Saturday 4 August 2018

So, What is Socialism?

Millennials (those born between 1981-1996) are coming of age and I think they aren’t too happy with the world they are about to inherit. So, as they become voters, they are searching for ways to fix the godawful mess they found.

That’s why we are witnessing a revival of interest in socialism in the Anglophone world. First it was Jeremy Corbyn in the UK: 2015. Next, Bernie Sanders in the US: 2016. This year is the turn of 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also in the US. Moreover, although Aussie politicians haven’t kept up with the times, Aussie kids aren’t far behind their American and British peers.

But, what on earth is “socialism”?

I think this is a good definition:
“[S]ocialism consists of three interrelated parts:
  1. “the class rule of the proletariat [i.e. workers];
  2. “the abolition of private control of the means of production and the drive for profit by replacing them with social ownership and production for social need;
  3. “finally, a lengthy transitional stage whereby society is transformed with the ultimately mission of ending exploitation and oppression in order to create communism.”
That isn’t a capricious definition. There are good reasons for all those points. The explanation Neal Meyer gives (“What Is Democratic Socialism?”, July 20) covers all the bases. The quote, however, is from Doug Greene’s article “More Than Universal Healthcare: The Meaning of Socialism” (July 29). If you have time, you should try both, otherwise I’d recommend Meyer’s article.

Marxists believe in clear, well-thought out definitions. Why is that important?

I’ll use some examples to explain. This comes from a blogger who shall remain anonymous:
“My own summary answer [to the question of what socialism is] is that socialism is the socio-economic system that favors people and the environment as a whole over other factors and political theory that prioritizes human rights.”
Compare that with this:
“We believe:
“In those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy - the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association.
“In a just and humane society in which the importance of the family and the role of law and justice is maintained.
“In equal opportunity for all Australians; and the encouragement and facilitation of wealth so that all may enjoy the highest possible standards of living, health, education and social justice.”
Both sound rather similar and pretty good, yes? .

Would that sound equally good if I told you that the first quote’s anonymous author is a self-proclaimed “lefty” who claims to avoid the mainstream and to be virulently anti-neoliberal, while the second comes from the very mainstream and neoliberal Australian Liberal Party (the local equivalent to the Republican and the Conservative parties of the US and Britain, respectively)?

Whether they honestly believe what they write or not is irrelevant here. What’s relevant is that those words do not translate into reality. That cheap talk may sound good, but it’s still cheap talk, platitudes: false advertisement. Anti-Marxist politicians (and, make no mistake, that blogger is as much a politician as the author of the Liberal Party page) know that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Like Greene wrote:
“The surest way to deradicalize and discredit socialism is to empty it of all revolutionary content and make it perfectly compatible with the status quo. The simple fact is that words have meaning, and definitions matter.”
That’s what that “lefty” is doing.

There’s a lot more to say about this, but we’ll leave that for the future.

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