Socialism: Old Debates and New Demands.


1. The Current Context

I can’t help but wonder what kind of future the Coalition is planning for us, without our most fundamental and basic human rights. Owen Jones refers to this systematic stripping away of our rights, that have been hard earned over many decades, and the loss of a sense of well-being, as “the great reverse”.

In just two years, the Coalition have destroyed many of those social programmes and support provisions that made this country decent and civilised – the institutions and established practices of our post-war settlement are under serious threat. Our welfare provision has been stripped down to bare bones, our national health service has been packaged, branded and sold off to government donors, sponsors and companies in which many in the current Government have financial interests.

Our child protection and welfare services have been ravaged and many more crucial services and provisions, that many of us have had only a tacit knowledge of, have also disappeared. In short, our capacity as a civilised society for caring for our most vulnerable citizens has been deliberately undermined as part the tories’ ideological quest for a night watchman state.

There is a clearly punitive approach being leveled at marginalised social groups, and a systematic theft of tax payers money which has been “justified” by the most hateful propaganda campaign, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, Mark Hoban, Chris Grayling and David Cameron, amongst others, with the support of the press. Lies and stigmatising language are used to demonise the poor and vulnerable. Words like “feckless” “idle” “workshy”, “scroungers”, and not ever the truthful descriptions –  “protected group” , “marginalised” , “vulnerable” – are written over and over again in the mainstream press, echoing conservative rhetoric, with the sole intention of creating folk devils and generating public moral outrage, social divisions and hatred.

Hate crime directed at those with disabilities or illness has risen steeply as a direct consequence of this hate-inciting, tory-driven media portrayal of the “fraudulent” sick and disabled person, who is somehow miraculously better off that anyone else, at the expense of the hard-working tax payer. Sick and disabled people are no longer allowed a social life, a decent standard of living, a car, a holiday or anything else that “normal” people enjoy because they have been described over and over as a “burden on the State.” That many of us have also paid tax and national insurance is forgotten the moment we become ill, disabled, or unemployed.

Being sick or disabled, of course, entails the humiliating ritual of proving we are “genuine” and “deserving.” But being “genuine” is conditional upon our very lives becoming public property and being open to a barrage of endless, hateful restrictions and sanctions from members of the public, from the government and media. We were once a society that celebrated the freedoms earned by disabled people, now we are a society that spitefully celebrates taking away those freedoms. Disabled people are dehumanised, and reduced to public and political objects of endless, hateful scrutiny and prejudice. We need to ask ourselves what kind of Government would employ such deplorable and inhumane tactics to justify their deplorable and inhumane actions.

The Government have refused to carry out a cumulative impact assessment regarding the effects of the welfare “reforms,” particularly on policies affecting sick and disabled people. Labour had demanded that they do so. Today we learn that impact assessments are simply considered to be an inconvenience to David Cameron, along with consultations. They are to be scrapped. This is a formal goodbye to human rights safeguards and we witness more of our now fragile democratic process being dismantled further. And the fundamental human right to a fair trial is seen as another “obstacle” by David Cameron. The reduction or end of judiciary review has some terrifying implications. We must ask what kind of Government would want to remove such fundamental, and very hard-earned rights.

So we face further policy-directed blows, very evident in the proposal to severely limit judiciary review. And yesterday, John McDonnell was urging us to fight for our welfare provision, because he fears that there won’t be any provision remaining by 2015. He is right: the welfare “reforms” marked the beginning of the end of welfare. That’s welfare, not a “hand out”, or “something for nothing” but provision paid for by us and for us, when we are vulnerable, when we experience hard times, such as when we are old and frail, ill, or are unfortunate enough to become disabled, young and at risk, or if lose our jobs because of a Government-induced economic depression by a group of purely ideologically-driven, unresponsive, unremorseful, none-empathic, inhumane, greedy and despicable men and women.

There is also a clear exclusion of dissent and criticism, evident in the media, as well as in political debate. This gives a very frightening impression of consensus, with many wondering why nobody seems to be challenging the Government’s harsh and inhumane policies. But they are. This Government showed their true colours when they used “financial privilege” to hammer home what they KNEW to be a grossly unfair and cruel, and much opposed “reform”. Let’s not forget that the House of Lords did not sanction or endorse the welfare “reforms.” The time has come to recognise an increasingly authoritarian Government.

The Tory-led Coalition have basically failed to observe the most fundamental human rights, and do not reflect the needs of the population, nor do they respond to those needs. The refusal to undertake equality impact assessments is an example of this. The Coalition have dismantled basic democratic process – the persistent, blatant ignoring of existing consultations, and proposing to scrap them altogether in the future are prime examples of this. These are strange and very scary times. It is understandable that people are now looking more closely at political philosophies, past and present, and wondering where meaningful answers to our current situation lie, and no other orthodoxy is currently being scrutinised and debated as much as socialism.

2. History

As a political movement, socialism includes a diverse array of political philosophies, ranging from a reformism approach to revolutionary socialism. Those advocating state socialism basically propose the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange as a strategy for implementing socialism. In contrast, libertarian socialism is a proposition that the traditional view of direct worker’s control of the means of production and opposes the use of state power to achieve such an arrangement, opposing both parliamentary politics and state ownership over the means of production. There is also a democratic form of socialism, which is about establishing socialism through democratic processes and propagating its’ ideals within the context of a democratic system. Modern socialism, of course, has its’ roots in an 18th-century intellectual and working class political movement, that criticised the effects of industrialisation and private property on society.

In the early 19th-century, “socialism” simply referred to any concern for the social problems of capitalism regardless of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th-century, “socialism” had come to signify any opposition to capitalism and advocacy, and stand for an alternative system based on some form of social ownership. Orthodox Marxists later considered “scientific” methodology, and assessment and democratic planning to be critical elements of socialism.

3. Analysis

More recently, the term “socialist” has also been used by Blair’s Third Way social democrats to refer to an ethical political doctrine focusing on a common set of values which emphasise social cooperation, universal welfare, and equality. Anthony Giddens, (a sociologist) was the leading advocate of the Third Way, and he rejects conventional (material) definitions and implementations of socialism, and this was formulated into doctrine by Blair. Anthony Gidden’s brand of sociology is about linking micro-level experience with the macro-level narrative, but without the traditional material elements of socialism. In short, it is an ethical socialism that also embraces neoliberalism.

It was seen as a responsive compromise at the time. Giddens advocated a methodological pluralism to reconcile “State” with “individual” and as an approach, this does have some merit, as well as drawbacks, but it does also bridge a traditional and theoretically problematic gap in sociopolitical philosophies.

One of the biggest criticisms of Marxism is the emphasis on structural determinism. There is little scope for incorporating an element of (even limited degrees of) human free-will. There is little scope for qualitative analysis of small scale meaningful  human interaction and experience, and human diversity is subsequently unrecognised from a traditional perspective. These are issues that both Giddens and Blair tried to address. Despite the fact that many see the accomodation of neoliberalism as a betrayal, some of Blair’s social policies were excellent – the Equality Act, Human Rights Act, Every Child Matters, Good Friday Agreement, various animal welfare policies and so on. It wouldn’t do to lose sight of his successes because of his failures.

The world has moved on since Marx was writing. We have an entirely different historical, global, social and economic context. Socialism needs to be adaptive and responsive to that. We are living in extraordinary times, with an increasingly authoritarian Government in power. We need to be united in fighting that, but I am seeing a fragmentation of efforts and little solidarity because of in-fighting about orthodoxies.

I’m further left than the Labour Party currently are. I don’t think, however, that this will always be the case. I feel that over the next couple of years, the Labour Party will respond to the further right drift of the Tories by moving further left. I hope so. I can’t support any form of neoliberalism. I have never forgiven Thatcher for introducing an economic form of organisation that requires authoritarianism to implement, ultimately. Pinochet’s neoliberal experiment resulted in the very worst forms of social oppression and crass inequality. Thatcher and Reagan were monsters for implementing that failed experiment in the UK and US,

Socialism has never been about division and exclusion, yet there are some that have rigid ideas about who and what can properly be labelled “socialist.” I call this elitist, purist perspective “Narxism,” as protagonists from this camp tend to grumble and nark a lot, they don’t like to be inclusive, they tend to see socialism as some kind of exclusive, highly idealised, olden days “working class” club with a membership of people that use a distinctive and adapted language, incorporating heavily utilised, and negative terms such “blue labour,” “red tories,” “new labour,” “tory lites,”  and they have a penchant for endless unforgiving discussion of both “Clause 4” and “Tony Blair” (Blair blah blah.) It’s something of an irony to hear that Labour are “no longer the party of the working class”, when you consider that Marx, who is quoted often by such ideological purists, wasn’t remotely working class, nor was Engels, for that matter.

Narxists claim to be “real socialists.” Yet in their quest for orthodoxy, the claim to being “principled” does not generally include those foundational socialist values of collectivism, cooperation, organisation and unity. Instead we see a perfectionist brand of  individualism that simply divides the Left into competitive factions that serve only to disempower us, ultimately.

Narxists seem to have no awareness that the world is populated by others, and really has moved on. Nor do they seem to pay heed to the more pressing circumstances we currently face. Sick and disabled people are being persecuted by our current Tory-led Government, and many have died, many are suffering as a consequence of this Government’s welfare “reforms.” Remarkably, narxists prefer to endlessly criticise Tony Blair, who left the building some years back. We have an authoritarian Government that are unravelling the very fabric of our once civilised society, dismantling democratic process, abusing human rights and destroying lives. The typified, dogmatic response from Narxists everywhere? “Yeah, yeah, BUT that Tony Blair is a tory lite….”

We need to be responsive to our current situation – in the here and now, and clinging to tired and past-their-usefulness doctrines isn’t going to achieve that. Let’s try for some genuine solidarity, let’s unite in our common aims, let’s recognise our basic similarities as fellow humans with the same fundamental basic needs, and fight the real enemy, instead of bickering about what socialism is or ought to be about, and what our only current hope – the Labour party – ought to adopt as its brand and mantle. Besides, socialism isn’t about what you think and say: it’s about what you DO.

We are in a crisis. Catastrophically, sick and disabled people are dying as a direct consequence of the welfare “reforms.” Many more will die once the full extent of the cuts are realised early next year. We cannot countenance another five years of the Tories. Because people are suffering and dying whilst others prioritise their striving for ideological purism. We need to invest our energy in the Party, lobby, push for progressive change – push left.

The Blair era is over. We need to acknowledge the positives from that as well as the failings in order to learn, grow and progress as a party. So those fostering division from the centre of the party also need to take stock and look at the enormous failings of neoliberalism. Blair’s project was always dommed to fail, it isn’t possible to compromise our civilised and civilising social provision with such a damaging mode of economic organisation, which results in privatisation – placing profit over human needs – and antiwelfarism, deregualtion – which also places profit over human needs, since regulations serve as a social protection, fiscal austerity and the dismantling of rights and public services, ultimately. That is the neoliberal blueprint, which is incompatible with the post-war rights-based society we knew.

Labour have to RESPOND to, and reflect the needs of a population in the current context. That is what a democracy is, after all. We need a party that has pioneered and championed our human rights, recognised and celebrated diversity and equality and one that will continue to do so, with even more urgency in the context of our current crisis. Labour have shown historically that they do reflect the needs of the majority, and respond appropriately.

9 thoughts on “Socialism: Old Debates and New Demands.

  1. Excellent, tovarish!

    You did omit the detail that some aspects of socialism can also be enlightened capitalism, but as that is rather rare these days it is hardly difficult to understand why.

    In the Great Depression, the owner of a company operating two cotton mills in Derbyshire was obliged to lay off some of his workforce due to falling sales. Instead of casting them adrift, however, or expecting them to “get on their bikes” as Tebbitt’s father was alleged to have done, the mill owner set about providing work for them to do in the local area (mending roads and such like) whilst his wife organised food relief. Both efforts were entirely financed by the mill owner.

    His motives were probably Christian charity (something curiously forgotten by the rabble who are currently ruining the country) and enlightened self interest. When sales picked up, he would have a workforce ready to return to the mill(s) and who would probably work for lower wages, without any need for training. Whatever his motives may have been, however, it was a perfect example of “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”.


    1. Thank you, The Infamaous Culex.

      I had originally intended to talk about Robert Owen as well, and the utopian socialist philosophy of 19th century social reformists, with origins in the Industrial Revolution. Owenism aimed for radical reform of society and is considered a forerunner of the cooperative movement.The Owenites undertook several experiments in establishment of utopian communities, organized according to communitarian and cooperative principles, which interested me when I first came across Owen, studying for a social history and administration course, many moons ago 🙂

      However, I was mindful that there is probably a point when a blog turns into a book….lol


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