Some political leaders like Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the nomination of the US Democratic Party as its presidential candidate, who most would consider a “reformist” socialist, nevertheless talks about the need for a political revolution.
Many people wanting real change classify themselves as some kind of “revolutionary” but effectively reject the struggle for reforms of the system that would aid working people. This often also means dismissing participation in the system’s elected forms of representation like a parliament.
Often these “revolutionary” groups fail to participate in the day to day struggles for survival of working people through their unions or community organisations dedicated to ensuring access to basic needs of survival. These revolutionaries only weapon is the typewriter and printing broadsheets or blogging becomes the limit of their “revolutionary” activity.
The end result of this sort of activity is zero progress for working people.
The opposite approach is to limit your activity to whatever the system will permit. This is the politics represented by traditional social democracy. This seems to be a successful strategy only when the capitalist system is expanding rapidly, unemployment is reducing, workers are getting more power, and the bosses feel wealthy enough to share some crumbs to keep everyone quiet.
This was true in Europe and the US for the period after the worldwide capitalist crisis in the 1890s until World War 1, and again for several decades after the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War 2.
It also helps if there are strong voices advocating a genuine socialist alternative that has a mass hearing among working people to put the frighteners on the capitalist class. This was also true for both these periods.
As soon as the capitalist system starts refusing concessions traditional social democracy ends up being an enforcer of the takebacks from working people that are imposed by capitalism rather than an enabler of working-class power. Support for social democracy then collapses in disappointment.
This has been the reality for social democracy across Europe, in Japan, and with some ups and downs in Australasia.
The problem today is that capitalism seems to have entered a period of what has been dubbed by even pro-capitalist economists as a period of secular stagnation. The growth that has occurred in recent decades has been enabled by and greater and greater extension of credit (debt to us). The last world recession in 2008-9 was the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Recovery from that recession only happened by maintaining and extending the massive debt balloon that hangs over the world. Recessions are actually capitalist crises of overproduction – that is overproduction of commodities in relation to the ability to buy. But it is also the over-extension of credit money in relationship to real money (gold) that it pretends to represent.
A general crisis is usually triggered by the collapse of financial institutions associated with the over-extension of credit and a portion of the credit money is simply wiped out to bring it back into line with the real monetary base. The collapse in credit money will force the most over-extended and least efficient commodity producers out of business and a recession/depression ensues.
This is the way capitalism cleanses itself for a renewed period of growth. But the more the system depends on debt, and the more the system tries to stop the cleansing process proceeded as it must, the less powerful is the recovery and the system remains even more exposed the next time the cyclical downturn hits.
There can never be a return to strong capitalist growth without another Great Depression (and probably world war) to restore the system to capitalist “health”.
That is not a solution working people can hope for.
Working people need a strategy that can provide answers to the very real problems of surviving with dignity under capitalism. That means having strong unions and parties to represent us in parliament.
But the solutions we put forward to get mass support for should be solutions that look to replace a system based on the pursuit of private profit with a system the empowers workers and has solutions to social problems based on collective solidarity.
This has become of even greater importance as it has become more and more obvious that tackling the climate crisis is only possible with a system not based on relentless growth and the pursuit of profit.
These policies can be put together as a plan for a Green New Deal to combat climate change that priorities well-paid jobs, public housing, health care and education for all. Such a Green New Deal should include these essential features:
- Capitalist monopolies in energy, transport and finance have to be brought into public ownership and control. They should be subject to democratic plans drawn up by the whole community. Workers should have much stronger decision making powers within them.
- All economic sectors to be made take steps needed to decarbonise the economy as much as is needed to reach zero net emissions by 2030.
- Free and frequent public transport on electric buses and/or trains in all main cities.
- Health care and education for life should be free and universally accessible.
- Welfare, pensions, child allowances, should be universal wherever possible.
- Taxation should be on wealth before income.
- Public housing at fixed and affordable rents should be a right of all not just the desperately poor.
- All workers should have a right to a job and the workweek reduced with no loss of pay to make that possible.
- Local communes should be supported for control and delivery of as many functions of the centralised state as possible – including housing, education, health care.
- Local communes to support cooperative forms of production of food, solar and wind energy, electric transport, and media.