Recently I posted on Facebook: “Auckland Council’s Len Brown is on an annual wage packet of almost $250,000. His CEO Stephen Town gets $620,000 a year. Thousands of Aucklanders exist in desperate want. And that crap will continue whoever wins the general election.”
Joel Cosgrove responded: “Yep, but the question is how do we build the movement we need to challenge that bullshit?”
Fair question, and this is my answer.
A challenge is a call to respond, or to take part in a contest.
So in this case, we could, for example, campaign against high council salaries and for a rise of poor people’s income. We could organise a petition, distribute buttons, picket the council chambers, make use of social media and quite conceivably get on Campbell Live. There might also be a question in the house from a sympathetic mp. With a lot of effort, a protest march of some hundreds down Queen street would not be out of the question.
That would be a challenge. It would irk the authorities to some degree, but they could cope with it.
Excuses would be sufficient establishment response to this challenge.
There would be no need for serious steps to be taken against crazy salaries or urban poverty, because both of those things are, at the moment, socially acceptable.
It is broadly accepted that CEOs should be extravagantly paid because they are entrusted with heavy financial responsibility. Grudgingly accepted in many cases, but still, accepted.
It’s also accepted that poor people can improve their lot by means of education, and that masses of poor people are feckless. (Hence the misnomer ‘child poverty’, which facilitates blaming poor children’s parents.)
Of course there are those who think crazy salaries and urban poverty can be turned around. This group is presently a minority and divided into several parts.
There are those who recognise economic injustice but are not moved to act against it. Those who would like to act against it but don’t know how.
There are those who try to act against it using the political means to hand.
Repeatedly, such people try to mount a challenge to economic injustice, repeatedly and staunchly in the face of repeated failure. Failure because challenging the capitalist system is not enough to do away with economic injustice.
Every day of the week, labour unions challenge economic injustice. At best they are able to make a few temporary gains, which are retracted when capitalism feels the pinch. Most of the time unions are doggedly fighting defensive rearguard actions, running to try and stand still.
Unionists and others will persist in challenging economic injustice despite the odds, but for the foreseeable future we are unlikely to make lasting gains.
This is a bleak picture, but I think it reflects reality and concrete reality is where we have to start if we want to build something.
I am not in favour of trying to build a movement to challenge the system because if we do that we will always be knocked back.
I believe we’re better off trying to build a movement to change the system, ie to get rid of the existing one and put a better one in its place.
There is a qualitative difference.
Some will say the two are not mutually exclusive and that is theoretically true. However, in practice, the two are opposed.
For over forty years I have been a part of one socialist group or another and tried to advance revolutionary socialist ideas outside the group. For the full forty years, the response of union functionaries and community leaders has consistently been, yes, you can have your ideas, but we don’t want them just now, not in this forum, let’s all get this or that reform or this or that person elected first.
The time to seriously work towards a change of system was never ever deemed appropriate.
The various little socialist groups found their presence was most acceptable if they kept their revolutionary ideas to themselves. The next logical step was for the little socialist groups to discard serious revolutionary planning inside their own organisation. There would still be a few arid ‘studies’ of socialist theory. But most of the time and energy went into supporting campaigns for various reforms, which seemed more real and more easily won more new branch members.
Over the years, campaigning has won some reforms, but gone backwards on big issues.
Over my lifetime, inequality has grown, insecurity for workers has grown, poverty has blighted the lives of increasing masses of folks. Workers’ health and housing worsen daily, many become brutalised.
Economic injustice is built into the present system and can only be eradicated by the destruction of the system.
Some think an election might improve matters.
I once did. In 1984, for the first and last time, I voted Labour. I did this because, along with the rest of the left, I bought into the notion that Muldoon was an evil man and Labour could only be better.
Then Rogernomics engulfed us.
These days, as best I can, I try to look past personalities to try to understand the social relationships that really shape our lives.
I still get told off for indulging in unrealistic irrelevancies instead of getting on with the practical business. First things first, you can have your revolution later.
But I want it now.
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