Editorial: what is humane socialism?

By Phil Hall and the contributors of Ars Notoria

I dreamed of a world where people got together into families and then organised into neighbourhoods. From there they organised into districts, then towns and regions and larger regions. I dreamed that everything that was political and economic and social and artistic, and environmental and recreative was pushed down, and decided on at the lowest possible level. Then I woke up and told my father about my dream. He was going through a difficult patch at the time, so when I told him he said, roughly:

That’s been thought of before.

I knew that it had been thought of before, but that was not the point. The point was that my unconscious had offered it up to me as a solution in a dream. My unconscious was troubled and wanted to help me sort out the problems that my conscious mind was working on. I was reading so much about revolutionary change and different types of socialism. The inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me. Aren’t socialists good people?

the inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me

What is the obvious puzzle that all humane supporters of communism are faced with? The problem of authoritarian socialism. It claims to eliminate all forms of exploitation, while, at the same time, clamping down on all dissent, murdering opponents, violating habeas corpus, removing people’s creativity, restricting freedom of expression and free will, abolishing the possibility of multiple parties, taking away all the independence of the judiciary and taking over all the media. And those are only some of the visible problems.

I am not at all interested in the arguments for a so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, are you? Doesn’t it sound repulsive? That is the period in which all class distinctions are removed and people are re-educated into a sharing and into a collective frame of mind. We have seen the perverse results of these ‘proletarian dictatorships’ in China and the former Soviet Union.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation. They believe in elites and vanguards and people being told what to do and think. When you think of communism, don’t find excuses for its failures. Look at it in the face.

Look at the man standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen square. Go and talk to Jewish people, and to other people of different ethnicities, about the prejudice they experienced in the former USSR. Talk to the survivors of the Cultural Revolution. Talk to the survivors of the terror.

And even in the best of cases, in Cuba, while they have many benefits, there is no political freedom, no democracy, no freedom of expression and no freedom of belief. There is a deep residual homophobia and the toxic vestiges of all the fossilised values of the 1950s that remained when the Fidel and his band took power.

In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe

But this is an old debate. In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe. There is no need to go too deeply into it here. So-called socialist parties like Labour were intensely comfortable with people being stinking rich. They made war on Iraq in the hope of lapping up the scraps of looted oil wealth fallen from the table of the USA. People nominally calling themselves socialists in Britain proudly claimed the inheritance of Thatcherism: privatisation and low taxation. One rule for the rich, another for the ordinary citizens.

As soon as politicians of any type are elected, they are targeted and corrupted – often well before they are elected. To be a successful politician, you need support from business and the billionaire owned media; you need money and publicity.

Afterwards, if you behave like a good little boy or girl, you will be offered speaking engagements, a job with a corporation, a foundation might be set up in your name. You might even get a directorship or two on one of the boards of the companies you benefitted.

And that’s the problem. The problem is that, inevitably, if you have an uncontrolled capitalist system, certain people are more effective, for good or bad reasons, and they gather more profit – they steal more of the value of other people’s surplus labour. Real economic power produces real political power.

You may vote socialist until the cows come home in Britain, but any socialist government will be a pushover for the people with real power in our country, and a pushover for the global corporations. That is, unless we act in concert to support socialism. Jeremy Corbyn was a missed opportunity.

You can’t face down or threaten, or disembowel the companies that pollute and exploit and pay low wages and encourage war, and who profit from illness, without a fight.

Do you think voting makes a difference to a huge mining corporation, a vast bank or an armaments company? These are people who make money from the misery and exploitation of millions. These are people who produce weapons that kill and maim thousands. Do you think they are afraid of you? No. But they are afraid of us as a collective. They fear it when a socialist government has the full support of the people.

I have met Labour MPs in the pay of companies, who have gone on business tours of Saudi Arabia. What were they selling to the Saudis? And that’s just the Saudis. Let’s stop there before we spiral into despair.

The corporate wizards behind the curtain

Someone once said to me, a teacher called Paul, that all the answers to life are in the film The Wizard of Oz.

There is actually some very important wisdom along the yellow brick road that I can find. The corporations, with all their money and power, are like the wizards behind the curtain speaking in big booming voices using megaphones impressing us with tricks and wizardry into subservience, resignation and the worship of billionaires. These wizards are not that impressive as human beings. Look at them closely! Look at Bezos and Musk and Zuckerberg.

Yes, it is true that the power of the corporations is real. Yes, it is true that the armies they might use to repress us use real bullets. They may even have cameras everywhere and be watching you on the Internet. They may have killer robots and drones. One day They may have DNA coded weapons – one day.

But where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads. We have to agree to everything. We have to agree that things should be the way they are; that it is right that they are the way they are.

where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads

In response to the seemingly immoveable power and reality of the status quo, Angela Davis quoted her mother. Angela Davis, growing up in Birmingham Alabama, cried when she was told that she could not use the local library because she was black. But her mother took her aside and said something to her that stayed with her all her life. She said:

Just because things are this way doesn’t mean that they should be this way. And it doesn’t mean they will always be this way.

For me, the lessons of Karl Marx and all socialists boil down to one very simple fact that isn’t a scientific or difficult at all. We can all understand it. There is no need to read anything to understand this fact, not even Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. It is not a mystery. That’s it!

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it. Because they are human. Humanism is at the heart of a fair and just, a kind and a free society.

How do we deal with the wizards behind the curtain, with their armed guards and their megaphones, their mass media, and all the paraphernalia in place that tries to guarantee that the relations to production are reproduced in a way that benefits them almost exclusively?

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it.

After the army, the Navy, the Air Force, the police and the prisons, the Internet is the most powerful weapon our masters control. They may monitor what people are thinking and target them.

But they can only obfuscate, confuse, misinform and persuade. They cannot stop people from thinking and sharing ideas. The weapon that we think is there to monitor and control us – the Internet – is a double-edged sword. It serves the purposes of socialists too.

Before we act, we must understand. Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists. On the contrary. Thinking and politicisation is the first step before you join a trade union, before you join a social movement, before you act you think and understand.

There is an alternative (TIAA)

When the USSR fell, the ultra-right neoliberal ideologues in the pay of the corporations in the USA, the current centre of global capitalism, were pleased. They claimed that it was the end of history and that there were no alternatives to capitalism any more and that capitalism could easily be reformed into something better and kinder. Do you see that kinder capitalism in operation around you now?

Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists

I know this is a childish reference, but it is a reference from my childhood. We were told that there was no alternative to capitalism. Margaret Thatcher was the witch who tried to hypnotise us in the UK into thinking this. There was even an acronym for it: There Is No Alternative (TINA).

And that makes me think of the witch in the Silver Chair, a book written by C. S. Lewis. The witch has tied prince Rilian to a chair and has thrown narcotic herbs onto the fire and she is saying.

“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?” they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is. Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

For years, with all the power of modern corporate capitalism behind it, after the fall of the USSR, socialists were told there was no sun. They were told that people were not good, that they were evil. That sharing and kindness were just a disguise for self-interest. That the only reality was the reality of looking out for yourself. That collective action was evil because it automatically denied the rights of the individual.

This story, with so much money and power behind it, was disrupted by children. Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young. The young people of the world are connected up now. They can see the wizards poking their heads through the curtains, those that do, and they don’t think that much of them.

They think there is the possibility of a better society and they really want it because they can’t get good, well-paid jobs easily, and because they see the dangers of automation, and because their health service is in the process of being defunded and outsourced and because property speculation has meant they have to live in tiny nooks and crannies give all their money away to landlords, and because they see the corporations externalising their costs madly and bringing us to the brink of environmental collapse. They know there must be a sun. There has to be a sun called socialism.

Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young.

The contradictions of capitalism mean the people at the sharp end of exploitation and marginalisation, when they understand what’s happening and why and to the benefit of whom, will act collectively against weird cabals of clever and cold-hearted little wizards.  

Three painful jokes about capitalism 

There were three jokes that did the rounds. Each one illustrates a different aspect of awakening. There is the cartoon in the New Yorker where the chairman of the board stands in front of the other members of the board and says:

“While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”

Then there is the joke where a multimillionaire confronts a young person in the street and stares at them and says:

I am a multimillionaire.

And the young person responds:

Oh dear!

And then the man standing in front of the young person says:

And I want you to like me!

And the young person looks even more worried and says:

Oh dear!

The third wasn’t really a joke. I am sure you remember it. It was a question:

What would think if one member of the family hoarded all the family wealth and food in his room so that there was nothing left for anyone else, and refused to share it with the rest of his family and threatened them when they came near the stuff?

You would probably call the police, or the hospital. You would think they had gone mad.

Modern capitalism is like smoking. We all know it’s bad for us.

Modern Capitalism is like smoking or cars designed without any safety features. We know that smoking and poor safety features on cars have killed and maimed many millions, many innocents.

The companies that made a profit from cigarettes and unsafe cars knew that the world knew. They knew that scientists had exposed them as pushers and killers and that ordinary people also knew. Cigarette manufacturers were just playing for time.

Modern capitalism is playing for time, too. It is the cause of poverty and climate change and of nearly all the evils faced by people on this planet.

It’s very simple. This is what you get if you run a society based on greed and exploitation.

But capitalism’s number is up. The problem of climate change alone is enough to kill it. So many of us see the creeps behind the curtain for what they are. They are not gods or wizards, they are usually just incredibly rich, selfish, ruthless dodgy old white men.

Noam Chomsky, bless him, answered the question perfectly. When he was challenged with TINA, and someone said that socialism had failed and that it has no alternative to capitalism, he said that of course there was an alternative.

It was to not exploit, to not pollute, to not declare war, to not divide and rule, to not do all the things that are done to ensure the wealthy stay wealthy and get wealthier. And to do the things that socialists, and perhaps even communists, have always wanted. And what are they? Well what is humane socialism? Humane socialism, my friends, is the socialism we want it to be.

I asked my fellow socialists on Ars Notoria what they wanted humane socialism to be and this is what they said:

One said: quote Thomas Hardy’s poem:

A Plaint to Man

When you slowly emerged from the den of Time,
And gained percipience as you grew,
And fleshed you fair out of shapeless slime,
Wherefore, O Man, did there come to you
The unhappy need of creating me –
A form like your own for praying to?

My virtue, power, utility,
Within my maker must all abide,
Since none in myself can ever be,
One thin as a phasm on a lantern-slide
Shown forth in the dark upon some dim sheet,
And by none but its showman vivified.

“Such a forced device,” you may say, “is meet
For easing a loaded heart at whiles:
Man needs to conceive of a mercy-seat
Somewhere above the gloomy aisles
Of this wailful world, or he could not bear
The irk no local hope beguiles.”

But since I was framed in your first despair
The doing without me has had no play
In the minds of men when shadows scare;
And now that I dwindle day by day
Beneath the deicide eyes of seers
In a light that will not let me stay,

And to-morrow the whole of me disappears,
The truth should be told, and the fact be faced
That had best been faced in earlier years:
The fact of life with dependence placed
On the human heart’s resource alone,
In brotherhood bonded close and graced

With loving-kindness fully blown,
And visioned help unsought, unknown.

Another said: Quote Keir Hardie’s Bradford speech:

I shall not weary you by repeating the tale of how public opinion has changed during those twenty-one years. But, as an example, I may recall the fact that in those days, and for many years thereafter, it was tenaciously upheld by the public authorities, here and elsewhere, that it was an offence against laws of nature and ruinous to the State for public authorities to provide food for starving children, or independent aid for the aged poor. Even safety regulations in mines and factories were taboo. They interfered with the ‘freedom of the individual’. As for such proposals as an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to work, and municipal houses, any serious mention of such classed a man as a fool.

These cruel, heartless dogmas, backed up by quotations from Jeremy Bentham, Malthus, and Herbert Spencer, and by a bogus interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, were accepted as part of the unalterable laws of nature, sacred and inviolable, and were maintained by statesmen, town councillors, ministers of the Gospel, and, strangest of all, by the bulk of Trade Union leaders. That was the political, social and religious element in which our Party saw the light. There was much bitter fighting in those days. Even municipal contests evoked the wildest passions.And if today there is a kindlier social atmosphere it is mainly because of twenty-one years’ work of the ILP.

Scientists are constantly revealing the hidden powers of nature. By the aid of the X-rays we can now see through rocks and stones; the discovery of radium has revealed a great force which is already healing disease and will one day drive machinery; Marconi, with his wireless system of telegraphy and now of telephony, enables us to speak and send messages for thousands of miles through space.

Another discoverer, through means of the same invisible medium, can blow up ships, arsenals, and forts at a distance of eight miles.

But though these powers and forces are only now being revealed, they have existed since before the foundation of the world. The scientists, by sympathetic study and laborious toil, have brought them within our ken. And so, in like manner, our Socialist propaganda is revealing hidden and hitherto undreamed of powers and forces in human nature.

Think of the thousands of men and women who, during the past twenty-one years, have toiled unceasingly for the good of the race. The results are already being seen on every hand, alike in legislation and administration. And who shall estimate or put a limit to the forces and powers which yet lie concealed in human nature?

Frozen and hemmed in by a cold, callous greed, the warming influence of Socialism is beginning to liberate them. We see it in the growing altruism of Trade Unionism. We see it, perhaps, most of all in the awakening of women. Who that has ever known woman as mother or wife has not felt the dormant powers which, under the emotions of life, or at the stern call of duty are even now momentarily revealed? And who is there who can even dimly forecast the powers that lie latent in the patient drudging woman, which a freer life would bring forth? Woman, even more than the working class, is the great unknown quantity of the race.

Already we see how their emergence into politics is affecting the prospects of men. Their agitation has produced a state of affairs in which even Radicals are afraid to give more votes to men, since they cannot do so without also enfranchising women. Henceforward we must march forward as comrades in the great struggle for human freedom.

The Independent Labour Party has pioneered progress in this country, is breaking down sex barriers and class barriers, is giving a lead to the great women’s movement as well as to the great working-class movement. We are here beginning the twenty-second year of our existence. The past twenty-one years have been years of continuous progress, but we are only at the beginning. The emancipation of the worker has still to be achieved and just as the ILP in the past has given a good, straight lead, so shall the ILP in the future, through good report and through ill, pursue the even tenor of its way, until the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.

Other recommendations were quite conservative:

Medical care for everyone, a good educational system, gender equality, reducing the gap between social classes, freedom of movement for individuals, a solid constitution to safeguard the people from dictatorship and corruption, freedom of speech and respecting human rights

Some people were clear about how they saw a future socialist society:

A humane, democratic and socialist society is one that is organised according to kindness, compassion and love. Its values and goals are that of unity, peace, equality and tolerance. These ideals are achieved by people living together as one community, abandoning our selfish, greedy and territorial ways, instead living for one’s neighbours and community, not oneself. A manifesto provides practical ways of how we can achieve this ideal. The overall aims of this manifesto is to fight injustice, poverty, climate change, war and capitalism, as these are the obstacles in the way of the world, we want to build.

Responsible and Sensible Leadership/Greater accountability of power

1. Pooling of sovereignty of all nations, so to prevent the outbreak of wars, international tensions and concerns for international security. It also ensures accountability of world governments, protecting democracy, human rights and civil liberties, as well as ensuring that governments commit to solving climate change, tackling poverty and dispensing social justice. Inspiration is derived from the European Union (EU), which has been credited for maintaining peace and protecting human rights for over sixty years.

2. Parliaments and governments to be elected by proportional voting. A “Swiss style” of government – a country led by a presidential council with equal representation of both men and women, rather than a single individual as head of state. Direct democracy, including more referendums.

Caring for our planet

3. Ban the use of fossil fuels and non-recyclable products and packaging. Invest in renewable energy, homes, products and transport. Use recyclable and reusable material in products and packaging. Improve and invest more into public transport. Plant more trees and create more green spaces in urban areas. Protect green belts, natural habitats, forests and fields. Stricter penalties for littering and causing pollution. Penalties to businesses and organisations that fail to cut carbon emissions. Sanction countries that fail to reduce carbon footprint.

4. Our planet is not only for humans, we also share it with animals and we should care more for them. Animal rights to have greater recognition and be taken more seriously. Reduce consumption of meat and move towards a more plant-based society. Stricter penalties for abuse of animals. Introduce more ethical farming.

No one is left behind

5. Nationalisation of all public services, making them accessible for all who need them. Improve these public services as well.

6. All citizens to be entitled to universal basic income and access to safe and clean accommodation, so that no one has to go without and have access to their basic needs.

7. Free healthcare, education and social services for all

A spiritually and emotionally healthy world

8. You work to live, not live to work. Workers rights to be protected. Four day working week to be introduced. More bank holidays to be introduced. Increase minimum wage. All employers must provide support for employees. Employees to be regularly motivated in their roles, by being made to feel appreciated and valued.

9. Make showing compassion and kindness to others, a social norm. Educate children and young people and encourage adults. An Inclusive World

10. Promoting diversity and ending discrimination. There is no place in society for discrimination and cannot be tolerated. Human rights are to be protected. Encourage society to be multicultural and accepting of difference. Introduce stricter penalties for discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexuality, disability and nationality.

Another person was heartfelt:

Compassion. Compassion even for those who may only be the figments of our deranged imaginations. Compassion even for those we will never meet, but whom we can imagine being. Compassion even for those who will never help us, and never even know of us. Compassion even for the lowliest ant, or fly. And gratitude for what we have.

Another said:

Justice for Palestine and for all oppressed people in the world, that the yoke of oppression be lifted.

Yet another person was a practical visionary:

  • There should be a commitment to a fair and open markets, recognising the dynamic, innovative role free enterprise can play.
  • Free expression through varied and free – but not corporate-dominated – mainstream media, including public media; controls on advertising
  • Commitment to strong government and public oversight, mediation and controls, to curb a free economy from becoming a casino economy.
  • Keep/restore the commanding heights of the economy including infrastructure and essential services, to the public sector, for example and specifically compensating private companies on the basis of value after tax, and reduction of total compensation by the amount of extra profit made.
  • Government and Unions each to make up 35 percent of Boards, 30 percent to be private sector owned.
  • Directors’ income in all forms to be strictly limited. This formula and these proportions to be followed in all case.
  • Renationalise BP, and reduce prices for petrol and diesel, compensating by value after tax, and reduced by amount of overpricing for the past five years.
  • Transform the economy into a CO2 zero emissions economy by 2030.
  • In stages, reduce investment in air transport dirty sea transport. Invest in expanding rail networks in the UK and in better transport links with Europe.
  • Prevent foreign investors from owning British properties and speculating with them or using them as a way to store wealth abroad. Investigate all the people who buy up property in Europe thoroughly.
  • Directors and executive incomes/expenses in all public sector or parastatal institutions to be capped.
  • All foreign investment to be for a minimum of three years, only half original investment to be returned if withdrawn before that.
  • Allow free movement of all non-resident EU citizens in the UK, with residence or new EU citizens subject to two-year renewable work permits until qualifying after ten years for permanent residence permits and/or dual citizenship.
  • Reciprocal arrangements to be negotiated with and between all EU countries and the UK.
  • All public works and parastatal/public sector institutions at national and local levels to increase job recruitment, and to reduce and strictly control tendering, consultant employment, outsourcing and sub-contracting
  • A Basic Income Grant (BIG) be provided to all adult UK citizens.
  • Affordable housing made available from through a massive building programme and through appropriating houses and flats left empty for speculative purposes.
  • Rents strictly controlled and  housing laws reformed to make Rackmanism a criminal offense
  • All student fees abolished and means tested grants made available to all students as they were with previous generations. All student debt to be cancelled.
  • All homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, racist, and anti-religious attacks to be punished by hard sentencing.
  • Internet companies like Google and Facebook to be replaced, banned or strictly regulated, and companies like Uber and Amazon to be fully unionised by law and to pay decent wages and
  • Freedom of speech laws on for the Internet to be worked out and published and implemented. Policing and surveillance and data collection to be limited to criminal activity and organisations.
  • Free light and water be provided for all legally recognised high density/low income housing.
  • Small businesses to be provided with a grace period for taxation of two years and to pay much less tax proportionately than the large corporations that currently avoid paying tax.
  • All British tax havens to be closed down.
  • Playgrounds and municipal buildings restored to their rightful owners and the local councils and boroughs to be well funded.
  • Taxation from the wealthy and corporations to be increased to a maximum rate of 90% for the richest corporations and most well off.
  • NHS to be given massively increased funding from increased taxation of the wealthy.
  • Free fast Internet to be provided to everyone in the UK.  
  • All housing estates be provided, pro rata, with a park, a civic/community centre, sports fields, a library and a small shopping centre; these all to be built as public works schemes, employing small building teams under strict public works supervision; tenders, where necessary, be administered under strict central government supervision.
  • Technical/vocational and IT training institutes be increased and facilities and staff upgraded throughout the country, being given high status in education.
  • Film, theatre, art and culture production to receive full subsidies.
  • The history and origins of traditional practices in all UK communities be researched and libraries and museums established, including museums on slavery and colonialism, with collections and displays of literature, films, photographs, dances, art, crafts and artefacts.
  • All accused of violent crime to the level of grievous bodily harm and more to be tried within three months, to be given no bail and if convicted, to receive mandatory long sentences.
  • Cannabis to be legalised in the UK, while strong action taken against people who trade in more dangerous drugs are redoubled.
  • The police service to be overhauled to reduce the amount of racism and prejudice and the mental health services to be properly funded so that the police don’t have to deal with so many people with mental health problems.
  • All forms of gender and sex discrimination are outlawed, and full human rights protected, and legal aid to be provided free to everyone to pursue any discrimination case.
  • Solitary confinement of prisoners to be banned.
  • Convicted prisoners to work 40 hours weeks at jobs useful to the economy and society, with an element of training for rehabilitation. The prison service to be taken back into public control.
  • Sign up again to the EU social charter and coordinate economic policies more closely with the EU, and allow free movement of people and trade within all member states again.
  • Government endorses an economic and social programme of overseas aid that is not only tied to British strategic commercial interests.
  • Government maintains strong diplomatic and trade relations with the European Union, particularly with its original core members and with the Scandinavian countries, and strengthens relations with Russia.
  • In the Middle East, suspend diplomatic and trade ties with Israel unless:
  • Israel guarantees as a preliminary step to return to its 1967 borders, return East Jerusalem to Palestine, and agrees to the right of return for Palestinians.
  • An unless Israel guarantees to remove all racist laws and religious discrimination – or returns to its 1948 UN-recognised borders, and if it continues as a racist state, is subjected to total sanctions and isolation as were Rhodesia and white South Africa.

Humane socialism will be what we want it to be. Dare to dream. Prepare to act!

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