Friday, 12 September 2008

ABC of Socialism

The word 'socialism' derives from 'social'; from the Latin 'socialis' for companion, partner or ally; later concerned with the mutual relations of humanity as living in an organized, interdependent body or society, e.g., social laws, conscience or relations, social progress, reform or revolution, etc: a political theory and movement for the substitution of collective forms (public, common, municipal, regional or state) over individual ownership and property.
A system without economic divisions approximating to a classless society through social control of major production, distribution and exchange.

Early socialist ideas emerged, mutated and matured within feudal agrarian society, in peasant uprisings across Europe,like England's first Poll Tax rebellion of 1381, in the agitation of the Leveller Jon Lilburn 1615-57, Diggers of Weybridge Hill, emerging as a social force within Cromwell's Model Army at the Putney debates of 1647; among participants in the French revolution of 1789 like Gracchus Babeuf, Charles Fouriet and the Comte de St Simon; in the work of Thomas Payne from 1737-1809 and the European democratic revolutions of 1848/9.

Socialist ideas emerged, mutated and matured within the new vast cities of the industrial age, most notably in the Paris Commune of 1871 and the regional uprisings of the Chartists between 1838 and 1848 in Britain. A philosophical revolution by students of Berlin University produced a radical current of left-wing humanists that culminated in the exile of one of them, Karl Marx, first to Paris and then to Dean Street, Soho.

His theoretical systemof revolutionary ideas was strong in analysis (his 'labour theory of value' is now scarcely contested) but short of practical political advice, failed to convince the First International Workingmen's Association thus creating a rift between socialist and anarchist opinions. The Second 'Socialist' International became a global movement until a major division erupted at the turn of the 20th century of relevance to the world's Green Parties today.

Some, like Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin, adhered to the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism through a necessary social, political and economic revolution from below. others like Eduard Bernstein, editor of the 'Sozialdemokrat' newspaper and Congress delegate, argued that new advantageous circumstances allowed the abandonment of revolution for a strategy of socialism by piecemeal, Parliamentary, gradual, evolutionary reforms (the reformist road to socialism). The same issue divided the Marxist Social Democratic Federation from the Fabian Society within the founding of the British Labour Party in 1900, and in essence, the split between the Russian Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903: the revolutionaries won the argument but lost the vote. The Reformist-Revisionists degenerated rapidly to capitalist convergence, patriotic support for colonial expansion and the fratricidal carnage of the first inter-imperialist world war, and the military suppression of the socialist revolutions that followed it.

The success of Russia's second revolution, Red October 1917, secured "Land, Bread and Peace"; the nationalisation of major landholdings, banks and basic industries; the first unemployment benefit; NHS, equality for women and gays; the right of nations to self-determination; modernism in art and design and a Red Army that defended 1/6th of the
world's land mass from 9 armies of capitalist intervention,etc. Lenin's last struggle failed to halt the rise of the brutal megalomaniac Joseph Stalin to the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1925.

Within 10 years, the Soviet Union degenerated to a stifling and stagnant, bureaucratic police-state employing forced collectivisations and rigged show-trials, assassinations, gulags and slave labour against all dissidents of the one-party state. The Stalinist model of a one-party police-state was exported through its military occupations of Eastern Europe. China developed a similar model.

The division between democratic pro-capitalist Social Democrats and anti-democratic counterrevolutionary Stalinists, eclipsed and betrayed the rise of socialism in the 19th, driving the class struggle towards that between rich and poor nations. A small, scattered International Left Opposition declared the 4th International in 1938. In 1940 its leading advocate, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was assassinated by Stalin's agent Ramon Mercader, The 4th International split in half in 1953, unable to share different European and American post-war perspectives, then further splintered into today's various neo-Trotskyite and eclectic sectarian/opportunist groups. Largely from this political milieu arose an awareness of the ecological crisis and its revolutionary significance, as a challenge to Marx's 19th century assumptions of productivist progress. For example, the American author of the book 'Enemy of Nature' and the Ecosocialist Manifesto, Joel Kovel, inspires Green Left today.

Thus socialism continues to emerge, mutate and mature.

Tim Summers, Green Left Secretary and former GPEx
Campaigns Co-ordinator 020 7737 6289

1 comment:

DocRichard said...

Hi Tim
I liked this when I read it, and wrote to you asking if I could join Green Left, being as how I have never read Das Kapital, nor am likely to. No answer was the stern reply. So I assume that I am disqualified, but in case the email did not reach you, or suffered annihilation in a Ctrl+a Del E-mail management removal, maybe you could reply here?