Monday 19 July 2010

Socialism and the Big Society

The Tories do not have the monopoly on the Big Society. They've parked their tanks on a lawn claimed by their greatest enemy. This tradition, the one this blog stands in, would like to see the state not only shrink, but dissolve. It wants the market economy to give way to democratisation and planning, enabling the gearing of production around need and not profit. The new society will see the bulk of the population participate in civic life and enjoy opportunities for developing their talents and interests in ways capitalism can never dream of, or accept. All of this is rests upon an organised, voluntary and conscious association of society's members. Socialism, to call this set up by its proper name, is the ultimate in Big Society thinking. And it's not just a nice idea: it's a potential future the development of capitalism has made possible.

This is a million miles away from Dave's vision of the Big Society. You can read his big speech

As conservatism goes there's very little new on offer. The Big Society is a blend of old One Nation Toryism (chillaxed with multiculturalism and LGBT folk), and a bootstraps philosophy that covers for the Thatcherite vandalism about to be inflicted on public services. Quite how dog-eat-dog cuts encourage philanthropy and "social action" is not really explained, beyond a vague notion of the state(!) helping people to help people.

At its core is the usual Tory obsessions with the small state. As is always the case, the shrinking of the state is about divesting the social responsibilities that have been won from it over decades of struggle. They never dismantle the apparatus of corporate welfare, such as the
Export Credit Guarantee Department. The secret services and the military mysteriously escape the conservative quest for the small state too. Attacking the socially useful is in, getting rid of the socially useless is out.

Burying deeper into this political vapourware, one finds a simplistic distinction between the state and civil society. On the one side is the state, and on the other there is everything else. The state can do productive things, but can only be used sparingly: it has an inherently deadening effect on the operation of market economies. It can lead to unreasonable expectations on the part of the electorate. If the state is rolled back, civil society can organise itself and, according to the blind virtue of the hidden hand, the greatest good for the greatest number will be achieved automatically, utilitarian-style! Small wonder Tories find corporate power unproblematic: they are but expressions of natural, self-organising processes. Their reality as amoral, rapacious, and dictatorial bureaucracies stuffing unpaid surplus labour into their insatiable maws flies under their radar. It's not that Tories are unusually cruel - though plenty of them are - it's that they cannot see things from the perspective of the class whose labour makes their existence possible.

There's little point critiquing Dave point by point. Reality will do a much better job of showing up the Big Society's contradictions and limitations than polemically raking his Big Idea over hot coals. It wont be long before Dave's BS ideology is interred in the faddish grave yard. A freshly dug plot has been reserved right next to the Third Way and Libertarian Paternalism.

In short, socialism is the *real* Big Society. Accept no pale blue imitations.


Bishop Brennan said...

Wow, I agree with you on something. Abolish ECGD now - corrupt, self-aggrandising... and those are their attractive aspects.

But the rest, well, let's just say: it doesn't work. Never mind - we should focus on abolishing ECGD :-)

Anonymous said...

But Phil, isn't the point of the phrase big society meant to sound non-controversial to all ears?

Recently, at the hustings for ideas in London, all representatives were asked to raise their hands if their candidate was for reducing the gap between rich and poor. Lo and fucking behold everyone raised their hand.

Were we to ask everyone: do you support thinking for yourself and the stregthening of communities for a better tomorrow, as well as Motherhood and apple pie, everyone would say ay.

The only synonym to big society, in so far as I can tell, is nonsense, smoke, mirrors and cuts. Socialism posts shits through big society's letterbox.

Boffy said...


I agree with most of this. The only point I'd disagree with is the idea about the Tories "small-statism". The tories have to talk about the small state to keep in with their core vote, and that I think explains why they have been forced into a corner over Cuts that are not in the interests of Capital. An example of that came today with a shock profits warning from Cable & Wireless who blamed it entirely on the Budget, and the withdrawal of Public Sector contracts. C&W shares dropped 17% on the news, and they've basically pointed out that they are just the first.

But, the truth is as I pointed out in my blog Big Society, Big Con, there is actually nothing small state in the Tories proposals. Its proposals for "State Aid" in setting up these voluntary associations are a straight copy actually of the proposals put for by Lassalle. Its top down, state directed "voluntarism". They will decide who gets to be voluntary, who is to get aid, and so on. Moreover, the State will continue to be the fundholder. This rag-tag of voluntary organisations will merely be commissioned to provide services. It will be like Tesco telling its suppliers how much it will pay them. The State will continue to demand taxes from workers to pay for this - no doubt much of what it takes in never finding its way to these providers. It enables the capitalist State to continue to expand, and to divert such resources to its chosen programmes, whilst getting this social provision on the cheap.

What we really need is for tax on the working class to be effectively abolished rather than taking 40% of what we earn. Give us the money, and let us set up our own organisations, Co-ops, Friendly Societies, and so on, and let us through these organisations act to commission the services we want ourselves, buying them in from worker owned Co-operatives. The Tories will not do that because it is as you say, and was Lenin's definition too, of Socialism.

Hugh said... you actually believe that the "secret service" and the military are socially useless? I mean, do you actually believe that?

Robert said...

The scheme is one of a number which could become models for Labour's proposed national "citizens' service" which the party's education spokesman David Blunkett hopes will help regenerate Britain by offering 750,000 young people who are currently outside education, training and work a role in the community.

same bull shit different name.