Monday, August 08, 2016

This is Socialism

There is a widespread popular perception that socialism is an authoritarian coercive system, and the experiences from history of so-called “communist” parties who had power have justified that belief. The misconstrued phrase of Marx, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, reinforces this impression.  The Socialist Party rejects any understanding of class dictatorship that implies a dictatorial form of government, that identifies the dictatorship of the proletariat with an ever-expanding one-party state apparatus. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” is at heart simply the re-wording of the Communist Manifesto’s “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” The Socialist Party identifies socialism not simply just as the common ownership of the means of production and distribution but also with the democratic control and the participation of people over the administrative and social institutions of their communities. The Soviet Union did not by any criteria represent socialism. Instead of common ownership of means of production, state ownership of means of production was adopted. Wage labour, money, exchange economy, and the separation of the producing class from the control of the means of production, all remained.

The capitalist world cannot simply be ignored, in a live-and-let-live attitude, while we try to build our new society elsewhere. A socialist revolution will never happen automatically, blindly, because of the inexorable materialist laws of history. Capitalism must be explicitly replaced by something else. It will happen, and only happen, because we want it to and because we know what we’re doing and how we want to live. We must always keep in mind how we became slaves; then we can see more clearly how we can cease being slaves. We were forced into wage slavery because the ruling class slowly, systematically, and brutally destroyed our ability to live autonomously. By driving us off the land, changing the property laws, dismantling community rights, destroying our tools, and so forth, we were forced onto the labour market and into the cities and factories in order to survive, our only remaining option being to sell our ability to work for a wage. Socialism reverses this process and it will be a new society where we live without working for a wage or buying and selling the products made by wage slaves and instead embrace cooperative work and producing for people’s needs. This strategy does not call for reforming capitalism although on occasions we can sometimes, in some places, win certain concessions from it (usually only temporary ones) and some (usually short-lived) improvements in our lives, but we cannot reform it piecemeal. It calls for totally replacing capitalism. We intend substituting an entire way of life. Millions and millions of people must want radical change and possess a pressing desire to live free and to live in democratically-controlled communities, to participate in their administration. Otherwise, we are doomed to perpetual slavery and possibly even to extinction.

This vision is not new. The goal of socialists/communists/anarchists has always been to restore community. Marx defined socialism as a free association of producers, and as a system in which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all. The aim has always been clear: to abolish wage slavery, eradicate a social order organised solely around the accumulation of capital for its own sake, and establish in its place a society of free people who democratically and cooperatively self-determine the shape of their social world. The heart of socialism is free association - in our neighbourhoods and workplaces. There is no way that we could create the free associations we want without confronting ruling-class power.  If we destroy capitalist relations and its institutions and structures before we have created for ourselves an alternative means of survival we will be creating chaos and disorder, recipes for self-destruction. We cannot destroy capitalism by staging protests and demonstrations. Demonstrations barely even embarrass capitalists, let alone frighten them. Demonstrations are just a form of petition usually. They petition the ruling class regarding some grievance, essentially begging it to change its policies. Demonstrations only last a few hours or days and then, with rare exception, everything goes back to the way it was. If demonstrations do win an occasional concession, it is usually minor and short-lived. They do not build an alternative social world.

You can rampage through the streets all you want, burn down your neighbourhoods, and loot all the local stores to your heart’s content. This will not go anywhere. The blind rage will burn itself out. When it’s all over, these rioters and aspiring insurrectionists will be turning up for work like always or standing again in the dole line. Nothing has changed. Nothing has been organised. No new associations have been created. What do capitalists care? They can afford it. All they have to do is wait for the fires to burn down, go in and arrest people at random, and then depart, leaving the "rioters" to cope with their ruined neighbourhoods as best they can. Maybe we should think of something a little more damaging to capitalists than burning down our own neighbourhoods.

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