I'm with Gorby on mixing capitalism and socialism
My birthday twin Mikhail Gorbachev (both 2nd March though several decades apart) has been taken to task by my near neighbour in Stoke Newington Dave Osler for saying this on his visit to the Evening Standard yesterday (goodness knows how it went down with them):
“We need to find a new model of capitalism, taking the best of the old model and the best of socialism …”
“From capitalism, it must take incentives and stimulus and from socialism, more equality and social justice,” Mr Gorbachev, wearing a pin-striped suit and a black polo neck jumper, told the newspaper’s staff …
He praised Gordon Brown, the prime minister, for taking “several really wise decisions” and said the opposition Conservatives had not given up on “Reaganomics”, the economic policies promoted by the former US president. “Maybe they would like to take the initiative but they are not ready for that.”
I'm with Gorby on this ideological approach, and believe it is a historic tragedy that he never got to try it in Russia - he was starting to elaborate a social democratic future for Russia in his final years in office before the Yeltsin rush to full-blooded capitalism.
Dave Osler accepts that "Social democracy resulted in some of the most humane societies ever created" but then says "But the key point is that [it] failed."
I don't accept that that's the case. In Sweden in particular, and also the other Nordic countries, there have been market reforms in the last 20 years but the fundamentals of the social democratic society are still going strong. The Swedes have managed to create an egalitarian welfare society which whilst not problem-free (e.g. on the integration of immigrants) has dramatically fewer social problems than the UK because, as the Guardian explained today, our society is screwed up by inequality. At the same time they have globally competitive manufacturing industries.
Unless you inhabit a fantasy land where you think a new economic system based on social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the abolition of the market, is attainable or more to the point, desirable, then rejecting social democracy - the half-way house that tries to mix the best aspects of socialism and capitalism - leaves you with full-on Thatcherite capitalism. I don't find either economic model remotely appealing.
I'm for the real world that Gorby is in where we try to build the best realistically attainable society, not repeat the disastrous Utopian projects of the 20th century which tried to create perfect societies but in doing so created nightmares. The degree of control implicit in what Dave would call socialism - a non-market economy - inevitably leads to the suppression of choice and liberty we saw in the USSR, and would have done whether the Soviet Union had been led by Trotsky instead of Stalin.
If social democracy really has "failed" as an option as Dave suggests, then Labour as a party might as well shut up shop and leave the field to a fight between the SWP and the Tories. The real ideological debate is about where on the spectrum between socialism and capitalism social democrats should be taking their parties, and if in power, their countries. We ought to reject a false choice between a heartless economic system and an unworkable one.