Socialist Worker

Taking back what's ours

by Sam Ashman
Issue No. 1672

THERE IS no doubt about it: radical solutions are necessary to solve the problems facing the globe. The prospect of nuclear war hangs over our heads. Environmental destruction continues apace, as does the devastation of the Third World. Protests are good. Protests have succeeded, for example, in forcing the government to delay the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain. But a succession of protests, even if big and angry, are still not enough to radically alter the balance of power across the world. To do that we need to expropriate those with power.

'Expropriate the expropriators,' wrote Karl Marx 150 years ago. What does it mean? It means the majority in society must, ultimately, seize control of all the assets and wealth of the minority who control society. A tiny number of people across the world have immense power. They are the bosses of the big national and international corporations, and the heads of the banking and financial institutions, like the Bank of England, the IMF and the World Bank. These are the people who put profit above all else. It is their priorities which dictate the fate of millions. They suck life out of the planet and out of the human beings who are forced to work for them in order to survive.

Workers produce all the wealth, but have no say over what is produced or how it is produced. The products of workers' labour are expropriated - or stolen - by the ruling class. The bosses are also expropriators because they kicked peasants off the land and forced them to go and work in their factories. Their ownership of private property is all based on theft. But the other side of Marx's message is that in return workers have the power to expropriate the ruling class.

The heads of multinational corporations and the IMF are not going to willingly relinquish their power. It must be seized from them - with no compensation. That means workers taking over the factories and deciding themselves what to produce and how. But it also means wresting all capital away from the ruling class - by taking control of their bank accounts and spending the contents. It means scrapping all workers' debts like overdrafts by telling the bankers, 'Tough!' And it means abolishing mortgage repayments by giving everyone their home.

It means tearing up the laws (made by the rich) that say respect private property, and handing Buckingham Palace over to the homeless. It means sharing out the vast properties of the wealthy among those who now live in cramped overcrowded conditions. It means not only scrapping all Third World debt, but also scrapping all the debts that peasants owe to local landowners. It is possible. But there is only one force in society that can do it - the workers.

Workers can use their economic power to politically challenge the whole system. A general strike by workers can stop the system in its tracks. Bank workers can stop the bosses moving their capital around the world. Car workers can stop vehicles rolling off the production lines. Let's take just one example. There was an enormous wave of factory occupations across Italy between 1919 and 1920. At Fiat motors the workers took over the boss's office and threw him out. When people rang the boss's office they got through to a worker who said, 'We are now in control.'

Although in Italy the bosses managed to regain control, the workers showed a glimpse of what is possible. In place of the anarchy of the market, workers could rationally plan production and the organisation of society. Socialism would ultimately mean the abolition of private property. This does not mean collectivising everybody's CD collection, or that garden sheds everywhere will be taken over by a workers' committee. But a socialist society would not allow massive wealth in private hands and it would not allow a few individuals by virtue of their private wealth to dictate over everybody else.

That is the only way to change the global priorities of the system. It is the radical solution we need and we will only get it by building a movement that links protests against the system to the power that exists in the workplaces.

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Article information

Sat 13 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1672
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