Socialist Worker

How we can take control

Journalists and politicians like politics to be a game for a few specialists, with ordinary people spectators at best. But we have the power to throw them into crisis, says Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2633

Hundreds of thousands came out against Trump in July

Hundreds of thousands came out against Trump in July (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The BBC has spent £10,000 putting up a scaffolding tower near parliament so its journalists can be seen without protesters behind them.

It’s an example of how the media and politics work in tandem. Journalists in a studio ­interview other journalists standing outside a building who have inside “sources”.

Proper politics is the property of the rich and their advocates.

People in suits talk to people in suits about what might go on in arcane rituals in parliament, Downing Street or the stock market.

The people with the ­placards just get in the way.

Like people wearing white coats in adverts, the message is that it is not for the likes of you to understand how this works. But you should definitely accept what you are told.

An entirely reasonable response is to turn off or away. But the decisions of our ­“betters” have enormous—­usually bad—effects on our lives.

The sense of a lack of control can leave people atomised and open to apathy, despair or right wing ideas.

Those at the top want us to be, at best, passive observers of politics. We are more likely to accept the ruling ideas that way.

Workers’ ideas—changing through struggle
Workers’ ideas—changing through struggle
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But people do resist. When we march, protest, riot and strike we are putting ourselves back at the centre of things.

Protest pushes against the habit of subordination that ­capitalist society pushes on us.

To those at the top, our ­protests are portrayed as either irrelevant or inexplicable. Or, if too large or militant to ignore, they are immoral and illogical.

In contrast the Irish revolutionary James Connolly wrote, “There was a time stretching for more than 1,000 years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy.

“That was the blackest period in human history. Then the mob started on its upward march to power, a power only to be ­realised in the socialist republic.

“In the course of its upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world. All hail to the mob, the incarnation of progress.”

Almost every progressive reform has been the result of protest and revolt.

Whether that is impro­vements in living conditions, our right to vote or curbing the excesses of the rich, pressure from below produced progress.

The initial refusal of those in charge to give into demands can lead some to believe that the only way to change the system is from the inside.

And repression can encourage other people to dismiss or sometimes promote protests as just stunts or spectacle.

Every piece of resistance, no matter how small, has to be supported and encouraged

Others vacillate between the two and hope for a combination of protest and reform from above as the way forward.

But if your starting point is to use a movement merely as a pressure group to push the top of society, then the pull to not rock the boat too much is massive. So union leaders argue, “We will back Corbyn if you back Trident renewal.”

Or they say, “A Labour government can give in to this demand, but if we ask for too much that will bring them down. So we better hold back and be realistic.”

When Labour is out of office, every union leadership argues that too many strikes and protests divert from getting Labour elected.

And when Labour is in office they argue against too much action in case it lets the right back in.

The temptation for some people is to think that all we can do is raise our voices until the cavalry of a Labour ­government gets here.

By delaying resistance, this allows more attacks from the rich to go through. It also ­disarms our side by limiting our potential for real change.

Can Labour tame the state?
Can Labour tame the state?
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Every piece of resistance, no matter how small, has to be supported and encouraged.

It offers the potential of resistance spreading to revolt. But it also offers parts of our class the chance to learn through the ­experience how best to resist.

And the attacks on us are real, so every gain is an improvement to real people’s lives.

A revolutionary socialist conclusion is to deepen the confrontation. We try to win larger numbers of people to adopting the best methods to bring down the system, not to try and reform it.

That means escalating struggle. It means aiming for mass resistance based on the power of the organised ­working class.

Struggles can and do win reforms. And more militant struggle will win more reforms.

But as long as society remains in the hands of an elite, it will always try to claw back any gains we make.

And we are more likely to defend what we have gained and win further victories if we fight for—as the US ­socialist Daniel De Leon put it—“more”.

Revolutionaries argue for rank and file control over strikes, for reaching out to other workers, for the maximum self-activity in raising ­support and making decisions.

On demonstrations we are for the largest, most militant protest possible.

This often comes up against those who believe in gradual change from above even where we work together.

They believe strikes should be controlled by the trade union leadership and protests should be passive affairs—­listening to our betters, with the odd token flare.

Popular street democracy can sometimes develop into workers’ self-organisation.

This often results from people defending themselves against right wing forces or the police.

Any large demonstration involves group ­decision-making. Do we listen to the ­stewards or ignore them? Sit down or run?

These choices represent people taking a level of control. The key element is the role of organised workers.

Escalating resistance can throw the whole of society into crisis

Workers’ position in society gives them immense power. They can bring the system to a standstill if they refuse to work. And they have the economic power, the numbers and the expertise to reorganise society on their terms.

That’s why strikes throw up direct questions about control and organisation.

Socialism is about the ­transfer of economic power away from a tiny, greedy elite, and into the democratic control of the ­majority—the working class.

Workers creating their own organisations of control offers the potential to reshape society.

Escalating resistance can throw the whole of society into crisis.

Unable to solve its problems at our expense, the ruling class can split down the middle.

Karl Marx showed why workers have the power to change the world
Karl Marx showed why workers have the power to change the world
  Read More

Those who give the orders in industry, finance, the army and the police begin scrapping with each other, even though this weakens their hold on power over the rest of us. Protest can widen those splits.

Too often those at the head of the workers’ movement look for ways to resolve rather than deepen those splits. This is usually in the name of “national interest”.

But at the same time vast numbers of working people begin to question things they have taken for granted in the past.

Workers who previously accepted their “place” in society find that things can be very different.

The dominant ideas of society, which insist that only “experts” can run things, can be rejected. These ideas include things that divide workers—nationalism, racism, sexism and so on.

People do not all automatically draw the same conclusions—there is an unevenness of ideas. This means that crucial to the success is politics and political organisation.

In a struggle of any length you see the different views of how change occurs reflected in arguments over strategy.

There are people who say that we have to keep the ­existing system intact and then change it slowly.

They can hold us back from taking action. Worse, they can open up the possibility of the right regrouping and counter-attacking.

That’s why people who want to see fundamental transformation have to organise together as revolutionaries. We’re always encouraging the struggle to go further and act as a ­counter-weight to reactionary ideas and conservatism.

Reforming parliament, breaking windows, or even bombing buildings will not stop the giant corporations from making many millions and wrecking billions of ­people’s lives. But revolutions can.

So be realistic, get ­organised—demand what’s really possible.

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