There is an old saying that unless you are a socialist at 20 you have no heart, but if you’re still a socialist at 40 you have no brains. By that standard, I have both a heart and a brain.
But the socialism that I believed in at 20 is substantially different from the socialism of today’s 20-year-olds. Socialists now are not only incredibly selfish but also profoundly anti-working class, which is remarkable considering socialism is primarily about sharing wealth for the benefit of the working class.
The fathers of socialism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, defined it as a transitional phase between capitalism and communism in which there is social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, the apparatus of the state is yet to wither away, but society is moving towards the concept of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.
It appealed to me because I thought it meant nobody would be poor, those who could contribute more would do so, and society would blossom because everyone was equal. As an impoverished student from a poor family, I didn’t yet realise that people like to keep what’s theirs, that equality of opportunity is important, not equality of outcome, and that dictatorship is the only way to implement socialism.
I was also attracted by the idea of freedom from oppression. Socialism was always anti-sexist but it also seemed unwilling to tell people how to live. Whatever the working class wanted was OK, or so I thought.
Marx and Engels would scarcely recognise what is called socialism now. On economics it barely goes beyond chants of “tax the rich”. Privatisation of government enterprises is opposed, of course, but there is little appetite for nationalisation apart from utilities. And overt anti-capitalism is only found on environmental issues when it is all about saving the planet rather than benefiting the working class.
This is most evident from the almost religious fixation on climate change, with its calls to close down industries starting with coal. That this would force hundreds of thousands of working-class Australians into unemployment never bothers the socialists. Still less are they concerned about the grinding poverty of the working class in countries like India.
Then there is their trenchant opposition to working-class pursuits such as smoking, drinking, gambling and greyhound racing, plus their fervent dislike of gun ownership, which both Marx and Lenin strongly supported.
But it is the politics of identity that makes modern socialism so unrecognisable from the socialism of old. Instead of the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) oppressing the working class (the proletariat), today’s socialists tell us the oppressors are males who enjoy male patriarchy, white people with white privilege, homophobes and transphobes, plus, of course, racists and Nazis. It has become a contest to claim the status of most victimised.
Perhaps most bizarre of all, modern socialists also embrace Islam, equating Islamophobia with racism notwithstanding the overt homophobia and sexism found in every single Islamic country, and simultaneously promote anti-Semitism in spite of its links to Nazism.
Those who oppose these oppression narratives are accused of hate speech and publicly hounded in an effort to silence them. To disagree risks being labelled a fascist, which is quite ironic given that their shock troops, Antifa, assault their opponents in a manner highly reminiscent of Mussolini’s fascist blackshirts and even wear the same coloured clothing.
Meanwhile, working-class straight white males have no way to escape their guilt other than through permanent penance.
You obviously don’t need a brain to be a socialist these days, but a heart is pretty irrelevant too.
David Leyonhjelm is a former senator for the Liberal Democrats