Socialists are often accused of have unrealistic demands that stop the Labour Party from being elected. The argument goes that you need power before you can carry out your policies and power resides in parliament. So you have to be pragmatic and appeal to voters, not scare them off with extremist views. As a democratic socialist I have always thought that the whole point is to be honest about your politics and persuade people to support you, and not to pretend to be something else.

A lot of our policies are popular anyway. A majority of the public thinks that public services should be under public ownership and run for our benefit, not to profit shady corporations in off shore tax havens. They want affordable housing, rent controls and rights for tenants. They want their children to have the same quality of education as the rich who send their kids to private schools. They want an end to poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. Let the wealthy pay their fair share of the taxes so we can properly care for the old, the sick, the vulnerable.

You would think that a party with policies like these should have no problems winning an election. And Labour has always had policies like these. But since we achieved universal suffrage in 1928 Labour has only won eight out of 23 general elections and ruled for 30 out of 96 years. So persuading people to vote for socialism, even the watered-down version offered by the Labour Party, is not so simple as it looks.

The problem is that Parliament is not the only source of power in this country, or any country for that matter. Money talks and it talks the loudest when rich and powerful people own newspapers, radio and TV stations, and nowadays some of the richest people in the world own most of the social media platforms as well. Unsurprisingly, most of the media is pro-capitalist and most of its news output is thinly disguised propaganda. According to them we don’t have a problem with rich people dodging their taxes. It’s poor people scrounging off the state. We cannot afford public services because they are inefficient and don’t make any money. Look at all these billionaires. They know how to make money. So let’s privatise public services and let the capitalists run them properly.

It is of course a complete inversion of the truth. The modern term is “gaslighting”. It works because the same messages are relentlessly reinforced in the papers, on TV, and not just by politicians and bosses on the make. Spin doctors, pundits, so-called “experts” are wheeled out to persuade us that black is white and 2+2=5. And it starts in childhood with governments determining what can be taught in schools via the national curriculum, with the emphasis on “British values”.

Then there is the power of the state. Judges interpret laws in ways that benefit the powers that be. Police decide what is lawful and what is not so that right wing thugs get away with murder (sometimes literally), while peace marchers are harassed and arrested. The real power behind all of this is the ruling class, the owners and controllers of banks, businesses, land and the wealth beneath our feet in the form of mineral rights. If I dug a big hole in my back yard and discovered oil, it would belong to the Duke of Devonshire not me.

They are quite happy to perpetuate belief in democracy, one person one vote, so long as it does not directly challenge their control and ownership of the world and its wealth. They compete with each other quite ruthlessly and acquiesce to the rule of law when their disputes get out of hand. But woe betide any government that wants to pass laws to settle the dispute between them and us in our favour. Even when Labour, or any other reformist party, manages to take office, it soon learns that any serious attempt to use state power for the many not the few will be sabotaged by senior civil servants and judges. Capitalists will sabotage the economy with investment strikes and speculation against the pound. Their ultimate sanction is direct action, a fascist putsch or a military coup. Labour has always known this and played the game.

There is another power in the land – labour power. The capitalists are wealth takers. We are the wealth makers. As socialists we should be less concerned with the illusion of power and seek to encourage workers to understand and exercise their power to directly confront capitalism in the workplace, on the picket line and ultimately on the barricades.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *