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We are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on Earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise of the top are deprived of their initiative, I would answer, ‘To hell with them!’ The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do. Michael Foot
The international Socialist movement was both a product of the nineteenth century and a revulsion against it. It was rooted in some of the characteristics of the century, such as industrialism, its optimism, its belief in progress, its humanitarianism, its scientific materialism, and its democracy, but it was a revolt against its laissez faire, its middle-class domination, its nationalism, its urban slums, and its emphasis on the price-profit system as the dominant factor in all human values. Carroll Quigley, Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time ch8
That world has gone. The anchors have dissolved or are dissolving. There is neither a monetary nor religious anchor. The pound floats; Catholicism is mired in the horrifying sexual antics of its priests; CEOs pay themselves salaries without limits. The great visions of how one might associate with others – in an Empire, a Commonwealth, a socialist economy, a commune, a religious community, a trade union or even a company – have become implausible. We are individualists in a not very sovereign nation state being buffeted around by economic forces beyond our control. We madly find meaning in cults and celebrity, overinvesting in family as the last redoubt of meaning, while reconciling ourselves to fewer public services and cynical companies even while the country is very much richer. Will Hutton, The Baby Boomers and the Price of Personal Freedom
The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real conscious Lord of Nature, because he has now become master of his own social organisation. Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
Searching round for a woman’s cause Annie [Besant] found one in the teenage match-girls who worked amidst phosphorous fumes for Bryant and May in East London. They were paid just between four and ten shillings a week, and if they had dirty feet or an untidy bench they were fined, taking more money out of their already pathetic wages. Most horrifying of all, the girls ran the constant risk of contracting the hideously disfiguring Phossy Jaw, since Bryant and May persisted in the use of phosphorous which other match companies had given up. Simon Schama, A History of Britain s3e2: Victoria and Her Sisters, BBC 2002
The owners of Bryant and May threatened the girls with instant dismissal if they didn’t sign a document repudiating the article [White Slavery in London] ... A strike committee was formed ... George Bernard Shaw volunteered as the cashier of the strike fund ... Annie Besant and the girls were triumphant. ibid.
Good people, things cannot go right in England and never will until goods are held in common, and there are no more serfs and gentle-folk but we are all one and the same. John Ball, sermon to rebels 1383
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said, ‘This is mine’ and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754
I don’t think we can give anybody any guarantees. That we’ve reached a point where we’re almost at where the Jews were at when Hitler took power. So are you going to sit by and wait for a man to put you in a concentration camp or you going to organise and fight? Andrew Young
I have fought for and will continue to fight for a Labour government as a step to socialism; to repeal the pernicious 8-hours Act; to secure a Minimum Wage, adequate pensions at 60, nationalisation of the mines, minerals and by-products. A Labour government would bring new life and hope to the workers; it would increase faith in trade unionism and would lead us nearer to socialism. A J Cook
The history of these tyrannies, however, tells us something very different. There is a pattern to them which reflects the central characteristic of the world we live in: that it is run by a small class for profit; and the source of that profit is the workers who produce the wealth. The class on top much prefers to make its profits without any nastiness from the masses it exploits. The rulers prefer to operate where the people choose their governments, and where everyone in society is subject to the rule of law. If people vote for their government, and are protected by the rule of law, they are much less likely to complain about their exploitation. Hence the ‘norm’ which seems to emerge from the history of the western democracies – a norm of elected governments and a set of laws which at any rate pretend to apply equally to everyone. Paul Foot, article ‘No Time to Make Up’
Rich and powerful people have always cherished their bogeymen. They like to reduce what Marx and Engels called ‘the spectre of communism’ to human shape: to a personality who can be pilloried in their Press and patronised at their table. For the unfortunates who get singled out for this honour, life is hard. The assailants are well-practised in the art of character assassination and blackmail. Every public statement of their prey, however harmless, can rapidly be translated into the language of someone who rapes nuns on Fridays and nationalises a bank every day before breakfast.
Tony Benn has played the role of chief bogeyman for the rich men of Britain for a good time now. He has been treated perhaps more shamefully even then his predecessors in the Parliamentary Labour Left, men like John Wheatley. George Lansbury and Aneurin Bevan. In the past year, the abuse has risen to a crescendo, deafening even his most tenacious attempts to argue back. Yet its effect is not all as intended. For as the society splits wider apart, so the abuse from the halls of the powerful boosts their bogeyman’s radical and socialist credentials ...
It is worth saying at once that Tony Benn’s credentials for Chief Bogeyman of the Tories are a little difficult to understand. For eleven out of the last fifteen years he has been a loyal and for the most part silent member of a Labour government which has systematically torn up the pledges on which it was elected. Paul Foot, article March 1980, ‘The Labour Left’s Brightest Star’
It certainly was no good just thinking about a new society, or trying to attract others to it by example. Exploiters who amassed their power and wealth by robbing workers were not sentimental or namby-pamby about it. They would hold on to their wealth and power, if they had to, by force. They would never surrender that power and wealth, however intellectually or morally unjustifiable it was. It was up to the exploited class – the working class – to seize the means of production in a revolution. No one could do it for them. Socialism could not be introduced by Utopians, dictators, benevolent or otherwise, or by reforming intellectuals and politicians. The first precondition for socialism was that the wealth of society had to be taken over by the workers ...
While reforms are carried out in the name of workers by someone from on high, the muck of ages sticks to them. The hierarchies created by exploitation encourage even the most degraded and exploited worker to seek someone else whom he can insult and bully as he himself is insulted and bullied. In such circumstances, workers will take pride in things of which there is nothing to be proud: the colour of their skin, their sex, nationality, birthplace or God. These are selected for them by custom, inheritance or superstition, and have nothing to do with their abilities or characters. They are the muck of ages. How are they to be shaken off? Is someone else to do it for the workers? Or should they do it themselves, by organising their producing power, their own strikes, demonstrations and protests? Paul Foot, The Case for Socialism ch1
These elements – the self-emancipation of the working class through their own struggle and the democratic society which follows such emancipation – are the heart of socialism. Without them, socialism is dead. All the other features of a socialist society – the planned economy, for instance – depend on a self-emancipated working class and a real democracy. A socialist economy cannot be planned for workers unless the workers are involved in that plan. ibid.
This sameness and uniformity, however, are increasingly the characteristics of monopoly capitalism. All around us privately controlled mass media and mass production churn out things that assume that their consumers are all the same. Differences and distinctions between human beings are far more likely to blossom in a society which rewards everybody equally and does not single out a few for special treatment. As The Communist Manifesto puts it: ‘In place of the old society ... we will have an association in which the free development of each will be the condition for the free development of all.’
Another argument against the idea of equality is that it will discourage skills. This argument usually starts with a question: ‘Would you pay a brain surgeon the same as a dustman?’ If you reply ‘Yes’, the argument is pressed home. ‘Aha! This will produce a society where there are millions of dustmen and no brain surgeons.’ The brain surgeon, it is assumed, will not study or practise for his or her skills unless the rewards for this are ten or twenty or preferably fifty times that of a dustman. People would just as soon hump a dustbin on their backs as be a brain surgeon for equal money.