Print Story The Death of Socialism
By DullTrev (Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:39:55 AM EST) socialism, Labour Party, Blair, fun loving cowwqas. (all tags)

Socialism died in England today, after a long illness. There were no celebrations, there were no mourners. Its passing will excite no tearful column inches, and only a few mocking ones. It passes not with a bang, not with a whimper, only in silence. No flowers.

I suppose I have always been a socialist. I was brought up in the north-east of England, a strong heartland of socialism for over a century. In this harsh, sometimes desolate, sometimes crowded part of the country, men have toiled below the ground to extract the coal that powered the ships that were built on the Tyne and the Wear. My family moved to this area (moved back in my mother's case) during the miners' strike of 84-85.

Mining was as much a part of the region's character as it is in Wales; there is a memorial to a pit disaster in my home village, and one of my friends lived in a village still known locally as "Little Moscow" because of their refusal to bend in the miners' strike - of 1926. They still remember which families scabbed that time too.

We moved into an area filled with a sullen refusal to break. My father's first memories as he took up his post as headteacher in a school in a pit area was of helping to collect money so the strikers could eat. It was one reason why he was accepted in that area so quickly.

This is not to say I moved into a grim industrial world populated with working class stereotypes. The place we called home was already becoming a dormitory village by the time we moved there, people drawn to the nearby city of Newcastle, or to Gateshead. It was rapidly becoming dominated by the middle class, who preferred not to think about the large estates of council owned houses turning the village into a town.

My upbringing was most certainly comfortable, and I have no doubt I am middle class - my parents worked damn hard to make sure I could be. But the combination of my father's left-leaning politics, my mother's staunch Christianity, and the people and the environment I was in conspired to make me believe that socialism was simply the only sensible position to hold - it was obvious to me that I had been fortunate in how my life had come together, and that others, through no fault of their own, had been unfortunate. Wasn't it, therefore, right to help in any way I could, for all of us to help each other in any way we could, so that all of us benefited?

This just made me even more bewildered at the depressing success of the Conservatives during that time. It seemed that election after election, despite the whole world (or at least that part of it I could see myself) truly despising them, they kept winning, snatching a victory from nowhere, as if they had somehow hoodwinked the country again, or hypnotised voters as they walked into the polling station.

One of my strongest memories of profound disappointment was the 1992 general election. Sent to bed as I had school the next day, I secretly listened to the radio as the first results came in, and felt excitement and joy as seat after seat was announced as Labour. Of course, as I know now, this was only to be expected as the urban seats, most likely to vote Labour, were also those able to get the results out quickly. But at the time, I went to sleep happy that finally we had a new dawn - only to come down the next morning to see with horror a smiling John Major. Even though somehow, miraculously, Thatcher, the election winning machine, had been stabbed in the back by her own party, the Conservatives had still managed to go on and win just a few years later. I still remember that the whole area seemed depressed after that night. We had finally allowed ourselves to really believe we could get out from under the Tories, and to have that dream ripped away from us was awful. Teachers at school looked glum all day, bus drivers were stoneyfaced, everyone seemed to reflect my own mood.

But, of course, eventually we picked ourselves up, and started to dream of winning again. The cruel taking of John Smith from us well before his time led to the well-documented drama of Tony Blair becoming leader of the Labour Party ahead of Gordon Brown. Here, finally, was someone who seemed to attract voters we couldn't usually reach. Someone whose charisma and energy shone so bright next to the dour greyness of John Major. He was young, he was beautiful, he was ours.

We didn't know what to make of it.

Because, you see, even then, there were some of us who had doubts. I'm by no means unique in never having taken to him. I knew something was up when I heard a news report about a speech Tony Blair was going to give later that night, where he had to deal with a tricky and potentially fatal issue for him and the party (or so the reporter said) - that he was leader of a socialist party. How would he deal with the banana skin of being a socialist? How could he nullify that issue? Now, of course, we know he didn't really have much of a problem, but at the time, the Conservatives could accuse him of being a socialist and some people would actually believe it. But to me, watching the news report, and later, extracts from the speech, the thought that any leader of the Labour Party had to, well, apologise for being socialist seemed so terribly wrong, and the fact he was so convincing just encouraged my doubts.

But whatever he said actually worked and he, together with the other architects of Labour's transformation to New Labour, pulled off an astonishing landslide in 1997. And for a time, there was real hope. It is a cliche now to say it, but you really could feel the hope, and belief in the air - people genuinely felt that things would get better, and fast. The handing over of control of interest rates out of political hands was a radical step, performed on the day after the election, and suggested that this really would be an historic government.

But there were signs of timidity early on. The new government stuck to the spending plans of the old Conservative one for its first days in office. It fiddled and chipped at problems, not once taking a bold step forward. The most impressive achievement of that government was the creation of a national minimum wage - but it was set at such a low level, and with such difficulties in enforcing it, that it still left people wanting more.

I remember a conversation I had with the leader of the Labour Students society at my university. He was a true believer in the New Labour project, and in fact now works as a special adviser at the Treasury. He couldn't understand why I, as a Labour supporter, wasn't more excited about the government, about what they were doing, about this new minimum wage law, and why I wasn't shouting from the rooftops. He seemed completely taken aback that my answer was that I supposed I was disappointed, because a government with the ability to do just about anything was limiting itself to small tweaking of the edges. That they had the power, and the support, to achieve so much, but that their vision was so small.

And I know the arguments why they had to do this - to show they were trustworthy, to keep the support of industry, and so forth, but I finally came to realise what the real problem was. And it had been signalled much earlier.

When I first joined the Labour Party, they sent me a membership card with some simple words upon it, the original Clause IV of the party's constitution, the aim of the party. It said:

"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

Written in 1917, it sounds stilted today, but still manages to bring a lump to my throat. However, my membership card doesn't say that anymore. Some have said it called for nationalisation, which it doesn't, though I won't get into that argument here. However, in 1995 Blair decided that it could be used as a weapon against the party (despite it not having been for many years) and decided to get rid of it. Basically, the left of the party loved this text, and Blair wanted to demonstrate his ability to stand up to the left to the rest of the country. And so, after a brief fight, it was changed to:

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

Which, in my view, is substantially more wishy-washy.

Regardless, this showed me two things. Firstly, that Tony Blair can only define himself by who he is against - this is why he continued to pick fights with sections of his own party for years to come. Secondly, that he was a liar. This text describes us as a democratic socialist party, which I am very happy with. But Tony Blair has always called himself a social democrat.

Granted, some of you may be wondering what the difference is. But I think there is one, and it is a big one. To me, a democratic socialist is someone who believes that the society we currently live in is fundamentally unfair, and that it must be thoroughly reformed - that it must, essentially, go through a 'revolution'. But who, equally importantly, believes the only fair and just way to do this is by convincing people, through the democratic process, to do this - a revolution that is voted for, essentially, so no driving the tanks down Pall Mall.

A social democrat also recognises that the society we live in is fundamentally unfair. But, instead of believing that they can change this, they instead decide to tinker around the edges, to tweak little bits here and there, to try and ameliorate some of the worst excesses. This is a more timid view of the world, a view of the world which still doffs its cap to those in power, those with the money, those of the elite. It is unthreatening to those people, because it can never effect significant change.

And so the New Labour government continued in its timid and gentle way, carrying out social democratic acts. Take, for example, tax credits. Don't get me wrong, they have helped a lot of people, but they have been only a slight redistributive measure. They have achieved a social democratic end, in that they have lifted people out of absolute poverty, and this is a good thing. But they have not had a democratic socialist end, which would have been to reduce income inequality, to make the gap between rich and poor smaller. The first stops people starving on the streets, the second would stop society collapsing into crime, chaos, and gated communities.

All of which meant those of us who were socialists gradually went from disenchantment to disappointment to disillusionment to disgust. Parties on the left began to spring up - some of them, like the Socialist Party and Socialist Labour, from within the Labour Party, other more recent ones like Respect coming together from both ex-Labour members and other communities. In Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party were buoyed by the PR system in the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Nationalist Party began to avow a set of social policies to the left of Labour. In Wales, Plaid Cymru continues to gain strength with its own socialist views.

While the nationalist parties were able to gain support and be credible, those within England fared less well. Respect now has its lone MP (who was previously a Labour MP, though he won in 2005 as a Respect candidate), but could only stand in 48 of the more than 10,000 council seats up for election in May, and won in only three wards. The Socialist Party has six councillors. The Socialist Labour Party has none. It seems starting a new socialist party without another cause to hang your hat on is a hard thing to do.

Which means that the socialists of the Labour Party either left to join no- one, or stayed and became increasingly bitter. That bitterness and resentment began to focus around Tony Blair, something which the equally bitter and resentful (though for other, well-publicised reasons) Gordon Brown played up to. His conference speeches became rallying calls to the party faithful, the rump of the party that is still left (membership figures are less than half of what they were in 1997). But those on the left have generally been very suspicious of Brown as well, he being one of the creators of New Labour. The trade unions particularly are unconvinced. We know he will be more of the same, just with different presentation skills.

And what happened to me? I started to find I held views I would have been appalled by a few years ago. For instance, the reform of the House of Lords. I was all for an upper house which was elected, which didn't rely on privilege and patronage to get to where they are. And yet now I look at what we have, and the possibility of replacing that with more of the party infighting as in the lower house, and I am horrified. I find myself, as a democratic socialist, wanting to keep unelected life peers. I'd get rid of the last of the hereditary peers - I'm not that far gone - but the experts and others who wouldn't get there in a party political system, those people I want. Not only because they bring expertise, but also because they do not need the favour, the patronage, of their current party leader to be there. They can, essentially, stick two fingers up at their own party without losing their position.

Another example is that of a written constitution. In the past, I thought this was a great thing. But now that Brown is mooting producing one, I am terrified - not at the concept, though I have become to like the British constitution's flexibility, but because I may like a written constitution, but not one this generation of politicians would produce. We are in an era of politics dominated by the worst sort of middle managers, with focus groups and presentations and payment by results and anything, anything at all, but an idea. I don't want a British constitution to read like a small advertising company's mission statement, and that's what we'd get.

So I find myself in the position as a democratic socialist of not wanting elections, and not wanting a revolution. I am lost in a modern world that doesn't want ideas and ideologies, it wants targets and performance reviews.

All of which made the news yesterday almost inevitable. John McDonnell, the leader of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, has failed to get enough nominations to contest the leadership election. Not even all the members of the group nominated him. Democratic socialism can't even make it an election, rather than a coronation.

It's time to face up to it, all of us socialists still hanging around in the Labour Party looking hopeful. We lost. The world moved on. It may be unfair, but people want it that way. They don't want socialism for the same reason they do buy lottery tickets - it may cost them a lot of money, and it may be unjust, but there's a chance they could be fabulously rich and look down on everyone else.

And so socialism died. It flowered briefly in the 20th Century, but was never meant to last. There may be lots of us out there, but we can never quite bring ourselves to join a different party, to vote for someone who isn't Labour. And so the two tribes of managers will slug it out for a few decades more, while we wonder what happened. The world will get a little bit nastier, a little bit crueller, a little bit more suspicious, year on year. But we'll all have the chance of holding that golden ticket, we all have an equal opportunity to make it, and we're told that is all the victory we should want.

Goodbye English socialism, we will remember you fondly. As for me, I'm moving to Scotland.

< Once upon a time | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
The Death of Socialism | 70 comments (70 topical, 0 hidden)
Socialism, Nationalism by gpig (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:11:30 AM EST
Good points and well written, thanks.

For those that you point at as the 'remaining Socialists':

I don't know much about Plaid Cymru. I don't think that the SNP are particularly 'socialist' any more than Labour are. They are an alliance of people with varying political views who support Scottish independence.

I wish they'd got a clear majority in the Scottish parliament, I'm sure that their government would have split apart pretty quickly. As it is, the pressure of their precarious situation will probably keep them together. I wish we could just have the referendum and get it over with (they would lose).

As for Respect, there may be some well-intentioned people associated with it — shame about their leader. I pity anyone trying to defend an anti-war viewpoint when the main spokesman of their cause in the UK is George Galloway.

Got more thoughts on this but I'll save it until I get home from work.
(,   ,') -- eep

Thatcher killed Socialism by jump the ladder (4.00 / 5) #2 Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:13:02 AM EST
Not Blair. She destroyed the institutions it relied on like the nationalised industries, the councils, the public sector, manufacturing industry and the unions. Blair merely read the final rites.

I'm  not sad at socialism's passing as I think it is a pie in the sky doctrine as people are self evidently not equal in abilities or moral sense  but I am saddened at the human cost in terms of shattered communities and the emergence of underclass.


the emergence of underclass by Dr H0ffm4n (2.00 / 0) #42 Fri May 18, 2007 at 04:51:37 AM EST
when did that happen?

[ Parent ]
It's not dead by R Mutt (4.00 / 4) #3 Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:14:11 AM EST
It's just resting. Or possibly mutating into something rather different.

I don't think the UK minimum wage is that low by international standards. Wikipedia has a big list of minimum wages by country and I can only find 4 with higher minimum wages (Switzerland, Australia,Luxembourg,Ireland). We're ahead of France for instance.

It's odd that you're not mentioning taxation and spending as a socialist issue, too. If you look at a graph of taxation as a share of GDP we're pretty high up the list, higher than Germany for instance.

It seems to me you're kind of redefining things a bit: "if Blair did it, it can't be socialism".

The emphasis on reducing inequality rather than absolute poverty also seems to be another fairly new idea, at least to be given such emphasis. Yes, there was always talk of redistribution, but it's because that was considered the best way to help the poor. This explicit idea that it is a moral good to reduce the wealth of the rich in itself, rather than as a means to the end of alleviating poverty, doesn't seem to me to be a part of traditional socialism.

In that respect, you seem to me to be saying "Gordon Brown cannot be a socialist because we're changing the definition of socialism to be something Brown doesn't agree with".

Also: Inequality and the Great Moderation by R Mutt (4.00 / 3) #8 Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:39:04 AM EST
I don't think you can consider inequality outside the context of the Great Moderation. The Great Moderation is the unprecedented period of growth and stability over the last 15 years or so, where instead of the normal business cycle we've seen only a couple of very slight, very short mini-recessions.

The Great Moderation has occurred across the developed world, and so is not specifically due to Blair/Brown. It's the Great Moderation that has caused the increase in inequality, going disproportionately to shareholders and star employees in growth industries, rather than average wage-earners and the unemployed.

Blair/Brown policies have been redistributive: increasing taxation and social spending. They just have not been sufficiently redistributive to compensate for the Great Moderation.

So, whether you can pursue the inequality agenda depends on what the causes of the Great Moderation are. No-one knows this, but there are three chief explanations.

  1. Technology. Computers and just-in-time delivery systems mean that companies can adjust to market conditions quicker, so no more business cycle. If that's true, the Great Moderation is permanent, and you can happily carry out the inequality agenda.
  2. Good luck. It just happens that nothing has happened to trigger a major recession, and major recessions will return. If that's true and you carry out the inequality agenda, we're fucked: you've sacrificed our ability to create growth.
  3. Good policy. Over that period the major economies have carried out monetarist policies and concentrated on inflation not unemployment. Now if that's true you can carry out the inequality agenda to some degree, but not too much or we'll just return to the bad old days. However, if you want to use this as a justification, as a socialist are you really prepared to admit Milton Friedman was right all along?

[ Parent ]
That's one point of socialism I never fully by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #11 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:02:56 AM EST
understood - this whole equality thing. 

All people are not born equal, no matter how many times it is said. 

Society places value on certain skills and abilities and not others; how did it ever become a great idea to penalise those who exceed the others? 

It strikes me that society is no longer aiming to improve those on the lower end of the scale, but penalise those in the top to the lowest commmon denominator.

[ Parent ]
Got it wrong, not the rich by jump the ladder (4.00 / 3) #12 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:17:31 AM EST
New Labour penalises the people in the middle as they can't fuck off to another country easily or hire expensive tax lawyers.

[ Parent ]
Poorly expressed myself. by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #13 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:25:28 AM EST
But yes, there will come a time when middle England is tired of this incessant squeezing of their finances and intrusion into their private lives.

I am seriously considering emigrating if Nu Labia win another term.  Anyone else remember the brain drain last time Labour was in power?

[ Parent ]
Truly by R Mutt (4.00 / 2) #16 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:56:16 AM EST
The mass emigration of people leaving jobs in the City to go abroad has been one of the major problems of the Blair/Brown era...

[ Parent ]
Surprisingly by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #18 Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:17:33 AM EST
This seems to be one of the rare things Nu Labia isn't measuring.

It really will be the case in 10 years time that people look around and wonder where the middle classes went.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #19 Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:18:49 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

[ Parent ]
Aye. by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #20 Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:25:47 AM EST
For now.

[ Parent ]
citation required by Dr H0ffm4n (2.00 / 0) #43 Fri May 18, 2007 at 05:30:39 AM EST

[ Parent ]
See by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #45 Fri May 18, 2007 at 05:58:54 AM EST

[ Parent ]
see by Dr H0ffm4n (2.00 / 0) #46 Fri May 18, 2007 at 06:07:25 AM EST
Taxes... by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #9 Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:41:47 AM EST
It's going to get [worse
] as we go on.

[ Parent ]
The list of minimum wages by Phage (4.00 / 3) #22 Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:06:53 AM EST
Doesn't make much sense unless it's compared to the cost of living or average wages overall.
IANAStatistician, but perhaps the number of SD from the mean wage ?

[ Parent ]
Outdated algorhythms. by blixco (4.00 / 5) #4 Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:14:49 AM EST
Great piece, I dig the hell out of it, and think it should be vs2fp.

My brother and I were yammering on about this stuff one night.  He's a butcher, part of a meatcutter's union, and generally a little further left than I.  We were talking about how, in the 80s there seemed to be an actual left / right dichotomy that wasn't based on fundamentalist religious extremism.  There were staunch fiscal conservatives, folks who believed in nothing but the individual and fuck everyone else, and there were socialist liberals who wanted the protection of an even playing field in an us vs. The Man mentality. The political discussion was loud, slow, and messy.  There were no clean solutions.

Somewhere in there, in between the jingoism and saber-rattling of Ronnie RayGun and Maggie Thatcher vs The Supreme Soviet, we lost the entire scope and view of agrarian and industrial society.  Sudden-like, any such economies and the many devices that propped them up and protected them from The Corporation were seen as third world, unpatriotic, communist nonsense.  At the same time in the US, The Corporation was granted the same protection under the law as The Individual, making companies the constituent.

All of this change occurred with lightning speed between 1984 and now, and what we're driven by now is snippets of highspeed info poured into every available nerve ending at unreasonable rates. We're no longer as sharply divided idealistically; the left and the right have merged to center politically, with the only remaining divides being lifestyle and religion.

Socialism and other industrial and agricultural age -isms get lost on the abrasive shower of ones and zeros that make up our daily lives. We're too obsessed with self and our plight to defray the loss of society to the consume-and-supply cycle. There's no room for old fashioned outmoded behaviors.  Whole new methods have to be described, built up, and torn down in record spans of time.  Neoconservatives supplanted by progressives supplanted by CenterOfCenter supplanted by KnifeEdgeBalancePointOfCenter etc etc.

No time for a messy system that requires so much raw time and effort to foist on an un-trusting society raised by RayGun and the March Against Communism, not in the First World.  Maybe in Chavez' Venezuela. Maybe in sticky third world countries where the populace is still hands-on with the soil.

But here in the lofty sterile infobabble tower of the Consumer First World, we're out of time for socialism, democracy, communism, and any inefficient memes.  Clean the edges off of it, make it teardrop shaped, subject it to market studies and behavior modification, and you end up with the current mess of "progressives" which so well describes someone with no conviction.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

Bring on democracy... by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #36 Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:23:56 PM EST
It's possible now, with universal (mostly) real-time communications. The only guarantee in politics is that the politician, once elected, serves his own interests and not the citizen.


[ Parent ]
Bureaucracy killed Socialism. by wiredog (4.00 / 4) #6 Thu May 17, 2007 at 03:49:10 AM EST
First, vs2fp. I'd like to see this at, say, K5, but it'd probably die in the queue there.

"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
I think that people, in the West, have decided that the form of Capitalism we have is the "best obtainable system". Note: obtainable. This is an imperfect world, after all. I think you can say of Capitalism what Churchill said of Democracy.

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy: In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. In all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Thus, the organization which may once have been intended to further the goals of, say, securing for the workers the full fruits of their industry eventually morphs into an organization whose goal is self-preservation.

Apply that to state ownership of the means of production and you get, Rover, Triumph, Jaguar, and other State owned industries driven right into the ground by the State. The workers are now unemployed, the corporations are either moribund or owned by Americans or Chinese. That's what Socialism (in the Real World, rather than in theory) led to.

The voters saw this, and voted accordingly.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Don't think by jump the ladder (4.00 / 2) #7 Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:36:23 AM EST
British Leyland/Austin-Rover/MG Rover is a good example of state socialism. It was nationalised in 1975 because it was bankrupt due to poor sales and strikes and the govt didn't fancy a few hundred people out of work all at once. Wasn't a particularly ideological move.

It was nationalised from 1975-1987. Its long term problems occurred mostly under private sector ownership. Basically it never made enough profit to invest in competitive new models from one product cycle to next from late 1960s onwards and had a poor reputation for workmanship and reliability which it never sucesfully shook off.

[ Parent ]
Excellent DullTrev, VS2FP. by Breaker (4.00 / 2) #10 Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:55:55 AM EST
One thing I think you missed (or excised) is Tony's Turkey Army.  Burgeoning local councils and governmental officials, all in the pay of the state are New Labia's insidious legacy.  Effectively, New Labia's no need for voters to be party members any more - they pay the voters in their extra make work jobs and that Turkey Army will remain loyal for the time being.

For example, instead of dropping the amount of tax collected, they instead collect the tax and offer the tax credit back.  Wasteful of resources and people's time, but that's another few hundred added to the Turkey Army.

Until, of course, GTLSB's drag taxes catch up with them and they start feeling the pinch of the tax tax tax and spend spend spend method themselves.

Despite presiding over a very prosperous decade, our national debt is still growing at a frightening rate.

Doesn't really make demographic sense by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #15 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:39:38 AM EST
To some extent, all governments try to benefit the constituents that will get them elected. However, the most effective way to do this is to target groups in geographically concentrated areas: farmers, miners, shipbuilders. That way you can guarantee support in certain constituencies.

The NHS and social jobs created by Blair/Brown are distributed fairly evenly over the UK though. That makes them inefficient as a voting bloc. If you want to boost your vote evenly across the UK, cutting taxes would be a better way: gets a lot more people.

[ Parent ]
Distribution won't count by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:14:25 AM EST
When 40% of the populace is employed by the government.  People who are motivated to vote more than the rest to ensure their livelihoods are maintained.

[ Parent ]
Public sector workers by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #25 Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:17:55 AM EST
Don't seem that enamoured with Labour at the moment. Too much bureaucracy and targets de-empowers them. Don't think the public sector is that strong a voting bloic for Labour.

[ Parent ]
All the right noises will be made by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #28 Thu May 17, 2007 at 08:00:09 AM EST
In advance of the general election.  Vote Tory and fear for your job.  Stay loyal, comrades and we promise it'll be better next year.

[ Parent ]
You dropped a couple of words by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #47 Fri May 18, 2007 at 06:37:07 AM EST
I think you mean:

all governments try to appear to benefit the constituents that will get them elected.

With out those two words, American politics of the last couple decades makes no sense.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Not entirely by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #14 Thu May 17, 2007 at 05:38:19 AM EST

You've obviously never worked in the computer games industry.

What I found the hardest by Phage (2.00 / 0) #21 Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:50:35 AM EST
Were these stories on how social mobility has actually decreased under this New Labour.

The chance of winning that golden ticket, or even a pewter one is decreasing. Education is key they said, pfffft. (See my sig)

The thing is though by R Mutt (4.00 / 4) #24 Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:09:22 AM EST
That the traditional socialist means haven't really led to traditional socialist ends. It's precisely where Blair/Brown have been most traditionally socialist in their methods that they've been least effective.

Example 1: Education. In the UK, grammar schools and their selection of the brightest of the working class have been the biggest agent of upward social mobility. Labour hasn't abolished them, but have discouraged selection. The result is less mobility: if you live in a poor area you go to a poor school and get a poor education. If you live in a middle-class area, you get to go to a decent school and get a decent education

Example 2: the NHS. Despite a bit of pseudo-market tinkering, they haven't privatized the NHS. They've done exactly what the left wanted through the Eighties: injected vast amounts of money into a command-and-control system. It's produced modest improvements, but nothing like the imagined utopia.

It's easy to say that Blair and Brown have betrayed socialism. But once you start looking at the detail, it's where they've been least socialist that they've been most effective, and where they've been most socialist that they've been least effective.

[ Parent ]
Example 2: by The Lord God (2.00 / 0) #34 Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:09:17 PM EST
Can I shout "PFI" right now?

Too late.

The NHS is in more of a mess than I think you understand; and the improvements are in fact illusions, delusions and general trickery.

[ Parent ]
PFI by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #38 Thu May 17, 2007 at 11:22:18 PM EST
Doesn't really impinge on the actual treating-sick-people core area: it's mostly about new buildings, catering and that sort of thing.

And while that's been expensive, it hasn't been that ineffective: the new stuff is getting built. It's the treating-sick-people thing that has shown only modest improvement.

If you look at overall numbers, the NHS employed 27% more people in 2006 than 1996. That's a human wave of 280,000 more staff including more doctors (up from 86,584 to 126,251) and more nurses (up from 319,151 to 398,335). If that hasn't worked, it's not lack of resources, and it's not the fault of PFI.

[ Parent ]
My concern by The Lord God (2.00 / 0) #53 Tue May 22, 2007 at 10:51:48 AM EST
I see such that the likes of PFI introduce 'hooks' that leads to treating patients as customers, consumers and statistical lists. Not so much as a direct attitudal reversion, or blantant privatisation; but rather a gradual erosion whereby micromanagement is further introduced due to specific concerns and justifications for the extra costs that PFI and such entail -- in particular the political hoo-har regarding return on investment. Any externalisation will neccessitate offsetting of expenditure and an addition of further scrutiny that, as the staff themselves are saying, impede on their performance towards the patient. Jumps and flaming hoops...

Much has been said of the improvements towards patients, but it is becoming increasingly clear that these are statistical and subject to manipulation that all the micromanagemental loop-holes allow.

"If that hasn't worked, it's not lack of resources, and it's not the fault of PFI" ...

This is tellingly true; the NHS is fundamentally collapsing simply because those that wish to score political points are top-down directing into something it simply isn't able to follow.

The best example I can give, and I apologise since The Lord God is drunk right now, is the max-4 hour A&E wait; something which is hailed as a success. However, every doctor is saying that they're reducing front-line care and are essentially ordered to manipulate rules. All the doctors want is this: rationing. E.g. priority based flow of patients. If you have to wait 35 hours for a non-issue, maybe you'd learn not to waste your own time as well as the NHS'. However, that's a political no-no.

The only other thing that is bewildering is that despite the staff increase and the additions to NHS structures, smaller places are being closed left-right-and-centre, especially in Wales. Super-hospitals, super-schools... heh. The cog/machine argument is increasingly understandable.


[ Parent ]
That's spot on by Phage (2.00 / 0) #37 Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:23:34 PM EST
In fact I had exactly those points come up in a conversation with one of my minions inspired by DT's post.
I vote for the introduction of a private health care system where those people in the top tax bracket are forced to be privately insured. The Australian system...

[ Parent ]
I love by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #55 Thu May 24, 2007 at 03:16:32 AM EST
Paying tax on my private health insurance.

[ Parent ]
Only in the developed world by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #23 Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:08:06 AM EST
We actually rely on it for our cheap goods.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Be careful by Phage (2.00 / 0) #27 Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:31:36 AM EST
there was almost a well thought and positive comment in there. What will that do for your reputation ?

[ Parent ]
Not at all, by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #31 Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:04:26 AM EST
there was a ratio of about 7 assertions to a fact, if I calculated correctly.

[ Parent ]
so, by garlic (2.00 / 0) #33 Thu May 17, 2007 at 11:43:04 AM EST
he's at slozo's level then. That's some sort of improvement.

[ Parent ]
Socialism is internationalist by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #39 Fri May 18, 2007 at 01:04:04 AM EST
You can't really say it has failed or has no use without looking at how the world economy works.

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
the full fruits of their industry by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 12) #30 Thu May 17, 2007 at 08:30:37 AM EST

I don't know enough history to read between the lines of a text written in 1917. On the other hand the traditional model of a merchant venture is that a capitalist buys some stock, hires some workers, sells the fruits of their labour, and makes a profit or a loss. The fruits of industry are shared between capital and labour. In this reading full is a weasel word: clause four is actually saying "expropriate the bastards".

I also worried by "the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible". What are the limits of the possible?

For some people it will be just obvious that industry needs differentials and incentives. The charge hand is paid more than the labourer. The foreman is paid more than the charge hand. The skilled workman is paid more than the unskilled. The necessity of what is needed limits the possible.

Others will see no need for wages to depend on responsibility or skill. Obviously a family man needs enough to feed his family, while a single man can do with less. Beyond that, no inequality is necessary.

There is an unbreakable link between our roles as consumer and producer: in aggregate we must produce what we would consume. If a line of work is less popular than in the past (perhaps there are new and pleasanter alternatives) how can the economy adjust to the shortage of workers? Employers can raise wages hoping to attract more workers. Shoppers cannot shop around to avoid the employers passing on the wage increase in higher prices because all the employers are recruiting from the same pool.

Perhaps as consumers we are not willing to pay extra. In that case the labour shortage is met by reduced production and reduced consumption. Or perhaps we love the goods that we are ourselves reluctant to produce and do pay the higher prices needed to fund the higher wages needed to recruit some of us to the work. Either way supply is matched to demand and the workers are matched to the jobs that need doing.

Well that is the capitalist/free-market fantasy of how it is supposed to work and a pretty unrealistic fantasy it is. Nevertheless there are feed back mechanisms and they point in the right directions.

I've watched out for how this is supposed to work under socialism. Socialists don't seem to have any story to tell at all. I respect and admire Tony Benn for facing the difficulty and trying to give an answer. His idea is radical democracy. We will have big meetings, lengthy discussions, and thrash out the answers we need. I cannot see it working at all.

Return to "the full fruits of their industry", there is another issue about capital formation. Capitalism has a feedback loop. The incompetent capitalists tend over time to command less capital, while the competent capitalists tend to command more. Marx saw this as a contradiction. Society would be dominated by a handful of super-rich. Well, maybe, but that feedback, of funding success rather than failure, is vital. Socialism has never had an equivalent mechanism, merely some hand waving about trusting experts.

Oh dear, I've ended up being much more controversial than I intended. I really want to make a fairly modest point, and I've probably failed already by prefacing it in such a combative way. Sorry.

The point I really want to make is that a political creed needs a story about how society is supposed to work. It needs to be a good story, and it needs to be good in three ways:

  1. It should describe a good society, one we want to live int.
  2. It should make good sense, there should be a good chance it will actually work
  3. It should go into a good deal of detail, following through the workings of good mechanisms. Who mends the sewers? Who will mend the sewers in 50 years time? What is the mechanism so that society just works and we are not always having big meetings to argue and improvise from crisis to crisis.
I think that Socialism was killed by its own theoretical weakness. It didn't have good enough answers.

I think that a revival of socialism is inevitable, for two simple reasons. First capitalism sucks. It works fairly badly in practise. Second the people who have lived through the socialist experiment and have wept the bitter tears when it worked even worse than capitalism are growing old and dieing. Soon the practical problems of socialism will be forgotten.

So it will revive. But will it merely be a cyclical revival, repeating tragedy as farce? The important question is how to avoid that.

The internal contradiction that nobody likes to talk about is the contradiction between our roles as producer and consumer. We want wages to be low so that goods are cheap and we can buy more for our money. We want wages to be high so that we have more money to spend. We want technological improvements in productivity so that goods are produced with less labour and more cheaply. We don't want improved productivity and job losses at our work place. (and we don't want to be wasting our life on pointless busy work, so we want to be able to believe that we are modern and efficient even if we are not)

The theoretical weakness of socialism was manifest in this very contradiction. We had a trades-union/producer version of socialism. In protecting the workers against the bosses it also protected the workers against the consumers. But the workers and the consumers are the same people. Socialism didn't make sense.

Under capitalism the tension between our roles as producers and consumers is resolved by linking the markets for goods with the markets for labour via companies that, being private, have no claim on the public purse to subsidise wages or prices. This works fairly badly. Critics jump on the difficulties and rush to reorganise society on more rational lines.

In their haste, people fail to notice that the problem which capitalism solves so poorly is difficult and subtle. The revival of socialism depends on addressing this problem squarely and finding a good answer.

Blimey. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #32 Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:36:50 AM EST
That comment was nothing short of excellent.

[ Parent ]
Seconded by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #44 Fri May 18, 2007 at 05:32:35 AM EST
The comment should be VS2FP in itself.

I can't say I regret the demise of Socialism, but far from disappearing, Tony and Gordon have dressed it up with go-faster stripes and alloy wheels. The government share of taxation to "redistribute" has gone upwards sharply by means of "smoke and mirrors", and people are noticing.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
Spin by Breaker (4.00 / 2) #48 Fri May 18, 2007 at 06:52:01 AM EST
Nowadays, it seems the word "redistribute" when applied to tax means "squeeze the middle class then piss the lot up the wall in illfated trendy sounding projects".

[ Parent ]
Context? by R Mutt (4.00 / 2) #49 Fri May 18, 2007 at 07:06:30 AM EST
There was an interesting article today:
Labour's decade in power has failed to reverse the surge in inequality under Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown's policies to support the less well-off are failing to prevent the gap between rich and poor widening again, official figures showed yesterday.

The snapshot of the impact of taxes and benefits on households showed that the trend for those on the highest incomes to receive the biggest pay rises was outweighing the impact of tax credits, the minimum wage and extra spending on schools, hospitals and welfare benefits.

Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that without the redistributive measures Mr Brown has introduced, the UK would be a far more unequal society. However, the gulf that opened up under Mrs Thatcher remains almost the same as when she left office at the end of 1990.

It's not really true that Blair/Brown are actually reducing your wealth-differential with the plebs. They're just stopping you from increasing it to the level you'd like.

[ Parent ]
Not sure I agree by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #54 Thu May 24, 2007 at 02:14:02 AM EST
I think as a result of NuLabia, the rich are still getting richer, but the middle is being squeezed rather than the well off. They're reducing the wealth differential of the middle class with the plebs, not that of the rich v the plebs.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
Define "rich". by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #57 Thu May 24, 2007 at 03:21:09 AM EST
Many people have different boundaries on where that lies.

But yes, the middle class is getting squeezed and nothing returned to them. 

Will middle England have the bollocks to can GTLSB and his cronies in 2008?

[ Parent ]
Difficult to do exactly by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #58 Thu May 24, 2007 at 04:06:29 AM EST
Family Income < £30k   Lower
Family Income < £100k  Middle
Family Income > £100k  "Rich"

I'm not too rigid on these boundaries, and this is "class by wealth", not "class by position in society". Limits should be adjusted up/down by region (up for SE, down for NE)

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
Dude, WTF? by R Mutt (2.00 / 1) #59 Thu May 24, 2007 at 05:01:26 AM EST
Median household income in the UK is £24,700 (in 2004/2005)

Your "middle class" starts way above the average.

I think you're using a kind of Times/Telegraph definition of "middle class", to mean people in maybe the top 5% of earners but not the top 0.1%... the nanny, country cottage and private school brigade. And yes, for that definition of "middle class" they're probably being squeezed a bit in favour of the 95% "lower class".

[ Parent ]
Power to the people! by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #61 Thu May 24, 2007 at 05:03:50 AM EST
Let them pay tax at 40% as well then!  It'd be a great social leveller.

[ Parent ]
I can't embed images from here by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #62 Thu May 24, 2007 at 05:16:36 AM EST
But take a look at the graph halfway down this page, "Distribution of Real Disposable Household Income".

That covers the 10th, 50th and 90th percentile, and I'm really not seeing a lot of change over time in their relative positions.

Can you cite any actual evidence of this alleged redistribution?

[ Parent ]
I call shenanigans by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #63 Thu May 24, 2007 at 06:32:21 AM EST
That diagram is not inflation adjusted, and stops at 2004.  Which is largely when GTLSB's drag taxes really started biting.

[ Parent ]
Is too by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #65 Thu May 24, 2007 at 06:53:54 AM EST
"Real" usually translates to "inflation adjusted". If you look at a calculator, £1 in 1971 equates to £8.45 today. If that graph wasn't adjusted for inflation, even the blue line would leap from the bottom to over the top of the graph.

But hey, don't rely on my figures. Show me your own.

[ Parent ]
Some more numbers for you by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #66 Thu May 24, 2007 at 07:11:39 AM EST
Concealed in another hate piece.

[ Parent ]
Ah, 'Middle class inflation' again by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #68 Thu May 24, 2007 at 07:39:03 AM EST
We've been through that before: it was debunked here.

I'm not seeing much convincing evidence here. All these articles seem to do is scatter a couple of anecdotes about school fees and the like, take a quick look at the tax rates of the top earners, ignore the fact those guys are earning more in the first place, then wail in anguished self-pity.

Also, Let's look at the "what is middle-class" thing again. Going back to the graph, rounding up the 90% line percentile to £700 per week and annualizing, that makes £36,400 the household income of the top tenth. That article mentions £34,600 as a specific figure (for an individual, not a household). So, even if you believe in "middle class inflation", it's only affecting a small fraction of the population, the "middle class" being around the richest 10%.

[ Parent ]
Yeah but no but yeah but no but by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #70 Thu May 24, 2007 at 08:10:57 AM EST
You claim there's no middle class inflation, then concede it is affecting ~10%.  In any case, I'm not arguing that inflation is hurting the middle classes, just direct and indirect taxation. 

Even the CPI ignores a whopping 7% annual increase in council taxes.

In any case, that article I linked to was more for the taxation, not inflation.  Regardless of whether middle class inflation is actually happening, taxation is increasing.

[ Parent ]
Not at all by R Mutt (3.00 / 2) #72 Thu May 24, 2007 at 09:35:01 AM EST
I don't believe in "middle class inflation".

But even if you do believe in it, it's important to realise that the "middle class" referred to is people in roughly the 90% income percentile and up. Not the roughly 33% to 66% group that one might naively expect "middle class" to mean.

[ Parent ]
Some interesting reading by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #64 Thu May 24, 2007 at 06:52:29 AM EST
Although sadly no pretty diagrams and this is largely a hatchet piece until the final third or so.

[ Parent ]
Neither of those seem to change the point by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #67 Thu May 24, 2007 at 07:15:07 AM EST
To summarize my earlier post: Blair/Brown have introduced modest redistributive measures, but those have been outweighed by other rises in inequality.

So, the redistributive measures have not led to a redistributive outcome.

Both those article focus on the measures without looking at outcomes. They look at the proportion of tax that the upper and "middle" groups are paying, but ignore the inconvenient fact that those groups have a lot more wealth to pay tax on.

Blair/Brown have not actually made you any worse off. They've just stopped you from becoming as much better off as you'd like to be.

[ Parent ]
In summary... by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #69 Thu May 24, 2007 at 07:48:31 AM EST
Of my previous posts, and in agreement with what you've written above, I'm taxed more and that tax is not making it to the intended target.

"They look at the proportion of tax that the upper and "middle" groups are paying, but ignore the inconvenient fact that those groups have a lot more wealth to pay tax on."
So, I'm paying a higher proportion on a larger sum of money.  For which I get nothing, not even some semblance of warm fuzzies that I'm clearly helping my fellow man.  It's a bit like paying for a business class seat on a plane but ending up with Ryanair style service.  And the burden of taxation is only going to get heavier.

"Blair/Brown have not actually made you any worse off."
Actually, yes they have.  In fact, if you look at that graph, it almost exactly shows when a Tory or Labour government was in power.  I am paying more tax under a Labour government.

And if you look at this graph you'll see a steady increase in people emigrating from UKia.  Under a Labour government.

[ Parent ]
No, they have not by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #71 Thu May 24, 2007 at 09:32:11 AM EST
First, consider the nightmare scenario: a government DullTrev approves of is elected. What might happen? Well, your income might go up by £1000 but you'd be paying £2000 more in tax. That would be a redistributive outcome, and you could genuinely conclude: "I am worse off."

Now consider what actually happened. Your income went up by £1000, and the amount of tax you paid went up by less: say £500. You are not genuinely worse off.

Well, not compared with what actually happened. Instead, you seem to be comparing yourself to some unstated alternate universe outcome, and saying "I'm better off than I was, but worse off than that."

So let's look a bit closer at this alternate universe. The criterion you are applying is that you are paying a higher proportion of tax than you were in the Major years.

So what would have happened if the Conservatives had won the election? Well even the Conservatives, like the US Republicans, still hold to progressive taxation: that is, you pay a higher rate if you're richer.

So, of the extra £1000 you earn in that Universe, all of it would be in the 40% band. Of your other income, some of it would be in the lower bands. Therefore, even if the Conservatives had won the election, you would still be paying a higher proportion of tax. Not quite as high as now, but it woulds still break your criterion, and so you could still whine on about how you're being brutally oppressed by Majitler (or whatever other amusing name you'd come up with).

I'm not sure what the immigration/emigration graph is supposed to prove, since they're both increasing. The rise and expansion of the EU? The fall of the Iron Curtain? Increasing globalization? All of those would increase movement.

[ Parent ]
In fact by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #73 Thu May 24, 2007 at 10:04:40 AM EST
I was earning roughly what I do today under Major, and I am paying more tax today than I was then.  About 500 quid per month, although 100 of that is in additional taxable benefits I now receive as part of my salary.

Now, what I'm whining about is not only the amount of tax I'm paying but moreso that it's being squandered.  As I said before, if the government had actually done a good job of spending that money effectively then I'd have my nose far less out of joint.

The graph is to show that emigration is on the rise in the UK and has been consistently rising since NuLabia came to power.  How many of those are leaving because they've had enough of this sorry excuse of a government?

[ Parent ]
If the graph showed net emigration by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #74 Thu May 24, 2007 at 11:18:27 PM EST
You might have a point. However, the graph shows both immigration and emigration increasing, which is not evidence of a judgement that the UK is not worth living in: it simply points to greater mobility.

Well, instead of "you" read "the average rich-ish person". Didn't you decide to change jobs to one that let you get to the pub before 10PM or so? Also the tail end of the 90s saw the combination of the Y2K bug and the first dot-com bubble, which temporarily pushed up IT wages to unsustainable levels: it's not Blair/Brown's fault that IT wages came down afterwards.

The lack of perceived improvement from the spending increase is something you and DullTrev agree on. However, since the money is being ploughed back into the economy, it doesn't really equate to the UK population as a whole, or the average person, being made "worse off".

[ Parent ]
Mobility, yes by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #75 Fri May 25, 2007 at 12:53:45 AM EST
An how much of the influx is from the newly admitted Eastern European states?  That's going to inflate the figures somewhat...

Yes I did change jobs but my salary remained the same. 

The money is being ploughed back into the economy; however portions of that make their way overseas in profit to the likes of EDS etc...

[ Parent ]
I always go by by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #60 Thu May 24, 2007 at 05:02:55 AM EST
"rich" being defined by people as "earning more money than myself".

So calls for "tax the rich" are largely self serving.

[ Parent ]
I'm not fussed with the differential by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #56 Thu May 24, 2007 at 03:18:51 AM EST
Just with the fact that my earnings are being raided and squandered.

If NuLabia managed to revamp the NHS to be a world class healthcare offering, eliminate waste in the civil service and actually deliver value for money on my tax then I doubt I'd be that wound up.

But basically getting screwed on my tax bill with effectively nothing to show for it grates my carrot.

[ Parent ]
So by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #35 Thu May 17, 2007 at 01:08:41 PM EST
Did your town have a Colliery Brass band?

I don't think you realize by ObviousTroll (4.00 / 1) #51 Sat May 19, 2007 at 02:11:13 PM EST
how far the socialists have shifted the goalposts in Europe. Ponder for a moment how our "left wing" party is more conservative than your "right wing" party - and what that means.

Socialism fails to achieve it's goals because it assumes that the government is benevolent - but that doesn't mean it hasn't changed the world.

Cur etiam hic es?

The USian left-wing party is more conservative by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #52 Mon May 21, 2007 at 09:28:06 AM EST
than the right-wing party in many ways.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
I logged in just to say: by LilDebbie (4.00 / 1) #76 Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 07:46:07 PM EST
Good riddance.

Your idiotic, "dreamer" ideology led to the deaths of millions at the hands of men and women who would speak sweet lies of solidarity as they engaged in the exact same hoarding you see in every human being. Instead of rewarding those who contributed most to the commonweal by creating wealth, you rewarded those who stole it by means of the oldest con. Congratulations, you're fucking retarded.

Now tell me why ethanol subsidies are a great idea for the environment while the price of food marches ever upward.

Astro Pulp. Updated Mondays. Usually.

The Death of Socialism | 70 comments (70 topical, 0 hidden)