Socialist Worker

Can we become the majority?

Published Sat 2 Feb 2002
Issue No. 1785

'I AM a socialist, but the people I work with aren't interested. How do I convince them?' Every socialist has had to grapple with a question like this. For socialists, the world is so obviously unfair and unjust it can be frustrating that only a minority of the population commit themselves to socialism.

At times socialists can speak for, and help to organise, thousands of people over particular issues like privatisation and the Afghanistan war. But even amongst these activists, many accept that change can only happen within the framework of capitalism. Those who want a socialist society can be in the minority within the movements. This is not surprising.

Ideas that support or justify capitalism are reinforced through the education system and the media, and by politicians. Karl Marx faced the same issue over 150 years ago. He argued that socialism was a minority view, not because people were naturally opposed to it, but because of how society was organised. He wrote, 'The prevailing ideas are, in every age, the ideas of the ruling class. The class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force.'

The managers of multinational companies, the financiers and the industrialists don't just control the factories, offices and banks. They also control the media and all the ways of communicating ideas. All these powerful and sophisticated mechanisms promote the worldview of the ruling class.

But people do not simply accept them because they are stupid. There is a reason why many workers read the Sun, and follow the lives of celebrities and soaps. People accept the ruling class's agenda because of how they have to live under capitalism.

They can feel beaten down by the experience of work, which is not satisfying or fulfilling. On the contrary, it is physically and emotionally damaging. Most of us spend the bulk of our lives doing something that harms us and that we resent. This is true on the production line at Ford's, on the Tescos checkout and in front of the computer. Many ordinary people are weighed down by lack of confidence and feeling powerless.

Today many try to retreat into their private lives to seek happiness and security, often unsuccessfully. Dashed Even so, people never simply accept what the ruling class wants them to believe. There are powerful forces which can drive people to challenge the ideas they have grown up with.

The most important is their experience of life. Often the lives of working class people conflict with the line they are sold by the media. This process can accelerate when people's expectations of life are suddenly dashed, through unemployment, or the destruction of the NHS or the education system.

No major newspaper encourages people to demonstrate against capitalism, but thousands went to Genoa and Brussels. Every mainstream newspaper and political party championed privatisation. But the vast majority want the railways renationalised. No major newspaper or political party tells workers to vote for strikes. But thousands of workers are actually taking strike action.

This means that most people have contradictory ideas in their heads. They can be cynical about politicians, yet support those politicians at war. They can believe in strong unions, yet blame refugees for bad housing. There are two factors that influence which side of these conflicting ideas wins out.

Firstly, there is the experience of getting involved in demonstrations, occupations and strikes. Collective action can give workers a sense of confidence. They find that they can win solidarity. They realise that the media and other institutions are there to crush them, not to help them.

It is through the battles to transform conditions that workers transform their own ideas. All kinds of old prejudices are overcome. All kinds of new possibilities open up. Suddenly they are making the news, not just watching it. Secondly, there are the organisations of the working class. The stronger they are, the more effective the struggle will be. This is true of political as well as trade union organisation.

Socialists who can bring the lessons of the past to the struggles of the present can strengthen the fight.

The more socialists are involved in every campaign, the more other workers can break from their old habits and seize the potential. But we don't just have to wait for huge struggles to break out before we can win more people to socialism.

There are many people today who hate the system. They are ready to organise against aspects of capitalism and are open to discussing how it can be changed. The role of Socialist Worker is to relate to working class anger, to encourage and generalise the struggle, and to help build socialist organisation.


Article information

What Socialists Say
Sat 2 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1785
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