Socialism

Socialism can work

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Some people think that socialism sounds great but will never work in practice. John Molyneux challenges their arguments and explores what socialism would look like.

Capitalism isn't working, so what is the alternative? This question must have at least crossed the minds of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, around the world as they watched the credit crunch, financial meltdown and recession unfold over the past few months. The problem, of course, is that for those same millions most of their conditioning - from politicians, media, education and a good deal of their experience - will have been to answer that there is no alternative.

R is for Revolution

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"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" English poet William Wordsworth's reaction to the fall of the Bastille in 1789 conveys the exhilaration of those precious moments when the masses overthrow an old society and build a fresh one.

Such events must be distinguished from superficial change. Under capitalism there is a constant turnover of rulers, technology, family structures and ideas. The microchip has superceded the spinning jenny; Barack Obama follows George Bush; even the banks are nationalised - but capitalism continues. Revolution means change at the most fundamental level. States are transformed, ruling classes are replaced by new ones, production and distribution are radically altered. Nothing stays the same.

Q is for quantity and quality

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How is it that history makes an unexpected leap forward?

Take the sudden onset of the economic crisis. We were told this could never happen again, but banks are failing, the financial system is in turmoil and a recession is opening up beneath our feet.

The recession is hardly the only example in recent years of a sharp disruption to the flow of events. The 9/11 attacks and their consequences were utterly unforeseen, and marked a turning point after which many important things in the world were never the same again.

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.

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