The mere utterance of “socialism” is today likely to illicit gasps and conjure up images of dictatorship and mass murder. As Erich Fromm points out “one can understand the reaction only if one appreciates the degree to which words can assume a magical function, and if one takes into account the decrease in reasonable thought, that is to say, objectivity, which is so characteristic or our age. The irrational response which is evoked by the words Socialism and Marxism is furthered by an astounding ignorance on the part of most of those who become hysterical when they hear these words.” That the term is today so loaded, rational discussion about the substantive content thereof then becomes in many instances utterly impossible; especially within the
Socialism is in reality a vast and widely diverse tendency which ranges from anti-state, anarcho-syndicalist conceptions of social organization – constituted by workers’ councils, service collectives and community cooperatives – to state-socialist, Marxist-Leninist conceptions based upon the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which may manifest itself through a new ruling elite or “vanguard,” around which a new exploitive class inevitably emerges. When I discuss socialism, I mean by the term only the first briefly sketched tendency.
Libertarian-socialism and anarcho-syndicalism both represent the socialist tendency which understands that for a new socialist-humanist society to be brought about - a classless society free of exploitation, division and oppression - the workers and people must themselves be the ultimate force of transition; by way of trade unions, syndicates and the people organizing themselves generally, through such actions as the general strike, protest and resistance.
A common criticism of socialism is that such a fundamental social reorganization is unnecessary, that “representative democracy” and parliamentary politics can and are the machines through which a free and egalitarian society are to be achieved and that any attempt to dismantle the current capitalist, state-structure is inevitably bound to lead, apparently by the iron laws of theory and ignoring counter examples, to despotism.
The criticism is so much propaganda. Today modern democracy - having now achieved universal suffrage, not by the grace of a benevolent state-power, but, by the courageous, sustained activism of workers and people – has after hundreds of years definitively demonstrated that it is nothing more than an apparatus which vigorously defends the possessing classes and the status quo.
As Rudolf Rocker points out: “Political rights do not originate in parliaments, they are, rather, forced upon them from without. And even their enactment into law has for a long time been no guarantee of their security. Just as the employers try to nullify every concession they had made to labour as soon as opportunity offered, as soon as any signs of weakness were observable in the workers' organizations, so governments are always inclined to restrict or to abrogate completely rights and freedoms that have been achieved if they imagine that the people will put up no resistance…Political rights do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace."
He goes on to say: "Participation in the politics of the bourgeois states has not brought the labour movement a hair’s-breadth closer to Socialism, but, thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. The ancient proverb: "Who eats of the pope, dies of him," has held true in this content also; who eats of the state is ruined by it. Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity and, worst of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above.”
That “representative democracy” does not now nor ever has concerned itself with the will of the people is a truism with historical and contemporary examples existing in abundance. That an overwhelming majority of the population agrees that space should not be militarized, that weapons of mass destruction should not be proliferated, that Social Security should not be destroyed, that there should be increased federal funding for social programs such as education and health, and that the Kyoto protocol should be signed, while government policy is diametrically opposed, is illustrative of this fact. Even more illustrative, the majority of American citizens, over seventy percent in fact, believe that the
This wide disparity between the public’s will and the policy of “representatives” both breeds alienation and apathy among the people and demonstrates rather conclusively that democracy in the United States is only in the business of furthering the interests of the “opulent minority” – as James Madison phrased it – or, in other words, the privileged, property owning business sector.
Corporate domination of the democratic process has given birth to so slight a difference between the only two viable political parties that any significant difference is either illusory or negligible. American democracy has always, as evidenced by the
As Paul Kurtz points out: “Lobbyists subvert the integrity of the Congress and of state legislatures throughout the land by buying influences and votes. Big oil, media, pharmaceutical, tobacco, gambling, insurance, and financial companies thus dominate the legislative process. For example, the banks and credit card companies charge usurious rates and use deceptive marketing practices, fleecing millions of unwary consumers and forcing them into bankruptcy, yet effective legislation to protect consumers was blocked in Congress by the banking industry. Surreptitiously, large companies are now reducing retirement benefits with nary any political opposition. Corporations today-such as General Electric and Exxon-Mobil-are earning huge profits.”
In order for a true democracy to exist and flourish the state apparatus which only serves to defend the interests of the powerful and wealthy must be, along with private ownership of the means and modes of production, dismantled. In its place should be a “society that is organized on the basis of organic units and communities,” organized through “the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization, which might be national or even international in scope…the decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return and in which, in fact, they live.” In essence, a “federated, decentralized system of free associations incorporating economic as well as social institutions,” as Noam Chomsky so succinctly put it.