I commend Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) for broaching the difficult, yet important question of how the socialist movement can revive and reinvent itself and offer a genuine alternative to global capitalism against the false choice between neoliberal centrism and right wing ultra-nationalist populism.
As the recent general election in the UK has demonstrated there is still a long way to go before anything that resembles a revolutionary movement comes to the fore. Despite the failures of Labour and Syriza, I still think a space is still possible for a new and truly revolutionary left.
I agree with the AWL on the need to promote “consistent democracy and internationalism” as well as being committed to “class struggle, and a culture of critical inquiry and democratic debate.” as well as defending the rights of oppressed peoples around the world such as the Uyghurs and the Rohingya.
While there have encouraging protest movements around the world recently in places like Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan struggling for greater democracy, freedom and better living conditions, all of which socialists should undoubtedly support. There is still a long way to go before this energy can be converted into a revolutionary consciousness that could transform society on a global scale towards a socialist future.
The revolutionary socialist movement at the moment is weak and much of it is befallen to various dreadful beliefs such as the “anti-imperialism of fools”. Much of it has fragmented into isolated sectarian cults that have almost no social basis upon which they can enact any real political influence.
However, the core problem, I believe, with the socialist movement and the left more generally is that it has forgotten its founding values and principles. Socialism as I understand it was formulated by three broad insights:
Firstly, that the problems facing humanity are social in nature rather than natural. For centuries, politicians, priests and kings argued problems such as poverty, racism, war and other forms of oppression were simply an expression of the natural order, they were because of limits nature and God had imposed on mankind. Or it was because of human greed and decadence.
Socialism argues that humanity’s problems aren’t natural or divinely ordained, they are social, in other words man made, caused by the way society is organised, therefore it is subject to social transformation.
Secondly, socialism argued that human beings were capable of determining their own destinies, of running their own lives, of liberating themselves without requiring the guidance of a king, a lord or a state. Socialism believed that it is through human agency that the working class could overthrow capitalism and in a new system, truly create the conditions in which the humans could fulfil their true potential.
Thirdly, socialism believed that the only way to overcome scarcity and poverty was to create a world of plenty and material super abundance. Through using science and technology liberated from the fetters of capitalism fuelled by human ingenuity and imagination we can free humanity from want and desperation.
“Socialism means plenty for all”, proclaimed Sylvia Pankhurst in 1922, “we do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance”. Under a misguided and bourgeois influenced form of environmentalism, some radicals out of an understandable concern for the ecological question have become hostile to this vision because it promotes a culture of “consumerism” and promotes “techno fixes”.
Undergirding all these insights is the vision of unlimited human freedom, something that the socialist movement should unapologetically recover and stand for again. The ultimate goal of socialism should be the ultimate realisation of human freedom, but a richer and deeper kind of freedom of which is not possible under capitalism — in fact capitalism limits it.
The freedom of human beings to become what they potentially can be rather than simply the freedom to be what they already are and stay that way. In this sense, socialists should be committed to freedom of expression, freedom from religion, freedom from racism and other forms of social oppression, and sexual liberation to its fullest extent.
Fundamentally, if socialism is to make a serious return on the political stage and prevent the potential regression of civilisation into barbarism, it should recover what are its core values and principles and then restate them in a new way appropriate for the 21st century.
• This is one of the responses which we’ll be publishing to our editorial, “Regrouping the Left”, in Solidarity 524