editorial of The Commune
With its first cuts plans the Conservative-LibDem coalition has declared war on the working class.
Day by day we hear fresh appeals to accept mass redundancies, tighten our belts and heap blame on the ‘work-shy’ who are somehow meant to find jobs.
In a sense, the position of communists and the workers’ movement more broadly is obviously weak. The lay-offs and cuts, which had already begun under the Labour government, have only sparked isolated moments of reaction.
Millions are angry at suffering because of the capitalist crisis, but have no confidence in their ability to change the way the world works. In the UK as in crisis-ridden and strike-plagued Greece, a massive cut in working-class living standards is the obvious capitalist solution. Indeed, short of a challenge to the basic assumptions of the system itself, it is inevitable.
To emerge from a state of weakness, or even passivity, we must pose a more fundamental challenge to the order we live in. Fighting this or that cut in jobs and services is insufficient: for that is only organising a defensive reaction to events, not a challenge to how the world is run.
The state we’re in
Capital is constantly adaptable, ever-revolutionised to exert greater control. On one hand, our employment status and stake in this society is ever-more unstable; on the other, the demands of capital accumulation have an ever-increasing stranglehold over our free time.
In response, many on the left repeat the same old mantras, leading only defensive and sectional struggles while ultimately accepting that the cuts do have to fall somewhere – preferably on ‘someone else’. Some unions have even produced alternative, ‘fairer’ cuts plans. They question the way in which the products of capitalism are allotted, not the system itself.
But capitalism is not just a system which unfairly distributes wealth amongst the population, or wastes money on weapons rather than schools and hospitals. Rather, it is a series of social relations and hierarchies, at that, a profoundly alienated one.
The much-vaunted need to ‘calm market fears’ or ‘stabilise the euro’ typifies this. An imaginary representation of capital accumulation is allowed to rule over our own needs and wants. This is much like the manner in which religious people police themselves with the laws of divine powers who are in fact mere human creations.
Capitalism denies our human potential. For the sake of order it drills into us the idea that we are powerless; that some are destined to manage and lecture others, whereas the rest of us can change nothing. This is both the main obstacle to building a confident challenge to our rulers, and a central characteristic of existing social relations we need to uproot.
Therefore it is not enough to demand full employment and better wages in spite of the plans for cuts: this only goes so far as asking how to run the capitalist state in a ‘socialist’ way. It does not help us escape from living out the existing social relations.
Rather, communists must advocate a vision to inspire, one which challenges the many hierarchies and expressions of alienation in capitalist society. Only by fighting these alienated relations in the here and now – and including, within the left – could we ever hope to rebuild a confident and revolutionary opposition to the existing social order.
Thus campaigns against education cuts should not only ask why the government is cutting the deficit, but what the purpose and content of education really is and what are the relations between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’, between learning and institution.
The fight against redundancies should not glamourise ‘our industries’ or ‘skilled trades’ but rather be combined with the demand for the right of all to a comfortable life with the maximum of free time and opportunity for learning and leisure.
In struggles against the coalition government we must resist the efforts of managerial Labour politicians – or left group hacks – to take the ‘leadership’ and control of campaigns which are our common endeavour.
Whatever the context, communists should challenge all existing power relations. We must leave no gendered or racist prejudice unchallenged, no overt nor informal hierarchy left standing. We want the real empowerment of millions, not just a few tawdry ‘left’ politicians like Diane Abbott.
Challenging ourselves, prefiguring our communist vision, is the best means to challenge the structures of domination to which capitalism subjects us. Bureaucracy and hierarchy on the left is not the result of some inbuilt flaw of humanity but the failure to confront the mores the system constantly pounds into us.
This issue of The Commune features articles on how communists should organise whereas also drawing the lessons of recent disputes, from the Middlesex University occupation to the nine-week cleaners’ strike in Holland.
What is most important is to see the communism latent in the struggles of today: we are not just fighting today’s cuts, today’s managers, today’s politicians, but looking to imbue our organisations today with the principles of the society we hope to build for the future.
The left does not have to be bureaucratic, lethargic, without spirit. The left does not have to be undemocratic even more than capitalist society: as many left groups are. The left does not have to reflect the alienation of working-class existence in capitalist society. The Commune looks to express a challenge to alienation, a challenge to the assumption that we are powerless and that humanity deserves its current fate.
“All the idols made by humanity, however terrifying they may be, are in point of fact subordinate to us, and that is why we will always have it in our power to destroy them.”
– Simone de Beauvoir