Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The way forward for the left

Where to start? When did left politics really start? For me it was the 17th Century during the English Revolution - better known as the English Civil War, with people like the Levellers and the Diggers. Since that time there has been the French Revolution, and many exponents of socialism who worked hard to create a better world thorough economic and social equality. In more recent times the Bolsheviks tried through the Russian revolution. Although the Bolsheviks were only one of many left factions during the revolution, they seized power and became the Communist Party. There is too much history to recount in this post but I have no doubt that the vast majority of Bolsheviks were well-meaning people who worked hard and, in many cases, risked their lives to build a socialist society. There are many criticisms we could make of these people with the benefit of hindsight but the point is to keep moving forward and try to determine how we can build socialism in the modern world.

The point of socialism is not just to build a society based on democracy, social and economic justice but to take the majority of people with us and create a society in which everyone can feel fulfilled. The Soviet model failed. Lets not underestimate the fact that it didn't just fall because of internal problems - there were people working very hard from without to bring about its downfall. But the model of central planning adopted in the Soviet Union didn't work. Well, actually, it worked well for quite a while but in the end it didn't cater for peoples needs and aspirations - couple that with a repressive state apparatus and you have a recipe for failure.

So what is the answer? Is it the kind of socialism promoted by Chavez in Venezuela? Building socialism overnight just can't happen, any fundamental change has to be a long term project. I don't underestimate Chavez but I have become convinced after 40 years of involvement in socialist activism and ideas that the way forward is not primarily political. What? Isn't socialism all about politics ? Of course but its also about fundamental change and any fundamental change has primarily to be about creating a new kind of economy - a democratic economy which empowers ordinary people and puts them in charge of their own economic destiny.

Its ironic that it should be Clinton's election campaign that coined the key phrase - "Its the economy stupid!", and that's exactly what it is about. Capitalists control the world because they control the world economy. If we want to break that power we have to put the world's economy back into the hands of the people. You don't do that by state planning. Of course that is exactly what Marx was saying but socialists seem to have lost the point. It's not political power that matters ultimately but economic power.

The way to put the economy back into the hands of people is by mutualism. Democratic co-operatives owned and controlled by workers. There is nothing that capitalist corporations can do that co-operatives can't - and they can do it better. To achieve socialism we have to cut capitalism off at the knees by putting the economy into the hands of the people, not the state. Co-operatives can't be outsourced, they can't be bought and sold like commodities, they benefit not just workers but the communities they operate in. They give people control over their own lives and a real stake in a socialist society. They demonstrate that there is a real and viable alternative to capitalism in terms of wealth creation.

Of course, there is more to it than that. We will still need a state, even if it is just a federation of communities, we need to control the creation of money through state and mutual banks and credit unions, and we will need common services. There is nothing new about it - Robert Owen tried to do it nearly 200 years ago - but it is the way forward. If you want to build socialism now, go out, start a co-op and start creating wealth for yourself and your community. In the end that will do more to create socialism that demonstrations, strikes or interminable meetings.

No comments: