Socialism...Seriously

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This is a very useful little book which comes in a highly attractive format, especially because it aspires to blend serious revolutionary ideas in a playful soup of self-deprecating humour and light-heartedness. In this way it provides an exceptionally unintimidating entry into an international socialist worldview. Capitalism, Katch notes, “is destructive and inhumane, but it’s also silly, and mocking its absurdities reminds us that a system this dumb can’t possibly be indestructible”.

If Bernie Sanders’ explicit embrace of the “S” word has helped spark a renewed interest in this concept, Katch (a long-standing member of the US-based International Socialist Organisation) clearly hopes to channel this into a more far-reaching message that a wholly different social order can and should be fought for. He acknowledges that being “haunted” by the residue of past political defeats can create lowered expectations for social change. So he wishes to encourage the reader’s dissatisfaction with “surface-level” questions in favour of asking deeper ones such as “Why is anybody unemployed who wants to work, given that this world has so much important work that needs doing?”

He then proceeds to analyse in a gentle, accessible way the system as a whole, its class-based injustices and economic absurdities, and the myth and reality of capitalist freedom and democracy. Reflecting on the commonplace image of current civilisation as a “jungle” or “dog-eat-dog” set-up, he asks, “Why did we spend the last ten thousand years discovering fire, painting on cave walls, developing writing, building Rome and Timbuktu, and creating philosophy and astronomy if the whole point was to eventually figure out how to live like we were back in the wild?”

Capitalism imposes on human beings the alien values of capital, “a parasite that uses humanity as a host body to multiply itself even as it weakens our own natural instincts for love, compassion, and possibly even self-preservation”. He enjoys mocking mainstream economic ideas which, for example, paint profit as reward for risk-taking investment: it’s as if “the Invisible Hand that allocates resources based on supply and demand actually belongs to a jolly Invisible Uncle who likes to slip a little something extra to capitalists as a show of gratitude for their bravery”.

Later chapters effectively reassert the centrality of workers’ power to a strategy to win real freedom and end oppression, and review the lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the battle over its legacy. Along the way he provides an enjoyable imagined account of a day in the post-revolutionary year 2051, a glimpse of a socialist society where “everyone has more than enough of what they need and plenty of what they want” and child rearing has been socialised and no more do we “work for bosses who want us to be mindless drones”.

What though is a revolutionary? It’s “not a state of mind, a style of protest, or what clique you sit with in the school cafeteria. Instead it’s about understanding that capitalism inevitably produces revolutions and doing what you can to prepare for them so that they might win.”