Socialism: Modern-Day Expressions and Historical Antecedents

socialism

As we are currently dealing with an upsurge in left-wing revolutionary acts in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement, I feel as if it is necessary to examine such tendencies from a historical perspective, in order to recognize what is actually going on and what sorts of impulses are being channelled. Allusions have been made between what is going on in America today (and to a lesser extent, Britain) and the French Revolution, and though there is certainly a great deal of similarity, much blood and ink has been spilled since then regarding the establishment of ‘communist’ regimes throughout the world to warrant some distinction between the different strands of socialism which we currently see.

They are by no means in agreement with one another, and there has often been bitter competition and rivalry between the two, something which those on the right-wing sometimes fail to recognize. Nevertheless, there is enough similarity between them that they may still be considered part of the same general tendency, which seems to be a response to capitalism that expresses itself through such feelings as resentment, (self-)hatred and envy.

Firstly, let us examine the thoughts of one prominent early socialist thinker: Henri de Saint-Simon. He was a French aristocrat born in 1760, though he was a supporter of both the American and French Revolutions and renounced his aristocratic title. This reflected his dedication to industrialism, as he perceived the aristocracy as parasitic ‘idlers’ who subsisted on the hard work of the rest of society and contributed nothing to the general well-being.

saint_simon

Henri de Saint-Simon

His line of thought is similar to that of Karl Marx, though Marx attributed parasitism to the bourgeoisie rather than the aristocracy, perhaps reflecting the relative irrelevance of the aristocracy by the mid 19th Century (it is also important to note in this context that Marx was bourgeois himself) . Saint-Simon rather saw the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as productive members of society, creating wealth through their hard work and marketing of material goods, unlike the aristocracy, who he saw as simply the decadent remnants of feudalism.

The term ‘feudalism’ was coined in the 19th Century as a way to disparage that aristocratic order of the Middle Ages, which had consistently been undermined during the Early Modern Period by the rise of the bourgeoisie. This conflict represented differences in outlook between the aristocracy, who were of a passionate nature (kshatriyas who embody rajas, in Sanskrit terminology) and those who had both a passionate and ignorant nature (vaishyas who embody both rajas and tamas). The bourgeoisie were capable of understanding the power dynamics of the aristocracy, but lacked the spiritual understanding to perceive the purpose behind their behaviour because they operate from a materialist perspective.

It could also be argued that the aristocracy too had lost their connection to the sacred, as the sacral realm had been largely outsourced to the clergy over the course of the Middle Ages. This meant that pursuits associated with nobility, such as hunting, gaming, philosophizing and so forth came to be seen as mere ‘idling,’ because they had largely lost their Traditional purpose over the course of the Early Modern Period (particularly as the system of vassalage was replaced by reliance on mercenaries and standing armies in the Late Middle Ages).

As such, this provided the source of Saint-Simon’s criticism of the aristocracy, as he himself was raised as one of them, though it seems quite likely that he was not an aristocrat in spirit. Indeed, he seems to have been much more of a ‘technocrat,’ as it was he who first advocated technocracy, where qualified persons such as scientists, doctors and other experts in their fields are considered best suited to influence society and deserve places in government; unlike the decadent and out-of-touch aristocracy.

It was the perception of irreconcilable disconnect between the aristocracy (and the clergy) and the rest of society that contributed to the French Revolution, where the angered masses expressed their feelings of resentment, hatred and envy through mass bloodshed. The order set up in place of the French Kingdom was one based on liberal ideals, which themselves derive from Calvinism and have always been promoted by members of the bourgeoisie.

Opposed to this was the philosophy of Karl Marx, who maintained that by the mid 19th Century, it was the bourgeoisie who parasitized the proletariat (who mostly consisted of former peasants and cottage workers who sought work in factories) in the wake of the disappearance of feudalism in Western Europe. Marx criticized Saint-Simon’s philosophy as “utopian socialism,” in contrast to the “scientific socialism” advocated by himself and his colleague, Friedrich Engels.

Ironically, it is the ideas of Marx and Engels which seem more predicated upon the unrealistic idealism of an empowered proletariat replacing the bourgeoisie and establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat” that was intended to pave the way for the implementation of a stateless communism, in contrast to the pragmatic and comparatively collaborative attitude of Saint-Simon. He saw the bourgeoisie, proletariat and peasantry as all capable of working together as productive members of society, including bankers and merchants, who were dismissed by Marx for exploiting the proletariat.

It is the theory of class conflict which underpins Marxism and all other ideologies derived from it, particularly the emphasis on empowering the proletariat at the expense of the bourgeoisie. It is thus somewhat puzzling that the first revolution based on Marxist principles took place in Russia of all places, where the urban proletariat were still a small minority and the majority of people were still rural peasantry.

Though other socialist political parties within the Russian Empire were more successful in securing votes, it was the militant Bolsheviks (who represented the proletariat exclusively) who seized power during the October Revolution and simply disbanded the democratic institutions that had been set up in the wake of Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication; proving that they operated by the principle of ‘might is right,’ where brute force was the best method for achieving political goals. This has since been reflected in the approach of the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist regimes (such as in China, Cambodia and Cuba) towards political dissidence, which is to violently suppress uprisings with military force.

Such an approach is characteristic of a regime governed by the shudras (even if the founders of such regimes were just as likely to come from bourgeois backgrounds), who are wholly possessed of ignorant (tamas) nature and lack the sophistication of both the vaishyas and kshatriyas when it comes to power dynamics. Their approach is simply to take advantage of the angst felt by a nation weakened by war and famine and enforce their will upon it, usually by targeting scapegoats, who are often the most productive members of society (as in the case of the kulak farmers in Russia, whose crime was being able to increase agricultural production and ended up with more wealth than other farmers). However, once such regimes are established, they immediately become reliant on technicians and engineers and even businessmen to uphold the failing economy, because an economy that is centrally controlled is completely inefficient and often results in economic collapse and famine (as was the case following the Marxist-Leninist revolution in Zimbabwe).

Conversely, Saint-Simon was categorically opposed to government intervention in the economy (he was even a fan of the Scottish advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, Adam Smith) and instead favoured a technocratic approach to regulating the economy. History has proven Saint-Simon more perceptive than Marx, as perhaps one of the most long-lasting Marxist-Leninist regimes, China, has embraced technocracy; while the Soviet Union and all other Marxist-Leninist regimes in Eastern Europe have been replaced by mostly liberal democracies (though they are often corrupt and retain vestiges of the socialist establishment, and Belarus is still a dictatorship) and the remaining Marxist-Leninist regimes of the world have ceased to be relevant on the world-stage.

Still, to this day Marxists and Neo-Marxists provide ample footsoldiers for the aspirations of bourgeois technocratic socialists, some of whom established the Fabian Society in Britain in 1884 in order to promote the creation of a society modelled on the Italian Renaissance. They were opposed to Marxism in the sense that they advocated gradual reform of capitalist society rather than violent revolution. To that end, they advocated a universal healthcare system, a minimum wage, the abolition of hereditary peerages, eugenics (including abortion and contraception) and the expansion of the British Empire; they founded the Labour Party in 1900 to promote these goals within the political realm. Like the Liberal Party, they advocated progressive reforms, but were more radical in their proposals and were opposed to the individualism of the liberal tradition, instead focusing on collectivism.

Their symbols include the tortoise and the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, the former representing the gradual transition towards socialism, the latter representing their methods of subterfuge and deception in pursuit of their aims. In this way, Fabian socialism reflects more of a ‘utopian socialist’ philosophy than a Marxist one, though Marxism has always been popular within the Labour Party as it sought to rely on the support of the proletariat.

fabian_society

tortoise

Emblems of the Fabian Society, the top one was abandoned for having sinister connotations

However, because of the process of de-industrialization following Margaret Thatcher’s socio-economic policies, the British proletariat has diminished and no longer forms a viable base for Marxist aspirations (it could be argued that this was intentional, as the Soviet Union was still perceived as a threat at the time). This meant that the Labour Party had to target its appeal towards a growing middle class in the 1990s, leading to the creation of ‘New Labour’ under Tony Blair. This represented a conscious rejection of Marxist tendencies within the Labour Party in favour of its Fabian origins, with an emphasis on reform and ‘social justice.’

The subsequent shambles of the British intervention in toppling the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan (showing Labour’s continued dedication to supporting British imperialism), facilitation of record-levels of immigration (which has nevertheless continued to increase under the subsequent Conservative governments) and bailout of banks during the 2008 recession led many Britons to feel betrayed by the Labour government, and they have not trusted them since. Therefore, other avenues have been sought which seek to capitalize on the resentment of those deemed marginalized in society. Rather than drawing upon the growing underclass of ‘lumpen-proletariat,’ the Labour Party today seeks to appeal more to the grievances of feminists, LGBT activists and racial minorities.

This is known as ‘intersectionalism,’ which has developed in the West over the last few decades and is the culmination of a mixture of factors, including Fabian socialists gaining influence in educational institutions, intelligence operations carried out by the Soviet Union to undermine their ideological enemies and the sense of nihilism which has affected the West as capitalism and socialism have both kept society in the grip of materialism. Intersectionalism is partly based on the postmodernist idea that society functions on the basis of inclusion and exclusion and that power is held by an in-group who define what society’s needs are. Those who meet these needs are offered a share in power, while those who are not able to fit into society’s mould are excluded from holding power in society.

Though postmodernism provides a commentary on contemporary Western society more than it advocates potential solutions, these observations have been incorporated into Neo-Marxist discourse, which interprets social problems through the lenses of intersectional feminism and ‘minority nationalisms’ (such as Scottish or Welsh Nationalism in Britain and ‘Black Nationalism’ in America). Essentially, the core of this ideology is the incorporation of multiple demographic categories into Marx’s critique of capitalism; therefore, social privilege is not seen as being dependent simply on one’s socio-economic status, but also on one’s race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. To put it simply, those who are white, Christian, male and heterosexual are seen as holding power in society (and that they compose the in-group), so their position in society is equivocated with the bourgeoisie of Classical Marxism; while those who are non-white, non-Christian, female, non-binary, transexual or homosexual are identified with the proletariat and are considered to be exploited by the in-group.

The primary issue with this narrative is that it attempts to incorporate too many disparate identities into a Marxist paradigm. For instance, how does it explain that there are white, Christian, heterosexual men who are members of the proletariat? Conversely, how does it reconcile the fact that many non-Christians are highly conservative and intolerant of those who do not fit within traditional gender roles? Typically, folkish pagans are never considered ‘oppressed’ because they are white, but Muslims and Jews may be because they can be considered non-white. However, because there is no consistency when it comes to identifying who actually holds power in society and who does not, the most consistent theme seems to be the perception that race is the primary division in society.

Ironically, this appears to be a vindication of the outlook of Moses Hess, who was initially friends with Marx and Engels, but later became their ideological opponent. He was a French Jew whose ideas came to influence what became known as ‘Labour Zionism,’ as he advocated both socialism and the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. Following the gradual emancipation of Jews in Germany (as 19th Century Germany was composed of many independent states, some states granted emancipation earlier than others), there was an upsurge of ethnic hatred between Jews and Germans as they came to interact with one another to a degree which was previously very limited. Many Jews rose to prominence within German society, which provoked the ire of some Germans who disliked their characteristics, customs or attitudes.

moses_hess

Moses Hess

In response, some Jews came to formulate the ideology known as ‘Zionism,’ which maintains that Jews will always be at risk of harm when surrounded by non-Jews and that the only solution to this situation is to establish a Jewish state in Palestine (which has since been achieved). This movement was co-current with the rise of nationalism that swept Europe in the 19th Century, as individuals belonging to myriad ethnic groups sought to gain a sense of their place in the modern world, which was perceived by nationalists as dominated by cosmopolitan liberal interests at the expense of their ethnic traditions.

Jews were no exception to this, despite the fact that nationalism often expressed itself as the countryfolk defending their traditions against the uniformity of industrial society, while the Jews were primarily city-dwellers. This demonstrates how nationalism need not be explained simply by a conflict between city and country, but a clash of values between groups who hold differing values (or as something promoted by the state to enforce community cohesion, such was the case in Britain and France, where indigenous minority ethnic groups such as those speaking Celtic languages were discriminated against).

Hess was a socialist, but unlike Marx, he saw history as being defined by the struggle between races rather than social classes; a way of thinking which was mirrored by the Nazis, showing that Zionism and Nazism both originate from the same mindset. Hess singled out the Germans specifically as the primary enemies of the Jews (based on his experiences living in Germany) and maintained that they were incompatible, that Jews in Germany should resist assimilation into German society and should emphasize their Jewishness instead.

His concept on the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Palestine is akin to the notion of ‘Blood and Soil’ expounded by the German Conservative Revolutionary thinker, Oswald Spengler, which was meant to apply to the German people and was later adopted by the Nazis. This is in contrast to Marx who detested Jews (his father was born Jewish, but converted to Lutheranism as part of assimilation) and maintained that nationalism was simply a way for the bourgeoisie to further mislead the proletariat, emphasizing the international nature of class conflict.

While Hess has largely been confined to the history of Labour Zionism (and therefore, to the formation of the state of Israel), his ideas are similar to much of modern Neo-Marxism in that they are all based in feelings of insecurity by groups which are in the minority in the countries that they live in. I would not describe this is a ‘racial’ issue as both the far-left and far-right do, but rather one of ethnicity. Ethnicity may have a racial aspect, since ethnicity is self-constructed by communities seeking to identify themselves, but this is not the only factor. Others include the perception of gender roles, ritual customs, dress, language and religion, though multiple ethnic groups may share these things. The emphasis placed on the perceived grievances of black people is something which has striking similarities to the rise of Zionism following Jewish emancipation in Europe, which mirrors the end of segregation between blacks and whites in America.

The abuse of power by policemen is something which has been made into a racial issue, despite the fact that it is actually an issue which affects individuals of all races. We also have BLM protests in Britain, because such issues which affect America are being conflated with what is happening here, more because of a general sense of political and ideological solidarity with left-wing movements in America than because we have the same problems (in some ways yes, but in crucial ways no).

Racial segregation has never been enforced in the UK, though sometimes people of non-British ethnicities choose to live in segregated communities. The growth of such communities has been fostered by the immigration policies of the Labour Party, who wish to secure a voter base by capitalizing on the feelings of alienation within those communities, while the Conservative Party also benefits from such inter-ethnic tensions because it gives them an excuse to push for more mass surveillance and expanded police powers.

The political tension in this country is primarily between those who wish to maintain the current capitalist system and those who wish to replace it with technocracy in the vein of Saint-Simon’s ‘utopian socialism;’ all others groups are either subsumed under these or fight amongst themselves over petty ideological squabbles. It is worth emphasizing that those driving this power struggle are mostly from among the upper middle class, while everyone else will have the choice to either forge their own way, or to act as pawns in the power-struggles of the wealthy. Either way, it seems to me that the root cause of this particular problem is self-hatred among the white bourgeoisie that leads them to want to abolish their heritage, while the difficulties faced by those of racial minority groups serve as justification for their rejection of history.

This is because history clearly shows that it was mainly members of the bourgeoisie who were driving the expansion of the British Empire for commercial interests, and so it is those whose ancestors were directly involved in these enterprises that have spread their rejection of their ancestors’ legacies to much of the rest of the bourgeoisie through mass media. Their refusal to engage with the past constructively and come to terms with their own position in society shows the depth of guilt that refuses self-forgiveness for being born into privilege, because they are so strongly identified with their collective identities and are so out-of-touch with their individual selves. This is how it is today, but the same general trend also applied to socialists of the past.

However, I do not advocate that those in society who clearly do not hold significant power in it (no matter what race or gender they belong to) rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie as a Marxist would, since this simply feeds into the resentment that continues to disempower the common man and make him subservient to the state. Rather, we should seek to recognize our similarities with our fellow man, while also maintaining our own distinct affiliations and persuasions. While we may find it difficult to tolerate living alongside those who hold values opposed to ours, we can at least agree to let each live as he sees proper, though this in itself may be a contentious issue.

For example, if one can clearly see abuse going on within another community, is it wrong to interfere in their affairs, or is it one’s duty to look out for fellow humans despite belonging to a different group? This is a difficult question with no easy answer and we must take into consideration our own place within this context, such as to what extent do we have the right to take the struggles of others as our own? Self-empowerment should certainly be an aspiration, but giving and receiving help is also important, provided it is asked for. Otherwise, it is not one’s business to decide how another should live their life.

In this sense, it is counter-productive to direct one’s focus towards thoughts of revenge and retribution, since such sentiments only lead to more of the same. These sorts of inclinations are what drive extreme religious and political ideologies, which fundamentally derive from fear of the other and feelings of insecurity. Removing one’s perceived enemy through disenfranchisement or extermination will do no good, because for as long as such an identification persists within ones perception, the enemy will always reappear in some other form.

This is why it is not a good idea to go along with narratives which demonize others for whatever reason, though one must also learn to define oneself and know who one’s true friends are in order to co-exist peacefully with other groups. Self-defence is of course justified when an individual or group is under attack, and we should certainly resist efforts to physically or psychologically harm us. Just remember that it’s best to respond to the action rather than the actor, to not take it personally and thus risk falling prey to the emotional manipulation of demagogues.

Wulf Willelmson

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