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A Brief Introduction to Socialism
from a Non-Marxist, Democracratic and Libertarian Perspective

 

 

 

What Socialism is:  "Collective ownership and democratic control
of the material means of production
by the workers and the people."

 

True socialism wants a totally democratic society.

Socialism elevates the common good to the number one priority in all spheres of decision-making.  

The Anglo-American tradition conceives of democracy primarily as a set of limitations on abusive government power.  The socialist critique of capitalism understands that the power that matters in all societies is economic power-- the power to direct men and women in their work.

As a result, prudent socialism applies democracy as the universal anecdote to all abusive power, including capitalist power.  Total democracy applies democracy to the economy-- the workplace, the plant, the office, the bank.

Socialism broadly includes many variations, but in all its forms it means:

Basic economic decisions, as well as political decisions, must reflect the common good. The entire economy should operate for the good of the entire society, with no one left behind.  

No private concentrations of capital or other wealth, and no other types of private concentrations of power.

The end of money's domination over society.  The end of the priority of property and private greed.

Socialism will complete what democracy began-- the transfer of sovereignty in all spheres from elites to the people.

"Communal ownership of land and capital." 

--Bertrand Russell in Roads to Freedom.   

Democratic socialism is centered on humanist ideals, with the ultimate goal of allowing each individual the opportunity and means for his or her personal development and individual satisfaction.  Such self-realization becomes possible in a cooperative, non-competitive social context. 

Socialists understand that individuals are embedded in their social and economic environments, and therefore believe that more often than not the good of the individual is best achieved in what is good for the collective as a whole. 

Socialists are assured that people are predisposed to cooperation and joint social action.   Socialists set up as their opposite the capitalist values of egotism and narcissism.  

True socialism is antithetical to capitalism,
and therefore revolutionary.

Socialism elevates the common good to the number one priority in all decision-making, instead of the good of a small ruling class.  Many democratic socialists around the world have used electoral politics as a way of becoming accommodating to the capitalist class.  Now they refuse to use terms like "capitalist class," and reactionaries get away with denouncing even tepid liberalism as "class warfare." 

You bet it's class warfare.  The hard facts of the domination of the capitalist class persist and become more outrageous every year.   History offers a multitude of examples to contradict the notion that capitalists will voluntarily cede power.  German capitalists raised up Hitler in order to stop the socialists and communists.  Capitalism has staged bloody and utter illegal means in Greece, Spain, Chile, Nicaragua, Indonesia.  McCarthy-ite Conservatives  in every country in the world have slandered, persecuted, jailed and murdered leftists, union organizers and civil liberties advocates.  Socialism evolved in reaction to the hard fact of capitalist oppression, and thus is directly antithetical to it.  

There are many ways of envisioning revolution, and it need not necessarily be a bloody thing.  In this Bergonian fantasy, the radicals use electoral politics to score a big victory that paved the way for the subsequent revolution, and in fact Hitler's revolution came about as a result of parliamentary elections.  Socialist electoral revolutions were violently aborted by the Fascist Uprising and Civil War in Spain, and by Pinochet in Chile.  

But "social democracy" and "Fabian socialism" have not resulted in more than a reform of capitalism.  While social democrats in Europe and other parts of the world have succeeded in obtaining pensions, health care, hour and wage protections and the like, a capitalist class still controls the means of production.

And what Socialism isn't 

It's not "Communism," and not necessarily Marxist.  

Deriving from Engel's writings, Marxists explicitly recognize two types of socialists: their own kind, the enlightened camp of "scientific socialism," and the deluded and naive krypto-bourgeoisie "utopian socialists."  It is true that

 

Marx of course offered the most complete economic criticism of capitalism, and his theories of surplus labor, money, class conflict, and alienation are useful to Bergonians today.  But Marx never adequately asserted the democratic fundamentals of socialism.  Nor did he ever realize that basic ethical considerations (e.g. "justice," "community," and "equality") are alone sufficient justifications for socialism.  To Bergonians Marx made an extremely simple proposition into a needlessly complex doctrine.  Marxists successfully destroyed capitalist tyranny in a number of nations, but in every case they replaced it with an even worse tyranny, contrary to the democratic spirit of socialism.  Lenin and his spawn hijacked and betrayed socialism, with Stalin and Mao committing the worst offenses.  Thus Red Star Communism is a mutation of socialism.

Non-Marxist Socialist Movements:  Socialism-- the idea of collective ownership and economic equality--had a sunny youth before the hard-edged barnacles of Marxism encased it.  (see cooperative socialism)  This was the era of "utopian socialism."  Parallel to the development of Marxist socialism, there have been other important tendencies that have rejected Marx:

(a)  French socialism owes as much to Blanqui, Blanc and Proudhon as it does to Marx, and its greatest leader, Jean Jaur├Ęs, was hardly an orthodox Marxist.

(b)  After the failed Paris Commune of 1871, many French socialists became convinced that workers unions through direct action, culminating in the "general strike," could do in capitalism; they became the syndicalists. See Industrial Workers of the World, the American version.

(c)  Fabian Socialism in Britain advocated a gradual, non-revolutionary transition to socialism based on humanist foundations.

(d)  Also in Britain were the guild socialists who advocated worker control and self-government, and opposed a strong state.

(e)  After World War I the left split into separate communist and socialist movements.  Most countries had socialist parties that participated in elections and opposed an active communist party.  The split enabled the rise of Fascism, but the pattern prevailed again after World War II.

(f)  Neo-Marxists in Western Europe became repulsed with Stalinism and realized the dangers of centralism and the importance of individual liberty.  Their theoretical reformulations earned the scorn of the orthodox. 

(g)  The New Left, having its greatest moment in France, 1968, criticized post-war imperialism and corporate capitalism.  In many countries it was associated with, and energized by, opposition to the Vietnam War.

(h)  Anarchism shares socialism's enmity toward capitalism, but has opposed socialism in the past, and rightfully opposed socialist statism and all stultifying authoritarianism. 

Socialism is not (necessarily) state control-- though a democratic state would coordinate and regulate socialist institutions and planning.  One does speak of state socialism sometimes in describing the Soviet-style system, but as a pejorative. 

"...socialism is not statism, or the collective ownership of the means of production.  It is a judgment on the priorities of economic policy.  It is for that reason that I believe that... the community takes precedence over the individual in the values that legitimate economic policy.  The first lien on the resources of a society therefore should be to establish that 'social minimum' which would allow individuals to lead a life of self-respect, to be members of the community. -- Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, p. xii

Capitalists themselves use the state as a tool to perpetuate control over the working class (e.g. Taft-Hartley), and also to provide regulation they find necessary or useful, allowing Michael Harrington's famous observation of "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor."   

Socialism is most certainly not state tyranny-- Self avowed "democratic socialists" have governed Western Europe without limiting press freedom or individual rights of conscience.  In fact, for socialism to really work the way it was intended, the people must be free.  

Socialist Idealism 

Socialism is universally hopeful about the perfectibility of humankind.  Socialism most certainly rejects the capitalist model of man: self-centered, greedy, anti-social, driven, obsessed with things.  This means that socialists necessarily believe in the historical progress.  

But Socialism may expect too much good from people.  Perhaps the process of revolution itself contaminates socialism.  Revolutionaries are warriors, and warriors of every age & type harden their hearts in war.  They start feeling justified in using any means, any method, to win the fight. War and struggle erode every good intention, and often the ideological justifications for the struggle become reduced to slogans.  

But if the substance of socialism survives the revolutionary fire, it will remain fragile in the post-revolutionary period.  No matter the good intentions underlying a socialist society, some men and women will develop ambition and greed.  Others will use their offices or jobs to benefit relatives and friends or punish enemies.  Socialism-- that is, true socialism-- is therefore not inevitable.  Yes, socialism may expect too much of mankind, but then again so may Christianity and all other religion.

Never discount the idealists, even though conservatives of every age have vilified them and sneered at them.  

Once upon a time slavery was assumed part of the natural order of things.  Once upon a time every state in the world was despotic, while human rights and elected governments were at best fantasies.  Once upon a time there were no such things as trials, and torture was the norm.  Modern man breaks records for the size and scope of human cruelty, but modern man has succeeded in moving the norms very far toward the good.  A society free of slavery, peonage, hereditary nobility, poorhouses and debtors prisons, with universal public education, socialized health care for everyone, a 40 hour work week, and a popularly elected republican government, would surely have seemed like a pie-in-the-sky utopia to someone alive in 1700.  Who even a hundred years ago could have imagined the United Nations functioning as it does.  Anyone who thinks we haven't made progress toward the good has not read history.  Are Hitler & Stalin so exceptional?  Not when we recall Sargon, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Mongols, the Moguls, and Ivan the Terrible.  How often did people like Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela appear before 1600?

In this respect, socialism does involve a certain belief in progress.  Marx embraced the idea of progressive historical stages, leading to a communist society, and all socialists believe that a better day is always possible, and that good men will not shirk from working for that day.

 

We've heard it all before:

"Socialism just too pie in the sky.  Capitalism will be around forever."

Yeah, right, they said the same thing about  slavery, serfdom, monarchy, theocracy, and probably human sacrifice.  

"Man is by nature greedy, and capitalism is man's greed harnessed in the best way."

This is Adam Smith's myth.  Anthropology rebuts it by demonstrating that humankind is capable of many different cultures, many different motivations, and many different sets of values.  Anyone who thinks man is by nature individualistic and selfishly motivated overlooks the many instances of self-sacrifice: the Aztec sacrificial victim, the Samurai & Kamikaze, the Christian martyr, the soldier on the battlefield, the hospital volunteer, the kid who turns in the wallet he found on the sidewalk.  Human psychology is far more complex than the Smith Myth allows.

"Free market economies are much more efficient than command economies."

More efficient at what?  

Mindless production?  An empty goal by itself.  

Producing quality goods cheaply?  Consider how much price padding results from advertising, packaging, sales commissions, and profit-taking middlemen.  

Economic "growth?" The USSR in its earlier decades grew far faster than any other economy ever has, before or since.  At no time in American history did the economy grow faster than it did during the government-directed effort of WWII.  

Making rich people richer?  Yes, capitalism does that very efficiently. 

"What's this socialist crap about everyone getting paid the same?"

Some socialists have argued "from every person according to his abilities, to every person according to their needs."  However most socialists would allow some pay differential, but pay must relate to the nature of a man's work, not to passive ownership of property.  Socialists wish that conservatives were as concerned about the sufferings of the poor as they are about protecting unearned wealth of the rich.  

"Capitalism is democratic; socialism is dictatorship."

Conservatives compare the USSR with the "western democracies." But Stalinism and Maoism were malformations, both abhorrent to true socialists.  A truly socialist society has yet to exist, but if a society isn't democratic, then by definition it won't be socialist.  Neo-liberals take it as an article of faith that democracy & capitalism are co-extensive.  It is true that modern capitalism is facilitated by a republican form of government, but there have been too many prosperous capitalist dictatorships to assume that capitalism is by nature democratic.  Many modern European democratic states have significant socialist features.  Socialists point out as well how badly capitalist money distorts electoral processes.

Capitalism promotes individualism, while socialism forces individuals into artificial collectives. 

Well, up to a point this is true.  But if one examines the full range of cultures in the world and throughout time, one discovers that American-style individualism is an anomaly.  Americans are detached from their communities and families, alone, and subject to high stress.  The supposedly free individual is utterly powerless, while groups exercise power.  The supposedly free American individual is in fact very conformist and conventional.  People are social animals, not quite on the order of cattle, more like dogs & wolves.  If we as individuals had a duty to live moral lives, we have just as much a duty to work for a moral society.  Socialists believe that wage-labor, like slavery and feudalism, distorts social relationships.  Indeed, nowadays it is the mega-corporations that are forcing people into artificial collectives.  Socialism most certainly would demand a lot out of an individual, but socialism would give every individual, through collective self-government, control of her own work, freedom from poverty, and liberty to pursue a good life-- and that's the way it should be.

Related Bergonia topics:

Socialist Theory in Bergonia, a more complete treatment of the theoretical justifications of socialism.

The Democratic Front, a united front of leftist groups that brought on the Revolution in 1932 and established socialism in Bergonia.

The Tan Era, 1000-1500 AD, which gave Bergonia advance clues for its own version of socialism.

Economic Organization in Bergonia. 

The details of various Economic Sectors.  

Also see how workers cooperatives work.

How Religion fits in with Bergonian socialism.

Links:

What Socialists Stand For, an on-line primer, courtesy the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia. 

Some primary socialist sources

Rescuing Socialism from Humpty-Dumpty

Why Socialism, by Albert Einstein

A Definition of Socialism, objective, detailed, specific varieties, criticisms, history.

A brief, insightful historical critique of socialism, by Harry Cleaver. 

A socialist alternative.

Definition & sources of Libertarian Socialism

The Libertarian Essence

Perhaps not in the past, but today any non-Marxist socialist will tell you that human liberty, including individual liberty, is an essential part of socialism.  Any socialism worth the name holds that abolition of capitalism will liberate individuals and communities.  In saying this, socialism has an expanded concept of the subject of liberty, to include freedom of conscience, expression and lifestyle, freedom from the false free market "autonomy" of an unsupported independent entity who has to sell his or her labor.  It includes liberty from the tyranny of the workplace boss, the freedom to retain and control the full value of his or her work, and the power to organize it.

 

Unlike liberal democratic ideology that began with Locke and prevails throughout the western world today, socialism emphasizes the economic origins of tyranny and oppression.  It is crucial that a society free itself of jackboots, torture chambers, show trials and caudillos, but elimination of a despotic state is not enough.  Liberty is more than the absence of tyranny, but capitalist ideology would convince everyone that what they have is enough.  Capitalism wants an incomplete liberty, indeed a liberty crafted explicitly for its own needs-- so "liberty" American-style gives primacy to property rights, and gives fictional capitalist entities-- the corporations-- more protections than it gives individuals.  It is the incomplete liberty of a "law and order" society, open for business, and everyone either anxious or gone shopping.

 

See Self-Theory: The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking for Yourself  

 

 

Can Socialists Be Happy?

By George Orwell

"It would seem that human beings are not able to describe, nor perhaps to imagine, happiness except in terms of contrast. That is why the conception of Heaven or Utopia varies from age to age. In pre-industrial society.

"Heaven was described as a place of endless rest, and as being paved with gold, because the experience of the average human being was overwork and poverty. The houris of the Muslim Paradise reflected a polygamous society where most of the women disappeared into the harems of the rich.

"The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which 'charity' would be unnecessary? But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue."

The Red Flag

The words to the UK's old Labour anthem (Tony Blair has forgotten them):

1
The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts blood dyed its every fold.

Chorus:
Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

2
Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns are sung
Chicago swells the surging throng.

(Chorus)

3
It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.

(Chorus)

4
It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

(Chorus)

5
It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man's frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.

(Chorus)

6
With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

(Chorus)

Words: Jim Connell
Music: Tannenbaum/Oh Christmas Tree

 

 

 

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