Socialism today

It was suggested that a good topic for a Friday Room discussion would be the status of Socialism today. Here are my thoughts. Starting with the Oxford English dictionary definition of socialism in English:

A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

  • Policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism.
  • (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.

The term ‘socialism’ has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state Communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammelled workings of the economic market. The socialist parties that have arisen in most European countries from the late 19th century have generally tended towards social democracy

There seems to be a popular but unfocussed movement towards “taking control” and opposition to control by “Elites”. To be “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” which fits the basic definition above. However this conflicts with the actual political practice. Nationalisation puts politicians in control resulting in distinctly top-down regimes. Revolutionary regimes have tended to be strongly top-down in practice, even crushing emerging bottom-up governance as in the Spanish Civil War.

The practicalities and limitations of bottom-up governance

The idea of enterprises being regulated by the community-as-a-whole may be a nice one, but how does it work in practice?

Doing the regulation requires effort. All enterprises are liable to go wrong in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons. They need a mechanism of scrutiny and feedback that has the power to correct things when they go wrong.

When policy decisions have to be made, the regulators have to put some effort into understanding the implications of the decision.

The fundamental problem is that regulation by the community-as-a-whole means involvement. If the community-as-a-whole can’t be bothered, then no amount of top-down actions by politicians can create a bottom-up regime.


First, to get things in perspective here is a graph:

In this graph all the countries of the world for which there is data are compared. There are many measures of how well a country is doing and the one used in this graph is the Prosperity Index.  This is a carefully thought out combination of factors relating to both material wealth and social wellbeing. The degree of corruption comes from Transparency International.

This graph shows a strong correlation between lower corruption and greater prosperity.

In words this can be summarised as “no country with a high degree of corruption is prosperous and no country that is prosperous has a high degree of corruption”

For the dozen most prosperous counties less inequality becomes significantly correlated with greater prosperity. Which can be summarised by: “The most prosperous countries tend to be less unequal and the more unequal countries tend to be less prosperous.”

There is a simple interpretation of this. Corrupt parties impoverish the economy of the country by extracting money from it, leading to directly to less prosperity. Funds legally extracted from the economy and used it for the same things as funds from corruption.

Of course things are a bit more complicated than this. Parties that are extracting excessive amounts of money legally will sometimes be using it in ways that are good for prosperity.

Let us define Greed Component as the portion of the money obtained over and above what is justified, Although legal, the Greed Component is used in the same way as funds obtained by  corruption. Economically there is no distinction between extortion and excessive bonuses. The Greed Component is clearly bad for prosperity and shows up as by contributing to greater inequality.

Reducing the Greed Component

The economy, the making, moving and using of real things, is controlled by a collection of financial systems, such as money, markets and capital. These exist entirely in the minds of the users, generally as a set of rules and agreements. In general they have emerged in a bottom-up manner but get controlled by top-down regulators who codify and enforce the rules.

There is nothing fundamental “right” about any of these systems, they are human inventions and as such flawed. In principle, the rules can be changed just as they can in that other human invention, sport. But in both cases change is not easy. Both are “established” in that all the players have to accept the change and the changed rules have to “work”.

Once there are rules, any system can be “gamed” and played in ways allowed by the letter of rules but not as intended and not necessarily beneficial.

A plan to reduce the Greed Component might include:

  • Creating new financial systems that with an intrinsically smaller Greed Component, possibly like crowdfunding.
  • Establish a survey of the estimated Greed Component in MPs income.
  • Considered changes to the rules of existing financial systems. Not an easy option.
  • Encouraging existing alternative systems that have an intrinsically smaller Greed Component such as cooperatives and mutuals.

In particular, when firms mature and, for example, the founders want to retire, many end up being sold to multinationals, whose principle objective is maximising a Greed Component. In many cases a cooperative could work just as well but the existing financial systems make this difficult. (Cooperatives do work. On average they last longer and the workforce are happier.)

Innovation needs to be cherished.

Innovation has a lot of bottom-up features. Science and engineering pioneers tend to come from all sorts of backgrounds. Bookbinder, funeral director, Countess, patent clerk, etc. Bottom-up friendly regimes flourish in this field better than dictatorial, top-down regimes.

There can be wisdom in crowds

In well regulated markets in goods, useful valuations can emerge from a bottom-up mechanism of trading. The “well regulated” is key. Where the market is gamed or corrupted, then the valuations becomes less useful.

However, markets for capital and investment, where the behaviour of the crowd is different, this is arguable. These markets are prone to bubbles and crashes, which can be hugely damaging.


There is a problem with the term “Socialism”. The definition and the desires of a lot of people who identify as socialists imply a more bottom-up society

As a complete contradiction, opponents and indeed much of the general public and even some people who call themselves socialists, will take the word Socialism to be primarily about state-control  and  top-down governance.

This maybe due to the political expression of socialism, particularly under Communism (the Marxist transitional state?) being essentially top-down, which did not work. Interestingly, the ex-soviet countries are significantly more corrupt than other European countries.

Maybe best not to use the word in public debate.

Otherwise, let’s have more bottom-up.


– It has to work.

– Politics is essentially top-down.

– Individuals have to take control.

– Corruption and Greed are always waiting.




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Pollution and plastic waste

Plastic PollutionFriday 2nd February, 7:15 for a 7:30pm start, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

Pollution has been in the news recently, particularly by plastics. It is a problem that has grown rapidly over the last few decades and is getting worse.

It is bad for health, bad for food production, bad for the environment, and dealing with it requires resources that could otherwise be used usefully.

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Planning Meeting 5th Jan at the Swan 7:30pm

To discuss the topics for the next few discussion meetings.

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Brexit, Trump and the Russians

Friday 1st December, 7:15 for a 7:30pm start, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

Discussion to be introduced by Ray Sutton.

Have the Russians tried to influence the American Presidential elections? Are they trying to influence Brexit? How would they do this? And why?

How much influence can social media really have?


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A “Soft” Brexit?

A very interesting discussion at the last Friday Room discussion, “an Anarchist view of Brexit”.

I have clarified my views on Brexit. I voted remain and I still of that view. At the time I accepted that the EU governance is hardly representational, that its long term agenda, “ever closer union” was not what I wanted. Since then my view on this is, if anything, even stronger. I now see as a “Brussels elite” whose covert aim is to retain and increase its power, which has been responsible for a few bad key decisions. Yes, this is a threat. But mostly long term.

However, Global corporations are far more to be feared. They are essentially amoral, hughly powerful, but we have absolutely no control over them. They have the potential to wreck the environment and threaten to have a profoundly toxic effect on our culture and society.

Alone, Britain would not have the will or the inclination to stand up to them. A Tory government would most likely just roll over and have its tummy tickled. “Run the NHS for you?” Yes please! “Dominate the media?” luverly! All finance run by the Global Banking Syndicate? Utopia! This to me is far more scary and immediate than the EU.

The EU has demonstrated that it has the clout to stand up to the global corporations. It is not totally amoral and mostly supportive of culture. It is open to influence, although not nearly enough.

As a result of the referendum we are in a different place. I don’t think there is any sense in trying to undo the referendum, rather we should focus on uncoupling ourselves from the EU autocracy.

The detailed policies, all the separate treaties and trading agreements should be left as they are. The advantages of change are at best arguable. Many of the agreements are complicated and remaking them in a rush is foolish. Let’s keep things as they are unless there are really pressing reasons for change. Economic predictions are always notoriously unreliable and particularly in this case.

My vote now would be for a Brexit that does not change existing policies but changes the way policies are made in the future. A Brexit in which all EU edicts are negotiable.

If this is what is meant by Soft Brexit, then I think there would be a clear majority vote for it. Given such a Soft Brexit as an option, I think only a minority would now vote remain.

I suspect that total withdrawal is what the global corporations (and Russia?) really want,  resulting in a loud and well funded lobby. However, those that voted leave would surly be divided on a choice between Hard and Soft.  As they start off accounting for only slightly more than half the total, the arithmatic indicates that only a minority are likely to support a Hard Brexit.

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Brexit: An Anarchist Approach

Thanks to John for organising this month’s Friday Room discussion on ‘Brexit: an Anarchist Approach.’  I was intrigued by the topic, having only the vaguest idea about an anarchist approach to anything, let alone Brexit: black flags and Conrad-inspired images were all my mind could dredge up on the subject.

Claire and Mike from the Anarchist Federation were greeted by an enthusiastic but sadly depleted group as – in an ironic twist – the evening coincided with a farewell dinner for Glenys Wilmott, the area’s retiring MEP.

Unsurprisingly, there is not one single anarchist view on Brexit or the EU.  Many anarchists opposed the EU as a super-state which exerts control over large populations and therefore voted for Brexit.  But most voted to remain, through a belief in internationalism and the power of people to work together across national borders.

Anarchists are against power-structures.  They oppose the nation-state and the ‘giving away of power’ (as they see it) to elected representatives.  They do not organise through political parties but are active in many campaigns, such as anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-oil pipeline and anti-fracking protests.  Anarchism looks beyond capitalism and the nation-state for its vision.  Although not members of political parties, most anarchists tend to be on the left politically.  They do not usually vote in elections as they see these as too distant from the lives of individuals to make a difference, but single-issue referendums are different and many did vote in the EU referendum as this is a more direct process.  We had much discussion afterwards about how (and whether) democracy might be improved by having referendums, say, on each budget or piece of legislation.

Anarchism seeks the freedom of the individual to act within society unconstrained by national or international structures.  They support the right of people to be unwaged if they need to be.   However it is difficult to state anything with any certainty about what anarchists believe, as there is no ‘party line’ and every individual is likely to have a different view.  Many anarchists do believe, however, that ‘leave or remain’ was a false choice, and that a better choice would be to retain the nation-state or remove it.

Although anarchists tend to be on the left politically, there could perhaps be some crossover between their ideas of individual freedom and those of the libertarian right.  In campaigning they make a distinction between violence against property, which is considered acceptable, and violence against people: however they are not committed to non-violence and will act in self-defence.

When asked what an anarchist utopia might look like, they described a situation where people’s needs were provided for simply and on a local basis.  There is a lot of support for the idea of doing away with money and perhaps going back to a barter system.

The talk generated a lot of discussion around the EU vote, referendums and the strengths and weaknesses of the anarchist utopia, as described.  In areas of Iraq and Syria called Rojave, anarchist regimes are being established now and for further ideas you can go to:

Kirk out


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An Anarchist View on Brexit

Friday 3rd November, 7:15 for a 7:30pm start, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

The ongoing Brexit saga is never out of the news. Understandably so, as many people face a level of uncertainty – whether economic, political or based on the simple right to remain or move freely. At the same time, there has been a rise in nationalist and populist politics here in the UK and abroad. At this meeting, a speaker from the Anarchist Federation will present an anarchist view of Brexit and its context within the current crisis of capitalism.

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