What is Socialism?
Introduction to the 2017 edition
From the United States to Syria, capitalism is in a disastrous political crisis. This crisis stems from several developments:
- The global economic crisis. There is no return to a national economy, and the global capitalist economy has in reality never recovered from the crisis of 2007. That crisis is just eating away under the surface, prepared to burst to the surface again at any time. And even during this “recovery” in the richest economy in the world – the US – things have hardly improved for the great majority, while young people are increasingly insecure as to their future.
- The shifting world balance of forces. For decades, the world was stabilized (in its own way) by the rivalry between US capitalism and the Soviet Union. It was called a “bi-polar world.” For a few decades after the Soviet Union collapsed, US capitalism dominated with few challenges. (It used that domination to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, which led to a different crisis.) Now, that too is collapsing, but no new world capitalist order is taking its place. As a result, we are seeing increasing chaos and turmoil. And the fact is, the capitalist system cannot provide an alternative — except through a devastating new world war, which would threaten to wipe out human life on Earth.
The historically unprecedented situation in the US, with the Trump presidency, is a sign of this crisis. But it is also a sign of another crisis: The absence of a mass working class movement, a socialist movement. In part that springs from the role of the union leadership, as well as from other factors. (See this pamphlet on the unions.) As a result of this absence, some workers in the US are falling prey to increased racism, sexism, xenophobia and other forms of bigotry, all of which have always existed and will always exist under capitalism in the US.
Nor is this crisis confined to the United States. From Britain (with the “Brexit” vote) to the rest of Europe (where we are seeing the rise of forces similar to Trump) to Russia (where Putin bases himself on chauvinism and racism)… From Syria (where we are seeing a bloody sectarian war) to Myanmar (where the Rohingya minority are under increasing attack), racism, sectarianism and other forms of bigotry are on the rise. This is just a warning of what capitalism holds in store for us.
At the same time, however, there is an unprecedented interest in socialism, especially among young people. A Pew Poll in 2011 revealed that of young adults, 49% had a positive view of socialism while only 46% had a positive view of capitalism (less than the 47% who had a negative view of capitalism). But what, exactly, is socialism? Bernie Sanders claims that countries like Sweden and Denmark are socialist. Is that true? Here, we put forward the classic, Marxist, explanation. (One note: In this pamphlet, we talk about how a “democratic socialist” society would be run. As is clear from the context, this has nothing to do with what various liberals, including Bernie Sanders, mean by “democratic socialism”. It is just meant as a contrast to, for example, bureaucratic domination over society like in the old Soviet Union. Had this pamphlet been written more recently, since Sanders gave that term such notoriety, we would have used a different term.)
Read online here: online edition, what is socialism
Categories: Marxist theory