What is socialism?
Published Nov 22, 2011 7:48 PM
WW photo: Stevan Kirschbaum
The following is excerpted from a talk by WWP Secretariat member Deirdre Griswold to the Oct. 8-9 Workers World Party National Conference in New York City.
The Occupy movement is showing how many agree with us that capitalism is destroying the lives of millions. But what should replace it? We say socialism. What is socialism?
To begin with, it’s a social system that guarantees for everyone what we’re not getting under capitalism: decent jobs or income, health care, education, a place to live, an end to invasions, wars and occupations. It’s all possible when we “occupy” everything and produce for people’s needs, not to profit the very, very rich few.
People know in their bones that this economy can produce all these things and more. There’s an abundance of everything. Nine million empty housing units, enough for every homeless person! Plenty of land and food. High-tech factories producing at only 60 to 75 percent of capacity.
There’s a surplus (the bosses say) of people with all kinds of skills, from teaching to nursing to computer programming.
Material basis for socialism
Everything that workers in this country need could easily be produced under socialism just by putting everyone to work — not just producing things but fixing the infrastructure, cleaning up the environment, providing much better services and more.
We’re Marxists. We say that capitalism is now increasingly paralyzed because the technology is so developed that everything can be produced in abundance with fewer and fewer workers. This is called a capitalist crisis of overproduction — but it has laid the material basis for socialism. And not just for this country. The technology is rapidly advancing everywhere. The whole world, which today has billions of people in poverty, could quickly satisfy all human needs under socialism.
So why don’t more people know — yet — that socialism is the answer?
I want to talk about Sam Marcy, the founder of this party. What made him stand out from all other leaders of his period is that he took on the hard questions. He took on the problems of the socialist countries. He didn’t try to sweep anything under the rug. And he used Marxism to unravel where their difficulties came from.
Sam didn’t talk about socialist countries as though they were perfect. But he analyzed the problem — and the problem wasn’t Leninism. It wasn’t the building of a party that could lead a workers’ revolution to victory and set up a state to defend that revolution.
Sam didn’t shirk from criticizing policies that did great damage to class solidarity and opened the door to capitalism and imperialism. But he always made sure we understood that this degeneration in the leadership occurred because of the great difficulties they faced. He often posed it this way: What would we do if we were facing these problems? And he never gave up on the gains made by these revolutions, from Russia to China.
The struggle for a better world began way more than a century ago. We live in the epoch of the transition from capitalism to socialism. It has been a very violent period in human history. Hundreds of millions of people have fought and sacrificed valiantly to get the bosses, the landlords and the imperialists off their necks.
The terrible crises created by capitalism — especially the two world wars of the 20th century and the Great Depression — spurred on these revolutions until at one time about a third of the world’s people lived in countries trying to build socialism.
Why were there setbacks?
In a nutshell, because world capitalism was still on the rise. It was developing the means of production. The workers in the imperialist countries were captive to the system even as they made some material gains. This gave the imperialists a free hand to bully, threaten and do great damage to revolutionary movements and countries.
But along with military pressures, there was another enormous factor: The revolutions all took place where capitalism was weak, usually where foreign imperialists kept the economies in a state of underdevelopment. In many of these countries, revolutionary uprisings were hastened by the horrors of war.
This is what drove these great mass upheavals forward — the material deprivation of the masses coupled with enormous repression and national humiliation.
As hard-fought as these victories were, the really hard part came after the revolution, when countries aspiring to socialism had to catch up to the powerful imperialist states.
Why do people fight? For a better life. By forcing revolutionary countries to spend enormous sums on defense, by saddling them with crippling economic sanctions, the imperialists denied the workers the fruits of their struggle and sacrifices. This undermined morale as it nourished bureaucracy and privilege.
The problems of our revolution are so different. For us, the hard part has been keeping alive the revolutionary spirit of Marxism and Leninism in a country that seemed insulated from the class struggle. But not any more. Workers know the class war is on.
What revolutionaries have to figure out now is how can our class most effectively break up the political and state power of the parasitic ruling class? That’s no small task, but once it happens, the high productivity of labor here guarantees a rapid transition to a society of abundance that can help the whole world climb out of the hell that capitalism has created.
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