Posts Tagged ‘Glorious Socialism’

Andy Burnham’s ‘Aspirational Socialism’ should aspire to greater socialism

August 25, 2010

As I’ve said before, I like Andy Burnham. The leadership campaign has reinforced his ‘nice’ image and he’s also emerged as a bit more politically interesting than expected.

However, he still emphasises social mobility too much. The idea that aspirational people should be able to ‘succeed’ and ‘get on in life’ however poor their background is naturally appealing but my problems with it are:

  • Surely a truly socially mobile society would also see lots of people born to wealthy backgrounds fail due to their laziness or other personal inadequacy and end up becoming poor. None of the proponents of social mobility ever discuss this, which seems dishonest to me. No-one mentions removing the safety nets for the rich.
  • The focus on individual success makes me slightly uncomfortable as it reinforces too many right-wing political narratives. I understand that we have to utilise ‘common sense’ arguments in order to maintain widespread political appeal, but we shouldn’t forget that we are collectivists not individualists.
  • Social mobility is not inspiring as a long-term vision for the left because it assumes the retention of wealth inequalities in society. We can be more ambitious than simply helping ‘talented’ poor people escape poverty. We should commit ourselves to seeking the abolition of poverty altogether. Sincere egalitarianism should seek to remove class divisions rather than make them a bit more fluid.

Ragged relevance for our times: reviewing the stage adaptation of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ at Chichester Theatre

August 11, 2010

Frank Owen uses bread to demonstrate the theory of surplus value to the workers. Genius!

This blog is named after Frank Owen, the principal hero of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch the new stage adaptation of Robert Tressell’s socialist classic at Chichester Festival Theatre this weekend.

In fact it’s hard to imagine how I would not have enjoyed this play. Perhaps it would not be receiving two Jako thumbs up if Howard Brenton and Christopher Morahan – respectively the script writer and director – had decided to reinterpret Tressell’s work through the medium of street dance.

Actually that could still have worked. To have seriously disappointed me the plot would have had to have been altered  so that in the end the big surprise was that Frank Owen actually turned out to be a Tory.

Written a century ago, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists laments the social and political failings of Edwardian Britain. However, Tressell’s satire and socialist propagandising retain a relevance which give the play added bite.

For example, Tressell attacks the Tories and Liberals for presiding over an unjust society based on exploitation. The play’s producers must have been pleased when the coalition Government was formed! With a Cabinet full of Conservatives and Lib Dems putting forward policies to shaft the poor, it’s obvious that these two parties still represent the same old privileged class interests. (Admittedly Tressell would probably have lambasted the timidity of today’s Labour Party.)

Tressell also railed against the corruption of politicians. This was done brilliantly in the play, with all the bosses played by the actors wearing slightly unnerving masks. They were discussing how to fiddle their councillor expenses. Ooo er! Unfortunately greedy money-grabbing politicians did not become extinct in 1910, so these scenes struck a particular chord.

Most of the acting (and singing!) was great. My one criticism would be that the two women in the cast seemed weaker than all the blokes. Their accents were not dependable and none of the characters they played really worked. To be fair, the play has to cut down on a lot of stuff that happens in the book with the result that there are fewer domestic scenes. This means that the female characters are not so well developed on stage as they are in the pages penned by Tressell.

Chichester is not a hotbed of revolutionary thought. It’s a place populated by retired colonels where buyers of the Guardian are undoubtedly given funny looks by newsagents. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate the play. I certainly hope that the play will be taken to other theatres so that the ragged trousered brilliance and Tressell’s socialist ideals are spread far and wide.

Labour leadership youth hustings

June 12, 2010

Some Labour yoof obviously made up their minds very quickly. Before the event officially got underway an enthusiastic group of Milipedes (D) were trying to sign people up to the Shadow Foreign Sec’s leadership campaign. I, however, was undecided and without prejudice. Well, not quite, but I had enough prejudice and partiality towards each one of the candidates that I was refusing to identify myself as a supporter of anyone yet.

Soon enough we all sat down and the big five appeared. Clap clap clap. Questions were asked and answers were given. Ed Balls took the courageous decision to tell a room full of young Labourites that he wanted tuition fees scrapped. Unfortunately for Ballsy this imaginative attempt to come up with a policy that would distinguish himself from the others was diluted by just about all the other candidates joining his call for them to be replaced by a graduate tax (only Miliband D was hesitant).

The best question of the hustings came from a handsome young rogue in the audience who pointed out that the Tories are trying to criticise us from the left over the levels of child poverty and wider inequality in the UK today. The candidates were asked whether they thought the Labour Government had made mistakes in this area and how they would renew the party’s commitment to creating a more equal society.

None of the candidates gave entirely satisfactory answers. All of them – including Abbott – were too eager to spend time defending Labour’s record. This wasn’t the most efficient use of their one minute each since they were addressing a room full of Labour members familiar with the social gains secured between 1997 and 2010 and presumably disposed to giving their own party the benefit of the doubt.

We’ve got to be more honest with ourselves and potential leaders should cut to the chase when addressing party members. Labour failed to meet its own targets for child poverty reduction by 2010. The UK remains a country of inequitable wealth distribution and class divisions. Declaring that over 13 years Labour managed to just about stop the Thatcher-initiated trend towards greater inequality from getting much worse hardly makes an inspirational slogan. Not much of a moral crusade – and if we’re not a moral crusade we are…? 

The five MPs did admit that the Labour government maybe should have been more bold on redistribution. Stern criticism was then levelled at the policies of the coalition and at the decision of Frank Field to join them in their shamelessly sneaky efforts to reduce poverty by fiddling with the statistics. Clap clap clap. But this was easy, crowd-pleasing stuff. If I had been chairing the hustings I would not have allowed them to lay into the Con-Dem Government until they had first declared what kind of anti-poverty strategy they would want to implement.

To be fair, Ed Miliband did sound the most impressive when answering the question. He made clear that reducing the gap between the rich and the poor would be central to his leadership. Talking about the gap is definitely welcome – it’s a healthier egalitarian approach than relying upon the language of ‘social mobility’ or ‘equality of opportunity’. Miliband E also highlighted his support for a living wage and a high pay commission. Hopefully all of them will have more time to think about policies in this area over the next few months.

Another (more self-indulgent) question I would like to have been put to them is: We have two right-wing parties in government who describe themselves as ‘progressives’ and have even talked of imposing ‘progressive cuts’. If we are to provide the country with a strong opposition – a viable alternative – should we perhaps stop using this ideologically indistinct term?

Miliband D has claimed he wants this debate to include discussion around ideology. I agree. Talking about future Labour policy without reference to some sort of ideology programme would be bizarre. However, I also acknowledge that banging on and on about ideology at these sort of public events may not be helpful. It could make the party seem too inwardly focused and weird. Therefore, a simple one minute answer explaining what democratic socialism (it’s in the party constitution, they’re all signed up to it!) means in the 21st century would suffice.

You’ll notice that Andy Burnham is the only candidate who hasn’t been mentioned thus far in this report. Well, that’s because he failed to stand out. Apart from in terms of his accent of course. He didn’t seem to butt into the discussion to explain his own point of view as much as the others did. Maybe he’ll get louder in future events (though hopefully for Andy’s sake it won’t be an IDS-style ‘the quiet man is turning up the volume’!).

All in all, I walked off (to the nearest pub) with the view that I’ll probably first preference Ed Miliband. However, there is still a long time to go before any decision has to be made and I’m determined to remain open-minded. It’s all to play for, comrades!

Some resolutions for 2010.

December 31, 2009

  • Force more people to read the above book.
  • Do more to encourage readers to leave comments – even though the majority of you have found yourselves here after looking through approximately 100 pages of Google search results for ‘Lily Allen’.
  • Get round to writing a post about Salvador Allende (the bloke who features at the top of this blog). 
  • Finish radio play script.
  • Find myself a proper job (suggestions/offers to the email address on the right!).
  • Do my best to keep my neighbourhood Labour.
  • But at the same time I want to dedicate myself to more campaigning/volunteering that isn’t party political.
  • Try to write a guest post for Harry’s Place (if Clawes can do it, why can’t I?!).
  • Eat more chilli paneer.

Time to bring 2009 to an end:

As they remained at the window looking out over this scene for a few minutes after the train had passed out of sight, it seemed to Owen that the gathering darkness was a curtain that concealed from view the Infamy existing beyond. In every country, myriads of armed men waiting for their masters to give them the signal to fall upon and rend each other like wild beasts. All around was a state of dreadful anarchy; abundant riches, luxury, vice, hypocrisy, poverty, starvation and crime. Men literally fighting with each other for the privilege of working for their bread, and little children crying with hunger and cold and slowly perishing of want.

The gloomy shadows enshrouding the streets, concealing for the time their grey and mournful air of poverty and hidden suffering, and the black masses of cloud gathering so menacingly in the tempestuous sky, seemed typical of the Nemesis which was overtaking the capitalist system. That atrocious system which, having attained to the fullest measure of detestable injustice and cruelty, was now fast crumbling into ruin, inevitably doomed to be overwhelmed because it was all so wicked and abominable, inevitably doomed to sink under the blight and curse of senseless and unprofitable selfishness out of existence for ever, its memory universally execrated and abhorred.

But from these ruins was surely growing the glorious fabric of the Co-operative Commonwealth. Mankind, awaking from the long night of bondage and mourning and arising from the dust wherein they had lain prone so long, were at last looking upward to the light that was rising asunder and dissolving the dark clouds which had so long concealed from them the face of heaven. The light that will shine upon the world wide Fatherland and illumine the gilded domes and glittering pinnacles of the beautiful cities of the future, where men shall dwell together in true brotherhood and goodwill and joy.

The Golden Light that will be diffused throughout all the happy world from the rays of the risen sun of Socialism.

See you on the other side!

Jennie Lee and the Open University

August 1, 2009

I’ve just enjoyed a very cheap and very productive evening. I have remainedin Jako Towers and have been sorting out lots of Labour leaflets into appropriate piles for delivery across my ward over the next few weeks. At the same time as doing this I watched BBC 4’s documentary ‘Happy Birthday OU: 40 Years of the Open University’

The story of the Open University was told by Premier Inn-loving comedian Lenny Henry, who also happens to be a graduate of the OU. Henry explained to the audience how influential the efforts Jennie Lee, Minister for the Arts in the first Wilson government, were to its establishment in 1969. She played a key role in supporting the OU and making sure that it went ahead despite the misgivings of some in the political and academic establishments.

Wilson went on to declare that the Open University was the greatest achievement of his government – an opinion that Tony Benn supported in the documentary. More than three million people have studied at the OU since its foundation and it has been consistently rated the top university for student satisfaction.

Jennie Lee was of course the wife of Nye Bevan, the Labour politician responsible for bringing about the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.

So between them this stridently socialist couple bequeathed to the nation two of the best-loved and most enduring institutions we have! 

Bevan and Lee never had children – apparently Lee did not want to become a mother. However, if they had would the offspring have inherited super socialist powers? Or would it have felt obliged to rebel against its parents and turned into an arch-reactionary?

This is what I wondered to myself as the documentary came to an end and I completed my 24th pile of leaflet delivery rounds.

The Daily Show and Sweden

July 14, 2009

The Daily Show takes a look at America’s socialist future…

This and this made me laugh.

Good old Sweden!

Makes me feel a bit hammer and sickle

June 16, 2009
Carnival of Communism?

Carnival of USSR-style Communism? Surely not!

We are always very grateful to be included in the Carnival of Socialism– a “fortnightly round up of everything that is going on in the global socialist blogosphere”. Cheers to Comrade Miller for linking to the Paintbrush in his recent hosting.

However, I have to point out that I’m not a fan of the Carnival’s hammer and sickle-tastic accompanying picture (shown left).

It seems to me that the vast majority of blogs included in the Carnival do not subscribe to the authoritarian communism and USSR-apologising intrinsically associated with that symbol. Infact many of us democratic socialists consider the hammer and sickle to represent a hostile, enemy ideology.

I guess that instead of complaining we at the democratic socialist/social democratic Paintbrush collective should volunteer to host the Carnival in the future. We could then come up with an alternative image – one that doesn’t correlate socialist blogs with an oppressive, totalitarian regime!

For Mayday

May 1, 2009

Because, when all else fails, at least we can still sing.

The Peoples flag is deepest red

The People's flag is deepest red

Land: the last economic taboo?

April 25, 2009
My Land: get off it

My Land: get off it

OK, so it’s not the sexiest title for my first (proper) post for over two weeks (apologies – I have been visiting family in the provinces, and have not long since returned to the big smoke). But my absence in the countryside, alongside the economic discussion of the budget, has got me thinking.

Land is the ultimate scarce resource. There is a fixed amount of it; what’s more, it’s of a varied quality. And although nobody produces land, or puts and work into its production (alright – apart, occasionally, from in Holland, smartarse), a small number of people own the freehold on the vast majority of land in the UK – this ownership being a hangover from various historical developments from less democratic ages.

It’s not feasible to redistribute land equally, even if you could do it practically – what would I want with either several hundred acres of scrub land in Scotland, or 12 square feet of Mayfair? – and land nationalization, whilst popular with some early socialists, would be prohibitively expensive for the government and would serve no obvious purpose (as well as disrupting the economic activity that goes on within the present ownership system).

So where does this leave the land-minded redistributionist (a label I think I’m going to start appending to my emails)? The idea I cooked up on a train last week: National Land Shares.

First, the government establishes a National Land Bank, and every individual in the UK is given 100 National Land Shares. NLSs are given to everyone, by right, at the age of 18, and cannot be confiscated by the government; they are not inheritable, and revert to the state when you die (but this is OK, because your kids get theirs when they reach 18 anyway).

Most importantly, the shares are tradeable – the National Land Bank operates as an exchange for NLSs.

Landowners are then taxed on the basis of the value of their landholding. All of the taxes raised are distributed as dividends to the holders of NLSs.

So, if a landowner wishes to reduce their tax liability, they can do so – by buying shares from people willing to sell.

The plan is profoundly redistributive, since everyone is given the same number of NLSs; it also redistributes a good where the current distribution is capricious, and in few ways related to the hard work, enterprise, risk-taking, or intelligence of its owners – or any of those other fine qualities we’re assured capitalism encourages and rewards.

It also provides the great bulk of people with assets at the beginning of their working life, which they can hold, add to or sell as they wish – this can only help an economy which, we’re told, has met a sticky wicket due to easy access to cheap, unsecured credit.

So how about it? Let’s face it, at the present moment, it could hardly harm Labour’s poll ratings, and we might as well try a few interesting ideas if the polls are right.

America swings to the left?

April 12, 2009

Just 53% of American adults say that they definitely prefer capitalism to socialism! 20% say socialism is better. 27% cannot decide between the two. 

This isn’t just me plucking numbers out of thin air – it’s according to a recent opinion survey carried out by Rasmussen Reports.

Amongst young Americans (those under 30) the divisions are even starker: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% want socialism, 30% can’t make up their minds!

Who would have thought a couple of years ago that this sort of language would be featuring in US political debate?

Ok, so a lot of it is just down to desperate right-wingers trying to undermine Obama and the Democrats by going hunting for reds under the bed.

Also: before predicting imminent revolution in the States, fervent lefties would do well to bear in mind that another recent poll suggested a whopping 70% of Americans are still in favour of a free-market economy (even though they want more government regulation).

Methinks this is probably more indicative of a slight historical re-run. In the economic turbulence of both the Progressive Era and the Great Depression discontent with the rich and powerful became widespread as overbearing capitalism seemed to threaten America’s traditional promise of equal opportunity. Increased government interference in the economy soon sorted things out (more or less) and the same will probably happen today…

But those numbers are still fun to look at.