As I was doing a bit of housework the other morning, I found myself in need of some stirring music to chivvy me along, so stuck on a bit of Billy Bragg. When I got to his version of the rousing socialist anthem The Internationale, I got a bit tearful. I will hold my hands up here – I am one of the soppiest lefties around, so this is not an unusual occurrence. A bit of protest music, a rousing speech, going on a big demo – they can all get me welling up. Anyway, I know Bragg’s translation isn’t the original and that he mucked around with the lyrics to make them scan better with the music but I still think it’s a great version. And one of the reasons I think I love the song so much is that it does what a lot of the best protest songs do – that is define not just what it’s against, but also what it’s for. It's an incredibly powerful expression of purpose and what, in the broadest sense, I suppose we all believe in as socialists– uniting against oppression, working together towards a common goal, a refusal to be divided. The line that always gets me is ‘When we fight, provoked by their aggression, let us be inspired by life and love.'
It occurred to me that we don't do this enough on the left – define in positive terms what it is that we are for and why it is that we are socialists. This is, to some degree, inevitable I suppose – in our society and particularly at the moment, we're constantly forced into defensive positions by the attacks of capitalism.
So why are we socialists? For me, there are the obvious answers: I believe in redistribution of wealth and the emancipation of the working class, I want an end to oppression, I want a society organised collectively and run for the benefit of the many, not the few. But why do I want these things? Is this self-evident? Perhaps - but it's worth thinking about, I think, to remind ourselves of our ideas and motivations outside political processes.
I’ve given it a bit of thought and decided that I am essentially an optimist about human beings. I accept that I’m probably speaking from a position of privilege, but I think that all people, given the opportunity, have it in them to be wonderful, generous, thoughtful and interesting. I believe that, ultimately, life is better when everybody has the freedom - economic and otherwise – they need to fulfil their potential. People are happier, get on better together and have more fun. Naturally, I believe that collective action is the way forward for all of this and my experience, from doing group work with my students to buying rounds in the pub, tells me that organising things collectively is way more fun and more rewarding than doing things on your own. If I had more time, I could probably write an essay, but these are, I think, the main guiding principles of my socialism. That’s me. How about you?