Saturday, December 2, 2000

Failure of First Major Attempt at Socialism

Two basic trends are making for a renewed examination of the issue of socialism. The first trend is the growing awareness that, even in times of relative prosperity, the world capitalist system is characterized by a number of serious, if not fatal, flaws. This trend found its expression in the struggle against the WTO in Seattle. Many, if not all of the young people involved – on a world scale - in this battle have come to understand that theirs is a battle against the system and not merely against some of its more sordid manifestations. Locally, this trend is expressed in the thinking and the attitudes of some of the new cadre in the Green movements.
The second trend is the rising interest in the social justice issue here in Israel. There is more and more evidence that governmental economic policies over the years have institutionalized many of the worst aspects of Israeli capitalism: large scale unemployment, poverty, economic polarization between poor and rich. Many “children of the establishment” are appalled at the sure and steady erosion of any semblance of social solidarity, and many of the younger generation from “the other Israel” are beginning to realize that the economic cards are heavily stacked against them and their families. Here, in this context, the dominant trend is the search for alternative policy framework accompanied by a deep reformist faith that a democratic upheaval can force a basic change in policy so as to “restore” social justice. Despite the reformist tendency of the criticism in the local arena, there is a growing awareness that most of the problems of capitalism in general and Israeli capitalism in particular are inherent and structural. The uneasy sense that the problem may well be capitalism, itself, is reinforced by the arguments put forward in the name of the system: the system is global in nature and leaves little or no room for local modification. These developments cause many young people to ponder whether there is any alternative to capitalism. Of course, the phenomenon under discussion is certainly marginal. That is, we are not talking about masses of people. But even so, Marxists must be as attentive as possible regarding these matters. Moreover, we are not the only ones to sense this appearance of a newfound social sensitivity among many young people. This being the case, we should sharpen our memory and our wits in order to prepare ourselves for a new round of socialist advocacy. This challenge I fear, is a lot more difficult than it appears on the first impression.Socialist Advocacy in the Post-Communist Era
There does not seem to be any shortage of effective and convincing evidence regarding the evils of capitalism. It should and can be exposed as a system that negates the most basic of human values, a system that prioritizes selfishness and aggression, a system that empties democracy of any genuine content. It is precisely the growing evidence of the ugliness of the capitalist system that evokes discussion of its alternatives.Analytically, the case for socialism must be made in the following way.We are fully cognizant of the fact that the socialist experiment developed through the October 1917 Revolution did not succeed. Our first step is to explain the highly specific nature of that experiment and how the overwhelming factors attending the revolution and its aftermath were not conducive to its success.
[The discussion of how and why the revolution failed to establish a permanently viable socialist state is pertinent only to the degree that it is probable that further attempts to establish a socialist society will suffer from the same kind of objective limitations and hostile environment. Nothing could be less productive than to insist that the study of the failure of the Soviet experiment will generate a newer, better and safer path to socialism].
What has to be re-established is the tendency of capitalism to be less and less satisfactory for greater and greater sections of the world’s population. This being the case, the people must invoke their right to revolt and to establish a new form of society that would deny the exploiting circles their access to the means of repression. Given the highly socialized nature, and the advanced state of technology of production, the problem of socialism is basically different than what faced the Bolsheviks. The message is that despite the fact that socialism has failed once, this does not mean that it must fail again.
In short, the failure of communism [socialism] does not, aside from psychological considerations, block the path to mass action for socialism, based first and foremost on the social control of the means of production. In order to pave the way for such action we must state and reiterate that the preceding failure of socialism in not, in any logical sense, a reason to believe that socialism cannot succeed in new, altered conditions.
Psychological Difficulties – Analytical Truth
I think that we have to convince ourselves that this is true before we will be able to carry this message forward. Our own doubts in this respect stem from a series of historically determined mistakes that characterized our own attitude to the socialist experiment. Indeed, these can be seen as lessons to be remembered in the heat of future battles.
1. We confused a highly specific and therefore tentative breakthrough against capitalism with the expression of the iron law historical determinacy.2. In the name of advocacy and solidarity, we surrendered independent judgment and analysis.
It is incumbent on us to summarize our mistakes and clear the path for new thinking and action. We must convince ourselves again that socialism is the only genuine alternative to the present regime and we must begin to add this dimension to our current struggles. With all the pain and sorrow involved in summarizing the world wide defeat in the first round of the fight for socialism, there are no real reasons for not returning to the deepest conviction that socialism and only socialism offers a serious life-preserving alternative to capitalism. This happens to be truer today than it ever was.