A-Z of Socialism

P is for production

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References to production come up all the time in Marxist writing.

Capitalism is a "mode of production". Social relations are rooted in "relations of production". Capitalist economies are repeatedly convulsed by "crises of overproduction". The ruling class rule because they control the "means of production". This emphasis on the centrality of production is sometimes characterised as "economic reductionism" because it is argued that the complexity of human life must be understood through a variety of different criteria which are beyond economic considerations.

O is for oppression

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One of the common accusations thrown at Marxism by others in the movement is that it is "economistic" - it reduces everything to the economy and class relations and therefore can't deal adequately with questions of oppression.

On the surface this can seem a reasonable point.

Oppression doesn't mirror class but cuts across it. All women suffer from sexism, whether an Indonesian factory worker or a highly paid (though not as highly paid as her male counterparts) London City trader. A factory worker's experience of her oppression, however, is very different to that of a rich woman.

M is for mass strike

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"...for the first time [it] awoke feeling and class-consciousness in millions upon millions as if by an electric shock... the proletarian mass... quite suddenly and sharply came to realise how intolerable was that social and economic existence which they had patiently endured for decades in the chains of capitalism. Thereupon there began a spontaneous general shaking of and tugging at these chains."

This is Rosa Luxemburg's description in The Mass Strike of the impact of the strike wave that swept the Russian Empire in January and February 1905.

More mass strikes followed in October and December, leaving the Tsar's autocratic regime battered if not yet overthrown. In all there were 23 million strike days in Russia during 1905, far outnumbering anything seen previously in Russia or the more advanced industrialised countries.

N is for national liberation

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"Imagine there's no countries," sang John Lennon. "Nothing to fight or die for." It's a sentiment that any socialist would identify with.

How it sticks in the throat to hear Gordon Brown drone on about planting the union jack while he deports asylum seekers and sends more troops to occupy foreign lands.

So if we're so down on nationalism, why do we make it a point of principle to stand side by side with national liberation movements?

On one level the answer seems obvious. We wouldn't dream of saying "England for the English", but "Iraq for the Iraqis" is an excellent slogan in the anti-war movement.

L is for Lenin

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There have been many revolutionary upheavals in the past century, each one unleashing the huge creative energy of millions of people.

Mostly these revolutions have been beaten back, with the reassertion of class power and a return to the "norm" of exploitation, poverty and war.

The one exception to this is the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the crucial difference was made by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party he built.

K is for Kollontai

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The success of the Russian Revolution of 1917 enabled the radical ideas on women's liberation that had been germinating in pre-revolutionary times to develop, and be widely discussed and materially embodied in the real world.

A revolution turns all preconceived notions upside down. When profit held sway in the old society, it suppressed the needs and desires of the masses from whom it was extracted. These very needs and desires were to become the motive force of production in the new socialist society, both satisfying material requirements and, even more fundamentally, nourishing the human personality.

J is for Justice

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Bob Dylan's song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" begins with words that are the cornerstone of justification for the justice system in model capitalist democracies.

"In the courtroom of honour, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom."

The system, it is argued, is just, fair and equitable, and everybody is treated equally, tried by their peers having been given a fair hearing.

H is for History

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Throughout history rulers mystify the past to convince ordinary people that their rule is inevitable. The first recorded histories - in the form of king lists - were used to justify their legitimacy.

King Arthur: "I am your king".
Woman: "Well I didn't vote for you."
King Arthur: "You don't vote for kings."
Woman: "Well how'd you become king then?"
King Arthur: "The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king."

G is for gay liberation

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The modern gay liberation movement was born out of two nights of rioting in June 1969 after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York.

The rioters, once dismissed as "sick" or "perverted" by many, took inspiration from the anti-war and black power movements. Chanting "Gay power", they started a mass movement that changed the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people forever.

Gay liberation has come a long way. In the last decade alone we have seen six legislative changes in favour of gay rights. Attitudes have shifted - a recent poll found 90 percent supportive of gay rights, yet only 20 years ago 70 percent of the British public thought homosexuality was "always or mostly wrong".

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