August 2012        


The difference between socialism and liberalism

We need to understand the difference between socialism and liberalism. At the beginning of July the Labour Party leader Éamon Gilmore announced to a fanfare that he now supported gay marriage, and called it “the civil rights issue of our generation.” The trendy Tánaiste instantly became the darling of the media and the Irish youth.
     The nationalisation of the massive private banking debts, unacceptably high unemployment and public services falling apart no longer seemed to matter to the Labour Party as their members patted each other on the back and told themselves they were the party of progress.
     However, there was nothing brave about Gilmore’s call for the introduction of gay marriage. He was merely following in the footsteps of the global leader of fashionable liberalism, President Obama. Obama successfully used the liberal issue of gay marriage to distract from his use of terror drones against civilians, the illegal Guantánamo Bay torture centre, and his collaboration with Wall Street bankers against the ordinary Americans. After his announcement on gay marriage Obama was considered “cool” again by the middle classes, and donations to his re-election campaign began to flow in.
     There is no reason why a socialist wouldn’t support gay marriage. However, to call it the “civil rights issue of our generation” is outrageous. We live in a world where half the population live on less than $2 a day while $21 trillion is hoarded by a small super-rich elite in offshore tax havens. Billions of people have no access to clean drinking water or basic health services.
     The working class in the Third World is used as a slave army to produce super-profits for capital. People all over the world have their resources stolen by the rich and powerful. To the hungry, to the dying, to the slaves and to the people being bombed by Obama’s drones, gay marriage is not the civil rights issue of their generation.
     In Europe, the welfare state is falling apart and a job with fair pay and conditions is no longer seen as a right but as a privilege. The Irish Labour Party refuse to challenge this right-wing economic consensus. Their raison d’être has now become appeasing the middle-class swing voters. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the social-democratic parties of Europe have regressed into liberal parties modelled upon the “triangulation politics” of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. As a result, many young people today confuse left issues and liberal issues as being the same thing.
     Socialists should support as much individual freedom as is compatible with the common good. Therefore socialists should support gay marriage. However, there is nothing revolutionary about marching beside Young Fine Gael and Ógra Fianna Fáil at a corporatised gay pride march.
     The ruling ideas of every era have always been the ideas of its ruling class. Our current ruling class has accepted liberal ideas and no longer see the Church as necessary allies to maintain control. Gay marriage will happen in the next decade, just as divorce and contraception happened.
     Socialists are correct in joining the more progressive liberals to fight bigotry. However, as socialists we must not forget that our primary goal is to take the factors of production into the control of the people and empower the people to use the resources of the world in their interest. It’s easy to campaign for liberal reforms within capitalism that won’t affect the power of the bourgeoisie. It’s a lot more difficult to be a socialist revolutionary and campaign for the working class to replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class. Bigotry and racism will always exist under capitalism, as the ruling class can only maintain control by dividing the people.
     Campaigns against discrimination must be linked to a socialist solution rather than be seen as an end in themselves. Despite the current crisis of capitalism, Irish socialists have failed to win over the people to the benefits of collective ownership and the socialist economy. This is partly because many of the activists who claim to be on the left have been sucked into the bourgeois and individualistic ideology of liberalism.

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