Socialism still has not had its day

It took 25 years from the formation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893 before a broad-based Labour Party was formed in 1918 with an explicitly socialist constitution. Until the election defeat in 1983 the Labour Party continued, to varying degrees, to fulfill its historic role of offering a socialist alternative.

The idea is put around that somehow socialism is backward-looking. It seeks to return us to the bad old days. This is not very sensible. Chronologically socialism comes after capitalism. In fact, we are being returned to the depths of nineteenth century capitalism, when the rich and powerful were left to get on with it.

The hero of the right wing was Adam Smith. The great man was writing in the late 19th century, before the horrors of the factory system and environmental degradation had fully developed. He was part of the Scottish Enlightenment. He thought that free-market capitalism was the pinnacle of human progress. This led to the famous witticism of Walter Bagehot that Smith set out to show “how from being a savage, man rose to be a Scotchman”.

Karl Marx assimilated the great Smith’s work and added a further stage in human progress, that of socialism. The eminent French philosopher, Jean-Paul sartre, noted in 1960 how those who think they have moved beyond Marxism are generally going backwards. His words remain true today:

“I have often remarked on the fact that an ‘anti-Marxist’ argument is only the apparent rejuvenation of a pre-Marxist idea…at best, only the rediscovery of a thought already contained in the philosophy which one believes he has gone beyond.” (Chapter 1, Search for a Method)

Capitalism always looks backwards, seeking to erode any advances in collectivism. Under Kinnock Labour started to look backwards. New Labour finished the job of ridding Labour of any socialist principle. In the absence of any other principles, it has become a vehicle for career politicians who by default follow the line of the capitalist establishment. Will it take another 25 years to rebuild a socialist party?

We cannot afford to wait that long. Quite apart from the desperate need of millions for a greater share of the world’s wealth, we cannot afford the current environmental damage being done primarily to build private fortunes. Centuries of wisdom concerning the corrupting power of money has been set aside. The green flag given to human greed is steadily destroying civilisation, social progress and much of value to the majority of powerless human beings.