As traditionally, and—I think—correctly understood, the purpose of socialism may be defined as follows:
“That the government, democratically responsible to the electorate, should assume ownership of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy and, in association with subsidiary agencies of a democratic character, take effective control of the economy as a whole; that it should use the power thus obtained (a) to ensure a rapid development of total productivity in accordance with certain centrally-decided priorities, (b) to redistribute both income and leisure in favour of the ‘under-privileged’ and (c) to place greater emphasis than is possible in a society where the main criterion of economic decision is private profit on the provision of communal facilities designed to raise the general level of material and cultural well-being.”
The adaptation of these principles to mid-twentieth century conditions can be either of two kinds: (1) adaptation to the needs of our time; (2) adaptation to the views, existing or predicted, of the electorate. These two kinds of adaptation do not necessarily coincide. In fact, their coincidence is now becoming not more but less close.
Up to quite recently there was at least no glaring contradiction between vigorous campaigning for Socialism, as thus defined, and the winning of electoral victories. Today, as a result of the very real achievements of “welfare capitalism”, that contradiction is obvious. Ultimately, people judge political policies and programmes on the basis of experience, and to an ever-increasing extent the significant and politically-decisive experience is of the prosperous fifties, not of the hungry thirties. Where comparisons are consciously made, they are between the free flow of consumer goods characteristic of the recent period of Tory rule and the “restrictionism” characteristic of the immediate post-war years when Labour was in office. Both, of course, were periods of almost-full employment, but the first was one of full employment plus rationing, the second one of full employment plus hire-purchase.
This is not to suggest that satisfaction with the record of “welfare capitalism” is almost universal. Clearly, there are many groups of people, such as old age pensioners and families on the waiting list for municipal housing, who have the most obvious reasons for dissatisfaction. The so-called consumer revolution, moreover, cannot develop its full ideological impact in areas where unemployment is well above the national average. Marginal dissatisfactions, however, are a very poor bag of electoral assets.