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Which road to socialism?

Based on a talk given by Deirdre Sinnott at the Dec. 6-7 "Reviving the Worldwide Struggle for Socialism" conference.

How do we win socialism? Will it be voted in or will it be won in a revolution? Once you've got socialism, how do you protect it from being taken away?

There are several examples of the so-called peaceful transition to socialism. Take Sweden as an example. Recently a friend of mine said he was a life-long socialist and he wanted what Sweden has. At first glimpse, it seems pretty good--but.

First off, Sweden isn't really a socialist country because there is a class of people who own the corporations. Ninety percent of the businesses in Sweden are privately owned.

There are also mass layoffs in tough times of capitalist economic crisis. TeliaSonera and Nokia both laid off workers in 2003. At times the unemployment situation in Sweden is basically like here in the U.S. Both Ericsson and Volvo have moved some of their plants overseas and laid off workers.

There was a strike in 2003 of over 50,000 council workers--mostly women--for higher pay and to fight what has been a decade of cutbacks and privatizations. The workers in Sweden overwhelmingly supported the strike.

There is little doubt that a measure of workers' control and social programs is much better than what we are used to in the U.S., but it's still not socialism and still can be voted out of existence.

The Swedish economy is forced to compete in a capitalist world system. Whole industries like shipbuilding, which was the backbone of the economy and helped make the taxation system possible, have largely been closed down because of cheaper labor markets abroad. When workers are forced to compete with each other, wages fall.

This makes the social structure similar to the utopian communes set up in Europe and the U.S. during the 1800s. These utopian societies had better conditions for the workers than in the rest of the country. But they went under because they had to compete with capitalism. In capitalism businesses large and small fail and disappear. This is what happened to these communes.

I hope that the workers in Sweden are able to hold on to the gains they have, but I wouldn't want to pin my hopes on elections.

Workers' control of a capitalist government is not the same as workers having their own government. In the same way that the U.S. government is by and for the U.S. ruling class, where laws are enacted to preserve and protect the property relations of private ownership, workers could have their own government. A workers' government would be to the benefit of the working class. It would enact laws that protected workers' rights and defend those rights so that they couldn't be stolen.

Here in the U.S. there is a constant battle not to lose what we won in the struggle. Affirmative action and abortion rights are under extreme attack. The same thing is true for the right to overtime pay, the right to strike and other things we take for granted. But in our society, the second we win these victories, the right wing is thinking about how to rescind them.

If someone told me that they had a referendum that was going to give everyone a home, enough to eat, free healthcare, free education, guaranteed job, I'd say it sounds great. The problem is that even if it did get on the ballot, even if it did pass, it would never be enforced. That's because the state is set up to protect the assets of the very rich.

If you look into history you can see how the ruling class solves its problems. Whenever the ruling class has felt truly threatened, by an uprising, by a person, by a country or by an economic system, it has reacted with violence. The ruling class is going to protect what it has. They will fight every inch of the way. If anyone here has ever been in a strike, you get to see a glimpse of it. The bosses will do everything in their power to win. They will threaten people, try to fire them, use intimidation, burn organizers' homes, or in the case of Coca-Cola in Colombia, have the trade unionists killed.

One of the lessons learned the hard way is Chile. On Sept. 11, 1973, a democratically elected government was violently overthrown. With help from the CIA, President Salvador Allende was killed in a coup that brought the fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. Bloody repression followed and many good people were tortured and/or killed. Many of them had believed that if they had a fair election and voted for what they wanted, the ruling classes of Chile and the U.S. would say OK.

Being a realist means knowing that if the ruling class is not about to give up power without a struggle, than there is only the revolutionary path. Do I want violence? No. I have been part of the struggle against the violence of the ruling class, but I have the right to defend myself. And when the struggle for expanded rights heats up, particularly if it is truly effective in winning substantial rights for the working class as opposed to the ruling class, we can expect a fight. Malcolm X said it best when he said, "Self defense is not violence--it's intelligence."

Reprinted from the Dec. 25, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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