Who are “they”, if we are “us”?

Real change comes from us all...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ever since humans first created societies involving hierarchy and governed by rules, there has been an unspoken "social contract" binding them together. Sometimes this is a voluntary, even democratic, one while at other times the binding is done by physical force.

Underpinning each, however, have been other factors which have governed the acceptance of rulers by the ruled which, if they got sufficiently out of kilter, have led ultimately to social revolt – whether by the Bolsheviks against the then Russian bourgeoisie, before that at the Paris Commune, or by the anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square of 2011.

What are these rules and conventions? They may be explicitly set out in religious tracts or political ideology, or they may be much subtler, never set out clearly yet somehow understood and accepted (willingly or unwillingly).

Social convention may govern how we behave sexually or in our relations with people from different races or faiths; it may silently set the rules of acceptance about property ownership or appropriate behaviour in public – and in private; determine the role of gender and the contribution due from and respect to different age groups, and so on.

In contemporary society, it is generally accepted that millions of ordinary people feel powerless to change society or even have much control over their lives. Unlike at least some previous generations, however, the will to fight for change seems muted even although, superficially at least, there are greater freedoms in terms of speech and more ability to transmit ideas than ever before.

And yet, whether bought off by the bread and circuses of mass media and home entertainment or isolated and disempowered by job insecurity and a decline in community cohesion, many are deeply accepting of the status quo – the Queen, as in the UK, shall reign forevermore, or the system of the President, as in the US, shall remain for ever, while Capitalism is the inevitable, irreplaceable climax of history. "They" will always rule "us" and there is nothing we can do – nothing indeed we should even wish to do – to change this.

And that is exactly what I hear from so many people each and every time that I (or others) mention that we need to change the system; replace it with something new. Not with yet another new government but replace it entirely.

People are – in the main – totally lethargic and repeat the mantra that “you have to support the government regardless” or “you have to support your country”, and similar responses.

Most cannot or do not wish to see that change is possible and could make life for all better. As long as they are fine (more or less) they could care little about the homeless or the hungry in their own country. At the same time, however, they quite happily put their hand in their pocket and give to charities for the “poor starving kids in Africa”.

Capitalism is not the climax of history but true, repeat, true Communism is. However, what we saw after the death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), concocted by Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Stalin) and exported throughout the world was not Communism; it was but a left-wing fascism and state capitalism.

Engels identified this mindset as one of "false consciousness":

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. ...It is above all this appearance of an independent history of state constitutions, of systems of law, of ideological conceptions in every separate domain, which dazzles most people.

On this basis, the rulers maintain their authority: there is often an implicit threat of violence if there is a real challenge, but more often than not does not require deployment, because people succumb to conventions and myths that subconsciously compel them to comply whilst consciously believing they are in fact making an informed choice. So in a capitalist society the unhealthy concept of endless competition with others being at the root of all social interaction becomes accepted as a fundamental and inevitable component of human nature. It could be typified as almost the Stockholm Syndrome of the masses.

But history shows how this can unravel – in pain and tears as in the Russian Revolution and civil war, followed by the new oppression of Stalinism, which was but a repeat, and probably worse, of the worst excesses of the Tsarist secret police and all; or more hopefully in the rise of Chavez in Venezuela and Correa in Ecuador. A new consciousness can be born, usually, perhaps sadly, from adversity. The old decays and eventually a new paradigm arises, but how that is shaped is critical to the new order – whether mass consciousness awakens to shape change deliberately and equitably, or whether one set of "They" is replaced by another. Do we have an elite revolutionary vanguard, which history shows can be readily corrupted by the power it seeks to acquire in order to disperse (never quite getting round to the latter)? Or can change genuinely come from mass bodies, decentralized, open, democratic – as the original Soviets briefly were in the heady days of 1917?

Any elite revolutionary vanguard can be corrupted, as we have seen more than once, whether with regards to the leaders of the Commune de Paris, in the USSR or the GDR, and other places. It was not so much, on either of the latter occasions, a fact of the vanguard going wrong and being corrupted. Stalin was a warlord from the Caucasus as was his chief of secret police Beria and the two of them created a fiefdom out of the beginnings of the USSR.

It is more than a historical hypothetical – for never more in human history has there been a greater degree of false consciousness around acceptance of the free market and capitalism; yet never have there been greater dangers if this destructive force is not stopped, tamed and destroyed. For capitalism in its ever onward drive to commodify and consume is driving our world to exhaustion and our species to extinction.

Capitalism cares but for profit and ever more of it and cares nothing for people and Planet and if not stopped will destroy our very existence, the Earth.

Capitalism sees the Planet only – primarily – as resources to be exploited for profit and human beings are to the died in the wool capitalist nothing but a resource also, to be exploited as slaves, albeit given a little money in return. Bread a circuses, yet again. As long as the masses, it would appear, have the TV, some “food” in the form of Pizza Hut and McDonald's, etc., they stay quiet and even condemn those that try to fight for a better world, for a replacement to the system.

The banking and global financial crisis which started in about 2008 has, for the first time in maybe twenty or more years, led to people questioning the effectiveness and value of the so-called “free” market system.

The coming food crisis, which inevitably is going to occur with the weather as it is and the use of food crops for bio-fuels, may propel this forward as the corporate grip on global food supply and the speculation in hunger that is manifest in the obscene trading of "food futures" in stock markets are revealed as the drivers of inflation and starvation.

The concept of 1% versus the 99% favored by the Occupy Movement is technically wide of the mark and incorrect as there is a substantial degree of unjust inequality among the remaining 99% as well. Yet it does quite powerfully portray the amassing of wealth by a tiny elite – "them" – and could, finally and very consciously give the Left both the platform and the audience to show that in a socially just society, "They" can finally and irrevocably be replaced by "Us" – all of us.

But, that much for theory as to the Left in the above paragraph. In fact we do not need a political party or group to lead us; we all are leaders and we all have a part to play, our own part, in changing the system. In replacing the broken system of politics and economics with a new one. One that regards people and Planet and one where the means of production are truly in the hands of the workers on a local – not national – level.

We do not want to have another state capitalism like the USSR after World War Two and the GDR, etc., but every factory, every workshop, every community, in the hands of the people who work and live there.

Utopian? Yes, it is if we look at it through the curtain of, as Engels called it, “false consciousness”, and with the spectacles of capitalism, whether private or state, and the systems that we have seen. But, if we are prepared to look at a new possibility and a new dawn then this “small is beautiful” approach can and will work.

We do not need a new government, we need a new system altogether.

© 2012