Wednesday, 3 May 2017

What should a socialist do?

We live in a capitalist world. To aspire to or campaign for an isolated socialist model is unrealistic. No successful socialist state has yet to be experienced. But this knowledge does not mean that one has to like this truth. I want citizens to have ownership of crucial infrastructure and services; to enjoy equal opportunities for good housing, healthcare and education; to live free from discrimination in a fair society; and to share in the fruits of work. I am a socialist.

The essence of capitalism as an economic theory is that wealth creation must lead to more to go around. Over centuries as economies have grown, ever fewer people, it is true, are in absolute poverty but the reality is that the “going around” fails.  The economies of the most advanced nations are deeply unfair and unequal. Those who have the capital get more. Those who are employed to grow it do not. The desire for perpetual growth of capital leads to the retention of what should “go around” for those who have it to reinvest or, as dividend, to reward the brilliance of their decisions to enrich themselves. But it is no fault or disgrace not to be wealthy – merely the fall of the dice. For most of history, over 90% of populations everywhere have lacked any assets whatsoever, whilst those who have them pass them on at their own discretion.

There is surely a legitimate case for those of a socialist mindset not to attempt the replacement of capitalism but to mollify it; to demand the sharing around. In the capitalist world, “tax” is a dirty word. It suggests to those who like keeping all they acquire sharing some of their gains with those who either worked to create them or missed out on opportunities in life. Yet even for the Right the State has roles to perform, which they accept as requiring funding via the tax system. Defence and the justice system are commonly accepted uses for tax revenues, for example. Capitalists need educated workers to help grow their wealth, good transport, water supply and sewage systems. Socialists want that wealth more fairly distributed. So the key function of political discourse must be deciding the extent of the roles the State and thus the level of taxation required. Discourse, by its very nature, must allow for other ideas and beliefs. This discourse must begin with acceptance that taxation is an essential, ethical part of a democracy they should be proud to contribute rather than a dirty word.

Even if one’s vote counts for nothing, because of where one lives or because politics fails us, it is still possible and important that the discourse occurs, if only as a check on the anti-tax, anti-State brigade. We must recognise that the less the State is funded, not only the fewer public services will be afforded but also the more the State itself can be rejected or undervalued, opening the way for the Trumps, Le Pens and Goves. For those who care more for the needs of those in society who have not been blessed with capital, the use of tax to fund public assets and services is essential. This is what makes socialists continue to exist and to try to influence politics, but not, generally, to bring capitalism down. Anyway, why should anyone with socialist values deny these simply because they are in a minority? One day we may not be.

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