So…socialism. Is it death, totalitarianism, stagnation, blood in the streets, secret police, burning the rich at the stake, crushing of freedom, crushing of individuality, and basically Airstrip One? Is it redistribution, high taxes, forced equality, welfare queens, overspending and recession? Or is it farmers’ markets, co-ops, kibbutzim, sharing, moral fulfillment, spiritual enlightenment and sunshine and rainbows?
Actually, it’s none of the above. And before I start describing what socialism is on this site, there are so many misconceptions about socialism that it’s important to first describe what it isn’t.
- Socialism is not the USSR, China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Yugoslavia etc etc.
This is the big one. When many people think about socialism, they picture the oppressive governments and devastating famines of the countries which called themselves socialist. These countries were as socialist as North Korea, which calls itself a Democratic People’s Republic, is democratic. The only one which was even controlled by the workers and not by a detached party calling itself communist for a little while was Soviet Russia, which had workers’ control through the soviets (councils) though its effectiveness was hampered by the difficult circumstances during the сivil war. Even there, though, a new class of party bureaucrats emerged, which owned the means of production and exploited workers just as the capitalist ruling class does. There was also commodity production in all of these countries, so the planning was mostly a façade. I think that, given that all the countries which called themselves socialists had capitalist production relations, commodity production and wage labour, it’s fair to call them “state capitalist.” So everything wrong with these countries was wrong with their particular form of bureaucratic, grossly inefficient <em>capitalism</em>, not socialism. And everyone who thinks these countries were socialist needs to learn to look beyond a name.
- Socialism is not “big government,”
When Americans (and sometimes Europeans) accuse politicians of being socialist, it’s usually because they’re seen as supporters of “big government,” i.e. a strong welfare state, large public sector, high taxes and strict regulation of business. The inclusion of the words “state,” “tax,” and “business,” alone in that definition of big government proves that it is not socialism. Socialism means socialised means of production: means of production owned by the whole of society, as opposed to a certain stratum of society. So there is no ruling class in socialism, and therefore there is no need for a government to act as an organ of class rule and enforce laws. Given this, there is no way that tax collection or regulation could be enforced, and of course no way that a state could administer welfare or own anything when it doesn’t exist. Socialists may sometimes support “big government,” as a less destructive form of capitalism (and not all of us do) but anyone who sees it, and not socialised means of production and the new society that accompanies this, as an end goal is not socialist.
- Socialism is not co-ops, farmers’ markets or equal wages
People often have this view of socialism as a sort of nostalgia project, in which those nasty corporations violating the laws of nature are taxed into oblivion so that we can all live happily in little farming communes and buy our fresh organic soy milk from Mom ‘n’ Pop shops. No no no no no. Farmers’ markets might make for good outings on a Spring afternoon for Guardian-reading middle class families (I would know), but markets, meaning places of commodity exchange, will not exist in socialism because their existence necessitates the exploitation of the working class , whom socialism is meant to liberate. Since commodity exchange won’t exist, nor will its medium: money. Another popular misconception is that socialism entails equal or redistributed wages, but that can’t exactly be true because wages won’t exist. Socialists are more radical than you think.
4.. Socialism is not a “utopia,”
I’ve seen adherents to and detractors of socialist ideology alike refer to socialism as a utopia, and it’s one of the many things which irk me far more than they should.. Utopianism is intimately connected with belief in an “ideal,” society: that is, a society which is abstracted from material conditions. Socialism began as a utopian movement (with people like Owen, Fourier etc.) but I have yet to meet anyone who identifies as a utopian socialist in 2015. This is because the struggle for working-class liberation and the ultimate end of socialised means of production is now dominated by democratic/reformist socialists, Marxists and class-struggle anarchists who advocate socialism not because of its positive ideals or because it’s “moral”, but because capitalism isn’t working (see my post “Free Markets vs Freedom,” for why) and the only people who are capable of changing this are the working class, because society depends on them. This is not utopian; this is thoroughly rooted in material reality.
- Socialism is not Labour, the Democrats, Die Linke, Podemos, SYRIZA…
Okay, I may or may not have had an ulterior motive when writing this post. As well as explaining to n00bs what socialism is not, I want to highlight something that has been going on within the socialist left that I don’t think is going to do us any good at all. And that’s the enthusiasm for social democratic parties and their leaders, which at the moment is mainly Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party, Bernie (which sounds a bit like Bernstein…CONSPIRACY) Sanders of the US Democrats and the Popular Unity party which recently split from SYRIZA in Greece and is running in the upcoming elections. Supporting social democratic parties has never brought us any closer to socialism. You need only look at what, ahem, incredible proletarian consciousness SYRIZA has been demonstrating while in power to see what happens when much-hyped “far-left,” governments get into power. Newsflash: not socialism. Sure, pro-working class reforms are good, but if you think they’re ever going to be implemented by electing a government, tell me what you’re smoking because I want some. If we want to change society, we need to do it through grassroots methods: unionising, protesting, direct action. And fooling workers into thinking that a sots-dem government will do anything but break promises might do more harm than anything