Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Socialist Way (Part 1)

William Morris

Welcome to my blog "The Socialist Way" I hope all who read or stumble upon it, find enlightenment, understanding and debate but above all else join me in the quest to work for a much better world.

A world that is demanding change

In this world of plenty millions of children die each and every year of starvation while the billionaires spare themselves no indulgence. Meanwhile, ever new weapons of death and destruction are produced they say for our "security and protection".

People say that we socialists are Utopian because we hold to the view that a new society is the only lasting solution to the mess we're in, this can and must be achieved democratically. They say the world is heading for disaster, they say it's better to try to make smaller changes than go all out for socialism and perhaps change nothing". We are called Utopians because we dare to suggest that we could all together run our lives in a much more harmonious way, instead of succumbing to the persisting view that things must just carry on more or less as they are. At root, the critics see socialism as just an idea, perhaps even a nice idea, but one that is not likely to materialise. From their perspective we are mad even to sketch out what a better society could be like and should limit ourselves to short term changes such as bringing down interest rates, or getting rid of certain type of a missile, which might improve things somehow.

Utopians and Socialists

Part of the confusion about the meaning of the term utopia comes from it's use in Thomas More's book of the same name. The word is a pun; eu in Ancient Greek meaning "good", (o)u meaning "no", and topos meaning "place", James Joyce uses the topos of the Wandering Jew in his Ulysses". This definition implies that a utopia is a good place that doesn't exist, much like the land described in the Big Rock Candy Mountains. Many books have outlined utopia, the most famous being News from Nowhere by William Morris or as I call him Bill.

Bill painted a picture of classless, stateless, moneyless society and many political books have Utopian elements, features that the writer sees as desirable in a "good" society. Even a book of Mrs Thatcher's (milk snatcher) speeches might have Utopian elements in it, for some people.

There has been a tradition in socialist writing going back to Marx ans Engels of avoiding too much detail about what socialism would be like (although there was a great deal of agreement about socialism meaning a moneyless classless society). When Marx and Engels labelled earlier socialists (like Robert Owen) Utopians, they simply meant that their ideas were before their time. Earlier socialists wanted a world of abundance and co-operation before there was a sufficient level of political consciousness and technology to support such a society; so they drifted into fantasies with no real basis in the world. It wasn't that Marx and Engels thought that you should never talk about what socialism was, but rather that talking about it made no difference until the other requirements had been met.

The idea of socialism stopped being Utopian (in the sense of an unrealisable dream) for Marx and Engels once capitalism had developed sufficiently to allow the working class to become politically organised, and when the level of industrial technology brought the potential to produce an abundance of goods to meet every one's needs. Today in the twenty first century and the advanced level of technology that now exists is a real basis for a truly free co-operative society. There's certainly nothing unreal about suggesting that we could organise a better world now. The real dreamers are those who refuse to describe the sort of society that they're after, but muddle along hoping that this or that reform will somehow make the profit system behave humanely-something it has never done before.
The Real
So who is being unrealistic? Some people on the left won't even say what socialism is, because they think that any account of a future society is a waste of time and that we should concern ourselves with present-day struggles. But unless you do talk about where you'r going, how will you know when you've arrived?

Reform Is In The Windmills Of Your Mind

Like a circle in a spiral

Like a wheel within a wheel

Never ending or beginning

On an ever spining wheel

As the images unwind

Like the circles that you find

In the windmills of your mind.

Like a tunnel that you follow

To a tunnel of its own

Down a hollow to a cavern

Where the sun has never shone

Like a door that keeps revolving

In a half forgotten dream

Or the ripples from a pebble

Someone tosses in a stream.

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