A little over a year ago I wrote a column called ‘What We Stand For’. It was an argument with those who said we had no core socialist beliefs. In the year that has passed since, much has changed. The world situation has grown considerably worse. The war in Ukraine, and NATO expansion, and the worsening climate emergency remind us that the situation is serious. Arguments for socialism are no longer a kind of polite parlour game we play among ourselves but are the only hope for a society in which greed is pushing us at an increasingly fast rate toward oblivion.
In the UK the Conservative Party now appears in irreversible decline. Whilst this would once have been cause for celebration, the left knows, and others are starting to realise, that Starmer is not another Blair. He is much worse and far more dangerous. That reality forms the backdrop of a recurring debate among many on the left. If we can no longer vote Labour, then is it time to build a party of our own?
A year ago I wrote: “As for what we stand for, our red lines, as it were, are in no particular order: we oppose the Labour Party in its present form, we support trade union struggles, we support an evidence-based scientific approach to the pandemic, we oppose war and remain sceptical about NATO as a ‘defensive’ alliance, we support the Palestinians, we support the right of refugees to go to a country of their own choosing, we support Black Lives Matter (and oppose racism), we support Extinction Rebellion and, as with the pandemic, support a science-based approach to the climate emergency, we support women’s rights, we support the rights of disabled people to live the fullest lives possible, we support trans rights.” I stand by all that and would add Just Stop Oil, with its brave individual supporters, to the list of organisations we support.
A year ago I wrote: ”Because we are not a political party we do not have a manifesto as such and, like many who claim to be socialist, we can offer no blueprint as to what the future socialist society should look like.
”Broadly speaking, we believe that socialism cannot be achieved through the ballot box. Having said that, there is still some belief amongst our writers that who you vote for makes a difference.” The only amendment is that in the past year the majority of our writers and readers have rejected Labour entirely, although most still believe in some form of parliamentary democracy, and there is still a strong belief that the left should form its own party and contest elections in the UK. That feeling is stronger amongst our readers than our writers.
In last year’s version I tried to explain the problem facing the left as one centred on the social system: “We live in a globalised capitalist system. It is an intricate and complex system of interconnected parts. It has changed in form considerably in the 300 or so years of its existence.
“But two features remain. First, capitalism is primarily a productive system driven by the profit motive. And, secondly, whilst capitalism has delivered enormous wealth for a few, it has also created misery and poverty for many. The mistake, in my view, is to regard that dichotomy as sufficient explanation for the system. The fact is that between those two extremes are the vast majority who, neither wealthy nor impoverished, do all right. They aspire (see Howard Thorp’s article in Issue 16) to be part of the wealthy, and they fear falling into the ranks of the impoverished. This creates a measure of stability in an otherwise unstable system.
“There is a third and enduring feature of capitalism, however, that undermines its ability to sustain itself. Broadly speaking, it is competition. This means that capitalists (it doesn’t matter whether they are individuals or pension funds) are constantly trying to make more profit at the expense of their rivals. They do this by investing in better machinery or by working their labourers harder. If successful, it means rival firms go bust. It also means that more and more workers become impoverished.
“Even this (and I’m carefully avoiding the concept of surplus value) is not the real endemic feature of capitalism. It is this. Capitalists tend not to produce much. What they do is invest their capital to make more capital. And, like any investor, they look for the best rate of return. Historically speaking, the rate of return has what Marx called ‘a tendency to decline’. You don’t have to agree with Marx to see that, empirically, capitalism is a system of boom and bust. It is a cyclical process. Even bourgeois economists agree this to be the case. But what they don’t necessarily agree on is that the booms are getting shorter and the busts longer. And what they certainly don’t agree with is that this process is hard wired into the very system.” The only addition to that is that in 2022 we were still seeing the infancy of the global economic crisis which has deepened over the past year.
The crisis in capitalism, much like the climate crisis that accompanies it, cannot be alleviated by piecemeal measures introduced by national governments. It is a global crisis, albeit one with local variations, that requires a global response. Runaway inflation, rising unemployment, debts spiralling out of control, a crisis in public sector investment tell us that this is no longer a recession but a depression.
Critical Mass has evolved over the past year in both its production values and its politics. We have a clearer view now where we think we fit in. We cannot create a socialist society by wishing it into existence. In a recent article I wrote that revolution, by which I understand systemic change, was not dependent upon the actions of small groups of self-styled revolutionaries plotting the downfall of capitalism. We don’t have to do anything to create a crisis in capitalism. It manages that itself.
We believe that the advantages of the parliamentary system are outweighed by the economic system it is set up to support. There is no room for a left party to storm Westminster and implement socialism. At best a left-leaning party might alleviate the worst of the suffering caused by capitalism. But we should all have learned that the idea of socialism in one country is fraught with danger. This can sound defeatist and make the task ahead seem impossible. If we cannot win in Parliament, and, even if we do, we cannot implement our programme, then can we ever win?
Socialism is not the sticking plaster for capitalism; it is the major operation which removes the cancer of capitalism to leave the body politic in better shape. Socialists are not nurses mopping the brow of a dying patient but surgeons wielding the knife to cut out that which destroys from the inside. If our goal is socialism then, of course, we must resist. Resistance, through industrial action, demonstrations and small personal acts, builds our movement. It also attracts other people.
But we cannot win simply through a series of acts of resistance. We need also to win people to the idea of socialism, easier to do during acts of resistance than when people are passive. We must not think that because we cannot stem the flow of blood the patient is doomed. We need more surgeons. And Critical Mass is part of that movement to provide people with arguments for socialism. As the scalpel is a tool of the surgeon, so arguments are the tool of choice for socialists. Too often we fall into the trap of negativity. We concentrate on the ills of capitalism and not what we can do. Too often we overlook the small acts of resistance that occur every day. But more importantly we complete our small act of resistance in isolation.
Critical Mass has, through the Sunday Socialist, the creatingsocialism.org website, surveys, daily newsletter and public forum, been steadily building a small community of socialists. Over the past year we have added subscribers and readers. We are not at the level where News International are going to attempt a take over bid to shut us up. But, when people engage with Critical Mass, it is not just to read a web-based news story or a fortnightly PDF, it is to become part of a small community of like-minded individuals.
Last year I ended with an explanation of how we grew our socialism. I will repeat that here and next year I hope to return to tell you that we have grown further, not simply in numbers, but perhaps more importantly, in influence.
“Our socialism doesn’t need to rely on a dogmatic application of Marx or any other theorist. What it must be based on is activity this side of the revolution to win more and more people to the socialist side of the argument. It is unlikely that we will see the revolution coming in advance, but when, and if, that situation arises (and the precursor to it could be mass strikes, or catastrophic economic collapse, or an environmental disaster) we need socialists in the midst of it arguing for a substantial and long-lasting shift in our society; a society no longer operated on the principle of ‘to a few according to their greed’ but rather that of ‘to each according to their need’.”
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.