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Socialism with a spine: the only 21st century alternative

TJ Ryan Foundation Board member, John Quiggin, comments in The Guardian (9.10.17) asserting that the political experiment of ‘soft neoliberalism’ has exhausted its appeal – the best progressive alternative, according to the author, is an explicit embrace of socialism.

‘Socialism is back, much to the chagrin of those who declared it dead and buried at the “end of history” in the 1990s. When the New Republic, long the house organ of American neoliberalism, runs an article on The Socialism America Needs Now, it’s clear that something has fundamentally changed.

‘The soft neoliberalism represented by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Paul Keating has exhausted its appeal, and not just in the English-speaking world. Throughout Europe, new movements of the left have emerged to challenge or displace social democratic parties discredited by the austerity politics of the last decade.

‘Support for socialism is particularly strong among those under 30, whose economic experience has been dominated by the global financial crisis (GFC) and the subsequent decade of economic stagnation and rising inequality. The most striking example is the recent UK election where Jeremy Corbyn received over 60% of the votes of those aged 18-25. Similarly in the US, Bernie Sanders drew his most enthusiastic support from the young.

‘For most of the current political class whose ideas were formed in the last decades of the 20th century, the superiority of markets over governments is an assumption so deeply ingrained that it is not even recognised as an assumption. Rather, it is part of the “common sense” that “everyone knows”. Whatever the problem, their answer is the same: lower taxes, privatisation and market-oriented “reform”.

‘Unsurprisingly, people are looking for an alternative, and many are looking back at the postwar decades of widely shared prosperity. Some have turned to the tribalist politics of nostalgia (Make America Great Again, We Want Our Country Back), exemplified in Australia by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.

‘But it is already evident that this is a dead end. The disastrous mess being made by Donald Trump’s Republicans and Theresa May’s Tories is the inevitable result of a politics based on what academic Lionel Trilling described, in the foreword to his essay collection The Liberal Imagination (1950), as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas”.’

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