Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Conversations with Mr Corbyn - Towards a New Socialism

Socialists: Have Beard, Will Travel. Picture excludes Luke Foley.

I suppose there comes a time in the life of a blog where it needs to come out from behind its mother's forelocks, be brave and start playing with all the other blogs.

Mr Tristan Ewins, proprietor of the ALP Socialist Left blog, recently posted up some big picture riffing on the question of socialism's mission there, and I did promise him a comprehensive reply in blog form. This is the first part in a series of posts which will attempt to address Tristan, in addressing Kim Carr, in addressing Luke Foley, in squeaky-voice henny-pennying over the edge of a political cliff with all the gravitas of a drowning ballerina.

But I also emerge here in hypothetical conversation with the hashtag of the moment Mr Jeremy Corbyn, whose elevation to the leadership of British Labour has offered socialism the prospect of a real elevation within the spheres of global political discourse.

THIS is an opportune moment that for socialists worldwide must not be missed. Now, the window of history is open enough and allows enough perspective, as divorced from the ideological blinkers that the Cold War fastened us in to, to actually learn history's lessons well,

The trouble, I think with this discussion is that it doesn't go deep enough. The questions here are really "What is Socialism?" and "is the ALP/Labour on a socialist project or not?" The first problem is one of definition, and an extensive exercise at that. The second problem is merely one of ideology once the first is answered.

So let's focus on the first, but I'd like to suggest a unit of analysis even bigger-picture. Because the point of asking these questions is locating from where on the political hillside Labor's light calls to it. The point here is surely not so much to map the present, as chart the future. The light on the hill is as a beacon, not a point of arrival. It guides us forward, rather than telling us where to stop.

"What can socialism be?" and "what COULD it mean for Labor in giving it political purpose?" These are the salient questions to be asking today.

Because we are in a moment, as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have stellarly proven, when suddenly enough time has passed since cold war mores held sway. There is now a generation of particularly younger folk in advanced western economies who are reaching out almost in desperation for a better brand of politics, one that displays considerably more of the heart and the humanism that 20 years of neoliberal discourse has expunged from the system.

There are also a good body of older people for whom the ideas of socialism never died, but were swamped under a sea of pragmatism when the Cold War ended. We all had to concede planned economies don't work, as if THAT was actually a core tenet of socialism that needed shameful jettisoning, and somehow that turned into a repudiation of the discipline, the word, the everything.

With an inescapable cloaking of anyone who went near the concept with all things Stalinist, grey, bleak and inhuman, we conceded effective defeat. And we were desperately wrong to do so.

Wrong, because we let our opponents, as victors, define the history of the battle. But if we can turn now, with 20 years of hindsight and say "Actually the metrics were wrong, the goalposts were never set around massive state ownership and related ideas, or at least they never had to be".

Because we are talking about OBJECTIVES here. How did we ever become so terminally focused on specific processes to attain them? The socialist objective must be to deliver OUTCOMES that adhere to socialist values, rather than known socialist STRUCTURES like state ownership of trading enterprises, whose outcomes do not. And when you start defining things in those terms, you wind up talking about things that actually fold very neatly into economic orthodoxy.

But it's not just we who need to become reconstructed, because the same deep untruths have become gospel to swathes of people who stand outside socialism's discourse. They think they've seen a corpse interred, but they're about to find out they only seeded Lazarus.

Where and when was socialism born? The correct answer is that it's been born and reborn a million times over. Why are we so obsessed by the writings of one German Jew on the matter? Because he ushered in socialism's greatest "modern/pre-modern" upsurge is perhaps understandable, but I feel this resultant obsession with Marxist structures and analytics has been a stright-jacket we've let define the meaning of the movement for too long.

I believe socialism is as much John Lilburne's as it is Karl Marx's to define. Or for that matter, MINE!

Socialism, like basically all great political ideas has its origins concommitant with the fitful birth of British democracy. And the location is no accident, because the conditions that made the land rife for socialism were all the byproducts of early capitalism. In part because England was the most developed economy on earth in its age, because with the complexities of interactions under capitalism, the complexities of the intellectual and public life were advanced also.

Socialism requires profound faculties of analysis - it requires that those at the tail end of a complex series of interactions to have a consciousness of the complete set of discourses they are operating under. It requires that they are able to mentally step outside their own conditions and radically conceive of something better.

It is time for a "New Socialism", one that takes as its foundation the restoration of the very set of values that huge swathes of modern society is clamouring for the political sphere to deliver, but one which has as much in common with ideas like state ownership as it does with laissez-faire capitalism.

It is essential that we succeed in the quest to define a new, post-modern form for socialism, and one which gives real effect to the movement’s long-abiding objectives, albeit through new forms.

Forms that would be completely alien to socialism’s architects and original dreamers, but which are in turn so because the tools I want to talk about ARE very much a product of and accepting of MANY of the precepts of modern, advanced, globalised market capitalism.

I want to disrupt the idea that any of these ideas exist in opposition to socialism. If socialism is the instinct to regulate capitalism, then we have learned some clear lessons about how best to do this.
  • Command economies are stupid. Really, really stupid.
  • This precept extends to government direct intervention in markets through ownership of bodies other than those which are natural monopolies.
  • So the role of government becomes not a tool for intervention in markets, but regulation of them. And provision of services and infrastructure the market would not otherwise provide. And democratic representation in all these areas.
  • And government could be far more aggressive in all these areas, and it’s socialism’s mission to ensure this happens.
  • And in the opinion of this writer it needs to be vastly more aggressive in its pursuit of socialist outcomes, and the feedback to the political system is screaming this at present.
So much of the criticism flung Mr Corbyn's way so far starts with the assumption that these lessons haven't been learned. We have the duty, in seizing the historical moment of opportunity to ensure that they have. We must ask of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn to drive the debate towards a "New Socialism", a globalised, post-modern, post-neoliberal, thoroughly refreshed idea.

Socialism is at its heart nothing more than the inclination to regulate capitalism. The tools to do so have never been more complex, global or powerful. Nor have they been ever more needed.

An exciting new era for socialists sits poised, waiting for us to march towards it. Who else can see this new light on our collective hill?