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John Passant

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What do I mean by socialism?

There was a question on reddit socialism about the political philosophies of the individuals on the site.

I think the Socialist Alternative website with its General Principles in their ‘What we stand for section’ is a pretty good starting point for a discussion of what socialism is.

General principles

Socialism = workers’ power

Throughout the world, people are divided into two main classes. There is a tiny number who reap huge profits, through their control of private and public industry. And there is the vast majority who bear the brunt of a system in which profits are more important than human lives.

We stand for production for human need not for profit. Workers create all the wealth in society but have no control over its production or distribution. Capitalism cannot meet the needs of ordinary people because it is based on the continual exploitation of workers by the capitalist class for profit.

So workers should have control over what happens to the wealth created. The working class is the only revolutionary class. Even in less developed countries, where the workers are not as yet a majority of the population, only the working class can lead the struggle for socialism.

We agree with Karl Marx that socialism is about working class self-emancipation. Socialist revolution is not the act of an elite seizing power, but of the mass of working people democratically organising society based on workers’ councils elected in the workplaces.

The society that existed in Russia after Stalin’s rise to power was not socialist. Nor are those in China, Cuba or Vietnam. Such regimes, which are merely a statised version of capitalism, are essentially no different from the West. Just as here, a small minority benefits from the labour of the majority. Whether that minority control is exercised through the state, private corporations, or a combination of the two, makes no difference to the fundamental dynamic of the system.

We support workers’ revolutions to overthrow the remaining Stalinist states in, for example, China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba. We support the replacement of these bureaucratic regimes, not with other forms of capitalism, but with genuine workers’ governments based on workers’ councils.

Revolution not reform

In countries like Australia, our rulers say they support democracy. Yet most people have only a minimal say in what goes on. We elect a government every three years or so, but in between, we have almost no control over what it does. More importantly, the most significant decisions in society are made by unelected people. The heads of big corporations decide what products are produced, who they will employ and what those jobs will be. Socialists want a new form of democracy. We are for a society in which ordinary people control every aspect of life, a democracy that’s economic as well as political.

There is no parliamentary road to socialism. Bitter experience has shown that mere tinkering with our society will not end oppression or exploitation. The attempts of parties like the ALP and the Greens in Australia to reform capitalism have always ended in disappointment.

The capitalist class controls the state, i.e. the army, the courts, the police and the parliament. The capitalist state resists attempts to reform the system and meets challenges to its power with violence. For workers and the oppressed to liberate themselves, revolution is necessary to overthrow this rotten system and to create a new one.

A successful revolution will involve workers taking control of their workplaces, dismantling existing state institutions (parliaments, courts, the armed forces and police) and replacing them with an entirely new state based on genuinely democratic control by the working class. Such a revolution will not be achieved by a coup or the heroic efforts of a minority. We are not anarchists, who argue against all states – even one democratically controlled by the working class. Nor do we support terrorism, guerillaism, or any variant of so called “revolutionary” politics that conceives social change as coming through the actions of anything other than the conscious self-activity of the mass of workers.

Internationalism and anti-imperialism

Capitalism is an international system of exploitation. Replacing it must also be an international effort. The defeat of the 1917 Russian revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy shows that socialism cannot be built in a single country; socialist revolutions must be spread if they are to survive. Workers around the world, from Australia, to South Korea, to Iraq, have more in common with each other, than they do with the governments and capitalists of their own countries. We are internationalists, opposed to Australian nationalism.

Australia is not an oppressed country, but an imperialist power in its own right. We oppose imperialism and support struggles for self-determination against imperialism by oppressed nations, national minorities and indigenous peoples all over the world.

Against oppression

We oppose all forms of racism, sexism and homophobia. We recognise Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as the first occupants of Australia and support their struggles for land rights and liberation. We oppose immigration controls.

The fight for freedom from exploitation and freedom from all forms of oppression includes the liberation of lesbians gay men, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, an end to sexism, and reforms to bring about the full equality of women. We support free abortion on demand, the right to full child care, and are against all forms of sexist discrimination.

All these forms of oppression are used to divide the working class. Combating them is an essential part of building a united working class struggle that can create a socialist society. Only a socialist revolution can bring about the genuine liberation of the oppressed.

The revolutionary party

Socialist Alternative stands for building a revolutionary organisation that can participate in mass struggles, draw lessons from past victories and defeats and convince the working class of the way forward to socialism. Such a revolutionary party must be built in opposition to reformist parties like the ALP and organise the most advanced revolutionary workers.

Socialist Alternative is not now that party. We aim to build such a party, democratic, participatory and active, out of the struggles that workers, students and oppressed groups are waging today. History shows that revolutions are inevitable. The question is whether they will succeed, and that depends on the level of political clarity and organisation. This is why building an organisation around clear, revolutionary Marxist politics is so vital today.



Comment from Rigby Taylor
Time July 16, 2012 at 8:15 am

This manifesto is too divisive. All socialist revolutions end with the creation of another ruling elite, as bad as the one it replaced. A just society is only possible if everyone is treated equally, and that includes clever entrepreneurs. Mixed economies seem the best, as in New Zealand for about 20 years after WWII. then it deteriorated under the influence of the USA to become yet another capitalist nightmare.
However, if we look objectively at all life on earth, how it evolved and the means required to prevent species extinction, then it is clear that the search for a just society is a form of insanity. Nature isn’t either just or fair, it simply is. We’re racing off to extinction through overbreeding and environmental destruction and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s the nature of humans and all life. Individuals can only make a safe ‘nest’ for themselves and hope they avoid the worst of the mess.

Comment from jack hartyn
Time July 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm

John links socialism to the “working class”as though socialism is the sole creation of this so called ” working class”. If this assumption be correct then let us define the term “working class” so loosely applied.
methinks the working class John refers to is the 19th and early 20th century definition, the labouring classes, ill fed, poorly educated,working long hours under poor working conditions, working by use of their body muscles rather than their brains, exploited by uncrupulous employers.
However today a quite different working scene, some still working by their muscle usage making far more money than those working by brain power.
So the question remains just who is working class? Does it include everyone who works for an employer and receives a weekly wage thus excluding the vast army of sub-contractors who in the past were believed to be solidly working class but who today are more likely to vote Liberal, live in mac mansions, send their offspring to private schools,
In this modern world it is becoming very difficult to define who is working class and who is not, similarly it is again very difficult to define exactly who is a socialist and exactly what socialism stands for.

Comment from John
Time July 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I think all those who sell their labour power to survive, and who have little control over their work, are working class.

Comment from dl
Time July 17, 2012 at 5:00 am

“ill fed, poorly educated,working long hours under poor working conditions, working by use of their body muscles rather than their brains, exploited by uncrupulous employers.” Jack, apart from the last part about working long hours, which is indeed true: the amount of Hours Worked per Person, and especially for people who are part of the working class ‘has’ seen a progressive decline in Australia, and even Vis-a-vis more highly paid workers, and I’d say that nowadays, there is rather a problem with a ‘lack’ of appropriate, well paying jobs for the working class; most of your statement is just plain incorrect.

As far as I can see, most people in the working class still usually work with their muscles, or perform mind-numbingly menial clerical work, in conditions that are almost always inferior to those of their bosses. Also, given the large correlation rates between SES, obesity rates, health outcomes and educational performance, there’s certainly a justification in saying that they are still poorly educated and ill-fed.
The only difference is that now that a rising tide of wealth has lifted all of the boats up to a point where tensions of these issues have been assuaged.

Your correct in questioning what defines a member of the ‘working class’ though. I’d say that it’s still defined by culture, just think of the jokes that are still cracked about ‘Bogans,’ the opprobrium that’s still heaped on out of control working -class ‘yoofs’ or watch an episode, any episode, of ‘T-tonight’ or ‘A current affair;’ where you can see that there is indeed still a low-SES group of people, who are often maligned by higher society.

Comment from jack hartyn
Time July 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Possibly dl from your comments and not forgetting john passants beliefs,your definition of the working class is the group of manual workers at the lower end of the pay scale. Today most of these unfortunates are recent migrants to Australia mainly from third world countries, who have no history or even a conception of socialism, or of the conception of banding together to demand a better wage and fairer conditions. These people seem to accept their fate as the will of god and probably vote Liberal.

Comment from dl
Time July 17, 2012 at 6:25 pm

With all due respect Jack, that’s news to me wrt immigrants ‘not having any history or conception of socialism.’ Heck, a large fraction of the Non-Northern European immigrants that come to Australia do so from countries that are currently are (China) or have previously (India) been governed by Communist/Socialist political parties.

As for what exactly defined ‘the working class;’ I’ll admit that the Marxist definition of (crudely worded) “those who don’t own the means of production, and are forced to sell their labor power in return for wages” is a bit redundant. But is there a widely agreed upon definition of what constitutes the working class?? Not that I’ve heard of.

Comment from sandi cirak
Time July 17, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Main problem with Marx vision of future society and all socialists which accepted his idea is that he failed to understand human nature and wrongly understood primitive societies , primitive communism. Human are still primates and they needing a leader to lead them, take responsibility and the rest will follow them. Marx socialism requires grate involvement of every individual in making decisions that concerned them, at work, at local and general politics, but majority of people do not want that. They prefer to have leaders who will do that for them. Marx should understand that. He had examples of Napoleon, after French revolution, he witnessed popularity of Garibaldi in his time. And socialist political movement with so many grate intellectuals always required strong leaders. And there were Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Tito, and Castro … and on the other side Hitler, Mussolini.. or De Gaul, Churchill, D. Roosevelt. Kennedy, Reagan , Gandhi, Naser ….. Why now in twenty first century people are attracted by and still are looking for strong leaders Putin in Russia or at home, Gillard or Rudd. Why is so important who is the leader? If you have a case where opportunity is given to all people to be involved in making decisions at the end, after some time, leaders with highest skills of manipulation will take over the democratic process and self-government of majority will became a charade.

Comment from jack hartyn
Time July 18, 2012 at 1:37 am

Dear dl: There are many more recent migrants from third world countries in Australia than Chinese, Indians I agree with your numbers.
However, Indian Central Governments have never been communist or even what one could say very socialistic, certain Indian State governments have a communist majority, but realistically the majority of the Indian working class( if one can call them that) are not politically organised, have a high rate of illiteracy, are too much concerned with earning their daily bread to worry themselves with socialism. I stand by my last comments.

Comment from John Passant
Time July 18, 2012 at 8:58 am

In September last year and February/March this year 100 million Indian workers went on strike; the biggest general strikes in history.

Comment from John
Time July 18, 2012 at 11:10 am

Human nature changes depending on the society in which one lives and the way it is organised to satisfy basic human needs. Why and how can an elite form if the institutions of democratic governance are won in struggle by the working class, the vast majority of society in the developed world and the majority in the world?

Comment from dl
Time July 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

jack hartyn; Fair enough. I’m fully aware of the fact that there are migrants from other non-western countries that aren’t either Indian or Chinese, and I don’t feel that I implied anything of the sort in my last comment. I only gave 2 examples of countries from which we received a lot (yet only a large minority) of migrants from less developed countries than Australia, that may be familiar with different streams of socialist thought.

From a purist perspective, India was never part of the ‘Communist Bloc’ of countries, though it has at times plotted an explicit and distinctly Socialistic course of development for itself, and there is a proviso in the Countries’ constitution to this effect.

Not withstanding the fact that there is a very well known and still extant Maoist insurgency occuring in the Northeastern part of India (read: Naxalites,) undeveloped countries with the level of problems that India have have historically been the ‘Most’ likely to have a fully Communist party come to power. For example, his has recently come to fruition in the neighboring nation of Nepal. Whether these parties actually govern their countries in accordance with Marxist principles (they very often don’t) is another matter altogether.

But as for the state of the Indian working class at the moment, much of what you say is true, and some of the abysmal poverty that can exists there often exceeds that of the worst areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. The old figure about 53% of Indian children being underweight or malnourished as of several years ago comes to mind. Also, their most recent PISA scores DO corroborate your assertion about the illiteracy rate there. Though, illiteracy probably isn’t as prevalent amongst the Urban working class communities, which socialists in the Leninist tradition believe should be the impetus or vanguard for any revolutionary movement.

Comment from jack hartyn
Time July 19, 2012 at 1:36 am

This my last comment on this particular subject.
I believe education is the answer to improving one’s quality in life. whether you be an Indian peasant or a European working man.
In wealthy countries every child born should receive an education to University level as part of the education system, no matter his or her future vocation, then and only then, will one see a distinct improvement in political thought, resulting in a very much improved egalitarian society.

Comment from dl
Time July 19, 2012 at 9:06 am

Alright then. case closed.