'Are you a socialist?' I asked a fellow speaker at an anti-war rally the other day. I knew the answer was yes. The speaker had taken the whole of his time exposing the dreadful gap between the world's rich and poor, between the handful of billionaires on the one hand and the 'world pining in pain' on the other. He had said more than enough to convince me that he didn't believe these frightful facts were caused by accident or sent by god. On the contrary-they were connected. The poor are poor because the rich are rich, and vice versa.
The explanation for this, the most frightful fact about our civilisation, is exploitation. That is the control of the means of production by a small minority who organise the wealth they control to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of the people who work for them.
This exploitation explains the horrors we see around us, including the horror of 11 September, and drives our rulers to 'settle' such horrors with more horrors and more killings. Capitalism, the rule of the rich minority, is the enemy.
The antidote to capitalism is socialism, a democratic system of society where the wealth is owned and controlled by the people who produce it. It is easy to set out these simple principles, and easy to answer yes to the question I asked.
But other questions flow directly from that answer. The easiest, it seems to me, is, 'Can I be a socialist on my own?' The whole point about socialism is that it is a society run by collective effort. Instead of splitting people one from another, socialism encourages cooperation. None of us individuals know more than a little or can contribute more than a little.
In a cooperative society we can pool our abilities and resources to create more for everyone, and to share it out fairly. The same principle applies to changing from capitalism to socialism. Though it is corrupt and decadent to the core, capitalism is an extremely powerful system, bolstered all the time by class solidarity.
The rich and mighty combine to confuse and humiliate workers and the poor. The only answer is for workers and the poor to combine to fight back.
The weakest organisation on the left, therefore, is the NANAS-the National Association of Non-Aligned Socialists, the people who profess to know everything and do nothing. They cause no problem at all to capitalists and militarists. Not much better are the socialists who believe that the best road to socialism is to wait for it to be ushered in by parliament.
These prevaricators always seem to have a reason to do nothing themselves and leave the campaigning, and the challenge, to someone else. Those few socialists who have joined the Labour Party have found themselves sidelined, patronised and vilified.
As a result many of them have left, and many more are thinking of leaving. If they are to make any real impact on capitalist society, socialists have to come together in an organisation committed to campaigning against capitalist society in whatever guise it appears.
In any area or workplace the ceaseless struggle between exploited and exploiters shows itself in countless different ways. Workers may go on strike, tenants may combine to fight the threat of eviction, black people may be victimised or attacked because of the colour of their skin, women and gays may be discriminated against.
There may be-indeed there is right now-a monstrous war in which the forces of the rich have combined their military might to pulverise the poor. In all these struggles the crying need is for socialist organisation, in which socialists can combine to produce their own newspapers, magazines and propaganda, and organise solidarity for those who have had the guts to take their bosses on.
Socialists are no better, cleverer or sharper than anyone else. But if and when they act together they have far more influence on society than they had when they were isolated individuals.
I have been a member of the Socialist Workers Party since its formation in 1977, and of its predecessor for many years before that. I have watched while other socialist organisations disintegrated and collapsed under pressure from outside, or from their own insistence that the best way to proceed is, like capitalists, from the top down.
The SWP has survived the rise and fall of Stalinism and the lure of office in the Labour Party. It continues to campaign and fight alongside anyone who challenges capitalism and all its works. The SWP remains today by far the strongest of the socialist organisations to the left of the Labour Party.
I urge anyone marching against the war who answers yes to my original question to join with us, fight with us and help us to organise.