Thursday, 23 July 2009

Open Left? Let's Have An Open Hearted One...

The whole Open Left thing is a tacit acknowledgment that the New Labour government is about to go down to defeat. I’ve come across the idea of ‘getting your retaliation in first’ before but this may be the first time I've stumbled on the idea of getting your ‘post-defeat soul searching in first’. This is perhaps one reason why it’s all such an unsatisfying slurry of words and vaguely defined dangling questions.

I'd advise all these angst ridden wannabe 21st Century lefties to go read Orwell:

The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain......The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. ..... We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood.
I've always taken this to imply several things things:

1. Socialism doesn't depend on some idealistic concept of the perfectibility of human kind;
2. Socialism won't bring universal happiness (though there is no reason to imagine people will, on average, be any less happy than under capitalism);
3. The specific and distinctive policy objectives of 20th Century socialism - the predominantly social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange; or significant resource distribution between individuals on the basis of need, not effort -were, in fact, only a means to an end: the end being what Orwell called 'human brotherhood', but what we might now describe as social solidarity or community inclusiveness, the lack of which is the key sickness at the heart of our society.

We need a 21st Century equivalent vision. I don't care whether it's called 'socialism' or not any more.

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