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Is Socialism dead?

Sidney J Gluck

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.

The crisis in Communist theory and practice does not spell the end of the socialist ideal. Socialism was not conceived by Marx. It had religious and utopian roots. Nor was the notion of class struggle a Marxian precept. It was born in bourgeois revolution.

When the "Manifesto" [1] was written in 1847, the word "socialism" was in such disrepute that the authors used "Communist Manifesto" to protect the substance of its historic view: "The history of all existing societies has been a history of class struggle." Today, "communism" is in such disrepute that it seeks refuge in "socialism" and "democratic socialism."

Marxism created a scientific approach to social change, and as with all uncharted courses and theories, it suffered from some historically conditioned misconceptions and shortcomings. Nonetheless, Lenin was able to lead a successful revolution in a backward country based on these principles and world view. He died before the new system was structured.

The forced march to industrialization and modern self-defense under Stalin did succeed in defeating fascism and the encirclement; but it did so at the expense of distorting socialist principles and negating its humanist and democratic premise. He combined Russian autocracy with Marxist misconceptions about the individual and the state and failed to heed Marx's own words about commodity production, market relations and "bourgeois right" in the development of socialism.

Stalinism was foisted on subsequent revolutions. Communist China, too, made considerable progress, having started from a much more backward condition and national fragmentation than Tsarist Russia. But it is only since the late 70s that China, and later the Soviet Union, came to recognize the need for restructuring, introducing high tech and new economic relations together with planning and expanding participation in decision-making.

The Soviet Union was a formidable power but did not release the individual creativeness of its citizens, hindering its development by structuring a paternalistic command regime. They ruled out a value-based market system, inhibiting integration with the world economy. High tech capabilities were allocated to military and space to the exclusion of industrial modernization and product development for civil society. Gorbachev's "Perestroika" [2a] needed time and accomplishments with backing of the "Party's" own economic ministers before launching "Glasnost" [2b] that drowned proposals for reforming production relations. The dominant Marxist ideology of government and the ruling Party dictatorship fell apart under the unrelenting attacks and machinations of Yeltsin, whose vision of change was "cowboy capitalism," not communism. In the midst of a nuclear balance of terror, restrained by the ABM Treaty between the two superpowers, the world had welcomed Gorbachev's initiative that promised more freedom in the USSR without abandoning socialism, more humane international relations, and a peaceful end to the Cold War without creating a single victorious hyperpower. But the Soviet model of 20th century socialism was doomed; the Russian giant could not compete. It bled to death.

China's Marxists, having aped the Soviet economic model at the outset in 1949, broke with the USSR in 1956, refusing to become the junior partner in a socialist alliance. Twenty years of struggle ensued within the Chinese Communist Party of China searching for new ways to build a socialist society. It was a period of dismal failures in the "Great Leap Forward" of the early 60's followed by the disruptive "Cultural Revolution" which ended in 1975 with the victory of creative veteran Marxist revolutionaries who had been protected and encouraged by Chou En Lai and guided by Deng Xiaoping who charted a course rooted in specific economic conditions and needs and of China's history and culture, in short, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: modernization of means of production, value based exchange in a market system in synch with overall planning (micro/macro coordination), economic integration of the entire country, the release of individual entrepreneurial initiative, opening to the West for investment and trade, learning from capitalism, and integrating with the world economy.

Notwithstanding imbalances and excesses that require regulation or re-adjustments and correction, China has installed a classical primary level model of socialism, reflecting Marx' expression "from each according to ability, to each according to contribution."

A growing income gap that mirrors capitalism is yet to be dealt with while continuing the growth of national accumulation which translates into development, job creation, growth of high tech and labor intensive industry and raises the overall national standard of living.

In the Western capitalist world, the growing gulf between ultra-greed and degradation of workers (Adam Smith's dilemma over "loss of virtue") demands social intervention and struggle. Has class consciousness evaporated?

Ironically, the grand strategy of US foreign policy shifted with changes in the Socialist world. In 1972, Nixon sought alliance with China to tilt the triangle against the USSR; today the USA seeks to buy Russian cooperation in an effort to tilt the triangle towards containment of China. That speaks well for Chinese Socialism. It is an independent, anti-imperialist developing country well on its way to modernization. It is accepted as an economic partner in the world economy and in regional cooperation. It garnered allies in support of taking its rightful seat in the UN Security Council in 1972. It won an invitation to join the World Trade Organization and, most recently, Beijing won the bid to host the International Olympics in 2008 [3].

It is necessary to review political and economic history and the theories of scientific socialism from today's perspective to ascertain what is alive, what is new and what is dead in the inescapable march to a more humane society that affords its workers and "middle class" of all races and gender a just share in employment and the product of their labors and a truly democratic voice in directing the destiny of nations - which remains the vision of Socialism.

August 1, 2001 [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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Note 1: See "Manifesto of the Communist Party" by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published in late 1847, at http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/marx/works/download/manifest.pdf (or download PDF backup (389KB)) See also the Sri Lanka Guardian artcle on "Is socialism dying?" by Shyamon Jayasinghe dated September 8. 2012.

Note 2a: "Perestroika", reconstruction.

Note 2b: "Glasnost", open, intellectual talk.

Note 3: In 1990, when this essay was first written, the writer shared the prevailing optimism with the following paragraph: "The world has welcomed the changes initiated under Gorbachev because they are bringing about an end to the cold war and we are witnessing the inevitable consequences in Eastern Europe. But is socialism dead? The USSR remains a formidable power and China pursues its socialist goal while opening to the West. Socialist and Communist parties in the West still confront governments wracked with crises, competition and slow growth. The growing gulf between ultra-greed and slow degradation (Adam Smith's dilemma) demands social intervention. Has class consciousness evaporated?" The writer hopes that China maintains its independent anti-imperialist course for a victory of Socialism in the 21st century.