Against Socialist Illusion: A Radical Argument by David Selbourne

By David Selbourne

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Yet it is in this very promise that Western socialists are most vulnerable, particularly in an epoch when socialist forms ofliberation, above all as they affect the individual, have fallen into such discredit. Hence it is increasingly simple, even in the teeth of the memory, say, ofVietnam, for the cause of individual emancipation- whatever it may be said to mean- to be given a 'right-wing' as well as a 'left-wing' gloss. Furthermore, to The Appeal ofthe Right 41 express this promise of self-determination in absolutist and utopian terms is to emphasize not socialist strengths, but socialist frailties.

The close political and moral relation between the 'self-interest' of capital and the 'self-help' oflabour is only one of them. Failing to understand it permits very little understanding of the particular forms of the socialist crisis in Britain. Instead, the left takes refuge in familiar intellectual consolations. Some await the future revival of class 'consciousness', while others dream in their archives of past heydays of the proletariat. To avoid the real issues, emphasis can also be shifted from the fact that the working class may once and for all have 'ceased to be largely Labour>~ to the proposition that the 'new right' is itself engaged in an intensified form of 'ideological class struggle' as capitalism totters.

But even if this could be shown to be so, the general moral (and therefore political) appeal of the need to 'frame the plan of our life to suit our own character', as Mill puts it, is unlikely to diminish in our culture. This activity he considers to belong to the 'region of human liberty'. 38 And socialists who have abandoned this ground to the discourse of others, or who have only long-failed countervailing argument to offer, can now make no headway against it. :Moreover, and much more dangerous for the socialist alternative, it seems to be something like this formulation - rather than the banal but also potent 'market freedom', or 'freedom to choose', of a Milton Friedman- which comes closest to expressing what the right intends by individual freedom.

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