What is Socialism?
Socialism Watch is a periodic project we will be running over the next year looking at the way in which the media, politicians, academics and others trivialise, traduce and generally put down socialism for political purposes. The project will look at the way in which the socialist proposition for a moneyless, classless and wageless social system is often deliberately confused with either the anti-socialist politics of the Labour Party or the equally ant-working class politics of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and their followers in the myriad of Trotskyists parties found in Britain today.
Socialism is more used by the enemies of socialism as an attack on the Labour Party, the BBC and anyone who dares question capitalism than it is as the solution for the problems facing the world’s working class. At the same time workers are told that socialism is “old fashioned”, “dead” or a politics that set in train gulags, concentration camps, genocide and the secret police.
No wonder the curators at the National Galley placed the recent William Morris exhibition under the heading of “Anarchy and Beauty” rather than with Socialism; more so given Morris’s association with Trafalgar Square and “Bloody Sunday” opposite. To have the word “Socialism” emblazoned outside the gallery would not only have put off the tourists but led to media censure. Political cowardice springs to mind.
Socialists are very clear about the meaning of socialism. Socialism is a social system which has neither existed in the past nor exists today anywhere in the world. The establishment of socialism is dependent upon the growth of a socialist majority understanding and wanting world socialism. The social framework of socialism will be the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. The socialist case against capitalism is set out in the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.
Throughout the 20th century the meaning of socialism was muddled; first by the Labour Party misleadingly calling its policies “socialist”; then, after 1917, through Russia being referred to as both “socialist” and “communist”. In the 1930’s Hitler and his supporters described themselves as “national socialists” which continues to this day with the activities of organisations like the British National Socialist Movement. And then, after the Second World War, every ruthless and brutal dictatorship which held political power in the world, from Albania to Yugoslavia, described itself as “socialist” and its anti-working class nationalisation programmes as “socialism”. The true meaning of socialism was lost sight of and only kept alive by the hard and determined work of a small number of socialists.
To make matters worse, supporters of capitalism in the West were given the propaganda coup of just being able to point to the misery of those living under dictatorships calling themselves socialist to show their own countries in a better light. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 workers were told that “socialism” had died and that there was no alternative to the market. The recent 25th anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down was an occasion for world leaders to say, yet again, that “Socialism/Communism” was dead and buried.
The Misuse of Socialism
Socialism today is wholly used by the media in a negative context. When celebrating the journalist Owen Jones for being gay the INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY wrote off his politics as “old-fashioned Socialism” (9th November 2012). However, all Owen Jones’s “socialism” amounted to was the failed Labour policies of the past; it has nothing to do with socialism as understood by Marx, Engels and the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Jones does not articulate a socialist politics but a social reform programme around a “fairer capitalism” with the nationalisation of the railways and utilities. He does not want capitalism abolished but “tamed”, made more user-friendly and regulated. His politics may be “old-fashioned” but they are not socialist.
Again, in the INDEPENDENT (25.11.2014) the ill-informed and smug journalist, Andy McSmith, referred to a recent lecture given by Labour’s Dennis Skinner, as “old-fashioned socialist oratory” for calling for the renationalisation of the railways. In fact, the first call for the nationalisation of the railways was by the Tories in 1844; hardly a socialist act. Nationalisation, of course, has nothing to do with socialism. McSmith’s journalism is symptomatic of the poverty of current journalism; usually intellectually barren, light-weight and facile.
Worse still are the Tea Party and the strange free market policy institutes in the US who constantly refer to President Obama as a “socialist”, “a “communist” and a “Marxist”; sometimes all three. These mad hatters would not know what socialism or communism is if it hit them on their collective head. And if they really want to know what a Marxist is and what a Marxist thinks then read our literature; our opponents are only a few clicks away to our website. There is even a strain of capitalist economics which believes the slightest incursion of the state into the economy is “socialist”. So the Liberal economist Lord Maynard Keynes is described as a socialist even though he dedicated much of his time during the Great Depression in the 1930’s in an attempt to “save capitalism”. Such is the theology of capitalist economics.
The reactionary DAILY MAIL constantly refers to Ed Miliband holding “Socialist views”. Its plague of journalists loses no time in using the word “socialism” as a stick to beat the Labour Party. The worst offender is Richard Littlejohn. Under the banner “Back to the Future with Marxist Miliband: If Britain falls for Ed’s Socialist farce, it really will be a tragedy (23rd September 2013) he wrote:
The modern face of socialism manifests itself in the shape of the same old ‘bash the rich’ politics of resentment, a war on wealth creation and a shopping list of generous ‘giveaways’ funded by reckless borrowing and higher taxes. Littlejohn is paid £400,000 a year to write this political rubbish but it is money considered well spent by his employer. Lord Rothermere wants capitalism defended; he wants his class interests articulated and he wants to pretend he is a “wealth creator” rather than the reality of social wealth being generated through the exploitation of the working class where workers are paid less in wages and salaries than the social wealth they actually produce. The capitalist class creates no wealth at all but lives parasitically off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Another journalist who enjoys smearing the word socialism and attributing it to every evil known to humankind is Dominic Lawson. In his Monday sermon (“Memo to Labour: It’s not your leader who’s the problem, it’s you policies” 10th November 2014), he thundered against the NEW STATESMAN as the bastion of old-fashioned Hampstead “socialism”. Lawson went on to say that the Hampstead Heath intellectual despises the likes of “Essex Man and woman” with their “lower-middle class material aspiration”.
What can the working class really aspire to under capitalism, whether they live in either Essex or Hampstead? They can only aspire to become socialists; to become conscious of their class position under capitalism and the fact that capitalism can only give them employment when it is profitable and unemployment when it is not. Capitalists and their political representatives do not want workers to aspire to a social system beyond the market, buying and selling and profit. Conformity, obedience and deference are what employers and their politicians want from the working class.
The Politics of Envy and Champagne Socialists
THE DAILY MAIL persistently uses two fallacious arguments against anyone who dares criticise the wealth and privilege of the capitalist class. If the critic is relatively poor then their politics is written off as the “politics of envy”. If the critic has a bob or two in their pocket then they are derided as “champagne socialists”. The arguments are baseless. They are ad hominem arguments; arguments against the person not the ideas they hold.
It does not matter whether a socialist is rich or poor, it is the socialist argument they hold which should be criticised by the anti-socialist backed-up with reason and facts. But when has anyone read in the media a coherent and informed attack against the socialist case. They can’t produce a case against socialism. They have no argument.
So it has to be an attack against the individual; the way they speak, the way they look, the school they went to, whether they are married, whether they are gay, black, in fact anything and everything of prejudice and spite so long as the media do not have to defend capitalism and put a case against socialism.
DAILY MAIL politics is the lowest form of thought and the highest form of ignorance. A socialist wears their “Hated by the Daily Mail” badge with pride.
What of the claim made by the DAILY MAIL to frighten its readership that the BBC is “left wing” with a “cultural Marxist” agenda? They wish! Type in “BBC and Socialism” into Google and the result is a similar distortion of the meaning of socialism. In fact in some instances the BBC’s articles on socialism are worse than the bile and prejudice found in the DAILY MAIL because it puts on a thin veil of detached articulation to vent its anti-socialist propaganda.
In an article for the BBC: “Socialism in the United Kingdom” written in 2004 but still accessible today on its web site, Rodney Barker, Professor of Government at the London school of Economics concluded an article on socialism which he had persistently linked with the Labour Party with the words:
Socialism in the United Kingdom,…, has largely disappeared as a coherent doctrine after 1989 (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programme/bbc _ parliament/2400843.stm)
Were socialists allowed to respond to Professor Barker’s abject and witless article in line with the BBC’s so-called “balance”? When it comes to balance a response from socialists is the last thing on the mind of the editors who commissioned Professor Barker’s article. There was no right of reply to the article which was an ignorant and crude hatchet job worthy of the DAILY MAIL.
What can be done? In the short term very little. While socialists remain sparse on the ground our political enemies will continue to rubbish socialism and distort what it means. Not that things will get any better once the socialist movement begins to grow a little faster the media will turn their attention on us and it will not be a village green game of cricket.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.