Homage to the Future

I’m currently re-reading George Orwell’s best book Homage to Catalonia.  It’s one of those books I re-read every few years.

I came across this lovely, compact, resonant passage:

I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all.

Orwell saw the essential nature of Stalin’s Russia better even than Trotsky.  A state-capitalist bureaucracy, with the role of private capitalists taken instead by an equally-exploitative class of managers.  He also saw that Stalin’s Russia was not socialist, since the essence of socialism is the abolition of an exploiting class, not its replacement by a new set of exploiters.

However, what I love most about this quote is that Orwell is writing in 1937 about Stalinists, but it applies today to the ideological commissars of capitalism.  Fox News, Thomas Friedman, etc, etc, et-bloody-c.  All the corporate goons and mainstream ideologues (all of them far more reminiscent of old-style Stalinist hacks, apologists and party-men than they’d ever dream possible) endlessly telling us that Socialism is the religion of state ownership, state control, state regimentation of the individual, etc.

They tell us this to scare us away – not away from socialism, of which they affect to live in fear but which they secretly regard (wrongly, as history will hopefully show) as a busted flush – but away from ANY criticism, even the mildest bit of reformism, of corporate neoliberalism.

Their bogey is the authoritarianism of old Russia or China… and yet their world of corporate-rule is eerily like such tyrannies.  Corporations are utter tyrannies; pyramidal command structures with little or no internal democracy, scarce accountability, no levers by which the public may control them, the ability and willingness to use violence to defend themselves, etc.

Just as the Stalinized Soviet Union wanted its acolytes and fellow travellers and useful idiots to believe that socialism meant state control, so do today’s ultra-capitalist thinkpriests… and for exactly the same reason, only in moral photo-negative.  The Stalinist argument was: if state control is socialism, then Stalinism is socialism, ergo Stalinism is good.  The neoliberal argument is: if state control is socialism, and socialism was Stalinism, then any state control over capital is Stalinism, ergo state control of any kind of evil.

These arguments are clones of each other, wearing different suits.  And both are the purest cant, invented by tyrannies for the justification of tyranny. …

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