Saturday, 30 May 2020

Why Socialism?

I was a child of the Thatcher years, raised by a single mother on benefits in the northeast of England where there were few jobs and the jobs available paid badly. It was rough. Drugs were everywhere. Fighting was part of life. Encounters with the police were frequent and many of my peers were destined for prison. I lost a close friend - a good lad who tragically took the wrong path. So much of the poverty and pain was needless.

We had nothing and Thatcher seemed determined to give us even less. I distinctly remember having three parks within walking distance as a kid which I loved to visit until all three were torn down. We played on the building sites which replaced them, kicking down brick walls while the cement was still wet, later swinging from the rafters. That was our playground.

Our area was deprived, crime rose, and the thing I heard again and again was there's nothing for the kids. We had been left to rot. And even back then as a child it was plain as day, our Prime Minister could not give a damn.

"There's Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her! Squish-squash, squish-squash, there's Maggie Thatcher!" we'd sing.

Thatcher believed in the glorious free market - capitalism was her God. And if capitalism said jobs and investment must go to London, cuts must be made elsewhere, whole regions must be written off, so be it. All that mattered was corporations were performing well and the tax burden on the wealthy was reduced. If stock markets were flourishing, we could pretend the country was performing. No concern was shown to the human cost of this approach. If you could not survive in the shark-infested waters of capitalism that was down to you, and if you were an innocent child, too bad.

Tony Blair arrived and the relief was palpable - the establishment had allowed Labour back into power. Of course, I had no idea at the time New Labour was not Labour. We were being deceived. For every Sure Start centre Labour boasted of building, another key industry was sold to private capital, another national asset stripped, and all the while Britain was moving away from manufacturing and building an economy on the fresh air of the financial sector.

Neoliberal centrists to this day seem unwilling or unable to grasp the role they played in the 2010 recession. This was not some unfortunate international phenomenon, it was the neoliberal economic orthodoxy crashing down because it lacked foundation - and even after a decade of the austerity which made the poor pay for the crimes of the rich, which was embraced by the "moderates" who love to pretend they're left wing, those sensible centrist Dads claim more neoliberalism is the solution to our problems!

Neoliberalism, let's not forget, is exactly what we are doing now under the Tories, but under new New Labour it would be masked by a nice social program or two. They would build a few Sure Start centres - wonderful! But what will they do for people like me? Someone who was homeless and unemployed during the Blair years? Absolutely nothing of course. The neoliberal social order is dependent on an underclass for many reasons, but especially because they need the middle class to be fearful of what might befall them if they don't stay on the grind.

Don't dare slack in the capitalist game. Don't dare get sick or tired. Don't dare find yourself redundant. Don't dare struggle to find another job. Or else they will take your home and your property. Ironic they accuse socialists of wanting to do exactly what they are guilty of. Destitution is capitalism's ultimate threat.

New New Labour won't end poverty and homelessness, but they might give us a moderate Prime Minister who is ever-so-slightly gentler than Johnson. Maybe new New Labour will raise benefits by a couple of pounds a month. Fantastic! But will they address real inequality? Change the structures of power? Take on the elite? Of course not. They are the elite and their only goal is to convince you they're on your side while doing the bare minimum they can to help.

Once you become aware of that, it's very difficult to give a damn about concepts like "the economy" because it's not your economy, it's their economy. But hang on, this is just loony-lefty talk, right? It's laziness, wanting free stuff, wanting to shirk. This kind of thinking will lead to catastrophe, surely.

Except the countries which shift left outperform the countries that shift right on every level. Look at northern Europe, New Zealand, Portugal, and even Latin America. Yes, Latin America. 

Would you believe the Latin American nations with the best records on tackling poverty are the terrible socialist nations the media warn you about? Would you believe the high tax Scandinavian nations are rated among the best countries to do business? Would you believe countries with shorter working weeks have more productive work forces? Would you believe countries with nationalised public services offer higher standards than those which privatised? Would you believe higher minimum wages create more jobs? 

I could go on asking these questions, but the point is many people are not aware because our corporate media pretends the opposite is true. My challenge to you is to challenge the status quo, question the narrative, fact check, because I promise if you do, you will learn you've been manipulated.

I say this not to mock you. I once fell for the same nonsense, but once I went to credible sources and read the data for myself, I saw a very different picture.

In truth, there is not a truly socialist democracy out there. But there are many democracies which have socialised their economies to a far greater extent than Britain and America, and in these countries we are not seeing uprisings and mass poverty and widespread homelessness. Hell, in Finland they literally ended homelessness by giving people houses. They found this actually saved money. Many social programs do.

It's one of the greatest lies of conservatism that spending cuts save the public money. In ten years of Tory rule, Britain accumulated more debt than under every Labour government combined and we got nothing in return.

Socialism just means putting people first and getting something back from our tax money, rather than funding endless wars and tax cuts for the rich.

We absolutely can afford to socialise our economy, not least because we will get a huge return on our investment in terms of job creation, and more importantly because our planet is depending on this. Our climate cannot cope with another century of capitalism.

And the climate crisis perfectly illustrates the problem with the free market - for most companies there is no profit to be found in reducing carbon emissions and so no incentive. On one level, I cannot blame corporations for not pursuing greener policies - they would lose money.

So what if we create incentives for them? Well, that would be government intervention, a shift left, and this is precisely the point: whenever we intervene to meet human or environmental needs, that's socialism in action. And not only is socialism the right thing to do, it's the practical thing. If we have a green industrial revolution, we will create so many jobs, clean our air, reduce our energy bills. Everyone apart from the wealthy will gain.

When old rich people warn you away from socialism, whose needs are they looking out for - yours or theirs? Remember most of those old Tories won't be around long enough to deal with the consequences of their greed, but a refusal to shift towards socialism will mean catastrophe for our grandkids. And for that reason we have a duty to pressure Starmer's Labour, to steer them away from New Labour ideals and make them realise they must earn our vote.

It really is socialism or barbarism.

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