“We need a socialist renaissance”

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack recently spoke to The Clarion. We will publish more from the interview soon. Here Matt talks about why he is a socialist and what that means, as well as about why Stalinism is not socialism.

When I was growing up, lots more people would have described themselves as socialists.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have referred to “socialism for the 21st century” and so on. That gives us the opportunity to discuss again what socialism means. We should try build a socialist renaissance in the labour movement.

We face the fact that the ideas have been pushed off the agenda for so long. There’s a bit of a fluffiness around the Corbyn movement. Understandably, people see Jeremy as a sort of figurehead, he’s played a great role. The danger is that people think that this particular leader is going to sort everything out for us, when actually it’s going to take a lot more than that.

We start from the point of view that whatever work we’re doing – the work may take different forms – we are workers. We don’t own the means of production. We can’t live except by going to work for someone else, for a wage.

The wage of a labourer in Bangladesh might be a world away from a firefighter in the UK, but both of them are only a month away from poverty. As soon as you stop working you get thrown onto the scrapheap.

Why are we in that position, when a small minority are in a very different position of actually controlling the economy? The economy is run in their interests, in the interests of profit, and that determines and shapes the whole of economics and politics.

Socialism is saying we should fundamentally change that. The people who do the work should control the economy, the means by which we produce things, what we produce, how we produce it, what we produce it for.

Lots of people who describe themselves as socialists think it’s about raising taxes. I’m not against raising taxes, but the long-term aim is much more.

Stalinist politics is not really reflected in the FBU now, but historically the union had a big Communist Party influence from the 1940s onwards. The fascinating bit is what happened in 1956. The General Secretary, the President, and a number of our Executive Council members, were CP members. In 1956, the entire CP group in the union’s leadership resigned from the party in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The union passed resolutions in support of Hungarian workers.

I find it bizarre that people could have illusions in those sorts of systems, with their lack of democratic rights, lack of trade union rights and so on. I don’t think those ideas can have any traction in wider society.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? Email theclarionmag@gmail.com

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