Socialism: an unarticulated reality
by Paul Lloyd
Wed 11th Sep 2013
Wherever there is a collective there is the potential for socialism -an ethical, equality-based and democratic structure. Socialism may appear to have vanished from political discourse, from the labour party and organised labour; it is no longer the subject of avid media speculation and the cultural platform for the articulation of socialism as an ideology is empty. The word is seldom mentioned these days; the moral anchoring it once provided appears to have slipped, lodged as it once was firmly in the industrial working class. The machinations of global capitalism and the state retreat from nationalisation have stripped socialism of its more significant industrial muscle.
Socialism exists in the libraries of the world: the bookshelves still stock the works of Luxemburg, Gramsci and Marx. Their ideas still have a disembodied resonance, and have helped propel forward campaigns for the rights of women, gay and lesbian groups and those of ethnic minorities. Socialism as protest has found a home in the Arab spring and in the streets of Greece. Parliamentary socialism however appears a rare commodity personified in a few individuals who have retained their political outlook, forged in the industrial conflicts of the 70s and 80s. Socialism as an elaborated state manifestation can be corralled into the forms that it once took in states across the world in the 20th century, but socialism as a fundamental organising principle in human interaction is another way of conceiving its status. If we are collectively focused and not profit driven in our approach, we pursue our objectives in a socialist manner; it is simply a matter of definition.
In market based politics, a consumerist saturated individuality, socialism as a living structure is of course best exemplified, to the consternation of capital and its forces, in the NHS. Small wonder in this context that the pro-market agenda persists in the negative portrayal of the NHS, the prize for capital is huge, the contractual opportunities immense in a final show down with socialism as an organisation.
Capital has been successful in shaving off sectors of the NHS service delivery, and in ensconcing itself at the heart of new builds through PFI, but the ultimate goal of total private ownership remains the latent target in each negative story it can successfully launch into the public domain. Every time the NHS is attacked, capital takes a step closer to its ultimate goal. However, that goal has to fight to counter the NHS hegemony that has been welded into the consciousness of the nation, a stubborn frequently reinforced expectation that there will be state support should illness occur, and despite the attacks the socialist hegemony protecting the NHS endures.
Nevertheless Capital has been successful in situating itself in relation to the NHS and building profit. Witness the fact that Glaxo Smith Kline is the fourth biggest pharmaceutical company in the world. (GSK has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. As of 6 July 2012, it had a market capitalisation of £74.8 billion, the fifth-largest of any company listed on the London Stock Exchange).Yet recent steps forward in the treatment of meningitis were blocked by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that advises NICE due to the need for additional research into the effectiveness of the treatment produced by Novartis and its prohibitive cost.
Campaigners rallied against this decision but surely the real target is the price that pharmaceutical companies seek to charge for their products. Clearly they need to recoup investment costs but they also need to generate profits for shareholders. Despite the setback for Novartis, it still runs profits in excess of $50 billion each year.
Campaigning on those grounds would be campaigning against capitalism – but no, the campaigners are angry with the democratically accountable socialist NHS for not accommodating the cost of the treatment. One cannot blame them for that because, for the consumer rather than the elector, there is little purchase they could gain on Novartis. That democratic principle is also a part of socialism, although clearly not a component of capitalist pharmaceutical production. However, the media approaches this problem as a problem between the NHS and those it cares for not between capital and the consumers of product.
Somewhat sullied in all this business is the child, the family and human endeavour to help our fellow human beings. Just how this moral imperative has been allowed to be hijacked by the pollution of greed and profit generation is interesting and emblematic of the power of capital to subvert morality and present its occupation of the moral high ground from within the context of wealth generation. Nevertheless the moral and intellectual element that drives forward medical research is not built on capitalism but on socialism. Capitalism has been able to exploit the manifestations of socialism but, in doing so, highlights its dependency on socialism and its vulnerability to articulated socialism.
To return to the earlier point, socialism still exists, the cooperation required to deliver services has replaced the production line in the factory as the predominant mode of production. The worker has shed the flat cap and overalls for a PC and a smart phone, yet labour power remains the driving force of society. The factory and mine may have gone and the contractualisation of work may have obscured the fundamental relations in the economy but the truth remains that there are those who work for a living and there are those who, if they chose, could live off their capital.
What has happened to socialism is that it has lost its voice in the political arena, which is strange considering that it provides the glue that holds the economy and society together. Why has it lost its voice? The only answer is that it is no longer in the interest of those with power or aspiring to power to articulate socialism. The truth of socialism generates too many problems and with the exhaustion of organised labour and the fragmentation of labour, the dynamo of socialism has lost its ability to reign back the leadership, and determine the direction that should be taken.
In some respects, politics can return to what it was prior to the industrial revolution, prior to the emergence of the working class, prior to the emergence of socialism and the structures that it came to create and occupy in the economy. However, socialism has not gone away. It may be latent, it may be hidden and in disguise (to borrow a concept from Water Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History) but it is there and it will always be there. As Marx realised: socialism is not the negation of capitalism, inherent in the structures of capitalism are the elements of socialism. Our job in the labour movement is to articulate this, if we do not do this, we have to ask ourselves exactly what are we doing?