People from all walks of life believe that we live in some of the most turbulent times in history. It is difficult to assess whether or not this is true, as, if we look back to the past, there are many eras which were extraordinarily turbulent. But there is a sense of desperation today, as our lifestyles and behaviour pose a dire threat to all life on Earth. Despite wars, the catastrophic destruction of the planet, the inequality that results in suffering, and intolerable poverty all over the world, many socialists hold on to hope and optimism, believing in the vision of a society where life could be different, where we share our wealth, where cruelty no longer exists and people have time to be creative, depending on their talents and wishes. We hold on to a vision of living in a society where healthcare is free for everyone, free education is for everyone, all groups are treated equally and where we care for and protect the environment. 

It is all too apparent that, in a world controlled by capitalists, we are heading towards catastrophic disaster for the planet. We have a system which is based on profit and consumption, a system which exploits the earth’s natural resources and is therefore incapable of looking after them and preserving them. The level of inequality remains shameful; millions of working people are poorly paid. Whilst many people are suffering, those from some groups seem to suffer disproportionately. Benefits are demeaningly low in our society and often consign recipients to an existence of want, despair and hopelessness. Many of us have lost all faith in an electoral system controlled by the rich, the corporate world, the greedy and corrupt, at the expense of everyone else.

Socialists know all this, but many of us are questioning everything. We even question what socialism means, what it means to be a socialist, but we are usually clear overall about the values we hold dear and our vision of a better society. We don’t all agree about the way forward, and, living in our world in its present state, it is easy to lose hope. 

Many socialists feel that only a mass movement provides any real chance of change. And a mass movement will need hope if it is to build and take action. On many days I do not feel hopeful, but then, thinking about the basic principles of socialism and the integrity, sense of justice, commitment and sheer bloodymindedness of my much-loved socialist friends, I can feel the stirrings of hope again. 

I think we all need a set of principles or ideology, a belief system if you wish, something that helps us to keep informed about life around us, to interpret our world and to live in a way that is consistent with what we believe. It is not as easy as it sounds. But, if we have a core set of beliefs that are in tune with the principles that are common to what we often call socialism, we may feel that there is a beacon of light to guide us. 

I am a fan of winter and I love dark mornings and dark evenings, contrary though this may seem. But I do see light as a symbol of hope. Some decades ago, during the Thatcher years, a friend of mine said that she feared we were going down into the darkness and that the world would not recover from the direction it was taking, but she saw us going down into the dark holding a candle in hope. A candle still represents safety, warmth and hope in the darkness of life. Amid the horror of the trenches in the First World War, German and British soldiers called a ceasefire and played football, symbolising hope for a better future where nations would cooperate in peace. In the darkness of the concentration camps in the Second World War, some were able to express hope and love amid the terror, suffering, murder and despair, longing for a better future for the world, a future they knew they were unlikely to see. In refugee camps scattered across the world, children play games, and adults plan a better life for themselves and their families, holding onto the hope that they will find a future elsewhere. In poverty-stricken communities, both in the UK and all over the world, people share what little they have, so that those with nothing at all will at least have a scrap of food, shared with love and concern for fellow human beings. 

These are examples of the socialist spirit of hope manifesting in the most difficult, cruel and unspeakable circumstances.

And how about socialism in practice? Do societies that have established themselves as socialist offer us any hope? 

We can at times find hope by looking at examples of experiments in social democracy. Despite their subsequent move to the right, in the Nordic countries social democratic parties successfully changed lives for the better when higher taxes and improved welfare systems were introduced. There were achievements in Bolivia under Evo Morales where a generous welfare state was created. Morales himself admitted that his brand of socialism was “aided by the private sector”. And in Cuba, despite the poverty and problems with infrastructure, there is an impressive healthcare system, a considerable reduction in unemployment, and increased numbers of women in the workforce. Mali and Tanzania, countries which embraced African socialism, also made serious attempts to transform society.

Let us take heart and find hope wherever we can, whether it is from attempts at socialism where the principles have been inspiring and sound, even if they have ultimately failed, or from any society which has been committed to change, to improving the lives of the many. We can find hope with each other, and, when we observe that more and more people have had enough of the iniquities of capitalism, we perceive a sea change in attitudes and we hear of projects large and small which are developed to provide people with better lives and challenge the system.

“Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.” (John Robert Lewis – 1940-2020)

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