What would a socialist society be like?

JONATHAN NEALE, longtime activist and socialist, spoke at a huge meeting organised by Globalise Resistance at the European Social Forum in Florence, 2002, on the topic, “what would a socialist society look like?”

ON ALL of our demonstrations we chant “Another world is possible”. But what does this mean? On one of the anti-capitalist marches in London last year several people arrived with a big home-made banner that said “Overthrow capitalism and replace it with something nicer”.

That’s where millions of people in the worldwide movement are at now. We know what we’re against, but there is endless debate and searching for what we are for. Here is one view, my view, of what another world would look like.

First, it would be absolutely nothing like the old dictatorships in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Cuba. Our alternative is not a police state. But nor would it be like the parliamentary democracies in Italy, Britain or India. It’s not that I’m against voting. The problem is partly that we only get to vote every five years and, whoever we elect, they never do what they promised.

But the real problem is that, although we have democratic parliaments, work is a dictatorship. From the moment you clock on to the moment you leave, you do what you’re told. “If you don’t like it, Jonathan,” they say, “you can go.”

We spend the majority of our lives getting ready for work, going there, working, coming home, and then slumping to recover ourselves. So the dictatorship at work means our fundamental experience of life is not democratic. And the corporations and the employers run the political world anyway.

It starts long before we’re old enough to work. School and university are dictatorships too, preparing and disciplining us for the world of work. So we would start another world with democracy at work. We would elect the managers from among ourselves, replacing them whenever we want.

Ordinary people can do those jobs. We already make the trains run on time, run the hospital wards, design buildings. People would grow into those jobs, and we’d need fewer managers if people were doing their jobs voluntarily. But that alone would not be enough. There is still the world market.

I worked for ten years for a feminist abortion clinic. We were a co-operative. We shared jobs. We had equal pay. But we were competing with other clinics in a market, and in the end we had a management that sacked all the union members. The same thing has happened to whole countries that try to have democracy in the middle of a world market.

So the workers in each company or government department would have to take over the whole place. Then we could elect representatives from each workplace. These would be people like ourselves, cleaners and carpenters and teachers, not lawyers and politicians parachuted in from outside. They would work alongside us, be people we could know and weigh up.

The representatives from every workplace could meet together in each city every week to make decisions about what to do with the economy. In most towns the only place big enough to hold them would be the football stadium. Then they could elect reps to a national meeting, and that national meeting could elect reps to international meetings.

At the base of this would be meetings at each workplace every week. Every week we could replace our reps if we wanted, at every level. Of course some people don’t work. Retired people could elect reps at clubs, and so could children at school.

All these meetings would make decisions about what to do with our work. In capitalism every company must compete, and profit is the criterion. In our new world we could make decisions based on what we need, not on profit. There would be endless debates in those meetings.

Some people will want to put a lot more work into looking after old people. Others will want a lot more musicians and artists. Some will want to work only four days, and abolish Monday straight off. Others will want to keep working hard to bring the poor countries of the world up to the level of the rich. Some will want to put all our energy into the environment.

There will be endless debates, and we will settle them by consensus when we can, by votes when we must. There will be compromises, mixes and matches. Some of our decisions will turn out wrong. The key is that they will be really democratic. One of the glories of our movement, and one of the surprising things, is that we all seem to be agreed on the central importance of democracy.

I don’t know exactly what those meetings will decide. I think we’ll want equality, with everyone earning the same. I think we’ll want to share out jobs, so everyone spends part of every week or every year doing the really good jobs, and everyone takes a turn at the boring, hard, difficult jobs.

I’VE LIVED and worked in six countries on four continents. From talking to working people in all those countries, I’m absolutely sure a central thing they will want is freedom from fear.

We spend our whole lives ruled by fear now-fear of being humiliated by the teacher, fear of looking stupid, lying awake at night worrying about money, fear of the gas bill, fear of not being able to get your ageing father into a decent hospital, fear of losing your job and having to come home and tell your husband or wife and your children that you can’t bring home any money, and being ashamed.

Losing your job may happen to you only once or twice in your life, but the fear of it is with you every day. In another world we would make sure that those fears were gone, that everyone lives in security.

It wouldn’t be a perfect world. People would still die, or feel unloved. There would still be problems. But it would be a far, far better world. And in time we would create new people. Two things will help here. First, the people we are now could not create this new world. In fighting for it, and in winning it, we would become quite different people – not just us here in this room, but the majority of people in the world.

Think how much you have changed just by being in Florence, just by this one experience of the European Social Forum, the confidence and hope you have. Then think of that multiplied a thousand times or more in far bigger struggles, and you have some idea how we would change.

But also we would create a new generation, raised in a new world. We have all grown up under capitalism. We carry the scars of much suffering, of grief, of being made to feel small. I smoke. I’m overweight. But each of us carries that suffering in our bodies, in the way we stand and walk.

Look at any baby, at their great eyes drinking in the world in wonder and excitement. Not any baby – not the ones who do not have enough to eat. But the others. And then look at the adults. We would create a world where that wonder could last into adulthood. And those people, raised in a new way, could go on to create yet another world.

I don’t know if we’ll do this in families or not. It may turn out everybody wants a standard family with 2.4 children and a white picket fence. Maybe half the population will turn out to be lesbian or gay. Maybe all the lesbians and gays will want the 2.4 children and the picket fence. I don’t know. But I do know we will be able to make these decisions democratically, with the right to choose what we really want.

It won’t be easy to make this new world. We are now at the beginning of the anti-capitalist movement. Before us is a long hard road, with many ups and downs. We will win victories we cannot now imagine, and live through shattering defeats. In the process, we will grow in numbers, and all of us will change profoundly.

No one can say we are bound to win a new world. Our slogan is “Another world is possible”, not that it is certain. But I do know this. I’m 54 years old, and have been a revolutionary all my adult life. Until a year ago I didn’t think I’d see another world in my lifetime. Ever since the great demonstration in Genoa last year I have known that it is now possible.”


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