To win socialism — a society democratically owned and run by and for the majority of people — we have to get rid of the capitalist system that stands in our way.
But who is going to do this? The capitalists aren’t going to give up their privileges.
It's those who are exploited and oppressed by the system that have an interest in changing it.
Capitalism can't permanently satisfy the needs of the majority — the working class, farmers, women, ethnic and racial minorities and so on.
The working class, the producing class, has the power to stop production and distribution. As the collective producer, the working class also has the capacity to establish a new, non-exploitative system of production — an economy that works for people, not profits.
Every morning, millions of workers go to work in the banks, factories, hospitals, schools and shops of Australia. Yet every evening, workers leave behind the things they just produced for the capitalists to keep.
Then, after work, they go to the store and pay outrageous prices for the goods they made. There's no way in the world that the capitalists could force workers to do that if the workers united against them.
Consider the recent examples in Venezuela. When workers rose up against price increases in 1989, the government had them massacred. But this didn't stop the poor from organising, and in 1998 they elected a president, Hugo Chavez, who defied the interests of the ruling class.
When the big capitalists and privileged bureaucrats tried to overthrow his government in a military coup in April 2002, the workers and rank-and-file soldiers rose up and stopped them.
Then the capitalists tried to shut down the economy to starve the workers and their elected government into submission, but the workers responded by taking over factories, and even entire industries, and running them themselves!
In Australia, the ruling class has developed a huge propaganda machine devoted to selling the illusion that we all have a stake in the system. What's good for business is good for everyone. They say we have to curb our wages to make "our" companies more competitive.
It works to some extent. But people don't always believe the lies. Have you ever heard anyone say: "We had to cut my wages" or "We had to sack me"?
That's why there are often struggles going on: strikes in factories and workplaces.
Capitalism tells people they have to "work within the system": talk to the boss if you want a wage rise, or simply vote for change. But to win anything, people have always had to step outside the bounds of the system.
Australia pulled out of the Vietnam War because hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets not just once, but over and over again, until the ideas of the anti-war movement penetrated all sections of society, including the army.
The growing realisation that the war was fundamentally against their interests started to make working people question the whole nature of society. The Australian ruling class wasn't taking any chances. They cut their losses and ran from Vietnam rather than lose control over their own population.
Capitalism fears the power of the oppressed. When it's necessary and when it can get away with it, the system will smash any struggle that threatens its profits and power. Trade unions are made illegal or protesters arrested.
But often capitalists have to make some concessions.
However, under capitalism, no rights are guaranteed. In Australia, Labor and Liberal take turns at eroding people's rights. In stable and prosperous times, the ruling class tends to back the Liberals over other parties because the Liberals' policies tend to be the purest reflection of their interests.
They are seen as less likely to be responsive to pressure from the working class, small farmers or other sectors. However, in times of economic crisis, the ruling class often prefers Labor.
Labor has the advantage of controlling the trade union bureaucracy. With the union leadership's compliance, a Labor government can cut wages and living standards with minimum social protest and maximum efficiency.
Labor has perfected giving with one hand while taking with the other. To survive in recession, capitalists have to lower their costs. So in every recession, every economic crisis, working people stand to lose.
Because every reform can be reversed, the struggle for reform as an end in itself is insufficient. Socialists fight for reforms in order to make a revolution.
Every time working people win reforms, they get a glimpse of their power to change society. Every time they occupy an office or factory, they know they don't need a boss to run it.
[This article is abridged from the magazine What Resistance Stands For.]