Ideological/theoretical political labelling are two-edged swords. They are both convenient shorthand, for the purposes of making generalised points and poisonous straitjackets, wielded as weapons of deliberate insult. It’s politics at its most futile and simplistic, really.
Before Twitter politically ideological labels weren’t part of my conscious, daily vocabulary, despite the nature and topics of my conversations being similar. Not because I didn’t know what the terms meant in all their various definitions and their myriad interpretations – just that I feel they are more a key to understanding political theory and application of the past than lexically necessary to present solutions and future sustainability. Also, I’m not much of an ideologue.
After a while on Twitter, I, too, have found myself bandying some of these terms around along with the rest of the media. I joined in, not because I’ve changed my mind, particularly (though Twitter is a natural shorthand enforcer, so to that extent, generalisations are often the simplest form of communication, albeit potentially distorting), but mostly because the same old labels are again saturating mainstream consciousness as the rubric within which most debate is sadly constructed: it requires a shared vocabulary. All it reveals, however, is that few have ever moved away from the emotional knee-jerkery of old, pre-conceived, received and doggedly fixed propaganda. It’s of no more practical help than it ever was, unless you like popping human nature into simple boxes.
Take Socialism. This is described as Anarchism, Communism, Libertarian, Democratic, Marxist, Religious, etc, etc. (Not forgetting, of course, that Anarchy, Libertarianism and Religion function equally well under fascistic systems.) Socialism is touted as a 19th Century concept – by virtue of a bloke adding ism to a previously perfectly understood word. Social: from Middle English which is from Old French, which is from the Latin: socialis, meaning ‘allied’ and socius, meaning ‘friend’. We all know what it means to be ‘social’ – to engage, participate, accommodate, include, share… It is a concept which is at once, both commonly understood and subjectively experienced.
Opponents to socialism are rabidly irrational in their disdain: to even the most benign and rational form, they having nothing but sneers and smears. They have strongly seeded notions of a totalitarian community in which every one stays at the same level of banality and that the price for this is the sacrifice of a person’s individuality. This is amusing when you think of how the last few decades have shown that socialism is not the culprit in this – unless, of course you count the welfare of self-preservation in the upper tiers but that is a satirical distraction from the world of the masses in spite of its ironic reality. Rabid advocates of markets (free or manipulated) and private money as the answer to all our ills hold the idea of ‘big’ government in contempt and yet, has any government ever been so nannying, moralising and prescriptive as this one? This is something they conveniently overlook as they insult our intelligence.
Big government is a bullshit red herring. What size determines too big or too large? Its number of functions, number of representatives, range of responsibilities? The size of the State should be relative to the nature of its function. It’s function is to represent and serve a 60 million-plus population in a complex, dynamic world. The State is us – why the bloody hell should shrinking it be part of the equation? Necessity, efficiency and competency are the instruments by which it should be measured.
When I think of socialism, I don’t assume authoritarianism, race to the bottom, death of innovation. Hell, I don’t even think death to the markets. What I envisage is a place where the State is the People; where the people are beneficiaries in common; where the land that should be, infrastructure, public services and resources are of the people, by the people and for the people as much as is practically possible. That’s it. It doesn’t have to negate a free market, private wealth, personal assets, creativity, entrepreneurialism, innovation, culture, progress or individuality. And it certainly doesn’t destroy liberty. On the contrary: it frees us. I can be both an individual and a citizen participant in a socially conscious country and world just as easily as I can be English, British and European. Personally, though I have a big problem with profiteering, I’ve no issue with the profit-seeking private sector, so long as it is incapable of undermining the collectively common and basic good. Both private and public serve a social purpose and so both have their economic places. What we have now, however, is a form of anarchy; economic and social nihilism, even. The consensus is growing that we should collectively own, control and maintain the essentials upon which we all depend, as a matter of economic and social common sense. Let the rest (the capitalist/private sphere) purchase its place in the gaps if it is sufficiently viable to do so. And it will. For that, we need a State which serves our best and vested interests not vested interests which serve themselves best and leave us in a state. Whether this view has a label or even ten labels; whether it is called Socialism or something else, I really do not care.