rulers label many such cyber malcontents as terrorists.
Few workers are aware of the Paris Commune of 1871 when, for a brief period of time, French workers created a system of control and administration that challenged the existing set-up. And in Russia, in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers and peasants created new systems of control and administration, with workers’ councils and factory committees and which the Bolsheviks went on to destroy. In 1956, in a direct challenge to the power-hungry Kremlin, desperate to maintain its stranglehold of state capitalism on Eastern Europe, people set up workers' councils, and again in the France of May 1968, workplaces and universities were taken over and in many cases run in a way that is of immense inspiration to socialists. For a long time now, people across the world – i.e. more noticeably in Israel with the kibbutz - have set up communes, attempting to live in peace and cooperation, fed up with the rat-race.
Of course, these were a far cry from being socialist revolutions, as many claimed but they stand as significant examples of what people can do if they are determined, inspiring millions and, moreover, they had their detractors back then who said they could never be pulled off. The thing is, for a brief period of time there was a grassroots interruption to the status quo, when people challenged the system head on and gained immense confidence in their unity and determination, envisaging momentarily an alternative way or running things and with themselves, the workers, in charge. Dismiss them as much as you want – no socialist is claiming they should be held up as “actually existing socialism” – but the important thing to remember is that people had had a bellyful of the system, had confidence in their ability to take control of their own destiny and, in their sheer desperation, made an attempt to wrest control of their lives back from their masters.
Socialists share the same basic ideas as these impatient revolutionaries. We believe change is possible, that control of our lives and our planet can be wrested from the hands of our masters and that workers are more than capable, once they gain that class consciousness and confidence, to pull off the impossible. But where we differ is on the magnitude of the revolution and the preparedness of those who will bring it about.
For socialists, the revolution will not just be in a few cities or countries, it will be global. And neither will it involve the “most advanced workers”, as Leninists claim, and the more politically minded students, but each and every one of us. And neither will it mean the world’s exploited majority settling for crumbs. No, we’re after the whole damned bakery, the bricks and mortar and all then dough and the right to control and administer it as we see fit and in our own interests.
Socialists recognise that for socialism to come about demands the will and cooperation of the majority of people in the world, that is the vast majority of people, old and young, in every country, becoming aware that another world is possible; becoming aware that we no longer need leaders or governments, armies, and police, money and exchange systems, borders and flags. Socialism will depend on people who have at last come to realise that only by uniting as one, across borders, putting behind us the false differences that have hitherto divided us, can we establish a system without waste and want and war.
We recognise that some reforms do benefit the workers, but the truth is that here we are in the 21 century, awash with scientific know-how and technology that is capable of solving all of our immediate problems, yet we live in a world in which there is more starvation nd poverty than ever before in human history, where we live in constant fear of environmental catastrophe and nuclear war while our masters and their executive in governments imperil us all as they frantically dream of ways to make that extra dollar profit.
At the moment our methods can only be educational and in this regard we use every tool at our disposal to spread class consciousness, to instill in workers the belief that the world can be changed for the better and that they can be the only agents of such change. We also realise we’re up against a class that will go to any lengths to maintain the current system, that depends on its control largely via the consent of the majority, by keeping them like zombies through their control of the media, via their control of the educational system and with the help of religious institutions, via instilling in them false needs, false consciousness, that makes them view themselves as consumers and to believe that it is better to have than to be.
Yes, socialism is a nice idea. It’s a brilliant idea. And it’s not utopian. If there is anything utopian it is the belief that we can depend on capitalism for the future of humanity and our natural environment.