Labour was told by acting leader Harriet Harman to not oppose the welfare bill, proposing a limit on child benefits to two children. The left of Labour instead organised a revolt of sorts, with 48 MPs opposing the bill. Although the bill was passed anyway (as far more Labour MPs abstained from voting rather than opposing it), Labour has the potential to become an increasingly left wing party in the near future.
Jeremy Corbyn, who opposed the bill, stands aside from Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall in the leadership campaign. Instead of the blurred Blairite/Brownite ideology that dominates the generation of Labour MPs younger than him, Corbyn invokes images of Old Labour, of picket lines and trade unions, of Tony Benn and the now revised Clause 4 of the 1918 party manifesto – the nationalisation of industry. More than anything, Jeremy Corbyn, like the other MPs who opposed the welfare bill, is a socialist.
It could either be the conditioned imagery of Soviet flags or the need to care about the welfare of others that puts this idea into a negative light, but as a country that voted in the Conservatives it’s more probable that it’s the latter. In Marxist theory, as described by Erich Fromm, socialism is “a society which permits the actualisation of man’s essence, by overcoming his alienation. It is nothing less than creating the conditions for the truly free, rational, active and independent man… Socialism, for Marx, is a society which serves the needs of man.” In reality, in our reality at least, socialism must be democratic so that an attitude of equality is given to a capitalist state, to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected from the harshness of British class structures.
You’ll remember that Ed Miliband described himself as a democratic socialist in the build-up to the General Election, but his reluctance to develop what this actually means probably instilled more fear in voters. Instead, the scare-factor of his Marxist father was left to trouble the concerned mind, possibly alienating voters further. Socialism need not be the dreaded comradeship and the threat of ‘Big Brother’ as it so seems; George Orwell himself was a democratic socialist, and in writing 1984 he was keen to separate the ideas of socialism from the totalitarianism that forced communism brings. Socialism is not something horrendously complex or intrinsically evil; it’s an idea that entails caring for others in this ever-selfish society.
It seems that Labour could split soon enough, dividing into a party of two irretrievably differing ideologies. It’s clear that this is a party which unites those who believe in equal opportunities for everyone in Britain, but it’s the left wing, the socialist side, that has remained true to its roots in the face of the capitalist world of political bureaucracy, of blue ties and briefcases in Central London. It’s the left wing that stands for the traditional Labour Party beliefs; as the years into dominating Conservatism pass, it is clear that Labour is missing something to stand for. Socialism, like feminism, scares the people and institutions that strive on unfairness.
Socialism isn’t a scary word: it’s a warning to the elite that the people are aware of the unfairness of their ideology. It’s the shunning of the generic pieces of an apathetic system of government that has caused alienation for too long. It’s caring for people, and knowing that you should be entitled to the same opportunities as the next person, whoever you are and wherever you’re from. Socialism isn’t intentionally a rebellion, but when it’s opposing, not enforcing, the hardships those in power should protect us from – poverty, inequality, elitism; I could go on – it should, whole-heartedly and fearlessly, be supported, and not ridiculed for being too idealistic or radical.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor