I don’t subscribe to the standard American analysis that socialism is inherently evil. It’s not. It’s an economic model with pros and cons, and has been espoused by some of the most noble and decent leaders in human history. The problem for socialism today, and in my context, Irish socialism, is that most Irish socialists haven’t actually got the stones to follow through. It’s a noble theory to argue about as they sit in (capitalist) pubs drinking (capitalist) beer and texting and tweeting on their (capitalist) smartphones. But that’s all they do: argue. There’s your problem right there.
Socialism can probably eliminate the worst forms of poverty, and ensure housing and enough to eat for all and basic healthcare and education. But not the consumer lifestyle that so many of us want. Now, it’s true: much of that consumer society is a complete waste of resources. Do we actually need as much celebrity news as we have now? Do we need our lovely new iPads? Or our Breitling watches? Or our Mercedes Benzes? Or even every family owning a car as a right, as opposed to need? Could we not redirect the resources those things cost to reduce class sizes, or provide cheap childcare. The answer is yes, we can. Except…
Except that it involves socialists going door to door telling people that. Consider that Irish socialists haven’t even got the guts to tax property, never mind tell people that they can’t take their kids to Disneyworld because the local hospital needs a new MRI scanner. Will Joe Higgins as Taoiseach tell middle ranking public servants that they will have to take pay cuts or retire later in order to fund payrises for lower paid public servants? Will he what. Joe can’t even tell them that binmen have to be paid.
The standard stock response in that the rich will pay for everything, except there is not a country in the world where the rich pay high taxes, everybody else pays low taxes and we get a Scandanavian welfare system. If you want socialism, everybody pays. That’s a pretty noble idea, and people nod their heads in agreement, until they see their payslip and realise that dining out is now a luxury. That you can afford groceries, but not Marks and Spencer, and that a new car is now a fantasy. Richard Boyd Barrett will never tell you that, because he can’t get elected on it.
Instead, he’ll tell you that if the state controls the means of production, like Corrib gas, well, that will fund everything. But think about that. The private sector has been in charge of that up to now, and has not made a cent from it. Why would we believe that the ESB or Bord na Mona would have turned it into a cashcow by now? Sure, we’d have thousands of extra ESB employees on ESB wundersalaries, but would we have the profits of gas, or a Gas Exploration Levy on our ESB bills and a promise that it was for “investment”, that is, ESB workers retiring early on gold-plated pensions? What do you think? Is it possible we would have exploration drills proven to be worthless but kept open because of the local employment, like we do with small hospitals and army barracks? Again, what do you think?
Originally, socialism was about common sacrifice for the common good. Now it’s a redistribution of wealth, about politicians telling one group of people that they are entitled to the sweat of someone else’s brow. We used to have a word for such people, only we didn’t call them socialists. We used to call them aristocrats.