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The Future Can Be Socialist

Ahead of the upcoming general election, John McDonnell urges Labour activists to be ready for "enormous resistance from an establishment that is terrified of a socialist government."

It looks as though we will shortly be campaigning in the most important general election in at least a generation.

Not for a long time can Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘socialism or barbarism’ have seemed so relevant a description of the choice facing voters in a UK election.

Even the institutional forms which defenders of the status quo revere as the pinnacle of democracy are under threat from a form of right-wing populism that scarcely tries to hide its connections to movements even further to its right.

Conservative MPs, usually so keen to sing the praises of British political institutions, have gone suddenly and suspiciously quiet when they come under attack from a prime minister doing his best to emulate Donald Trump.

A Karl Marx quote has been doing the rounds a lot since Johnson prorogued parliament and threatened to ignore laws passed by it:

The Tories in England long imagined that they were enthusiastic about monarchy, the church, and the beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about ground rent.

As socialists, we must defend democracy in all its forms, resisting attempts to bypass scrutiny and shut down debate.

The late Paul Foot, in his book The Vote, vividly described the struggle for universal suffrage and its importance even as political opponents have strived to weaken its power and significance.

But we must go further than defending what has been won. Socialists believe that democracy is always and everywhere something to be extended, including into the economic sphere.

Democracy is something richer than just an election every five years or, as it seems to be in this period of instability, every two years, fundamental as those rights are.

Why should the power over our lives which democracy brings come to a halt when we clock in for work? Why shouldn’t workers in key sectors, and the people who use their services, take charge of running them collectively?

Our democracy goes far beyond Westminster. It has been strengthened and forced into action by the extra-parliamentary tactics of the climate campaigners, school strikers, and those fighting airport expansion who have forced politicians into belated action to tackle the climate emergency.

That emergency provides a terrifying backdrop to today’s political decisions and necessitates the kind of bold policies Labour will commit to ahead of the next election.

Only the labour movement can come up with the collective solutions that will enable us to prevent catastrophic climate change through the transition to a sustainable economy, and do so without inflicting Thatcherite pain on working-class communities.

By linking the fight for economic justice with the fight for environmental justice across the globe we can win support for transformative change at the next election.

As the last general election showed, we can win millions of people to radical policies when Jeremy and the rest of us get the chance to campaign across the country and cut through the disinformation pumped out by much of the media.

We’ve done it before and — while we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that history repeats itself — we believe that a fair hearing and fairer media rules will enable Labour policies to cut through.

But if Labour does win an election in the next few months, we must all resist any temptation to consider it job done.

Winning power is just the beginning of the struggle for us.

We’ll face enormous resistance from the establishment and those who are terrified of a socialist government that puts an end to decades of legalised theft by an elite few.

As I said at Conference last year: the greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be.

Just as we are committed to strengthening and going beyond our 2017 manifesto for the coming election, we will have to take that new manifesto as a starting point for the radical transformation we need to see.

That transformation will be delivered not by politicians but by the whole of our movement acting together to roll back the market and extend democracy.

It’s time to set our sights on another world: a society that is radically transformed, radically fairer, more equal, and more democratic; a society based on a prosperous economy, but an economy that’s economically and environmentally sustainable and where that prosperity is shared by all.

That other world isn’t just possible, it is within sight. And if we stick together we’ll have the chance to start building it before we meet again at Conference next year.