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23 July 2007

Socialism – what is it?

Often dismissed as idealism, socialism has values and a vision that are too practical to ignore

By Zain Sardar

Socialism, for me, is not merely a socio-economic/political system, but way of looking at the world. At the heart of socialism lie the ideas of change, togetherness and friendship. Leon Trotsky puts it in a way that speaks to me for its brevity ‘Socialism, if it is worthy of the name, means human relations without greed, friendships without envy and intrigue, love without base calculation’ (‘The revolution betrayed’ pg 117).

Its main conceptual principles correspond to this; equality, cooperation and community. Socialism, a primarily egalitarian system, has as its central point equality of outcome. We all require certain basic material things in life- food, a home to live in, clothes…etc, and these things should be had by everyone. Hence, if people had the basic needs that human beings require at least to live a reasonably comfortable existence, the gap between the rich and poor would be greatly reduced. To push up the standard of living of those in utmost poverty (by ensuring they have basic needs); money needs to come from somewhere; one of the most popular forms is through a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Additionally, nationalisation of industries and businesses and the management of companies by the working class can create equality. In this way, goods and products can be distributed to people in terms of what they need, or need basis. This replaces the need to sell products for profit or selfish ends as all of humanity benefits here.

The way a society like this will be run is through the cooperation of everybody in running society, both democratically through direct democracy within the community or communes and in the workplace. The sense of community and cooperation is important in a socialist society as, as John Donne eloquently put it, ‘no man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’.

Although these key ideas are particularly salient within socialist thought, the implementation of them in society, through policies, changes from society to society depending on what the state thinks is the best way to practice socialism. The end result of socialism is what Marx envisioned as the ‘withering away’ of the state and the emergence of a classless society with no social antagonisms- or communism. He saw this as the ‘end of history.’

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This thus leads may people to take the viewpoint that socialism is an idealistic creed that is totally out of sync with reality. However, it is clear from years gone past that idealists have a continued strength through history; they have continued to struggle for socialism, to resist the injustices of society and fight for change. Tony Benn sums this up well when he said in modern society he sees ‘two burning lights’ the light of anger over injustices and the light of hope (Marxism 2007). Socialism is thus the emancipation from the injustices of the capitalism system; greed, profit, poverty…etc. It is the understanding that what unites human beings is deep rooted and differences only appear on the surface, socialism is a love for one another widened in a way to structure society.

Marx’s ideal society is most definitely utopian, that I don’t deny. It resembles a Platonic ideal form or perfect entity/ concept floating around in space, of which reality is only a pale imitation. True, we will never get to this ideal society, but what does it matter? It acts as a target for the continued self-improvement of society, we can reach out and strive to get as close as we can to this ideal society, even if we’ll never get there. What this doesn’t mean is that the end justifies the means. For all the good of Marx, all-encompassing systems should never distract from the people socialism is meant to benefit. Socialism then, fills me with the hope that, as John McDonnell’s Labour Party leadership campaign slogan has it, “another world is possible”.

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