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Socialism in the 21st Century
by Hannah Sell
This book argues the case for socialism. Why are you and other readers interested in such a book? Why are growing numbers of people considering becoming socialists?
It is clearly not because socialism is widely publicised. None of the major political parties are socialist, socialism does not feature on the national curriculum in schools, and the TV is not packed with programmes arguing in favour of it.
On the contrary, if you were to judge purely by the media, parliament, or the education system, you would decide that socialism is a spent force.
And yet, it clearly isn’t. Ideas traditionally associated with the left are increasingly popular. In a Mori poll in 2001, for example, 72% of people supported the re-nationalisation of the railway system, despite none of the major political parties arguing for it.
Growing numbers of young people are taking part in anti-capitalist demonstrations.
In the last year significant swings to the left have taken place in several trade unions with self-professed socialists being elected as national leaders. And more people are taking strike action - such as local government and railway workers.
None of this has been caused by ‘socialist propaganda’. On the contrary, most people who support re-nationalisation, who have been on anti-capitalist demonstrations, on strike, or have voted for a left-wing trade union leader would not call themselves socialists.
But an arrow tracing their political trajectory would point clearly towards the left. Broadly speaking they are moving in a socialist direction. The reason for this is fundamentally simple: many people do not like the way the world is at the moment.
No wonder. In Britain today almost 14 million men, women and children live below the poverty line. Over the last decade inequality has risen faster in Britain than in any other country in the world apart from New Zealand. Yet for a few, Britain is truly booming and we have the biggest gap between rich and poor since records began.
Internationally, 815 million people worldwide go hungry. We live on a planet where 55% of the 12 million child deaths each year are caused by malnutrition. And it’s getting worse. According to the United Nations, the poorest countries are worse off now than they were 30 years ago.
On the basis of current trends, the numbers living in absolute poverty - that is, on less than a dollar a day - will increase by ten million a year for the next 15 years. The Aids epidemic has already killed 25 million people and is predicted to kill a further 68 million in the coming decades. In Botswana alone, 39% of the adult population have HIV/Aids.
Richest country on earth
Meanwhile in the US, the richest country on earth, the wealthiest 1% has seen their incomes increase by 157% in real terms since 1979.
By contrast, the bottom 20% are actually making $100 less a year in real terms, 45 million people live below the poverty line and over 40% have no medical cover. Despite all the advanced technology and wealth available to the US, more than 32 million people have a life expectancy of less than 60 years.
It is not mainly the arguments of socialists that are changing peoples’ outlook, it is their experience of the system we live under - capitalism. Ten years ago capitalism declared victory when the Soviet Union collapsed. What existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was not genuine socialism but a grotesque caricature of it. Nonetheless, its failure was a golden opportunity for capitalism worldwide.
American philosopher Francis Fukuyama put it bluntly in 1989:
Ten years after this declaration of the "end point of man’s ideological development", and even Fukuyama has changed his tune. The cold war is supposed to be over but arms spending totalled $804 billion in 2000, an average of $130 a person. Humanity’s supposedly wondrous endpoint is a world of war, poverty, dictatorship and, above all, incredible inequality.
Millions Fighting back
Millions of people are fighting back against the reality of Fukuyama’s nirvana.
They are the Bolivian masses who rose up and prevented the privatisation of their water supply and the Argentinians who overthrew four presidents in two weeks.
They are the ten million Indian workers who took strike action against privatisation. They are the workers in Spain who held a one-day general strike against attacks unemployment rights, and the workers in Italy who have mobilised in their millions against the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi.
At the same time as the poor and oppressed of entire countries are fighting back against the effects of capitalism, a minority are beginning to consciously look for an alternative system.
If you look up ‘capitalism’ in the Collins English Dictionary it suggests you compare it with the alternative - ‘socialism’. Socialist ideas have been developed over centuries in the course of humanity’s fight for a better life.
Today they remain the only viable alternative in an increasingly unstable and brutal, capitalist world. It is this reality that ensures that socialism is not a spent force but the wave of the future.