Thursday, April 22, 2021

My Politics

consider myself a moderate on the centre-left of UK politics, which means I occupy a relatively mainstream position, rejecting radical or extreme views and major social and economic upheaval.

The left – the democratic socialists – still want to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist economy as prescribed by Marx in the latter part of the 19th century, organised around common ownership of the means of production. 

I’ve worked in the private sector technology industry all of my working life, and as a result I’m well aware that competitive markets are massive and generally efficient generators of economic wealth. 

I therefore support the centre-left concept of supporting a competitive economy while advancing the overriding imperative - the true, ethical goal of socialism - of a just and fair society. 

Some say that means I’m not really a socialist, and have no place in the Labour Party: those views are, of course, completely wrong.

My political views make me an ethical socialist, otherwise known as a social democrat, on the revisionist - and for more than half a century, the mainstream - wing of the Labour Party.

Revisionist thinking insists on the necessity of a market-oriented mixed economy with a central role for capitalism and entrepreneurship generating wealth, but with public ownership and control of those public services where the public good dictates there should be no market at all.

Its focus is less on ownership and more on control – controlling via regulation, rather than replacing, the capitalist free market.

This means an extensive set of regulatory policies including a national minimum wage, health and safety legislation, anti-discrimination laws, employment tribunals, paid maternity leave and meaningful negotiations between unions and management over pay and conditions.

This combination of policies and regulations are intended ensure that the owners of capital cannot exploit those who work for them, particularly when the power of the trade unions is strengthened via collective bargaining.

Revisionism started as a powerful ideological tendency within the Labour Party in the 1950s and 1960s, taking intellectual sustenance from the book “The Future of Socialism”, one of the most influential books in post-war British Labour Party thinking, written in 1956 by Labour MP Anthony Crosland.

An Oxford University academic before entering Parliament, Crosland had lost his seat in the 1955 general election, and so was able to finish the book he had been working on for several years, seeking to offer a new argument for social democracy in the context of the new political and economic consensus introduced by the 1945–1951 Clement Attlee governments.

The goal of the book was to reformulate socialist principles, and bring the Labour Party policies up to date with the changing British society and economy. 

A central argument in the book is Crosland's distinction between 'means' and 'ends'. 

Crosland argued that post-war capitalism had fundamentally changed, and that the Marxist claim that it was not possible to pursue equality in a capitalist economy was no longer true. He argued therefore that a definition of socialism founded on nationalisation and public ownership is mistaken, since these are simply one possible means to an end. 

For Crosland, the defining goal of the left should be more social equality, based on political values focused on personal liberty, social welfare, and equality. 

Themes of destroying or overthrowing the rich and elite were therefore downplayed in favour of policies of progressive taxation, more widespread educational opportunity, and expanded social services. 

Crosland’s work has continued to be a reference point for intellectual debates within the Labour Party and the centre-left in succeeding generations, including the SDP-Labour split in 1981, the modernisation of Labour under Neil Kinnock, and the rise of New Labour under Tony Blair.

Blair referenced the work of LSE Director and eminent sociologist Anthony Giddens in refining and redefining social democracy as the “Third Way” - in favour of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but also in favour of greater social justice, seeing the state playing a major role in bringing this about.

Blair claimed that the socialism he advocated was different from traditional conceptions of socialism and said: "My kind of socialism is a set of values based around notions of social justice. Socialism as a rigid form of economic determinism has ended, and rightly". 

In the words of Giddens, the Third Way rejects top down socialism just as it rejects traditional neoliberalism.

Blair wasn’t alone in advocating the Third Way; Bill Clinton in the USA, Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, Romano Prodi and Matteo Renzi in Italy, and Emanuel Macron in France are Third Way advocates.

Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour was also a derivative from the revisionist / social democratic / Third Way thinking, even if he did take Disraeli’s One Nation prefix as his own. One Nation Conservatism had been Tory leader Benjamin Disraeli’s antidote to the fact the early 20th century Labour Party were increasingly appealing to workers, and threatening Conservative supremacy.

Despite claims to the contrary from the left, modern Labour Party centre-left thinking is not neoliberal - it is a repudiation of Thatcherism and its derivatives represented by the 21st century Conservative Party. 

Neoliberalism involves unconstrained and unregulated free markets operating disaster capitalism at its worst - look at how many Conservative cronies made millions by creating opportunistic business on-the-fly, supplying cheaply made, inferior Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the Covid pandemic.

Everyone in the Labour Party wants the same end goals - the “ends”, as identified by Crosland - of a just and fair society based on equal opportunities and the absence of discrimination, where workers are not exploited. 

We only disagree on how we should get there - the “means”: do we replace capitalism, or do we control it?

Provided we all vote Labour - whether or not we agree with the leadership of the day, or with the chosen route to our goal - then we can and will beat the Conservatives.