Socialism is also a very useful tool for an industrial society. It is the open recognition of the interconnectedness of all of humanity now and in the future. One of the hallmarks of an industrial society--or even the so-called "post-industrial" society--is the interdependence of the centers for the production of raw materials, transportation, communication, and manufacturing at both the national and international level. Today, Great Britain cannot sneeze without Germany, France, and the United States catching cold.
Improvements in the World's transportation and communications infrastructure over the last two centuries mean that an economic downturn in one developed nation means trouble for the rest. Most of the programs called "socialist" by the reactionary right, such as unemployment, national health care, welfare, Social Security, bank deposit insurance, etc. , are in reality a form of social insurance. For the bottom 90 percent of the population, this social insurance is their only protection against unforeseen events--from an economic downturn to serious illnesses like cancer--over which the working and middle classes have no ability to prevent or ameliorate. These programs are the sole protections most Americans have against falling into poverty in the advent of adversity.
There is nothing new to the concept of socialism except the name. To quote Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo (Times of London , April 6, 1992), "Real socialism is inside man. It wasn't born with Marx. It was in the communes of Italy in the Middle Ages. You can't say it is finished." Or as former Chairman of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev once stated (Daily Telegraph, London; June 16, 1992) , "Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind." It exists in the Gospel of Matthew (especially Chapters 7 and 25), the Jewish Talmud, and in the Jewish idea of " The Year of the Jubilee ." (See my June 13, 2010 OpEdNews article of the same name for more on this subject.)
The central questions that any form of socialism asks of society is this: how much wealth is enough for a single individual, how did they earn that wealth, and to what extent should that individual be required to contribute to the commonwealth for the benefit of all of its citizens?
No one has ever earned vast wealth completely on their own. The capitalist-owner has always had the assistance of workers, managers, partners, financiers, brokers, attorneys, suppliers, planners, distributors, accountants, government institutions and projects, and a multitude of others who helped make their wealth--or the wealth that they have inherited--possible. There is some dark part of the human psyche that makes us want to take credit beyond what we are due when we succeed, and avoid all blame when we fail. There is also a component of luck in the establishment of all great fortunes: whether it is Cornelius Vanderbilt's taking notice of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil and its potential for large-scale freight shipment; or Bill Gates learning of, and seeing the possibilities in, a software program created by Xerox that, when developed, would become Microsoft Windows.
Let's start by giving Marx's description of what he called political economy, what I believe is more properly called "the economics of laissez-faire capitalism," quoting from his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (pp. 120-121; 1844):
(1) By reducing the worker's need to the barest and most miserable level of physical subsistence, and by reducing his activity to the most abstract mechanical movement; thus [the capitalist--RJG] says: Man has no other need either of activity or of enjoyment. For [the capitalist--RJG] declares that this life, too, is human life and existence .
(2) By counting the most meagre form of life (existence) as the standard, indeed, as the general standard--general because it is applicable to the mass of men. He turns the worker into an insensible being lacking all needs, just as he changes his activity into a pure abstraction from all activity. To him, therefore, every luxury of the worker seems to be reprehensible, and everything that goes beyond the most abstract need--be it in the realm of passive enjoyment, or a manifestation of activity--seems to him a luxury. [The economics of laissez-faire capitalism--RJG], this science of wealth, is therefore simultaneously the science of renunciation, of want, of saving and it actually reaches the point where it spares man the need of either fresh air or physical exercise. This science of marvellous industry is simultaneously the science of asceticism, and its true ideal is the ascetic but extortionate miser and the ascetic but productive slave. Its moral ideal is the worker who takes part of his wages to the savings-bank, and it has even found ready-made a servile art which embodies this pet idea: it has been presented, bathed in sentimentality, on the stage. Thus [the economics of laissez-faire capitalism--RJG]--despite its worldly and voluptuous appearance--is a true moral science, the most moral of all the sciences . Self-renunciation, the renunciation of life and of all human needs, is its principal thesis. The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save --the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour--your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do. It can eat and, drink, go to the dance hall and the theatre; it can travel, it can appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power--all this it can appropriate for you--it can buy all this: it is true endowment. Yet being all this, it wants to do nothing but create itself, buy itself; for everything else is after all its servant, and when I have the master I have the servant and do not need his servant. All passions and all activity must therefore be submerged in avarice. The worker may only have enough for him to want to live, and may only want to live in order to have that. " [Emphasis added--RJG.]