Why I am not (quite) a Socialist

by Elias Blum

Many of my blog posts are left wing diatribes against the evils of neo-liberal capitalism. This occasionally leads some people to assume that I am a socialist. And that’s not quite true.

What I oppose is the corrupt, oligarchic neo-liberal version of capitalism that is currently dominant.

I oppose its fetishisation of ‘free trade’ and indifference to local production for local use.

I oppose its callous disregard of the human and environmental consequences of its doctrinaire mantra of ‘cut, privatise, deregulate, commodify’.

More than that, I oppose the narrowly materialist, consumerist and individualist values that lie behind neo-liberalism, the way in which economics is shorn of ethics, and the way in which these amoral economic assumptions leech out into the wider society, such that market mechanisms are applied to areas of life – such as healthcare and education – where they do not properly belong.

In place of all of this, I seek to move towards a more genuinely social-democratic economy, rooted in a more civic society. I’d like to see a mixed, balanced, social-market economy that works for the 99%. An economy where labour and society are able to restrain the excesses of capitalism, where the benefits of profit are more equitably shared between capital, labour and society, and where economic decisions are bound within an stronger ethical framework that protects the rights and dignity of workers, consumers, communities and the environment.

But, even so, I’d prefer to stop a little way short of ‘full socialism’, if by full socialism one means a society in which the private ownership of productive capital is abolished and neither the price mechanism nor the profit motive exist.  Admittedly, this is a rather extreme and purist view of what socialism is, but nevertheless it is the one that ardent socialists adhere to, and it is one with good historical and theoretical pedigree.

 On the basis of that definition, I am not a socialist because – despite all my desire to change, reform and restrain the market economy- I can still see legitimate room for private initiative, choice, competition, a price mechanism and a profit motive as a major part of how the economy should work. Without these things, I fear that we would end up not only with a very poor, dysfunctional economy, but also with a rather dull, monochrome, lifeless society. 

In other words, unlike neo-liberals I assert that the economy should be subject to the common good, but unlike socialists I also believe that a well-regulated market economy (to a point, in its place) is essential to the common good.

The centrality of the common good hints at the fact that the economic principles I proclaim owe as much to Christian Democracy as to Social Democracy. In the same way, just because I support greater democracy, the protection of human rights, reducing economic inequalities, ending poverity and austerity, strengthening unions and the rights of workers, restraining capital, and a peaceful and ethical foreign policy, doesn’t mean I have to support most of what is protrayed as ‘Left Wing’ (whether in its Guardian or Socialist Worker varieties). I have absolutely no time for most of the secular New Left, with its cultural Marxism, extreme gender theory, identity politics, ‘no platforming’, ‘politically correct’ nonsense – much of which I consider to be deeply corrosive and antithetical to the common good.

If this were only about me, it would just be another pointless rant. But when I see Tories using jeers like ‘Stalinist’ against politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, or accusing Nicola Sturgeon of wanting to lead a ‘Maoist-style land-grab’, I think it’s time to set the record straight. It’s not good enough to dismiss all critics and opponents of neo-liberalism as ‘commies’, because we are most assuredly not.

Really, we are trying to reclaim a position that was firmly in the moderate centre-left of twentieth century European politics.

Forget Stalin and Castro, Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. What we have in mind owes much to to the likes of Willem Drees, Tage Erlander, Franklin Roosevelt and William Beveridge.