Can we put the social state on to the centre stage once again?

It is reported that Paul Bérenger, the leader of the MMM, took up the subject of socialism in a public presentation made at the Municipal Hall of the Municipality of Quatre Bornes on Saturday last. He set out the basic issues around which socialism may be analysed in the current context. It is a healthy sign that something which we held close to our hearts and which was so decried due to the unfair deal it got at the hands of rulers of society is coming back for a re-consideration. One needs to look at the flaws which have failed a noble pursuit that society gave to itself at various points in the history of development. 

Paul Bérenger listed out five fundamental parameters – democracy, morality, social justice, economic realism and internationalisation – as the cornerstones for understanding and hammering into shape the concept of socialism today. He argued that socialism could not be dissociated from democracy insofar as it is obtained by dealing effectively with everything that stands in the way of a full democratic expression. On the issue of morality, he spoke about how this value, which is closely associated with socialism, is actually undermined by corruption. He identified the fight against growing inequalities and the struggle against poverty and promoting education in the context of a welfare state to constitute the third pillar of a social state, namely social justice. He advocated economic realism as another core value forming the backbone of the socialist state, which goes on to strike a compromise between development of the economy, and the mitigation of poverty in society without defeating each other in the process. As regards internationalism, he expressed the view that, rather than putting up an opposition to globalisation, it was more important to strike a balance by “humanizing” globalisation i.e., keeping under check its tendency to do damage by allowing various excesses to creep in with a view to protecting private interests to the detriment of good principles, mainly at the international level.

Theoretically, socialism has a global embrace

It is refreshing to hear about socialism at a time various aspersions have been cast upon it. States which proclaimed themselves to be socialist ended up in such a mess that many of them failed – Somalia in our vicinity is still struggling. It is not the concept of socialism per se which failed. It was the “management” (or mismanagement, rather) of what came to be instituted and administered up as socialism which actually failed. It was a failure of leadership across several countries. A stigma was thus cast upon countries purporting to be role models in socialism at a time other models such as pure capitalism triumphed and jolted the world economy into a much higher phase of social development than happened in the countries professing to be socialist.

It is stunning that so much damage has been done by mismanagement by so-called socialist governments. Even international bodies that were entrusted with upholding and promoting the concept of socialism – a very simple concept in which the state was expected to make and modify existing rules whereby those who were left behind in society could be given the necessary means to lift themselves up to decent levels of social being – were not up to the task. They contributed instead to weaken the very standing of the socialist concept by failing to play their role. It shows that too much was left at the discretion of individuals who had other than socialist objectives to pursue. Collegiate decision-making, which should have taken the socialist model to its higher reaches, was absolutely lacking in most of the places and soon many started equating the socialist model – unjustly – with aberrations of all sorts.

There are so many states today that do not identify themselves in practice with socialism – more so with pure market capitalism – which had the initial fundamental aspiration to be essentially socialist. The first article of the Constitution of France defines the country as “an indivisible, secular, democratic and socialist Republic”. Russia defines itself as a “a Socialist State the policy objective of which is to work towards a dignified and free development of Man”. Turkey’s constitution defines the country as a “democratic, secular and socialist State”. Germany’s constitution states that Germany is “a democratic and socialist federal State”. Other countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa make social justice the very foundation of their national identity. In few words, it is the exception rather than the rule all over the world for a country not to identify itself by the guiding principles of socialism.

Yet…

As the industrial society evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries however, the values of socialism gradually lost their sway in the minds and hearts of those who came at the helm of political power. In the face of the poor experience of countries the leaders of which diverted the national interest for the sake of sticking to power, compromises kept being made to the point of negating the very foundation of the just and socially oriented society.

In many places, democracy was supplanted by the idiosyncrasies of rulers who considered themselves as totalitarian guides to their peoples. They served themselves as well as cronies who surrounded them generously at the expense of the vast masses of their populations. Practices of the sort eroded the original virtues that were assigned in the minds of the people to the concept of the all-sharing socialism. In some places, the powers which came to be vested in absolute leaders claiming to be off springs of the “socialist revolutions” were exercised with such dictatorial zeal that the leaders were the only ones to know and decide; all the rest were silenced to be mute and obedient servants and opiated observers of the doings and non-doings of their lifetime self-appointed leaders. It is on the shoals of such leadership that socialism was wrecked during most of the last century in several countries in which it had been installed.

The hopes socialism held for vast swathes of humanity was thus drowned on the altars of inefficiency, corruption and a want of adaptation to the changing world. Moreover, progress registered in market-driven economies in terms of wealth and income generation – sharply in contrast to much less achieved in this regard in socialist and/or “mixed” economies — tended to dwarf the potential of socialism as an alternative mode of social construction.

Consequences

It can be said that socialism has remained in the mind of those who are sincere as a high ideal state of being of society. To them, it is the state that does not deny citizens basic healthcare and education when they don’t have enough money to pay for accessing to such essential needs. However, the devaluation of actual practice to which it has been subjected internally by those claiming to be its protagonists has undermined belief in it as a system which delivers better than others. This negative track record has been accentuated by the reality and apparently greater achievement of non-socialist market models. These have tended to minimize the socialist realization potential in relative terms. By the same token, they have undermined the noble concept under which socialism was so universally espoused be it in the East or the West.

The recent international economic crisis has demonstrated that, left to itself and/or operating with unbridled control, the capitalist model also marginalizes the bulk of the populations of countries into highly vulnerable conditions. In Britain alone, there are 12.5 million people who are out of jobs for a long time now and adding, a large number of whom are young. And all this goes in the name of market rules unfettered by so-called “socialist shackles”. Those who sing the glory of unbridled capitalism make no case of the extremely uneven distribution of income and wealth this model has rolled out while bringing the economies themselves on their knees at the same time, inflicting a lot of suffering on those who are made to bear the consequences of inevitable – so they say — austerities of all sorts.

This lack of consideration for those who fall victim to the system is, along economic cycles, a regular feature of countries which claim to be socialists. There have been eulogies in favour of this brand of capitalism with claims having been put up – before the international crisis and China’s alternative demonstration of success – as the nec plus ultra and the “end of history”, i.e., the ultimate in human endeavour as far as the social impersonal model of development is concerned capable of fetching the highest good.

People see the protection afforded by the law to have shifted away from natural persons as the capitalist model has gained in span across the world. With time, machines and data have increasingly enjoyed even more protection in the non-socialist market-driven model of society. The worker increasingly finds himself alienated from the tools of his workplace. The capital equipment gets increasingly more highly validated and valued as compared to the worker. Taken to its logical conclusion, it looks like this model will also not stand the test of time as it has been the case of paternalistic socialism. The cycle of non-socialism is also progressing towards the same kind of excesses which brought socialism into disrepute. It is difficult to uphold as virtuous the economic system which cautions the insensitivity of the winner-takes-all concept.

There is a need to add a little bit of water to the wines in both the models and check the excesses once they start manifesting themselves. Without social justice, there is no society worth its name. As the scales which have moved to one extreme now are gradually overturned, there is a chance socialism will make a comeback to the fore. This is what the many social revolutions we are coming across for the past three years or so in countries which appeared to be firmly entrenched in despotism are actually showing. Governments will then take back their roles and responsibilities that were truly theirs but which they gradually relinquished into the hands of lobbyists and their rich crust of society. Let the world get better educated and the march of socialism which began centuries ago will assert itself once again, hopefully more soberly this time.


* Published in print edition on 23 August 2013

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