Monday 2 July 2012

What is a Socialist? I am.

Steven Erlanger, Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, asks the question What's a Socialist? (h/t Occasional Links & Commentary).

And he offers his views, supported by the likes of Joschka Fischer ("As an ideologically based movement, socialism is no longer vital"), Daniel Cohn-Bendit ("Socialism and social democracy today are about a society with more solidarity, more protection of people, more egalitarianism") and Bernard-Henri Lévy ("There are no more socialists - if they were honest they would change the name of the party").

It's hard for me to argue with such august characters: on a gross income of AUD25K a year, I couldn't afford to buy the "socialist" label, if it were for sale. That particular label, seemingly in Erlanger's opinion, belongs to Fischer, Cohn-Bendit and Lévy; just like the label "Adidas" is a trademark belonging to someone, who is free to dispose of it.

Likewise, "Socialism", the label, it's theirs, Erlanger seems to believe; that's why their opinions matter. They pronounce it dead? Then, it's dead!

Trademarks are private property and may not be usurped without fear of legal actions.

But the labels "socialist" and "Socialism" are neither private property nor are they for sale: either they fit who you are or they don't.

Unlike trademarks, socialism may be usurped without fear of legal actions. But, as Tyler Durden said in that "Fight Club" memorable scene: "Sticking feathers up your bum doesn't make you a chicken".

In this sense, Lévy may be right: to call yourself a socialist when you aren't, only makes you a fake socialist. Even Erlanger might be right, too, when he suggests that there's nothing specifically "socialistic" in the "socialist" French President François Hollande.


But, what gives me the right to say who's a socialist and who's not?

I could answer by citing an indisputable fact: my right to do so is no smaller than the right assisting Fischer, Cohn-Bendit or Lévy. Although not in their league, my answer is as good as theirs. I suppose not even Erlanger, out of political correctness, would openly challenge it.

That's a short, clear and good answer, but it's not the best answer: it puts me and them in the same plane, when in fact I have a better claim.

So, bear with me. I am a guy who earns AUD21 an hour, in two part-times. In one of them, I have no annual or sick leaves, and no overtime. I work when and if I'm given a shift (up to 12 hours long), and that happens when I call my employer and he gives me one.

And with all that, I'm paid when my employer decides. And they are owing me AUD525 from last month, that they were to pay me fortnightly. They owe me that, but, in fact, that's not all they owe me.

For each and every dollar I'm paid, I made a profit, which they kept by virtue of employing me. That profit is mine, too.

And I want my money now. I'm not begging for it, because you don't beg for what's yours. I'm demanding it.

That's where Cohn-Bendit is wrong. Socialists don't beg for their rights and don't appeal for solidarity from their employers, they offer solidarity to others, like Cohn-Bendit himself. If he's humble enough to accept it, it's his.

Socialists demand their rights.

And as long as workers like me are robbed of the product of their labour, there will be socialists, whether they call themselves that or not, whether Lévy and Fischer accept it or not.

And note the word I used above: workers. A worker is someone who works for someone else. I may be a  lout, a blue collar worker, barely above a chimpanzee, in the eyes of some. Perhaps in the eyes of Erlanger, himself. That doesn't change anything: white collar workers are above all workers; in that sense, no different from me. And just today the news was that the NSW State government will kick over 10,000 of them out of their jobs (see here)

Haven't things changed since the 19th century? Yes, sort of. But the relationship between capital and labour has not changed and cannot possibly change: it's inherent in being employer and employee, capitalist and worker (see here, for more details)

If Erlanger wants to know what a socialist is, he needs to look at me or millions like me. It's not difficult: don't turn your head, just look at people like me.

We may be robbed of everything, but nobody will steal the label "socialist" from us.

And that's the best answer I can give. Others, more learned, perhaps could give other answers.

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