Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Socialism and all that

The Fabian Society held a forum in Sydney earlier this year titled "What happened to the Left?" For some reason nothing about it appears on the Fabian website but here is one informative blog about it.

Rodney Cavalier's speech has been subsequently published in his Southern Highland Branch Newsletter, a fact that was referred to in one of Alan Ramsey's last columns for the SMH. This article concluded with a neat summation of the Cavalier thesis, "What Happened To The Left? It Died", an essay on the end of pretence by the Left that any shred of socialist ideology remains in its character.

Basically Cavalier's point is that there are no socialists anymore because no one believes in the "socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange" anymore. It is an interesting point, but to explore it let's look at the full phrasing from the ALP Objectives.

The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.

The question really is what does "socialisation" mean. The Free Dictionary provides three definitions.
1. socialisation - the action of establishing on a socialist basis; "the socialization of medical services"
2. socialisation - the act of meeting for social purposes; "there was too much socialization with the enlisted men"
3. socialisation - the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture; "the socialization of children to the norms of their culture"

Clearly Cavalier is interpretting the word under its first definition - while being silent on whether the socialist objective necessitates ownership by Government or by co-operatives or collectives.

What is possible though is that the phrase could be interpretted as being about the third definition, that "socialisation" simply requires driving industry etc to "adopt the behaviour patterns of society" and hence include all the attributes of moral persons. This outcome can be achieved with different policy levers, not the least of which is to ensure that companis understand they exist to serve the needs of all stakeholders, not just investors.

That conversation is for another day. But if the meaning implied by the ALP objective was the "socioal ownership of ..." rather than the "scialisation of ..." one wonders why they didn't just say it.

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