Socialism: old debates and new demands.


Socialism: old debates and new demands.

First posted November 20, 2012 by kittysjones

I can’t help but wonder what kind of future the Coalition is planning for us, without our most fundamental and basic human rights. Owen Jones refers to this systematic stripping away of our rights, that have been hard earned over many decades, and the loss of a sense of well-being, as “the great reverse”. In just two years, the Coalition have decimated all of those social programs and support provisions that made this Country decent and civilised. Our welfare provision has been stripped back to bare bones, our national health service has been packaged, branded and sold off to government sponsors, and companies in which the government have financial interests. Our child protection and welfare services have been decimated, and many more crucial services and provisions, that many of us have had only a tacit knowledge of, have also disappeared. In short, our capacity as a civilised society for caring for our most vulnerable citizens has been deliberately destroyed.

This punitive approach towards vulnerability and systematic theft of our tax payers money has been “justified” by the most hateful propaganda campaign, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, Mark Hoban, Chris Grayling and David Cameron, amongst others, with the support of the press. Lies and stigmatising language are used to demonise the poor and vulnerable. Words like “feckless” “idle” “workshy”, “scroungers”, and not ever the truthful description – “vulnerable” – are written over and over again, with the sole intention of creating folk devils and generating public moral outrage and hatred.

Hate crime directed at those with disabilities or illness has risen steeply as a direct consequence of this hate inciting media portrayal of the “fraudulent” sick and disabled person, who is somehow better off that anyone else, at the expense of the hard working tax payer. Sick and disabled people are no longer allowed a social life, a decent standard of living, a car, a holiday or anything else that “normal” people enjoy because, they have been described over and over as a “burden on the State”. That many of us have also paid tax is forgotten the moment we become “disabled”. Being sick or disabled, of course, entails  the humiliating ritual of proving we are “genuine” and “deserving”. But being “genuine” is conditional upon our very lives becoming public property and being open to a barrage of endless hateful restrictions and sanctions from members of the public, from the government and media. We were once a society that celebrated the freedoms earned by disabled people, now we are a society that spitefully celebrates taking away those freedoms. Disabled people are dehumanised, and reduced to public and political objects of endless hateful scrutiny and prejudice. We need to ask ourselves what kind of government would employ such deplorable and inhumane tactics to justify their deplorable and inhumane actions.

The Government have refused to carry out an impact assessment regarding the effects of the welfare “reforms”, particularly on the sick and disabled. Labour had demanded that they do so. Today we learn that impact assessments are simply considered to be an inconvenience to David Cameron, along with consultations. They are to be scrapped. This is a formal goodbye to human rights safeguards and we witness more of our now fragile democratic process being dismantled further. And the fundamental human right to a fair trial is seen as another “obstacle” by David Cameron. The reduction or end of judiciary review has some terrifying implications. We must ask what kind of Government would want to remove such fundamental, and very hard earned rights.

So we face further policy directed blows, very evident in the proposal to severely limit judiciary review. And yesterday, John McDonnell was urging us to fight for our welfare provision, because he fears that there won’t be any by 2015. He is right: the welfare “reforms” marked the beginning of the end of welfare. That’s welfare, not a “hand out”, or “something for nothing” but provision paid for by us and for us, when we are vulnerable, such as when we are old and frail, ill, or are unfortunate enough to become disabled, young and at risk, or if lose our jobs because of a Government induced economic depression by a group of purely ideologically driven, unresponsive, un-remorseful, none empathic, inhumane and despicable men and women.This Government showed their true colours when they used “financial privilege” to hammer home what they KNEW to be a grossly unfair and cruel, and much opposed “reform”. The time has come to recognise an increasingly Authoritarian government. The Tory-led Coalition have basically failed to observe the most fundamental human rights, and do not reflect the needs of the population, nor do they respond to them. The refusal to undertake equality impact assessments is a good example of this. The Coalition have dismantled basic democratic process – the persistent and blatant ignoring of existing consultations, and proposing to scrap them altogether in the future are good examples of this. These are strange and very scary times.

It is understandable that people are now looking more closely at political philosophies, past and present, and wondering where meaningful answers to our current situation lie, and no other orthodoxy is currently being scrutinised and debated as much as socialism. As a political movement, socialism includes a diverse array of political philosophies, ranging from a reformism approach to revolutionary socialism. Those advocating state socialism basically propose the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange as a strategy for implementing socialism. In contrast, libertarian socialism is a proposition that the traditional view of direct worker’s control of the means of production and opposes the use of state power to achieve such an arrangement, opposing both parliamentary politics and state ownership over the means of production. There is also a democratic form of socialism, which is about establishing socialism through democratic processes and propagating its’ ideals within the context of a democratic system. Modern socialism, of course, has its roots in an 18th-century intellectual and working class political movement, that criticised the effects of industrialisation and private property on society. In the early 19th-century, “socialism” simply referred to any concern for the social problems of capitalism regardless of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th-century, “socialism” had come to signify any opposition to capitalism and advocacy, and stand for an alternative system based on some form of social ownership Orthodox Marxists later considered “scientific” methodology, and assessment and democratic planning to be critical elements of socialism.

More recently, the term “socialist” has also been used by Blair’s Third Way social democrats to refer to an ethical political doctrine focusing on a common set of values which emphasise social cooperation, universal welfare, and equality. Anthony Giddens, (a Sociologist)  was the leading advocate of the Third Way, and he rejects conventional definitions and implementations of socialism, and this was formulated into doctrine by Blair. Anthony Gidden’s brand of sociology is about linking micro-level experience with the macro-level narrative. It’s a responsive compromise. He advocates a methodological pluralism to reconcile “State” with “individual” and as an approach, this does have some merit, as well as drawbacks, but it does also bridge a traditional and theoretically problematic gap in sociopolitical philosophies.

One of the biggest criticisms of Marxism is the emphasis on structural determinism. There is little scope for qualitative analysis of small scale meaningful  human interaction and experience, and human diversity is subsequently unrecognised from a traditional perspective. These are issues that both Giddens, and Blair tried to address.The world has moved on since Marx was writing. We have an entirely different historical, global, social and economic context. Socialism needs to be adaptive and responsive to that. We are living in extraordinary times, with an increasingly Authoritarian Government in power. We need to be united in fighting that, but all I am seeing is a fragmentation of efforts and little solidarity because of in- fighting about orthodoxies. We need to be responsive to our current situation – in the here and now, and clinging to tired and past- their – usefulness doctrines isn’t going to achieve that. Let’s try for some genuine solidarity, let’s unite in our common aims, let’s recognise our basic similarities as fellow humans with the same fundamental human basic needs, and fight the real enemy, instead of bickering about what socialism is or ought to be about, and what our only current hope – the Labour party – ought to adopt as its brand and mantle.

 We are in crisis, and catastrophically, people are dying. 73 sick and disabled people die each week as a direct consequence of the welfare “reforms”. Many more will die once the full extent of the cuts are realised early next year. Labour have to RESPOND to, and reflect the needs of a population in the here and now. We need a party that has always championed our human rights and equality and one that will continue to do, with even more urgency in the context of our current crisis. Labour have shown historically that they do reflect the needs of the majority, and respond appropriately. That is precisely what democratically elected governments are meant to do.

(Think Left emphasis added)

Related Posts:

Universal Credit: Iain Duncan Smith’s slow motion con trick

“Never Again” : Homes and Communities for Everyone

Omnishambles, Petulance or Sheer Disregard?  Jayne Linney

Owen Jones, “Stop the Cuts” Public Meeting – Coalition of Resistance, 19th June 2012

This Government is Killing People (Liam R Carr)

We do the work, someone else takes the wealth (CJ Stone)

Welfare reform and the US insurance giant Unum.

‘Positive thinking’ is a convenient tool for controlling the minds of the masses.


Barbara Ehrenreich’s book ‘Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World’ was inspired by her anger at being told that she needed to have ‘positive thinking’ to rid herself of her tumour. As an immunologist, she knew only too well the scientific realities about her cancer… and she was rightly disgusted by the punitive assumption that failure to be cured would implicitly be her own fault for failing to be sufficiently ‘positive’.

This led her to consider the ramifications of ‘positive thinking’ and ultimately the use of the “American Dream’ as a tool for controlling the minds of the masses.

Tumours are a source of happiness. Accepting the laws of physics – or not – is a matter of personal choice. And getting the things you want is primarily a question of imagining what it will be like when they are yours (and perhaps berating God for not having provided them yet). This sort of patent idiocy would be disturbing enough if it lurked only on the wilder fringes of life in America, but, as Barbara Ehrenreich explains in her affronted, surprisingly cheering attack on positive thinking, mainstream culture is also riddled with its destructive tenets. Everything from health care to the global financial system has been infested.

‘Positive thinking’ conveniently shifts the burden of responsibility onto the individual, and it is a tool that has been employed skilfully by the Tory/LD coalition, with help from the media.  The most obvious case, is in the denial of there being 5 times as many unemployed as there are job vacancies… and that is without taking into consideration the uneven geographical distribution of jobs.  In some areas, the ratio is 25+ unemployed people for every vacancy.  Yet the government spins persistently about benefit scroungers, shoddy state education, the ‘wrong’ attitude… and variously punishes the ‘workshy’ for not ‘thinking positively’ enough to find a non-existent job.

Essentially, the focus is placed on the inherent characteristics, or capabilities, of the individual, and is deflected away from any external conditions.  In psychology, this comes under the heading of attribution theory.  It is suggested that the observer is more ‘comfortable’ believing that the subject slipped on a banana skin because they are inately clumsy, rather than to face the potential risk that they too might inadvertently slip on an unseen banana skin.  Hence ‘benefit scrounger’ is a powerful piece of spin which taps into a feature of the human psyche.  It is preferable to believe that others are unemployed because they are workshy, rather than face personal fears about the impact of the double-dip recession and economic meltdown.

Another highly pernicious example of the misuse of attribution theory, is in the redefinition of illness which underpins the Welfare Reform bill.  The Biopyschosocial model proposes:

… disease is the only objective, medically diagnosable pathology. Sickness is a temporary phenomenon. Illness is a behaviour – ‘all the things people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell’ (p39). The degree of illness behaviour is dependent not upon an underlying pathology but on ‘individual attitudes and beliefs’, as well as ‘the social context and culture in which it occurs’. Halligan and Wade are more explicit: ‘Personal choice plays an important part in the genesis or maintenance of illness’.

In other words, disease has concrete, physical aspects that can be demonstrated by medical tests.  Sickness is something like a cold which is self-limiting and from which you recover.  But ‘illness’ is a sort of psychological delusion mediated by the individual’s worldview and a ‘wanting to believe themselves to be ill’. Hence, the problem of being ‘ill’ is firmly located in the individual, and their beliefs and behaviour become the focus of moral judgment and action ie. scroungers, benefit cheats, malingerers, lacking in moral fibre, ‘learned helplessness’ and other such punitive terms.(1)

Thus, many of those with disability and long-term chronic illness are considered to be simply lacking ‘positive thinking’… and, therefore, the horrors of a Work Capability Assessment is justified by government. (2)  However, the reality is that this is a cynical means to reduce the benefits bill and put the UK on route to a two-tier US style of insurance-based welfare provision.

Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that the ‘American dream’ is the reason that ordinary Americans have not challenged the ‘upward redistribution of wealth by cutting taxes for the wealthiest, and in subtle ways, raising them for the poorest and for the middle class…  It’s a grab. It’s—I’m waiting for people to get really, really angry about it. I think one thing that has held back Americans is the idea that you’re going to get rich, too, you know? That magically, “Hey, I might be one of those multimillionaires next,” so that I don’t want to tax rich people.’  Barbara Ehrenreich: America’s Tragic Decline — Resistance Bursts Out All Over the World, While We Do Nothing to Fight Corporate Takeover August 8, 2011

To paraphrase Gramsci … in order to resist the mind control, we need to try and see the world as it really is – not as we want or fear it, to be.  Barbara Ehrenreich concurs by reiterating that we need ‘Realism’ not the magic of ‘Positive Thinking’.

RSA Animate – Smile or Die

Uploaded by theRSAorg on Mar 17, 2010
Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.