Yesterday I made a comment that, to me, socialism was like “Everybody in the country getting dial up Internet and Internet Explorer 6 (a very bad browser) a year before the rest of the world’s even thought about the Internet, but then never upgrading again. Ever.”
A huffy reply comes back. My crime? Conflating “socialism” which is lovely and full of kittens and magic, and “Stalinism” which as any right thinking person knows was really Capitalism.
Since I last brought up this subject on this blog I’ve made no further progress on understanding what on earth people expect from the Magic And Kittens version of Socialism – the version that ‘will’ exist, in the future, when ‘real’ Socialists are in power, as opposed to the Evil Capitalist Socialism which is What All Countries That Call Themselves Socialist actually are.
A simple experiment: Open up Wikipedia and search for “List of socialist countries”. Then do a search for “List of Libertarian countries” and spot the rather overwhelming difference: The latter page doesn’t actually exist.
Is it really so unfair of me, when talking about Socialism, to use Actual Existing Socialism as my starting point, even if the Magic and Kittens Socialists dispute the labels these regimes have placed on themselves?
Recently I read Colonel Gaddafi’s Green Book and his chapter on Socialism (“The solution to the economic problem”) and I wonder if his regime is counted as Evil Capitalist Socialism or Magic and Kittens Socialism. I wonder this very briefly – Gaddafi is an evil tyrant therefore this is the Evil Capitalist Socialism again. The answer is obvious: No magic or kittens there.
The real problem is that all varieties of Socialism – even the Magic and Kittens version – depend on egos, individualism and materialism (a term which is often misunderstood as meaning greedy, when it really refers to the ‘material’ world as opposed to the ‘spiritual’ world – material rewards rather than spiritual ones) being perceived as a flaw with humanity to be ‘fixed’, something to be got rid of as they ‘make people better’ than they are. It’s Capitalism that makes us this way, therefore once Capitalism has gone we will be ‘better’.
At least, we’ll be better after significant re-education, after Capitalism has been completely wiped off the globe so that people forget that individualism ever existed as a concept (let’s hope they’re right, that it’s not simply built in to us by evolution), after Socialism gives them sufficient time and resources to concentrate on self improvement and enlightenment.
Of course there’s always going to be a transition period. Not everyone will become properly class conscious during the revolution. Some will resist, and then the workers in charge will need to democratically decide what to do with these people. Re-educate them? Let them starve to death? Force them, at gun point, to play nice and share with the other children? Do you let all the doctors and scientists leave the country and hope you can fill the gaps using your schools and universities, or do you shoot them if they try? Do you need to keep them in for a little while, just until things have settled down?
At the heart of it is a creed which pits one ‘class’ of people against another class which promises to take everything that one class has – their wealth, their power – and give it to the other class. It’s the ancient idea of invading another country and plundering their resources for the benefit of the people back home put applied within a country, or raiding the neighbouring tribe’s food stores. “There’s more of us than them. We can take what we want.”
I’m beginning to think that Socialism isn’t really an economic theory or a social theory at all. Every Socialist imagines Magic and Kittens Socialism to be something quite different – it’s their own personalised version of political heaven, whatever that is. What they have in common is that Magic and Kittens Socialism is tailored for the domestic audience. What a British Student in 2011 regards as Magic and Kittens Socialism would not be recognised as such by a Russian Serf living in 1912. Or, let’s face it, another British student in 2011.
So trying to get a proper definition – a prescription, if you will, a list of things that will be different and how it will all work – is impossible, but it does point to the real answer: Socialism, when you reduce it down until there’s nothing left but what is true of all Socialism everywhere is nothing more than a means of getting sufficient support to successfully take over a country.
So, having considered my position, I wish to amend my pointless twitter comment. Socialism is like “Someone with Internet Explorer 6 organising all the other people with IE6 into a giant gang that then forces the rest of the world to use IE7 (a very bad browser, but slightly better than IE6). Forever.”