Right away, there’s something wrong with this blog; it’s in the title: I hate labels! I even considered changing it. A big problem that I face is that when I say “I’m a socialist” some immediately picture me as Che Guevara in camouflage with an automatic rifle (I do have the long hair and beard, but that’s as far as that stereotype goes), or they just decide that I mean that I’m a Leninist, Communist or Marxist. Each of these descriptions could be interchanged in some settings but they are not all the same thing. Just as I have realised that a few billion people use the label ‘Christian’, from gun-toting KKK members to Universalists, and I know what I mean when I use that word (though I prefer ‘Jesus follower’ to distinguish it), so I also know what I mean when I say that I’m a socialist, and no stereotyping or preconceptions anyone else has will affect that. One thing I have learnt is that politics, and economics, like theology, are all very complex. So I’ll try to simplify things and define where I am at.
Firstly, I am a democratic socialist. Outside of democracy, any attempt to create a socialist utopia will fail miserably, since the will of the people must be paramount; the very basis of socialist philosophy is that all are born equal, and each human being has a right to life and liberty. Once you step beyond the bounds of democratic control, it is only inevitable that these basic rights will be undermined. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the memorable saying goes.
Stereotypes abound in all perceptions, and for socialists like me, that includes people believing that I just must subscribe to particular things, like atheism and being pro-choice. I get this from both sides, yet when I was younger and attended meetings of the Socialist Workers Party, I met others who were also religious and pro-life; almost all of the party attendees were Roman Catholic, since in Northern Ireland, a protestant is just not allowed to be left-wing (search me where that came from, and I’ll not theorise here), so they had an ingrained belief in the unborn’s right to life. Those within the party who were ‘fully paid-up’ socialists and could not even see the pro-life argument, were almost wanting to expel us from meetings for not being ‘proper’ socialists. Yeah, we’re all equal and all entitled to an opinion, but it must follow ‘the party line’ – the irony!! My political beliefs, like my theology, have many facets, but were I to plot a Venn diagram of them, my circle would lie very much over the ‘socialist’ area.
Politics is about power, when you break it down, and in whom power is vested. Money equals power, so it is safe to say that a lot of political wrangling is about just where the cash flows to. Those who have plenty of money already have power, and as we know, this can be a corrupting influence. Our modern politics were birthed in events like Magna Carta, where English nobles had suffered enough under King John, who was demanding more tributes and taxes from them to fund his desire for more wars to gain more land and power. They made him sign their bill of demands, God-appointed King or not! The rights enshrined in Magna Carta were originally for the knights and landed gentry, but such rights have filtered down through history to the rest of us commoners. Other similar documents followed, like the British Bill of Rights in 1689, which shifted power more securely into the hands of parliament from royalty, and the US Constitution was a similar attempt to establish rights of those who had subsequently rebelled against the excesses of that British parliament. And so it goes on…
Now, in 2016, practically everyone sees a broken political system in the majority of the Western world. Many commentators try to apportion blame in various sectors, and in the melee, I find myself agreeing with those of very different persuasions, particularly some Libertarians. This is because they hold the same basic belief that we are all born equal and have a right to life and liberty; we agree that there’s a lot wrong in our political system and seek to change it. Where we differ is in the method.
For me, the best way to define right-wing v. left-wing (and which has always been the definition!) is that right-wing philosophers have a belief in the right of ascension i.e. that those who are able to ascend to a higher status have shown their ‘right’ to enjoy that place of privilege, while left-wing philosophers believe in the right of anyone who contributes to society to be given an equal right to share in the rewards and profits within that society. Where there has been an imbalance of wealth, we have often seen revolutions hellbent on redistribution, and this only gives left-wing rhetoric the label of ‘theft’ since it seeks to take wealth from those who already have it. The problem is that when you have individuals who do work hard and are not remunerated properly, it is only human nature to feel aggrieved and to seek ‘justice’ – if wealth was properly distributed in the first place, there would be no need for redistribution! We all know (those of us who have not stuck our heads in the sand) just how much money is going to the tiny 0.0000008% of the world population. This has just become the latest record figure; we are seeing records on the wealth imbalance broken year after year, and it just has to stop; latest figures here.
However, some politicians have a twisted agenda to present a different view of politics; chiefly that either…
a): right-wing thinking is about ‘less government’ and more for the individual’s liberty, while left-wing thinking is about government control and the diminishing of the individual, and the promotion of the importance of ‘the state’ – this does sum up non-democratic Marxism/ Communism since it views democracy as a corruptible thing and that a totalitarian regime is required to ‘protect’ the state from being undermined. or…
b): both left-wing and right-wing thinking are the same thing, and removing government regulations is about getting beyond this to a pure utopia where everyone is free to pursue their own dreams/ ambitions/ aspirations.
This leads to some crazy ideas, like how Fascism is left-wing, since Fascists seek to appropriate government (unelected if possible) to strengthen their control of the cash flow! Who else would propose this but right-wing nationalists who want to distance themselves from what we saw develop in Europe between the wars, but right-wing beliefs, if taken to an extreme, end up in this place of utter belief in the ‘rightness’ of your own national cause and the place of your established elite, against the ‘wrongness’ of anything else that challenges that, from within or without. Let us note that the political prisoners who were in the German concentration camps alongside the Jews were the Communists, not the Capitalists! Socialism is, I will admit, much more international than nationalistic, since we believe in the value of all workers. Hence why I detest the name ‘National Socialism’ (Nazism) – it’s an oxymoron.
These views are gaining ground in the USA, where there is a vast subculture of mistrust of any government; it is a nation borne from revolution against a government, so that’s no surprise, but I wonder how a nation that managed to set up its own government democratically could end up being consistently mistrustful of what is constituted from their own candidates and votes – a huge debate, especially since we are heading that way too in the UK.
I only recently discovered that there’s a saying in France: “only right-wingers believe that right-wing and left-wing are the same!” Such misrepresentations are done by those in power to garner votes and to make you think that they believe in the same values you do, and this is the hub of my argument here…
When we look at the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008, we all come to one conclusion: it was the bankers! This happened before (as I’ve blogged on), in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the first Great Depression in the 30s. Our grandparents mistrusted banks then, so why do we still trust them now? “How was this allowed to happen?” is an oft-heard question. The answer is simple: our governments deregulated the financial market and opened up the possibility for greed to go off the scale for an elite few, who naturally succumbed to the temptation. As a Christian, I do believe in the fallen nature of man, so I am never surprised when such things overtake educated and smart people and cause them to lose all sense of proportion: for them, making another two billion just would not do when there was a possibility to make three!
The credit crunch happened because of greed, and it was allowed to happen. We all know that government regulation was not to blame; it was the lack of regulation, and this is what the ‘free market’ exponents wanted all along – they tell you it’s about ‘individual freedom’ but it actually means that power shifts from government to individuals, and since money is power, it is the wealthy who gain! [If you want to know about where free market ideology came from, I blogged on this three years ago here].
The bottom line
This is what socialist philosophy is about: we recognise that power is vested in too few individuals in ‘natural’ society and believe that to achieve a more egalitarian (equality-based) society, our governments, elected from us, by us, and for us [nod of deference to you, Mr. Lincoln] must enact laws that grant more power to the disempowered, the poorer parts of society, who have little capital but provide their labour i.e. the democratic majority of us, that allow us all to share in the fruits of production. Such regulations redress the imbalance and provide a better, happier and more stable society that is less likely to rise up in revolution and behead the ruling class! Free market proponents can deny the existence of society all they want, until it does come back to bite them at the end of a gun barrel. Since I am a democratic socialist, this is the last thing I want! The ‘natural’ society that the free marketeers wish for is natural, but that means it’s either Darwinian (if that’s your scientific basis) or sinful (if you believe in a religious view of a righteous god). I know that I am a tiny krill in the vast ocean of the world’s finances, so I’d rather not be eaten by the whales, thank you very much! I want my elected government to be there to fight for me and everyone else like me, in the same great tradition of Magna Carta.
Our steel market is facing layoffs and shutting down of production. The excuse is made that “this is the will of the market” as if ‘the market’ was some all-powerful deity who ruled according to their own thinking! Somehow China is able to produce steel at a much lower price and are beating the rest of the market hands down; c’est la vie! However, China does not believe in a free market, and have heavily subsidised their steel production with government funds! Xi Jinping is making an economic attack on our industry, and the free marketeers in charge here are agreeing to what is happening due to their blind devotion to their false god: to protect our industries would be a capitulation to that horrible policy that is derogatorily called ‘protectionism’ – nice to know that should I wish to act in the interests of those close to me I could be labeled a ‘protectionist’! In order for ‘the free market’ to work for everyone (if that was ever possible), it would require, before anything else, every country in the world to subscribe to it! And they say that we are the dreamers!?
So often I hear people say “socialism failed! Look at the collapse of the Soviet Union!” Yes, that particular form of socialism (non-democratic Communism!) did fail, and there is no system of government that is perfect; each brings its own problems along with its solutions. Surely the last 30+ years of free-market experimentation has also shown it has failed!
Socialism believes in society, and that the answer to one of the oldest questions is “yes, Cain, you are your brother’s keeper!” Hence why so many neoconservatives wish to make us believe that ‘society’ is only a myth. Sorry, but I have eyes in my head, and behind them a reasonably functioning brain! We have had the pursuit of the freeing of the market from regulation for a few decades now, and it has been so insidious in pervading political thinking that former socialists were caught up in the new religion. It was making the working majority impoverished anyway with the upward flow of money, the stagnation of wages and the ridiculous hikes in property prices, but 2008 just killed off any last vestige of hope that it might ‘turn out better in the end’ – yet what do we have now? George Osborne telling us that we need to undergo a bit more austerity, a bit more hardship and pain, just so we can get through this to the land of milk and honey! I don’t see you suffering that much, George!
This is not homeopathy! We don’t cure the ills with even more ills! We turn around and go back to the crossroads where we took that wrong turn and we choose a different path. If at all possible, we find that path we were already on, which created the greatest rise in living standards ever and fantastic achievements like the NHS! We do not allow them to dismantle the remnants so there will be no going back, for that is their wish and desire, believe me!
Anyone who reads my blogs will know that I believe passionately in separation of church and state, but I do accept that Christian standards have to be applied to my political aspirations and must influence what I seek from my government. [I understand that varying political views can exist within the body of Christ, but each believer must be informed and must be able to square their stance with scripture]. Reading my Bible, I see clearly just how much greed is condemned, and believe that it should be curbed; I hear my Lord give one of his clearest commands ever when he said “pay your taxes!” and I know that:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Orphans and widows were the lowest financially in the ancient world, so for me, welfare being provided by the state is a fulfilment of a guiding biblical principle!
I choose to vote for those who champion the lower parts of society, not the higher! I know that now includes practically everybody who might read this, since the current incumbents in Westminster (and Capitol Hill) only serve the top 0.1%!
Too many believe the right-wing media and their attempts to redefine my political beliefs into falsehoods, like the idea that socialism is about rewarding laziness and penalising hard work: nothing could be further from the truth!
Capitalism vests value in capital and property, and thus rewards those who have it. Socialism vests value in labour, and rewards those who produce it!
Grace be with you.