Is Socialism Relevant Today?

Socialism 2005 Conference – September 9, 2005
By John Pecy

[The following talk was presented by John Percy, National Secretary of Democratic Socialist Perspective, Australia, to opening session of Malaysian Socialist Party’s Socialism 2005 Conference, September 9-11, Kuala Lumpur.]

Comrades, I bring the warmest greetings of solidarity from the DSP in Australia, from our youth organisation Resistance, and from the newspaper Green Left Weekly, and I congratulate the comrades from the Malaysian Socialist Party for organising this inspiring conference.

Capitalist barbarism exists still, socialism is relevant!

Just look around the world and you see capitalism is in crisis. We’re faced with wars, environmental disasters, the squalor of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and exploitation.

  • US imperialism is even more aggressive and arrogant; they’re open about their pre-emptive strike doctrine.
  • In Iraq, they’re contemplating staying 12 more years, sending more troops, and the imperialists are threatening other countries.
  • They want to keep their nuclear monopoly, and consider using it, and are utterly hypocritical in attacking the nuclear programs of Third World countries. This year is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “The worst terrorist attack in history.”
  • In Palestine, real apartheid is being consolidated, ethnic cleansing with the full backing of imperialism.
  • Global warming is a fact, climatic extremes and melting icecaps.
  • Genetically modified crops are being forced on us, Monsanto aiming to monopolise the seeds of the planet for its profits, with monstrous consequences.
  • The US invades and occupies countries on the other side of the world, but can’t rescue, or care for, its own citizens in New Orleans after such a huge natural disaster (They’re poor and Black!).
  • The gap is widening between rich and poor, between countries, and within countries.
  • In the richest country in the world, the USA, the wealthiest 1% has more assets than the poorest 90% of Americans combined.
  • 80% of the world’s domestic product belongs to 1 billion people living in the developed world, while the remaining 20% is shared by 5 billion people living in the “developing” – i.e., oppressed --countries.
  • Africa is a disaster area.
  • Yet you see the obscene wealth, the luxury for a few, with millionaires living in their gated suburbs, and venturing out in luxury cruise liners to gawk at the poor of the world.
  • Read the statistics in their own financial papers, and do the sums: the share to wages is falling; the share to profits is rising, and goes to the few.

Certainly there’s much to be angry about, much to resist and fight.

Capitalism the guarantor of socialism

150 years ago Marx and Engels eloquently described in the Communist Manifesto the dynamics of the capitalist system and the destiny of the working class as the system’s gravediggers. Capitalist apologists since then have tried to refute or ridicule Marx’s prediction. But each pompous sigh of relief, or declaration of “the end of history” after any temporary capitalist stabilisation or working-class defeat, quickly is refuted by reality.

Far from proving the permanence of capitalism and the futility of hoping for an alternative system, their “globalisation” shows just the opposite. Advances in humanity’s productive forces show the potential to solve all the major problems facing the world – food and shelter and clean water for everyone; decent health care and education; a high level of culture for us all.

But under capitalism, it leads to crisis.

“The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself,” wrote Marx in the third volume of Capital.

Capitalism suffers from long-term structural contradictions which threaten its destruction. Far from being something dynamic and new, neoliberal globalisation – the frenetic international expansion of capital, an expansion which has had devastating consequences for the majority of humanity – is a sign of economic decay and increasing instability.

But even if many of us recognise that capitalism is the source of our problems and agree on the need for getting rid of capitalism, what will replace it?

How to get there?

We as socialists have a wonderful vision of what society could be like. A society where human beings don’t exploit other human beings, where there are no classes, where there’s equality, freedom, real democracy. Where people produce for need, not for the profit of someone else. Where ordinary people have control over their own lives, where the productive forces of society are used to give a decent life to everyone on the planet, where the waste of capitalism is eliminated, and wars, racial and gender discrimination are relics of a dim barbaric past.

It’s called socialism. But how can it happen? Our rulers seem all-powerful. It looks like an impossible task. Who can do it? The working class has the interest, and the power to do it. Workers are trained under the social production of capitalism to run society, without the parasites. Today, the working class of the world is bigger and stronger than ever before.

But workers internationally are divided, swayed by the capitalists’ propaganda, cowed by their power and violence. We’re not going to overcome this as individuals. We need to organise collectively, counter their propaganda, use our numbers and united strength to counter their violence.

To organise, and educate, and preserve and spread the lessons of past defeats and victories, we need a party. We need a party with a socialist program, learning from Lenin and Marx, learning from the lessons of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, learning from the betrayals and distortions of Stalinism.

We need a party that learns from current struggles, learns from the Cuban Revolution, a party that helps organise and unite in struggle all the oppressed, a party that is flexible in its tactics.

The challenge today is to construct such parties in all countries.

Throughout the Third World for decades the workers, peasants, urban poor have been rebelling on a daily basis. But more and more people, especially young people, in the First World are waking up to capitalism’s neoliberal offensive, against the workers and poor at home, and to their brutal exploitation of the rest of the world.

Workers still mobilise in advanced capitalist countries. In Australia, on June 30, July 1, this year, thousands marched against the proposed industrial relations laws threatened by Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Over the last 10 years in Australia, there have been big actions and movements:

  • Anti-racist actions;
  • Campaigns in support of refugees;
  • Marches in support of Aboriginal reconciliation;
  • Demonstrations supporting East Timor independence;
  • Actions in defence of the waterside workers union under attack;
  • Demonstrations against corporate globalisation, such as on September 11-13, 2000;
  • And huge demonstrations against the pending invasion of Iraq, when 1.2 million people demonstrated around Australia, with 500,000 in Sydney.

These campaigns have not necessarily been long-lasting; the movement can rise quickly, and then quickly dissipate. But it can’t be denied that they were big, reflecting widespread consciousness and feelings and changes in society, and the potential for future struggle.

Cause for hope

But there’s been demoralisation on the left, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the restoration of capitalism in China. There’s a feeling of despair among the older generation of socialist activists.

But we have to recognise that the real defeat had happened much earlier, with the defeat of the original Leninist leadership of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Stalinist degeneration, and the blackening and distortion of the image of socialism was a long drawn-out price paid by the world working class. We just paid the final installment with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But there is cause for hope, optimism.

Socialism is necessary, logical, and relevant, and real! Developments in Latin America are very exciting. Socialism still exists in Cuba, despite US imperialism’s efforts at invasion, blockade, and assassination attempts (yes, that’s not new, it’s just “inappropriate” to talk about it).

Revolution is on the march, in Venezuela, and having an impact on the rest of Latin America. We’re seeing the first socialist revolution of the 21st Century.

60 Australian comrades have just returned from a very inspiring Venezuelan Solidarity Brigade we organised that culminated at the World Youth Festival in Caracas.

Our comrades saw the support on the ground for the revolutionary process, visited factories where workers are in control, met with people’s organisations, the missions, for literacy at all levels, the free kitchens, the clinics, saw in action some of the 25,000 Cuban doctors and nurses providing real help and solidarity.

Socialism or barbarism

At the World Youth Festival, Chavez spoke to the leaders of the delegations, and reminded them of the dilemma posed by both Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, the choice of “socialism or barbarism”.

Chavez pointed out that “Karl Marx could reflect, think and write looking towards a distant future, a century, the same could be said of Rosa Luxemburg…..but for us it can’t. The circumstances have changed terribly. The situation today is radically different. We don’t have centuries in front of us, it could be decades at most that are left for the peoples of this planet to make a decision. Or we really change the social and economic order, we give real form, viability and outlet for socialism, we say now a new, renovated socialism of the 21st Century, or we decide that life finishes on this planet. We no longer have the long time that Karl Marx had…

“This reflection”, said Chavez, “is something I feel deep in my heart because of my profound conviction that the planet is being degraded more and more every day, and that life on this planet is under threat. Because of this today more than ever the dilemma has returned with much more force, ‘socialism or barbarism’.”

“I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world”, said Chavez. “A real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet. I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, ‘Tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do’.”

These thoughts should reinforce in our minds the urgent need for socialism, and the actual relevance of socialism in the world today.