I describe myself as a market socialist in an article for tomorrow’s Independent about the Royal Mail flotation. So this seems a good time to rescue a post from the old Independent Minds Blog from four years ago, which is somewhere in cyberspace but no longer Googleable.
As one of the small number* of people who have read Market Socialism, edited by Julian Le Grand and Saul Estrin (1989) and as one of the smaller number proud to call himself a market socialist, I feel qualified to enter this debate.
James Purnell, who resigned from the Cabinet last month telling Gordon Brown what is only a simple fact, that “your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less, likely”,** mentioned the book in an interview recently.
Neal Lawson, the chair of Compass, the leftish Labour faction, took exception both to the phrase and the book. He says markets and socialism are “contradictory” (a view possibly shared by the designer of the book’s cover: square, circle, geddit?). Suddenly I feel old.
I thought that was the whole point of defeating Tony Benn for the deputy leadership in 1981, of expelling Militant, of Neil Kinnock, even of Roy Hattersley, of John Smith, of rewriting Clause IV. All that was about purging the delusion that there was some form of economic system that defied the laws of supply and demand. Market Socialism was its intellectual textbook. (A more historical treatment was an elegant, neglected classic by Tony Wright, the Great Moderniser of the House of Commons, called Socialisms, 1986: out of print; I think this is a revised version.)
But no, all that is old hat. Lawson wants less market and more “socialism”, defined thus:
The task of the left is to show that democracy in more and more instances; in public services, communities and workplaces is … the means to achieve the good society – a world in which we take back control over our lives.
This is pure Meacherism. Michael Meacher, Benn’s former vicar on earth, said on BBC Radio 4 The Westminster Hour on 21 June:
If we do lose in a year’s time I think the Labour Party will recover much of its old self because I tend to see – I know this is not necessarily a popular view – the Blairite period being something of an interregnum with regard to the nature of the Labour Party as it has been over this last century.
That’s it, then. The Blairite “interregnum” over. Thirteen years in government: one long departure from the path of truth and light. Which is markets bad; unelectability good. Back to Labour’s “old self”.
I do hope not.
*Mind you, my copy has been a set text for a university course, judging by its inscription, and I bought it because I’ve lent my original copy to someone, so perhaps we are more numerous than I fear.
**The truly observant among you will have noticed that I have corrected Purnell’s punctuation by adding a comma after “not less”, although the sentence would be improved further by leaving out the words altogether.
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