Ideas to change the world
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary
“We can’t expect young people to be automatically sympathetic to capitalism” when they can’t afford to buy a house, declared leading Tory Boris Johnson recently.
He could have added when going to university means being crippled by debt, and there is little chance of well-paid, secure work.
Boris Johnson is not unique. His comments reflect the growing fears of the capitalist elite that young people are looking for an alternative to their system.
Last year, young people queued around the block to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the snap general election.
This year, hundreds of thousands of them took part in the massive weekday anti-Trump protest.
Despite the capitalist media largely refusing to mention socialism – unless it is to attack it in frenzied terms – growing numbers of young people are starting to investigate socialist ideas.
After Novara Media editor Ash Sarkar, under attack from right-wing presenter Piers Morgan, hit back by saying, “I’m literally a communist you idiot”, the clip was viewed over 800,000 times on YouTube alone.
It is the crisis of capitalism, and its increased inability to offer young people a fulfilling future, that is driving the search for an alternative.
To have grown up in the last ten years is to have grown up during the longest squeeze on wages in a century.
Your only experience of public services is to have watched them being closed or cut to the bone in the name of austerity. Affordable secure housing seems a utopian dream.
Meanwhile a tiny minority at the top of society have seen their wealth increase astronomically. Of the global wealth generated in 2017, 82% went to the wealthiest 1%. And the majority of that went to the ‘elite of the elite’ – the 0.1%.
To give one example, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by £4.3 billion in the first ten days of 2018.
These ‘masters of the universe’ own unimaginable wealth for presiding over a system that is no longer capable of taking society forward.
In the course of its existence, capitalism has transformed the planet. Driven by the blind need to increase profits rather than production for social need, it has always been based on the exploitation of the working class along with a careless disregard for the damage it has done to our environment.
Nonetheless, in its heyday the capitalist class ploughed a considerable section of its profits back into developing the means of production: science, technique, industry and the organisation of labour.
Therefore socialists recognised that it was relatively progressive because, despite its horrors, it was creating the basis for socialism.
In addition the working class majority, by creating powerful mass organisations, was able to win a few crumbs from the rich table of capitalism.
Those crumbs – including a comprehensive NHS free at the point of use – are now under threat as the increasingly parasitic capitalist class increases its profits via the relentless driving down of the wages and conditions of working class people and the destruction of public services.
This does not mean we are powerless to fight back. On the contrary, the working class is potentially a very powerful force – a majority in a country like Britain – that, if it acts collectively, can defeat the attacks it faces and win concessions. Twenty-first century capitalism, however, means we are under constant attack.
At the same time, the capitalists’ levels of investment are at historic lows, as their lack of confidence in their own system leads them to sit on their piles of cash rather than use them to develop industry.
None of the factors which led to the 2008 Great Recession has been overcome. On the contrary, a new phase of economic crisis is being prepared.
No wonder young people faced with such a diseased system are starting to look for an alternative. For decades, politics in Westminster has been completely dominated by pro-capitalist parties.
The result is that, for many, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader has been a revelation.
For the first time in their lives a major party is led by a politician who puts forward policies for the many, not the few.
Instead of supporting privatisation, austerity and war, he is arguing for free education, rent controls, mass council housebuilding and some nationalisation of privatised utilities.
For putting forward this modest programme, Corbyn has been under relentless attack from the right-wing press, the Tory party, the Confederation of British Industry, and the pro-capitalist wing of his own party. Yet this is nothing compared to what a Jeremy Corbyn-led government would face.
It is absolutely clear that the capitalist elite would not sit back and passively allow Jeremy Corbyn to implement a policy which redistributed wealth from them to the majority! On the contrary, they would do all they could to sabotage his government and prevent it implementing a radical programme.
That is raising the questions in the minds of young people who are looking to socialist ideas. How is it possible to create a society that offers us a decent future? How can we harness the enormous wealth created by capitalism to meet the needs of all?
Discussion on university campuses about concepts like “fully automated luxury communism” reflects the huge contradiction between the enormous wealth, science and technology created by capitalism and its inability to meet people’s needs.
Robotics is used not to cut working hours for all, with no loss of pay, but to throw workers onto the scrap heap.
Digital technology is used to send us back to the Victorian era with zero-hour workers waiting for their app to tell them if they have a few hours’ work – no different to their great-grandparents queuing on the docks in the hope of being picked for a few hours’ work.
This is no surprise. Capitalism, as Marx explained over 150 years ago, is based on exploitation, with profits stemming from the unpaid labour of the working class.
New technology will never result in it evolving into a fair system. Only by taking the major corporations and banks which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership would it be possible to harness the new technology capitalism has created to meet peoples’ needs.
On that basis, however, it would be possible to begin to develop a democratic, socialist planned economy by immediately massively expanding public services, and provide high-quality, well-paid work for all with a maximum working week of 35 hours, or even less.
A Jeremy Corbyn-led government would be under huge pressure to capitulate to the demands of the capitalist class, as the left-led Syriza government in Greece did. However, this does not mean it would be powerless.
On the contrary, if it mobilised the working class in support of a socialist programme which took power from the tiny capitalist elite, it would really be able to begin to build a society for the many, not the few.
The socialism we are fighting for bears no resemblance to the old dictatorial regimes of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which were dominated by a privileged caste of bureaucrats.
However, the nationalised planned economy they presided over did play a progressive role until it was strangled by their bureaucratic mismanagement.
We stand for international socialism, based on a huge expansion of democracy, with mass participation in the control and running of industry and society.
Any government carrying out such a policy would need to have an international perspective, collaborating with the workers’ movement in other countries to develop socialist planning at an international level.
In a globalised world, the enormous similarities between the struggles facing the working class in different countries mean that such a government would have a very immediate and widespread resonance.
A socialist government in any country of Europe that acted to break with capitalism would immediately receive enormous support from workers across the continent, above all in those hardest hit by austerity.