Workers feel powerless to deal with the important questions affecting their lives. So they ‘participate’ in politics only to the extent of investing some emotional energy by identifying with some personality whose victory will give them some vicarious satisfaction. The workers’ sense of powerlessness with respect to events also makes them unconcerned with policy issues concerned with proposals for reform. Middle-level bureaucrats, Op-Ed writers, intellectuals, and all species of ‘middle class’ reformers frequently advance proposals that are intended to solve, within the confine of capitalism, such problems as racial conflicts, decaying cities, unemployment, climate change and pollution, and foreign policy dilemmas. Such people often bemoan the lack of interest among workers for these proposals. Workers, through their experience, have developed a cynicism about such promises and they feel “let those who get paid for it worry about it”.
Outside the small strata of the decision-makers for capitalism, little serious attention is given to the stuff that is served up by the news media as the subject matter of politics. The frivolities and gossip that pass for political and social issues are discussed by a small number of those concerned, the masses apathetic; businesses keep on making profits that are quietly pocketed by the ruling capitalist class, and everyone continually faces the problems which the capitalist mode of production makes inevitable. From this perspective capitalism has not changed fundamentally in the past hundred-plus years—only the problems have gotten larger. War and environmental destruction now threaten to annihilate the human race. Political class consciousness, the conscious desire for socialism, is still all but non-existent. The world is quiet about socialism. Yet this discouraging scenario is deceptive. Beneath the surface, the forces that shape society are at work, ceaselessly changing the foundations. It is not merely that machinery improves, workers become more skilled and new commodities are marketed while capital accumulates. Mankind's ideas also change as their conditions of life change. Ideas about social conventions change — customary formal dress and bathing attire are trivial examples. Ideas about right and wrong change—the propriety of chattel slavery, birth control, and tobacco smoking are illustrations. However, so far these changes in ideas have stopped short of rejecting the assumptions of capitalist ideology. Before there can be a change in ideas basic to a society, there first must be a crisis of confidence in which the ability of accepted ideas to explain events is disbelieved. There is some evidence that the world is just starting to enter such a crisis of confidence. Everywhere there are signs of a growing uneasiness—an increasing realisation that something is deeply wrong. People are now having second thoughts.
Capitalism sees a shiny future of more consumer gadgets. This philosophy of more and more of the same is beginning to make people wonder if it will provide the answers. The truth of the matter is that however successful and secure capitalism looks at first glance, it is plagued with deep contradictions. These contradictions revolve around the inability of capitalism, despite its wealth, technology and power, to satisfy human needs. On one hand there is fabulous wealth, on the other hand, the most basic of human needs go unsatisfied. Scientists put a man on the moon but society cannot perform the simple task of giving a hungry person a full belly. The rate of infant mortality in the US is above that of far less advanced nations. The capitalist ‘utopia’ is becoming a hell of hatred, despair, and violence. This can no longer be ignored and so people, or at least some people, are beginning to lose confidence in the reasonableness of the system.
The inability of capitalism to solve its contradictions is slowly undermining people's confidence in its ideology; this is the first step. In the middle ages, feudalism began to crumble before developing capitalism when men became sceptical about the accuracy of its world-view. Don Quixote, the famous book ridiculing feudal values, marked the stage when feudal ideas were being rejected to prepare the way for capitalism. In a similar way, capitalist values are being first weakened, then disbelieved, and finally ridiculed. In the middle ages it was segments of the intellectuals, lower clergy, and tradesmen who first became disenchanted; today it is mainly segments of the youth. The Left has undertaken political action avowedly against the system; although, unfortunately, it does not understand the system well enough to take effective action against it. But beyond those observedly alienated from capitalist ideology, there are widespread misgivings among almost all. There is a growing crisis of confidence about capitalist ideology. This is not to say that all these doubts have led any significant numbers of people to explicitly reject capitalism and to become socialists. This is where we socialists come in. The great challenge of the times is in hastening the development of a socialist consciousness that is the prerequisite of socialism. We have accomplished no momentous things, nor do we expect to do so in the near future. We take heart with the thought that, although our numbers are insignificant, our ideas will triumph. The intellectual bankruptcy of capitalism— and its phoney ‘radical’ critics—assure our success. The Socialist Party is working always to keep the message of socialism to the fore.