Bronze-level articleSocialism

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Socialism refers to a set of related socio-economic systems and ideologies that seek to bring about equality in society to maximize opportunities for full human self-actualization, whatever that might mean. The vast majority of present-day socialists believe this would be best done by transferring ownership of the means of production and distribution (e.g., factories and railroads) to the working class.

While very popular for a time, it declined in popularity after the late 70's global economic debacle, as evidenced by the election of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., of Ronald Reagan in the U.S., and the abandonment of socialist economic policies all over the First and Second Worlds alike in the following decade.

Contents

Origins

Before Marx and Engels began writing, it referred largely to those ideologies that they referred to as "utopian socialism". Utopian socialists imagined a perfect egalitarian society, but couldn't figure out how to get there.[1]

People who believe in socialism are referred to variously as "socialists" or "communists," the difference being that socialists believe in socialism as an end in itself, while communists only believe in it as a "transitional phase" leading into the development of "pure communism," a classless and stateless form of social organization. This was a distinction originally made by Marx and Engels to distinguish their theories from previous utopian socialist theories.[2]

Branches

Socialism can be divided into several branches, some of which are enumerated here.

Utopian socialism

"Utopian socialism" was used by Marx to refer to those who generally believed in a classless and stateless society, but who had not hammered out any specific theories for getting there. He analogized the difference between utopian socialism and his own theory with the difference between scientists and engineers: the scientists identify what can be done, the engineers hammer out how to do it.

Most utopian socialists believed in the term, "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." This saying was coined by Marx, but was a reference to a very similar quote from another revolutionary socialist, Louis Blanqui.

Blanquism

Blanquism is described by Engels as follows:

Brought up in the school of conspiracy, and held together by the strict discipline which went with it, they started out from the viewpoint that a relatively small number of resolute, well-organized men would be able, at a given favorable moment, not only seize the helm of state, but also by energetic and relentless action, to keep power until they succeeded in drawing the mass of the people into the revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. This conception involved, above all, the strictest dictatorship and centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government.

Marx used the term "dictatorship of the proletariat" to differentiate Marxism from the Blanquist style of socialist dictatorship. This is why he mainly used the term when discussing the Spring of Nations and the 1871 Paris Commune, in both of which Blanquism was fairly influential.

Many Blanquists came to join the First International with Marx after the Commune was crushed; perhaps having an influence on later events. Specifically, Leninists and Trotskyists are put in a bit of a tight spot by the parallels between the above Engels quote and the unfolding of events during the Bolshevik Revolution; since this event had more of the characteristics of a coup than a popular revolution, the Leninists have a hard time explaining why their beliefs are Marxist and not Blanquist.

Stalinists, on the other hand, would just argue that these parallels were all fabrication by the oppressive bourgeois media and then send thugs to beat up anyone who said otherwise.

Marxism

Marx believed that all socio-political orders, with the exception of the mythical pure communism, were "dictatorships" in which one class dictated to the rest; the "bourgeoisie" (comprised of those who owned their means of livelihood, from free-farmers on up to large industrialists) was assigned that role in his characterization of capitalism. For Marx, socialism would not be any less of a dictatorship, but it would be a "dictatorship of the proletariat" where the workers would dictate to everyone else.

The term "dictatorship of the proletariat" was originally coined in order to differentiate between Marx's idea of a grass-roots worker-run state and the more elitist ideas of Blanquism; but the "dictatorship" part is not meaningless, since he said in the Communist Manifesto that this dictatorship would have to resort to "despotic" measures at first (e.g., control the army to conquer other capitalist territories).

But in his defense, he firmly believed that this despotism would be temporary, since in his view the state was created by the existence of class differences, and the proletarian dictatorship's actions would eliminate these, thus eliminating the state.

The idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat was denounced by Mikhail Bakunin, Marx's contemporary. Bakunin believed that the state instituted classes, rather than the other way around, so he asked his famous rhetorical question, "Over whom will the proletariat rule?"

Marx used the term "socialism" to refer both to this transitory dictatorial phase, and to the "pure-communist" classless and stateless society that he believed would follow it. "Classless" and "stateless" were tightly bound together in Marx's theory, and "stateless" meant that there would be no armies or other extrinsic forms of class-oppression in that there would be no armies or class-oppression. Marx did not go into depth in terms of what this would look like, presumably because he didn't know either, that is, it would be decided by the workers after a revolution. Unfortunately for him, either the workers have never gotten around to doing this, or they have done so but have not acted how Marx thought they would act.

Anarchism

Although anarchism and Marxism share many common goals and enemies, they diverge on a number of points. The most notable is that anarchists believe that social classes are created by the State, rather than vice versa, so their aim is to destroy the State and "build from the ashes."

Hence, unlike Marxists, they reject any attempt to participate in electoral politics, instead working entirely outside the system; mostly in a peaceful manner, but sometimes not, which is why one sometimes hears about anarchists bombing something-or-other, or anarchists inciting a riot.

Bakunin believed, as opposed to Marx, in spontaneity of organization, that is, that a revolutionary organization has to come into existence during a time of crisis with little forethought, while Marx believed in forethought and planning in terms of a collective. Anarchists fault Marxist groups for sitting on their rears while anarchists and other groups are out on the front lines; for example, anarchists note that the Bolsheviks were opposed to workers taking strike action at the time of the Russian February Revolution.[3] Bakunin's view is currently reflected by modern Council Communists. He also believed in secret societies that could just mix with workers, and that people had a natural instinct to revolt, and thus it was not worth educating the workers, nor organizing them. He thusly accused Marx of “ruining the workers by making theorists out of them."

The differing definitions of the state led to disputes over methodology and the "dictatorship of the proletariat," as noted above. For example, Bakunin said, “There are about forty million Germans. Are all forty million going to be members of the government?”, to which Marx's response was, “Certainly, because the thing starts with the self-government of the commune," apparently supporting a federated bottom-up system of communes as anarchists proposed.

Bakunin also concluded that under Marxism, the state would be no different than that under capitalism, and that Marx simply wanted to make it stronger. This is partly because of there being many contradictory views in Marx's writings, for instance supporting central state ownership and planning from above in the Communist Manifesto, similar to what actually happened in the USSR and the other "socialist" states.

Marx also criticized Bakunin by saying that the latter believed in a universal revolution that included the lumpenproletariat (beggars, etc.) and the peasant farmers as well as the workers, while Marx had ruled both these groups useless for revolution. Marx thus accused Bakunin of superficiality: knowing many political phrases, but not believing in the existence of false consciousness or making any detailed study of economic conditions.

Bakunin responded by predicting that Marxism would lead to a new despotic "Red bureaucracy" that would be far more dictatorial than a capitalist system; to date, this has been an accurate description of every self-described communist state.

Democratic socialism

Democratic socialism is perhaps the least clearly defined of the types of socialism; the general view of democratic socialists is "the more democracy, the better," and they advocate democratic workplaces, fully democratic communities, and of course the retention of democratic government.

Obamunism

See the main article on this topic: Obamunism

Recently, the right wing in the US has been trying to redefine the term "socialist", with the desired meaning being, "a person who flouts the Republican party line on more than two issues."[4] U.S. President Barack Obama has become the poster-boy for this sort of "socialism," as discussed below, under the Democratic Party in the US.

Socialism and political parties

Socialist International

Logo of the Socialist International
The Socialist International is a worldwide federation of socialist political parties, including democratic socialist and labor parties. Over thirty nations are governed by a Socialist International member-party, such as Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, and South Africa.

Communist internationals

There have been a number of communist internationals. The First International was founded in the 19th century, but dissolved in the midst of the Bakunin-Marx infighting; the Second International followed, but dissolved in the midst of infighting over support of World War I; the Third International (Comintern) was a Soviet-funded body dissolved in World War II. The Fourth International, a Trotskyist organization, still exists.

U.S. Democratic Party

Some people say that the Democratic Party in the United States are socialists, specifically Barack Obama and the 2008 version of Hillary Clinton.

This is bullshit; the Democrats are liberals. If they moved left enough even to approach socialistic beliefs, even so far as such factions as the right wing of the Socialist Party USA, they would start being ignored by the Biased Conservative Media.

Why are the Democrats not socialist? Well, it's quite simple. Rather than going into every single way in which they're not, let us look at possibly the most important aspect of socialism, common ownership of the means of production, thus the abolition of class. The Democrats do not support this, hence are not socialists.

The only mainstream American politician approaching socialism on the federal level is Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who self-identifies as a democratic socialist, although he does caucus with the Democrats out of convenience.

Some Democrats, such as Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, may be social democrats. Social democracy being a "middle-way" between democratic socialism and capitalism.

British Labour Party

Historically, the Labour Party were social democrats, or 'reformists', and Labour governments have made some lasting changes in terms of universal welfare, especially the founding of the National Health Service.

"New Labour" (Tony Blair etc.) were arguably conservatives in all but name, and indeed much has been said about the similarities between their policies and those of Thatcherism.[5] On the other hand they dramatically increased the level of public expenditure. Following the 2008 global recession, the proportion of public spending in the economy hit 50% of GDP. How this level of state intervention in the economy can be considered 'conservative' is anyones guess. Clause IV of the Labour Party's constitution, which expressed a long-term commitment to redistribution of wealth and common ownership of the means of production, was rewritten in 1994, under Blair's leadership, as a more vague expression of striving for equality, causing some internal conflict and outrage from "Old Labour" socialist members of the party.

What is socialism?

A major tenet of socialism is to give power to the workers. Many models of socialism advocate a worker's decentralized democracy, in which people are elected by the industry that they work in, and can be removed at any time.

According to some people (whose identities you may only guess at), socialism advocates the redistribution of wealth. However, socialists are mostly just interested in redistributing the means of production; Marx advocated abolishing the money system in favor of truck, specifically "labour vouchers," which are given out based on work done and do not circulate. Still others, such as the members of the World Socialist Movement, believe that there should be "free access," with no labour vouchers, money, etc., just like in the markets in Thomas More's Utopia.

The above understanding of socialism is generally held outside the United States, and within the United States by thinking people; however, within the context of United States airwaves, mediaspace, and blogspace, socialism is any expressed belief insufficiently right-wing for the taste of the most right-wing person exposed to it.

Socialism and religion

Marxism explicitly criticizes religion, with Marx referring to religion as "the opiate of the people" to which a pre-socialist state of existence has given rise. Communists have made heavy persecutions of churches when in power, and in one case even banned religion altogether. Anarchists are also known for their anti-clerical church-burning activities.

But Marx did not advocate the banning of religion, instead saying that it is simply a way to cope, and to see something bright at the end of the tunnel when one is faced with the injustices of feudal and capitalist society, and says that the criticism of religion is thus the criticism of the conditions that breed it.

There are also currents of religious socialism; indeed, these were among the first forms of the philosophy. As recounted in Acts 2, the early Christian church practiced a form of religious communism with "all things common." Today, there are many Christian socialist movements throughout the world, particularly in South America, which hold that the teachings of Jesus Christ and Marx line up nicely, and see Christ as a great social reformer and the first socialist agitator. It seems to make more sense than believing he was a long-haired John Galt; however, these people have been criticized for equating the poor, spoken of at length by Jesus, with Marx's proletariat; specifically, Jesus said, "For the poor always ye have with you" (John 12:8), while Marxism aims to do away with the proletariat altogether.

Libertarian socialism

Libertarian socialism, which describes most forms of anarchism, is when the government is destroyed immediately after the revolution, and there are no hierarchies. Regular Marxists criticize it, as anarchists are largely apolitical, often preferring sabotage and such to organization, and also often don't believe in any form of governance. Marx and Bakunin, an early libertarian socialist, had a strong rivalry due to conflicting views in the First International, but since then, many Marxists have integrated elements of libertarian socialism into their belief system, such as in De Leonism, which adds elements of anarcho-syndicalism to orthodox Marxism.

Of course, "libertarianism" is now used in the United States to refer to a particularly doctrinaire spin on classical liberalism; but as used in "libertarian socialism" it refers to an older sense of the word, still current in Europe, that just means "anti-authoritarian."

The adoption of this name is probably in criticism of Marxism, which was often referred to by libertarian socialists such as Bakunin as being too "authoritarian."

Socialism and patriotism

Socialism and patriotism/nationalism are typically in opposition and socialists are generally against the concept of nations, seeing them as an unnecessary division. To quote Eugene V. Debs, early leader of the SPUSA (he started as a social democrat, and then turned to socialism along the lines of De Leonism. He ran for President while locked in jail for protesting against the first World War), "I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world." They often view patriotism and nationalism as simply ways to divide the working class, like racism and sexism.

This has, unfortunately, led to some people using socialism as a front to push hatred of whatever ethnic group they can paint as coterminous with whatever class of people are judged to be the "oppressors" this week; the bloodiest example of this was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. It is also seen in some left-wing anti-American sentiment, as criticized in the Euston Manifesto.

Socialism and revolution

While socialism is revolutionary, in that it seeks to change the mechanisms of society, it does not necessarily require violent revolution. Many socialists (namely rich Western kids who are just socialists to make their parents angry) support a revolution through the ballot, while others, such as De Leonists, advocate both industrial and political organization (although they may still think that "where the ballot is silenced, the bullet must speak").[6]

Socialism and the Soviets

It is claimed by anti-Soviet socialists that the Soviet Union under Stalin was a departure from socialism, on account of the means of production being in the hands of the government instead of the workers (although this was not a disqualifier for the "socialist" label in other cases, as discussed below). It is occasionally referred to as "state capitalism", "bureaucratic state despotism", or a "degenerated worker's state", by Trotskyites. Anarchists, most of whom were opposed to Lenin's takeover from the outset, would also refer to Lenin's Russia as "state capitalist"; even Lenin himself did.

Where do the means of production go?

Even with non-dictatorial forms of socialism, when it comes to redistributing the means of production, "working class" has in practice generally meant the government; indeed, socialists have been found protesting the sale of government-owned companies to their workers, as in the worker buyout of the British National Freight Corporation under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher.[7]

The first socialist

We'll give you a few hints: he is generally portrayed as a tall, blue eyed white man with long hair, wearing a flowing robe, or nailed to a cross, although he was actually short, had short hair, brown skin, brown eyes and would have never worn a robe, as it would have been a terrible hazard in his carpentry work. A few quotes:

  • "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." - Matthew 19-24 (KJV)
  • "Do not store up your treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart is also." - Matthew 6:19-21
  • "No man can serve two masters. For a slave will either love the one and hate the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." - Matthew 6:24
  • "Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:21
  • "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:34-40
  • "The love of money is the root of all evil."" - Timothy 1:6-10


Oddly enough, his message has been largely ignored by his American followers, who seem to think he was actually ye olde Ronald Reagan. Cognitive dissonance sure is great, isn't it?

(Alternate candidate for socialist #1: Thomas More)

See also

Footnotes

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