Friday, November 28, 2014

We still have the dream of socialism

Many on the left lack a vision of a fundamentally different society. Utopia is a whole narrative of profound change in the lives we lead involving our work, leisure, bodies and relationship to nature. Where are the utopian responses to everyday alienation - the lives we would lead if we were free from alienated exploitative labour. Where is the socialist imagination we so desperately require.

Marx's acknowledged at the 1872 Hague Congress that socialism could be voted in, precluding a revolutionary cataclysm. But workers of the world didn't unite but became more divided by nationalism when workers wrapped themselves around their various flags and capitalism developed reformist coping mechanisms such as the welfare state, as a temporary respite. People though are now again more open to socialist ideas.

Socialism is an economic system in which the means of production are commonly owned and controlled co-operatively. As a form of social organisation, socialism is based on co-operative social relations and self-management. Socialist economies are based upon production for use and the direct allocation of economic inputs to satisfy economic demands and human needs (use value); accounting is based on physical quantities of resources, some physical magnitude, or a direct measure of labour-time.

Marx and Engels believed the consciousness of those who earn a wage or salary (the "working class" in the Marxist sense) would be molded by their "conditions" of "wage-slavery", leading to a tendency to seek their freedom or "emancipation" by throwing off the capitalist ownership of society. For Marx and Engels, conditions determine consciousness and ending the role of the capitalist class leads eventually to a classless society in which the state would wither away.

Marx argued that the material productive forces brought into existence by capitalism predicated a cooperative society since production had become a mass social, collective activity of the working class to create commodities but with private ownership (the relations of production or property relations). This conflict between collective effort in large factories and private ownership would bring about a conscious desire in the working class to establish collective ownership commensurate with the collective efforts their daily experience. Socialism cannot exist without a change in consciousness resulting in a new fraternal attitude toward humanity, both at an individual level and on a world scale, with regard to all peoples suffering from oppression. People would not develop by magic, they would develop because they struggle, they transform (in transforming circumstances, people transforms themselves).

Marx said that any truly fair distribution had to take into account people’s differentiated needs. Hence his maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” distorted by the rich say who claim socialists will expropriate everything, your fridge, your car, your home, the clothes off your back, etc. Neither Marx nor any socialist has ever thought of collectivising people’s personal belongings. When we speak of abolishing capitalism, we mean abolishing the private ownership of the basic means of production and the profit-making system it engenders, which permits a few, the capitalistic class, to exploit the many. We mean that the natural resources, and the mines, mills, factories, transport, means of communication, shall be owned in common by all the people. We don’t mean that personal or private property is abolished in those things which are for personal use. What will be abolished is the use of private property to exploit the labor of another. 

What Marx proposed was the idea of giving society back what originally belonged to them, that is, the means of production, but which was unjustly appropriated by an elite. What the capitalist does not understand, or does not want to understand, is that there are only two sources of wealth: nature and human labour, and without human labour, the potential wealth contained in nature can never be transformed into real wealth. Marx pointed out that there is not only real human labour but also past labor, that is, labour incorporated into instruments of labour. The tools, machines, improvements made to land, and, of course, intellectual and scientific discoveries that substantially increased social productivity are a legacy passed down from generation to generation; they are a social heritage — a wealth of the people. The ruling class has convinced us that the capitalists are the owners of this wealth due to their efforts, their creativity, their entrepreneurial capacity, and that because they are the owners of the companies they have the right to appropriate what is produced. Only a socialist society recognises this inheritance as being social, which is why it must be given back to society and used for society, in the interest of society as a whole, and not to serve private interests. These goods, in which the labor of previous generations is incorporated, cannot belong to a specific person, or a special group, but must instead belong to humanity as a whole.

But simply handing over means of production to the state represents a mere juridical change in ownership, because the change to state-ownership is limited and the subordination of workers continues. A new management, which may call itself “socialist”, might replace the capitalist management but the alienated status of the workers in the production process remains unchanged. While formally public property, because the state represents society, real appropriation is still not collective. That is why Engels argued, “state ownership of the productive forces is not the solution to the conflict.” Furthermore, Marx argued that it was necessary to end the separation between intellectual and manual labour that transforms workers into one more clog in the machine. Enterprises need to be managed by their workers. But, then we have the argument of the managerial bureaucracy that says: How can we hand over management to the workers! They are not educated in the management of enterprises! Concentrating knowledge in the hands of management is one of the mechanisms that enable capital to exploit workers.

Unless capitalist control of the state is broken, they will use the military and the police to maintain their power. Attempts at building alternative forms of society without challenging the capitalist state are doomed to failure. There would be no wages and no physically coercive state in socialism. Marx nowhere in any of his writings distinguishes between a socialist and a communist stage of history. Marx used the word socialism and communism completely interchangeably in his work. In his later work, Critique of the Gotha Program written at the very end of his life, for instance, Marx speaks of a lower and a higher phase of communism, the first, the lower phase, still bearing the birthmarks of the older society, where the higher phase does not bear those birthmarks. But the notion that socialism and communism are distinct stages in history, was alien to Marxist thought because he was really saying a lower and higher phase of socialism.

 Marx never identified the dictatorship of the proletariat, a stage in which the working class assumes political control over society with socialism, he just never did. He wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program “between capitalist and communist [or socialist] society there lies the period the revolutionary transformation from one into the other. Corresponding to this is the political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship or the proletariat. Now Marx clearly refers to this dictatorship which meant to him NOT the dictatorship of the party on behalf of the workers, but rather the rule over society by the working class as a whole democratically. He explicitly says “this lies between capitalism and socialist or communist society.” The failure to distinguish between the political form of transition, between capitalism and socialism, from socialism itself, is extremely widespread in a lot of discussions on Marx and on contemporary issues, but it has no basis in Marx’s writings.

The Socialist Party strives for a peaceful road to socialism. We will do everything in our power to prevent the use of force and violence in establishing socialism, which we know full well cannot be undertaken here or elsewhere unless it has the support of the majority of the people.  But we cannot, of course, guarantee that the enemies of the people will accept the decision of the people to move to socialism. Socialism, however, is not yet on the order of the day and we campaign to make it so.  

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