My Political Ideology
Posted 27 September 2005 - 11:32 AM
Posted 28 September 2005 - 02:59 PM
I first started to develop my political philosophy when I left school. Within four years I was a libertarian socialist. In fact, my political philosophy has hardly changed over the last 40 years.
I began work in a factory when I was 15. Two men, Bill, a machine-minder in his 40s and Bob, a compositor, who was only about ten years older than me, had a profound influence on my political development. During the lunch-break, while we were eating our sandwiches, the men in the factory used to discuss politics. This was something that had never happened at school. Nor did it happen at home as my widowed mother was totally uninterested in the subject (I later discovered that my father was on the left but he had never revealed this to me when he was alive).
I was therefore politically illiterate and unable to contribute to these lunch-break discussions. However, I did listen and it soon became clear that the arguments put forward by Bill and Bob were far more logical than those being expressed by those who held right-wing views. Some of the discussions that took place were similar to those that appeared in Robert Tressell’s book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist.
Bob and Bill were both socialists. Their explanation of political events of the time (the early 1960s) gave me information that enabled me to interpret the events of my own life. I now had some idea of why my family was very poor. I knew something was wrong after I saw my mother crying after the visit of the National Assistance man. Now I knew why some people were poor while others were rich.
Listening to these discussions in the factory heralded the beginning of my political education. I wanted to contribute to these debates so on the advice of Bob I joined the local library. At first I was mainly interested in reading biographies and autobiographies of politicians and trade union leaders. I also read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. This had a profound impact on me. It is no coincidence that my first venture into publishing was called Tressell Publications.
When I was 19 I joined the Labour Party and attended meetings of the Young Socialists (the youth section of the party). It was here that I encountered people who were far to the left of Bob and Bill. Several were devoted followers of Leon Trotsky. They were of the opinion that we would have had world revolution if Trotsky had replaced Lenin in 1924.
The idea appeared appealing at first but extensive reading about the events in Russia resulted in me becoming an arch opponent of the Trotskyites. I found Rosa Luxemburg’s views on the subject very convincing.
It was at this time I became a libertarian socialist. Reading about the Russian Revolution convinced me of the dangers of a small group of middle-class revolutionaries gaining power. Stalin was the product of the system, not the cause of it. Unlike most of my Young Socialist friends, I was never a revolutionary. Socialism would only be possible when the majority of the electorate wanted it. With capitalism controlling all the means of communication, this would probably take a long time. However, the alternative, some sort of revolution led by a political conscious vanguard elite, was unacceptable to me. In my opinion, the dictatorships existing in the Soviet Union and China in the early 1960s were far worse than the capitalist democracies of Western Europe.
At this time I was also becoming disillusioned with my experience in the Romford Labour Party. There were some amazing people in the party who I respected deeply. However, the local party were dominated by careerists who were willing to compromise whatever ideals they had in order to obtain power. They called themselves socialists but they were the same kind of people who joined the Conservative Party in the 1980s and the New Labour Party in the late 1990s.
By the late 1960s I was convinced that the way forward was via pressure groups rather than hierarchical political parties. I had been influenced by the success of the civil rights movement in the United States. Martin Luther King showed what could be achieved by passive resistance. If you are living in a capitalist democracy, I believe pacifism is the way forward.
As a Libertarian Socialist I have several core beliefs. The main one is that I want a society based on equality. This includes equality of wealth and power. This would mainly be achieved via the tax system and the passing of legislation to control the power of those with great wealth.
I believe in democracy but consider this is not possible unless it is framed in a system of equality. This means that people should not be allowed to use their wealth to manipulate the thoughts and ideas of the masses. Nor should people be allowed to use their wealth to gain benefits at the expense of those without these resources. For example, in the fields of education and health care.
I am also in favour of sexual and racial equality. I am totally opposed to anyone being discriminated against because of their colour, gender or sexual preferences.
Like Aristotle I believe that conflict arises out of inequality. Only an equal society can be a truly harmonious society. I also favour cooperation over competition. For this to be achieved, there needs to be radical changes to the current education system.
I am also opposed to inequality between nations. Therefore I support international action to help the underdeveloped world.
I am aware that I am a utopian and that my vision of society has never existed in the world. However, I think Sweden and Norway have come closest to what I would like to see for all people.
I was a member of the Labour Party for over 30 years. However, I left when it ceased to be a socialist party. In fact, I would argue that Tony Blair's New Labour is an anti-socialist party.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 06:03 AM
I suppose I must be a libertarian socialist too. I tend to look at political issues one at a time, rather than trying to measure them up against a template of ideology … but I still seem to come to similar conclusions, so perhaps there is a template hiding there anyway!
I'm a member of SAP, which is the Swedish Social-Democratic and Labour Party. It's very difficult to make inter-country comparisons because each party has a different history, but I suppose you could say that the Social Democrats here are more or less the equivalent of the Labour Party in Britain. One difference, though, is that the SAP has led Swedish governments for 64 out of the last 73 years and has really made Sweden what it is today.
I recognise the dynamic nature of capitalism in creating wealth … but I also recognise that the most rational thing for any successful capitalist company to do is to strangle competition and create for themselves a monopoly (or a near-monopoly). One reason why Swedish food prices are so high is that, for many years, there were only two real suppliers of food in Sweden, and their pricing policies resembled those of petrol companies. It's strange, isn't it, that all those private petrol companies are so close to each other in efficiency that they have to put up their prices by exactly the same amount within an hour of each other …
The only sane policy I can think of in these circumstances is for people to band together to regulate the market. And I'm sure that Sweden's example since 1932 shows that this works. Between 1880 and 1920 Sweden lost a quarter of its population to emigration. Mass starvation was widespread and living conditions were generally very poor indeed. You could hardly imagine this if you looked at the country today … but it's not just a question of Sweden being rich now, it's also a result of a conscious political decision over many decades to spread the wealth around evenly. The Swedish government (led by that SAP) invested in industry, housing, training and welfare, resulting in a situation where there are lots of industries which happen to be Swedish. Sony Ericsson is a case in point. The original company was rescued from the Kruger crash by the incoming Social-Democratic government in 1932, given lots of backing by the Swedish state (who gave them a virtual monopoly over the domestic telephone system, so that they could grow into a viable export-led company), and then was let loose on the world.
One thing you notice, however, is that having both an economy and a welfare state that's the envy of the world is not an end in itself, but rather the levelling of the playing field ready for the big political fights. Sweden uses a system of proportional representation (a party list system with a 4% threshold parties need to get over to gain representation in parliament). The division of votes between the political blocs has nearly always been 51%-49% in favour of the winners (often the SAP). Sometimes it's as much as 52%-48%! The political debate is just as acrimonious here as in other countries, and the next election (in 2006) will be an interesting one, since the bourgeois parties (Conservatives, Liberals, Centre Party and Christian Democrats) are going to the electorate with a neo-liberal programme (slash the welfare state, cut taxes) which Mrs Thatcher would have felt comfortable with (IMHO). The bourgeois parties had a comfortable lead in the polls until they revealed their programme, but now their support is crumbling.
As a libertarian socialist, I'm not at all happy with lots of things the SAP do and have done … but they're a democratic party capable of change, so it's partly up to me to work to change those policies I don't like. I just don't buy the idea that the people who've led Sweden to where it is today were just interested in lining their own pockets (it's very difficult to be a corrupt politician in Sweden, since the Freedom of Information legislation here is very strong and dates back to 1760!). However, I do buy the idea that the bourgeois parties don't really understand how an entire society works - they tend to know what's good for their own backers … but not for society as a whole.
As you can see … not much of a coherent political philosophy, but I know what I like.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 09:09 AM
I was writing the first post this morning before the kids woke up … and, of course, I missed out something really important - how I got to this position in the first place. Thanks, John, for pointing it out.
I had a conventional middle-class upbringing in Britain: I spent my teenage years in the London Borough of Harrow, went to a grammar school, got good A levels and went on to university (Warwick). My grandad, however, was once Labour Party Agent (the name for the local organiser) for the Sheffield Attercliffe constituency (in one of the most deprived areas of Sheffield), and my dad has been involved in Labour Party politics since he learned to talk.
When we moved down to London from Sheffield, I remember wondering where all the factories were. "What do all these people live off?" was the question I kept asking. And I was, of course, struck by the vast difference between the leafy suburbs of North London and the polluted factory environments that anyone from the North was familiar with.
As I grew up, I was struck again and again by the lack of realism in many of the ideas put forward by the Conservative right. As many people said during the Thatcher era, her idea was that you make poor people work by taking money away from them, but you make rich people work by showering them with dosh.
I remember an article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine about a year into the Thatcher era which was about 'Thatcher's new millionaires'. Every single one of them had made their money basically by screwing the state (opening hostels for the evicted, and charging the state enormous sums of money so that their poor 'clients' could live in squalor, for example). Not one had opened a new genuinely private sector business. In other words, they were sharing the spoils - but making everyone in the society poorer than they would otherwise have been, in the long run.
As a Northerner I was very aware of the consequences of this kind of stupidity and corruption on people as a whole. Just look at the difference between house prices in Britain and Sweden (say a factor of ten times higher in Britain to buy property that would be condemned as uninhabitable in Sweden). Think of all that wealth that's gone into exchanging bricks and mortar for other bricks and mortar … but hasn't gone into investing in British industry.
What the experience of the Nordic countries shows is that the way to make an entire society richer starts with making sure that everyone in that society is working together. Whenever you have great inequality of income, you tempt the people who've lucked out (by having the right kind of parents, usually) to imagine that they've been really clever, when in reality they've just been lucky.
The dilemma for any egalitarian, however, is how to make sure that innovation still happens - isn't there a danger that the entire society will be dragged down to the lowest level, instead of being raised up to the highest.
One lesson I've learned in Sweden is that people will only take risks (such as starting a new business) if they feel that it's safe to do so … and another is that innovation is a very delicate flower, which needs the kind of nurturing that the private sector has proved itself almost incapable of supplying.
My oldest daughter's godfather has just retired from his business of making church organs. He and his wife escaped from East Germany the week before the Berlin Wall was built, and ended up in Sweden without a penny in their pockets. Johannes frequently goes on about high taxes and bureaucracy in Sweden and wonders whether he'd have done better to go to Canada or the USA instead. I tell him that he's got to be joking. There are only so many craftsman-built church organs that one person can build in a lifetime, and which capitalist entrepreneur would invest in such a business way up near the Arctic Circle? The way Johannes did it was by getting lots of help from the Swedish state at key points in the development of his business … which he's conveniently forgotten about now! The state's wanted its cut, of course, in terms of taxes, but i) Johannes and his family lead an extremely comfortable life here (cars, boats, properties, holidays, etc); and ii) that cut is invested back in creating the next generation of Johannes-es!
In other words, if you want an economy to be successful, you have to have an element of capitalism in it … but if you want to keep it being successful, you're mad if you leave it to the capitalists!
Sorry if this is turning anecdotal again … but that's the sort of person I am. If I'd thought that right-wing conservatives really did care about making a good life for *everyone* - and had a plan for doing that that looked like it might work - then I might have changed my ideology. My point is, though, that they haven't, and I'm not prepared to give up the immense benefits of living amongst my equals for the kind of fatally-divided society that's represented by the USA.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:18 AM
The problem is that I'm not sure I have an ideology as such. This isn't laziness. during my misspent youth almost 40 years ago, I particpateed in the "great ideological debate" that had been launched within the Young Liberals to determine exactly what our ideology was. Everyone else seemed to have one, so we had to have one, too!
In my contribution to the debate, I argued against the whole notion of an "ideology". I felt that there were negative aspects to the concept as follows:
1. An ideology attempts to set concrete frameworks to thinking which seemed to me to be at variance with the essence of "liberalism" as I saw it.
2. Ideologies attempt to apply a rigid conceptual framework to the uncertainties of history, an attempt which has not been very successful. The sheer variety of history makes the construction of such a conceptual framework a very difficult, and, as I saw it, largely pointless exercise.
3. Ideology (like theology) leads to splits. I don't know what domestic socialism is like today, but back in the early 70s when I was writing, there seemed to be hundreds of little socialist splinter groups, and the groups had splintered over what seemed to me to be essentially shallow ideological differences. At the time, Young Liberals (God, we were so naive!) thought we could achieve a "radical re-alignment of the Left", so I, along with a couple friends, spent many, many evenings attending meetings of, among others, the Socialist Workers' Party, the Independent Socialist Party, the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), the Socialist Party of Great Britain, etc, etc, etc... The meetings were usually attended by about six people who carried on long, sterile debates about arcane aspects of Marxist ideology...
4. I felt that liberalism wasn't so much a planned-out, schematic "ideology" as much as a "gut reaction". A liberal didn't need an ideological framework to "know" that Apartheid was unjust and had to be resisted. He/she didn't need to think through their reaction to the invasion of Czechoslovakia to see how it fitted into a broader ideological framework -- they "knew" is was wrong...
5. I felt that such a lack of ideology allowed the Liberal Party to be a bit like the Catholic Church. It could contain within it a broad spectrum of views united only by the "gut reaction" to issues I mentioned. In this sense, I feel I have much in common with the "libertarian socialism" described by John, but also with the "one-nation conservatism" of someone like RAB Butler.
What general political stance does this "gut reaction" suppose?
1. Liberals generally support the rights of the individual over the rights of the group.
2. Liberals would tend to agree that "that government is best which governs least."
3. Liberals would tend to champion freedom of speech, even for those whose views we find personally odious. We would also defend the other traditional "individual rights" over and above "social rights" should these be in conflict.
4. On the other hand, considerations of natural justice and "fair play" have always led liberals to support progressive taxation and a cradle to grave welfare state.
Sorry, I'm going have to stop here -- they pay me to teach and my next class just turned up!
Posted 29 September 2005 - 05:09 PM
I would say that socialism and feminism have been the ideologies that have influenced me the most and they come from members of my family and my partner. I was brought up in a Labour supporting household in North London, and at the age of 15 I joined the Finchley Young Socialists and was involved in various election campaigns against the Conservative MP for Finchley, a certain Margaret Thatcher. My maternal family come from a strong German left wing tradition. My Grandfather was a socialist in Nazi Germany and had to escape after being imprisoned for his anti-fascist activities. I understand that one of his older brothers had also been involved in the Kiel Uprising that formed part of the German revolution after WW1. My uncle was an activist in the Communist Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which I believe was Trotskyist, however he most closely allied himself with Maoism, spending a year 'underground' in China when he was studying PPE (politics, Philosophy and economics) at Oxford in the 1970s. He took me to a number of meetings run by Marxism today when I was in my late teens. My support for feminism comes from my mother who was moderately active in the women's movement in the 1970s and 1980s and in the peace movement - she marched at Aldermaston and at Greenham Common. My partner is a strong feminist and completed her Masters degree in Women's Studies at the same time that I did my teacher training.
Essentially I am an egalitarian and I do believe that there are factors such as race, gender and class that stand in the way of achieving this and that they need to be challenged. I also believe that the state has a duty / role to provide support for those in need and am a firm believer in progressive taxation. I am also a natural optimist and that is the 'gut' reason why I am on the left - I believe that collectively we can make a better world.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 06:36 PM
I passed the 11-plus examination and went to a highly selective boys’ grammar school, where for the first time in my life I met people of my own age who came from very well-off families, talked “posh” and made my feel a bit embarrassed about my “Estuary” accent. I leaned towards Socialism in my teens, leaning well to the left in my late teens, but by the time I entered university I was supporting the Liberal Party, which I joined in my early 20s – and I even stood as a Liberal candidate several times in local elections. By my 30s I had become disillusioned with the Liberals, left the Liberal Party and began voting Labour again. I became totally disillusioned with centralised Socialism after a month-long visit to East Germany in 1976. By this time you could say that I was a Social Democrat, I guess. I still vote Labour, even though I don’t really like New Labour – but what’s the alternative? I am now pretty mixed up. I lean left on issues such as Education, Housing and Health, but I lean a bit right on issues such as Terrorism and Law and Order. As a partner in a small business, I get very annoyed with people who equate running a business with being rich. I draw the equivalent of half a novice teacher’s salary from my business – a lot less than I earned as a university professor. I firmly believe in a mixed economy. Capitalism isn’t all bad. I don’t object to paying higher taxes in exchange for better public services. Having been ill several times in the last few years, I really do appreciate the National Health Service – which is not nearly as bad as many people claim, and I would willingly pay higher taxes to improve it.
I have worked in around 20 different countries and visited around 10 more. I wouldn’t want to live in any of them, except two: Canada and Ireland, where I have relations – who often don’t bother to lock their doors when they go out, because the chance of being burgled is almost negligible. I recall being anxious before my first visit to the USA some 20 years ago, expecting to meet all kinds of right-wing lunatics and gun-toting criminals. I was pleasantly surprised and have continued to be so on each of the dozen visits I have made to the USA. People are generally very nice – although they don’t seem to know a lot about what is going on in the rest of the world. I felt very much at home in New England: sparkling white weatherboarded houses clustered round a village green and tea and cakes at 5 o’clock. A couple of towns that I visited in Vermont reminded me of the England of my youth. But what disturbs me about the USA is the huge gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. Narrowing this gap is the one issue that I would put before all others – in all countries in the world.
Footnote: I recall my first visits to Northern Ireland in the 1960s, when the marches for more democracy began to take place: “one man one vote”. I looked at the poor housing conditions of the people who lived in the Falls Road and the Shankill Road and the very different conditions in which people lived in the smart areas of Belfast and its suburbs. I recall saying to my wife, who comes from Belfast: “You don’t seem to have a middle class here. You just have two classes, the “haves” and the “have nots”. That’s the root of your problem.” It may be significant that since Ireland as a whole, North and South, has become richer and some of the huge differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” have been eroded, it has also become much more peaceful.
I wrote that I lean to the left regarding Housing, Education and Health. Of these three issues I believe Education is the key. Although my father's family lived in a working class coalmining community they were all literate and articulate in two languages: English and Welsh. My grandfather's bookshelves included key works of English literature, biographies, political works (including "Capital" by Karl Marx) and religious works - many of which I inherited. My grandfather was very active in the Worker's Educational Association.
When I visit my local pub (in Berkshire) and listen to inarticulate young men aged 18-25 communicating in a series of monosyllabic grunts liberally interspersed with the "f" word, I wonder what has gone wrong with Education? How is it that families like that of my father managed to achieve such a high standard? Was it because Welsh working class communities valued Education and saw it as the "escape route" from the hard life in the mines, or was it something else? Certainly, teachers in these communities were highly valued as pillars of respect.
I am happy to answer questions. I am a language teacher, however, and not a political scientist or historian. I vote Labour these days, albeit half-heartedly. As I have grown older (I am now 63) I have lost faith in political ideologies and now hold a mixture of beliefs. I recall being dismayed when Margaret Thatcher got into power in the late 70s. I thought this would spell hard times, financially speaking, for myself and my family, so I drew out all our savings and took us all on a month-long holiday, thinking it might be the last one that we would be able to afford. I now realise that a change of goverment in this country hardly has any impact on the finances of individuals like myself who sit comfortably in the "middle zone". During the Thatcher years I continued to enjoy rises in income and continued to enjoy good holidays abroad with my wife and my two daughters (who are now grown up and starting their own families). Tony Blair's arrival on the scene has made no difference to my life style. I hated the poll tax that was introduced under Thatcher, which I felt was sheer madness, as well as damaging to low and middle income groups. I also hated the introduction of the National Curriculum, which the current bunch we have in power has continued to support, along with the league tables, SATs etc. I cannot forgive Tony Blair's government for killing off the subjects that I used to teach, German and French. Making these key subjects optional beyond Key Stage 3 is a disaster. We are turning into a tongue-tied nation of arrogant monoglots.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 07:05 PM
I think my interest in politics started at the age of 17, when I decided to study History at Leiden University (NL). Studying at University was something no one had done before in my family. My mother only had primary education, my father had to leave secondary school in 1933 when the Great Depression struck the family. He struggled from job to job until he became a shop assistant in 1939. 1953 he was sacked by his firm (Albert Heijn= like Tesco's) because he had dispute about losses incurred by shoplifting: Albert Heijn deducted the losses from my father's wages. He was held personally responsible for the losses.
My father won the law-suit but lost his job. He turned into a trade-unionist ever since, although the Roman Catholic trade unions were more like social clubs.
I was much influenced by the way my parents talked about this affair. Knowing what my parents had been through, I knew they had little money to spend on my studies. But they gave all kinds of moral support. At that time governmental grants came available for 'working class' youths to study at University. (1972)
I guess I've been lucky: íf I'd been born 7 years earlier, I would never had the chance.
The seventies were very exciting in the Netherlands: politics were 'on the streets'. Discussions on old and new democracy, a revolution of the younger (post war) generation: and I was in the middle of it! We really had the feeling that we could change the world, making it a better place for all. At the University students and their views were taken seriously, students were given responsibilities in governing bodies in the faculties.
In my professional life I've always put that sence of fighting injustice first, maintaining a rather independent attitude towards 'bosses'. Perhaps somewhat naïv, as I've found out.
With Dan Lyndon I agree that the government has a role to care for its citizens, and fight obstructions of background (we do not use the word class the same way as in GB) and gender.
Living in a 'cycling country' I've become more and more aware about the precious earth we all live on. Feeling attracted to some of the environmental ideas of the green parties, I take a pragmatic -not ideological- approach in my daily life. I cycle a lot, will organise a cycling tour with members of this forum in March! With extreme house insolation measures, fuel efficient heating, in our mountain cottage we use solar power. Our little contribution towards a better environment.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 07:15 PM
Like many who have already replied, my family background may account for this since I come from a Labour voting household plus I lived in Harold Wilson's constituency. Like John I was interested enough in politics in my late teens to read biographies and autobiographies of prominent politicians. I acted as polling officer at a couple of elections which gave me a bit of insight into the political process and at one point in my career I was even union rep (mainly because it was a small organisation, everybody else had done it too many times and they couldn't believe their luck when someone new was recruited). But, like one of the previous replies, I did get disillusioned with the pre-occupation with detail and the letter of the rulebook.
The Thatcher and Major years were wilderness years as far as I was concerned and again, to echo something said before, I did get more involved with various pressure groups at that time than I had ever done before.
In 1993 I moved to Denmark, another Nordic socialist utopia. I do believe in progressive taxation but do think that the 61% my husband pays and the 45% or so I pay is too much in relation to what we earn especially when we live in an era of welfare cuts. One has the feeling that one pays more and more for less and less.
But having said that I had a salutary experience a couple of months back when I was in an international group and we had to do a little role play about how far we could get in life in our country. The questions centred around issues such as getting insurance if one is HIV positive, being able to get into the local tennis club if one is working class, having access to reasonably priced childcare, going to university and so on. I ended up at the front of the queue because in Denmark almost nothing is impossible for me. This does not come from my wealth or income but from the welfare fabric and spirit of egalitarianism which makes up the fabric of Danish society.
There is no doubt that had I stayed in the UK I wouldn't have had half the opportunities that I have had here in Denmark to pursue an interesting part time career whilst having my children cheaply and well looked after and for people to understand when I need to leave early to collect the children from school or take a day off to look after them when they are ill.
My children go to school with children from all sorts of backgrounds but there is no way you can predict who lives in the big house. The school caretaker lives in one of the big houses and the graveyard digger lives in another one.
But what is bothering me now is that the last UK general election is probably the last one I will vote in for a long time. British expats are registered to vote for 15 years after they leave. I have no right to vote in the Danish elections unless I become Danish. We came to Denmark for job reasons. We may leave just as easily for job reasons. It makes no sense to become Danish for a dozen years and then become Italian or Spanish or whatever as we change jobs. Your nationality is not something that you change lightly. I used the occasion of the last UK general election to try and lobby MPs and MEPs about this but there is very little sympathy or understanding for our situation. The truth is that most expats couldn't care less about voting so very few are registered. And yet in a Europe of free movement of labour it seems unfair that one loses one's right to vote if one exercises that right.
My biggest plea is for participation and engagement in the political process at some level whether it be at the level of the political party, local government, trade union or single issue pressure group. I understand that party politics says increasingly little to a disillusioned electorate but I would like to see some innovative thinking about political decision-making. Perhaps not quite in the style of 'The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer' but something rather more sophisticated and engaging.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 10:07 PM
I am a member of the Socialist Party http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/ I joined the Labour Party because I believed in its objective which was "to sexure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their labour and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange." Despite the archaic wording that is as good a summary of my poltical views as you will find.
I left the Labour Party when that objective was ditched. At the time members were told it was "just a form of words" but now NewLabour are the champtions of privatisation.
I do not believe that the unelected bosses of the corporations are the best people to wield power on behalf of society. The politicians mouth slogans about "democracy" but stop short in pious trepidation at the doors of the boardrooms.
I read "The Iron Heel" by Jack London. The book is now almost 100 years old and yet much of what it says about the corporations has stood the test of time. He set scenes of brutality against the poor in the United States itself. If you read accounts of the massacre in Fallujah, which the US military began with the bombing of the hospitals, to the applause of Fox News, it is clear that Jack London was not exaggerating.
My main political message would be to read about political ideas and compare what you find with your experiences in real life.
Jack London in "The Iron Heel" suggested this approach. He got Avis Everhard to follow up the case of a worker "Jackson" badly treated by his employer. Which political analysis actually dealt with his problem and which just protected his employer from the consequences of wrongdoing?
Corporations exercise power without responsiblity. I suggest for example you look up "Halliburton" but read both sides www.halliburton.com/ as well as www.halliburtonwatch.org/ I think that keeping track of what they are doing now and seeking alternative sources of information from the corporate media will probably lead you to similar conclusions to those of the acclaimed thinkers of socialism: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
The very fact that British academics will tell you that the ideas of Marx and Engels (usually called Marxism) are irrelevant and then expend gallons of ink in "disproving" Marxism will tell you all you need to know. Why such an effort? Why is so much money spent opposing an idea which is so "irrelevant"? Marxism is a generalisation of the experience of the working class under capitalism. Don't start with some critic's summary of Marx, read what he wrote himself first.
They will tell you Lenin was the devil incarnate and then explain in great detail how *they* would have led a successful revolution...perhaps. A lot of the criticisms of Lenin and Trotsky are not contextualised - they ignore the civil war which was raging while they fought for the very survival of the first workers' state.
They will tell you that Trotsky's ideas have no validity but then oppose any call for social justice with a "what about Russia then?" To answer that question you would have to have a working knowledge of Trotsky's ideas.
I would not ask anyone to idolise Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky. I would just ask that you *read what they wrote* before accepting without question the biased opinions of the university professors paid to discredit them.
And most important of all *test* these idea by involving youself in the political battles taking place in society. The validity of Marxist ideas does not rest in dusty old books, it rests out there with the mothers who want to know why their sons have died in Iraq, with the Gate Gourmet workers sacked by a ruthless employer, or with the trade unionists resisting privatisation at your local hospital.
Posted 29 September 2005 - 11:59 PM
The first American lie is the lie of Democracy. Others have discussed this at length so I won’t elaborate too much, but the point is important. I will only say even the Pledge of Allegiance speaks of our Republicanism and nothing of a Democracy. Tolstoy said it very simply, "Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us."
The truth is that no government bequeaths upon its citizens a single "right". Governments are formed to curtail natural rights. We've been taught to think the exact opposite. In our public schools, which are operated in a highly autocratic manner, children are 'taught' democratic ideals, yet are not permitted to discuss politics. In fact should politics, or even religion, be brought up in conversation into adulthood there will without fail be someone there to say, "You're not supposed to discuss religion or politics." Um, huh? So we're told that we live under one system, are taught in the confines of an opposing system and then are admonished and taught to admonish those who would discuss any system.
The three levels of the American legal system are tailored to the protection of entrenched interests and hostile towards individuals. The police are simply there to keep the rabble in line. When one man 'earns' several hundreds of millions of dollars a year and lives amongst many tens of thousands who earn less than $50,000, one of the serfs is liable to get ideas. That's where the police come in. Ms. Martha Stewart stole around $50,000 in about 1 minute of phone conversation. There is no way you would have seen her arrest on Cops. If a poor person steals $50.00 they may be beaten while being brought into custody. A perusal of any District Attorney or similar public official's records will prove out that 99.9% of all efforts and prosecutions are brought against so-called 'blue collar crime' while almost no attention is paid towards 'white collar crime'. The designations are sure indicators that justice is not blind when the color is green. There are even two prison systems. Poor people are regulated to virtual rape farms while the more affluent convict will live in a place nicer than most people’s homes. They take what amounts to a publicly paid vacation enjoying tennis, water sports and backgammon. I doubt that the recently convicted CEO of Tyco has any worry of a shower room rape.
Buckminster Fuller in Operating Manual to Spaceship Earth talks about our current paradigm of private property, religious superstition and the violent culture that results from them. The recent hurricane has made clear the American dependence upon gasoline. Not just a need, but an absolute necessity due to the structure of the current economy. There was a time, not all that long ago, that this was not the case. 100 years ago the diminishment of gasoline production, while inconvenient, was not nearly as critical. My point being, whatever our current circumstances, there was a time when they did not exist among man.
I'm not Anti-American or Anti-Capitalism or any other such nonsense. Paul Newman said it best, I'm Anti-Stupid. We are in a dire need for a new frame of thought. If I've learned anything, there is no real difference between Nazism, Zionism, Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, Socialism, Marxism, Ism-Ism, and all the others. The inevitable result is that a few people are put into authority and pass judgment upon other people. This is often carried out with no accountability. Whenever this situation is allowed to exist, no system however cleverly crafted, can be proof against the corruption that will follow. "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
I believe each one of us has the capacity to be a gas chamber guard and a saint; it's just the role we play in life. Much the way that Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush may be very pleasant men to know on a personal level. They express sentiments of faith, equity and charity. But when they are in their job as President, they are monsters.
I believe our future, and this is REALLY far off, is in the dissolution of such inequitable systems such as land ownership, usury and religiosity.
Posted 30 September 2005 - 10:10 AM
From my point of view "ideology" is needed to build a better world. Pls forgive me if these words seem to be sentimental. But without an "ideology" (for instance: that men are equal) these things will never happen, I´m afraid.
Being a student of history and political sciences in the early 80s I was influenced from several leftist student movements. After my studies I decided to leave university (did I?) and entered the business world. So I am not a teacher but a manager in the educational and VET business.
Political Ideology doesn´t play a role at all in my daily life in my company; additionally I don´t have any time at all for political practices (so I´m still member of the social democratic party in germany. I entered them more because of sentimental reasons [working class history] than of practical political reasons); political ideology is only a part of my leisure time, so to say. And in this area it is a bit confusing, that I see my political ideology shifting from left to right. This seems to be very ordinary (and that´s what I am, I think) but it´s nevertheless curious to see it happen. I am reading the very conservative daily newspaper FAZ since years (just because it is one of the very few very well made newspapers in terms of journalism) and I try to convince my kids that it is important to follow the school careers (just because there are millions of people unemployed).
... huhh... has to stop now ... some work to be done
Posted 30 September 2005 - 08:56 PM
My own political views - not “ideology” or “philosophy” which is too grand a term because it implies some consistent and coherent system of belief and commitment- germinated during my sixth form and university years. I suspect most people’s politics are shaped by the way they thought in their late teens and early twenties. I did English Literature twice at A-level, the first time reading Jane Austen and Henry James, both authors I then loathed because their characters seemed to be effete navel-gazers who never worked a day in their lives and never wanted for anything. The second time round, I got to read D. H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers”, which I adored because I could relate to the characters in the novel.
At my 1960s direct-grant boys’ grammar school, I was also beginning to notice that life wasn’t fair. The school gave the impression at sixth form level that the boys they were interested in were those likely to get Oxbridge scholarships. I wasn’t interested in going to either Oxford or Cambridge - I’d been to a sixth form language conference where the French lecturer from Manchester University was light-years ahead of the ancient and fossilised Oxbridge don when it came to charisma and teaching skills!
I moved on to the University of Leeds in 1966, an era of political and social upheaval both in the UK and in Europe. There were demos about the raising of foreign student fees and sit-ins about what was kept in student files. Professor Thody, the head of the French department made a point of calling a meeting of his students to explain that our files contained little more than a record of marks and exam results, not details of our political convictions or activities. My summer semester 1968 at the University of Tübingen in southern Germany was memorable largely because of the frequent direct action of the students and the news of what was happening at that time in France - barricades in the streets defended by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his followers against the riot police. My English Language Assistantship during the 1998-9 academic year at an Auvergne secondary school began late and I remember the Communist teachers in the school jumping for joy when they heard about De Gaulle’s resignation from the presidency. When I returned to Leeds, Jack Straw was Union President. So events and personalities of the time certainly conspired to drive my already leftwing views further leftwards. It was an exciting time politically.
When I did an M.Ed by research during the 1970s, I chose to do my thesis on East German language teaching. This was partly because I was a German teacher with little knowledge of the GDR, but it was also because I was interested in East Germany’s experiment with the organisation of education. For instance, learning a trade became compulsory for everybody. There was a kind of social justice in forcing a child intent on, say, becoming a lawyer, to train as a plumber as well. It would have been an instant cure for the arrogance I had seen at my 1960s grammar school among some of the sons of lawyers intent on following in Daddy’s footsteps! I got to visit the GDR, like Graham did, travelling around the country on my own, and my disillusionment with the workers’ paradise began to set in!
During the later 70s, and the 80s, 90s and the current decade I’ve retained comfortable left of centre views which have kept me firmly as a teacher in the maintained sector. I’ve never been tempted to teach in an independent school, even though people assure me that nowadays anybody displaying arrogance in such places is instantly slapped down and that wealth no longer buys privileges there. I guess my politics are, and always will be, intertwined with my educational values. Like most teachers, I strongly believe in a society where the best get to the top solely by their own efforts and through equality of educational opportunity, not by accident of birth or through strings being pulled by relatives and friends. The secondary school Special Needs department where I work is called the “Equal Opportunities” department. I like to think the name came from, or was influenced by, one of John F. Kennedy’s axioms, “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents” because it encapsulates what I believe politically and educationally.
Posted 01 October 2005 - 12:31 AM
Members are invited to post reflections on their own political ideology and debate with others here to aid my 6th form students study their A Level unit on Ideology.
Hmmm...to echo another poster : Gosh.
I'm not sure I am clear on what a Libertarian Socialite is, so I can't claim to be one. I do know that there was a time when there was no Capitalites, I think it was Cromwell who led a revolution to establish Capitalism. This was also a time when early experiments with Communal life were happening in England. Peasants flocked to the Capitalites banner as it promised some freedoms. as usual when such tyrannical means are used the progressive elements are later eliminated. I think in this case a diversion into Ireland accomplished this. A 20th century example is the Iranian revolution. Here Trotskyist elements were in the vanguard. Following the successful overthrow of the old US backed Shah came a military adventure involving Iraq, then supported by the US. Again the progressive elements flocked to the defense of the revolution, which meant that the students and others who had a progressive political understanding went to the front line. Here they were effectively wiped out. The end result was, as in the USSR, a successful counter revolution, in this case the rule of the Mullahs was assured and any Marxist opposition wiped out, in the case of the Soviets the rise of Stalinism. This Stalinist regime has now after a few generations returned to the fold. In the case of the efforts of Capitalites in Britain, Monarchy as a ruling force was reestablished.
If I need to put my attitudes into a box, I suppose an anarcho syndicalist neutral christian with pentacostal tendencies having trotskyist sympathies with a world view encompassing the buddhist concepts of illusory perception with regards to ultimate truth. I don't know if that has been defined elsewhere as a typical box within which to reside. Perhaps dadaists would have something to say on that, however I tend to regard such things as a form of priviledged cerebral onanism to be avoided.
I think government often runs the risk of dispossessing individuals of their responsibilities to other humans. We too readily hand over thinking to government agencies (or any readily available 'authority') and become passive spectators, albeit with opinions, but as long as it's 'them' that are copping it, somehow maybe things are still OK.
To learn that a collective NO! the buck doesn't stop with the Prez. it stops with me, carried to its logical conclusion is probably one of the most powerful weapons against 'nastiness'.
I tend to have a pretty simplistic out look avoiding some of the finer details. For example I don't think we should have nuclear bombs simply because what they do is not nice. Similarly, police hitting people is not a good thing. People don't like being hit. Also, it's not good for the people who are doing the hitting. When you hit someone you have to develop some degree of unpleasant hateful feelings within your self. That's not a good thing to do to oneself.
If I want to eat sweet mango fruit it probably helps to plant sweet mango seeds. If I plant thistles all the time it seems to me logical that a scarcity of sweet mangoes may have something to do with not planting sweet mango seeds.
People who cooperatively choose not to participate in thistle farming and who argue for and actively go about planting sweet mango (ie. walk the talk) may in the long run prevail. I don't know.
(Oh... did I forget to mention..I'm a skeptic.)
Posted 01 October 2005 - 09:11 AM
In the meantime what would be great if more members would post (we are especially lacking any conservatives thus far )
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