England’s Labour Party has elected the new party leader, Ed Miliband. This unsurprising event was described in this column in our last edition. It must have been a good choice, because the opinion polls held since the leadership contest show that Labourites have been distinctly encouraged by Ed’s push to the top.
It would be difficult to describe the politics of the last two Labour prime ministers. Tony Blair showed disdain for typical socialist dogma, and was probably more to the right than Margaret Thatcher or especially John Major. Gordon Brown (who was never elected by the people) should have been a true blooded socialist, as the relatively poor son of the manse, but wasn’t.
It is time to take a much closer look at Socialism with a capital C: how did it come about? What was it? What is it now? What has it achieved? Socialism started at the end of the 18th century with the Jacobins and the French Revolution, which was more about greed, envy and pride than about Liberty, Fraternity or Equality. In the 19th century, phrases and ideas can be traced in the writings of Saint-Simon and others in France, and Robert Owen’s experiments in his Scottish works, in the co-operative control of industry. Socialism covers a multiple of positions – communism at the totalitarian end, and liberal democracy at the other, gentler but perhaps more insidious. Nothing could be more difficult to define with accuracy.
It would be easier to count what Socialists are against, rather than what they stand for: capitalism in any form of course; a defining of the social classes that eight centuries of European development had clarified; Capitalism in socialist eyes (which tend to be firmly fixed by socialist dogma) enriches the owners of capital at the expense of the employee or worker. It provides no security for the poor, and sacrifices the welfare of society to private gain.
This is what socialists teach socialists, through the writings of Victorian reformers, and gatherings such as the Fabian Society (G.B. Shaw comes to mind) – members of the latter tended to be highly intellectual members of the English and German upper classes – and thus was born the unanswerable question that has taxed our minds since we began to think, namely why is it that so many prominent socialists came and come from the very class they are supposed to despise and deprecate?
Socialists you know will argue that the community as a whole must own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange in order to capture a more equal division of a nation’s wealth. This can be done by creating state ownership, or ownership of industry by the workers themselves. The instrument to be used to achieve this was, and is, the trade union. But the trade union has become an antediluvian instrument only useful in that it provides an income for people who prefer not to work for a living. This has just been demonstrated in unmistakeable fashion by the ignominious failure of the General Strike in Spain.
Socialists recommend a replacement of the market economy by some kind of vaguely defined planned economy. Fine, but the aim of these measures was to make industry socially responsible, viz. the name ‘Socialism’. It should bring about a much larger degree of equality in living standards. Not satisfied with this, socialists have fought for special provision for those in need, in the form of an organised welfare state. But in England it is engorged and essentially blind welfare that has partially infected an efficient, modern and industrialised state.
Karl Marx wanted to demonstrate scientifically how capital profit was derived from exploitation of the worker. He argues (in Das Kapital) that a truly socialist society could only be achieved by a mass movement of the workers themselves. This is where the troubles began, and pure theory became impure force of a kind never seen before in History, for the methods by which the transformation was to be reached, and the manner in which the new society was to be managed remained the subject of massive disagreement, producing a wide variety of socialist parties (different in each country), ranging from moderate reformers (Sweden for instance) to the ultra-left wing communists dedicated to social upheaval by violent revolution (Russia, Cuba, China etc.). But is socialism a truly viable alternative to capitalism? In Sweden a gentler, more responsive socialist theory has produced successful socialism, whatever the elected government’s name is. In Russia, Cuba and China communism has left all of us with a bad taste in the mouth, however much we are ordered to see what a success China’s recent communist/capitalism has been. Russia’s Grand Design started with the massacre of an entire family pour encourager les autres. Soviet Russia’s end came when East German soldiers chose to ignore East German workers when they began knocking down the Wall. Cuba has been dominated by a murderous dictator/orator for more than half a century. In a society where all should be equal, Fidel Castro’s piggery has imitated the Orwell classic by passing Fidel’s baton directly to his younger brother.
On the whole, Western socialists have chosen Social Democracy, or Market Socialism, neither of which require concentration camps, gulags or massacres. Social Democracy tries to control the worst effects of capitalism on society while supporting a free market, and ownership of private property.
In the still ‘United’ Kingdom, it is easy to dismiss socialism because of the destructive years of Messrs. Blair and Brown. It is a mistake. Not even the smuggest Tory among our readers could have failed to notice that in the last weeks of September the Labour Party was close up to the Conservatives in the opinion polls. The core vote did not vanish in the primaries that led to the election of Ed Miliband. The Labour Party prevented David Cameron getting his much advertised absolute majority. He has had to do with a coalition instead – and it is not a steady coalition. What the British press sees as the failings of either Miliband, Ed or Dave, actually matters very little. In fact, the old Labour horse has a lot more life in it that many perceive.
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron’s speech at the Birmingham conference was masterly. It was seen as such even by his most ardent critics within his own party. They must be a crestfallen lot by now. Cameron became a Jack Kennedy asking the people what they were prepared to do for their country, instead of merely getting what they could out of their country. He argued that the idea of the Welfare State was and is marvellous, but that it has got out of control. His image of the neighbouring houses in a typical English town, one containing a man and his family who work from dawn to dusk and pay their taxes, while the house next door contains a family none of whom has ever worked a day in their lives, being financed and supported in their lethargy and obesity by the family next door is positively Churchillian.
Things will get better in the United Kingdom, especially if England can forge ahead without the centuries-old tether of Wales and Scotland, who now have their own Parliament or Assembly. Real socialism under Mr Miliband – who truly is a socialist – will keep the country on its toes. We do not need to be ‘great’ again. We can leave empire building to the Chinese, the Indians and the Americans. But we can regain our national pride and reputation for fair play and justice, perhaps by remembering the good original theories behind the socialist dream, abused and almost destroyed (like many religions) by the pride and obstinacy of ambitious and ruthless men. Dean Swift