Maeve Larkins explains why socialism is the solution to the interlocking crises that dominate our world
The world is facing catastrophes from a global pandemic to the threat of climate collapse and war. Inequality is getting worse as a super-rich minority continually increase their wealth at the expense of everyone else.
Last year, the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the planet was now reaching “code red”, after decades of warnings on which governments have failed to act.
We are expected to hurtle well beyond the maximum safe limit of 1.5C that was previously internationally agreed in the near future.
The world is already seeing the impact of climate change through record heat and bushfires, from the Black Summer fires here in 2020 to fires in Canada and the US and even the Siberian Arctic. Wild weather including floods and cyclones is also increasing.
Yet global climate talks at the COP26 summit in December again ended in failure, as governments put the interests of the fossil fuel companies ahead of the future of the planet.
At the same time, the world is entering its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions have died due to the failure to prepare public health systems capable of containing the virus, as governments putting business profits above public health.
New variants keep emerging due to the failure to vaccinate the world. Vaccines have been hoarded by wealthy countries—going out of date sitting in warehouses—while they are still desperately needed in underdeveloped countries.
All the while, the world seems poised for ongoing conflict and war. NATO expansion into Eastern Europe has seen Putin place over 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. The Australian government is beating the “drums of war” against China, solidifying military alliances like AUKUS and the Quad, and devoting at least $100 billion to new nuclear submarines for deployment in the South China Sea.
Yet we desperately need funding for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and our hospitals are short-staffed and overwhelmed.
Although we are told we live in a democratic society, the decisions of the majority are overruled by the interests of wealthy corporations and profit.
Santos, a massive fossil fuel corporation, wants to construct a gas field near Narrabri in northern NSW. The Liberals are subsidising them as part of their “gas-fired recovery.”
This is despite the opposition of economists, who argue it will actually increase energy prices, climate scientists, who argue that moving to gas will only make transitioning to renewables harder, local Indigenous people and the broader public, who submitted 18,000 submissions opposing the project with only 300 in favour.
All this is the inevitable result of capitalism—an economic system which creates immense inequality alongside environmental catastrophe, and is based on the wealthy few exploiting the many, all in order to maximise profits.
Under capitalism, wealth means power. A tiny section of the population controls the bulk of the economy, carrying huge influence.
Australia alone has 47 billionaires with a combined total of $255 billion between them.
They control the major corporations and can pay off politicians or offer them seats in their boardrooms, or they can threaten to move their business overseas, or close their doors—crashing the economy.
The ultra-rich are able to use their wealth to ensure that their interests are the top priority.
And how did they get their wealth? Billionaire Gina Rinehart has never mined a crumb of anything in her entire life. She spends an initial amount of money on machines, land, and equipment. She then pays workers to run the mines, and then sells the products for a profit.
Since Gina Rinehart is not the only mining baron in Australia, she must always look to make sure her mines are competitive and operate at a profit, which means investing more and more capital into new machinery and new mines, or she will be run out of business by competitors.
The ultimate source of all value is human labour—which produces the machines, constructs and runs the mines. Her profits come from selling the commodities produced for more than the wages she pays to those that produce them.
This means capitalism runs on exploitation. Workers have no option but to work for wages because if they don’t, they can’t afford to live.
This means that, under capitalism, there are two main economic classes—workers, who sell their labour for a wage, and capitalists, who use the labour of workers to get wealthier.
These two classes have opposed economic interests—the capitalist wants to extract more and more profit from each worker through holding down wages and increasing hours of work, while the worker wants increased pay, shorter working hours and an end to short-staffing and stressful conditions.
Capitalists also see protecting the environment as an extra cost they want to avoid.
Fossil fuel capitalists would be put out of business by a serious climate policy that stopped new mining developments and began the phase out of coal, oil and gas. All of them are determined to keep making profits even if it leads to environmental catastrophe.
Is change possible?
If we want any chance at living in a sustainable and equal world, we need to get rid of capitalism.
Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence of support for left-wing figures promising to bring radical change through parliament. Bernie Sanders gained millions of votes in the Democratic primaries in the US, and Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the British Labour Party.
Last year in Chile, Gabriel Boric came to power on the back of massive street demonstrations of over a million against increasing austerity and inequality. He has promised to reform Chile’s economy, saying, “Neo-liberalism was born in Chile, and here it will die!”
But efforts to reform capitalism through parliament has failed again and again.
In the early 1970s, the socialist Salvador Allende was elected in Chile. He nationalised copper mining, stripping it from foreign investors. But as his policies further and further impeded the interests of capitalists, and as the working class became more and more emboldened, the Chilean military decided to step in.
Led by Pinochet, a brutal coup overthrew Allende, killing thousands, privatising and deregulating the Chilean economy, stripping funding from public services, suppressing trade unions, and massively heightening inequality.
Neo-liberalism was born in Chile because reformism can’t deliver serious change. While we elect politicians to parliament every few years, the military, the police, judges, and all of the state’s bureaucrats, are completely unelected, and can have their jobs for life.
The state serves the interests of the capitalists and the rich because it is part of the same system. This means that when people elect a government that poses a major challenge to the capitalists, they will work to get rid of them.
Change has to come through mass struggles and ultimately a revolution which smashes the state and replaces it with something completely new: a workers’ state, based on democratic control of the economy, where society is run according to the interests of the majority.
How do we get there?
If a single worker storms out in protest at the boss pushing through another wage cut, this worker becomes unemployed. If the entire workplace goes on strike, the boss stops making money, and can force him to increase wages.
This requires unity. Racism and sexism are not only wrong and harmful ideas, they undermine our ability to fight for our collective interests.
On many occasions, struggles against one particular issue have developed into broader movements that have brought down governments and challenged the system. The protests which preceded Boric’s victory in Chile began because of a 30 peso increase (~80 cents) to the Santiago train fare.
Workers run every aspect of society and keep the economy going—they drive the trains, operate the factories and the mines, the hospitals, universities and schools. This means workers have the power to shut down the economy and halt the flow of profits through collective strike action.
Such action shows the immense potential power of the working class. It forces workers themselves to deal with fundamental problems of running society such as: How are people fed, clothed, sheltered? How is the transport run? How do we keep the lights on?
Under capitalism, these decisions are made according to the rule of profit. With the working class in the saddle, an entirely new way of running society according to democratic co-operation would become possible—a socialist society.
On a number of occasions, periods of sustained mass strikes have seen workers form new democratic institutions to take control of their workplaces. These emerged for example in Hungary in 1956, Chile in 1973, Iran in 1979, Poland in 1980.
But they reached their most highly developed form in Russia in 1917. Here a situation of dual power developed between the Soviets, councils of delegates elected from workplaces, and the capitalist “provisional government.”
In October the Soviets took power in a socialist revolution. Sadly, in a poor and economically backward country, they couldn’t withstand alone in the face of foreign invasion, sanctions, and civil war. Stalin eventually established a dictatorship by destroying the last elements of what the revolution had stood for.
But the possibility of revolution and a genuinely democratic society has been posed again and again. Success in the future relies on building an organisation committed to deepening the struggle and winning socialism.
Doing so means throwing ourselves into every fight against capitalism and fanning every struggle, whether it workers striking for better wages and conditions, the climate strikes, or campaigns against racism or sexism. Every successful struggle builds workers’ confidence to go further. Together, we have a world to win.