Is socialism dying?

Posted on October 1st, 2009 by O'DB in the Forest

socialism

Though not particularly politically active, I’ve long believed in the core principles of socialism as a political path. On a personal level the concept giving within your needs to those whose needs are greatest (the old, young, infirm & yes, even, the jobless) seems to make sense – whether on ethical, moral or political grounds.

As a young man I read one of the key socialist pieces of literature, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressel, a political novel which paints a story of capitalism & factory owners greedily exploiting the working man (a little didactic & bludgeoning for me, but gets the idea across; well summarised in the cartoon below). I also remember staying round Jimmy’s in the NW of England & waking up the morning of May 2nd, 1997, when Tony Blair & Labour (left UK political party) came into power: there was genuine sense of relief & excitement that the right, Conservatives, had been deposed & with it the avarice & selfishness of 80s Britain under Maggie Thatcher was behind us.

But the left-wing Labour transmogrified into the left-centrist New Labour. Across Europe, too, the left political parties & regimes had fallen (the most notable examples being the break up of communist USSR & the fall of the Berlin wall, separating communist East Berlin from West Berlin) or continue to decline & edge towards the right or bland, vote-winning centrist politics (Nicolas Sarkozy for the centre right UMP in France or Angela Merkel for the right CDU party in Germany – including the trouncing of the left political party, the SDP, in the most recent German elections, last Sunday, 27th September, 2009).

002-0725214337-Socialism

Even communist China & Vietnam though espousing communist ideals & politics, actually appear to work on a strange communist/capitalist hybrid dictatorship, where communist rules exist but allow for capitalist style business practices. Cuba seems to be the last bastion of truly left-wing, communist politics & governance.

Having said all that, America, the biggest world power (still, just) & probably the most successful symbol of capitalism has a free-thinking president in Barack Obama, & is finally addressing the needs of its people for universal healthcare (as discussed by another contributor Lib – wanted to link but can’t find it? anyone care to add Lib’s Obama healthcare piece?), one of the most obvious & necessary policies of socialist doctrine, & only 60 years after it was implemented in the UK as a right of anyone needing healthcare.

So is socialism going the way of the dinosaurs? Do people care (obviously not, since socialism is based on care & consideration)? Or are all politics just melting into one single, centrist, vote-grabbing, grey form?


34 Responses to “Is socialism dying?”

  1. Lib says:

    I LOVE that Obama picture! I’m sure it would have done him some harm had the mock up not been so cool.

    I was bought this book recently actually and I’m really looking forward to reading it, I’m just hoping I don’t find it too heavy going.

    I don’t understand enough about politics to respond in a political way, if that makes sense.

    But I do know that less and less people are caring and sharing nowadays. The focus seems to be one of individual survival.

  2. Gareth in Thailand says:

    As an ideal socialism is probably about the best of the systems on offer. Sharing and giving, looking out for one another and generallly striving for socisl eutopia. However it does not embrace or have a solution for basic human character flaws.
    If everyone buys in to the ideal and all pull together then great, however in any given community there will be over achievers, under achievers, workers snd shirkers etc.
    I think most people hate being taken for a ride snd ss such in a socialist environment eventually those who work hardest or are most talented will eventually look around, spot the shirkers and begin to question why those who are not pulling their weight are getting the benefit of all their effort.
    Once this happens you either get a staggered reward system – the road to capitalism, or the upper percentiles reduce their effort and the system collapses into poverty.

    • O'DB says:

      Yep, definitely a potential flaw in socialism – not being able to overcome the flaws of human nature.

      The competition that derives from capitalism is a driving force, such that a meritocracy of reward naturally evolves. However, the same competition tends to also negatively affect the weaker elements of society, so old, young, infirm (& lazy) all get pushed further away from the potential rewards. Capitalism is almost a monetary form of natural selection, a survival of the fittest – a necessary evil in nature, but the blood of tooth & claw seems ill-fitting & morally unjust in modern human society.

      • Gareth in Thailand says:

        So really you are into a deeper argument then. Are we still at the beck and call of mother nature and basically in a fight for survival or do we see ourselves on a higher plane than all other creratures where survival of the fittest no longer applies.
        What would this do in terms of our evolution? We got where we are in the grand scheme of things by evolution and survival of the fittest. Do we now assume that we will evolve a different way now we have an intricate fabric of society? No longer will the slow noes be picked off from the back of the herd – I’m not sure but who are the lions waiting behind us to pick off the fat old dear with an arse like a badly packed parachute?

        • O'DB says:

          Yep. That’s what I think – in modern society it’s morally wrong to expect us to be all fighting tooth & nail for life like animals or savages; we’re no longer slaves to the vagaries of nature & environment (though global warming may change that). Already human evolution has been irrevocably been altered by science & medicine – 100 years ago (so maybe only 3 generations) life expectancy would be decades lower than it is today. Just yesterday The Guardian published a piece on babies born in recent years will routinely live past 100 yo (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/oct/02/babies-likely-to-live-to-100; which has its own problems of coping with population increase & caring for increasing numbers of older people. I think we should go all Logan’s Run on our &sses – burn bright & euthanase liberally). It’s a cliche, but someone of Stephen Hawking’s stature & intelligence is only furthering our understanding of the universe because of modern medicine – even if he’d be born 50 yrs earlier his life-span (& ability to work & contribute to society) would have been severely restricted.

          In terms of human evolution, that’s harder to define. But no longer are physical defects & environmental factors big driving forces in our survival. This means that physical attributes are less of an evolutionary selection force; it also means that attributes like brain size, intelligence, etc. become more prominent evolutionary factors.

          I predict that in 500 yrs we’ll all be wobbling under the weight of our huge domed heads, much like Mekon from the Dan Dare comics. & We’ll all whizz around the airways like The Jetsons.

          • Gareth in Thailand says:

            Tending to agree with you.
            I see the next big fight for survival being won through intellect / brainpower.
            No longer will a sabre tooth tiger type of creature jump on the stragglers at the back of the herd as mankind can simply ‘pop a cap in his ass’. So given technology has now meant we are bassically secure from ‘monsters’ we now have to battle the biggest risk we face which is diametrically opposite – micro organisms. These little blighters are getting more and more complex and defeating them will be a war won by microbiologists and such like. As such I think we should be looking at the dobbers in society and making sure they limit their output of offspring to 2 or less. Unfortunately they tend to have 6 or 8 kids thus diluting the genetic pool in terms of intelligence. We won’t beat the next level of influenza and MRSA by lobbing empty sunny delight bottles at them yet this is the most rapidly expanding area of the population.
            Worried.

    • kyle says:

      That’s why I’m a social democrat!

  3. We just need a rewrite of democracy in the ‘free world’.

    Corporations have become the major influence in free enterprise societies. Commerce, intertwined with governments to varying degrees is running the show. The clothes, cars, homes and other products we possess, and how we interact socially have been greatly influenced by business. A resulting general long term trend seems favor commerce over people.

    It is difficult to see a change of direction. Public attention to this deteriorating state of society has been virtually non-existent because almost all of the media that keep us informed are profit driven.

    This is deeply rooted yet hopefully the structure of governments, the laws and enforcement can somehow be changed to benefit all citizens within democracy. But positive change will require some kind of massive demand or movement by the people.

    • O'DB says:

      Some valid points, Grampa Ken.

      As you mention, it seems that without a political movement by significant numbers nothing will change, & the pessimist in me feels that there’s sufficient people with most of the money & power who will happily & actively maintain the status quo.

      However, maybe the internet (as you suggest below) has the reach & power to really induce change. Increasingly internet democracy seems a powerful, immediate & capable tool – maybe it will be loud enough voice to instigate political change.

  4. I agree with Grampa Ken and I fear that socialism, whilst not dead, is ailing across the globe.

    The small corporate hegemony that basically pulls the strings of the global economic, political and social puppets aren’t concerned at all with people, the environment or equality. Their moral values come from self, profit and personal equity.

    But whilst we have the internet and people like you guys to keep getting the message out there is hope for a cure!
    .-= Angela in Canada´s last blog ..Posts of the week. =-.

  5. Angela I can see the internet as being the tool somehow, and if at all possible without hitting the wall.
    .-= Grampa Ken rants at Social Fix´s last blog ..Article Blogs and Reposting =-.

  6. Jim says:

    @ Gramp Ken – the internet could be the toll to make it happen PROVIDED that freedom of speach is allowed….here in Dubai, UAE for example, sites have to be ‘ within the political and morale codes of the UAE) otherwise we are bloked – FLCKER photo sharing site, for example, is blocked here in Dubai as are some youtube clips!

    :-(

  7. Flatfish says:

    I know this posting is extremely old so I will keep this short and simple. I’m a U.S. citizen. I am against all socialist programs and policies. The U.S. has social security (a national retirement program). The U.S. has medicare and medicaid (government health care for the old and needy). These are all going bankrupt. It is breaking our treasury and the backs of the taxpayer.

    Above you said “On a personal level the concept giving within your needs to those whose needs are greatest (the old, young, infirm & yes, even, the jobless) seems to make sense – whether on ethical, moral or political grounds.” I agree on a moral and ethical sense, but NOT a political sense. You see, when you move it into a political sense you mean that you feel it’s OK to FORCE others at the POINT OF A GUN (the government’s gun) to do what YOU think is ethical or moral. No man has a claim on me. No man can force me to pay for anything he needs. If I do it out of moral or ethical obligation, fine. But I have no right to force you to pay for anything I need, and you have no right to force me to pay for anything you need, even if you use the government as a proxy.

    Sorry, not so short as I had hoped.

    • O'DB says:

      Wow this ol’ post is getting a fair bit of interest …

      Your opinion is valued but flawed (in my opinion). I think that America (& many Americans) has a real problem even with the mention of socialism – it seems like the cold war of battling the reds & commies never went away & is still a festering boil awaiting to erupt.

      I still think politically, too, the concept of giving within your needs to those whose needs are greatest – however you label it – is still an aspiration that any civilised society should be striving for.

      & as pointed out below the ‘government’s gun’, in the form of the legal & judiciary system of democracies that we’ve voted for, is always pointing at our heads in one form or another; without it society devolves into chaos & anarchy (now there’s a political movement I think has potential … if it can only be married with the key tenets of caring for others).

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  9. mike says:

    so two guys walk up to a “rich” guy and they deserve something from him? What protects the worker is to ability to take his skills and be paid for them elsewhere. What prevents the worker from making a living on his own. Yo believe that the owners are somehow a structure but they are the natural result of a fair game where people make voluntary transactions and own the fruits of their labor, which benefits all.

    • Thought that was the start of a gag: ‘two guys walk up to a rich guy …’ but if it was, the punch-line is completely lost on me.

      No, the worker still gets paid for his skills & his labour. He still has his/her own destiny in his/her hands. The simple idea (yet very complex to achieve in practice) is giving within your needs. So if you have an excess of money, beyond your needs, then those in society who haven’t could & should benefit.

      By the same argument the same worker, if involved in an accident, falls ill, etc. would no longer have the ability to make his living. In this change of circumstance he would now become the benficiary of others in society who can work & earn a living.
      .-= O’DB in the Forest´s last blog ..amazingsusan updated the "Profile Questions round 2" information on their profile =-.

  10. Debbie says:

    I think some of you are missing the point. We all need to contribute to making our society better. ALL of us, rich AND poor. Without taxes we’d have no roads, sewers, education, and other parts of the infrastructure that are required to have a progressive society. And without government intervention, slavery might still be alive and well, and women certainly wouldn’t be voting and taking part in government today.

    Human tendencies toward greed and self-preservation can sometimes lead us to doing the wrong things. Laws help keep us on the straight and narrow.

    Don’t get me wrong – I believe in the inherent goodness of people. But fear is a strong motivator, and fear is often used to manipulate good people into supporting viewpoints that will keep the powerful in power. “Free slaves and those black guys will rape your daughters and steal your lives away.” “Allow women to vote, and society will crumble under their poor judgment.” “Provide healthcare for all, and America will crash and burn because the system will get taken advantage of.” “Making corporations environmentally responsible will destroy capitalism because it’s too expensive to operate with regard to preserving our climate and natural resources.”

    Progress and change is almost always painful, especially for those who are benefitting from the status quo. But unfortunately, many people who are those beneficiaries want to preserve their wealth and power, and therefore WILL do whatever it takes to stop the kind of progress and change that will benefit the country as a whole but might reduce their own individual wealth and power. It’s human nature, self-preservation, to act like that, and when those acts threaten our country as a whole, we must take preventive action.

    Flatfish, aren’t you paying for roads you are never going to personally use? Aren’t you paying the salaries of government workers who benefit some people but not necessarily you directly, like teachers’ salaries for public education even though you may not have kids? And aren’t these types of services and products necessary for our society to function in a civilized manner?

    It galls me when people say “It’s not going to help me so I’m not paying for it.” Society and entire communities benefit when we help each other become more productive. By paying a few more bucks here and there, we can help someone become healthy so they can work and contribute; or help someone in a work development program learn skills so they can get a better job and contribute; or help someone get off drugs so they can start contributing again. So if people like you who are not willing to do the right thing on their own, like people in the past who wanted to continue to infringe on the civil liberties of slaves, women, the disabled, etc. so they could continue to be in power, need to be legislated into doing the right thing, then so be it.

  11. AdamL says:

    Flatbush, you say: “You see, when you move it into a political sense you mean that you feel it’s OK to FORCE others at the POINT OF A GUN (the government’s gun) to do what YOU think is ethical or moral.”

    It happens every day with laws. We’re told what the correct speed is to drive on certain roads, that we cant’ steal, that we can’t take a human life, that we can’t have sex by force with someone – you call it the point of a gun, whatever . People still break these laws all the time, and a lot more would break them if hey weren’t afraid of getting caught.

    Are we to allow them to argue that they should be allowed to break these laws with no penalty because THEY think it’s okay for them to do so, even if you don’t? People DO need to be told what is right. It’s unfortunate, but it has to be so that chaos and anarchy are kept at bay. That’s the way of the world.

  12. Capitalist says:

    Yeah yeah socialism and its beliefs can make you feel all warm and fuzzy pretending to care about one another, but heartless bastards like myself don’t care about you, your sick ol’ pa, or your starving children, money is all that will motivate me to get off my ass and go to work every day. Why should we give health care to those who don’t/can’t work? They can be of no use to us anymore and therefor should just give up and die. No point in wasting thousands – millions of dollars on some sickly old man who’s going to kick the bucket anyway.
    The reason capitalism works where most other forms of government or lack there of fail, is because of greed. Humans by nature only care about themselves and those who they’ve formed emotional attachments to. I do not care about the starving children of all those backwards countries, I do not care about my neighbor’s sick uncle, and most all people who can be honest with themselves feel the same way.
    But I’m ranting, basically my point is that there is no point in keeping people who cannot help society anymore alive, and yes I do feel the same about myself, I want someone to pull the plug when I’m old and decrepit and can’t do anything anymore.

    • Lib says:

      ‘There is no point in keeping people who cannot help society anymore alive, and yes I do feel the same about myself’

      Best pull the plug now then because you clearly have no impact within society at the moment, let alone when you are sat in a chair, stinking of piss with only flies to keep you company.

    • yea, there might be a degree of warm & fuzzy feeling about socialism, or if socialism is a black-word in your dictionary, then the concept of giving within your needs.

      But as with any altruism in an idividual or at a societal level, is it truly altruitic? In this case, & taking your self-interested capitalist ethos on board, why not see it as a form of insurance? It’s a lot cheaper than paying a company for the benefits of insuring against illness, accident & infirmity (because inherently the company not only has to pay for your benefits but also wants to make a fat, juicy profit on top). So, more money for you & you get the peace of mind that all your hard work won’t be undone by a nasty fall in front of an oncoming truck.
      .-= O’DB in the Forest´s last blog ..amazingsusan updated the "Profile Questions round 2" information on their profile =-.

  13. Jim says:

    Great that google is doin gits job and keeping this threads alive…

    **Applause**

  14. Wiliam says:

    over the past hundred years there have been hundreds of left wing revolutions and revolutionary situations, it is not only likely but also inevitable that sometime in the future another cyclical capitalist crisis will spark off another one.

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