Well, that hiatus is over, and I’m now back to deliver some more obnoxious, contrarian blog posts! Can I have some cheers?
Firstly, tovarische, I have a confession to make. I have been a very bad communist and should be sent to the gulags immediately for committing treason against the cult. I mean, ideology. Because…because…*breathes in*
I am, in fact, privately educated.
That’s right. You may all now breathe. I play lacrosse and wear designer frocks. I eat caviar every day at school lunch. I am a filthy bloodsucking rich parasite, of the very sort that I pretended to denounce. Scandalous.
During my career as a scandalous hypocritical traitor to the Church of Communism, I’ve often been branded with a certain label: “champagne socialist.” This isn’t entirely inaccurate: I’m a socialist, and I love a good flute of Prosecco. Under adult supervision, of course. But what does the label “champagne socialist,” actually mean? It’s a person who is allegedly hypocritical for being socialist because they’re “rich.” And…wait for it…it displays a wilful misunderstanding of socialism.
First off, some personal stuff. Even if it totally made sense to call someone a hypocrite for being “rich,” and socialist, and even if the quality of being “rich,” was less arbitrary, I’m by no means rich – my parents are both in very average services professions, and I’m a second-generation immigrant with parents from poor backgrounds. As for the fact that I’m at a private school, I only pay a third of the fees (thanks to my mum’s aforementioned very average services profession) and socialists do not support state schools in any way, given that we support neither the current state – which of course manages state schools – or ultimately the existence of any state at all. So it would be no more “socialist,” to go to a state school than to go to a private school. And private schools – though they’re by no means desirable (I will definitely be writing something on the socialist education system soon) – tend to have better teaching, extra-curricular provision, encouragement and university preparation, so I’m extremely fortunate to have the fee reduction and be able to attend one.
But this isn’t about me, regardless of my narcissistic love of talking about myself. The term “champagne socialist,” itself makes zero sense. Socialism, since it is about putting the whole of society in control of the means of production and not some sort of abstract “equality,” as opponents of the movement and moralists like to conveniently pretend, is actually in the interests of some people who would be considered “rich.” Some people, well-paid medical professionals working for private clinics for instance, may earn considerable amounts but still not own the means of production, still be paid less than the value of the product of their labour, still be stressed and alienated and oppressed by the system. In other words, they’re still proletarians. Therefore, they’d still benefit from taking control of the means of production. It’s still in their class interests. Is it hypocritical of them to be socialists then? Absolutely not. And often, it is actually the higher-paid workers and professionals – often termed the intelligentsia, bureaucratic stratum, or co-ordinator class – who are the most class conscious section of the working class and who start to organise revolutionary activity; this is what happened in Russia. That’s not to say that this is inevitable, more “correct”, or that the lower strata of the working class have never led or organised revolutionary activity, but it shows that the intelligentsia are still very much capable of being a revolutionary class. And while we’re talking about the quality of being “rich”, it is completely arbitrary. We could decide that someone is only “rich,” if they earn over €100,000 a year, and say that therefore if one earns €100,101 a year and is socialist, one is a “champagne socialist” whereas if one earns €99,999 a year and is socialist, one isn’t. That’s ridiculous. We can more easily draw the line at owning the means of production. One either owns the means of production or doesn’t; thus socialism is either in one’s interests or it isn’t. Simples. So it could be more easily, as well as more logically, argued that bourgeoisie – owners of the means of production – are champagne socialists than that “rich people” are. Because socialism, since it will expropriate their property and end their reign, is very much against the interests of the bourgeoisie. They would be suicidal to support it.
But the term “champagne socialist” specifically alludes to hypocrisy as opposed to mere idiocy. It alludes to not “practising what one preaches.” Which is an absurd accusation. Socialists do not argue that being working-class is desirable – quite the contrary – so it’s not hypocritical to be non-working-class but be socialist. Nor is it even possible for us to “practise what we preach” unless you think that a global, stateless, classless, moneyless society which negates every aspect of the capitalist economic system can exist within capitalism (and no, the kibbutzim etc. are not socialist). Every socialist has no choice but to live within capitalism. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s just necessity. Bourgeoisie who are socialists (of course, there are very few of those) are not hypocrites, they’re just politically suicidal. Therefore, the very term “champagne socialist” is totally redundant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to carry on enjoying my Moet & Chandon.