Differences and conflict within Socialism
Human nature: all socialists believe that human nature is malleable and improvable, ‘plastic’ not permanent. Yet some socialists, such as Marx, believe that human nature is especially susceptible to whichever economic system it lives under. Therefore, people are likely to suffer a ‘false consciousness’ that can be cured only by revolution and authoritarian rule (the dictatorship of the proletariat). Other socialists, including revisionists like Giddens, argue that human nature can prosper under capitalism yet still appreciate the importance of core socialist beliefs such as cooperation, fraternity and collectivism.
■ Society: by definition, all socialists see our social environment (i.e. society) as the crucial determinant of our personalities. So if society can be improved (i.e. made more equal and fraternal), improvements in our attitude and behaviour will follow. Yet socialists disagree about whether society can be improved gradually. Revolutionary socialists, like Marx and the Frankfurt School, believe existing society is so ‘sick’ and so inimical to socialist values that only a revolution can provide the necessary ‘shock therapy’. Other fundamentalist socialists, like Beatrice Webb, believe society can be ‘gradually’ improved, and socialist values gradually more entrenched, by a series of reforms that gradually curtail private ownership. Revisionists like Crosland and Giddens also argue that society can be gradually improved and believe such improvements can occur alongside private property and capitalism.
The state: unlike collectivist anarchists, socialists believe a state is vital to the promotion of core socialist values. But they differ dramatically about what kind of state is needed. Marx and orthodox communists believed the existing capitalist state would have to be destroyed by revolution and replaced by a dictatorship of the proletariat, which, in turn, would ‘wither away’ to produce stateless communism. Democratic socialists like Webb and revisionists like Crosland and Giddens believed that the existing state can be used to steer society towards socialist values and that the traditional state (in capitalist society) requires constitutional reform rather than abolition.
■ The economy: fundamentalist socialists (like Marx, Luxemburg and Webb) believe socialism is incompatible with a capitalist economy based on private property. Marxists and orthodox communists believe that a new, non-capitalist economy should be created quickly, via revolution, while democratic socialists believe such a non-capitalist economy will be created gradually, via a series of elected socialist governments. By definition, revisionists believe that socialism is possible within a capitalist economy. Social democrat revisionists like Crosland believe that the economy should be mixed (i.e. allowing a degree of public ownership) and run along Keynesian lines by governments. Third Way revisionists like Giddens believe the economy should be neo-liberal, privatised and deregulated, claiming this will produce a greater tax yield and thus more public spending.
Revolutionary socialism rejects the use of democratic methods in the pursuit of a socialist society. In the 19th century, this 'revolutionary road' to socialism was popular with many on the left for
· The early development of industrialisation and capitalism brought poverty, exploitation and unemployment, which was expected to radicalise the working classes who were at the sharp end of these changes.
· As the workers were not part of the 'political nation', they had little ability to influence policies in government systems usually dominated by the landed aristocracy or bourgeoisie.
Revolutionary socialism, linked closely to Marxism, refers to a strand in socialist thought that argues that the only way to achieve socialist goals is to overthrow the existing system and replace it with something substantively different. This theory developed in the nineteenth century and took various forms. It was very appealing to many at a time when the vote was either completely denied or given to the propertyowning male. Trade unions were illegal, political parties offering representation to the working class did not exist and workers were given few rights. Revolutionary socialists argued that there was no alternative to revolution because the state itself was not a benign body but an instrument of the ruling or bourgeois class, therefore it could not be reformed but had to be smashed. Therefore they could argue that even if the vote was won, it would be a façade, a trick and a pretence to suggest that the interests of the proletariat would now be acknowledged. Revolutionary socialists use radical means to achieve radical ends. Those ends would include the total abolition of capitalism, class and private property, usually described as communism. This would lead to a redistribution of wealth, the end of class division, and absolute equality. Marx argued that this would take place after a short period called ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ where the revolution would secure itself and remove enemies before the achievement of full communism. The Russian Revolution in 1917 was the first successful socialist revolution, taking place in a country which had not experienced much industrialisation or attempts to create a more democratic system. Lenin adapted Marx’s ideas of a mass movement to create the idea of an intellectual vanguard class, which would lead the revolution on behalf of the unpoliticised peasants. In the twentieth century, revolutionary socialism inspired many all over the world to rise up against oppressors, and was particularly important in the anti-colonial movement. Socialist revolutions also took place in China and Cuba. The consequences of revolutionary socialism proved disappointing for many socialists. Marx’s idea that the state would ‘wither away’ proved wrong; in fact, very authoritarian states — replacing capitalism with a collectivised economy — often resulted in a lack of respect for civil rights and restrictions on the media and opposition groups. In order to protect the revolution from its enemies, new governments felt that they needed to be as disciplined and strong as the revolutionaries themselves had been. Today revolutionary socialism is much less relevant, linked to the failure of the USSR and the collapse of communism in 1989/90. Exam tip Understanding socialism requires a knowledge of European history . Changes in the ideology are connected to specifi c historical events, such as the growth of the franchise . Particularly useful will be the impact of the industrial revolution, the signifi cance of the Russian Revolution, the Cold War and the collapse of communism in 1989 . However, remember your essays are about political ideas; no detailed description of historical events is needed
Democratic socialism believed in ‘the inevitability of gradualism’
Democratic socialist parties would campaign peacefully and gradually win the attention and trust of voters. The majority of voters (the working class) would gradually and inevitably realise they had no vested interest in capitalism.
■ Voters would inevitably elect socialist governments. Democratic socialist governments would inevitably oversee the gradual replacement of private ownership with state ownership. Voters would gradually recognise the progress being made and inevitably re-elect democratic socialists to government. The continuous effects of democratic socialist governments would gradually and inevitably produce a socialist society.
■ The benefits of such a society would inevitably be clear to all, thus making any reversal of socialism unlikely.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the term ‘social democracy’ was associated with hostility to capitalism and even a belief in revolution. In the UK, for example, the Social Democratic Federation was formed Henry Hyndman in 1881 after he was inspired by the works of Marx. By the mid-twentieth century, however, it was regarded as the most important and relevant form of revisionist socialism, far removed from the politics of Marx and Lenin. How did this occur?
The origins of the change lie in developments after 1945 within West Germany’s social democratic party (SPD), one of western Europe’s most influential socialist groupings. At its Bad Godesberg conference in 1959, SPD revisionists (such as the future West German chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt) persuaded the party to renounce its remaining links with Marxism by embracing both modern capitalism and the post-war West German state. Yet this development also had a British dimension, for Brandt and others had been emboldened to make such arguments by the work of a young British socialist, Anthony Crosland, whose book The Future of Socialism (1956) came to be seen as the key work of post-war social democracy.
Crosland argued that the reformed capitalism prescribed by English economist John Maynard Keynes — whereby the state actively sought to ‘manage’ market forces — had guaranteed full employment and steady economic growth. Crosland contested that thanks to Keynesian economics, capitalism was no longer vulnerable to ‘peaks and troughs’ and could now be relied upon to finance a richer, fairer and more classless society.
As Crosland noted, the end of capitalism’s cyclical character meant a constant expansion of public spending, a constant expansion of state welfare and constant progress towards the ultimate socialist goal of greater equality. Social democrats were inspired by the works of theorists such as Bernstein, who argued in 1899’s Evolutionary Socialism that capitalism had matured, the worker’s position was improving and classes were able to compromise and cooperate. This meant that Marx was wrong, revolution was not inevitable and it was not desirable either. Bernstein focused on democracy as the best way to achieve socialist goals and was supportive of trade unions and other cooperative movements in their campaigns to improve workers’ rights. Social democracy combines an acceptance of capitalism with a belief in a strong interventionist state to restrict capitalism from its excesses and to provide some form of welfare state in order to create equality in society. Gradualism refers to the theory that it is not revolution that is inevitable but parliamentary socialism. Gradualists reject revolution and argue that the same or similar ends can be achieved peacefully and democratically. This form of socialism is inclusive of all classes and aims to unite the nation without class divisions. As the economic and social position of the worker improved in the later parts of the nineteenth century, he (not she — yet) also received the vote and was integrated into society through other means such as via trade unions. As a result, a political party based on socialism (such as the Labour Party in the UK) would emerge to attract the support of the new voters. Naturally, the working-class voter would be attracted to a socialist party, as with its pledges of equality it would obviously be their political home. The working-class voter would eventually form the majority of the electorate, so the socialist party would soon find itself forming the government. Once in power, the party could use the neutral state to introduce a series of measures to create a socialist society. In contrast to revolutionary socialists, social democrats do not see the state as a tool of the capitalist class. They argue that it is a neutral body, that can be moulded to fulfil any role assigned to it by those in power. Social democrats are very critical of the inequalities caused by free-market capitalism, but they also accept that capitalism is the best way of creating large amounts of wealth. The economic failures of the Soviet system, with queues for food, prove this for social democrats. So they do not reject capitalism but seek to reconcile socialism with capitalism. This involves narrowing social and economic inequalities through welfare and redistribution. The use of progressive taxation systems allows money to be taken from the wealthy and given to the poor via the welfare state. Instead of nationalisation of all businesses, social democrats favour a mixed economy, with a combination of private enterprise and state control of the ‘heights of the economy’, such as water and electricity. John Maynard Keynes, a liberal economist, had a huge influence on twentieth-century social democracy, which encouraged active state involvement in stimulating the economy
The Third Way
Since the 1980s, reformist socialist parties across the globe, but particularly in countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, have undergone a further bout of revisionism, sometimes termed ‘neo-revisionism’. In so doing, they have distanced themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, from the principles and commitments of traditional social democracy. The resulting ideological stance has been described in various ways, including ‘new’ social democracy, the ‘third way’, the ‘radical centre’, the ‘active centre’ and the ‘Neue Mitte’ (new middle). However, the ideological significance of neo-revisionism, and its relationship to traditional social democracy in particular and to socialism in general, have been shrouded in debate and confusion. This is partly because neo-revisionism has taken different forms in different countries. There have therefore been a number of contrasting neo-revisionist projects, including those associated with Tony Blair and New Labour in the UK and with Bill Clinton and the New Democrats in the USA, as well as those that have emerged in states such as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. The central thrust of neo-revisionism is nevertheless encapsulated in the notion of the third way, highlighting the idea of an alternative to both capitalism and socialism. In its modern form, the third way represents, more specifically, an alternative to old-style social democracy and neoliberalism.
Although the third way is (perhaps inherently) imprecise and subject to competing interpretations, certain characteristic third-way themes can nevertheless be identified. The first of these is the belief that socialism, at least in the form of what Anthony Giddens called the ‘cybernetic model’ of socialism (Giddens, 1994), in which the state, acting as the brain within society, is dead. This shift away from ‘top-down’ state intervention implied that there is no alternative to what the revised clause IV of the UK Labour Party’s 1995 constitution refers to as ‘a dynamic market economy’. With this goes a general acceptance of globalisation and the belief that capitalism has mutated into an ‘information society’ or ‘knowledge economy’. This general acceptance of the market over the state, and the adoption of a pro-business and pro-enterprise stance, means that the third way attempts to build on, rather than reverse, the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. The second key third-way belief is its emphasis on community and moral responsibility. Community, of course, has a long socialist heritage, drawing as it does, like fraternity and cooperation, on the idea of a social essence. While the third way accepts many of the economic theories of neoliberalism, it firmly rejects its philosophical basis and its moral and social implications. The danger of market fundamentalism is that it generates a free-for-all that undermines the moral foundations of society. Some versions of the third way, notably the so-called ‘Blair project’ in the UK, nevertheless attempted to fuse communitarian ideas with liberal ones, creating a form of communitarian liberalism which, in many ways, resembled the ‘new liberalism’ of the late nineteenth century. The cornerstone belief of communitarian liberalism is that rights and responsibilities are intrinsically bound together: all rights must be balanced against responsibilities, and vice versa.