From the May-June 1954 issue of the Western Socialist
We are all “socialists” now. Let us witness the parade: The Churchill Tory socialists, the French Radical Socialists, the totalitarian “socialist” governments including the black, brown and red shirts, the New – Deal—Fair – Deal creeping “socialists,” the Labour Parties of Europe, the Asiatic “socialist” and “communist” governments as well as those in Africa and South America, the colonial “socialist” groups, the various alleged socialist organisations throughout the world such as the Social Democrats, Trotzkyites, the Communist parties, syndicalists, I.W.W., Socialist Labour Party and the Companion Parties for Socialism in Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand. Then there are the anarchists, Christian “socialists,” pacifists and a whole host of others. By no means have we exhausted the list of marchers in the “socialist” parade.
No wonder M. Rubel, in his dilemma: “The Uses of the Word “Socialism” in the Winter, 1954, issue of the American magazine Dissent, would prefer “to abandon the word socialism” and would substitute some other word for it that would “save the conceptual content once attached to this term.”
It is significant of the times we live in to see every strata of society and the entire gamut of conflicting and opposing interests express themselves in terms of socialism. They must in order to rally support. Even though Socialism is NOT accepted by the world, it has become recognized and established as the hope of mankind.
M. Rubel describes very well the general nature of socialism that stirs and inspires everyone: “A society from which exploitation would be banished and in which the unfolding of each individual would be the condition of the freedom of all.” This is the basic appeal of socialism as an ultimate objective which serves as a rallying cry to muster support for the various groups marching in the parade of “socialism.”
Let us suppose that some other word came into use to express the very essence of socialism, its “conceptual concept.” This new word would then be subjected to the very same difficulties. The old word “socialism” would lose its meaning and significance. The new word would become abused in the same manner as the old one. Changing the name would not solve any problem for it doesn’t come to grips with the real situation.
The views of those who, patently, are supporters of the status quo are of no interest to this discussion, even though they may be listed in the parade of socialists. But we are very much concerned with those who allege adherence to socialism. In the name of socialism, all manner of views are presented. There are those who are disappointed at the slow growth of the movement and propose immediate demands; they feel that socialism is a long way off and, in the meantime, we have immediate problems to solve, that we must face “reality” and be “practical.” Some consider reforms and government ownership as gradual steps to socialism. Some consider state capitalism (often called state socialism) as a form of socialism, if not socialism itself. Necessarily, these are efforts to administer and reform capitalism. All this leads to erroneous concepts, particularly, identifying capitalist relationships as being socialist ones. The common characteristic of these viewpoints and activities is to divorce the socialist objective from the policies that are pursued. The means become the goal and objective.
It has become the fashion of many “profound” pundits of socialism to dismiss as dogmatic and sectarian* those who realize the socialist activities must not be disassociated from the socialist objective. We see this same attitude in some of the articles in Dissent.
It is tragic to observe the net result of all these “practical” movements. Being freed from “dogmatism and sectarianism” (which really means: freed from a scientific analysis of social forces), we find what? Hosts of workers are bewildered by the deceptions and disappointments of the “socialist” as well as “communist” election “victories” in all corners of the globe. Especially, we find vast numbers disillusioned because of their false hopes in Russian state capitalism.
At no time have any of these widespread and tremendous efforts been devoted to spreading socialist consciousness. particularly damaging to socialist understanding has been the stress on nationalism and patriotism which is so foreign to the very spirit of socialism, which is a world-wide society, a social system. What a waste of such expenditures of energies! One wonders how much further the socialist movement would have been advanced without these vast diversions and had the same efforts been devoted to socialist activities.
Is it difficult to realize why the word “socialism” has lost its “conceptual content” to so many who never really grasped the socialist content?
What is Socialism?
The case for socialism is not difficult to grasp. It really is simple.
There are three phases of socialism. They are interrelated and interdependent and part of an unfolding process.
(1) Socialism first appears on the scene ideologically. It arose out of the material conditions of the earlier portion of the 19th Century. This is the birth of socialist science. It is materialistic. It recognizes that everything in existence is interrelated and in a constant process of change. (In a very real sense, it might even be said that socialism is the science that integrates all branches of science into a correlated whole.) Specifically, it indicates the general outlines and the process of social evolution and, more particularly, the nature of capitalism. It explains how the seed of the forthcoming society is fertilized within the womb of an old society.
(2) Then, socialism arises as a movement. It is not alone sufficient to understand the world. the task is to change it. Its very raison d’etre is to exert all its efforts to arouse the working class and all others to become socialists so that the vast majority becomes conscious of its interests, and proceeds to institute socialism. The socialist revolution cannot be rammed down the throats of “followers.” The socialist revolution is majority, conscious and political. It is and can only be democratic by its very inherent nature. It is not a new ruling class come to power with a subject class having to submit.
(3) Finally, in the course of its evolution, capitalism has laid the groundwork for socialism, a classless, money-less, wage-less society. Socialism is “a society from which exploitation has been banished and in which the unfolding of each individual would be the condition for the freedom of all.”
In light of all this, what constitutes being a socialist? Broadly speaking, it is one who realizes that capitalism can no longer be reformed or administered in the interest of either the working class or society; that capitalism is incapable of eliminating its inherent problems of poverty, wars, crises, etc.; and that socialism offers the solutions for the social problems besetting mankind since the material conditions and developments—with the single exception of an aroused socialist majority—are now ripe for a socialist society.
If an organization or an individual or a “victory” supports the continuation of capital-wage labour relationships by advocating or organizing to administer an improved, bettered reformed status quo (capitalism) instead of coming out for the socialist revolution (a frightening word which only means a complete social-economic change) then—it is NOT socialist.
The need for educating, agitating and organizing to keep the issues clear cannot be overemphasized. All too many liberals, radicals, intellectuals, and, what is far worse, the much greater numbers of rebellious workers resisting their sad lot in life—all these, sincere, earnest and devoted—have been washed in and out of the so-called socialist organizations and their fringes and in the entire process never did get an insight or an inkling as to what it is all about.
The simplicity of the socialist case is buried by friends and foe alike in mountains of “day-today” ISSUES so that there never is and never can be time for them to become acquainted with the science of socialism, i.e., the socialist case.
The real need today is the understanding and knowledge of socialism rather than changing the word “socialism.”
* Just because of their scientific attitude, socialists are constantly re-examining their theories in the light of historical developments and experience. So far, unfolding events have conformed and corroborated the socialist case and nothing of a fundamental nature has occurred to repudiate the general theories of the science of socialism.