by Jonathan Lee
It’s a dirty word for many who don’t really understand what it means. People often broadly sweep Socialism into a single ideology, which is much maligned as an unworkable and authoritarian regime, seemingly unsuitable for the modern day, and unpopular amongst the electorate.
I’ll start out being optimistic, and assume that this ignorance of what Socialism is explains why some people discount it out of hand. Because the premise of Socialism is generally one that I have to believe most people should aspire to in some way. “Every human being should be a moderate Socialist,” Thomas Mann said.
Why? Because Socialism is a general set of social, political, and economic views that places people first. And what’s the point of having a democratic society, in which we the people place power in the hands of a select few to manage our lives, if not to make things generally better for people as a whole?
Socialists can be broadly categorised by the shared idea that ownership of equity should be shared democratically by all members of society. How this is achieved, and to what extent, varies hugely. Socialists can be extremely libertarian, like the Cooperative Movement; or very authoritarian, like in State Socialism (Communism).
Fully achieved Socialism (like you see in Star Trek… which would be class) is a utopian ideal that is pretty impossible, and for some, not very desirable. Although if it came with space travel, sexy aliens, and food replicators many could probably be swayed.
But Socialism only works in theory…
The populist argument against Socialism is pretty lazy. It goes something like: Socialism doesn’t work in practice in the real world, human beings are avaricious by nature, I work hard for my money.
Let’s tackle the theoretical side first – nothing works in practice like it does in theory. Principles like Socialism and Capitalism are overarching ideologies that are so myriad in their application, and so often interwoven, that they will never mirror their ‘perfect’ theoretical versions. People always compare the reality to an extreme example of the ideology. For instance: the liberty of the free market, tax incentives for businesses, and the acquisition of capital by individuals does not have to necessarily result in extreme poverty and crony-capitalist monopolies of the private and state sector. Similarly, the nationalising of key infrastructure, funding of the welfare state, and taxing the rich doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to wear the same clothing, give away all their money, and start using a number instead of their name. Both Capitalism and Socialism refer to ideals that have never successfully existed in practice. All countries can be categorised as mixed economies, of both Socialism and Capitalism – it is the mixture that differs.
Free market capitalism underpinned with Socialist values has proved effective in Social Democracies like the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom. There has never been any country which implemented fully realised Socialism or Capitalism.
I work hard, why should I pay for those who don’t?
“If I work hours and hours a week, make a decent living. I don’t want that wealth I have accumulated to be taken away from me….” said some undergraduate once on thestudentroom.co.uk.
But that’s exactly what happens to you under Capitalism! Those who work for hours and hours to produce capital will never reach their full potential, because of the monopolization of resources and markets by others who are more privileged and wealthier than they are. In a world where supply and resources are finite, this will always be what happens in a Capitalistic economic model: those with less privilege and opportunity will be exploited for wage-labour, or left out in the cold through unemployment.
Put simply: hard work does not necessarily equal success or wealth under Capitalism.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say we should do away with markets and businesses and replace them with a national communal grower’s co-op; recognising that Capitalism easily eschews meritocracy means we can begin to compensate for its failings using Socialist principles. Enter: Social Medicine, a Welfare State, and Nationalisation of Energy, Education and Transport.
Why? Because Socialism is a general set of social, political, and economic views that places people first
The real problem with the ‘why should I have to pay for them’ notion is the logical conclusion of this line of thinking: that some humans are less worthy of life and happiness than others because they are poor. How many times have you heard someone going on about people on benefits lazing about and conning the system (this week)? There is a streak of petty vindictive avarice in Britain that abhors a single mam on benefits owning a nice television set, even though some weeks she may have to choose between food and heating. The idea that she has got something for nothing drives some Brits crazy, and the idea that we shouldn’t pay for the most vulnerable in our society is unnervingly common.
The alternative to this, of course, would cost lives, but most gloss over this detail in their conservative tirades. Without social welfare, people would die earlier from malnutrition, environmental hazards, and medical treatments they cannot afford. The neoliberal alternative argues they would not starve because it puts the welfare of the poorest in the hands of the private sector. Individual or corporate charity is seen as both the solution to their situation and evidence of the generosity of the society.
Margaret Thatcher once said that the Left “would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.” This is an infantile way of reconciling growing inequality in society. You could just as easily quip: the Right would rather the rich stay rich, regardless of how poor the poor get. Most British people are in favour of reducing inequality, and most of them would do it through higher taxes on the very rich. The conservative theory which Thatcher was arguing for is the idea that if the rich get richer it increases the amount of wealth in the society, which benefits the people at the bottom too.
If we allow the rich to generate more wealth, it will trickle down to those at the bottom…
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. Trickle-down economics does not work. There is an inverse relationship between GDP growth and tax cuts for the highest income percentiles. The theory has been discredited by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Center for American Progress, Oxfam, Pope Francis, Jesus Christ, and a wide cross section of economists on the Right and Left of the political spectrum. Tax cuts for the rich actually result in less wealth being generated over time, and wages stagnating for the lower and middle class. Rather than creating jobs and increasing spending, the wealth owning minority in fact destroy jobs through wealth consolidation, nepotism, mergers, and corporate takeovers.
People are not equal, some are just more intelligent, more hardworking, and they should be rewarded…
The myth of meritocracy is propped up by the selfish belief that those who, by quirk of fate, were born privileged with advantageous attributes should be further rewarded for their good fortune. This law-of-the-jungle thinking is not only ruinous for society, it is cruel and inhuman. It demonstrates a more base level of reasoning which is at odds with the supposed morality which separates man from beast. The equality of opportunity which Thatcher championed can never compensate for the inequality of birth and circumstance which Capitalism generates.
People are not born equal, either by genetics or by social and economic exclusion. But that doesn’t mean the fate of the most vulnerable should be left to the chance generosity of an individual. We pay tax and elect politicians to provide services which cater for all members of society. Socialist initiatives to reduce inequality not only provide more wealth for a greater number of people, they allow society as a whole to generate more wealth.
Austerity measures are economically and morally bankrupt. Key infrastructure runs more cheaply and more efficiently if it is nationalised. You pay tax to help those poorer than you in order to be a decent fucking human being. Jeremy Corbyn is not a communist. Support for the Welfare State and the NHS is not unpatriotic, it’s the best of Britishness. Wealth is not earned by those who work the hardest.
Everyone should be a fucking Socialist.
Featured image CC0
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