Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wither socialism?

I have just finished reading a couple of the classic texts on socialism - The ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel and The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. What struck me about these - worrying - is how contemporary these descriptions and assessments are.

So Tressel points out that those in work are still in a state of poverty, that simply being in work does not lift them out from this state (contra what George Osborne is constantly saying).

His workers are also on zero-hours contracts - when there is work, they get paid, when there isn't, they don't. He raises the challenges that this makes to their situation, in particular, that when they are working, they are usually paying their debts from when they weren't, meaning any attempts to climb out of poverty is thwarted.

The discussion of how the management insist of skimping on work to save money (that is, to increase the profit the management are making on it) is very familiar.

The comments about how the working people would rather vote for and support the status quo, despite the fact that it oppresses them, rather than change, because they are deliberately uneducated, and the fear-mongers do their work, reflect very strongly why right-wing and fascist groups often do well (UKIP, for example).

The question or challenge is, against this background, how can political groups that genuinely represent socialist attitudes can get some traction?

One route is the way the Labour party has taken, which is to abandon most socialist principles in order to keep votes and obtain power. That is not a route that I consider reasonable or viable, because it dilutes the core principles.

It does seem that, as with the Philanthropists, the workers - however you want to define them - are aspirational, and so will support the conservative political groups, because they hope to improve their lot, become more affluent, and they don't want to damage the class that they aspire to be in.

The problem is that socialism has a bad rep. At the more radical end, the groups who are communist in essence have a real issue, because the essence of a communist approach (according to The Communist Manifesto) is the nationalisation of property. For people in the UK, where property owning is a very important part of our culture, this is not something that we will accept readily. This is not a political objection, a problem with this approach from idealism, it is a cultural issue.

In the UK, we have a distinct cultural approach to life. We are passionate about our island nation, and maintaining the distinction we have - sometimes amounting to racism, but often simply national pride. We also have a tradition of "a mans house is his castle" - the idea, very deeply rooted in our psyche, that there is some piece of land that is for us and our family. However we claim the place, this is important, which can be shown from the tendency for people to make their properties different, distinct, personal.

But a cultural rejection of communism does not mean that socialism cannot win ground. It does mean that it is far harder. However, we are, I believe, also a generous, caring and supportative people. If you move into any rural community, you will find a natural distrust of strangers. However, for those who have been for a time, these communities will help, support and care for their own. In essence, this is the core of socialism.

So I want to leave with a question - how can socialism be re-inspired, re-enabled in the UK? Maybe the answer is a more localised form of socialism - it is also a cultural facet that we don't trust other people to look after us, especially if they are all the way down in London. Maybe the answer is education?

The worry is that, if we don't restore a socialist political force in the country, we will end up in the same situation shown in Philanthropists and Wigan Pier, where the choices are between two conservative parties, there is no voice for change. Because change is something we need, in a country that is suffering and struggling.


  1. The Conservatives moved to the right after the collapse of the Heath government in the '70s. Labour's move to the right to now be politically in about the same place if you go by their stated policies as the Conservatives were under Heath is not what is dramatic. Labour under Wilson were a libertarian and socialist, something very far from authoritarian communism. Although there have always been a few commies making a lot of noise within Labour it is not where the party have stood and not the official line of the leadership, not even under Foot.

    So if I want to vote for a party which is both libertarian and left (as I do) what is my choice?

    If I lived on the Celtic fringe of the UK I'd have a choice, SNP and Plaid Cymru both fit the bill, but I'm in England. The Greens are too left and too libertaian for me, but they are the closest fit.

    That is why I'm supporting the Scots in their independance. May they get the government we deserve.

    1. I think a "close fit" is the best anyone can hope for. The problem comes when there is no party who comes close. If there is no left-wing party - even one that doesn't really match our views - then there is no real choice.

      The Greens don't perfectly fit me - probably more so than you, but not perfect. But they are the closest to my position that I can find. So I support and work for them because they could make a difference.