Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Myth Of Socialism As Statism

This is from 2 years ago but an interesting set of questions was sent to me - appearing in the next posting based on this article.

What did the original socialists envision to be the owner and controller of the economy? Did they think it ought to be the state? Did they favor nationalization? Or did they want something else entirely? Let’s have a look, going right back to the late 18th Century, through the 19th and into the 20th, and see what important socialists and socialist organizations thought.
*Thomas Spence – farm land and industry owned by join stock companies, all farmers and workers as voting shareholders.
* St. Simon – a system of voluntary corporations
* Ricardian Socialists – worker coops
* Owen – industrial coops and cooperative intentional communities
* Fourier – the Phlanistery – an intentional community
* Cabet - industry owned by the municipality (“commune” in French, hence commune-ism)
* Flora Tristan – worker coops
* Proudhon – worker coops financed by Peoples Bank – a kind of credit union that issued money.
* Greene – mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.
* Lasalle – worker coops financed by the state – for which he was excoriated by Marx as a “state socialist”
* Marx – a “national system of cooperative production”
* Tucker - mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.
* Dietzgen – cooperative production
* Knights of Labor – worker coops
* Parsons – workers ownership and control of production
* Vanderveldt – socialist society as a ‘giant cooperative”
* Socialist Labor Party – industry owned and run democratically thru the Socialist Industrial Unions
* Socialist Party USA – until late 1920’s emphasized workers control of production.
* CGT France, 1919 Program - mixed economy with large industry owned by stakeholder coops.
* IWW – democratically run through the industrial unions.
* Socialist Party of Canada, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1904-05 program – common ownership, democratically run – both parties, to this very day, bitterly opposed to nationalization.
* SDP – Erfurt Program 1892 – Minimum program includes a mixed economy of state, cooperative and municipal industries. While often considered a state socialist document, in reality it does not give predominance to state ownership.
Well? Where’s the statism? All these socialisms have one thing in common, a desire to create an economy where everyone has a share and a say.

Why The Confusion
The state did play a role in the Marxist parties of the Second International. But its role was not to nationalize industry and create a vast bureaucratic state socialist economy. Put simply, the workers parties were to be elected to the national government, and backed by the trade unions, cooperative movement and other popular organizations, would expropriate the big capitalist enterprises. Three things would then happen: 1. The expropriated enterprises handed over to the workers organizations, coops and municipalities. 2, The army and police disbanded and replaced by worker and municipal militias. 3. Political power decentralized to the cantonal and
municipal level and direct democracy and federalism introduced. These three aspects are the famous “withering away of the state” that Marx and Engels talked about.

The first problem with this scenario was that the workers parties never got a majority in parliament. So they began to water-down their program and adopt a lot of the statist reformism of the liberal reformers. Due to the Iron Law of Oligarchy the parties themselves became sclerotic and conservative. Then WW1 intervened, splitting the workers parties into hostile factions. Finally, under the baleful influence of the Fabians, the Stalinists and the “success” of state capitalism in the belligerent nations, the definition of socialism began to change from one of democratic and worker ownership and control to nationalization and statism. The new post-war social democracy began to pretend that state ownership/control was economic democracy since the state was democratic. This, as we see from the list above, was not anything like the economic democracy envisaged by the previous generations of socialists and labor militants.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an absolute masterpiece. I show this to people all the time when I'm trying to argue economic points. It's shock value alone is priceless.

I also cited this as a reference in a recent essay I produced for the UK's Libertarian Alliance.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Excellent article! I suggest that anyone who thinks capitalism developed on its own without state assistance should read it. One small quibble. You mention "an increasingly moribund left". This is certainly true in regards to main stream social democracy and the unreformed CP's. But a new left has arisen, rooted in the anti-corporate globalist movement, borrowing from anarchism, and indigenous movements. Most evident in Latin America, it is also found elsewhere in France's Anti Capitalist Party, Quebec Solidaire and numerous other groups. Anarchists, sincere libertarians and the new left together must work together to eliminate the corporatist system.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Larry.

Where can I found out more about the movements you've mentioned? I've seen bits and pieces about them on your blog and a few others. Is there much Enlish language material available on these?

12:53 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

This is all I can find in English that might be of help.

Quebec Solidaire

Anti Capitalist Party

Chilean Left-Populism

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, I'll check all that out!

5:02 PM  
Blogger Arthur B. said...

Larry says "Excellent article! I suggest that anyone who thinks capitalism developed on its own without state assistance should read it."

The article mentions that socialism does not imply statism and is historically distinct from it, it does imply that capitalism relies on the state at all.

Regardless of your opinion on this matter, this claim does not logically follow from this fine article.

I would say you're wrong, but then we'll quibble on semantics. Let's just say that private ownership of the means of production and wage labor most likely predate the state and needs not a state to exist.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

"Let's just say that private ownership of the means of production and wage labor most likely predate the state and needs not a state to exist.'

You can say, that but proof is another matter. I know of not a single historical instance of capitalism existing without a state. First though, I should explain what socialists and anarchists mean exactly by capitalism. Some level of private ownership, exchange or even wage labour to a small degree does not capitalism make. Capitalism as a system exists where the majority must work for a capitalist and production is done almost exclucively for a market. For such a system to come about the vast bulk of the population - peasants and artisans - must be converted into workers and their property converted into capitalist property. This can only be done by depriving them of their property. Since people do not give up their property (and independence) freely it must be done by force. The agency of that force is the state. Unlike speculation about the existence of stateless capitalist societies, there is overwhelming evidence of independent producers being expropriated by capitalists, directly or indirectly, through the agency of government. I suggest you read Kevin Carson's IRON FIST at for a full explanation of this development.

11:00 AM  

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