Why I signed up for socialism

Red-Square MalevichWhy I signed up for socialism

Ed Potts

 

As someone who signed my name to the founding statement of the Socialist Platform, I feel motivated to explain my reasons for doing so and furthermore to encourage others to follow suit. This piece will probably stray into the personal rather than the conventionally “political”, so be warned.

It seems to me that as the political consciousness of any individual develops, the best possible consequence of this that can occur is that their capacity for sharing and communicating that consciousness to others increases. If that is not the case, something is going wrong. When I started to become aware of the world around me and the problems it suffers, I found it nearly impossible to articulate these concerns to people around me. Discovering socialism was for me not only a highly personal process of self-education and clarification (often challenging and problematic), but also a joyful experience in that I finally discovered a coherent school of thought which answered my questions about how to critique the disastrous status quo, as well as a whole community of fellow-thinkers both living and dead – comrades, you might say – who pursued the same goals, saw things the same way, and used the same language to express themselves. I have never proclaimed my understanding of socialism to be superior to anyone else’s, nor in the company of the “unconverted” unnecessarily flaunted the word as a red rag to a bull.

If a criticism of those explicitly advocating socialism and related concepts is that they should “come down to earth”, I should like to think that I am one who from that perspective has never so far taken more than one foot off the ground. If my reluctance to drift away from the concerns and language of “real people” has left me somewhat inexpert in my grasp of certain concepts and fine detail of Marxist thought, I have managed to hide behind my youth and inexperience as an excuse. How long I may continue to do so remains to be seen – that is a bridge I will cross when I come to it.

As far as my political opinions go, I have come to the conclusion that the system by which human society is organised socially and economically has long since proven itself to be corrupt beyond redemption. If it were possible for such a system to be steered, reformed or otherwise reprogrammed to meet our needs through the instruments available to us (the ballot box, the old social democratic parties) then somewhere in the world this should have happened by now. Not only has such a change not materialised, but people my age (I’m currently 21) find that our expectations, prospects and even standard of living have regressed from the high-water mark experienced by our parents. I do not identify solidly with any narrow tendency of socialist thought or allegiance (something people might like to consider when using the label “Trotskyist” in broad brush strokes to caricature the Socialist Platform) but I would be quite happy being described as a Marxist, given how thoroughly I agree with the basic analysis and philosophy Marx initiated. However, what use is it to anyone if I hold opinions like those and yet choose not to communicate them fully and honestly?

So, I evaluate my own political consciousness mainly in terms of its usefulness and value to others beside myself. As I have no great interest in winning theoretical arguments (only in arriving at positions which offend neither my sense of reason nor my conscience), I aim for a compromise between the amount I learn, and the amount I am able to usefully communicate. As I said previously, if an increase in individual consciousness cannot be used to help, persuade or inform others, then something is going wrong. I have a profound faith in the intelligence of all humankind, and I believe that with competent explanation socialism is well within the grasp of almost any person who may desire to understand it. Therefore, having taken socialism (both as a goal and way of thinking) to my heart as one of my most cherished ideals, and as it is possible (even easy) to communicate in many cases, I find myself with little choice other than to advocate and defend it whenever realistically practicable. To not do so would feel like I were being untrue to myself, and also doing those I interact with a disservice by not allowing them insight into my honest opinions. It shows respect for an “opponent”, I think, if you allow them the means to engage you in a fair fight, and for me that means allowing them a clear view of where I stand, so that they can [figuratively speaking] strike me down if their counter-arguments prove strong enough.

In the same way as I have little interest in argument for argument’s sake, it doesn’t matter to me at this stage whether we secure more signatories to our platform than others do. I would much rather engage opponents who loudly accuse me of being bonkers for believing in socialist revolution, than comrades who are also socialists of the same fundamental type but who think that for tactical reasons I should not advocate it in the way I do.

Let’s not succumb to self-censorship, or lack of confidence in the ideals so many of us hold! After all, what is to be lost by forthrightly identifying where we stand? The worst that can happen is that people may refuse to stand with us at this time. Having done so, we leave open the possibility that they might join us there later, or meet us halfway. No-one shall find their way towards us if they don’t know where we are coming from. If you agree with the principles set out in the platform (and they have been formulated with wide acceptance in mind), please sign, or indicate your support in whatever manner you see fit. If you have disagreements, shout them from the rooftops. Let the debate begin.


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15 comments

15 responses to “Why I signed up for socialism”

  1. Baton Rouge says:

    I think the problem people have with the Socialist Platform and the Left Party Statement is that neither of them are programmes for anything, certainly not the transition to socialism (we’ll gloss over the Class Struggle platform), which means it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself, where you stand or indeed whether you sign up for a sectarian list of platitudes or an opportunist list of the same. Now we either believe that this is the right time to launch an effort for building a mass party to challenge New Labour leaving the propaganda days behind or we do not. If not then we are doing the wrong and possibly dangerous thing if yes then we need programme, principled, holistic, radical, transitional, programme and not something cobbled up by the professional activists at policy forums but something rigorously debated at branches, regional and national meetings and at other special meetings for all members for the purpose. `Let the debate begin,’ I absolutely agree.

  2. No one’s claiming this is a fully worked-out programme, though. It’s a statement of ‘Aims and Principles.’That’s all.

  3. Lloyd Edwards says:

    Baton Rouge is clearly correct. Treating Socialism like a Religion is of no practical use, save to enbolden the ‘High Priests’. Let’s get real, and practical.
    Lots of consideration makes me quite certain that the first step must be the universal full disclosure of personal income and taxes paid. Along with a ‘real’ audit. Progressing to the Left will be a much easier journey for ordinary people when basic information is available.
    If 50% of the public signed up for The Socialist Platformm it is still unlikely that UK would be a Socialist state in 40 years. So join us where we are, and push Left, or stay in dogmaland, forever facing right.

  4. bob walker says:

    I am 68 yrs of age. When I was in my twenties,I Read a book called.The Ragged Trousers Philanthropist.It changed my whole way of thinking regarding the world we live in.I joined the C.P.G.B.There were a lot of left wing parties around Liverpool at the time,all arguing amongst themselves,the best way of acheiving.Socialism.All running around waving their red flags.(including myself)
    SOMETHING WENT WRONG.I dont pretend to know the answers.I always remember when i was a child. Mother telling me, that you didnt need to go to church in order to be a good person.What i am trying to say is.Its NOT what you call yourself.Its wat you DO.

  5. Ray G says:

    Ed, I do not think you are bonkers for believing in or advocating socialism. There is barely anyone on this site or in LU in general who does not believe in and advocate a similar society, though they may call it a variety of things.

    The problem is in advocating ‘socialism’ in the style and language of that very tradition, the Trotskyism of several parties of the existing left, which you are not part of. The issue is how you communicate the ideas for a better society, as you say. Setting out a list of prescriptive positions, designed to divide rather than unite, to establish revolutionary credentials rather than to genuinely engage, listen with respect and learn from the many different experiences, and tactics of ordinary people engaged in trying to change the world, is not the way to build a new large party which can make a real attempt to create a new society.

    The ideology of the platform that you have signed up to has failed to build a lasting credible socialist party of any size in its 70 year history. There is a reason for that. Those that are tired of that approach are not generally opportunists, traitors, non-socialists, or cynical careerists, but simply those that in many cases have already given many years of their lives to that project and have finally seen through it. If you keep failing then its probably a good idea to do something different. It’s easy really!

    I am not in any platform. I am just me, and I just support the Left Unity project, to build a party which stands for a fair and just – yes socialist – society, which needs to bring people together and not divide them.

    • Ed Potts says:

      First off, just on the subject of your own approach – I have absolutely no problem with you not signing any platform. I can assure you, I have no intention of using it as a litmus test to decide who my “friends” and “enemies” are. That being the case, I’m sure you’ll agree how absurd it is for some commenting elsewhere on this site to claim that we are trying to establish an explicit commitment to world proletarian revolution as a precondition just for membership of the new party! As if once we gain enough support we will station enforcers by the doors of conference, ordering people <>

      I had a look through some of your previous comments on the site to gain a better idea of what your agreements and disagreements are with the various platforms. It seems to me part of the problem may be a difference in opinion as to what the level of class consciousness will permit us to realistically argue for and communicate. Now of course, language is important, and it’s sometimes amusing how various small groups on the left have their own distinctive catchphrases by which they can be identified. It’s important also to think about how you come across. But I reject the idea that presenting a neat attempt to sum up our ideals is “a list of demands” or “prescriptive” or “designed to unite rather than divide”. Who among the signatories to our platform thinks that if 30 million people could be convinced to sign up then a revolution could take place in exactly the way we envisaged, with the masses dancing to our tune? No-one. In fact you should come along to an ISN meeting sometime, you might be surprised to find out how undogmatic we are!

      I think people in general trust us more once they know our end goals, and trust us less if we constantly present ourselves as the best and most radical opponents of attacks on housing, the NHS, etc [which we are] without also making clear to people how we move beyond the present system to a society where such resistance is no longer necessary. As I say, many or most may disagree at this stage. But it’s important to make clear to people in a general sense what it is we want.

      As for the accusation that “The ideology of the platform that you have signed up to has failed to build a lasting credible socialist party of any size in its 70 year history” – you can only be referring to Trotskyism, with which I don’t identify – I would simply say, well show me the ideology that has managed to do such a thing in that period of time. None of the approaches – a broad anarchist-influenced movement, reclaiming Labour, building a revolutionary party, building a ‘broad’ party – worked over that time.

      Don’t forget, recognising that socialism is the ultimate solution to our problems is not the same thing as claiming that a revolution would be possible or desirable if it were to take place tomorrow; nor is it a stepping-stone to securing a narrow ‘revolutionary group’ with a specific line. I’m not interested in having factions competing over spheres of influence within the new party – I just think that signing this statement of general principles *if people agree with them* would allow us to assess the level of wholehearted support that exists and therefore be more confident in beginning the process of persuading those in disagreement, or only in partial agreement. After all, if the people who do agree with these principles won’t sign their name to them, what message does that send out about their level of commitment and seriousness about those ideals?

      • Ed Potts says:

        Just to clarify the last sentence, I read it back and I realised it could come across wrong. Obviously by “signing their name to principles they believe in” I mean in a general sense – if you won’t advocate something in general, people will question your commitment to it. The specific case in question of actually signing up to this platform doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on that. In no way do I question people’s commitment to their ideals based on whether or not they have signed the platform.

      • Ray G says:

        Ed

        Thanks for the considered response and the fraternal tone.

        The main issue is about communication but is not directly related to class consiousness alone.

        There is a lot of confusion regarding what these platforms are meant to represent. Yours starts almost every paragraph with ‘Left Unity’ rather than ‘the Socialist Platform’, and gives the clear impression that it is intended ideally (from your point of view) to be a statement of guiding principles for LU as a whole if most LU members vote for it. If it were just a clear statement of your views underpinning a subsequent more detailed or subtle discussion of a statement of aims for LU then it would not be so much of a problem for me.

        My objection to the SP (initials already!!) document is that if it were used as the main statement of aims of Left Unity, it is such an definitive, absolute, view of what socialism is and how it can be achieved, couched indeed in clear uncompromising language and imbued with an absence of doubt or of any willingness to rethink some issues or adapt to new circumstances, or even to use less old-fashioned language, that I feel it would exclude whole layers of good genuine people whose politics are not yet so absolute or clear-sighted or who have less toleration of such language.

        The difference between us might be that I want to bring in large numbers of people whose politics and ideology are not so well-honed or so pure. In the process of discussion I would like to engage with these people, listen and learn and maybe rethink some of my own ideas, as well as seeking to clarify theirs and bring them to my opinion. I am confident that on that basis a large but principled left party can be built. I genuinely feel that your platform says to people ‘This is the revolutionary truth – only joins us if you already completely agree with it.’ THIS is the problem of the Trotskyist left, which I aknowledged was not your tradition but to which you have now signed up. It has led to a myriad of increasingly pure and increasingly tiny parties that have done untold damage to the overall left or ‘socialist’ project.

        You say you have read my other comments so you know that in general terms I agree with the need for mass action by ordinary people to actually take control of wealth and power from the class of people who currently have it, and that a purely electoral strategy or one of seeking reforms while governing inside a capitalist system is the road to either Labourist betrayal or being overthrown by the ruling class economically or physically.

        My view of socialism is broadly the same as yours, although I do not support the complete extinction of any market mechanisms nor of all private companies. There is a role for public ownership of the ‘commanding heights’, plus co-operatives and private ownership with strong safeguards of workers rights. I feel the left have too often under-rated individual liberty in favour of collective liberty, and I think we should guard against micro-managing society in a totalitarian way.

        I also think that highlighting the word ‘Socialism’ and making it central to our constitution, name etc does not show enough understanding of how that word has been dragged through the mud by Labourites, and Stalinists and that in the circumstances of defeat of the left, the smashing of the unions and the advance of neo-liberal capitalism (cheered on by Labour) we need to explain it and define it calmly and sensibly before we scream it from every banner and megaphone.Please note – I don’t want to ban it just be sensible about it.

        The Left Party Platform does need to be clearer on the nature of a socialst society and how but I would rather see a unified statement after proper fraternal discussion than the emergence of polarised platforms. I do not believe the LPP people are reformists (left or otherwise). Some of them are Trotskyists of a different brand. I do not believe they are naive believers that capitalism can be gently reformed or that a Left government can operate within it for long without having fundamentally challenging the power of the ruling class.

        The draft statement of aims being worked on in the Internal democracy and constitution commission is a great step forward, and represents a unifying but clear position. I feel we should step away from platforms before they become factions,talk to each other and agree a united way forward.

  6. johnkeeley says:

    The Labour Party was built upon the trade unions, it had a working-class base. We all know the leadership has had a much closer class allegiance to capitalism. So the problem we have is how do we create a broad party that can influence the general population towards socialism?

    We need a cornerstone to build around. That to my mind has to be the fight against austerity. We need to come across as the ‘no to austerity’ party on the side of all workers, not the ‘obsessively politically-correct’ party that thinks being left-wing is justice for minorities & some idyllic Swedish-style social democratic capitalism.

    There is a single policy that we can advocate that would eliminate any need for austerity – the Tobin tax. A tax on every financial transaction will mean the bankers pay for their own crisis, not us. It exposes the class nature of society.

    • Ray G says:

      John

      I agree on the Tobin tax. Good point.I also agree that LU has to be focused on economic justice and the need for economic equality for ordinary ‘working-class’ people of ANY sex or race, or disability etc, as well as dealing with the other more specific aspects of inequality that have arisen under the present system.

      Clearly the Scandinavian Social-democrat model is inadequate, as can be seen from the increasing turn to austerity in all of those countries. The Swedish model never challenged the rule of the pro-capitalism ruling class, so when times get tough,it is the poor and the ordinary people who pay the price. The key is to fundamentally break the domination of this class by taking over the banks and the most important, largest or most strategic industries, as well as gas, water, transport etc. A new, more democratic state structure is necessary to break the ruling class control of the state institutions.

  7. PhilW says:

    This article does not argue for why Left Unity should be based on the positions of the Socialist Platform. Rather, it argues that socialism, marxism and socialist revolution are good things, which is not the same.

    I agree that they are good things, but that does not mean that I refuse to acknowledge that there are THOUSANDS of LU supports who do not have that view, as well as hundreds of thousands of potential supporters. I want us to discuss with those people, as we fight austerity, not to hold them at arm’s length.

    For that reason, LU needs to have a programme that recognises the current balance of forces in society, without compromising on a commitment to outright opposition to austerity, imperialism, all forms of oppression and environmental destruction.

    I think it’s unfortunate that, as soon as one draft statement was produced, the membership was presented with an alternative, with no attempt by the originators of these programmes to discuss how some kind of compromise was possible. It’s absolutely clear that building a broad party requires give and take on all sides and an understanding of what issues are worth debating now and what can be left until a later date.

    Such an understanding seems to be somewhat lacking amongst the leaders and more influential members of LU (and, yes, they are a leadership, even if they try to pretend otherwise). So I make a plea for the originators of the two main statements to discuss producing a common one that is acceptable to the overwhelming majority of LU members – even if it “doesn’t go far enough”.

    • Ed Potts says:

      Correct, I argue that socialism etc are desirable, and also correct, that’s not the same thing as arguing for Left Unity to be based around those principles. What I DO argue for, is that people agree with me about socialism and revolution, should sign up to the platform (or indicate in any other desired way their agreement) and that lack of confidence in or failure to advocate those ideals for tactical reasons is bad.

      I too want to discuss with potential allies and try to win them over to my point of view. But I won’t manage that if I’m saying one thing while thinking another, in an attempt not to scare them off.

      I think it would definitely be positive if there could be some kind of organised dialogue/debate between representatives of different platforms with the aim of coming closer together, rather than asserting superiority. Obviously my little piece isn’t intended to play that role, only to explain my personal motivation. The timing was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence – in fact the first we learnt of the Left Party Platform was reading it on a mobile phone in a pub after a meeting at which we decided to form our own platform, so it definitely wasn’t a kneejerk reaction of any kind.

      I do think however that having different platforms is still positive at this stage – providing people with one compromise to unite around is surely the job of a manifesto produced by conference. It’s to help formulate that, and stimulate the necessary discussion, that multiple poles of attraction are helpful in order to get people thinking about where their sympathies lie.

      • Guy H says:

        “I too want to discuss with potential allies and try to win them over to my point of view. But I won’t manage that if I’m saying one thing while thinking another, in an attempt not to scare them off.”

        This is the most commonly-used criticism of the Left Party platform, yet it misses the point entirely. Indeed as socialists we shouldn’t pretend to be reformists – to do so would be completely counterproductive. However we *should* be working alongside other leftists that oppose austerity – and a party which encompasses not just our own socialist ideas but has at its core the sort of plurality that can encompass other anti-austerity viewpoints is the only way that we will connect with the working class movement in this country.

        I’d recommend all those that are thinking of signing up to the socialist platform first read this article from Tom Walker: http://leftunity.org/which-way-for-left-unity-the-case-for-the-left-party-platform/

  8. Dan says:

    Well I’m a convinced socialist – but even I can see the benefit of getting away from language like having “profound faith in the intelligence of all humankind”. We’re not missionaries spreading the Good News.

    Working-class people need a working-class government – power exercised by the majority, for the majority. Socialism is what it does with that power: democratises it, collectivises it. That doesn’t require us to have a socialist ‘way of thinking’ or talking about being ‘untrue to ourselves’. (No offence, but you see how that’s all rather precious, right?) It just means translating admittedly complex ideas into an easily communicable and popular form. In that, some of the ‘platforms’ popping up seem determined to wreck the most positive, distinctive feature of the Left Unity appeal.

    • Ed Potts says:

      Ouch, that stings. Well, perhaps you should think about how many people in society *don’t* have any faith in the general intelligence of human beings outside their small ethnocentric, prejudiced worldview? If you don’t have to talk to that sort of person, good for you. But I do.

      It’s not precious to question your own conscience, and to think about whether or not in your actions and words you may be betraying your ideals. That’s all that is meant by talking about being true to one’s self. This isn’t a f***ing disney movie, after all.

      So yeah, sorry if not being precise enough in my language made you feel like I pissed in your cornflakes. I’m sure anyone else reading the piece understood that “socialism as a way of thinking” could be easily interpreted as being constantly aware of class struggle and dynamics within society, not to mention just generally being minded towards equality and social justice.

      If you don’t like the way I say things, that’s fine – I didn’t ask to speak on your behalf. But play the ball, not the man.


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