All Commentary
Sunday, June 1, 1980

Socialism in Theory and Practice

As seen through the eyes of a U.S. exchange student in Britain

England is a hotbed of radicalism these days, mostly socialist and frequently violent. I was introduced to this brand of revolutionary socialism through one of my professors, an admitted Marxist who was sympathetic to the Socialist Workers’ Party.

His argument was simple: “The capitalist system is flawed. Capitalists overproduce, rob the workers for the sake of profit and reduce them to paupers. Faced with increasing misery, the worker must sell himself to earn money for food. He has no liberty. He spends his life at a job and has no say as to his work conditions. When will this degradation end? When the working class rises up and controls the workplace.”

I also observed the rising up of the working class that fall and winter of 1978-1979. A wildcat strike of 33 toolmakers at a British Leyland factory in Birmingham was sustained, without punishment, when the other 3,000 workers in the plant threatened to strike in support of the 33. And this type of industrial action was not unusual in many unionized plants. The London Times stopped printing because workers refused to accept modern machinery that might have enabled the newspaper to earn a profit while meeting wage demands.

There were signs of a general strike by early 1979. Lorry drivers walked off the job. Soon there were shortages of food, especially milk for children. Dock workers struck and boat up fellow workers forced by financial necessity to try to cross picket lines. Some who did cross were subsequently expelled from the union and thus virtually barred from continuing their trade after the strike. Car bombings were reported. One newspaper was discouraged from publishing articles critical of union tactics because the newsprint union threatened to strike.

In Liverpool the morgue was closed by a strike of 12 gravediggers. London ambulance drivers struck for higher wages, leaving emergency patients to fend for themselves until the government called on the Army Medical Corps for help. Several London hospitals were so hit by walkouts of medical personnel that sick patients, including children, were unattended for hours. Striking union employees voted to search school children for sandwiches, hoping the hungry youngsters would then force their parents to persuade the schools to settle.

The strikes and ugliness subsided in March. But I had seen enough of Socialism to realize the emptiness of the promise of liberty and prosperity. for the workers. Putting socialist theory into practice involves violence against persons, destruction of property, censorship of ideas, and suffering for everyone concerned.