Posted in Political Philosophy

On Arguing About Racism

My purpose in writing this piece is to try to offer a way to move beyond a current impasse in anti-racism dialogue. The problem arises when the question of whether or not white people can experience racism is asked. On one side are those who argue that white people can not experience racism because racism involves “power plus privilege”, and as we live in a “global white supremacist hegemony” then by definition it is impossible for white people to suffer racism. On the other side we have people pointing out fairly regular occurrences of white people being targeted for abuse simply for being white, which to them is ample evidence of white people actually suffering from racism. The two sides are locked in disagreement, which often descends into nonsensical arguments and accusations of the other side “being part of the problem” of racism. As a result, genuine action against racism is almost zero while student types control the discourse demanding that everyone else accept their definition of a word and verbally abusing anyone who disagrees with them.

I’ve experienced the arrogance of these (usually) white middle class anti-racists recently. The type who with no sense of irony demand that we adopt the definitions they learned on sociology degrees at white middle class first world universities, while simultaneously accusing anyone who rejects these definitions as being part of the “global white supremacist hegemony” problem. For full disclosure, I think white people can suffer from ‘racism’, but that is just because I recognise a rather mundane aspect of the English language – words can have more than one definition. So when we say a black person in America suffered from racism and then also say a white person in Scotland suffered racism, although we have used the same word (racism) we are not equating the two situations. Unfortunately this is not enough for some. I was previously told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome in either the SSP or RISE because I identify as a Marxist. That has now been followed up with me being told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome because I don’t share the stance that the “power plus privilege” definition of racism is the only acceptable definition. So as it stands I am currently in a state of limbo, I don’t actually know whether I’ve been expelled from SSP and/or RISE for not thinking in the way dictated that I should. I await an official communication from them to settle this one way or the other.

As I said above, I think white people can suffer racism. What usually happens when I say that is I’m then challenged to explain how this can be so, when white people have the privilege. This response misses the point, I tell them, I’m speaking from a different definition of racism. Call the “power plus privilege” definition racism-Φ, and call white people being abused for being white racism-Ψ. We can then see the mistake more clearly: I say “white people can suffer racism-Ψ”, to which it is argued “white people have privilege so can’t suffer racism-Φ”. It misses the point, they are talking passed what I said. When I point this out, that there is more than one definition in play here, they challenge me to explain why my definition should be used instead of theirs. Again, this misses the point. Words can have more than one meaning. These meanings don’t compete with each other, neither is independently more valid than the other. Competent users of a language can more often than not easily deduce what meaning of a word is being used based on the context. If we are talking about a black person in America we are using the racism-Φ meaning; the power plus privilege meaning. If we are talking about a white person in Scotland we are using the racism-Ψ meaning.

My hope here is that we can start to make progress, and get beyond this artificial barrier created by an inability of certain people to accept that others use language differently. Neither side is right or wrong in their usage of the language, they are just different. Certainly, if someone interrupts a discussion about police racism against the African-American population of the USA by saying something like, “yeah, but white people also suffer racism”, then that person is mistaken. Their mistake, however, was in the use of the word ‘also’ not in the use of the word ‘racism’. The word ‘also’ here conflates the different meanings of the word racism, it deliberately equivocates racism-Φ with racism-Ψ in order to shut down a discussion. These people need to be challenged, but it does not follow from this that every person who says that white people can suffer from racism also need to be challenged. To do so just leads to a situation where various injustices are competing with each other to demand our attention, with certain people claiming that only the genuinely ‘racist’ injustices should be tackled. We should reject this position, and to paraphrase Che, we should shake with indignation at EVERY injustice, not try to be clever about which ones deserve our attention and which ones don’t.

This problem finds it roots in the identity politics which currently infects most of the left. As with many modern feminists, the modern anti-racist movement has also lost any sense of class consciousness. This common problem between the two is most visible in the question of domestic labour, which is now largely understood in terms of “unpaid labour” and income for housework. Income is a matter of consumption; class is a question of production. Rarely do modern feminists or anti-racists struggle against the existing labour relations based on the hegemony of global capital. The few exceptions were the historical-materialist feminists and anti-racists of the 70’s and 80’s, who engaged the class consciousness of gender, race and sexuality. Unfortunately this work has largely been abandoned and cut off by the modern feminists and anti-racists due to the rise of identity politics amongst the left.

Racism, contrary to Foucauldian theory, is not simply a matter of asymmetrical power relations. Nor is gender, nor is sexuality. Racism (even understood as only racism-Φ) is not simply oppression, it is not simply the exercise of power by whites over blacks. There is a lot more going on here than simply white versus black. Power is the social and political manifestation of the ownership of the means of production. Clearly the means of production are overwhelmingly owned by whites, but it is a failure of logic to conclude from this that all white people are therefore part of the “global hegemony”. The vast majority of whites don’t own the means of production either. This gives the modern anti-racist a problem if they get this far: it appears that if they are intent on demanding the “power plus privilege” definition of racism be the only one permitted then they are going to have to accept that the vast majority of whites can not be racist, as they have neither the power nor the privilege that comes with ownership of the means of production.

At this stage they play what they believe to be their trump card. All dialogue, they claim, is created by the “global white hegemony” to protect itself, so by taking part in this dialogue all white people are in fact talking from a position of power and privilege as they are talking from the position of the white supremacists. Now I’m no stranger to the argument that the media and politicians use language in a certain way to protect the power of the ruling class, I made that very argument in a previous contribution to this site. However, in claiming that it’s not only the media and politicians but the population at large who take part in this sort of power preserving dialogue, the ‘white middle class-ness’ of these sorts is painfully apparent. Remember, the people I’m talking about here include EC members of the SSP and prominent members of RISE (Scotland’s Left Alliance). They are supposed to represent Scotland’s working class, but comments like these create the impression that they have never actually conversed with anyone from the lower classes. Our language in no way whatsoever resembles the language of the ruling class. If a Rupert Murdoch or Prince Charles were to find themselves in a housing estate in Glasgow or Inverclyde or Dundee they would find the locals totally incomprehensible. The language used by the working class has often evolved through conflict with the ruling class, not to protect it. The language of the working class is rooted in our working class communities, not in some hidden conspiracy to protect the capitalists. And this language which evolved independently and in conflict with the capital hegemony also includes the way many working class people use the term racism (i.e. racism-Ψ). Nothing could be more hegemony protecting than demanding we drop our working class usage of the language in favour of a usage supplied by first world white middle class university students.

Posted in Political Philosophy

Marxism, the Proletariat and the Working Class

“The proletariat is not the working class. All of Marxism has misinterpreted Marx in confusing the two”. (Bernard Steigler, 2010)

“The lower strata of the middle class – the small trades-people, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants – all these sink gradually into the proletariat…  Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto)

Marxism has a problem, and while many have noticed it Steigler addresses it in his 2010 work For a New Political Economy as part of his project of applying the Marxist method to the modern economy. Those who have held the mistaken belief that the proletariat is synonymous with the working class will be surprised by some of the conclusions Steigler (begins) to draw. In the short piece that follows I will try to sketch out the correct way to understand the proletariat, and think about what that means in today’s economic and social reality.

Now I don’t want to suggest that the entire history of Marxism is somehow redundant because of this common misunderstanding. It’s not. But to truly understand our reality it’s important to correct this misunderstanding. There are of course very good reasons why people have historically misinterpreted Marx in this way. Marx did at least two things. He gave us a scientific method with which to critique our society, and he applied that method to his own time and place. In Marx’s time and place, at the early stages of capitalism, it could have been correct that the proletariat was limited to the working class. That is just an observation, a snap shot if you will, of that particular moment in history. It should not mean that we forever use the terms working class and proletariat interchangeably. To do so would be to confuse Marx’s method with the particular results gained from that method at an arbitrary point in history. When we apply the Marxist method to the economies of today’s world we find that the processes of proletarianisation, the processes which act upon members of the proletariat, have acted upon a wider range of the society than in Marx’s day. This points to the simple fact that the proletariat is wider than merely the working class.

A very simple Marxist definition of “proletariat” is those who do not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labour. There are some well known objections to this definition, such as pointing out certain groups of people who don’t seem to fit into either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. I am of the opinion that this simple definition is indeed inadequate, but can be salvaged by in some way making reference to the processes of proletarianisation. That is an intuitive feeling I have, I don’t pretend to have found an unproblematic way to solve the problem. Needless to say the existence of the proletariat is not in any doubt, the history of class struggle is ample evidence that the proletariat is a real aspect of our society. Although for the sake of philosophical completeness I would like to see a definition that truly captures the essence of the proletariat, and that is where I find the simple definition above to be lacking.

So what are these processes of proletarianisation? Most of us who have been taught Marxist thought (sadly not nearly enough of us) will probably have been taught about alienation. It’s quite a simple avenue by which to gain access to Marxism. Simply put, alienation is a sort of estrangement of people from aspects of their humanity. This is usually taught in regards a worker’s relation to his own labour.  In capitalist society each worker becomes an instrument or a thing, not a person. The advent of Fordian or “assembly line” production took this further. Each part of the production process was identified and delegated to different workers, with none of the workers knowing the full “beginning to end” of the production. In Steigler’s terminology, the workers had become separated from savoir-faire; literally “knowledge of how to do” although better understood as “skills”. The craftsmen of old had owned their own labour, had known their endeavours intimately and made a living by selling the products of those endeavours. Not so with the newly emerged working class. They didn’t own their own labour; they sold it to the capitalist class in return for just enough money to survive. Further, another process was becoming evident, one that removed knowledge from the workers and placed it in systems out with their control. The result is alienation, the processes that result in alienation can be thought of as proletarianisation. The proletariat are those upon whom the processes of proletarianisation act, regardless of whether or not they have resulted in some form of alienation yet.

That is the account of proletarianisation or alienation that is typically taught at schools and colleges. It is one very much rooted in Marx’s own experience of life in the Industrial Age. When we consider modern times, the Information Age, we see the same processes in action – but now in different ways. In the Industrial Age it was skilled workers who became estranged from their labour, in the Information Age we see this occurring with knowledgeable workers. Information technology has reached a stage whereby anything we could want to know is easily available at the touch of a few buttons (or a touchscreen). When we phone a company for specialist advice, often we find ourselves talking to someone in a call centre somewhere who merely inputs information you give them into a computer and then respond to you by following the on screen prompts. We no longer speak to experts. Once again, knowledge has been removed from the worker and placed in external systems (literally into the computer systems in this case). The result being workers who are estranged from the knowledge they are working with.

This is isn’t restricted to workers either. It extends into our lives away from work. How many of us shop online now? This probably involves simply buying whatever recommendation the system makes. I’m certainly not immune to this. I just bought flights to Russia. It was as simple as typing “Glasgow to St Petersburg” into Google on my iPhone, then purchasing one of the (cheaper) results. My knowledge of making travel arrangements is now reduced to knowledge of how to use my phone. All other aspects of that knowledge (such as knowledge of routes, which airlines fly where, etc) are contained in the IT systems. Knowledge of how to get myself from here to there has begun to be removed from me and put into the modern information systems. It’s not only travel arrangements where this is happening either. As more of our consumerist habits take place online, so more of our savoir-vivre (“knowledge of how to live”, to borrow another of Steigler’s phrases) is lost to us and relocated to external systems.  (Arguably this proletarianisation of consumers actually started with the advent of supermarkets.)The result, and one which Marx could not have predicted, is that it’s not just as workers that we find ourselves in the proletariat, it is also as consumers.

It is not just among members of the bourgeoisie that we find evidence of the spread of proletarianisation either. The 2008 economic crash suggests that these processes are now working on those many of us would consider to be the elites. Just think of the confusion when the crash happened. Many of the so called experts just didn’t see it coming. And in hindsight why would they have? Far from being experts, they are simply the assembly line equivalents of the financial industry. They may know their own little part of the gig inside out, but they lack that “beginning to end” knowledge that assembly line production removed from the factory worker. The financial elites, or at least the lower strata of those elites, have been deprived of the knowledge of their own financial industry, and without that bigger picture view they were unable to see the trends careering towards global financial catastrophe. Many bankers, simply responding to data and prompts much like the call centre worker, have become grossly overpaid proles!

Posted in Political Philosophy

Socialist Language (updated version)

I have noticed a rise in the number of articles recently that make an appeal for socialists to stop using socialist jargon. This has coincided with a large number of (mostly younger) socialists demanding that no “old language” be used at all as it (somehow) harms socialism. I have been accused personally of being harmful to the cause because of the language I use. I challenge those making the accusations to go through any of my writing or radio broadcasts, all of which are freely available, and point out to me the harmful language that I use and suggest what I replace it with. So far none of them have taken me up on this offer. I guess that’s because that while I write from a (post-)Marxist perspective I tend to use my normal daily language to do so. Sure I use the occasional “comrade” when greeting party members, but I’ve yet to be given a credible reason why I shouldn’t. If you don’t like it I won’t call you “comrade”, but don’t tell me I can’t use it at all!

This is almost always related to another problem, those who say things like “Marxism is irrelevant today”. It tends to be the same people saying these things. They will tell you quite freely that they don’t understand Marx, but without any sense of the irony will make grand sweeping statements about how irrelevant Marx is anyway. Now while it’s true that not all socialists self-identify as Marxists, since at least the First World War all socialism has to one extent or another been influenced by Marx. We may argue about the degree to which Marx is still relevant (I will do something approaching that below) but it is astounding ignorance to claim the entire history of Marxist thought is now irrelevant.

When writing about what sort of language socialists should be using, there is a risk of setting off quite a heated debate about what at first looks like a fairly mundane topic. There are bigger things to worry about surely? Privatisation of the NHS, low wages, zero hours contracts, illegal wars, nuclear weapons stored on our territory against our will, discrimination, racism, etc. With all of that going on, why worry so much about whether or not the proper way to greet a fellow socialist is a friendly, “Hi comrade”? Looks can be deceiving. Language is incredibly important to all of us; both at a personal level and at the level at which certain groups are able to control society.

At the personal level language is how we ‘interface’ with our environment; it is how we connect the inner workings of our own mind with the outside world. It is how we think, it is how we communicate our own thoughts with other people and it is how we assimilate what is being shared with us. There is of course a need, therefore, to find the best way to express our socialist arguments so that others are able to properly assimilate them into their own understanding of the world. That is the spirit in which the younger socialists I mentioned above have made their appeal that we avoid certain aspects of our socialist language.  We have to be careful, however, not to put up barriers to those who are already totally comfortable using the so-called obscure socialist terminology. If we tell them they are not allowed to use that language we are effectively stopping them from taking part in the debate. We are removing from them their own means of thinking about the issues and communicating their thoughts on those issues.

At the level of social control language is crucial, as those who control the language control the society. George Orwell was perhaps the first to recognise this, and his invented language of Newspeak in the novel 1984 was an attempt to display this thought. Recall that Newspeak consisted solely of jargon in which heretical ideas became impossible to express or even to think. In today’s world, real life examples of Newspeak are rife in the jargon laden languages of politicians, business leaders and media who limit language in order to preserve their own power and privilege. Their demand that any criticisms be translated into their own language before they’ll take them seriously is intended to crush the possibility of articulating ideas dangerous to the status quo. My concern with those on the left who demand that we translate our language in this way is that they have been naively convinced by the demands of these people. Their arguments about why we should change our language usually tend to centre round feelings of embarrassment and a belief that we’ll be taken seriously if our language were to mimic that found in the modern media. The demands of the powerful, however, were designed deliberately to invoke this sort of reaction in the knowledge that if we do give up enough of our language then we have essentially conceded control.

Before Orwell, Marx himself had understood that the “bourgeoisie” language had evolved in such a way as to obscure the realities of “real life” (although he never made the connection to social control that Orwell later would). During his engagement with the problem of democracy, Marx tackled the larger issue that he called “bourgeoisie categories of thought”, which are essentially ways in which the new capitalist states categorised their ideas of freedom, equality and liberty. In The German Ideology he explores how these categories actually obscure our understanding of the realities of social conditions and relations. The “bourgeoisie” language (or “modern” language in today’s debate) was therefore unsuitable for an account of life as it is actually lived under capitalism (Marx uses the term ‘civil society’ to refer to this reality).

So this debate about the language we use is not new; it has been hotly debated by socialists for well over one hundred years now. In the current incarnation of the debate it’s argued, “It’s not that we should attempt to “dumb down” our arguments so much as that we should be trying to make these arguments relevant to the day to day struggles of the working person.” When framed in this way the argument certainly has a sort of intuitive appeal to it, although it completely misses the point that this is exactly why socialists (Marxists in particular) have historically wanted to avoid the bourgeoisie/modern jargon (again, think of Marx and ‘civil society’). If we want people to agree with and accept our message then of course we have to present it to them in a way that they will understand it. However, I think this type of argument is in danger of becoming elitist and extremely dismissive of the working class. It is the type of argument made by champagne socialists, the sort who think they are superior to the “poor workers”. The working class do not generally struggle to understand complex ideas or language. Just go into Tesco, pick up a “hobby” magazine (about fishing or photography as an example) and look at the language in there. It is incredibly technical and complicated at times, but that’s no barrier to us down here in the working class from understanding it. If we don’t need to constantly translate fishing and photography magazines into a simpler language, why the constant demand we do so for our socialist arguments? The claim, I guess, is that by using language that is obscure we are behaving in a rather self defeating way. Our “obscure socialist language”, some have said, alienates us from the people we are trying to reach because it is just irrelevant to their day to day struggles.

The difference of opinion that this issue generates could be due to the issue is not actually being as straightforward as it first appears. Is the problem that socialist language is irrelevant, or is the problem that it is obscure? These are clearly two different problems, but I believe that most appeals to change our socialist language are guilty of conflating the two. If there are two different issues here, it could well be the case that they require two different solutions.

Consider for a moment an unrelated example: phlogiston. In the past, students of chemistry would talk of grand and complicated theories about phlogiston, which was believed to be an element stored in physical objects and that was released during combustion. Of course, talk of phlogiston must sound extremely obscure. How many people have ever heard it mentioned? It is also completely irrelevant as we now know that there is no such thing as phlogiston. The correct thing to do with regards phlogiston language was to stop using it.

The question seems to be, how much does socialist language resemble phlogiston language? Phlogiston language was both obscure and irrelevant. This does not seem to be the case with socialist language. No doubt contained within the millions of words written about socialism we will come across some aspects which are both obscure and irrelevant. The correct thing to do with those aspects is to stop using them (if anyone still does). That seems like an obvious truth, one that doesn’t really need to be argued for. The vast majority of socialist language is clearly not of this sort. It may be obscure, or it may be irrelevant, but it is rarely both.

Some famous quotes from Marx might help illuminate this point. Let’s start with, “In every stockjobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety” as found in Das Kapital. If you were to give this quote to people and ask them to explain it, most I’m sure would be extremely puzzled by it. Its meaning is quite obscure, at least to those not familiar with Marxist economics. Marx is talking about what today we would call Ponzi schemes. In fact, even putting it in today’s language and calling it a Ponzi scheme rather than stockjobbing doesn’t really make it any less obscure. It is however totally relevant. It is exactly these sorts of economic practices that can wreck national or global economies, and as such exactly the sort of thing socialists should be trying to warn the working class about. Its obscurity does not seem to translate into a reason to stop talking about it, and no-one seems to be suggesting that we stop using the phrase “Ponzi scheme”.

Contrast this with, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, the famous line found in Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), although first used as a slogan by Louis Blanc in 1851. There is no obscurity here; the meaning is blatantly obvious (hence why it makes a good slogan). It is, however, a slogan that we should probably stop using. If we are aiming to make life better for the masses then this quote is totally irrelevant, as a real life implementation of this would be no Utopia. Arguably the Soviet Gulags were organised on this principle, where prisoners were given the basic minimum of their needs while it was demanded that each work to their maximum ability, until such time as death intervened. A state of affairs that in no way would make the life of the masses any better were it to be implemented generally!

Even if we were to be generous to Marx, and grant that this principle would not result in an über-Gulag type society, it is still not clear that this principle bears any relevance to the modern worker. While Marx gave us a scientific critique of capitalism, which enabled him to predict many subsequent developments, one thing which he failed to predict was the rise of consumerism. Today workers do not work just to meet their needs. They also work to satisfy their desires, such as a holiday abroad every year, the latest gadgets, a nicer car, etc. (Without going into the details, Marx was of course aware of a difference between needs and desires. In fact, his account of the development of culture was based on desires. This sort of desire however has a different psychological explanation than consumerist desires.  Some post-Marxists differentiate between desires and drives to make a distinction.) While combating the excesses of consumerism is of course a battle that socialists should take on, to only promise people that their needs will be met in a socialist society seems to fundamentally misunderstand the psychology of the modern worker and is very unlikely to win much support. This seems like the sort of thing we should stop saying despite it not being obscure in the slightest, and despite it not being the type of language that those suggesting we make changes have in mind.

I don’t suggest that any of the above is conclusive. I do hope that it highlights that the issue is not as straight forward or as obvious as some have claimed. There does certainly seem to be a case to demand that we drop all “irrelevant” language from our discourse. It is not always obvious, however, which aspects of our socialist language are irrelevant, and when it is irrelevant its irrelevance is usually unrelated to whether or not it is obscure.

Now, after saying all that and after expressing how important I think this debate is, I want to suggest that we don’t overstate the importance of saving particular words from those who are intent on trimming our socialist vocabulary. Marxism is not akin to a religious doctrine, it is not something whose specific content is to be taken as a universal truth. Instead, Marxism is a method for understanding our social-economic reality. It is the tools rather than the finished product. So in this sense at least we don’t need to worry about saving every piece of jargon, so long as we have another ready to take its place. We should be wary, however, that nothing quite captures the meaning of a word like that word itself. When we stop ourselves from using certain words, we are left with words which only give us an approximation of the meaning we are trying to convey. If we use too many approximations it is unclear whether we can actually claim to be conveying our message at all. So if we are to make any changes to our socialist language, we had better be damn sure that the Marxist method can be properly understood and learned in our “new” language, whatever that may be.

Posted in Political Philosophy, Scottish Politics

Socialism for a Modern Scotland

Socialism

Socialism was an alternative to free market fundamentalism throughout most of the 20th century. Its influence on world development is enormous. Over the past decades, the world has changed dramatically and continues to change rapidly. However, the rapid development of technology has not made the world more just, or freer, or more united. There are millions of people living in extreme poverty, and a continuing trend of deepening social inequality. The processes of globalization have shown even more clearly the barbaric nature of capitalism. Global free markets have created a new injustice, and their “invisible hand” is increasingly transformed into an iron fist. The world economy is divided, into affluent centres and poor peripheries. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Whole countries have been turned into raw material appendages of the multinationals.  There exists a huge gap between rich and poor countries and it provokes conflicts such as the ugly phenomenon of international terrorism.

The inefficiency of the current market, which rules via an unchallenged monopoly, was apparent even in the middle of the last century. Capital is becoming more speculative as money turns into more money without being tied to production. Hundreds of billions of dollars are carried around the world in search of profit. The pinnacle of the liberal “creativity” became the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. This is the third large-scale economic crisis in the last quarter century.

To socialists, the current catastrophe being suffered by the international financial system was obvious long ago. The world pyramid of fictitious capital has reached such proportions that it threatens to collapse and crush beneath it the real sectors of the economies of many countries.

Now even the most orthodox adherents of the free market are beginning to speak the language of social democracy, although the need for state intervention in the economy has not even been discussed. What the discussion should really focus on is how to make government regulation of the economy most effective.

The world lives today, not just in times of change, but at the time of the change of epochs. Financial, economic, social and environmental issues should be part of a single progressive political plan, and its priority must be the interests of the people.

The Scottish Socialist Party recognises that in our modern age there exist not only serious threats, but also a huge opportunity. To take advantage of this opportunity requires the active use of public resources to stabilize the markets, which is unacceptable from the ideological positions of liberalism. Therefore, the alternative to the old world order can only be a socially oriented economy and a rejection of liberalism. The economy must be subordinate to the interests of society.

Only the socialist and social-democratic parties are able to take current global processes under public control, as well as protect the social rights of the common people and the national interests of their countries. Only they can create a more just and secure society, a society in which the interests of the people come first.

Socialism is not an abstract project; it is a necessary tool with which to reconstruct reality. Its current agenda is the humanization of the social and economic life of the community; ensuring public control over the use of the natural resource potential of the planet; respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens; improving living conditions for present and future generations. Socialism is based on the huge cultural and historical experience of mankind, and on the national, historical and spiritual heritage of each country.

Socialism in Scotland 

The party firmly believes that the economic model of neo-liberalism, implicit in the manifesto of all the major parties, has proven to be a complete failure and cannot continue to be the dominant economic structure in Scotland. Especially since the discovery of North Sea oil, but arguably for the entire history of the union with England, the country has failed to realise a significant part of its potential development. The current economic structure has been systematically unable to solve any social problems and has resulted in further alienation of the people.  

As a party, the SSP is deeply concerned about the situation in the country, the threats and challenges faced by the Scottish society and by every person. Social stratification and increasing inequality have become rampant. A recent report described Scotland as facing a “humanitarian crisis” caused by poverty.[1] Insecurity has lodged in the hearts of millions of people. The human resources of Scotland are being depleted, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively, as our people are forced to move abroad to find work. This is viewed by the party as not just a problem that must be solved immediately, but as a large scale threat to Scottish society and the future of our country.

The Scottish Socialist Party believes that socialism, as a conscious democratic choice in a fully independent Scotland, is needed to protect the long-term interests of Scottish society. Socialist ideas firmly anchored in the spiritual and moral values ​​of the people of Scotland. The party have been instrumental in developing the socialist idea so that it meets the challenges of the 21st century as well as the traditions of the Scottish people and culture. This is what I mean by a “new socialism”.

A “New Socialism”?

The term “new socialism” may be misleading, but not intentionally. I do not mean that socialism has been reinvented in Scotland, just that it has been “revamped”. The core values of our Scottish socialism are the same as they always have been, and are the same as values of other socialists in other places. There is no doubt, however, that the campaign for independence has injected freshness into the Scottish socialist movement and displayed on centre stage the relevance of socialism to 21st century politics.

Socialism can be understood as a promising socio-economic model for the modern age. It inherits all of the previous experience of human civilization, including market experience, but adds our advanced technology, social programs, democratic rights and freedoms. In the modern age, the basic condition of the people is achieved via education. Therefore, new socialism aims to provide free access to knowledge for the betterment of the basic conditions of human life, strengthening the autonomy of the individual. Access to free education is a guarantee of prosperity and security, for the individual and the society.

Socialism should also be understood as a workable government, based on the choice and confidence of the people, which is under rigid democratic control. The state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens and the citizens are responsible for the effectiveness of the state. The people do not exist for the state; the state exists for the people, ensuring full respect for their legitimate rights. The state is primarily a service provider to the people. The most important task of the state is to ensure that one part of society cannot dominate another (for example, to ensure that the media cannot dominate and influence the legal system).

Our socialism would actively use the state for the preservation of the spiritual traditions and values ​​of the people, and the protection of the national culture and languages.

The above ideas may not sound new, and serve to highlight that the “new socialism” I am discussing is in many ways just a continuation of previous socialist movements. However, there are some new ideas which socialism for our modern age must accommodate if it is to appeal to the population. A new socialism must also mean that there is no more “right” or “wrong” socialism; there is not a single ideology which is to be realised on the implementation of the socialist project. There are values ​​that unite the world socialist movement. The European social-democracy focuses on the implementation of democratic alternatives to the private market economy. Latin American countries and China implement socialist principles in the framework of their chosen model of state capitalism. Russians socialists study the Soviet Union and decide what to leave to historians and what to take with them into the future. We cannot build a socialist country in isolation, but that does not imply that we must build the same socialism everywhere. In Scotland we can choose our own path!

So what is it about this new Socialism that will win us support in Scotland? New Socialism involves an active state social policy of social security for its citizens. Basic social guarantees include minimum wages and pensions of at least legislatively mandated social standards, free medical care for all, free education for all, the right to social housing, the normalized cost for utilities and ease of access to the cultural heritage of the nation. This is not about handouts from the state; it is about caring for the main wealth of the country – the people. These are the obligations of any state to its people. The fate of the Soviet Union, amongst others, has demonstrated that if the state is not fulfilling its obligations to the people, then the people will relieve themselves of responsibility for the state.

Our socialism is also to be understood as a socially oriented market economy. The term “market economy” should not be understood in any way that is contrary to socialist ideals, and should definitely not be confused with capitalistic ideas of a free market. Although it does accept one truth that the capitalists got right, that competition is one of the most important aspects of economic justice. As opposed to the capitalists understanding of this truth, however, we use competition to empower the workers, not to forcibly reduce their wages and living conditions.   Socialism, so understood, essentially empowers people to engage in business, and stimulates private initiative and business activities. It allows workers to use their skills to take control of their own labour, which will result in more small businesses and self employed workers.

Acting most fiercely against this competition today, against the “fair rules of the game”, is the government in alliance with the multi-nationals who control capital. Public interest should prevail over the interests of the capitalists. If capitalists ignore the social consequences of their activities, then they have no right to continue in those activities. New Socialism does not accept the rule of unbridled market forces and instead redistributes power over the market; from the capitalists to civil society and the state. By implementing this new Socialism we will strengthen the institutions of civil society that can become a real force, as opposed to excessive government intervention and the unlimited power of the free market.

We are for a market economy but not a market society! The spread of market relations outside of the economy destroys the moral atmosphere in society and hardens people. There can be no market between the people and the government. Important spheres should also be kept beyond the power of the market, such as medical research. Likewise, the national culture should not live by the laws of the market.

Socialism must also embrace a variety of forms of ownership. Any form of property ownership, if law-abiding and competitive[2], has a right to exist. By socialism we do not mean the elimination of private property, but political regulation of property rights and the establishment of state controls over the ownership, disposal and use of the property. Private property is only to be abolished, and replaced with common ownership by the people in the spheres of natural resources, industries of national importance and the cultural heritage of the country.

Socialism in Scotland is now inseparably connected with democracy and can only be developed by relying on the democratic process. The Scottish Socialist Party places particular importance on consolidating all forms of participatory democracy, so that the working classes have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process, to take part in state affairs so to speak. A true representative democracy is a participatory democracy! Our socialism promotes the development of all levels of government and increases the participation of regional and local authorities in solving the pressing problems of life. Our Socialism gives impetus to the development of civil society institutions and promotes community based initiatives that form a proactive stance of the people to protect their interests. In this way our new socialism will be developed in close cooperation with other left wing parties and trade unions.

Another important aspect of our new socialism is respect for the environment. Throughout the world, it is left-wing parties that have elevated environmentalism to the rank of national policy.

Our policies are carefully thought out and offer a realistic path for Scotland to take in the future as a way of establishing the country as one of the leading countries in the world, a country that acts as a beacon to other progressive people around the world. Every great country should have great goals. This “new socialism” of the SSP, socialism for the 21st century both in theory and in practice, is able to respond to real threats and challenges posed to Scotland in our modern age.

Justice and Freedom

Our party shares with the Scottish people the core values ​​of justice, freedom and solidarity. For us socialism is a constant movement to a society of social justice. Justice is to be understood as equality for all people in terms of political rights and freedoms, and the distribution of benefits in accordance with the labour input and the abilities of the person. In short, each person has the right to a decent and dignified life regardless of their place of origin, place of residence, property status or age.

The pursuit of justice is firmly rooted in our national consciousness, in the values ​​passed down from generation to generation through culture, traditions, and historical memory. The party believes that the state has an obligation to ensure that justice is in fact pursued. Therefore the purpose of the development of democratic institutions is to achieve political and social justice. Without this goal, democracy is nothing more than an empty slogan.

Violations of social justice are the main obstacle to the development of the country. Such violations include government corruption and the obscene wealth of the super rich. We reject as arrogant the judgment that success is measured by adaptability to existing free market relations. A person’s potential can only be truly revealed, not in the current harsh conditions of survival, but in reasonably organized economic and social relations which are based on justice.

Within the manifesto of our party there are various policies that are the result of this conception of justice. The gap between the rich and the poor is to be tackled, everyone is to have equal access to educational resources and the health care system, while there is also to be targeted social assistance to poor people. For the Scottish Socialist Party, the idea of ​​justice is not a political slogan, but our main goal. It is evident in each line of our party’s manifesto. It is the common theme between the ultimate goals of the party and the specific tasks that must be addressed today.

Freedom in the socialist tradition is understood as man’s power over circumstances, freedom from exploitation and oppression of man by man. Freedom requires overcoming abject dependence, poverty and fear. Freedom enhances self-determination of the individual and his right to defend his own political position. It is not only the goal of social development, but also a means of building a truly civil society.

Freedom without justice is always and only freedom for the few. Such freedom is nothing but a vulgar selfishness. The Scottish Socialist Party does not believe that freedom can be achieved in the free market. An essential precondition for individual freedom is social security. The free market cannot deliver social security. To have true freedom, freedom for everyone, we must have social security.

The freedom of man is inseparable from his personal responsibility for what is happening around him. A freedom that ignores the rights of other people degenerates into tyranny. Freedom can only be realized in a legal state, with a well established system of justice which is completely impartial. Legal safeguards should be used to provide reliable protection from violence and humiliation, and from the dangers of abuse, fraud and arbitrary power, and to guarantee freedom of conscience, speech and political choice. We firmly believe that freedom and justice are the measure of the development and modernization of the country.

[1]  Press release 4 March 2014, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

[2] “competitive” in this sense means everyone having an equal shot at ownership

Posted in Book Reviews, Political Philosophy

The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys

Below is a book review I wrote a few years ago, although I think the topic remains just as important now so decided to give it a share.

David Benatar; The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell 2012

For many, the idea that men and boys are (or even could be) the victims of sexism appears entirely wrong-headed, even preposterous. This is perhaps understandable. The vast majority of discourse on the subject of sex discrimination has been from the feminist perspective, which has served to bring to the public consciousness the unfair practices, policies and social norms that have obstructed women’s right to equality with their male counterparts, and where necessary to implement remedial action. From a position within this social discourse, it becomes natural to view males as the privileged sex and females as merely the ‘second sex’ or under-privileged gender. The fact that males are actually unfairly treated due to their sex, then, has become a sort of invisible discrimination, the “Second Sexism”.

What is excellent about this book is that David Benatar provides both the evidence for the existence of this hidden sexism and also an account of why it has been overlooked and largely unnoticed. Further, this is first and foremost a work of philosophy, liberating the topic of sex discrimination from the ideologies of social scientists and gender studies. As a work of philosophy, time is taken to clearly define the concepts utilized and to carefully and rigorously examine these concepts. For example, Benatar draws a very clear and important distinction between disadvantages as a result of one’s sex on the one hand and wrongful discrimination based on one’s sex on the other (discrimination lies somewhere between the two, as some discrimination may in fact not be wrong).

It is worth noting at this point that this book is not an attack on feminism, in fact Benatar believes himself to be an advocate of a feminism based on equality between the sexes. Benatar points out at various stages throughout the book that he would expect feminists (or at least those feminists whose primary concern is equality, ‘egalitarian feminists’ in Benatar’s vocabulary) to agree with the arguments he puts forward. If this is an attack on anyone, it is only towards ‘partisan feminists’ that it should be seen to be directed; towards those whose sole priority is advancing the interests and protecting the rights of females only.

It is also important to note that this text is only designed to be relevant within “the West”, i.e. the English speaking world and most of the European Union. This is important as acknowledging this early on will help to head off an obvious objection to the idea of a second sexism. This objection would point to cultures such as Saudi Arabia or India as apparent evidence that men are indeed the privileged sex and women merely subservient. By restricting the debate to an account of largely liberal and ‘enlightened’ societies, examples such as the ‘rape culture’ in India that has become headline news recently, while still an important issue that needs addressing, is not relevant in the context of the “Second Sexism”.

The book itself consists of seven chapters, and each chapter deals with its own issues related to the book’s central theme. The first chapter serves as an introduction, and Benatar uses it to clarify much of the terminology that he will use throughout the book. As well as distinguishing between disadvantages, discrimination and wrongful discrimination, Benatar also uses this chapter to define exactly what he means by sexism. For Benatar, sexism is simply wrongful discrimination on the basis of sex. He immediately considers and rejects an objection to this definition. The objection being that many will argue that sexism must be ‘systematic’; it must “involve the domination of one sex by another”. The force of this objection is felt when we note that any existing discrimination against males does not satisfy this stricter definition, and therefore males cannot be the victims of a second sexism at all. Benatar successfully dismisses such an objection. On such a definition, we would have to conclude that most Western democracies are ‘post-sexist’, and this is a position that no-one, let alone those raising the objection, would be prepared to endorse. Regardless, what is important for Benatar is to establish that males suffer from wrongful discrimination. Whether or not society is universally prepared to accept that this is ‘sexism’ is not of central importance to this endeavour. For Benatar, this discrimination is worthy of moral opposition whether it is labelled as ‘sexism’ or not.

Benatar uses chapter two to consider a (fairly extensive) variety of ways in which males are disadvantaged as a result of their sex. Importantly this chapter does not discuss discrimination, although many of the disadvantages of being male that Benatar identifies here will resurface again and again throughout the book as we move from disadvantages to discrimination and finally to wrongful discrimination. Some themes that continually re-emerge are combat and conscription (historically it has been almost exclusively males who have been forced to fight in wars due to conscription), and violence (males are much more likely to be the victims of violence). Obviously not every male suffers each of the disadvantages that Benatar lists, but as he points out, not every female suffers each of the well-known disadvantages associated with being female. What is important in this chapter is that Benatar establishes that there are substantial disadvantages in various important ways that males can suffer from in virtue of being male.

In the relatively short chapter three Benatar examines possible causes of male disadvantage as well as beliefs about males that have contributed to these disadvantages. Although short, there is a lot of interesting philosophy going on in this chapter. For example, Benatar distinguishes between descriptive beliefs (beliefs about the way males are) and normative beliefs (beliefs about the way males should be). Although there is undoubted overlap between the two (descriptive beliefs are often cited in support of normative ones) the distinction is often ignored and people simply slide between the two. Benatar uses the belief that female life is more valuable than male life as an example here. The apparent difference in value comes about because where a man may father thousands of children (provided an adequate supply of females) women can only produce roughly one child per year or so. In this sense, a society requires more women than men to ensure its survival into the next generation. Although this may explain why male life is believed to be less valuable than female life, it is far from an explanation of why we should believe this. After all, given the make-up of today’s societies, and the relatively small number of soldiers used in combat compared to the past, it is clear that our society could survive intact even if we were to increase the number of females used in combat.

In chapter four, Benatar hopes to show that differences between the sexes (including beliefs about the sexes) do not justify discrimination, and so any such discrimination must be seen as wrongful discrimination. This is perhaps the key chapter in the book, as Benatar uses it to revisit each of the cases of disadvantages he identified in chapter two and to show why and to what extent they should be understood as examples of wrongful discrimination. For each example, Benatar takes the time to respond to many possible views and replies, including positions held by many reputable scholars and positions found within western ‘pop-culture’.

In chapter five, Benatar responds to objections raised against his argument, and to this extent he groups the objections into three kinds. The first kind he calls the “inversion argument” which is a tactic used by some opponents whereby discrimination against males is ‘inverted’ to look like discrimination against females. He uses many of the examples first discussed in chapter two to show how the inversion argument works in relation to each, and provides convincing replies each time. The second kind of objection is the “cost of dominance argument”, which claims that the supposed disadvantages of being male are in fact just the costs of being the dominant sex. One strategy that Benatar successfully uses here is to show that given the concepts in play, even if men are the dominant sex it does not follow that they cannot also be discriminated against. Finally he considers what he calls the “distraction argument” which is held by those who while they accept that males can be the victim of wrongful discrimination are opposed to drawing attention to this fact as they believe it takes attention away from the supposedly more serious issue of discrimination against women. Amongst Benatar’s replies here is the convincing argument that wrongful sex discrimination is wrong irrespective of the victim’s sex and as such merits our attention.

Chapter six is devoted to a discussion of affirmative action and its justification. It is important to understand that what is being discussed here is the justification of sex-based affirmative action only, and not affirmative action in general. Benatar does not believe that affirmative action for either sex is justified, as what should be promoted is equality between the sexes rather than the advancement of one particular sex.

The final chapter serves as a conclusion which Benatar uses to summarise his position and to consider some questions about related issues. Such issues include the question of whether or not feminism causes wrongful discrimination against males (it doesn’t although may make matters worse according to Benatar), and whether males are worse off than females with regards sexual discrimination (it doesn’t matter, wrongful discrimination is wrong regardless of comparative claims).

Overall this is a piece of work that is hard to find genuine fault with. Certainly it will not be the final definitive word on the subject, but neither was it intended to be. Whereas there are thousands of articles and books regarding discrimination against women, Benatar’s book is one of a very few pieces of work that treat seriously the issue of discrimination against men. With this in mind it would asking too much for Benatar to have provided an exhaustive discussion of wrongful discrimination against men. Rather, Benatar has succeeded in the more modest goal of showing that the second sexism is real and that it deserves far more attention than it currently receives.

Bearing in mind the number of examples that he utilises, it is also worth noting that Benatar is not always successful in the transition from disadvantages to wrongful discrimination (chapter four). This is most pronounced when we consider his treatment of the fact that males are the most likely to be the victims of violence. While statistically this is correct, Benatar fails to show that this statistical difference is linked to wrongful discrimination of men. There is no evidence, for example, that upon examining non-gender related violent crime (such as murder) we will find the victim’s sex to be a factor in determining who will become a victim. In fact, in cases of violent crime that are gender related (such as rape) we find that it is women and not men who are more likely to be the victims. Although there are a number of strategies that Benatar might employ to explain away the statistical problem (such as claiming a link between non-gender related violence and indirect rather than direct discrimination) it is worth pointing out that Benatar does not need to be successful in establishing wrongful discrimination in every example that he uses. It is enough for his purposes to show only that some of the disadvantages that males suffer from are a result of wrongful discrimination, and he is successful on this more modest understanding of his project.

Throughout the book Benatar manages to build a well crafted philosophically sophisticated argument. The philosophical tasks of honestly and accurately understanding and representing the issues at hand, even if this is politically inconvenient, are undertaken in such a way that any reasonable reader couldn’t fail to see the importance of Benatar’s conclusions. Benatar’s argument therefore deserves to have as wide a readership as the Simone de Beauvoir work that the title echoes.