There has been much media talk about “socialism” since the 2008 financial near-meltdown.
From the left, Lawrence O’Donnell, the liberal MSNBC commentator who has replaced Keith Olbermann, calls himself a “socialist.” Film-maker Michael Moore’s film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” the ninth-top-grossing documentary in history, tears capitalism apart, but stops far short of describing real socialist change.
From the far right, Glenn Beck, due to be removed from his Fox News pulpit later this summer, has made a career of falsely accusing centrist President Barack Obama of being a “socialist,” “Marxist” and “Maoist,” without defining any of these terms.
But what is socialism in reality? In an earlier article, we wrote about what socialist isn’t. In this one we’ll briefly describe what it is.
In a socialist society, the “commanding heights of the economy” or the “major means of production” -- banks, factories, businesses, health care, education, natural resources -- are the collective property of the workers. The handful of people -- the small class of wealthy individuals -- who now own them privately are no longer allowed to control them nor appropriate the wealth that the workers produce. Rather, these things become the common property of the vast majority of the population. They are used to serve human needs instead of profits.
Socialist revolutions, yesterday and today
In 1917 there was a socialist revolution in Russia. The organizations that were the basis for the new society were called “soviets,” the Russian word for “councils.” Lenin, the leader of the party that directed this great revolution, defined the soviets as “Councils of Worker’s and Soldier’s Deputies.” These bodies directed the new state power that replaced the old czarist-capitalist state.
With the support of this new state, Russian workers seized control of their factories. The vast natural resources of the country, such as the mines and oil wells, became common property as well.
With the workers and peasants as the rulers, Russia and other Soviet republics of what had been a czarist empire became the Soviet Union, which was transformed over several decades into a newly industrialized country. Illiteracy was abolished by an educational system that served the people. Health care was available free to all in hospitals run not for profit but owned collectively.
When German imperialism invaded in 1941, the Soviet Union defeated it and liberated half of Europe from fascism. The Soviet Union launched the first spacecraft, Sputnik, into orbit in 1957 and achieved other great achievements in science. While on the path to constructing socialism, the Soviet Union provided enormous aid to the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in their struggle against domination by Western imperialists.
This was all done due to the change in property relations. With no capitalist class to dictate government policy and promote social inequality and discrimination against women, gays and oppressed nationalities, the kind of solidarity, unity and joint effort needed to carry these things out could be achieved.
Cuba had a socialist revolution as well in 1959. The revolution began as a popular armed revolt against a U.S.-sponsored dictator, but after expelling him, it could not liberate itself from imperialist rule without taking the country’s sugar and fruit plantations, cigar factories and other means of production under public control. With aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba began to build toward a socialist society with the goal of full employment and managed to construct excellent education and healthcare systems at no cost to individuals.
The Cubans too had a new state, with an army rooted in the revolutionary guerrilla movement supplemented by Committees for Defense of the Revolution, community organizations where workers could enforce popular defense of the system against attacks from U.S. imperialism and any internal enemies.
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a popular armed revolt at the end of World War II and the Japanese occupation made the people the owners and operators of the economy. The DPRK has successfully resisted U.S. domination for over half a century and has provided universal literacy and housing for the population. By taking steps toward socialism, the DPRK has defended itself and made some gains despite existing in a constant state of siege, having gone through a horrendous imperialism war in 1950-53 and facing continuing threats from the heavily armed, U.S.-occupied capitalist south Korea.
Envisioning socialism in the U.S.
Socialism in the United States, as everywhere else, will mean that the private property that was grabbed up by Wall Street and the corporations in the form of banks, oil wells, businesses and service industries like health insurance companies will become the property of all the workers -- that's 90-plus percent of the people.
Undoubtedly any struggle for socialist changes will involve organizing to combat racism, sexism, anti-lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer bigotry and other forms of oppression. Under socialist workers' state power, the economy and society will no longer be led by those who have a material interest in maintaining divisions in the working class or of paying certain sections of the working class even less than others.
Most socialist societies have started from a place of extreme underdevelopment. But in the modern United States there is already huge material abundance. But this abundance is controlled by a wealthy, elite few, and huge poverty persists amid great wealth.
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. Workers World Party has as its main task the establishment of a socialist U.S. WWP fights against imperialist wars, for full employment and an end to all forms of oppression, all with the goal of ending capitalism and replacing it with socialism.
Those who wish to engage in the hard, difficult, yet glorious revolutionary struggle to abolish capitalism and fight for a socialist future should get in touch with WWP. We call on all those who wish to engage in this historic effort to join us!
Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.