When I was a child and also as a youth, I experienced poverty.
There is no point in detailing it because it is not the degree of poverty which brought me to Socialism it was the presence of it all around me. When there is real poverty people share what they have, they detach from the world of greed-and-struggle and tend to look after each other. If, as a child, I was in the house of a friend or friends when a meal was available it was accepted that I was fed also or if friends were in my house when Mum had food they would sit-to-table as a matter of course; it was simply how it was, nothing to be wondered at, it was as natural as breathing. If my mother had spare food at other times she would hand me a fish or a few sausages wrapped in news-paper and say ‘Take this over to Missus X or to Auntie Y’ and again; there was no mystery, no thought that we ourselves would be hungry on the morrow, it was part of the natural world.
I know now that I was a Socialist long before I even knew what the word meant.
When I left school aged 15 and began full-time work it was again, natural to join a Union though in those days Unions were small and had little real power but I joined a mason’s-union as I was apprenticed as a mason. Though my wage was a pittance the fees were also small and there was something about belonging to a Trades Union which joined us together in a way which was similar to our upbringing in poverty. It defined us. It unified us. Early memories have a natural sense of unity through poverty, and work also had that unity brought about by a formal grouping within a Union. I have mentioned that my apprentice wage was meagre thus all of it went into the house-keeping ‘pot’ but my workmates would always have what was known as a ‘whip-round’ on pay day to provide some pocket money for the apprentices. They did this because they knew that my wage had to go into the family pot and they knew this because it was part of their personal experience.
I believe now that although theory can bring you to Socialism if you are born and raised in poverty the word has a different connotation. When I speak to theoretical Socialists now, I need to hold back because there are somethings they would not understand, some things you can’t learn from a book.
Somehow, in each of the circumstances afforded via poverty and working for a wage, we felt a need to be together and yet why this should be was not evident. I think, looking back, it was initially a herd instinct. Like wildebeest on the Serengeti we had a kind of sixth sense that told us that somewhere ‘out there’ were large and dangerous carnivores of some kind that would happily do us harm or were even prepared to devour us. There was an enemy unseen but as I personally grew from a boy to a youth I began to catch glimpses of ‘them’… they would arrive in large automobiles at building sites where I worked, they didn’t wear overhauls and they were well-groomed and well-fed, they seldom spoke to me or indeed to any of us except to give orders, to instruct and then either to reward or to punish as they saw fit. Despite our Trades Unions we were powerless if these alien-beings chose to organise a ‘slaughter’ which is what mass sackings were known as. The word would spread around the site that ‘there’s going to be a slaughter on Friday’ and that was what would happen. As we queued for our sorely-won wages we’d simply be told that there was no more work available; no ‘notice’ was given, one minute we were employed… next we were looking-for-new-employment.
When I was unemployed and ‘looking’ or when I was employed and had a day off I would walk in the countryside and I would see the beautiful houses which people like me had built and they were inhabited by these same people who gave the orders, who held our futures in their hands via reward and/or punishment. I am unsure when I realised that none of the people who built these houses would ever own their own home but when I look back now bitter anger invades. Anger coupled with a deep sadness that it should be like this. Every one of the people I knew as a youth who were skilled tradespeople; masons, tailors, carpenters, electricians, print-setters, plumbers etc., every single one of them lived in either privately rented homes or in council houses. And their homes were functional. Few had gardens. Most had four or maybe five rooms in total. The one my mother and I shared with two other siblings had just two rooms. And these houses were also lumped together on ‘estates’ or in ‘Courts’ and were set in terraced row upon terraced row. We were like battery-caged-birds but oddly we were in the main, happy. That happiness may well have stemmed from the propaganda pumped at us relentlessly by the mass-media which informed us repeatedly how well-off we were and this, coupled with the weekly flutter on the football-pools, kept us hoping above hope for either an escape or at least a few weeks free from worry.
As times progressed and the Unions gained strength and won better conditions some working people were able to buy a home of their own but still the majority of workers existed from month to month and had small gardens or allotments if they were lucky, some may have accumulated savings and some may even have become self-employed.
For my own part I was forced to leave the building trade following an accident. I went to sea for a while and did various unskilled jobs but everywhere was the same; we were the ‘poorest’ people in a world where ‘rich’ people were always visible. They had the wealth while we had only a vague glimmer of something different which we aspired to, but we seldom named that aspiration as ‘Socialism’, perhaps simply because we were not educated enough to fully realise what it could mean for us.
Now, later in my life, I see Socialism differently. No longer do I struggle mainly to gain some higher standard of living although that still remains. Now I see a whole world in turmoil, a world filled with vile and murderous inequality where the System we were nearly all born-into exploits most of the population. A few people live in boundless luxury and another small percentage live in relative ease, including in the latter, myself. But the vast majority are exploited quite ruthlessly and a very large number are simply allowed to die of malnutrition and neglect because… well, because we feel somehow that they are unworthy of our attention.
How can I bring this home? Make what I feel crystal clear?
I would like anyone reading this to consider for a moment a song, not ‘The Red Flag’ or some fervent battle-song to sing while storming the palace walls but a simple song; consider ‘What a Wonderful World’… It is indeed a wonderful world, or it could be. Even the Capitalist System cannot totally destroy the beauty and the wonder and by that I mean the foundations, the core, the nature, the structure… but we truly treat this world badly. I don’t mean pollution and careless mining; I mean the way we are ALL apparently happy to walk by on the other side… EVERYONE knows that when they sip their glass of expensive wine or quaff their ale and turn on a tap to fill the coffee percolator that right now, somewhere in this Capitalist world, a child is in agony and fear and starving to death. The even odder thing is that if that same child was in the room with them they would feed it, nourish it, keep it warm and safe and happy… we make a choice, all of us, to walk by on the other side. OR we support ‘charities’ which ease our conscience but which do NOTHING to make a difference… and the horror is that we know THAT also… When younger I tried to change things. Failed of course. Now I have decided that as a Socialist I will NOT remain silent. I will always point a finger to the child across the road, the one experiencing poverty, and say; ‘Can you SEE that child with flies crawling in its eyes? Do you care?’ And if the person does ‘care’, and oddly most do, then I will ask them a question always on the lips of Lenin; ‘What is to be done?’
But before I progress let me explain about alleged ‘charity’. CHARITY is a wonderful Capitalist CONFIDENCE-TRICK and many people, in all sincerity, fall for it. Clem Attlee, a Socialist, referred to charity as ‘a cold grey loveless thing.’
Take Oxfam. If we examine this Capitalist enterprise it will serve as a model for most ‘charities’… Oxfam is a confederation of nineteen independent organizations whose declared aim is ‘the alleviation of global poverty’ but it has been around for close to eighty years and hasn’t even got near to that as of yet… what it has ‘achieved’ is a huge, wealthy and ever expanding empire with well over a billion pounds worth of real estate tied up in 1,200+ shops and over 300 offices.
Though thousands work for free in Oxfam shops as ‘volunteers’ there is a very wealthy team who run the whole show & top of the dung-heap is Mark Goldring who pockets £186,247.00 per year plus ‘expenses’ which include free use of several cars and special-loan-interest-rates.
When you see an advert on tv asking you to donate ‘just £3.00’ are you aware that the advert, if it runs for just one minute, costs £225,000.00? That doesn’t include the cost of actually making the advert… thus your £3.00 is certainly NOT going to feed many hungry children much less will it ‘alleviate global poverty’… though it might pay for a small snack or a cup of tea which Mark Goldring claims as ‘expenses’ OR if around 70,000 of you donate £3.00 each it may come close to paying for just one single showing of the advert.
In close to eighty years Oxfam has done very little to address the problem of poverty… but Oxfam ‘volunteers’ and paid officials have been accused several times of exploiting the people they claim to be helping… including offering aid in exchange for sexual favours and the sexual abuse of children.
AND what if Oxfam did indeed ‘alleviate world poverty’…? In that highly unlikely event all its employees in its many towering office blocks, door men, cleaners, researchers, clerks, accountants, lawyers etc. would all be out of a job… the whole nice, cushy, Oxfam edifice would crumble.
If you wish to alleviate poverty then there is only one road to take and that is a political road. Capitalism tolerates poverty because there is profit in it. Charities (all of them) are there with one sole purpose and those involved know what that is; it is there to keep fat-cats fat… sadly…
To return to the concept of Socialism. We live in a world where the central theories practised with regard to the economy and social-structure are Capitalist in one form or another. Put simply Capitalism involves allowing people the freedom to pursue wealth; the only ‘rules’ are that you should not steal the wealth, not directly anyway. It is a System which views this world as a collection of separate countries, divided by arbitrary and ever-changing ‘borders’, inhabited by people who are advised to grab what they can and devil-take-the-hindmost. Look back quickly at the scenario I presented at the beginning of this essay; where working people are busy all their lives creating beautiful houses for others to live in but will never ever be able to live in them, remember the analogy with the Serengeti with dangerous animals circling somewhere out there and now imagine that on a world-wide scale; where huge industrial empires attempt to devour and exploit other countries and their industries and the workers who maintain them… and then imagine powerful countries conspiring to devour other countries. This greed, under Capitalism, is called ‘competition’ and is praised and admired, the individuals who create these vast exploitative empires are rewarded with honours, and wealth beyond comparison and we are expected to admire what they have done. ‘Competition’. That is the Holy Grail of Capitalism. Capitalism seeks to show that there is a justifiable ‘order’ in this world which maintains that one person is ranked higher than another, not because they have skills to create beautiful homes or to feed thousands by their labours, but ranked higher because they are more ruthless. Because they are more exploitative. Because they care only for the accumulation of wealth and, as said earlier, devil-take-the-hindmost.
That ‘devil-take-the-hindmost’ attitude/concept seems to many, possibly the majority, to be acceptable though. Acceptable because (they argue) in ‘competition’ things progress and improve; if someone invents a lightbulb then someone, in competition, may invent a better lightbulb because if they do so they will create wealth for themselves… and so on. The belief is that the pursuit of wealth, the accumulation of material possessions, is Man’s prime motivation and they may be right, certainly there is no viable alternative to witness and judge. If some alternative surfaces, such as the experiments with the Russian Soviets, then the Capitalist System diverts all its power to discrediting such an experiment; fake-news, trade embargoes, arms-races, propaganda stories and a virtual tsunami of hatred and scorn are put into place because the people who thrive under Capitalism fear change… which is why they are labelled ‘conservatives’; their most fervent desire is to conserve the status quo.
But let us examine in more detail this thing called Capitalism, this System which advocates grabbing what you can when you can. There are certain basics which human-beings need in order to survive and the most obvious need is for food. Food in the main is everywhere around us and in every country in the world there exists the means to feed everyone and yet The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million people in this amazingly rich, fertile and abundant world are so undernourished that they risk death, or they are dying of hunger, right now.
Think of that.
The UK where I live has about 66 million inhabitants… thus right NOW for every man, woman and child in the UK no less than TWELVE people in the world are at risk of starving to death. At some level we all know this to be a fact… but Capitalism plays it down; there are no headlines in the mass media giving us information, no Church leader or Prime Minister ever advocates that this needs rectifying, that it needs rectifying simply because it is morally wrong. There is enough food to feed the world’s population and if we all sat down and decided to act then we could alleviate these needless deaths and the accompanying sorrow and misery in a very short time. BUT; if we did that then it might come about that ordinary working people would see that they too are being exploited, they too are ‘second-class’, they too are merely wage-slaves and thus expendable.
There is a story, a sort of fable or moral puzzle which I have long been aware of, it describes a situation relating to two houses but of course in reality it is a critique of the Capitalist System. Let me outline it for you briefly here:
Imagine two huge houses; both are identical in every way and each has 100 rooms, more than enough for the 100 occupants whose income for each house is exactly the same; so both houses have the same number of people, the same income and are identical in every way; some of the inhabitants of both houses are clever, some are not so clever, some are strong but some have life threatening illness or are disabled in some way… just like the world we all currently occupy really…
In one house, let’s call it the Conservative House or the Capitalist House although the name doesn’t matter, some people try to accumulate individual wealth. They do this by various methods, some legal, some illegal, some moral, some amoral. Gradually the income-wealth disperses and disseminates; it gathers in the hands of a few. Some people, because they fall ill, or because they are simply not very bright, or because they don’t want to accumulate wealth at the expense of others, lose everything. The few who accumulate the wealth buy up their rooms so the people who have little or nothing are forced to share rooms and soon about 56 of them are living huddled in just nine or ten rooms; they are hungry, some die of malnutrition even though the handful of people who have most of the wealth are ‘charitable’ and sometimes give them a few coins to buy food. These wealthy few however now occupy six or seven rooms each; they employ some of the others in the house as servants, cooks, chauffeurs etc. and pay them reasonable ‘wages’ which are decided by who is willing to work for the least amount of money. They don’t work anymore themselves though; they manipulate money instead for the benefit of themselves and their family. In this Capitalist House about thirty eight of the hundred have enough to keep them fairly happy… and about half a dozen live in luxury… but the vast majority die in poverty and hunger.
In the other house, let’s call it a Communist House or a Socialist House, the name doesn’t really matter, but in this house the people meet together every day and pool their money; they see that some of their number are too ill or too disabled to work so they give these people extra food and care; not charity, they see the income of this house as belonging to every human being alive… they see some people who are not very capable, not clever enough maybe to contribute as much as others; but they ensure that these people are treated equally because the house-income belongs to everyone. When bills arrive each person pays an equal share and when the roof leaks everyone who is well enough to do so helps to make it sound again. They plan their lives for the mutual benefit of all the people, they share their skills and each has their own room, they don’t try and profit at the expense of others because they realise that you cannot make a profit except at the expense of other people. No one in this house becomes terribly rich but then no one starves either and each new ‘invention’ that makes their lives easier is shared by all… consequently as the wealth produced by the majority grows everyone benefits from it, everyone thrives and prospers… No one dies of hunger. No one lives in poverty.
Now here’s the question I would like a reader of this essay to consider; it is a simple question really but it’s both a moral and practical decision you are being asked to make, the question is this; which of these two houses would you like to live in? Which would you like your family, children and loved ones to live in? Where would you live if you were actually given a choice?
Further. How do you ACTUALLY run your household now? The house you rent or perhaps own? Do all the members of the family and/or the people you live with ‘compete’ to see who can grab the most? Or do you all plan the economy? Perhaps put a little aside to tide you over difficult times. Do you ignore it when one of you falls sick or do you work together to nurse them back to health? If one of you is not eating do you allow them to starve or do you tempt them with special food and encourage them and help them in every way? In YOUR own home… with YOUR own family and friends… do you turn to the Capitalist System? Or do you turn to a Socialist System?
Which house do you currently CHOOSE to live in?
The mass media in this Capitalist world is mainly ‘owned’ by people who fully support the grab-what-you-can System and thus they don’t want to rock the boat by presenting a balanced argument relating to a Socialist approach as opposed to the current System. In fact they tend to attack all notions of a Socialist society with ‘red-scare’ tactics akin to propaganda. Every experiment with Socialism, even mild forms of Socialism, are denounced as ‘dictatorships’ or are labelled as somehow denying the people ‘freedom of choice’. When the Labour party (which according to Tony Benn has ‘never been a Socialist party’) puts forward a program designed to alleviate the worst extremes of Capitalism then assorted vague insinuations are broadcast relating to anything from denouncing the way the leader dresses to more evil and insidious suggestions that Socialists are akin to fascists in that they may be anti-Semitic or racist. Such critiques or suggestions or downright lies wouldn’t fool the majority of the people if there was a balanced presentation of all the facst but there is no ‘balance’; 95% of the media is owned by wealthy Capitalists and they swamp the air-waves with what Winston Churchill referred to as terminological inexactitudes…. or ‘lies’ as ordinary people might recognise them. The media and the System are one-and-the-same in that they do not wish to discuss alternative social and economic methods because the current System suits them fine or, to use a phrase which is common on the streets, ‘they’ are ‘all right Jack’.
- So let’s see where we are to date. Socialism is something anyone can envisage but I would contend that it is viewed differently and experienced as a concept depending on the way you experienced early life. I would suggest that you can be a theoretical Socialist, perhaps like Tony Benn or Leon Trotsky, or you can be born into an awareness of it.
Since 1917 and the Russian experiment with the Soviets the debate has been ongoing that Socialism can’t work in a single country; the argument now is that it has to be a world System to replace Capitalism; it is one or the other; Socialism or Capitalism. Capitalism deliberately, and with what a modern criminal Court might label ‘malice aforethought’, destroyed the Soviets and the Socialist experiment because it represented a threat and with their world-wide experience, they could plough billions into their System so long as the end result was to discredit any concept of an alternative Socialist System. They began cold wars, they stationed nuclear weapons so close that valuable resources which should have been used to firmly entrench the Soviets had to be diverted to protect the USSR. They undermined the economy in order to produce scarcities and then their Capitalist controlled media informed the people involved in the experiments that the shortages were due to the failed-concept of Socialism. Outright lies, fake news, threats of nuclear war, fear tactics and economic sabotage revealed the weakness in the soviets and showed us all that in the final analysis Socialism can only work if it replaces the current corrupt System. They are North and South. They are opposites. It is one or the other.
Which brings me to the main question which centres upon why I am a Socialist…
Initially it was a protection, a protection for those I knew, for my ‘tribe’ if you like. Now it is much more expansive. I still see the dangerous beasts circling but now I see them much more clearly. They were circling to keep me in order, as a wage slave, but by far the biggest victims of the corrupt System were the countries disparagingly named ‘third world’. These countries were raped and abused and the people therein, including the children, were allowed to starve to death or were eliminated in ongoing wars and insurgencies. Think of that. The deliberate mass-murder through neglect of millions upon millions of innocent people in order to maintain a corrupt System. Think of that.
Divide-and-rule was/is a popular tactic; Capitalism and its media set workers against each other, set black against white, set Muslim against Christian, set men against women, set those who have ‘enough’ against those who experience true poverty… and now we have a world run under a System, accepted world-wide, that we all know is corrupt. We all know that there is enough food in the world for example, ample to feed everyone, yet we know also that every day thousands of people starve to death or die from diseases which we have cures for. But because this System keeps many of us living adequately or even in a degree of luxury we ‘forget’ that we are still slaves, albeit wage-slaves, and we are swamped every day by their media informing us that we should establish ‘charities’ to aid ‘third world’ people and insinuating that the cause of their poverty is basically because they are not as thrifty and hard-working as ‘we’ are. And because Socialism is constantly and repeatedly attacked as being a dictatorship, we swallow it. It is more comfortable to just swallow it. Because we are comparatively pampered wage-slaves we accept the System and refuse to see the truth which actually is evident.
Not everyone swallows it though, not everyone… some join the Labour Party here in the UK which puzzles me as the Labour Party, as Tony Benn observed, is not and has never been a Socialist party. In this country where 90% choose to be blind these people have evolved into people who can see with just one eye. But the horrible reality is that the Labour Party here in the UK and similar parties world-wide are not there to progress us towards Socialism. Quite the contrary, they are here to prevent any progress towards Socialism. Many of those who achieve high status and power within these parties including every leader there has ever been are very well aware that any notion of Socialism-in-one-country is almost laughably absurd and yet fringe groups are formed and debate rages but not debate about how to achieve or even how to define Socialism, no, the debate is an eternal and meaningless one about how to attain power. Power which, when they win the odd election, is used to tinker with Capitalism, to try to make a corrupt and murderous pigs-at-the-trough System a little bit ‘nicer’. And when they do this, the opposition, still in their mansions, still controlling the media, with the armed forces and the police swearing allegiance to them, the opposition either take a few years off while they manipulate the stock-exchange or they disappear to one of the many tax-havens worldwide which this System has deliberately created just to accommodate them. And, while the Labour party or similar ‘progressive’ parties world-wide are exercising ‘power’, slowly but relentlessly the Capitalist media break down each of these allegedly ‘progressive’ parties, then inevitably they are brought to ignominious defeat in a System they have the audacity to label ‘democratic’ where the ‘democracy’ is reduced to each member of the population being allowed to scrawl an X on a bit of paper once every four years. A cynic once commented that if voting ever changed anything ‘they’ would ban it.
Of course, as a slight but important aside, our ‘democracy’ also allows for ‘peaceful protest’ which includes street demonstrations and picketing and of course the right to strike. Think about that last phrase; ‘the right to strike’. That means we have the ‘right’ not to work if we so choose. Slaves on plantations never had that right but we wage-slaves have it. But then our income is blocked and if our Unions decide to pay us a ‘wage’ the fees we paid into the Union over the years may be sequestrated and our Union leaders jailed if they protest or refuse to cooperate. Another problem is, as anyone who has ever been on strike and picketing knows, the bold gendarmery, the police, then mysteriously appear in their hundreds in order to ‘keep the peace’. We never see them at other times but attend a picket or a mass protest and suddenly that peculiar group within society which the socialist author Ethel Carnie Holdsworth referred to as ‘slaves chosen from slaves to keep them in their place’ descend on foot and on horseback to kettle, cavalry charge and baton the people who have been guaranteed the right to democratically protest, demonstrate or strike. But that is another essay. Suffice it to state clearly here that the armed forces and the uniformed constabulary are not here to keep the peace for us, they are here to maintain the System.
And we stumble on. Hiding the shame in our hearts. Knowing during brief flashes of light that we are supporting a System which murders and enslaves children and keeps extraordinary wealth in the hands of a few. But that is OK. It is OK because we are ‘all right Jack’. We know we are wage-slaves but we can always find someone we are doing ‘better-than’ and so we continue and pretend and ignore and quote the corrupt media as we eat and drink well in our modern homes… and we easily convince ourselves that this is the best of all possible worlds.
I am a Socialist in the full international sense of the word because I can see the evidence of corruption, slavery and even deliberate murder of children that we are responsible for in so long as we refuse to see. I cannot any more ‘pretend’. I cannot anymore close my eyes. I cannot anymore refuse to accept my responsibility because I participate in it, thus I keep it in place, thus I maintain the evil of it all.
Perhaps I need to explain one other thing relating to this essay. I am an academic. I have several degrees at Masters level and a Doctorate. Thus I am very well aware that serious essays should be littered with foot-notes to support and to ‘prove’ that what I state with passion and conviction is also accurate.
What I am about to say will shock many people because I am going to state quite categorically that when Henry Ford, that committed Capitalist, described History as ‘bunk’ he was in essence, correct. His actually words were ‘History is more or less bunk’ but whichever way you see his comment the comment itself is a correct observation. We have always smiled as we recognised that ‘history is written by the victors’… (a phrase variously attributed to Churchill or Göring; whichever ‘history’ you choose to read)… we smile because such a truth, like the myth that Capitalism is the best of all Systems, is vaguely embarrassing. We all know that had Hitler been victorious then history itself would have changed. Not just the history of battles and the progress of the war and who was to blame but the aeons of alleged ‘history’ which preceded it.
History is a matter of opinion. ‘Learned’ academic footnotes are in essence historical commentary, that is to say, they are ‘opinions’ and as such worth little more than any other ‘opinion’.
And that realisation shocks people because we are constantly being told that it is factually true that X caused Y or that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’ and so we flinch to recognise the illogicality and also, conversely, the core-truth of such a comment. How can it possibly be that what is written down at a given time by a given expert is possibly ‘more or less bunk’?
The acceptance of history as-is presents people with certainties. When we are told, by learned historians, that Jo Stalin, Harold Shipman, Ghengis Khan, Adolph Hitler and Myra Hindley are evil-personified it is comforting, it is a certainty, it is indisputable. And yet all of us who have even a basic education are aware that Nelson Mandela was a disgruntled black ‘terrorist’… and that Berndt Andreas Baader while imprisoned in Stuttgart-Stammheim jail in 1976 somehow found a gun and shot himself through the back of his head with the fatal bullet exiting through his forehead and that he also fired two other shots which presumably missed. We know this because this is history. History. Written down by experts and learned historians for all of us to read and to believe. ‘History’. It is also ‘more or less bunk’. And how much of history and what is accepted as ‘gospel’ is in fact ‘more or less bunk’? Thus, if I add the required footnotes you will certainly be able to seek out alternative ‘explanations’ and/or contradictions. What I write above may well all be more or less bunk; you must decide, not some learned historian.
What I write here is linked to my extensive education but also, and mainly, to my personal experiences. It may, or may not, include also some historical facts. How would I know? For sure? In the end we must rely on ourselves, on our personal experiences, on the things we know for sure, and we must face up to that which we know to be true, not to hide it because it embarrasses us or makes us feel uncomfortable. If we all do that then maybe someday, somehow, we will achieve a fair, balanced world where we can exist with pride because we believe that what we do we do for the good of all… just as we do within our families. Then it may be that everyone will be able to write an essay of explanation for those who follow after, an explanation titled;
‘Why I am a Socialist’.