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,". In other words the idea that we can all achieve what we want if we work hard enough (similar to the "American Dream")

Historically, most attempts to establish it have either collapsed for not being economically sustainable or resulted in a horrifying dictatorships. It is typically opposed to plutocracy and emphasizes in some form or another that people who work hard to make a living, should be rewarded in monetary terms in accordance to their work effort, and that they should be able to have a livable income. In the developed world during the Industrial Revolution, deliberate under-paying of workers for their labour combined with dangerous working conditions was commonplace; while this has diminished in the developed world as a result of successes in demanding reforms, multinational corporations have succeeded in expanding to less-developed countries where there are either fewer or no working rights laws or minimum wage laws, allowing them to underpay workers in sub-standard factories to reap huge profits. Socialism has thus always supported the labour movement, including trade unions.

The founders of communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels played a major role in formulating the first in-depth and scientifically-based description of socialism combined with detailed description on how to achieve it, in comparison or previous versions that were vague or unrealistic. The Marxist-inspired definition of socialism is social ownership of the means of production. This is the dominant and most common definition of socialism accepted by Marxist socialists, many non-Marxist socialists, and capitalists. 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. What this most often means in practice, however, is the transfer of the means of production to the state (the state, in turn, is supposed to foster the creation of a classless society and in time aid the 'withering away' of the state as the working classes eventually assume the means of production). The fact that this never happens - as states by their very nature exist to perpetuate their own power - is probably the most glaring and obvious internal contradiction in Marxist-inspired socialist dogmatism.

Disagreements with Marx's and Engels' revolutionary approach to achieving socialism occurred outside and then inside the Marxist movement. The most devastating internal condemnation of the revolutionary approach came from revisionist Marxist Eduard Bernstein, who had been a close friend of Marx and Engels and presumed heir apparent of their views, who came to believe that capitalism could be gradually reformed into socialism through reformist parliamentary means and he rejected class conflict. Bernstein's views formed the basis of the beginning of what is now known as social democracy. Among the social democratic parties, attempts to reconcile their reformist efforts with the prevailing post-war economic order, resulted in many of them redefining "socialism" to no longer mean social ownership of the means of production, but to a vaguer conception of "socialism" as support of social justice and acceptance of Keynesian capitalism.

The rise of popularity of neoliberalism promoted by people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan resulted in a collapse in support of Keynesianism, leaving many social democrats in the political wilderness in the 1980s to mid-1990s. The British Labour Party had a Marxist-inspired definition of socialism until its new leader Tony Blair scrapped this definition and abandoned Keynesianism in favor of a watered-down definition of "socialism" that recognized "social interdependence of people." In the aftermath of the failures in neoliberal economies, the Third Way is viewed with disgust and contempt among many social democrats; many of them desire a neo-Keynesianism or post-Keynesianism, while more radical wings favor a restoration of a Marxist-inspired socialism based on social ownership of the means of production.

The question of whether the standard Marxist-inspired definition of socialism involving social ownership of the means of production is economically feasible has been ongoing, with social democrats having abandoned this pursuit. In the 21st century, however, a few countries in South America have taken up the mantle again, partly because nationalization of foreign-owned infrastructure and natural resources began to be perceived as a more expedient way of bringing wealth into those countries than getting more loans from the International Monetary Fund. However, except for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, in practice these new socialists have not gone much beyond the social democracy prevalent in mid-20th-century Europe. In the West, socialism in a revolutionary sense has become a symbol of rebellion against the capitalist economic order, with radical chic bohemians and hippies who support socialist doctrine as an act of rebelliousness and assertion of self-righteousness but who have no plan for the development of a socialist economy.

Contents

[edit] 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]

[edit] Branches

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

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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" (comprising 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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 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."

[edit] Stalinism

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 he himself did.

[edit] 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 also discussed below.

[edit] Socialism and political parties

[edit] Socialist International

Logo of the social democrat 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, France, Australia, Iceland, and South Africa.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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 centrists, at most center-left. 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. At the very most they would support a welfare state.

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 adhere to social democracy. Social democracy being a "middle-way" between democratic socialism and capitalism (the stuff you see in Scandinavia).

[edit] 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][6] 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.

[edit] What is socialism?

A major tenet of socialism is to give power to the workers. Many models of socialism include a decentralized workplace democracy, in which managers 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. This view of socialism is only held by idiots who are too benighted to realize that when left-wingers yowl about the wealth gap until they are blue in the face, they are really just having a friendly chat about the weather. In reality, socialists are actually 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.

[edit] 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]

In their defense, these privatizations were simply the sale/distribution of shares of stock to the workers, with nothing preventing the workers from then selling the shares at a higher market price to a conventional capitalist later on. The predominant form of "privatized socialism" would be a cooperative, under which workers own the firm for which they work and cannot sell or transfer their ownership -- it's tied to their job.

[edit] Financing entrepreneurship

It is an axiom of socialism that on Day 1 of access to power by a truly socialist government, the stock exchanges would be burned to the ground, and all the brokers would forfeit their dishonest monetary gains and be sent to the streets to beg.

This is actually not a bad idea when you think about it, but it does raise the question of how useful entrepreneurship would then be financed. The obvious pragmatic answer is that community-run (mutual) banks would store and lend credit for investment in said community. The standard answer is that, if people have investment money to spend, it should be funneled through a state-maintained industrial fund, that would decide where to invest the dosh in the best interests of society as a whole. The opportunities for corruption in such a system are too obvious to be worth detailing. In practice, the sad truth is that predatory entrepreneurship does not thrive under Socialism.

[edit] 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 some cases 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, as will be mentioned right now.

[edit] 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 more likely short, had short hair, brown skin, brown eyes (provided he existed at all) 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

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. 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.

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

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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").[8]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. It has been suggested that Marx and Engels did not improve upon that state of affairs.
  2. http://www.deleonism.org/cgi-bin/text.cgi?j=91092101
  3. http://www.infoshop.org/page/AnarchistFAQAppendix41
  4. http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/11/24/some-conservatives-push-a-purity-test-for-gop-candidates/
  5. Thatcherism and New Labour: “The similarities between Thatcherism and New Labour are more important than the differences"
  6. On the other hand they dramatically increased the level of public expenditure. Following the 2008 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 anyone's guess. (Then again, see Dubya.)
  7. http://books.google.com/books?id=T2pV5ZrJoCwC&pg=PA31
  8. http://www.deleonism.org/cgi-bin/text.cgi?j=96100001
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