Tom Craven on Australian Socialism.
Socialism, both as an ideal and in practice, is not as accessible as it once was to the ordinary person. Gone are the days when large tracts of the working and lower middle class held hidden dreams of a more socialist world, and gone are the days when centre-left parties were actually left. The decline of socialism in the Australian political spectrum is not only a response to global circumstances, such as the gradual collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in China, but is also due to the types of socialists that the average person encounters.
In an ordinary Australian’s life the only contact they may have with ‘socialist’ groups is usually limited to seeing hardcore feminists on TV, or activists at universities handing out pamphlets against nuclear weapons or on the merits of carbon capping. More contact may come in the form of social and environmental campaigns similar to the aforementioned. Although these kinds of activities are important to improving a society, they can at times actually detract from the socialist cause. The stereotype of the average socialist as the pretentious hardcore activist with a ponytail is generally perfectly espoused by these ‘socially progressive’ people. These people and their beliefs, which sometimes have more to do with their own social theory than actual socialism, can serve to isolate other socialists from following through on their beliefs.
Socialists who do not fit the stereotype are more often than not left with nowhere to go. They do not want to be associated with isolating, stereotypical socialists, and obviously they do not want to be associated with the politically centred Labor and Liberal movements. These ‘normal’ socialists are far more numerous than most people acknowledge. It is only if these people begin to take control of the socialist movement that it will become more acceptable for the average person to become a socialist. As long as socialism is seen as drastically radical, and this view is reinforced by the current crop of socialists, then the dream of socialism will never be realised.
The idea of ‘normal socialists’ seizing control of the socialist movement does however beg the question: what is normal socialism? Socialism as a term itself can be entirely subjective, but there are a few characteristics which identify real socialism. Socialism in its simplest form means a restriction of an individual’s opportunity to be greedy. This aspect of socialism is non-negotiable. Other ideas which are often carried on with the socialist movement itself, like environmentalism and minority rights, despite being important and valuable beliefs, are not in themselves ‘socialist’. Socialism advocates the replacement of our current capitalist system with a system where exploitation and greed are wiped out. This outcome is achieved in a few ways, either by increasing the role of government in the private sector, or simply spreading the control of resources throughout the population in a practice called distributism.
It is therefore understandable that when someone ‘comes out’ as a socialist other people become wary of the ‘new pinko’. Socialists are after all advocating the end of capitalism – the pillar of the West and of the free world. Let us however think about this rationally. The common complaints against socialism generally range from ‘it don’t work’, ‘you are a d…head’, and ‘good in theory and bad in practice’. The idea that socialism is the evil force, and capitalism is this noble champion of all that is good, is just wrong. Capitalism is bad, just like aspects of socialism, when implemented poorly, can have bad outcomes. This means the premise of the argument changes. If both systems have their faults, then what is the least bad system? Capitalism takes advantage of the majority of society, seeing as the gap between the rich and the poor is not only a characteristic of capitalism – it is a requirement. The lack of a safety net, care, and respect are other hallmarks of that system. Socialism suffers none of these downfalls; socialism seeks to replace the bad aspects of capitalism with socialist principles of fairness and equality, while still encouraging private economic endeavours to an extent. Socialism, when implemented well, can be the best of both worlds. You can destroy the worst parts of capitalism and replace them with socialism, while also retaining some of the better aspects of a market system. This is what ‘straight socialism’ is: replacing capitalism with socialism until eventually a total socialist system exists.
The change from capitalism to socialism is not just going to happen. Socialists need to stop trying to repair capitalism, and instead prepare for its end. Lenin, Marx, and Engels would not have stood around a uni campus handing out pamphlets about gay rights and nuclear weapons. Any socialist that does this kind of activity has already conceded defeat to the capitalist system. Trying to improve the status quo, by being distracted by social progressive movements, serves to distract the socialist from the true cause of replacing capitalism. If an egg is broken, then it is broken. Anyone who tries to put it back together again is doomed to fail.
It is time for a new casting call. Socialism, as envisioned by its current patriots, is destined to become more and more radical and irrelevant, until eventually the dream will vanish into the history books. The only way socialism can survive is if it returns to the mainstream. This can only happen is if all true, committed socialists, who are not entirely distracted by lofty ideas of social progression, come out of hiding and bring the message of straight socialism to the people.