Nothing has challenged people more in society than the question of how we can implement policies to work towards a socialist ‘historical phase’, as Marx would have it, and also the problems related to it.
Common critical responses of socialism centre on the injustice of redistributing wealth, and the idea that it is simply ‘stealing’ by the state. However, it seems most people would endorse a redistribution of wealth. John Rawls argued that given the choice, a person, hypothetically, who didn’t know what kind of society he was going to be placed in would choose an egalitarian society over a more unequal one. The latter society would be a huge gamble; you could end up in destitute poverty or hugely rich and prosperous. Even those that are the powerful elite of society would choose an egalitarian society over an unequal one as the fear of poverty greatly outstrips the greatness of wealth. And certainly, inequality has increased dramatically over the last few years.
Another criticism is that there would be a lack of motivation in a socialist society. The key to answering this critique lies in the growth of science and technology in the future; the means of production may well be revolutionised (especially because of the dramatic growth of technology over the last few years). In the future, working hours could be reduced so we can spend more time participating in direct democracy. Once working hours are reduced, we will suffer less from the alienation, dissatisfaction and the demotivation that many people (especially a lot of working-class people) face in their work. In contemporary society, the tiresome monotony of the workplace contributes to a great sense dehumanisation, much in the same way that workers in factories were during the industrial revolution. When people get an active opportunity to structure society for themselves, they can decide the road a future society takes, keep their freedom and thus not be coerced into anything.
The only way that socialism will come about is by activism; taking an active part in shaping the world around you and so shaping the way socialism will come about it in the future. In universities, thousands of students are joining in the campaign against tuition fees, are part of the CND (campaign for nuclear disarmament), anti-privatisation, anti-fascism and anti-racism movements. It’s through these small campaigns and social movements that the true ideas of socialism will spread and we’ll come to realise the power of working together rather than against each other.
It’s incredible what people can achieve when they present a united front, as was shown in France when the working classes, students and professors all revolted against proposed employment laws. These were proposed by the French government in 2006; known as the ‘first employment contract’ they were designed to encourage employers to hire young people by allowing them to fire anyone under 26 with no notice during their first two years of work. The French government eventually succumbed to those who opposed the laws and so scrapped them. In contrast to those French workers, students and professors who actively protested against their government, what we can see in the world at the moment is the many left-wing intellectuals and their atomisation from each other. They show their unwillingness to bring their different ideas together with other people of like persuasion to form a significant movement for social change.
In many ways socialism has parallels with religion, hence the existence of ‘Christian Socialism’ as an ideology. Many people see socialism as a Christian morality in a political and economic form. There is certainly an ethical basis for socialism as seen by the humanistic side of it. In a way, it complements religion and helps us understand the world around us. In this way the ideas of socialism have assisted in my personal growth; it’s made me understand what is really important and meaningful in life.
Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “man is born free but is everywhere in chains”. This is certainly something that is true today; I believe we can break those chains!