Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Socialism

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 United States where the violent historical residues of the “red scare” are still today percolating.

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 United States should follow the standards of the United Nations Charter and many other “quaint” products of civilization – to quote Alberto Gonzales - which the United States government views with contempt.

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 Madison quote, been a plutocracy, but it is now virtually a single party system, the business party, within which there are two slightly different factions.

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.

12 comments:

melloncollie said...

Very well-written and researched. The quotes from Kurtz, Chomsky, and others add immeasurably to the essay. You always manage to come up with something interesting to say, and then say it quite well.

I love this sentence: "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."

Question: Gonzales referred to the standards of the U.S. Charter as "quaint?" LOL!! That would be hilarious if it weren't sad.

melloncollie said...

I meant UN Charter.

JDHURF said...

melloncollie said:
"Question: Gonzales referred to the standards of the U.S. Charter as "quaint?" LOL!! That would be hilarious if it weren't sad."

The direct quote is to be found in a memo Gonzales wrote to Bush in support of the use of "special renditions," in plain words, torture:

"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to Bush. "The nature of the new war places a —high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Gonzales concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4989481/site/newsweek/

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Dave Marlow said...

Like you point out, socialism can be used in many ways to describe similar ideologies. However, socialism as an actual mode of production is the Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat", though I feel even that is consistent with anarcho-syndicalist leanings.

Question: You oppose Leninism (as do I now) but do you also reject, as Bakunin did, the idea of socialism as a mode of production? Libertarian socialism has always struck me as an interesting concept because it seems to want the basis of Marxism in conjunction with traditional anarchism. Other than to better clarify your own ideology, what differentiates traditional collectivist anarchism from libertarian socialism if there is no transitional mode of production?

Renegade Eye said...

At my blog one of the foremost socialist humanist is a writer, her name is Maryam Namazie from Iran originally.

Are you familiar with Trotsky's secretary Raya Dunayevskay, who pioneered socialist humanism?

JDHURF said...

Comrade Dave said:
”socialism as an actual mode of production is the Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat", though I feel even that is consistent with anarcho-syndicalist leanings.”

The phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” refers to the Marxist conception of a transitory state which, according to Marxists, must necessarily precede any true socialist society. Anarcho-syndicalists disagree with this.

Question: You oppose Leninism (as do I now) but do you also reject, as Bakunin did, the idea of socialism as a mode of production?

When you say “socialism as a mode of production” do you refer to the means and modes of production, as well as the way in which commodities are distributed, being owned and decided by the workers and people themselves? If this is what you mean, then my view of a future socialist society is very much based upon the idea of socialism as a mode of production.

Libertarian socialism has always struck me as an interesting concept because it seems to want the basis of Marxism in conjunction with traditional anarchism.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by this.

”Other than to better clarify your own ideology, what differentiates traditional collectivist anarchism from libertarian socialism if there is no transitional mode of production?”

Collectivists, such as Bakunin, who I disagree with on this and various other points, argue correctly for the means and modes of production to be socialized while, incorrectly in my view, retaining a labor based wage system.
Libertarian socialism is in fact the broader of the two tendencies; collectivist anarchism is a form of libertarian socialism, as is anarcho-syndicalism.

Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts and questions.

JDHURF said...

renegade eye said:
Are you familiar with Trotsky's secretary Raya Dunayevskay, who pioneered socialist humanism?

I have not read Raya Dunayevskay, but now I surely shall. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.

I am not a socialist humanist in the strictest sense of the term, a Marxist who more closely follows the early radical humanism of Marx rather than the later Marx, although I have read and been inspired by Erich Fromm’s socialist humanism.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Jim Jay said...

Dave M However, socialism as an actual mode of production is the Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat",

Marx was a fine socialist and theorist but he doesn't own the entirity of future history. A socialist society may or may not conform to the dictatorship of the proletariat but, I think, we should start with the real not attempting to fit life to the theory.

There are a number of ways in which it is possible for a society which is run by and for the working class might not be a tight fit with Marx's theories.

You can argue, if you want, that it can't work any other way but I'm not sure you can legitimately argue that means a socialist society is only one that conforms to Marx's theories

Dave Marlow said...

Jim Jay said "Marx was a fine socialist and theorist but he doesn't own the entirity of future history. A socialist society may or may not conform to the dictatorship of the proletariat but, I think, we should start with the real not attempting to fit life to the theory."

I take a more autonomous Marxist position myself but I do think there is validity to the idea of class dominance as a means of attaining socialism.

"There are a number of ways in which it is possible for a society which is run by and for the working class might not be a tight fit with Marx's theories."

Don't mistake what I'm saying. I wholeheartedly agree that there are other options and other possibilities for attaining the abolition of private property and worker-control of the means of production.

"Dictatorship of the proletariat" referred to the workers taking control of the state originally but in a broader sense, Marx referred to the workers as the dominant class. With that in mind, I would put anarcho-syndicalism and other strains of "socialism" in that category. Socialism will have to be implemented in a manner unique to the material conditions of the society from which it forms.

Graeme said...

You and I are on the same page.

The fact that rights come from below is lost on many people. Freedom of speech, for example, wasn't a right many in the US had until the 1960s or so. An unenforced law is quite worthless.

LeftyHenry said...

"which may manifest itself through a new ruling elite or “vanguard,” around which a new exploitive class inevitably emerges."

hmm how so? A vanguard is simply the organization which is at the forefront of the struggle for socialism. A vanguard is necessary because revolution requires that type of leadership. Spontanoues uprisings are usually limited in effect. Why? Because there needs to be a vanguard to channel the anger of the masses towards social revolution. Take a look at this

http://socialismandliberation.org/mag/index.php?aid=818

JDHURF said...

lefthenry:

Again. It appears that many Trotskyists would do well to review the events in Spain during the thirties. There was not required any petty-bourgeoisie vanguard party in order to carry out socialist revolution, to the contrary. It was the Bolshevik power - itself the product of a largely bourgeoisie vanguard, its history and evolution we all by now know so very well – which helped crush the anarchist-socialist revolution in Spain.

It is always necessary to separate doctrine from practice.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.