Around 150 people attended the Politics Society debate ‘Is Socialism Dead?’ in Fulton on Tuesday 24 April. The event was chaired by Sussex Politics Professor Tim Bale, with guest speakers Alex Callinicos of Kings College, Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, and Luke Martell, Professor of Political Sociology, whose course at Sussex inspired the debate.
The two hour long event started with each guest speaker talking about the relevance of socialism at a time of global recession, and whether capitalism and socialism have found a compromise. Callinicos began by suggesting the very notion of a death of socialism is “ridiculous.”
Referring to the economic recession, he reminded the audience that no country is impervious to crisis. He pointed to the economic bubble now growing in China and elsewhere.
Far from being in decline, socialism was “alive and kicking”, as shown by events in Tahir Square, leading to the global anti-capitalist Occupy movement.
Bowman, the main representative for capitalism, spoke next saying he agreed with Alex on the issues of bank bailouts and “addiction to credit.”
However, he noted that even during the current economic crisis few people seriously suggested socialism as an alternative.
Bowman stated that Ed Milliband would have been a “Thatcherite” 20 years ago.
He then warned that socialists want to turn the country into a “giant post office”, with uniformity enforced by an authoritarian state. Martell spoke last and stressed the importance of definitions when talking about the death of socialism. He thought the last few years had confirmed the importance of socialism as a way of analysis.
Luke talked about how Occupy had put socialist ideas “back on the table”, with even the Evening Standard suggesting that Marx is making a comeback. He ended by talking about the importance of protecting social democratic achievements like the welfare state, but felt a compromise no longer existed.
Tim then took questions from the floor on issues as diverse as capitalism’s use of force, the growth of exploitation in developing countries, ‘intersectionality’ and the ‘pink tide’ in Latin America.
Talking about capitalism’s use of force Callinicos described it as the “antithesis to freedom” and cited the Iraq war as economically motivated. Answering on the growth of exploitation Bowman boldly claimed he was “proud to wear shoes made in a sweatshop”, as for poor workers it is better than the alternative.
Martell thought socialism should align with other progressive movements. Callinicos ended by saying we must “confront capitalism”, with austerity being the poison not the cure. Bowman was certain socialism was “as dead as the people it killed”, as even Occupy accepts capitalism. Martell closed by warning to avoid “past mistakes”, as the future for the left is in Parliaments and new social movements.
The Politics Society would like to thank the guest speakers, Tim Bale, and everyone who attended.