Prospects for Socialism
There is no disputing the fact that there is virtually no support for socialism at the moment. We don't even have the remnants of a socialist movement and the ideas that would be needed by such a movement are either long forgotten or heavily corrupted. This 'forgetting' and corrupting is the handy work of what is laughingly called the 'Left'. A better term is 'pseudo left'.
These people really are quite reactionary. Their worst feature is the defence of economic nationalism and Third World backwardness and barbarism, all in the name of 'anti-imperialism'. Most of them also share many views with the greens whose opposition to capitalism is moe feudal than socialist. Unlike socialists who want to build on the basis of the possibilities created by modern capitalist society, greens want us to go backwards. They are hostile to modern science, overstate environmental risks and deny the possibility of global prosperity based on scientific and technological progress. In other words they deny the very conditions for world socialism.
Also the pseudo left discredits socialism by its rabid defence of statism against neo-liberalism. Apparently state capitalism, corporatism and government patronage are embryonic forms of socialism! Virtually the only time socialism gets a mention is when they are capitulating to its detractors. This capitulation is called 'market socialism', an oxymoron if there ever was one. It makes about as much sense as 'capitalist socialism'.
For most pseudo leftists even 'market socialism' would be a bit radical. For them, being 'socialist' simply means breast beating about the ills of capitalism. And even this isn't done right, because the "ills" are seen from a semi-feudal or petty bourgeois perspective. "Oh, those nasty multinationals! Give me back my corner store! Oh, for the good old days!"
So, that's the bad news. What about the good news?
Although the journey is bound to be protracted and tortuous, in the long run it is ultimately all good news because we have history on our side. In other words there are developments within capitalism that make that system less viable and socialism more so.
Economic and social development is creating the conditions that socialism needs. While these conditions are far from developed in Third World countries, they are increasingly present in the advanced capitalist countries of North America, Western Europe, East Asia and Australasia.
Firstly, equality no longer means shared poverty, ignorance and toil. The economy has developed to such a stage where everybody can have a high material and cultural standard of living, be free from toil and have plenty of free time. You don't need more than an average share of these things to be able to partake in most of what life has to offer.
This is very important because if a significant number of people aspire to being members of a privileged elite, socialist revolution is made more difficult. This includes difficulty in initially establishing a socialist government and in the subsequence process of change.
Of course, there will always still be some benefits from having more than the average of these things, but these benefits are diminishing as the average improves. Anything extra tends to be more in the realm of prestige goods and extravagance rather than in meeting real needs. Also the benefits of having more than your share have to be weighed against the benefits of living in a socialist society.
Secondly, the rank and file are acquiring the abilities they need to do without an elite. This is due to an number of factors:
- Better general levels of education and training. Fifty years ago only a small minority finished high school while a tiny handful went to university. Now it is the norm to finish high school (over 70%) and between one fifth and a quarter get a degree.
- People are engaging in labor that has greater mental and conceptual content. About half of jobs are now of the less routine type, usually requiring some level of post school training. This includes teachers, paramedical professions, computer workers, accountants and so on. Even the crappy jobs are a bit more demanding than the old fetch and carry jobs. Literacy and numeracy is more important and the jobs tend to require more human interaction whereas in the past it was not uncommon for talk to be forbidden during working hours.
- Virtually everybody now has extensive access to cultural and intellectual resources (even if they don't always use them) and the diverse experiences of living in a modern society.
As workers acquire greater abilities and take on jobs that require them to think and to take on responsibilities, they are going to find the constraints of capitalist oppression increasing intolerable.
Another important factor that is bound to ultimately undermine people's acceptance of capitalism is the fact that this system is an increasing obstacle to economic progress. (This is discussed in more detail in the FAQ's.)
In summary, the net benefits of being privileged are declining while the ability of the exploited to run things without exploiters is increasing and their tolerance of oppression diminishing.
Of course, these conditions don't make revolution happen by itself. There is nothing automatic about it. People have to decide to make the change. However, in a sense there is still something close to inevitable about the process. People cannot stare blindly at the increasingly obvious for ever. And a socialist transformation of society only has to fully succeed once irrespective of previous periods of dormancy or utter defeat. Capitalism on the other hand can have many periods of success but only needs to be resoundingly defeated once for it to be swept from the field permanently.
Another thing in our favor is that a future socialist movement should have less trouble with reformism than the old movement had. In times of political crisis, it is the enemy within that diverts people from revolution.
Reformism has already undergone a considerable decline and hopefully this will continue. This weakness stems from the fact that it is hard to get excited about marginal changes to welfare programs or to how the government goes about its business. In the past this was very different. There were many reforms to get exited about - universal suffrage, the introduction of old age pensions, workers compensation, union rights, fighting to raise wages above starvation levels, the basic welfare safety net, ending racial and gender discrimination, and so on. It was also possible to paint socialism as a reform that could develop under capitalism - state ownership, economic progress and more equal distribution - rather than as a fundamental rupture with the existing order. The line between revolution and reform became very blurred, and reform offered an immediately more promising basis to build a movement than radical rhetoric.
That statist vision has lost so much of its shine that even the militant opponents of economic liberalism don't have the gumption to call for wholesale nationalisation, they just whine about attacks on existing statist arrangements. Their vision splendid is a return to the 1950s. This pseudo left also resents the way that the major labor and social democratic parties 'betray' reformism and think they are being very radical in militantly upholding it.
The pseudos and the greens should pose little problem for a new movement once it has found its feet. While the pseudo left is a lingering sickness that discredits socialism and revolution, it is tiny, shrinking and ineffectual. And the greens have seen their best days. While they have successfully spread their pall of doom and made it part of the popular consciousness, they have no credible alternative and are mainly sustained by electoral niche politics and the lifestyle needs of a section of the middle class.
So what about the chances of a modest socialist movement emerging from the dust? A big problem is achieving critical mass and this is where the Net can be important. If you only have a handful of people expressing certain interesting ideas it does not get very far. However, if the handful is just a tad bigger, it triggers an explosion. The key thing, of course, is having the interesting ideas that strike a chord. You may not take the world by storm but you should attract a small minority who, for various reason, are amenable to such ideas.
A slight resurgence could also be helped by the business cycle going nasty. At the moment, the good times keep rolling on. A dramatic change in that department would provide more fertile soil.