Reflections on Socialism
by Sam Webb National Chair of the Communist Party USA
The main political task at this moment is to assemble the necessary social forces to defeat Bush and his counterparts in Congress and elsewhere.
The urgency of that task, however, should not be converted into a rationale for socialists and communists to push the mute button on the socialist alternative. To the contrary, we should bring our vision of socialism into the public square; we are, after all, the Communist Party and socialism is at the core of our identity.
The ruling class, not surprisingly, shows no reticence in shaping popular (mis)understanding of socialism. In fact, establishment think tanks, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, have said that socialism is not simply damaged, but damaged beyond repair.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the political spectrum, this subject is slowly finding its way into political discourse. At first glance, this may seem surprising, given that socialism took such a big hit a decade ago.
But on closer inspection it is not such a mystery.
The very advances of capitalism bring in their train new oppositional forces. Admittedly, they don’t yet embrace socialism as we understand it, but they do imagine a society without the hardships, oppressions, worries, pressures, and unbridled profiteering that are emblematic of and structured into present day capitalism. They desire a future that brings material security and a sense of community, insist on some power over their lives, yearn for a new birth of freedom and hunger for a joyous life, and they want a little heaven on this earth.
Obviously, this structure of feeling doesn’t, all at once, translate into a mass constituency for socialism, but it does mean that we can bring our vision to a much larger audience. And doing so can only have a positive effect on ongoing class and democratic battles – not to mention the longer-term prospects for socialism. It is no coincidence that the most far-reaching reforms in the 20th century were secured at moments when socialist ideas had their greatest currency and constituency.
In advocating socialism today, we can’t simply repeat what Marx and Engels said. Call it what you want, a blessing or a burden, we can’t act as if socialism wasn’t a defining feature of world development in the 20th century. And, to say the least, that experience was tumultuous and contradictory.
On the one hand, socialism transformed and modernized backward societies, secured important economic and social rights, assisted countries breaking free of colonialism, contributed decisively to the victory over Nazism, constituted by its mere presence a pressure on the ruling classes in the capitalist world to make concessions to their working classes and democratic movements, and acted as a counterweight to the aggressive ambitions of U.S. imperialism for nearly fifty years.
On the other hand, the shortcomings and mistakes in the political, economic, and cultural fields, not to mention the egregious and indefensible crimes against the Soviet people and Soviet socialism during the Stalin period, were so serious that in the end, the Soviet Union (and the Eastern European states) collapsed with barely a word of protest from their citizens or ruling parties.
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