Recently, I’ve found myself in a Twitter spat with the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Having heard lots of talk of capitalism being “broken” I found it interesting to hear someone actually putting a fully fledged alternative to an obviously flawed and problematic system. This article aims not just to debate with the points out forward but he Socialists, but to justify my own beliefs.
The socialism of the Socialist Party, is (unsurprisingly) highly different to my own social democracy, and in my eyes seems, in Marxist terms, more similar to the final phase of Marxist thought than the ‘socialist’ phase, which still includes elements of a capitalist model, such as class (but to a lesser extent) and money.
As a social democrat, I of course take issue with the radical views of the Socialist Party, though I sympathise with their aversion to capitalism, which in my view does have numerous issues.
During the spat, one of the main points of clash seemed to be over the idea of voluntary work. It was argued that the benefits of working and the fact that the socialist society had been born out of popular consent would be enough to persuade people to work, even if the instant incentive of money wasn’t present.
To me, this view imagines that everyone is a long-term thinker, and also views work as a common good, rather than a burden. Now of course, there still is a benefit to working – greater levels of production means more to reap when the harvest comes, but I would argue that instant incentives, rather than long-term ones, are far better motivators, especially when it comes to all manner of unpleasant but necessary jobs, where if one could just choose to opt out but still be able to receive any goods or services that they wished, one just would.
Potentially, you could argue that people would still see the benefit, and as the majority had chosen the system, they would work by its rules, but this firstly underestimating the powers of instant gratification, and secondly assuming that people, after being attracted by a utopian worldview, would necessarily always stick by it.
One argument put forward against this point of view is that people do all sorts of voluntary but necessary work already – caring for children, for instance. This though is rather different, in that it’s surely a more fulfilling task than all sorts of menial labour, and is also one powered by an animal instinct to care for one’s young.
Another point put forward in relation to this topic of work was the fact that the workforce would be far more streamlined, as “the sole object of production would be to meet human needs”. This essentially would therefore require a far smaller workforce, the argument goes, so the absentees wouldn’t be a problem.
I’m not sure though, that the recipe for a harmonious society is to create two classes of people – those who work, and those who don’t but sponge of the workers nevertheless. In fact, this is a large problem with capitalism, where the working and middle classes have to deal with a aristocrats and plutocrats sitting at the top squeezing them dry. To create a truly equal society, everybody with the ability to work should be in work.
The final thing on the subject of work that came up was a question posed by me about having a smaller workforce – what of professions like teaching, where a much larger workforce would actually be necessary? Well, this is where I’m willing to admit some degree of defeat, as it’s a pretty bad example – teaching, like being a doctor, can be a gruelling job, and is and should only really be done by people with a real conviction for it, so this is actually a job where money is less of an incentive than the benefits to society.
I think though that my main issue with the policies and ideas of the Socialist Party is they’re just not clearly defined enough for me – the principles have been layer out, but how the capitalist state would be dissolved once the majority vote is delivered and how the socialist state would then be run (i.e. in terms of the particulars) is not really elaborated, and without any proper indication of whether such a state would actually function at all due to the lack of anything comparable, I think that this ideology seems to be one based more on faith than reason.
However, the Twitter spat actually started with a critique of my ideas – not an attack on theirs – so I’ll now move onto that.
It was claimed that social democracy was essentially a nothing – “you can’t buck the market” pointed out the Socialist Party admin, quoting Thatcher.
Unfortunately, though there were significant flaws with welfare capitalism, Britain did work on the basis of a mixed economy between 1945 and 1979, without disaster striking. There were though, as I said, significant flaws – the state-owned utilities, rather being controlled by a right wing, plutocratic establishment as they are now, were controlled by a sort of left wing establishment, which is hardly any better, so any re-nationalisation has to be done under the proviso that bottom up rather than top down power will be the emphasis.
According to my opponents, global markets would punish such economies though (and the lack of conventional international trade wouldn’t punish the ‘socialist’ economy, of course), so the whole proposal wouldn’t work. However, historically there have been many mixed economies/borderline mixed economies that haven’t had this apocalyptic disaster strike, and with international solidarity this problem can be downsized anyway – with more of an anti austerity streak in the PES or additional strength in the European Left or Green groups in Europe (depending on your position) a general shift to social democracy (and not just the social democracy of old, but a newer, more democratic edition) in Europe can be achieved. If this usurps neoliberalism as the status quo in the EU at least, the risk of the markets turning on us (which I’m honest is far less of a risk than the international alienation a transfer to what the Socialist Party aim for would cause anyway) would be far less.
Before you say this is impossible (which as someone arguing for a utopian society without money or class would be kinda rich) I’d like to point out the strength of anti austerity social democratic movements across Europe – the most obvious being Syriza in Greece, with Podemos in Spain and even the SNP (which OK, isn’t really anti austerity, but that’s the brand) being major movements elsewhere. It’s clear the people of Europe wants to move on, it’s just up to us to shift the political classes too.
This, I believe, can be done, and a better Europe can be established.
Taking a gamble with an outdated and naïve ideology however, isn’t the way forward.
Thanks for reading, and I’m happy to continue the debate below. You may also be interested in other articles in the blog, some of which cover similar topics (and are a bit less garbled…!).