This piece was given as a public talk at a meeting of the Pōneke branch of the International Socialist Organisation
We’re living through a mass extinction event. Unlike any previous mass extinction on planet Earth, this one is entirely caused by human activities. We don’t know of any intelligent life anywhere other than on this relatively tiny ball of rock hurtling through an infinite, and, mind-bendingly expanding void. And yet human activity, mostly just within the past two centuries, is causing unprecedented changes to the atmosphere which will make living on this planet increasingly difficult. The next best alternative currently being offered to just putting up with the increasingly deranged weather leading to floods, droughts, and fire storms is indentured servitude on Mars.
Why you should consider socialism: The current “system” of social organisation is destructive. It’s worth at least considering something different.
Even while the world seems to drown or burn around us, this modern economic system sucks in so many ways. A small number of rich people seem to endlessly become richer, while the majority have to struggle. Sure, the degree of struggle varies – for some, there’s little time to self-actualise due to a busy work schedule; for others, there’s little or no money for necessities like food. Nonetheless, for the majority of us life does not seem to be as easy or as fulfilling as it could be. It’s as if the game is rigged. Like you joined the game of Monopoly half-way through, and some of the other players have already built hotels. There are “haves” and there are “have nots”, and one of those groups seem to be constantly propping the other up.
Karl Marx said: “The will of the capitalist is certainly to take as much as possible. What we have to do is not to talk about his will, but to enquire into his power, the limits of that power, and the character of those limits.”
Why you should be a socialist. This fight has gone on for over 150 years, and there’s a lot we can learn from an analysis of what Marx and others had to say about the imbalance of power and the way in which we’re exploited.
We are currently in a phase known as “Capitalist Realism”: capitalism is so all-powerful and so pervasive that it is viewed as the only possible reality. It’s an easy mistake to consider where we are now to be the pinnacle of all human evolution and progress. To believe we’ve essentially “made it” to our highest possible state of being – barring, perhaps, a few tweaks here and there. The temptation to reformism – to believing that we can achieve the absolute best that humankind is capable of just by making gradual changes to our current social systems – is stronger than ever.
Rosa Luxemburg said: “The theory of the gradual introduction of socialism proposes progressive reform of capitalist property and the capitalist State in the direction of socialism. But in consequence of the objective laws of existing society, one and the other develop in a precisely opposite direction. The process of production is increasingly socialised, and state intervention, the control of the state over the process of production, is extended. But at the same time, private property becomes more and more the form of open capitalist exploitation of the labour of others, and state control is penetrated with the exclusive interests of the ruling class. The state, that is to say the political organisation of capitalism, and the property relations, that is to say the juridical organisation of capitalism, become more capitalist and not more socialist, opposing to the theory of the progressive introduction of socialism two insurmountable difficulties.”
Why you should be a socialist: Because you get a whole new appreciation of the giants who went before us, like Rosa Luxemburg.
Why you should be a socialist: Because gradual reform is not going to get us across the great divide between the exploitative relations which define capitalism and the genuinely equitable society which can be our future.
So, socialists are historical re-enactment societies, right? Sure, this whole time I’ve been quoting people from centuries past. But there’s plenty we can learn from our forebears. And it would be a bold person to suggest we should just ignore gravity because it was described historically. That defence aside, it would be more grounded to simply say: no, our analyses evolve, and the understanding of what we can and should achieve – and how we should go about achieving the world we want to live in – evolves with us. From the UK Socialist Party, to the Australian Socialist Alternative; from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan to the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa, we, day by day undertake the work of building working class consciousness, solidarity, and strength, towards a better future.
Why you should be a socialist: You get invited to some of the most energetic gatherings, which are held for the best causes.
But isn’t a socialist world a hell-scape? Stalin’s USSR ruled through intimidation and violence, after all. And the Communist party of China uses facial recognition technology to control its citizens. Yeah, nah. It turns out we don’t want that either. Speaking personally for a moment, this was my biggest hesitation in joining the International Socialists. I am absolutely sure I don’t want to put my energies into building a future which looks like the authoritarian regime George Orwell wrote about. Our analysis of the Russian Revolution is: the revolution was initially genuinely successful, but it was quickly followed by a successful counter-revolution which destroyed socialism in Russia. On top of this, decades of capitalist propaganda spearheaded by the USA has held up the perversion of the socialist ideal – the Cold War USSR – as an example of why we should all accept capitalism as the ‘best’ system we can hope for.
Why you should be a socialist: Because you’ll learn to counter the baseless accusations of those who are threatened by the possibility of an egalitarian world.
Ok. What about the right-wing anti-vaxx protestors at parliament in early 2022? They’re making demands, they’re occupying state space, they’re getting attention. Is this what socialists want? The “Convoy 2022” has been a topic of significant discussion and some disagreement within leftist groups. One reason to join us is to get involved in the discussions of these complex issues, which help to sharpen our own understanding of the issues and challenges. One faction of the current occupiers at Parliament are self-identified fascists, and we unequivocally oppose fascists and fascist organising. Many of the protestors, however, represent vulnerable groups who are at risk of recruitment by fascists if we were to provoke direct confrontation. And other “protestors” are representatives of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois – the ruling class, or the super-wealthy – whose presence is primarily motivated by their own greed. Our goal is to undertake action which wins back the working class without losing ground to the fascists or the bourgeois actors, and without empowering the Police or the state which represent the interests of capitalism overall. For other causes, we might advocate the occupation of ground and the disruption of “normality”, but our goals of social support and solidarity are not shared by the “Convoy 2022” crowd. We support the disbandment of the “Convoy 2022” occupation through means which support health such as distanced protest and effective propaganda.
Why you should be a socialist: You get to be a part of an organised political group who have been developing their theory for centuries, and whose members respect one another and share ideas towards a common goal of a common good. This helps us to better understand and respond to events happening right now.
Ok. What about Russia invading Ukraine? What can socialists offer compared with, say, NATO? Russia’s actions are nothing but imperialist. Meanwhile, NATO is an alliance of capitalist States who have their own imperialist goals. We should look neither to Russia nor NATO to form the future we want to live in. There are various potential scenarios that may play out from this conflict if there is no working-class intervention. In those cases, at best many people will die and at worst, this could become World War III and immeasurably more will also die. Instead, we need to look to the working class within Russia to stop Putin. Rather than just sit back and hope, we need to be actively showing our support – solidarity – with the working class of Russia to bolster their brave efforts. All other options – allowing Ukraine to fall, the enforcement of no-fly zones, ‘boots on the ground’ NATO forces, implementation of sanctions – result in unnecessary suffering and death. Sure, these options are not entirely equal in their outcomes, but our best way forward lies in supporting Ukrainian self-defence and an uprising of the Russian working class and with the overthrow of Putin as a result of his warmongering.
Why you should be a socialist: You’re reading this article because you want a better world. Socialists are also working towards a better world.
But aren’t there a lot of different types of socialism? Yeah, sure there are a lot of different “tendencies” or branches of socialism. The International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa is a socialist group whose influences include Cliff, Trotsky, Lenin, and Marx. Our aim is to find the confluence of ideas which builds a world that puts people, not profit, at the heart of society. If our specific analysis doesn’t connect with you, we still urge you to at least consider alternative socialist and leftist groups. We regularly work with other leftist groups for common goals: for example, current planning for action regarding the right-wing occupation at Parliament alongside Peace Action Aotearoa; the 2021 Queer Endurance/Defiance rally at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington; and 2021 Justice for Palestine rallies in Wellington. Our reading groups, article discussions, and current events analyses help us to contribute in politically useful ways to these groups, making small steps towards building working-class consciousness and strength.
Why you should be a socialist: There’s a plethora of work to be done, of political demands to advance, of movements to support. The socialists offer a way forward, and comrades to undertake that work with.Socialists have an analysis of what is wrong, and a plan on how to change things. To paraphrase Marx and Engels from the 1848 Communist Manifesto: “The working class have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.” You should be a socialist because you will be helping to build that better world.