Some observations on the characterisation of societies according to their position within the historical dialectic.
Just before I went to Sweden last, I read (via www.thelocal.se) a Prospect Magazine article about The Swedish Soul. 'The Scandinavian Exception' has long been a puzzle: how come they manage to do everything right, in terms of heathcare, welfare, education, social inclusion and, above all per capita GDP. (The groundbreaking 'The Spirit Level' discusses the overwhelming, unignorable correlation between societal equality and all these factors).
So how do they pull off what Hobsbawm called (long before Blair filched the term) 'Third Way', the hugely successful alternative to Anglo-Saxon Capitalism and Soviet-style Communism. Well...it's in the blood. A Swedish Trade Union leader points out that their society moved somewhat smoothly from an egalitarian agrarian society and straight into industrialisation and modernity. Unlike in, say, Britain, there was no intervening feudalism. Accordingly, they regard they regard Social Democracy as obvious. To a large extent they didn't have to struggle for the benefits they take for granted - obvious things like the struggle for independent trade union representation which my own mother played a leading role in in the 1970's.
Now, Marx pointed out that the conditions of the previous historic age are carried over into the next phase. The British Industrial Revolution was enabled by its feudal system: landowners were able to enclose their feudal demesnes for the benefit of the mutton and wool industry. Their dispossessed serfs provided a convenient pool of labour for the Dark Satanic Mills they were investing in in the newly forged cities.
And as for America...they still bear the horrifying legacy of the agro-industrial use of human machinery.
So where does this leave us? I would argue that we can characterise societies in terms of how har along they are on the dialectical process from feudalism-capitalism-Dictatorship of the Proleriat-Emergence Into Communism.
- Scandiwegia: Well, as readers of Stieg Larsson will know, it has a dark underbelly (and a Norwegian of my acquaintance reminds me that the same people who invited Hitler in are still around, still active in society). But...you'd quite like to live there if you were elderly, ill or jobless, no? It's not far off 'To each according to their needs from each according to their ability' And they're all smart techno-cookies who completely get Marx's view that technology is the engine of Growth.
- America: It is significant that America has a Liberal Left but not (to any large degree) a Socialist Left. The average, American, college-educated liberal is genuinely scared at words like 'Socialism' and 'Marx', for the obvious reason that sixty years of anti-Socialism militates against their studying them. Not if they want to hold down a job and mix in respectable company. So we are told, the Received Wisdom has it, that wheras Britain has a class problem, America has a race problem. Well...I'm sorry...but what is 'Race' other than a convenient device for colour-coding human machinery? The US of A was founded on slavery and its wealthier inhabitants continues to prosper from it. It always has been a class issue - Marxist historian Howard Zinn is excellent on this in his Peoples' History of the United States. It is no accident that the Civil Rights movement was largely instigated by the CP-USA and people like my personal hero, Trade Unionist Bayard Rustin. (J Edgar Hoover was right: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was a Commie front organisation). But...while there ave obviously been many good signs of late...America will not make progress in addressing healthcare, poverty, education, drug abuse, social exclusion, inequality or any of the general Happiness issues until they wake up to Socialism.
- England (yes, we have to take it separately from the rest of the UK): The Class War is over and the proletariat lost. As an English emigrant whose formative years were directly shaped by English Feudalism and the stale hierarchy it implies - I believe I'm in a position to comment that it's seriously failing to fulfil its potential as a nation. England was the engine of the early Industrial Revolution...but it never quite got around to sharing its wealth (attempts to do so were crushed mercilessly, and the bitter legacy can be seen across the Northern coal towns). Indeed, it exported feudalism throughout the world in the form of colonialism, and as such...it as A Bad Name. (An Irish friend told me that the only phrase one needs to learn in a foreign language is 'Oh, god, no! Irish!). And the great crying shame is they don't even get it. Brown is On The Side Of The Angels - but even he is still bought into the idea that Britain (read 'England') can prosper on 'Invisible Earnings'* What part of 'The Crisis of Capitalism' would you like me to explain?
- Scotland: Now as a Scot-Of-English-Ethnic-Origin (and boy, does that phrase piss people off. It's meant to.)...I'm not going to pretend for one moment that this dreich, Irn Bru swigging, chip-guzzling, proud nation of heroes is paradise. I merely observe that our socioeconomic history is somewhat different to England's. It is unfortunate for us that, at about the time the Industrial Revolution was kicking off, England exported a vicious brand of colonial feudalism which replaced a looser-knit, more consensual Clan system. (eg.up until The Act Of Union there as never a King of Scotland Dei Gratia, but a 'King of the Scots'.) So Scotland's communitarian culture was held in check...but it's always been there. This, combined with the Scots emphasis on education as a moral duty (we have Knox to thank for this: his insistence that the lowliest crofter was able to read The Bible meant that the Scots were able to read Adam Smith, Davy Hume, Burns, McDiarmid, Irvine Welsh, Tables of Logarithms...) means that we are...different. Our greater sense of JFDI coupled with our awareness that we're 'A' Jock Tamson's Bairns' puts us, I argue, in a better position than our stale, colonial masters to cope with the fact that the historical dialectic has simply moved on.
So what's the plan? Fuck-off big wave turbine generator in the strongest and most reliable current in the world (www.emec.org.uk). Use this to power a hi-speed maglev between Edinburgh/Glasgow and the English cities, so all the people from the defunct Financials industry can commute to where the money is. Or, if they're to dumb to want to come to one of Lonely Planet's Top Ten Cities, the Holyrood government, unlike Westminster, is actively encouraging immigration. We regard asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants and their children as a valuable economic resource. (and this, children, is why, in Scotland, the BNP share of the vote in the EU election was 0.02%. Or, to quote a friend's CPGB father-in law "We beat the Blackshirts off Glasgow Green!...by the way, I do mean 'beat'.")
Then...who knows? Maybe start running ourselves as though we were Scandiwegia, with free university education, free medicines, free elderly care...oh, wait. We already have those.
Tiocfaidh ár lá
* 'Earnings' is a misnomer here. The whole financial industry is a massive overhead which serves only to skim of tithes from Production Value. Even more bizarrely, Education is regarded as a 'Tax Burden', ignoring the well-established first year economics textbook teaching that $1 on education yields $1k in GDP. Teachers are the economic engines of society!