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Interested in socialism? Read our book

Why You Should Be A Socialist is the book for generation Palestine. Authors Sophia Beach and Lewis Nielsen, leading members of the Socialist Workers Party, spoke to Thomas Foster about Palestine, revolution and socialism
Issue 2907
socialism socialist

New book is for those who want to learn about socialism and revolutionary politics

Why is the book coming out now?

Sophia Beach (SB): We chose to write Why You Should Be A Socialist because of the global movement for Palestine. It follows other explosive movements, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), the climate rebellion and the strike wave.

Lewis Nielsen (LN): Something big is happening to a whole generation of people who have been involved in these mass movements that have shaken up politics in a big way.

None of the mainstream political parties provide any genuine answers to climate change, racism, Gaza, or the many crises society is facing. So many feel like mainstream politics doesn’t represent them anymore.

SB: Arguments for revolution are more relevant than ever as people seek an alternative. This book is aimed at them.

Why should people read this book?

Sophia Beach

SB: People should read the book because it introduces some of the most important arguments in society. It answers questions about how capitalism works and how racism, sexism and imperialism are built into the system.

LN: And the book outlines what our revolutionary politics has to offer. It goes through big questions like, “Is revolution possible?”, “Is human nature a barrier to socialism?”, and “What went wrong in Stalinist Russia?”

We want it to be used by those involved in struggles and to make them feel confident about convincing others of revolutionary ideas. If the book goes a small way towards that, then that would be a very good thing.

SB: Crucially, the book maps out a pathway of how we can win. Whether you are angry about the capitalist system or starting to think you might be a socialist, you should read it.

If you’re already a socialist, the book answers some big questions about socialism, such as how we organise society in a more democratic way. It is something everyone should read, and encourage others to read in their workplaces and in the movement.

Why is the book arguing for revolution?

LN: Because parliamentary politics has failed. Over the last few years we’ve seen the demise of left wing projects that think reform is the way forward. The 2010s was a decade when left reformism—a strategy that tries to achieve socialism through parliament—came to the forefront.

You had Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party in Britain, Syriza in office in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Left Bloc in Portugal and Bernie Sanders in the United States. They were positive developments that, but all these projects failed. There is an opening now for people who recognise that even making reforms within a capitalist system won’t solve the many crises we face.

Capitalism is promising us a future of economic crisis, climate crisis, political crisis and relentless war—the instability in the political system means the far right is on the rise. We argue that revolution is necessary to avoid capitalism taking us down this dangerous road.

SB: And there’s a general election in six weeks’ time. Nobody has any illusions in what Labour is bringing to the table.

As Lewis said, this is not just because of how awful Keir Starmer is but also because there are deeper systemic issues about reformism’s failure to deliver change.

If you want real transformative change in society—which the recent mass movements show that many ordinary people also want—we need system change, not just a changing of hands at the top of society. 

Why aren’t movements enough?

LN: Movements, such as the Palestine movement, the climate protests or the BLM movement, can create huge political earthquakes and pull in big numbers of people. But the ruling class can often find ways to tame them, channelling them towards a place that is respectable and safe.

In the book, we argue that if we want systemic change, we need these movements to enter the workplace much more widely. We’ve been saying for a while that we need to shut down the system to stop Israel’s assault on Gaza. Workers walking out and striking would be impossible for our leaders to ignore and could force our government to stop its support for Israel.

When we talk about deepening the movement for Palestine, this is what we mean.

SB: Also movements can go up like a rocket and down like a stick. We need something more sustained where we struggle every day for revolution. This means a revolutionary organisation that is genuinely part of movements—not on the sidelines—fighting to bring workers into the struggle.

LN: The first task of revolutionaries is to get stuck in and be a part of a movement—the debates and actions and be a part of deepening it—while building a revolutionary pole of attraction within them.

How are the problems we face today linked?

SB: The roots of all of today’s problems are located in the same thing— capitalism. But we also need to be more analytical than that. For instance, large swathes of people involved in the Palestine movement are asking, “How did we get to the situation that we are in?”

To answer that we have to understand Israel as a product of imperialism and part of a system where war, violence and racism are endemic to it. As revolutionary socialists, we argue that the problems we face are linked. The fight against Tories and their racism is the same fight against Israel’s genocide, the same fight against transphobia and the same fight against climate chaos.

LN: Following up from that, it’s a mistake to talk about the crises we face today as a series of crises happening at the same time. Instead they should be seen as part of the totality of capitalism. Since the economic crisis of 2008, we are seeing more and more economic instability.

This instability hasn’t happened in a vacuum but because capitalism is a chaotic, volatile system. If you look at Palestine, a profound crisis of imperialism has flowed into an economic crisis. Houthi rebels attacking ships for Palestine in the Red Sea has disrupted the supply chains of global capitalism. Capitalism creates a total crisis that requires a total response.

SB: It’s a system that has exploitation and oppression written into its fabric. You have to fight on all genuine issues that ordinary people face. Only a fight that links up all of the struggles against our broken system will get rid of it.

What would you say to someone who thinks political parties are the problem?

SB: It’s no surprise that many working people don’t trust political parties. The Tories have presided over 14 years of austerity, and the Labour Party is headed by a man who has betrayed the Palestinians and promised he will stand with the bosses when he gets into office.

And again, it’s not like most left wing parties are much of an appealing alternative. Stalinist communist parties have repeatedly let workers down and been a barrier to them making real revolutionary change.

Lewis Nielsen

A revolutionary socialist party like the SWP hopes to be different. Our aim in the SWP is to gather the most radical sections of the working class to lead struggle in every workplace and campus.

We see that the only way to have revolutionary change and to sustain it is to have a leadership that is coordinated and organised. Our rulers are organised and so we must be as well. A revolutionary party that is organised in a democratic and centralised way is the best way to pull together leaders in any fightback.

LN: To echo that, the SWP is made up of people who are won to the idea that we have to break from the logic of capitalism—that we have to build a new socialist society from the bottom up.

We can play a role in building struggle—and in that struggle, pull it towards a confrontation with the state and capitalism. We don’t pretend to have all the answers. We don’t pretend that the SWP is the finished article.

But we do think that the whole history of revolutionary struggle shows us that we can’t wait for a revolution to build an organisation. You have to build the embryo in the here and now. And that’s what we are trying to do with the SWP.

  • Why You Should Be A Socialist: The Case For A Revolution by Lewis Nielsen and Sophia Beach £5, available at Socialist Worker shop

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