Monday, February 06, 2006

Unsubtle differences of Socialism, Marxism, Communism (Soviet Union)

Lots of comments on tim's blog and stumbling and mumbling's various posts that equate socialism with the Soviet Union.

Well they are not one and the same really. The Soviets had their very own interpretation. Ideologically it was Leninist-Marxism, with a particular variant being the dictatorship of the proletariat and a centrally planned state. They were rather big on that.

The central difference I can see on simple plain terms is that the Soviets model idealised the state role in that it would always act in the interests of the worker/proletariat. When in fact it turned into a partly self-serving elite.

And I wouldn't always say that socialism equates to Marxism either. Marx build on lots of other ideas and events, especially from England - the levellers, cooperative movements, chartists, etc.

I would really encourage some folks to read Marx's biography by Francis Wheen. Its illuminating. And also there are many objective history books about the Soviet Union - the stuff about the early days are interesting.

The worst thing you could do intellectually is not read about something because its against your values. If you really think that way, you should still know your enemy. The merits and impacts of socialism in reality are variable, but the idea still cuts it a lot with the masses and in terms of popular movements. Its still a powerful message - one that could, again, be expressed through armed insurrection in certain parts of the world. Property rights as a principle can always remain, but who holds the rights can always be changed with the help of a warm gun, and popular support.

PS I have been deriving some very interesting insights from some biographies of Wehrmacht (German) soldiers who served on the Eastern Front and grew to respect Russians/Soviets. Worth a read.

PPS I might do a future article on what the positive legacies of communism were. There are definitely some. Universal education and health care is a place to start.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Does anybody out there evaluate, any more!?

Does anyone evaluate their economic development programmes in England? Its something we used to do a hell of a lot in Scotland, and they were often quite serious and decent quality pieces of work.

Where I am working now in England does not seem to bother... and now Central government comes along and says - "show us your evalations!" and despite knowing that we are supposed to do this, we haven't been!!! oops.

And then there's the quality of evaluations. Some folks seem to think that they are reviews of success, doing a few focus groups and case studies. But oh no, they forgot to do it properly and their is no robust client survey, assessment of additionality, displacement, deadweight, gross impacts... and no estimation of the net impacts.

Funnily - people here think its impossible to do all this - well its not, its quite easy, and there's a whole bunch of consultants out there who are really good at this stuff - it used to be their bread and butter.

Now I think that this is down to the lack of a large, embedded base of economic development professionals in England. We do get private sector folks coming here - and I will be frank - they are good at some things, but quite woeful at others. They are particularly guilty of not making the effort to truly understand what economic development and regeneration is all about. And so they rush around suggesting actions which us public sector ED stakhanovites mutter "oh no you can't do that" - can't in the sense of its not legally permissable or conventionally appropriate. This is usually based on the fact that its been tried before and didn't work, or someone got into a lot of hot water on it. Anyhow there's quite a few people around where I work like this who are on the brink of really p*ssing me off.

Oh and a warning to all those with Objective 2/ESF projects out there - you are supposed to do an evaluation at the end! as a condition of the funding! and its also beneficial if you do a mid-term evaluation too. If you don't, hey, your in a bit of trouble because you will have budgeted for it.