Modern Socialism #2: What Is Socialism?

GreshamCollege-AneurinBevan_VernonBogdanor234 Last time, in the first bit of this series, we sketched out what the thing we call Modern Socialism is and why we think it’s needed. This time, we’re more interested in socialism in general.

A question that seems stupidly obvious to begin with, but gets harder to answer the more you think about it – what actually is socialism? If you’re over-precociously trying to modernise something, you better have a cast-iron grasp of what it is, and what it isn’t. So, as quickly and painlessly as it can possibly be made – an attempt to nail down an increasingly fuzzy and flippantly-employed socio-political concept.

There are really two types of left-of-centre political position. The first is what’s called social democracy. The second is what’s called socialism.

Confusingly, the terms are often used interchangeably – or in distorted, politically motivated ways. But there’s a fundamental difference between the two. Social democracy aims to make capitalism nicer. Socialism aims to replace capitalism with a nicer system. Continue reading

Observations On Tolpuddle

tolpuddle

On Sunday, The Bemolution was pain-stakingly wafted into the back of a minibus by a crack team of rigorously drilled Oompa Loompas with hand fans and driven south for an hour or so. Our destination? A big field, and the 2014 Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.

It was a bit underwhelming at first, because practically everything is. The fact that Tolpuddle is hyped to high heaven in left-wing circles doesn’t help either. Its most starry-eyed adherents describe it like it’s some kind of life-changing socialist Mecca that springs up in pastoral south Dorset for one week a year. Actually, it’s just quite a political summer festival. But it’s a good one. Fascinating, even. And, probably most importantly of all at this grim juncture in leftist history, encouraging.

In 1832, a group of agricultural labourers from delightfully-named Tolpuddle, Dorset formed a kind of proto-union in response to declining wages. Arrested, tried and found guilty under an arcane eighteenth century law banning the swearing of ‘secret oaths’, the six men were thrown on a boat and sent to be slaves in England’s furthest-flung colony, Australia. One colossal public outcry and an 800,000-signature petition later, all but one of the so-called Tolpuddle Martyrs was freed.

It’s a nice excuse to have a festival, supposedly commemorating the incident, really serving as a much broader celebration of the labour movement in general. And so, on one (usually) balmy weekend in July, thousands of trade unionists and assorted left-wing miscreants congregate in the snigger-inducing Piddle Valley to eat ice cream, talk about politics and march around with banners. Continue reading

A) for the planet’s sake, and B) just to survive, the Left needs to get ‘generic’

The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on

The status quo risks the destruction of our species and the ecosystem all life relies on

The blogosphere reverberates with people self-importantly telling each other what ‘the Left’ should be doing. What the world and her springer spaniel are clearly crying out for, then, is another deeply unpopular, laughably unlikely ramshackle leftist strategy, hastily rammed in the virtual left-wing suggestion box and probably never seen again. The Bemolution lives to serve.

The Left should radically and unsentimentally revamp itself, turning what is all too often a fossilised remnant of the early twentieth century into something specifically addressing the social, political and ecological here and now. It should drop the blinkered obsession with past ideological battles. Instead, it needs to hammer itself back into contemporary relevance, going back to first principles and relating them afresh to the way the world is today.

Ecological crisis looms, providing humanity with the biggest threat to its continued existence in thousands of years. Faced with probable environmental disaster, caused for the most part by the growth-obsession and chronic waste of a culture skewed in the interests of the scandalously wealthy, we need to radically reshape civilisation and make our species live within its means. A system that has already used and abused millions of individual homo sapiens as disposable tools for enriching tiny minorities, along with squandering the potential of millions more by dismissing them as stupid and/or leaving them to flounder in poverty, is now well on the way to ravaging the planet beyond the point of no return. Continue reading

Profile: George Orwell

orwell_bigpicSome crimes are so grave that they remain unforgivable decades after the fact. George Orwell wrote Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which must at least be scrabbling around the foothills of the dullest novels ever written.

It’s fairly uncontroversial to argue that Orwell was a far better journalist than he was a novelist. Undoubtedly, it will be Animal Farm and 1984, his pair of bleak but incisive Cold War satires, that will see him on reading lists and curricula for centuries to come. The two books, the latter one especially, account for much if not almost all his long-term cultural impact. The list of chilling neologisms he dreamt up for ’84 – “newspeak”, “doublethink”, “Big Brother” and the like – have snuck into the Oxford English Dictionary and will probably stay there.

But these were deeply political books, and Orwell was undeniably at his best when he was writing about politics. Practically everything he wrote was political in some sense, but his earlier novels were either far less explicit in their social critique like The Clergymen’s Daughter, or bludgeoningly unsubtle with it like Aspidistra. Especially in the case of the latter, their political shortcomings placed much more of a burden on cardboard characterisation, trudging pace and often wincingly bitter tone. Tellingly, he wouldn’t allow either to be reprinted while he was alive. Continue reading

Left-Wing Least-Worstism: Unite Or Die

The reason this blog’s cod-philosophical standpoint is called ‘Left-Wing Least-Worstism’ is because of a very un-leftish pessimism. The situation we’re in is abjectly bad.

That might sound extreme – the consensus seems to be that things might be tentatively improving on the political front. Certainly, Occupy and the boisterous anti-cuts movement have provided some much-needed reasons to be almost cheerful. But we need to be brutally realistic – they come after a quarter-century of decline. More tellingly, they had little to do with the ‘established’ Left, instead riding on the free-thinking and initiative of passionate individuals largely operating outside official groups. Continue reading