Socialism is more than public funding

Submitted by Zac Muddle on 29 May, 2019 - 9:00 Author: Ruth Cashman
socialism

Socialism: where has it actually worked? Momentum and their hot new video are here to explain.

You Are A Socialist

Where has socialism ever worked? ?

Posted by Momentum on Thursday, 9 May 2019

And where has socialism worked? Everywhere!

Everywhere? Yes, that’s right everywhere! Doesn’t it seem a bit weird that socialism has worked everywhere and everything is still so shit? And what are fighting for now?

I’m pretty sure the video has got some details wrong here. We probably should have been warned when socialism as “pooling our resources” and “working together” was illustrated by Momentum with a clip from The Avengers – a superhero crew made up of a billionaire arms dealer, the physical embodiment of the US military, a rage monster, a Norse god and a catsuited spy, not exactly "every cook can govern" stuff.

Momentum explain “pooling our resources and working together” can be seen in such socialist achievements as publicly-funded roads, firefighters, teachers and libraries. And police. If you like any of these things you are a socialist.

This strange list of socialisms betrays a number of different failures of understanding. If publicly funded roads are “socialist” we are stretching the definition of socialism so far that it includes the Roman Empire.

Momentum’s “publicly funded” teachers and libraries formulation is odd in that it does not even go as far as the best traditions of the Labour right. It does not call for state run public services, merely that they should be publicly-funded.

The odd tone is likely due to lifting their messaging from the Bernie Sanders campaign. Bernie himself, was criticised from the left of the DSA for his statement: “When you go to your public library, when you call your fire department or the police department, what do you think you’re calling? These are socialist institutions".

It is easy to see why the US soft left fall into this trap. They operate in a political environment where TV anchors declare publicly-funded health care and President Obama to be communist.

Momentum’s video doesn’t just play with prevailing ideas in an attempt to subvert their message (as Sanders did). It transports ideas which have very little traction and actively attempts to de-educate its own supporters. It labels as "socialist" policies (provision which is publicly-funded, but not necessarily publicly-owned or democratically controlled) which are to the right of both Labour’s manifesto (which calls for expansion of state ownership and control) and public opinion (which is for public ownership and state run health and education).

It also manages to define socialism without once referring to working-class struggle or power. It shows the terrible state of the labour movement that the Brexit Party’s video talks about the working class - but Momentum’s does not.

James Connolly wrote: "... state ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism – if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would all be Socialist functionaries, as they are State officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be Socialism."

It is easy to see why publicly funded and run of schools, emergency services and libraries might be associated with socialism in people’s minds. A socialist society would see an expansion of educational, cultural and safety measures globally and for the benefit of all.

The fire service, universal education and the NHS are social democratic concessions won by working-class struggle which in some ways contradict the murderous inhumane logic of capitalism that profit must always come first.

The history of the Labour Party has always muddled social democracy and socialism, with terms being used at various points interchangeably.

The high point of contradictory social democracy in Britain was the 1945 government. It undertook nationalisations, including gas, coal, electricity and the Bank of England. It was under this government that India won its independence. It established the National Health Service.

However Labour retained wartime anti-strike decrees and used the army to break strikes on the docks. In 1948, a wage freeze was introduced. Nationalised industries functioned in much the same way as the old private capitalist endeavours, and in some cases were actually managed by the same people.

The 1945 government’s worst contribution to history was its foreign policy. It waged a brutal colonial war in what was then Malaya in order to keep it under British rule. Britain tailed America in the Korean War (to pay for which free eye and dental care were revoked), and, closer to home, introduced the Northern Ireland Act in 1949 which meant that no constitutional changes to the situation could be made without a majority from within the Six Counties itself.

The 1945 government shows social-democratic government can push through progressive measures whilst crushing working class militancy needed to win more.

Maybe the Momentum office is staffed by people who don’t know the difference between socialism and social democracy. It seems unlikely that it’s staffed by people who think socialism is just publicly-funded roads.

Presumably they are trying to reassure the public that socialism won’t actually involve much change - that it will be like life now but slightly better.

But socialism will involve huge change. We should be proud to say we are fighting for a world which is vastly different from the here and now. The leading cause of death in children globally is malnutrition. These babies and children do not die because we cannot produce enough food, but because our resources are distributed in an irrational and cruel way which places little value on human life.

We live with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown which is being hastened by the profit drive. We live in a system which is beset with violence, from mass warfare to domestic abuse in our homes. We can’t say exactly what life under socialism will be like, we can’t paint a picture of the day to day of the future accurately, but we can say it will be very different.

There will be democratic self-rule in all aspects of society and in the economy. Rather than our lives being geared toward production for profit, production and distribution will be geared towards providing what each of us needs.

There will be no rich and no poor, there will be work but no bosses, no profit-motive and no wage-slavery. The working week will be cut to a level which allows us to be and do and what we want. Nobody will work so hard it breaks their body or mind, and nobody will fear or suffer unemployment.

We will care for each other. Care work will be distributed and supported so it is not a burden.

Technology will be geared to the health and happiness of humanity, driven by exploration and improvement, not war or one person’s power over another.

The inclusion of the police in the list of socialist institutions is a continuation of the trend in Momentum which presents the police as a public service like any other. The central role of police is not to protect communities from crime, but rather to protect private property, business interests and ruling class political interests. The first centrally organised professional police force paid by public funds was introduced in London 1829, just 10 years after Peterloo, as a measure against the threat of uprisings from a growing urban working class. Since then, the fundamental role of policing has not dramatically changed. Whenever there is an upsurge in working-class action, the police and the criminal justice system are there to stamp it back down. We saw this during the 1984 miners’ strike, the poll tax campaign, the violence faced by the 2010 student movement. We know this by the criminalisation of trade union activity by the latest anti-union laws. The uncovering of police informants revealed they spied on anti-racist campaigns, left groups and trade unions.

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