I was always interested in fairness and justice, and aware that these weren’t always so easy to come by.
I had family who were trade unionists and described themselves as socialists and I thought this “socialism” I read about in history books sounded like a great idea, but it was all a bit vague. I had no clue that there were still people out there organising and arguing for it. When I say that now I feel daft, but the left (and to some extent the labour movement) has been pretty invisible to most people for the last 30 or so years.
Some people describe learning about socialist ideas as a “lightbulb moment”. It wasn’t quite as dramatic for me, but there’s something exhilarating about finally understanding how the world really works. Learning a new history, including powerful and moving histories of struggle; understanding what creates problems like poverty, oppression, climate change; that we can fight back; and that there is another way to live.
Working as a children’s services social worker I see what capitalism and class society do to people’s daily lives. It leaves people with so little they can’t afford to properly feed or clothe their children — then blames them for it. Makes people bully and pick on each other and those more vulnerable, including their babies and children, because better that than directing their anger and frustration at those who really cause the problems. Leaves young people feeling so lonely, disempowered or unloved that they run away; get involved in gangs, offending and being exploited; or hurt themselves and other people.
I also work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children —families are pushed into sending their children, alone, across continents to try to keep them safe and give them opportunities. Yet too often when they arrive they’re viewed with suspicion, repeatedly assessed and tested, and treated as “just economic migrants” — as if wanting education, work and a better life is wrong; or as if travelling to an unknown country, alone, at 13, 14, 15 (or any age) isn’t terrifying enough.
Every day I think “isn’t there something better than this?” The system I work in could be improved — better resourced, more democratic and accountable to workers and families. But it’s still based on the idea that abuse and deprivation “just happens”. It’s down to “bad” individuals. On some level it’s acknowledged that problems are socially created, but all we can do is address abuse where we notice it — stick a plaster on to try to heal the damage underneath.
As a socialist you know that this suffering and injustice is unnecessary — that makes it all the more barbaric. In capitalism the means of producing wealth, well being and happiness exist on a huge scale, but they are owned by, and run in the interests of, a small minority of people. But, as a socialist you also see an alternative and the hope of change.
The people who produce the wealth, the working class, can take power, take control of the means of production, make them collective property and use society’s wealth for the good of all. This could create a society based on solidarity, where we stop blaming each other and organise collectively to address our problems.
Whether it’s dragging down carbon emissions to avoid climate change; abolishing structural forms of oppression; removing the need to worry about basic necessities like food, housing or healthcare; or making freedom of movement a right for all. There must be lots of people out there who, like I did, know there’s something wrong with the way the world works and feel that we need to fix it, but don’t know what the alternative is, or how to achieve it. I felt silly not knowing, but then no one ever helped me think it through!
I’m a socialist activist because socialist ideas provide a framework for creating a more equal and liberated society – but also show us it won’t happen unless we share those ideas, and organise for that better world. I’ll keep sticking on the plaster — we all will. Because you do what you can now to make life a bit less shit for you and people around you. But can we do better? Yes – I think we can, and I think it’s worth fighting for. That’s why I’m a socialist.