You Want to Pursue Equality? Consider Socialism

The resurgent political doctrine might chart our clearest path yet towards equality.

Homeless barefoot boys sleep huddled over a grating for warmth. Based on a photograph by social reformer Jacob Riis. Original image in the public domain from the Museum of the City of New York. Colorized by Kelly Short. Part of the Public Domain.

In contemporary political literature, when egalitarian frameworks are thought of, socialism is a relatively-new entry to the conversation. For the longest time, market dynamics were posited as the only means to assign each entity what it was rightfully owed–work hard and you’ll be compensated adequately, the wisdom often goes. Socialism subverts that by apportioning return not according to what is input in it, but what we as a society have collectively agreed should be provided for regardless–it means that the non-working population who’re beckoned by market forces to plead for aid as they starve and die, are now a class whose more-productive counterpart ensures that they are just as prosperous.

That’s fundamentally at the core of the Marxist belief in concentration of capital being the cause and effect of society’s own inequities–socialism rectifies that by combining a sort of moral radicalism with the conceit that whatever is implemented won’t be to anyone’s full liking, but it’ll be to everyone’s benefit. The healthy provide for the sick, the young for the old, the able-bodied for the disabled, and so on–a society in which the values of collective solidarity are deeply embedded in its collective consciousness, is one that won’t struggle with seeing to its future a more egalitarian one.

The relativism enveloping conversations around equality remains their greatest handicap. Libertarians would often like to argue against wealth reassignment as if it isn’t just a more institutionally-accountable form of asserting natural ownership, and traditional capitalists are no less oblivious to the ways that so much of their wealth would become null if the state — society’s chief market manipulator — ceased to exist. Without the state, the concept of ownership cannot be upheld, and it can through sheer power of will decide that some have owned far more than they should, while others are perishing under the weight of utter destitution.

To say that socialism is the egalitarian framework, doesn’t mean that there aren’t others similarly-purposed–it’s just that the aim of the project necessitates achieving most of its objectives, and no other comes even close to offering a compelling alternative. Communism is far too state-centered to encompass the scale at which this project would be undertaken, anarchism’s conception of power is so diffused that whatever equality achieved will vary wildly depending on locale, and liberalism has through its current iteration abdicated all responsibility to govern, backsliding into a cynical disregard of the populace instead–socialism, which in its current advocacies is a hybrid of all that has proven to best jive with the needs of modern society, has about the best chance to make a change where it most counts.

It’s not to say that socialism itself hasn’t taken from traditions much less egalitarian to bolster its own case, but it’s how it builds upon them that makes it truly unique. Unlike the capitalistic status quo — which seems to lack all moral impetus to self-reflect — socialism is an ideology in which the reconsideration of elements perilous to its ultimate goal is actively encouraged–this means that there’s no pursuit of a long-lost orthodoxy, as much as a constant readjustment to fit which new paths towards equality there are to chart. It’s a decidedly more-effective form of purpose self-preservation than the thin valence of “freedom” that capitalism has decided would be its most-noble cause.

When past eras spring to mind, the limited means of man come up as an obstacle for truly realizing their final form — both physical and intellectual — but what if we thought about the project of society’s betterment not as one where the end goal is personal fulfillment, but one where every member of society’s needs are met? It requires great altruism yes, but we have it in ourselves to muster a little bit more, if only for it is the foundational piece of all human civilization.

Of course, transforming our society into a socialist one won’t have to end with the inking of its values on paper–unless our implicit norms reinforce an egalitarian view of the world by embodying a socialist ethic, the project of socialism will inevitably be met with failure. It’s why in its most radical manifestations in Latin America, it never really managed to transcend its symbolicity well into political praxis. Socialism isn’t just a smattering of flags lathered with shades of yellow, dark and red, plastered all over with hammers and sickles–it is the recognition that the state’s central role is to act against man’s worst instincts and rectify economic injustice by siphoning labor’s collective power to institute the most radical forms of wealth redistribution, putting an end to all material deprivation in the process.

Much of our rhetoric about wealth is mired in deservance or divine retribution — if not explicitly in a secular society, certainly influenced by Christian tradition — but what if money ceased to be an object where scarcity defined its pursuit? What if all could be provided for such that the question of absolute equality down to its minute components would become moot? These are questions that our society seems currently ill-equipped to answer, but they’re ones we’ll have to address in order to achieve a semblance of egalitarianism in the future–not one where fallacious symmetry compels our indifference, but one where the conditions of the unjustly-treated see to an immediate improvement thanks to a hard-coded belief in the tenets of equality, regardless of how impractical pr utopian they may seem.