In feudal days everyone knew that virtually all the wealth in the world came from land. That’s why the nobles spent so much of their time killing each other to get more of it. To be fair the lords and clergy who lived off the back of the peasants who tilled it would often pretend to despise the comfort and wealth that came with being a high caste. The nobles claimed they were “protecting” their serfs. In fact, all they were defending were their own privileges while the medieval church, whose clergymen who lived off the fat of the land, would routinely absolved itself by making saints out of those who actually took the teachings of the Prince of Peace at face value by embracing poverty and abstinence.
The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, began by elevating the “work ethic” in their struggle against the aristocracy and the feudal Catholic church. They turned the Protestant doctrines to their own account to justify their own hegemony and when they won they only reserved the “virtue of work” for those they exploited and oppressed.
In 1848 the Communist Manifesto told the bourgeoisie that “a spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism” while warning the workers that “all the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies”.
Though the Paris Commune, the first workers’ state, was drowned in blood in 1871 the spectre came back to haunt the bourgeoisie after the 1917 Russian revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union, the first workers and peasants republic of the 20th century.
Fear of workers’ power fired the growth of fascism in Europe and the development of reformist bourgeois economic theories like Social Credit and Keynesianism which sought to tithe the rich during boom times to stave off social unrest by buying off a section of the working class with reforms and state welfare schemes. American New Dealers’ and Nazi economists embraced Keynesianism in the 1930s. This was followed by virtually all the governments of Western Europe after the Second World War and the victorious advance of workers’ power in Eastern Europe that triggered the confrontation between US-led imperialism and the Soviet bloc.
British social-democracy and the post-war bourgeois consensus Labour helped build revolved around Keynesianism. Now with the end of the Cold War the ruling class have no further use for it. They flaunt their wealth like a badge of honour. They claim that the more they have the better for everyone else. This is the bogus “trickle-down” theory that an American radical journalist, the late William Blum, said was based on “the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals”. Sadly it is also the belief of the Blairites and those who follow in Blair’s footsteps at the head of the Labour Party today.
Socialism is just a word Sir Keir Starmer will occasionally use to keep what’s left of the Corbynistas on side during election campaigns. For Starmer & Co socialism is just “a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice” – a meaningless platitude that is unlikely to turn the heads of those who have abandoned the Labour ship since the fall of Jeremy Corbyn.
What does socialism mean? First of all it means that the ownership of the means of production — the factories, mines, the transport industry and the land — are taken from the hands of the capitalists into state or collective ownership. The people will take over the banking and finance sector. A people’s democracy will be established that will build a new society with the unions and mass movements. The age of classes and exploitation will be over. The greed, speculation and corruption of the bourgeoisie will end and a new era will dawn.