Slurring champagne socialists is unfair

Wealthy individuals that support a crucial cause get undue criticism for their beliefs

Image: Jessie Essex

Champagne socialism, whereby someone supports socialist values while still living a “luxurious” or more than comfort-able lifestyle, is often considered to be incredibly hypocritical. People believe that you cannot be a socialist or support socialism if you are on an above-average income, or live a lifestyle where you choose to invest in certain luxuries. To put it differently, it’s wrong to be a socialist and benefit from capitalism. This is simply wrong.

Firstly, having money does not mean that you believe in the capitalist value of our economic system, particularly the exploitation of labour. In fact, the average consumer has very little power over the production of the goods which they consume under capitalism. It is not necessarily also a symptom of a wealthy business owner that they agree with the environment which capitalism produces. They feel obliged via competition to engage in practices which may lead to, for example, the exploitation of labour.

Furthermore, people with money are entitled to live the life-style they wish to without making concessions for others. While some may support charity and make sacrifices in this way, a socialist believes that it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure that charity is not necessary. If you, as a socialist, believe that it ought to be such that we all have a minimum standard of living and equality of opportunity, and that ensuring this is the responsibility of the state, then this is not a belief which contradicts having money.

In addition, there can be wealthy people within a society where everyone has these things. In fact, socialism can improve the lives of those who already live a comfortable lifestyle. Raising the minimum standard of living in the UK and increasing equality of opportunity stimulates economic growth, something which would most likely be beneficial to those on higher incomes working in business. So, not only is it justified for them to support socialism, but it also makes sense even for those who don’t think of the “bigger picture.”

So, ultimately – is it contradictory to be a capitalist but support socialist values? Well, no, but when does it become an issue?

It becomes an issue when people directly condone behaviours in which they participate. Say some-one as part of their business pays minimum wage to workers, unless they actively speak against this, then this wouldn’t contradict their beliefs as a socialist. It’s incredibly rare that everyone agrees with every policy of a political party. The beliefs within socialism are diverse, so it would be unfair to expect someone to do this. I’m not saying that the minimum wage should stay the same, but there are other ways to ensure that people have a better minimum income.

So, unless they actively say that the things they are doing are wrong then it’s unfair to call them hypo-critical for doing it.

It’s for these reasons that I believe it’s deeply unjustified to talk about “champagne socialism” and to use this term in such a derogatory way or in an attempt to dis-credit the support of individuals. Everyone has their own reasons for supporting a movement and, unless those reasons harm others, they are not for us to judge.