Although the victims of crime in, say, contemporary South Africa are predominantly
the poor who live in the shanty towns, this scourge does not simply affect those
who are on the margins of society. Everyone can be the victim of crime. Socialism
- making people conscious that they are living in society and that everything they
do affects (and may harm) others – is, it could be argued, in everyone’s interests.
There is an interesting parallel here with measures taken to combat cholera in
nineteenth-century British cities. The disease was no respecter of class or wealth: it
was in everyone’s interests that it was eradicated. What is the point of having wealth
and power if your health is devastated?
Marxists might argue that with divisiveness in the world increasing through a
kind of globalisation that increases inequality, the notion of a proletariat must be
viewed internationally rather than simply nationally. However, the danger still
remains that such a perspective will take a narrow view of class and underplay the
problem of cementing common interests across the globe.
Socialism and inevitability
Marx sometimes makes it seem that socialism will arrive come what may. He speaks
of ‘the natural laws of capitalist production’ ‘working with iron necessity towards
inevitable results’ and, in a famous passage, he likens the birth of socialism to
pregnancy (1970: 10). The development of socialism is as inevitable as the birth of
a child. This argument is, however, only defensible as a conditional inevitability –
not an absolute certainty independent of circumstances. In the Communist Manifesto
Marx and Engels comment that class struggle might end ‘in a revolutionary
constitution of society at large’ or ‘the common ruin of the contending classes’ (Marx
and Engels, 1967: 79). Not only is it impossible to establish a timescale for socialism,
but its inevitability is conditional upon, for example, humanity avoiding a nuclear
conflagration which wipes out humans, or the destruction of the environment which
makes production impossible. Nor can it be said that liberal societies might not
turn to the right before they turn to the left.
What a conditional inevitability merely states is that if humanity survives, then
sooner or later it will have to regulate its affairs in a socially conscious manner,
and that, broadly speaking, is socialism. Only in this qualified and conditional sense
can it be said that socialism is inevitable. Marxism can be rescued if it makes it
clear that ‘inevitability’ is conditional, drops a notion of revolution as a concentrated
political event and with it a polarised and narrow notion of class. Whether it would
still be Marxism is a moot point.
The problem of utopianism
We have argued that a credible socialism must draw upon social democratic and
Marxist ideas. The problem with ‘pure’ social democrats as well as ‘pure’ Marxists
is that they can be said to either embrace a (liberal) empiricist framework or they
simply turn such a framework inside out.
232 Part 2 Classical ideologies