A retort to Tom Friedemann

To leave aside the question of Mr Kiss’ beliefs (as I have no desire to misrepresent his multifarious political outlook and find myself on the wrong end of one of his polemics), the target of Mr Friedemann’s condescending article, what I’m trying to get at is the fact that really, we’re all socialists now.

I hope that’s got some of the campus Tories spluttering, but yes! It’s quite clear if you look about that we’re all on side. All three of our political parties are desperately trying to grab the most green headlines, hug the most ‘hoodies’, and swear the most fearsome oath of allegiance to the NHS. Clearly, even ‘post-Thatcher’ (as if the Thatcher government were a new axial age), we’ve decided that there is such a thing as society and all of our parties are trying to ensure that it works to help us all.

But I’m sure Mr Friedemann wouldn’t have included the current flavour of Socialistic politics in the UK when he wrote “Socialism has never worked, in all the manifold forms its been experimented with”. Before anyone writes to point out my obvious error in calling the UK Socialistic in our ‘post-Blair’ era of the ‘third-way’, lets see how close our current system is to Marx’s ideal of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. We pay a high level of tax, one third of our income, on top of which we’re charged 17.5% on most of our goods and much higher rates on luxuries like alcohol and tobacco. As if to prove my point, Marx would approve of the way alcohol tax is increased in proportion to how classically bourgeoisie it is: beer is taxed at 13.71%, wine at 177.99%, and decadent sparkling wine below at a truly Stalinist 227.99%! Why do we pay so much tax? Well, because we run a redistributive tax system, to ensure we take from each according to his ability and then help the weakest in society, giving according to their need. Our state is, when compared to most of the world, of a Socialist bent, providing universal health care free at the point of delivery, and providing money for those out of, or unable to, work.

At a more fundamental level, Mr Friedemann’s article makes much of the truism that most people want the best for their family, arguing that they would sacrifice other peoples’ children to ensure their own get ahead. Taken with his comment on the only “egalitarian communities” being monasteries, Mr Friedemann has stuck himself firmly with those who to believe that we’re all individualists first and foremost, striving to get ahead without caring who gets hurt. I hope the above paragraph shows how, for the UK at least, this can’t be said for the society of today.

Taking this point further, I believe that arguing that humans are fundamentally selfish, at best caring only for their family unit, is simplification. As is beautifully put in Harmony and Conflict in the Living World by A. F. Skutch, it seems clear that humans have a fundamental tendency towards both cooperation and competition. Arguing that capitalism is perfectly suited to humans because it panders to their fundamentally competitive nature is fallacy: without the grand majority of people cooperating in paying bills and wages, not stealing produce, peaceably accepting the political system and paying its heavy taxes, the system would simply not work. To take an example from Skutch, the competition within a game like football is only enjoyable with cooperation between players on the rules. If every five minutes someone picked up and ran with the ball, gouged out an eye, or hid their goal-posts, it’d hardly be much fun. To extend the metaphor further than is probably wise – our system today is much the same. We accept that for the game to work and have meaning you need the possibility of winning, but at the same time don’t believe the losers should be much worse off, and certainly don’t believe the winners should have the system rigged in their favour.

With the above I’d better round off by saying I’m clearly not a Socialist in the sense Mr Friedemann would (presumably) recognize, and that if there were such a thing as an unreconstructed Socialist about then Mr Friedemann’s article would be less obsolete; as it is, it’s of a 1950s vintage. Dragging left and right wing skeletons out of the cupboard is debate at its most simplistic and partisan. As I’ve said above, all our major parties have long since come to a nicely Socialistic compromise that provides for all fairly well, is fairly democratic, and certainly makes for a healthy economy. Few people still argue that we’d be better off with a purely government controlled economy; few argue that we’d be better off with a totally free market (and those who do would probably be horrified to find out that it would involve free movement of labour – that’s uncontrolled immigration to the Mail – and the loss of our farms as Africa can finally compete without Europe’s strikingly unfair agricultural tariff barriers). This compromise reflects the dual nature of humankind as a competitive and cooperative creature. Rather than bickering over ancient divisions, politics today should be about finding solutions to more contemporary problems.

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