What can an individual do?
By Allen Myers
It’s easy enough to see that there are many things in this world that need changing. Figuring out how to change them is a bit more complicated.
Capitalism’s apologists advance two arguments in their attempts to prevent change. One is that fundamental change is impossible: things are the way they are because that’s the way they have to be; people are inherently selfish and greedy, and capitalism is the only system that can really cope with that. This argument is debunked, among other things, by the human solidarity exhibited in revolutions, which is why capitalist media try so hard to discredit examples such as Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela.
The apologists’ second argument is quite contradictory of the first. It says that things can be changed if enough individuals modify their behaviour. So corrupt politics can be ended by voting for good politicians, or environmental destruction can be stopped by individual shoppers buying “green” products.
What these contradictory arguments have in common is the attempt to prevent individuals doing anything that is really effective in bringing change. The conclusion of both is that the most we should attempt is small changes within the existing system. What these arguments ignore is that human society is in a continually deepening crisis that won’t be overcome unless we replace capitalism with socialism, and that individuals acting in isolation can’t do that.
Individuals gain the strength to change things by acting together. That’s why workers unite in trade unions: to gain the strength to contest the way the boss tries to exploit them. It’s true that Australian unions haven’t been very effective at that of late, thanks to widespread misleadership that puts the interests of the Labor Party ahead of the interests of union members. But just the possibility that unions might shake off misleadership and start to be effective representatives of their members can be a certain restraint on bosses.
The example of trade unions indicates that unity alone isn’t enough to change the world, or even to prevent things getting worse. To be effective, unity has to be conscious: aware of what needs to be done, how to do it and when. That kind of consciousness isn’t the characteristic or property of any individual. It can come only from a sharing of learning and experience.
How can large numbers of different individuals learn together and remember what they have learned? The most effective way by far is through a political party. What a party has learned about how to accomplish its members’ collective goals is embodied in its program. For people who recognise that changing the world for the better requires a revolution to overthrow capitalism, it follows that we should seek to construct a party that can do that. This is obviously a long-term project, not something that can be done quickly, especially in a rich capitalist country where the great majority of working people are still far from convinced that a socialist revolution is necessary and possible.
The fact that building a revolutionary party is a difficult, time-consuming process makes it all the more urgent to do what we can now. Revolutionaries can’t win thousands, or even hundreds, of new members in Australia today, but small revolutionary groups can do a lot of the necessary preparation for the mass revolutionary party that will become possible as experience convinces more and more people that capitalism is a dead end.
The capitalist mass media never tire of the theme that membership in a small revolutionary party is at best a waste of time and at worst something akin to being caught up in a religious cult. This is just another way to reinforce the twin lies that things can’t be changed, or can be changed only by piecemeal individual actions.
If you’ve become convinced that socialist revolution is necessary, you don’t have to wait for someone to create a mass revolutionary party that you can join. There is no shortage of revolutionary activity that can be done today. Individuals can make a big difference now by joining us in that work in the Revolutionary Socialist Party.