The New Socialism

The New Socialism

Alan Johnson: The New Socialism

Neal Lawson, chair of the British democratic left pressure group Compass, and John Harris, a journalist, have written a major essay, “Time for a New Socialism.”

What ties a realigned and revived centre-left together is the concept of the Good Society: the only vision that holds out convincing answers to issues of equality, esteem, time, sustainability, voice, and quality of life. Unless and until socialism feels like a better offer than the exhausting treadmill of consumerist capitalism, there is no hope. We cannot build the good society on the rotting body of the worst excesses of bureaucracies or markets.

I like this. A lot. Not least because the authors invite us to think about nothing less than a new paradigm. Here is a chunk of the essay.

What is starting to take shape isn’t a new direction, but an entirely new paradigm. We think it should be called New Socialism. Here are its key features:

It emphasizes greater equality of outcome, but also knows that our social recession cannot be solved through a primarily materialistic and ever more acquisitive society. Unlike the Labour Party of the past, we now have to focus on the non-material things that foster contentment and fulfillment. We have to place much greater value on time, care, and cooperation, and aim at a different culture and identity of belonging, with deeper foundations than either production or consumption. We have to redefine “aspiration” to bring it into line with people’s real hopes: not just to earn and own, but to reach one’s full human potential, and live in a society that is safe, caring, and neighbourly.

The old social democracy concerned itself with greater quantity, but the New Socialism’s thinking is altogether more qualitative.

The new paradigm understands the nature of capitalism: a dynamic force that is as creative as it is destructive. Unless confronted, regulated and shaped, it undermines society and community – and crucially, its own positive aspects, as the trailblazing entrepreneur is sidelined by the monopoly corporation, and the once-thriving town centre gets killed by the faceless out-of-town mall. Moreover, if we don’t regulate free markets, we end up regulating people, to force them to behave as the market desires – a fact glaringly reflected in the huge growth of the authoritarian state. Crucially, however, most regulation will increasingly have to happen at a transnational level – at the very least, via the European Union. Economic sovereignty will have to be pooled to ensure that damaging effects of capitalism are tamed. Every second of every day the bond market pools its sovereignty to destroy whole economies. This week it’s Ireland, next week it is wherever they decide. This means controls on speculative capital flows and the ability to shift location and production to where taxes and labour conditions are lowest; it means coordinated corporation taxes and establishing the principle of a European minimum wage. The old social democracy never got this. Neither did it understand the demands of people for meaningful voice at their place of work. Capitalism is a tiger that we cannot ride but must tame.

New Socialism knows the state is vital but recognizes too the crisis of the bureaucratic and market state. It is Labour’s grip of statism that must be broken. The New Socialism seeks to balances our need for security through the state with our right to freedom from the state. It wants a state whose scope is democratically determined and made accountable, responsive, sensitive and local through the most radical political reforms of public service this country has ever seen. A more proportional national electoral system is only one part of the change required: we have to reinvent the state from top to bottom to entrench people’s involvement through the principle of co-production and the critical role of both producers and users of services. Health, education, social care and much more need to be liberated from the bureaucratic and outsourced state and reshaped accordingly, aiming at two transformative effects: creating in-built efficiencies through ongoing improvements on the frontline, and helping to make the tax case for the public sector. In the midst of the current fiscal crisis, the importance of this second element cannot be overstated.

Fourth, New Socialism is determined to get to grips with the most pressing issue of our age: climate change. This is the toughest challenge for those who know this paradigm shift has become a necessity. It requires the reconciliation of social justice with sustainability and the issue of growth beyond the planet’s capacity to survive demands – hence in part the critical role of a post-material agenda. Social democracy has to stop being solely about the politics of sharing out growing material wealth, and instead offer a politics that redistributes time, power and well being.

Finally, this new socialism recognizes that Labour must end the practice of Labourism. This is the creed that holds that ?socialism’ can be delivered from the centre by one – and only one – all-seeing and all-doing monolithic party. Today, we live in an era of pluralism with competing centres of power. This new politics is manifested most clearly in Westminster in the form of the Coalition itself, but can also be seen in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and on councils the length and breadth of the nation. This cultural shift is both enormous for Labour and unavoidable. Labour’s own transformed modus operandi has to be interactive: the Party must be simultaneously re-democratised, and then respectfully engaged with a huge variety of forces and voices, understanding that people’s very mode of thinking renders the old monolithic politics absurd.

What ties a realigned and revived centre-left together is the concept of the Good Society: the only vision that holds out convincing answers to issues of equality, esteem, time, sustainability, voice, and quality of life. Unless and until socialism feels like a better offer than the exhausting treadmill of consumerist capitalism, there is no hope. We cannot build the good society on the rotting body of the worst excesses of bureaucracies or markets, but instead recognize that to be political pragmatists we first have to be idealists; we have to know what we are being pragmatic about.


Lima