Friday, June 24, 2011

Diary 6/24/11: On "Socialism: what it is"

"Socialism will not appear on the historical scene through a modernization of present society, but through a revolutionary transformation of its dominant structures"

Jose Ramon Balaguer

Socialism: What it is ....A socialist society in the United States would utilize the huge wealth and productive capability that exists, not to benefit a few rich people, but to provide a decent life for all, with a better future for generations to come..... ....As capitalism shows signs of potential collapse, more voices express interest in the socialist alternative.
excerpts from

Is socialism an alternative to capitalism?
By what means can a socialist society be built in the United States?
Can it be built in the U.S. and have no relation to struggles around the world?

The WW article "What socialism is" does a good job describing the 20th century social conquests of workers and their oppressed allies in Russia, Cuba, and the DPRK. It also envisions what Marxists have called a "socialist order of plenty" after the overthrow of capitalist social relations in the U.S. The article plays an important role in putting a discussion of socialism on the agenda today, and recalling to us that socialism was built by millions, not by particular leaders or geniuses or social planners.

It is not our position that every socialist newspaper article be a programmatic manifesto crossing every t and dotting every i in a world program of socialist revolution. Those kinds of documents are all too common, and are today typically the product of groups and individuals very far away indeed from leading our class in contending for power.

Socialism may subjectively appear to be an alternative to capitalism, but only in an abstract and impressionistic way. To workers today in the U.S., interest in socialism is a register of a subjective, albeit progressive "throw the bums out" mentality to the extent that it registers any consciousness at all. The power of articles like "Socialism: what it is" lies in speaking concretely about the actual facts of socialism in the 20th century, and indicating concretely the many ways in which everyday struggles can form a bridge to class consciousness if Marxists within the labor movement are blood and bone of these struggles, and point them in a class struggle direction.

Socialism is not simply full employment, the uprooting of racism and sexism, and cradle-to-grave social security, though socialism is all those things as well. Cuban leader Jose Ramon Balaguer sums it up better than I can below.

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'We reaffirm that socialism is a necessity' [excerpts]


We are witnessing a crisis in the world capitalist system. This is expressed in the long-term tendency toward lower rates of economic growth, as well as in sharpening business cycles that have included steep slumps in the mid-1970s and at the opening of the 1980s and of the 1990s. Low rates of investment, generalized indebtedness, socially unsustainable rates of unemployment, and a decline in the rate of profit are just a few of the symptoms of the delicate health of the system.

Nor should we forget the volatility and instability represented by enormous masses of money capital moving erratically, without any real regulation, and with enormous destructive capacity, able to throw national economies and governments into crisis in a matter of hours. The dizzying separation of the mass of speculative capital from actual production, as an expression of the parasitic nature of capitalism, does have limits.

Our Latin American and Caribbean region, along with Africa and a part of Asia, has, to an extreme degree, become marginalized in relation to the dynamics of the world economy and to a presence in the global functioning of the system. In practice, our place in that world system is limited to the simple payment of debt service to the international private banking system.

Neoliberal policies, stamped with the emblem of the International Monetary Fund and its formulas, have undoubtedly played a role in creating this grim picture of insecurity and inequality. Almost the entire underdeveloped world has been homogenized through total privatization and lowering of trade barriers at any price--as if these were the sole possible formulas for economic success. Nonetheless, those who give speeches exalting and proposing such formulas from the platforms of government, academic, business, and international agencies have carefully taken their distance from them in practice.

This intellectual and political capitulation has relegated to oblivion efforts to work out theories and policies of development conceived from the point of view of the underdeveloped countries and suited to them. For the Third World, the consequences of this capitulation are impossible to quantify. The tragedy, however, is plain to see: there is an overabundance of poverty, hunger, and injustice in the wake of privatization and the "dog-eat-dog" nature of the perfect market.

Today we witness an abysmal gap between wealth and poverty. This is true not only between the developed and underdeveloped countries, but also in niches of the Third World that are growing up inside all the economically developed countries, niches that are enlarged, among other things, by a migration of the poor. Efforts are being made to check this migration by means of racism, xenophobia, and repression, in other words by throwing gasoline on the flames.

In 1960 the richest 20 percent of the world's population had an income thirty times greater than the poorest 20 percent. Today the richest 20 percent have an income sixty times higher. This comparison measures the distribution of income between developed and underdeveloped countries, but if one considers the unequal distribution within the various countries, then the richest 20 percent have an income at least one hundred fifty times greater than the poorest 20 percent.

Another way of expressing this tragedy is that the richest 20 percent receive 82.7 percent of the world's total income, while the poorest 20 percent receive 1.4 percent.

In Latin America, which is the laboratory of choice for neoliberal policy, 84 million people are indigent, a degree of poverty difficult to overcome. In other words, one out of every five persons in Latin America is statistically classified as indigent--even after some fifteen years of sustained application of neoliberalism, which, it was claimed, would eliminate the inefficiency of the state and advance development by unleashing the uncontrolled market and private initiative.

In the present international conditions, we reaffirm that socialism is a necessity. Not only is it the logical result of the development of the productive forces on an international scale; it is the only alternative to guarantee the survival of humanity. The continual sharpening of global problems today provides more and greater proof than any other argument of the historic limitations of capitalism.

Conflict between capital and labor

It is already clear that these global problems, along with domestic class contradictions, are weighty factors on a world scale pushing forward the struggle for a new social order. The contradiction between capital and labor is increasingly being internationalized, requiring even more that socialism, as well, broaden its scope beyond national borders and contradictions, and confirming the relevance of that classical slogan of Marxism: "Workers of all countries, unite!" Far from being outdated, that slogan could be extended, drawing in other social sectors and movements that are subjected to the barbarity of capital.

For us, socialism is the only possible, the only valid option for placing social relations on a moral footing. We cannot relax our efforts to demonstrate--on a theoretical level, and on a practical level--its clear superiority in shaping the highest of human values: justice, equality, fairness, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, national sovereignty, solidarity.

This socialist society continues to be a clear alternative not only to capitalism, but also to the failed experiences of Eastern Europe and the USSR. The errors, deviations, and excesses that took place there under the name of "actually existing socialism," together with the exaggerations of them by the transnational media, have debased, in an extreme way, the image of socialism in the consciousness of workers and the oppressed of the world.

It is necessary to project a new, fresh image of socialism, based on a society full of justice and freedom. Taking into consideration the specifics of each situation, such a society entails an appropriate relation between plan and market, equality and efficiency, centralism and democracy, instilling in workers a true sense of ownership and respect for the means of production. It respects differences and takes them into account; it pays attention to the natural environment; and it is the genuine expression of popular will.

In sum, it should be what Comrade Fidel emphasized when he declared: "For me socialism is a total change in the lives of the people, the establishment of new values, of a new culture. This change has to be based fundamentally on solidarity between human beings, and not selfishness and individualism."

Socialism will not appear on the historical scene through a modernization of present society, but through a revolutionary transformation of its dominant structures. In this sense, the question of the seizure of power remains a basic requirement, although it may take on different forms under the conditions of each country or region of the world.
Ecerpts from "Socialism: A Viable Option," a speech by José Ramón Balaguer, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, at an international workshop on "Socialism on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century," held in Havana October 21-23, 1997. The entire speech is available in New International No. 11. Copyright ©1998 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.

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