Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Living, as we are alleged to be, in the post-ideological, post-political era, why should we continue, as a movement, to fight for socialism? Given the abject and apparent failures of some supposed "socialist" regimes, given their appalling human rights abuses and their obvious inability provide a comparable standard of living to that enjoyed in many advanced capitalist countries, why would one persist in the belief that a socialist society is not only possible but is necessary?
The left, as much as the right, has a past to account for. In our zeal to defeat inequality and injustice many on the left have supported governments that enforced the worst forms of inequity -- through violence, denial of free speech and intimidation -- that the working class can face. We have been willing to turn a blind eye to the reality that workers in some of these supposed "socialist" societies had (and in some cases have) less freedom and power than their brothers and sisters in capitalist countries. We have confused the power that flows from the idea and goal of worker self-government and worker ownership with the false god of state power and oppression. Millions of dead later it is enough to make one embrace the notion that the "triumph" of free enterprise is a positive thing and that the only alternative to the anarchy of unregulated capitalism is the unregulated anarchy envisioned by the post-modernist, anti-electoral crew who seems to eschew government power altogether in the mystical hope that we can create a fair and equitable society for all without, presumably, a government of any kind.
And then there is apathy -- the sad and sorry mind set of so many that draws a line from work to home to whatever shopping outlet they feel will fulfill the empty promise of a consumer driven lifestyle. Or, alternately, the many who feel that "politics" is somehow boring or facile and that their own personal devotion to sports, fashion, television, materialism, mysticism, or whatever else is presented as "individual" choice by the purveyors of the latest trend the supposedly individualistic herd is to embrace this week.
On the left are those who feel that devotion to the ends is enough. Given the supposed resistance of the public to socialism why bother? Why not just abandon the idea and fight for social justice in general, cause by cause, letting labels drop? Ideology is irrelevant if we can get results!
But it is just not true.
Socialism is the idea that we can create a society whose primary objective is to generate economic and social justice for all by fostering conditions of equality in which each of us is allowed to thrive and pursue the dreams and personal objectives that they wish to, regardless of the fate of their birth, colour, gender, or any other systemic problems. It is the idea that every individual is entitled to the self-worth of personal actualization that is only possible when we create conditions that allow for an equal starting point. It is the principle that we have the right to be who we are, to love who we want, to express ourselves as we wish, without the state, the church or the arbiters of community values having the power to stop us. It is the sense that we should, through the democratization of the economy, allow for workers to play a greater role in running their companies and that the government, our government, should represent the interests of the vast majority of citizens ahead of the corporate few.
It is, at its heart, when removed from the base detours of the dictatorial left, the strident affirmation of individual and personal freedom in the face of the oppressive emptiness of the hollow pseudo-individualism of the "free market".
The great victory of the supporters of the capitalist system over the last quarter century has been their ability to create cynicism and apolitical attitudes in large segments of the population on the basis of the misguided and ultimately anti-democratic idea that politics is largely irrelevant and that the markets and inexorable economic interests of business will dictate social outcomes regardless of the will of the people. They have been aided in this by the actions of supposed left governments which have been the willing accomplices in the destruction of the social solidarity net of the post-war compromise. It is worthy of note that this applies to every single recent provincial NDP government in Manitoba, Nova Scotia & elsewhere, Clinton's Democrats, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Blair led Labour Party in the UK.
They have also been aided by the clever promise of the dramatic economic growth of the post-socialist era which delivered record profits and wealth at the expense of any notion of fair or reasonable distribution.
Yet this same era of growth corresponded with a technological revolution that allowed the vast majority of the citizens of the developed world to at least adorn themselves with one or another of the various trinkets that we have come to associate with "living well" whether it be a Playstation, a cell phone, a digital camera, an ipod or whatever other device we all now desperately "need".
Having successfully conjoined the politically reactionary onslaught against the post-war gains of workers with the remarkably wide spread distribution of token items of apparent material success and the total defeat in the North American media of voices of dissent and representatives of labour, an entire generation of people has grown up thinking that politics is either irrelevant or has nothing to do with their day-to-day lives or desires.
What this apparent ideological victory has failed to do, however, is to eliminate the basic flaw in the engine of unregulated capitalist growth, that of inequality. Quite the opposite. This era of unprecedented economic vitality has seen ever greater income disparity and the increasingly immoral and repugnant expansion of poverty and a lack of public services while the wealthy bask in the added personal surpluses brought on by disgraceful tax cuts. While the average worker sees their job security and income decline in ever more non-unionized environments, the corporate elite can rest assured of massive government or business buyouts in the event that they do a bad job running their companies! While the bitter sections of the disenfranchised rant about immigrants or those on welfare, the wealthy exist and thrive on government backed bailouts or "development" handouts delivered to their already overburdened bank accounts without any requirement for them to fairly treat their employees or to even pledge to keep their businesses in the jurisdictions that gave them them the cash!
Socialism, it seems, is just fine for the well-to-do.
The real socialist alternative, the actual dream for a better future, however, will never truly die for the very reason that, at heart, the human spirit cannot endure such appallingly unfair and egregious inequity without many millions of people feeling that there must be a better, a fairer and a more just way to create and distribute wealth. The human spirit cannot abide the disgrace of six-year olds going hungry or facing homelessness in nations that hand tens of billions of dollars out to corporate entities. The human spirit recoils at the violence inherent in the reality of our present state of social insecurity created by supposedly progressive liberals and democrats who, throughout the '90's, actively participated in the vile attacks of the political class on the the unemployed, unions, health care, welfare, public spending, education and more and who now stand rudderless and stunned in the face of the collapse of the very system that they engendered.
So why socialism?
Because socialism is the voice of the poor, the workers, the middle class, the disenfranchised, those who wish to express themselves without the oppressive weight of church or state, and those who stand against the terrible toll that economic instability takes on people and families. Socialism is an antidote to apathy and the irrelevance of a life that sacrifices security, justice and freedom for material reward. Socialism is not just an alternative, it is the only true alternative to our present course -- it is a vision of a better world that does not rely on hate, fear or religion, but instead takes the needs of human beings as its starting and ending point. It is, at its best a process that never reaches a conclusion because the human condition can and will always be made better by people themselves. It is a spirit of constant yearning to make a world with peace, equality and democracy for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic starting point.
It is a liberating and wonderful way to look at ourselves and other people.
And it is a way to say you not only care but that you truly want to do something about the terrible social and economic conditions faced by hundreds of millions of fellow citizens around this global community we live in. Something systemic, something total, something real.
This can only happen, will only happen -- despite all the rhetoric of the free market devotees and the neo-anarchist, anti-government left -- if we elect Socialist governments with a broad and coherent agenda for the creation of a socialist economy. Governments that are willing to accept setbacks and defeats on our path forward, but who, even when out of power, never cease to fight for the overhaul and reinvention of our society. Governments that will place the interests of us all against those of capital.
This piece originally appeared on my original blog and then on rabble.ca, in both cases in slightly different forms.
See also: Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein