People sometimes ask us for our definition of socialism. Of course our members will have different views about what they individually mean, but essentially we are in the reformist tradition. We are not planning to organise a revolution.
Tony Crosland‘s famous book The Future of Socialism is probably the best exposition of this position. As Ed Miliband explains “Crosland goes through five basic socialist aspirations: Protest against poverty, wider concern for social welfare in the interests of the disadvantaged, a belief in equality, a rejection of competitive antagonism and a protest against the inefficiencies of capitalism. He then looks at the world and concludes that the two that seem most relevant to the circumstances of the 1950s are first, social welfare and secondly, social equality and the ‘classless society’.”
Our relationship to the Labour Party
The SHA as a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party naturally wants the party to be in power. We want the party in power so that it can implement the policies which the SHA advocates. That does not mean that we are not critical of the decisions made by Labour ministers and the Departments of Health. But when the criticism is too strident and destructive this only helps the Tories. In practice it is only when the argument gets heated that it gets reported at all, and in a negative way. We still believe that the best way forward is to support our views with reasoned argument and evidence rather than anger.
We pay affiliation fees to the Labour Party which entitle us to attend Party events and put our point of view. Many, but not all, of our members are individually members of the Party.
Some members would like the SHA to adopt other agendas, outside the field of health policy, and to make statements about foreign policy, the London Mayor, transport, or the behaviour of ministers. Some hold very strong views and criticise the SHA for not supporting them 100 per cent. With a large membership with varying views on particular topics it is not possible to obtain unanimous agreement on everything. For some years we have confined ourselves to issues which relate directly to health and health care in the UK because we simply do not have the resources of time or money to cover anything more.
Gavin Ross produced a limerick for the New Statesman some years ago on the subject of “The Broad Church of the Labour Party”:
- Friends, Comrades, we urgently need
- To unite in our socialist creed.
- How the term is defined
- We really don’t mind;
- It’s the one thing on which we’re agreed!
Raymond Williams in “Keywords” has a long essay on the various uses of terms like Socialism, society and social democracy. He distinguishes several ways in which socialism is contrasted with other ‘isms’, in particular Capitalism and Individualism. With regard to Capitalism we are in the economic and industrial field, collective action of workers and obtaining the fruits of labour, state ownership of the commanding heights etc. With regard to Individualism we are concerned with shared provision of welfare, education and pooled benefits through general taxation, co-operation and redistribution of wealth. To our opponents the word Socialism is used to imply state control of all our lives, dull uniformity and stifling of enterprise, high taxes and poor public services. New Labour is so afraid of the right-wing use and abuse of the term that they have removed it from their vocabulary, but we should not be afraid to re-affirm its positive meaning.
So we are the Socialist Health Association because we believe that we all have a duty to each other, however well or badly endowed with wealth, education, genes or physique. The alternatives to universal provision, free at the point of need and paid for out of general taxation, is a multi-tiered service that gives access to the richest, insurance to the middle classes and charity to the deserving poor and neglect of everyone else. The US system leads to specialised hospitals for curable diseases and neglect of the incurable, to litigation against doctors when a rich person dies, to stigmatising those who are deemed to cause their ill-health (through their life-styles, addictions, sporting activities or diets), and a political reluctance to raise taxes to alleviate suffering.
Feasible Socialism – The National Health Service, past, present & future