Sunday, 4 July 2010

Football & Politics

I'm reading a book on the history of the Co-operative Movement, in the last century. One of the things I was just looking at was about the low level of involvement, which fell after the Second World War. Anyone involved in the Labour Movement, in fact in almost any kind of activity, is aware of the problem of apathy. We tend to account for it in regard to Trade Union activity, or political activity, on the basis that Capitalist society dissuades people from becoming involved, that there are all kinds of pressures that stand in the way of involvement etc. That is undoubtedly true, and can be seen by the fact that women, for instance, who face even more of those pressures than men, tend to have lower participation rates.

But, can it be the entire answer, for socialists, whose conception of a future society, in which everyone, or at least the vast majority, participates in decision-making, can we simply assume that this is the reason, and that once Capitalism is replaced the problem will be solved? If it isn't, doesn't that undermine our whole conception of Socialism, and simply leave us with yet another society doomed to be dominated by an elite or several elites? After all, Engels, in Anti-Duhring, speaking about the dissolution of Primitive Communist society, whilst analysing, in classic Historical Materialst terms, the role of the changing forces of production, in creating new social relations, also points to the fact that existing elites - those that specialised in warfare, or religious ceremony - were able to utilise those changing social relations to carve out, for themselves, privileged positions. Similarly, in the Asiatic Mode of Production, it was those who specialised in those functions that eventually congealed into the Asiatic State, who were able achieve the same result. We have to ask the question about what leads some people to take an interest in these functions, and leads others to stand aside.

Although, I used to play a lot of football when I was young, and played for a Youth Club team in my teens, I actually have little interest, nowadays, in football. I've watched a few games of the World Cup, but I'd no more consider paying to go to a football match than I would going to Church on a Sunday. Yet, tens of thousands of people do make the effort to do both. They have an interest that I do not. Yet, where I have an interest in politics, in going to meetings (though not so much nowadays) most of them do not. We have different interests.

But, I don't know of any sensible socialist who believes that in the Socialist future we will all have the same interests. I'm no more likely to want to go to a football match, under Socialism, than I am today. On the contrary, one of the basic arguments of socialists is that such a society will enable us to express our diversity as human beings even more, through greater freedom and opportunity. So why should socialists assume that those who have no interest in politics now, will have such an interest in the future?

Part of the answer is, surely, that whatever happens in the world of football is not going to affect me, whereas what happens in the world of politics will and does. I have a vested interest, then, in participating in political activity/decision-making, and, in a society that not only makes that possible, but encourages it, I will do so. But, is that realistic? Surely, we do not function like that. There are lots of occasions, for instance, when my wife asks me about something, and I say, "Oh, I trust you to make the right decision, you decide, you do it." Most of the time, that is okay. The problem only arises when a decision is made we disagree with, or when something goes wrong, and we have a tendency, then, not to accept our responsibility, for not participating in the decision-making, but to complain, to even blame those that made the decision!

One of the things I came across was that, even in the German SPD, at the height of its popularity, at the beginning of the last century, its branches were dominated by a tiny number of activists. That is, in a political party, that was supposedly based on Marxism, and with members who had taken a conscious decision to join it. Even at their most active, Trade Unions are unable to raise more than a tiny percentage of their members to activity, and the Labour Party only manages to encourage a slightly larger percentage to attend meetings.

One of the reasons I beleive that developing Worker Co-operatives is important, is precisely for this reason. One thing we do know is that people do respond when they think that their immediate economic welfare is strongly affected. As a union Branch Secretary, I had massive difficulty encouraging attendance, other than the day we held a lunch-time meeting, and combined it with a £100 raffle! In a workers co-op, there are decisions that have to be made, several times a day, on the shop floor. Some of that, would be delegated to a manager, but workplace democracy would also mean that it was efficient, and necessary, on many occasions, for workers, in a particular shop, to make a decision, and, similarly, decisons for the entire factory would be needed. As direct owners of the firm - which doesn't apply to a firm owned by a Capitalist State or even a Workers' State - and as workers immediately affected
by the decisions taken, every worker would have, not only the ability, and the duty, but also a very strong incentive, to take an active part. Get it wrong, they have to work harder, they lose an order, or even their job if the firm fails. It imposes an effective discipline on every worker tha,t in turn, over a period, shapes their consciousness to the effect of seeing such activity as as much a normal part of their existence as eating and breathing. Without a long period of such a development, I do not see how Socialism is possible.

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