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Dek Keenan - What do we mean by socialism?

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Dek Keenan - What do we mean by socialism?

  1. 1. Socialism
  2. 2. Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice and Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality. M.Bakunin
  3. 3. Socialism Democratic Libertarian Revolutionary
  4. 4. It's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism. S Zizek
  5. 5. Visions of a new world
  6. 6. The end of socialism? Loss of vision Loss of belief Loss of optimism
  7. 7. The future Socialism in the present (and the past) • The Paris Commune of 1870 • The Soviets of 1905 and 1917 • Spanish Revolution of 1936-38 • Portugal’s 1974 Revolution • Zapatista community rebellion 1994-Present • Worker controlled factories Argentina • Workers self-management in the Bolivarian Revolution
  8. 8. The content of Socialism • Worker and community (generalised) self- management of the workplace and society • Directly democratic structures of administration • Transformation of social relations • Abolition of wage labour
  9. 9. Socialist Transformation is not a Party Affair • Politics too important to be left to politicians • Plurality of social movements and socialist organisations • Centrality of autonomous activity ‘from below’ • Pre-figurative organisations
  10. 10. • Can the trade unions really be ‘schools of socialism’? • Do the trade unions need to be transformed into vehicles for socialist transformation? Is it possible? • Is another (democratic, libertarian, revolutionary) unionism possible? • The global working class: inside, outside and beyond the trade unions? Some questions for our movement

Editor's Notes

  • Are we socialists? What does socialism mean? Problem of definition.
  • "As against the coalesced bourgeoisie, a coalition between petty bourgeois and workers had been formed, the so-called Social-Democratic party. [...] The revolutionary point was broken off and a democratic turn given to the social demands of the proletariat; the purely political form was stripped off the democratic claims of the petty bourgeoisie and their socialist point thrust forward. Thus arose social-democracy. [...] The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labor, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie." -Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte-
  • Socialism must be democratic. Not in the sense of parliamentary or representative democracy, not in the sense of our right to elect a representative every four or five years – to make decisions on our part, but directly democratic. Socialism based upon the democratisation of every aspect of human social existence – starting with the most undemocratic of any part of society – the workplace.
    This democratization is the means by which to “integrate individuals into structures which they can understand and control” (Bakunin). So what I mean by the democratic nature of Socialism must mean, at every level of society –self-management – what I would call generalised self-management.
    Libertarian – which, I believe is intimately related to the notion of democracy. Socialism cannot be seen as something which can be imposed from the top-down. At its centre is the notion of a world without bosses, either in the economic or political sphere (which of course cannot be meaningfully separated). It is a society which aims towards the end of hierarchical social relations, of order givers and order takers. And the movement towards Socialism must, as much as it can be, pre-figurative – that is it must start as it means to carry on. If we want a future with bosses, we should organise in the here and now with bosses, unaccountable leaders.
    Revolutionary because ultimately it requires a rupture with the existing system in order to be brought into being, but also revolutionary because it aims to create a world human community based upon co-operation rather than competition and the creation of a social order without order givers and order takers.
  • And yet, this movement for a socialist world remains at an embryonic stage, after 150 years, and capitalism in its most vicious and ruthless form seems to many people to have won. It is difficult for us to even imagine a society that does not involve buying and selling, bosses and workers, oppressors and oppressed.
    Socialism feels to many as ‘utopian’ – a distant dream. But Socialists too seem to have lost their vision of a different world, we feel embarrassed to talk about socialism except in the vaguest of terms. We have lost what was positive about the utopian vision.
  • Two accounts of the revolutionary transformation of society. News from Nowhere (1890) depicting a socialist society – a classless, stateless society that has emerged following the overthrow of capitalism, which had come through a general strike, provoked by a massacre of workers.
    The society is a semi-pastoral one, where industry has been reduced and work has been given meaning and therefore made attractive. Never been out of print.
    How we shall bring about the revolution appeared in French 19 years later and is a vision of how an imagined revolution based upon the power of trade unions in France – the revolutionary syndicalist trade unions that existed at that time – took place. With a forward by Tom Mann, the most famous British trade unionist and Peter Kropotkin, the most famous anarchist, the book is profoundly optimistic, perhaps naively so, but is based very much on the material reality in which it is based.
    They are, for all their faults, important, visionary and…of their time!
  • Because of our God that failed – the collapse of the Soviet Union, the experiments in ‘socialism’ that were nothing more than dictatorships, new elites under red flags. And then the almost seamless transition of social democracy, of democratic socialism into acceptance of neo-liberalism. People have lost their vision, the belief in the possibility of socialism and their optimism about the possibility of change.
    Much of what remains of the left continues to repeat old mantras or adapt itself to present conditions.
  • But before we open a vein, there is hope!
    The idea of generalised worker and community self-management would be ridiculously utopian if it were not for the evidence of our own experience in the labour movement.
    Time and time again working class people have shown their capability to take over workplaces and communities and run them efficiently, democratically (as much as circumstances allow)
  • Worker and community self-management is not “workers control” or “supervision” under state control – nationalisation.
    It is not about “socialism in one factory” or islands of socialism in a capitalist sea, islands based upon co-operatives
  • That’s obvious!
    We cannot wait for a saviour upon high, a new leader who will lead us to the socialist promised land, a new Lenin is not just around the corner.
    And the single vanguard political party – there’s one around every corner, trying to sell you their newspaper – is an idea that we must move away from in favour of a plurality of social movements, social organisations and socialist parties.
    Above all the centrality of the importance of autonomous activity from below – of grassroots movements that emerge in response to the material conditions of their existence.
    But we do need political organisations – and I will include union movement here – but these need to be pre-figurative – horizontal, democratic etc.
  • Marx described the trade unions as schools for socialism, but have they been? Most unions have not been, those who profess socialism leave the politics to the party they are affiliated to.
    So, are trade unions the basis therefore of a movement for socialism? Increasingly we are alone against the system.
    If they are to be vehicles, it seems like they will need to be transformed? But how? We have been trying for years!
    Is a unionism that is the above possible? We in the syndicalist movement think so and people developing new forms of worker organisation across the world certainly seem to think so, but can minority models be mainstreamed?
    How do we reach a global working class, the majority of whom are not in trade unions? Indeed how do we reach the majority of workers who are nominally in trade unions? Workers are already partly answering that question in the organizations of the precarious, the marginalized, the homeworkers, the unorganizable.