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Socialism: some thoughts on its relevance in the 21st century.
Socialism is defined as an economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state.
In Marxist theory, socialism is a transition stage in the development of a society from capitalist to communism, characterised by the distribution of income according to work rather than need.
These definitions throw up some interesting thoughts, the phrase distribution of income according to work rather than need; this seems to say the unemployed, no matter what the reason, will have to commit labour and energy to have their needs met. Free dole money is not on the table. It is also worth remembering that in every communist state the political bureaucrats are way better paid than the workers in factory or field, so they must use their own definition of “work.”
It is obvious that the 21st century is going to see huge changes in just about every aspect of human existence, from climate to energy production, from automation to farming, from population control to politics. Everything is going to change during the next 100 years. Change in every aspect of life is inevitable and the sooner the people claiming to lead others, accept this and start facing up to finding ways of coping with change the better. The present nonsense of claiming climate change can be halted is about as daft as saying everyone on the planet will go vegetarian over night.
What do these changes mean for “socialism?" Just focus on the first definition and leave aside the Marxist view. If all the aspects of production and sales are owned collectively by the state, then it is necessary for the state to invest in research, to invest in plant and machinery, to build factories and, since we are talking 21st century, invest in robots which have artificial intelligence. These are the things “capital” does now but in socialism there is no capital, the state must raise taxes to invest and take the place of capital investors. So the state which represents the people will be putting workers out of work and replacing them with intelligent automation. Not sure that will go down well with the workers but if any nation does not do it, other nations will simply take all the sales and income.
Climate change will shift food production; it has to be guesswork but it would seem the warmer climate will move towards to poles, may be only slight but enough to increase wine production in what are now temperate climates and induce the need for water control in what are now the most hospitable areas. It is possible that the desserts of Arabia and Australasia will become productive while the valleys of the “champaign” region will need artificial control of water. The mass production of food will continue to become more “artificial” using chemicals and even massive structure which can control the environment to facilitate standard food production, in places now unused, such as semi desert areas. The rich will continue to buy artisan and organic foods which will be come more expensive as the land used for this is reduced for homes to be built on.
The greatest danger for the poorest people is in raising sea levels, these could eventually reduce the inhabitable land available to such as Bangladesh. In these places the rising population combined with decreasing need of labour and the decreasing amount of habitable land is going to cause social unrest. For nations such as Britain with very small land mass, the loss of land due to rising sea levels is going to be a huge problem, one that can only be contained by population control. America with its greater land mass can absorb the loss of some coastal regions especially since it is possible that what are now arid areas will become more hospitable.
How does this affect “socialism?" A socialist government will have greater acceptance of the need to force people to move and change but that is never the same thing as the people accepting this need. A capitalist and mixed economy will have to use persuasion and incentives but a socialist one will always use the demand for greater good as an excuse to forcing people to change location and habits. In the modern world of instant communication and mass anger whipped up in moments, the people will object to being forced to do anything even for their own good. The days when a faceless bureaucrat could say everybody move to Siberia and they do has long gone.
In democracies of generally educated people the biggest problem "socialism" faces is its very firm links to communism; in Britain it is the favoured intention of many advocates and activists, in the labour party that they turn Britain into a communist state. Given universal education, democracy and a materialistic home owning society this becomes a political problem. Lenin is well-known to have declared all property is theft; and so any person owning a car or a computer and especially those owning their homes, even at the cost of a mortgage, is not going to want to have a communistic government. Democratic governments are trying to deal with population increases and housing shortages and to do this they increase the housing available for purchase. This suits the banks and the people first buying a home but it reduces the annual growth in the value of existing housing ownership and it affects the land available for food production. Reducing the population is the best answer but this reduces the demand for housing and so reduces the value of existing property, which does not suit the owners and, from an economic prospective, does not suit the banks who have made loans against the value of the property. Controlling the population is going to have to become a skill for all nations. Migration across boarders will be the first thing controlled.
At the present, in most democratic nations, there are many middle class people claiming to be liberal socialists, most have come from reasonably wealthy families, they are well-educated and no experience of poverty, never having experienced the fear of debt collectors at the door, no grasp of the frustrations in dealing with the state welfare system. They seem to believe a religious fanatic and even antisocial criminals will change their actions if spoken to reasonably. These “champaign” socialists have no experience of dealing with unreasonable people. It is not even certain they truly believe in “socialism” or if they think it sounds good to their dinner party social circle. They think punishment is as bad as the crime that merits the punishment, this attitude comes from their arrogance and their belief they could persuade any person not to commit a crime. The pressures of over population, less employment and all the other factors mentioned above, will change the mind set of these people.
Socialism is already becoming the umbrella title, for the intolerant and those with selective anarchy as their objective. This will increase as time passes, with more extreme activists using the political slogan of socialism, for their aims of replacing the powerful and wealthy. Their aim is to replace the powerful with themselves. Just as Hitler used the privations of 1930 Germany to gain power for the National Socialist Party; so will these extreme agitators use socialism. The greater levels of mass education, the existence of welfare system that, while not over generous at least prevents starvation, will lessen the numbers who will follow these extremes. Socialism will recruit adherents but not on the scale needed to become a serious contenders for democratic power. Many of them will aim for undemocratic ways to achieve power but they will also split into factions and lessen their overall impact by internal strife.
Political parties are increasingly becoming dependent on money to spend on mass media presentations. The days when the only contact between a candidate and the electorate was the market square speeches in towns and villages, has long gone. It is replaced by multimillion advertising. This has made politics as distant from truth and genuine interaction with voters, as the advertising for products. The professionals who advise, for very large fees, the politicians see the election as a promotion for a product, not as an event that can adversely affect the real lives of people. Those who make the money for such advertising are the ones with real power. Whilst I would rather see a government democratically formed by the election of genuinely independent people who then choose the ministers to run departments, from those best qualified; I do not expect this to become a reality. The excesses of fake news and social media distortion will get worse until the sheer weight of it causes an enforced stop. Money and slick advertising will decide elections rather than policy and logic. The cult of personality based only on appearance and not on capability will increase. Social transgression will prevent very able people from gaining the power they should have. Mediocrity will rule but in this situation, socialist candidates will have the same problems as non-socialists and so will be too weak and fragmented to take advantage.
In “The Voyage of the Beagle” Darwin stated that from his experience of tribal communities: “Whether we look at it as cause or consequence, the more civilized always have the most artificial governments.”
In the context of these words it would seem he uses the word “artificial” to mean imposed hierarchical and controlling government. This would suggest communist style government produces a more civilised society. He wrote at a time when universal education and instant sharing of information did not exist. Mass education and instantly shared knowledge will ensure communism has to be modified and so socialism will also have to reduce its core requirements to more pragmatic aims and so mixed economies will be the ones that flourish in the 21st century.