To more and more people in the world, it is abundantly clear that the capitalist system doesn’t work. At least not for the majority. The system that generates war after war, that allows millions in the U.S. to be unemployed, millions more to go without health care, while fomenting racism, sexism, and anti-lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer bigotry, and offering no future to the next generation is a disaster for the workers and oppressed people inside the U.S. and worse yet for the rest of the world.
In this time of crisis, as capitalism shows its true face, many are thinking and talking about the alternative system — socialism.
It is important to point out that there are many political parties around the world, especially outside the United States, whose name is “Socialist Party,” although they may have no relationship at all to socialism as defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or as developed in the Soviet Union starting in 1917 or in the People’s Republic of China or in Cuba.
The rightist sections of the media have made a big deal out of the fact that Dominque Strauss-Kahn is part of the political party in France called the “Socialist Party” (PS) since its founding in 1969. DSK, as he is known, is facing charges in New York that he raped a housekeeper in a luxury hotel where he was staying. He was, until his recent resignation, the head of the capitalist International Monetary Fund — which brutalizes the working class, indeed entire countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and now even those in Europe.
DSK is not a socialist, but a quintessential capitalist, who possessed personal wealth, the power that comes from being the director of a major imperialist financial institution, and the possibility of being elected president of France on the PS ticket. The PS’s only connection to real socialism is historical, as it stemmed from parties that were members of the part of the socialist movement known as social democracy.
These social democratic parties — the PS in France, the Social Democratic Party in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Labor Party in Britain, for example — sometimes ran administrations governing these countries after 1945. Sometimes they even delivered social benefits to the European workers. But they ran these administrations on behalf of the capitalist system and the capitalist rulers, never challenging their source of power.
Today these parties don’t even pretend to advocate socialism. They are little more than an alternative to center-right governments, much as the Democratic Party in the U.S. is an alternative to the Republican Party. Thus the governments of Portugal, Spain and Greece, although socialist in name, are all imposing austerity programs on the workers of their respective countries.
Example of social democracy Labor government
There are historical examples of social democratic parties in office offering concessions to the working class, but these too are not real socialism. For example, in 1945 after World War II, much of Britain had been destroyed by Nazi bombs. In order to rebuild the economy, the Labor Party government took control of important sections of the economy.
Soon the Labor government administered mining, trains, electricity, radio, television and numerous other important parts of the British economy. But the government that took control of these economic institutions and directed them had bought them from their capitalist owners. It compensated the owners, even though many of these firms were not producing profits.
A national health care service was created, but it was always subject to cuts and underfunding. Numerous protests and strikes were held by the workers in order to keep government-owned hospitals open and well funded.
Then in the 1980s an openly right-wing government reversed many of the “nationalizations.” The Margaret Thatcher administration sold the various industries rebuilt with workers’ tax money to private corporations — and sold them cheap. The wealth of the billionaire class had never lost power, and it was happy to buy back the now profitable industries from a government they, not the public, controlled all along.
Regarding foreign policy, Labor governments in 1950 joined the U.S. war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in 1999 in the bombing of Yugoslavia, in 2001 the invasion of Afghanistan and in 2003 the invasion of Iraq. The social democratic parties in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and other imperialist countries have also participated in imperialist wars. They are “socialist” in name alone.
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