Friday 28 October 2016

Ruairi Quinn is right, capitalism has become amoral and must be managed

Politicians here should not ignore the public appetite for authenticity, conviction and genuine political debate, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Leon Trotsky: The task of communism was to produce an ‘improved version’ of man
Leon Trotsky: The task of communism was to produce an ‘improved version’ of man

If I were on Facebook, I would have expressed "empathy" with Ruairi Quinn last week, if Facebook allowed the expression of empathy, which it is currently working on as part of a dastardly plan which threatens to displace all humanity.

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But as an avowed Luddite, I am not on Facebook, nor any other form of social media, save for accidentally reactivating a LinkedIn account recently.

Ruairi Quinn declared himself to be a "re-unreconstructed" socialist at the Labour Party think-in in Wicklow, before saying that the great thing about socialists - and social democrats - was that they did not believe in capitalism.

That is the point at which we part, why I would not have "liked" on Facebook what he had to say, because I like capitalism. Capitalism works. It is the wayward values and amorality of some who practise it that I take issue with.

Empathy is required because Ruairi Quinn, a former Finance Minister, eventually said what he really meant to say all along, which was that "we" socialists "know how to f***ing manage" capitalism.

He said "we" because we are all socialists now. Or we should be.

So in the indulgence of the age, I too would like to come out: I am a (reconstructed) socialist, which makes me like Ruairi - and Bertie, of course. (Enter smiley face here - Ed).

As I have said before, in living memory, socialism and capitalism have always seemed like natural antagonists, but they are not.

Capitalism did not create socialism - socialism invented capitalism. For socialists, the chief opponent was never capitalism, but individualism.

One of the crucial issues in our soon-to-be-held election will be the real issue, up front and centre again after decades in retreat, which is the growing-to-grotesque levels of inequality.

Even those dyed-in-the-wool capitalists who attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have come to recognise this and to understand that it is bad for business.

A few years ago, the forum focused on what was called 'Resilient Dynamism', with sessions on 'the Moral Economy' and 'the Values Context', which sparked an overdue debate about the morality of capitalism.

That is not to say that capitalism is immoral, but that in practice it has, or had, become amoral, with no moral standards, restraints or principles. We know this to our cost - €68bn give or take.

To address this amorality, capitalists (and politicians), in the words of Martin Buber, the Israeli Jewish philosopher, must learn to be whole by saying what they mean and doing what they say.

Even the Daily Telegraph, in a sustained attack on the new Labour leader in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn last week, had to admit that the Prime Minister David Cameron "should not ignore the public appetite for authenticity, conviction and genuine political debate".

It will be interesting to see how Mr Corbyn survives in the bear pit where socialism and capitalism once feuded and from which socialism retreated many decades ago to something more anodyne called social democracy.

As it will also be interesting to see how a proposed new arrangement between the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit develops here.

They are seeking to establish a unified parliamentary group in order to maximise the Left vote in the election and what they call the "socialist" voice in the next Dail.

I would also say that this Left alliance is more Trotskyite than socialist, although I imagine Richard Boyd Barrett would take issue with that; but he must agree with the view of Karl Marx when he described humans as an absolutely singular species.

It was Trotsky who said the future task of communism was to produce a new "improved version" of man, who must see himself as a raw material, he said, or at best as a semi-manufactured product.

When you start talking about fine-tuning and improving people, you begin to move towards treating people as raw materials and tools - tools, such as those ever-expanding new technologies to help access Facebook, with its frankly weird endeavour to contrive "empathy" at the click of a button.

The original Luddites raged against the machine and objected to capitalists treating them as interchangeable labour.

Today's Luddites are different: they see technology as threatening the value assigned to each individual life, the dumping of people into utilitarian statistics.

But while today's Luddites fixate on the dangers of technology, they are not driven by its inherent threat to supplant or replace humanity. Technology does not dehumanise us in that way, but the knowledge behind it does.

The same argument applies to capitalism. The ideal of capitalism is not wrong; at issue are the questionable values and morality of many of those within that system.

For socialists like Ruairi Quinn, and me, that must be "f…ing managed" but for Marxists and Trots, it is the system itself which must be destroyed.

That is why I would vote Labour ahead of Marxists and Trots any day; but not ahead of those who also seek social control and co-operative management of another sector of the economy - the public sector, which was something Ruairi Quinn neglected to address in Wicklow.

Technology has made the world more interdependent. As a result, values and behaviour matter more than before, and in ways never imagined, because actions affect more people than ever and in ways they never have before.

This was among the arguments made at Davos two years ago and is applicable today to politicians, capitalists and socialists alike: new technologies must insist that our values are scaled until they are too valuable to fail and dictate that our word matters because it is now indelible, up there in a cloud somewhere, redefining the often misunderstood assertion that in the long run we are all dead.

Sunday Independent

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