I’ve never told people that I’m a champagne socialist and it gone well. It makes people think of 1930’s living rooms and cigar smoke, women perched on armchairs while the men go to talk business. I can’t deny that 1930’s glamorous yet frustrated young wife is a vibe I often try to emulate, but more in my interior decorating and penchant for silk scarves than my political ideologies.
Champagne socialism is considered an oxymoron, and I can understand why. But I think a lot of the dislike of it comes from a general hostility towards socialism. If you don’t like socialism, it’s probably because you think the Russian government is going to seize your land and redistribute it (also known as collectivisation for those lucky few who didn’t do GCSE history). Or maybe you weren’t taught to share as a child and operate under the basis that if you’ve worked hard for your money, you are under no obligation to help any of those slackers out.
But anyone with any kind of perspective should know that some people in this world are luckier than others and that flagrant capitalism relies upon exploitation. I’ve been working since I was sixteen out of necessity, but I also got my first job through someone I knew. I’m not better than other people because I can support myself, I’m lucky. There are factors outside of my control, like the school I went to, that have eased me into the world of employment and therefore provided me with cash.
My life has enabled me to succeed and other people have the exact opposite experience. For example, 30% of young people who have been in care are classed as unemployed 9 months after leaving school, compared to just 8% of their peers.
Sharing good fortune has always made sense to me, mainly in an emotional sense, but also in a financial one. On a micro level, buying food for a homeless person or donating to a charity every month makes me feel like I’m making some kind of difference and am giving back to a society that has encouraged me to thrive. On a larger scale, the less poverty we have and the more people who are employed benefits our society as a whole in a myriad of ways.
To argue that any money you make or any good fortune that you have is solely the result of your hard work is wilfully ignorant and self serving. In one of the richest and ‘most developed’ countries on earth, no one should be homeless. No one should be visiting food banks, and to argue that people in need are in these dehumanising conditions because of their own foolishness only serves to absolve financially secure people of any kind of social responsibility.
We do not live in a world of absolutes. To kind of quote Sirius Black, the world isn’t split into good people and bankers. If you work hard, I can understand why you want to spend money rewarding yourself for that, I do it all the time. But it makes social and financial sense to help people who aren’t lucky enough to be in a similar position.
I tried to chat someone up recently by telling them that I was ‘socially socialist and fiscally conservative’, which is both a devastating insight into my sex life and a revealing look into how often I talk about the economy at parties. I was just trying to sound intelligent, but after the glow of seduction has ebbed, I basically stand by what I said. But with socialism (as with all things), sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is.