Despite what your post-modernist buddy says as he sips herbal tea and speaks through his wool scarf on a July afternoon, words are not just facades for the expression of abstract, unfounded ideals. They have definitive meanings relating to material conditions and concepts. I’m no linguist, but I’m pretty certain that words have definitions and, for the sake of communication, shouldn’t be considered to be a veil of gibberish. I can’t say “I’m a horse” as a way to convey my taste for spicy food.
(I know this is sounding foolish so far, but hang in there).
Too often, people–usually angry people–will spout off words that have a meaning totally different from what it is they are actually trying to say, like when Sarah Palin called some other Republican (can’t recall which one it was, and I don’t care to look it up) a “Stalinist”, or when Glenn Beck calls Hitler a “socialist”, or whenever some new Leftist starts calling everything they dislike “fascism”. All of these are examples of words being used outside of their historically recognized meanings. The number of Republicans who can be considered “Stalinists” is a big fat zero. Hitler himself misused the word “socialism” to mislead people (he referred to actual Marxist socialism as “Judeo-Bolshevism”–he wasn’t a fan). And not every politician in existence is a fascist.
The word “fascism” is probably the most over-used of these words. People have referred to everything from classical conservatism to Marxism-Leninism as “fascist”, without any explanation or material basis for the use of such a label.
But, as you probably guessed from the title, the word I am going to focus on in this post is “socialism”.
One thing I want to say before I go any further: I am very, very happy that socialism has become a hot topic. Just 10 or 20 years ago, socialism was widely seen as a word fit for horror stories, and nothing more. It was unthinkable that it would ever enter into nationwide, public discourse in any kind of serious way. But now, thanks to a certain presidential candidate, socialism, and the meaning behind it, has re-entered the mainstream domain of ideas to be reckoned with. Less and less people are fearful of it, and the number of those who support it is growing by the day. Yes, many of those who claim to support it are still ignorant to the meaning behind it. No, this does not mean people are becoming Marxists. But, the discussion has been opened, and it is up to us Marxist-Leninists to dive in head-first. This is an opportunity for us to gain at least some headway among the masses. It is our duty to enter this discussion, with cool heads and friendly debate, and say what needs to be said.
But the first thing that needs to be said is something that is directed at some of our comrades. This may sound harsh, but please bear with me: Shut the fuck up with your pseudo-anarchistic rants. So many opportunities to win people over to genuine socialism have been squandered by your childish puritanism. No one is going to listen to you if all you have to offer is a verbal onslaught against them as people. No one is going to become a Marxist overnight, especially if their only contact with a Marxist is filled with insults and one-upsmanship. People are becoming genuinely open to the idea of socialism. That openness is likely gone the moment a Marxist insults their intelligence and personal character. This isn’t a dick measuring contest, it is a real life movement we are trying to build, basically from scratch. There is no room for your ego here.
Now, with all of that said, let’s begin with the discussion.
WHAT IS SOCIALISM?
I mentioned above that the word “socialism” is becoming something of a buzzword. Its meaning is being watered down by those who do not know the theory behind it. It is not public services, it is not taxes, it is not snow plows, it is not “redistribution”. One can read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, etc. if they want the full and complete understanding, but here and now, I would rather use Bill Bland’s quick summation from the introduction to his amazing book The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union(I encourage everyone to read this work, and I will probably reference it a few more times in this post).
Bland’s very brief summation of socialism is in four points:
1) the means of production are owned collectively by the workers;
2) this class of workers holds political power by controlling the state apparatus;
3) production is planned by the state; and
4) exploitation–the process of living partly or wholly on the labour of others–has been eliminated.
None of the above four points are, in any way, linked to the aims of the “democratic socialists” who are gaining so much notoriety in this country. In contrast, let’s see how Bland sums up a capitalist society (from the same work):
1) the means of production–factories, land, etc.–are owned by individuals or corporate groups of individuals called capitalists;
2) this class of capitalists holds political power by controlling the state apparatus;
3) production is regulated by the profit motive; and
4) exploitation occurs, in that capitalists live, partly or wholly, on the labour of others, i.e. of their employed workers.
All four of these characteristics will be maintained under a so-called “democratic socialist” state, and they do exist in the current democratic-socialist states of Europe. No presidential candidate in their right mind would propose the actual policies of socialism, nor would they reject the basic policies of capitalism, if they plan on making any friends at all in a bourgeois-imperialist government. And even if they wanted to, they would be totally unable, due to the purely bourgeois structure of the state itself.
Regardless of all of this, the word “socialism” is being torn from its original meaning so as to make capitalist politicians seem “nicer” and more in-tune with the needs of the people. This isn’t to say that I will reject any and all reforms that would better the conditions of the working class–I would embrace and applaud such measures. But I won’t call them “socialist” or “revolutionary”, because that isn’t what they are. However, even if they aren’t socialist in its true sense, the things being proposed by these democratic-socialists are, for the most part, necessary and progressive. If the workers had more time to develop a class consciousness–rather than spending all of their time and energy on worrying about where they will get their next meal, how they will afford to educate themselves or their families, how they will afford to keep a roof over their heads and their bodies in good health–we would be one step closer to a real revolution. But, again, these measures in and of themselves are not revolutionary or socialist.
Does this mean we Marxist-Leninists should reject all suggested reforms, just because they aren’t as “pure” as we would like? Of course not! In his piece, Marxism and Reformism, Lenin says:
Unlike the anarchists, the Marxists recognize struggle for reform, i.e. for measures that improve the conditions of the working people without destroying the power of the ruling class.
That is, we Marxists support any measures which aid the working class in their day-to-day struggle, even if such measures are put into effect by bourgeois politicians through a bourgeois state. In other words, Sanders has my vote. However, Lenin continues:
At the same time, however, the Marxists wage a most resolute struggle against the reformists, who, directly or indirectly, restrict the aims and activities of the working class to the winning of reforms. Reformism is bourgeois deception of the workers, who, despite individual improvements, will always remain wage-slaves, as long as there is the domination of capital.
So, to put these pieces together, we Marxist-Leninists uphold the usefulness of reform, while also relentlessly waging a fight against “pure” reformism so as not to persuade the workers into thinking reformism is their only path to liberation. I mean, reformism is not the whole map, just a piece of it. And it is up to us to reveal the entire map of liberation to the people. Part of this means to not let them settle merely for those bourgeois politicians who use the word “socialism”, but to help light their way even further, towards real, worker-controlled socialism. To break the domination of capital, rather than settling for a more lenient version of this domination.
Another good point relating to the above quotes of Lenin is that the sentences, “Voting is pointless,” and, “Those who don’t vote have no right to speak,” are both equally annoying and ignorant things to say. So stop.
Anyway, the question “What is socialism?” has, nonetheless, been confused by the liberals. As I’ve already pointed out, even in their confusion, it is essential that we use this opportunity to clear some things up, since, at last, this discussion has reached the mainstream.
The following picture is what brought me to write this post, after I saw it being shared by some of my well-meaning friends:
This is way, way, way beyond a simple misuse of a word. It is overkill. It is so much of a distortion of both definition and historical fact that my head hurt after seeing it. My primary concerns are thus:
1) Socialism, as explained at the top of the picture, is obviously referring to Soviet-style socialism (Marxism-Leninism). It claims that this form of socialism–that is, real socialism–is a “failure”. Now, I could refer you to numerous pieces refuting this claim, including some of my original posts, but I will just stick with a simple refutation. The Soviet system did not collapse due to socialism. When it was on the socialist path (1917-1956) it became a super-power. Socialism made a backwater, semi-feudal society into an industrial powerhouse three times faster than capitalism has ever worked. It introduced millions of working people to a form of democracy that was, as Lenin put it, a million times more democratic than any bourgeois “democracy”. A formerly weak and chaotic area of the world was built up fast enough to rally itself against fourteen invasions within its first years of existence, as well as against the Nazi invaders less than 30 years after it was founded. The economic stagnation and eventual collapse of the USSR came after the “liberalisation” policies of Krushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev. That is, the “failure” wasn’t due to socialism, but to capitalistic policies that very closely resembled what the picture above calls “democratic socialism”. (See the book by Bill Bland, which I cited above, for more information on these capitalistic policies and the resulting collapse of the USSR).
Secondly, on this point, state ownership does not equal workers collective ownership. If it did, Norway would be considered a Soviet-style socialist state. Hint: it’s not.
2) The second section of this picture, “Corporate Socialism”, is just capitalism as it has functioned throughout most of its existence. There is nothing remotely socialist about it. Every capitalist society has used the state to protect the interests of the bourgeois class. Again, the use of the state does not equate to socialism. This isn’t “corporate socialism”(which doesn’t even exist), this isn’t “crony capitalism”, it’s not even corporatism/fascism, it’s just capitalism.
3) The third part of the picture is exactly what Lenin was talking about in the second half of the quote given above–it is reformism as a tool for the domination of capital, to try to lead the people into believing that the bourgeois state is somehow capable of creating any form of socialism. For the millionth time: public services, welfare, taxes, etc. are not the sole requirements for a state to be socialist. This is simply capitalism with a smile. In its class character, it is no different than the “Corporate Socialism” also referred to. It is simply more willing to grant concessions to the working class. It is not socialist, because it does not meet any of the requirements to be a socialist system. The means of production are still owned by groups of capitalists, profit is still the main incentive behind production, and the workers are still exploited, no matter how much they receive from the bourgeois state.
In short, this picture encapsulates the hijacking of a word by the capitalists that does not belong to them or their interests, but is, in fact, in direct contradiction to their interests.
All of that being said and done, I want to emphasize that this post was not meant to attack or belittle those who are growing fond of the socialist cause. It is only to clear things up. Not just for the liberals, but for some of my fellow Marxist-Leninists who don’t seem to know how to make any argument without jumping into insults and “I’m-more-left-than-you” bullshit. The revolution is hindered by both the hijacking of the socialist cause and by the arrogance of the pseudo-anarchist anti-reformists, who have the opportunity to open up a real discussion, but instead play off of their own ego at the expense of spreading class consciousness.
Recent events and actions have brought the word “socialism” to the forefront of political discussion, something unheard of just a few years ago. And I’m very glad that I am around to take part.