The proposal to feed the children of the Scottish bourgeoisie at the expense of the working-class taxpayer, while unsuccessful in the Edinburgh Parliament, seems to have garnered reasonable support from generally left-leaning Scottish civil society.

Harry’s Place posted on this issue recently and the post attracted a fair amount of comments (see I’ll have the langoustine below).

The proposed scheme raises many questions. One which occurred to me was what would Karl Marx have made of it ?. Obviously any attempt to answer is pure speculation as Marx famously refused to write the cookbooks of the future and his writings on the role of the state before and after the revolution are contradictory and open to quoting out of context.

What is clear is that Marx operated in an intellectual and social world very different from our own. The mid-nineteenth century was an era in which the British working class was very busy. Not content with putting in long days at the mill some of the more active members set up the co-operative movement, the first building societies, workers educational associations and a whole host of lesser organisations which met the social and intellectual needs of the people. Some of these organisations still exist and some have been supplanted by aspects of the welfare state set up after the second world war.

The contrast with today’s left is instructive. Most of the British (and international) left is more than content to let the state run the things which were previously in the hands of the people. The reasons for this shift is explained by the increasing complexity of providing social goods. Whatever the reason, the left seems to worship the state to the extent that it is happy for the state to feed it’s children whether they are in economic need of such feeding or not.

Is it neccessarily a good thing to let the state run things which can be run by the people ? Marx and Engels were in favour of the withering away of the state. I’m tempted to agree that this withering away has much to recommend it and would probably be a good thing for the following reasons:

1. Having everything run on your behalf by the state does tend to encourage a certain submissive fatalistic mentality among recepients. This is never a good thing.

2. Civil society is much the poorer without a strong self-organising working class, as is the working class.

3. Social provision is in the hands of politicians rather than the people on the ground, who are more likely to be committed to whatever it is they are trying to do.

The long slow economic collapse of the Soviet Union should have alerted us to the perils of allowing the state to run everything, sadly not many on the left appear to have learned the lesson. I suspect one of the reasons for this is that the modern British left has not broken out of the post-war mindset which saw politics as a battle to attract funding, investment etc from the centralised state rather than discussing the production of wealth and it’s distribution.

If the British left doesn’t start seriously addressing the question of the role of the state and it’s limitations it will remain a quaint echo of a post-war intellectual world which vanished 15 years ago. Useful as a protest vote but offering nothing for the future.