Another blogger, Ed Whitfield, wonders why I’ve accused the Labour Party of being “Socialist”. Isn’t conventional wisdom that since Tony Blair, Labour’s been many things – including “right wing” and “fascist” and lots of other juicy political words – but what they’ve not been, surely, is “Socialist”?
I thought, hey, I’ve not done a generic ideology post in months and this is as good as an excuse as any to do one. A short one.
Socialism is a very ill-defined concept and anyone who tells you otherwise is likely to be confusing, “wot I reckon socialism means” with “wot socialism means”. You show me one book with a clear definition (unlikely, but I’ll let you try) I’ll find another that contradicts it and explains why the other lot are totally wrong.
Individual socialists are very clear about what their version is not “It’s not the USSR” , “It’s not Capitalism”, “It’s not fascism” etc, but as for what it actually is? Well it’s an ever changing, mean-anything-to-anyone concept that has some sort of vague notion of collectivism at the core.
I appreciate that there’s some sort of “Hobbyist Socialism”. Hobbyists up and down the country have little political parties and pressure groups that dabble in a more hardcore, DIY, build-your-own Socialism. Some even write blogs and pamphlets. And books. There’s a whole cottage industry devoted to explaining the inexplicable.
But, for the sake of my own sanity and not getting involved with long protracted arguments about what one particular word means, I have found a useful way of explaining “socialism” (at least the British variety) is to say simply that it’s whatever stupid shit The Labour Party are doing today. I call Labour “Socialists” because, lacking another credible definition that any two people can agree upon, it makes sense to regard Labour as “Mainstream Socialism” and Mainstream Socialism is defined by what Labour do.
It’s not ideal but, seriously, politics is dull and complicated enough without pointless additional complexity created by deliberately vague labels and words like this. It’s not dumbing down – it’s about not wasting energy on stuff that doesn’t matter.