We live in reactionary times. Times, in which, the political left appears to be unable to respond to the dominance of the political right. Capitalism is everywhere triumphant. The left is in crisis. So what has happened?
Firstly we need to go back to 1989 the year in which the Soviet Union collapsed. The champagne corks must have been popping in every capitalist boardroom. Why? because as long as the Soviet Union existed it was possible to believe in a viable alternative to capitalism. That gave the left an awful lot of strength. There isn't the time and space here to go into the pro's and cons of the Soviet Union. Was it really a workers state? Was it state capitalism? Was it just a brutal dictatorship? Suffice to say the Soviet Union was not a bad as Western Capitalist propaganda made it seem. People had housing and healthcare and it was a much more equal society than anything we have ever experienced. An awful lot of good people gave their lives trying to create a better world. Their efforts deserve to be acknowledged.
But back to the left. After 1989 it became seized with doubt - trapped like a rabbit in the headlights of the oncoming capitalist juggernaut. But how did things fold so easily? I think there are a number of reasons. One key one is the fact that a lot of the old Marxists and Socialists, people like E P Thompson simply died out. The people who replaced them didn't have the experience of war, conflict and struggle that those those old Socialists did, they were tough cookies. Socialists had gone soft and Socialist politicians in Europe had been sucked into the Eurocracy, expense accounts, and (largely) meaningless debates in Strasbourg.
So where do we go now? What next for the left? Well socialism of course! But hang on isn't that a bit 20th century? Isn't socialism dead as Martin Kettle claimed recently? Well no it isn't. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of socialism; Socialism with a big 'S' and socialism with a small 's'. Socialism with a big 'S' - the Socialism that arose from the work of people like Marx, Engels and Lenin. By the the late 1960s Socialism had become dogmatic, doctrinaire and sterile That does not mean that Marx, for example, was dogmatic, just that Socialism had become riddled with a particularly deadening kind of dogmatism. Socialism had ceased to be empowering and vibrant. Changing economic circumstances and disillusionment with the Soviet Union helped to bring about the decline of this mainstream Socialism.
But socialism with a small 's' is, and always has been, alive and well. Socialist ideas pre-date Marx by a very long time. Wat Tyler was a socialist, so was John Lilliburne. Because socialism with a small 's' is simply the politics of putting people first - of need not greed. You don't need to have read Das Kapital to understand that kind of socialism - anyone can.
Of course Socialism is so unpopular that some people believe the 's' word should never be mentioned. If they can think of a better word to describe the politics of need not greed then I'd like to hear it. 'Progressive' politics just isn't enough. If David Cameron can call himself a progressive - he's not really - then that's a good reason for not using the word. The fact that Cameron would never dream of calling himself a socialist is good enough for me.
To be honest I'm glad that doctrinaire Socialism is dead. Too much focus on theory, rather than practice, too much self indulgence, too many varieties, too many meetings, too much sectarianism - too much baggage by half. We need to learn from the mistakes that Socialists made in the past without underestimating the great value and contribution of socialists like Marx. We need to unite and move forward with the simple politics of social, economic and environmental justice. That's what socialism, at its core, is really about.