The definition of socialism

July 2024 Forums General discussion The definition of socialism

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  • #81227
    robbo203
    Participant
    Hi
     
    Ive been crossing swords with Paul Cockshott  (again) over on Revleft on the subject of socialism and how it was traditionally defined. Below is part of the exchange between us.  I wonder if anyone here has specific examples of the term socialism being used as a synonym for communism within the actual programmatic statements of socialist – or should I say, socialistic- type  – organisations prior to the early 20th century when Lenin began to redefine the term
     
    I know Engels also defined socialism in this way and there is a quote somewhere he talks of socialism as being a wageless society  (does anyone have a link) though I dont recall Marx ever explicitly equating Socialism with Communism
     
    Cheers
     
    Robin
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Originally Posted by Paul Cockshott View Post

    In assessing the suceess or failure of a political project one has to deal with the extent to which the openly declared manifesto aims of the parties engaged in the project have succeeded. I have posted the relevant passages from official manifestos in the thread on the economic nature of the USSR yesterday.

    You can find individual writers expressing a variety of opinions about socialism, but did any significant party have as a programme the introduction of a completely moneyless economy?

    One can cite more authoratative or influential views saying the opposite, for instance Kautsky held that a socialist economy would have to retain money, and as far as I am aware the Russian social democrats did not repudiate Kautsky as a revisionist for saying this.

    Given the variety of ideas of socialism that had been expressed prior to the Russian revolution any actual socialist economy that developed in the 20th century was bound to conflict with what some section of the socialist movement had predicted. This shows the folly of judging reality by whether it lives up to the speculations of visionaries. One has instead to judge the visionaries by their ability to foresee what actually happens to social development.

     

     

     

    It is unquestionably the case that the dominant understanding of the term “socialism” right up until the early 20th century was that of a moneyless and wageless economy based directly on production for use. You can hardly deny this. Within the Social Democratic movement as a whole this was what was generally understood by socialism at that time. I gave you evidence of this in the case of the Russian Social Democrats – since you were talking about “socialism” in Russia – and Bogdanov’s work A Short Course of Economic Science, was particularly important in this regard because it was officially used by the Russian Communist party for educational purposes. Bogdanov talked of socialism as being “the highest stage of society we can conceive”, in which such institutions as taxation and profits will be non-existent and in which “there will not be the market , buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organised distribution.”.

    Seemingly unconvinced by this, you say:

    You can find individual writers expressing a variety of opinions about socialism, but did any significant party have as a programme the introduction of a completely moneyless economy?”

    Well, yes, some did and you, apparently unaware of this ironically provided the very evidence that they did . Thus you cite the 1875 programme of the German Socialist Labour party which under clause number 5 says:

    ” Proceeding from these principles, the socialist labor party of Germany endeavors by every lawful means to bring about a free state and a socialistic society, to effect the destruction of the iron law of wages by doing away with the system of wage labor, to abolish exploitation of every kind, and to extinguish all social and political inequality”

    Note the intention to do away with the wages system…

    You mention Karl Kautsky. Kautsky wrote the official SPD commentary on the Erfurt program, which was called The Class Struggle. In Chapter 4 of that work Kautsky descibes” socialist production” in these terms

    Such co-operative production for use is nothing less than communistic or, as it is called today, socialist production. Production for sale can be overcome only by such a system. Socialist production is the only system of production possible when production for sale has become impossible.

    There is thus plenty of evidence to support the view that socialism at this time was generally regarded as a moneyless wageless economy. You claim however

    One can cite more authoratative or influential views saying the opposite, for instance Kautsky held that a socialist economy would have to retain money, and as far as I am aware the Russian social democrats did not repudiate Kautsky as a revisionist for saying this.

    What you omit to say though was that when Kautsky wrote about retaining money in socialism this was in 1924 when the word socialism has already begun to be modified primarily through Lenin and the popularisation of his writings and when the German SDP has long succumbed to reformism and the minimum programme.

    Lenin’s new interpretation of the term “socialism” was incredibly muddled and contradictory. He equated it at different points in time with 1) the lower stage of communism 2) state capitalism run in the interests of the whole people. Little wonder Kautsky was not repudiated as a revisionist for advocating the retention of money in socialism. Afterall Lenin himself was advocating that workers should all become employees of the state under “socialism” and was thus implying the retention of wage labour. To add to the confusion, Lenin occasionally reverted to the old Marxian definition of socialism as a moneyless wageless stateless alternative to capitalism. In the main however it would hardly become lenin to accuse Kautsky of being a revisionist when he himself was an arch revisonist

    Where Kautsky talked of the retention of money in “socialism” was here

    Besides this rigid allocation of an equal measure of the necessaries and enjoyments of life to each individual, another form of Socialism without money is conceivable, the Leninite interpretation of what Marx described as the second phase of communism: each to produce of his own accord as much as he can, the productivity of labour being so high and the quantity and variety of products so immense that everyone may be trusted to take what he needs. For this purpose money would not be needed.

    We have not yet progressed so far as this. At present we are unable to divine whether we shall ever reach this state. But that Socialism with which we are alone concerned to-day, whose features we can discern with some precision from the indications that already exist, will unfortunately not have this enviable freedom and abundance at its disposal, and will therefore not be able to do without money.
    (Karl Kautsky The Labour Revolution III. The Economic Revolution X. MONEY http://www.marxists.org/archive/kaut…/ch03_j.htm#sb)

    Your final para above really ties in with something you said on the “Economic Nature of the Soviet Union” thread which I post below.

    The whole suggestion that it was not socialist presupposes that it is possible on a purely speculative basis to have a theory of an ideal socialist economy against which reality can be compared. That approach has nothing to do with historical materialism, it is the approach of the ‘True Socialists’ that old Freddy and Charlie ridiculed way back in the 1840s. You can only know an economic system by studying real instances of it.

    I think your whole argument is incoherent. After all, how would you know the “real instances” you are studying are those of the economic system in question (and not some other economic system) if you did not have some prior definition of it to work with in the first place – some” theory of an ideal socialist economy against which reality can be compared”.

    It is pretty obvious that you have to have some basic notion of what socialism is in the first place in order to determine whether an economy was socialist or not. By the general conception of socialism that prevailed right up to early 20th century at no point in time was the Soviet Union ever a socialist economy

    #88084
    ALB
    Keymaster

    The examples we used to give to back up our argument that socialism and communism meant (and mean) the same thing were:1. Engels’s 1888 Preface to the English edition of the Communist Manifesto where he explains why, when it was “the most widespread, the most international production of all Socialist literature”, in 1848 it was called the Communist rather than the Socialist Manifesto.2. The Manifesto of English Socialists, issued jointly in 1893 by the Social Democratic Federation, the Hammersmith Socialist Society and the Fabian Society (!) and signed by, among others, William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, Hyndman and Sidney Webb, which declared:

    Quote:
    On this point all Socialists agree. Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end for ever to the wage-system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis.

    Marx himself seems to have preferred to call himself a Communist. Which is why he referred to two phases of communist society rather than to socialism and communism being to separate phases of post-capitalist society. We have to admit, though, that there was one pre-Lenin socialist who did use the terms in this way — William Morris, though even he called himself indifferently a socialist or a communist.There were also reformists who said they stood for “socialism” (meaning nationalisation) and not for “communism” (abolition of wages system, no money, to each according to needs). Thus, Ramsay MacDonald wrote in the chapter of his The Socialist Movement  (1911) entitled “What Socialism is not”:

    Quote:
    “From all according to their ability; to each according to his needs ” is a Communist, not a Socialist, formula. The Socialist would insert “services” for “needs.” They both agree about the common stock ; they disagree regarding the nature of what should be the effective claim of the individual to share in it. Socialists think of distribution through the channels of personal income ; Communists think of distribution through the channels of human rights to live. Hence Socialism requires some medium of exchange whether it is pounds sterling or labour notes; Communism requires no such medium of exchange.

    So, Lenin would have got his distinction, not from Marx, but from Ramsay MacDonald ! Come to think of it, they did have something in common: despite coming to power in different ways, both tried to make capitalism work in the interest of the workers and both failed (because this is not possible).Engels’s articles calling for the abolition of the wages system were written for the trade union paper the Labour Standard in 1881 and can be found here.

    #88085
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    And what about the Manifesto of the Socialist League 1st Version Fed 1885http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1885/manifst1.htm 2nd Version Oct 1885http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1885/manifst2.htm “No better solution would be that of State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation: no number of merely administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism” But it still does talk of a transitional phase in the appendix “The end which true Socialism sets before us is the realisation of absolute equality of condition helped by the development of variety of capacity, according to the motto, from each one according to his capacity, to each one according to his needs; but it may be necessary, and probably will be, to go through a transitional period, during which currency will still be used as a medium of exchange, though of course it will not bear with it the impress of surplus value….We venture to suggest that the first step in the state of transition into Communism might probably be the enactment of a law of a minimum of wages and a maximum of price applied to all industrial production, including the distribution of goods; it seems to us that this, coupled with the immediate abolition of all laws enforcing contract, would at once destroy the possibility of profit-making, and would give us opportunity for getting into working order the decentralised voluntary organisation of production which we hope to see take the place of the present Hierarchy of Compulsion.” 

    #88086
    stuartw2112
    Participant

    I’m not convinced the debate has any value. A word can mean whatever you want it to mean. Meanings can only be fixed on provisionally by groups of people who want to talk to each other and be confident they are understood. Marx and Engels, in the space of a single document, the Communist Manifesto, use the words socialism and communism interchangeably to mean (non exhaustive list):1. A semi mystical force which everyone recognises is a power in Europe, even if people or parties calling themselves communist barely exist.2. A hodge podge of different beliefs held by widely divergent political trends, eg, “conservate socialism”, “critical-utopian socialism”, “petty bourgeois socialism”, etc, etc.3. A political party that fights for demands, such as the abolition of taxes on articles of consumption, the universal arming of the people, and the establishment of a state bank.4. A movement that refuses to set up a separate political party, but merely aims to “point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat”.5. Full communism, ie, “the communistic abolition of buying and selling”.  

    #88088
    stuartw2112
    Participant

    “Socialism, Communism, whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth…will restore society.”Oscar Wilde

    #88089
    DJP
    Participant
    stuartw2112 wrote:
    I’m not convinced the debate has any value. A word can mean whatever you want it to mean. Meanings can only be fixed on provisionally by groups of people who want to talk to each other and be confident they are understood. 

    Sensible stuff..

    #88087
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    stuartw2112 wrote:
    “Socialism, Communism, whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth…will restore society.”Oscar Wilde

    Also from Wilde:”A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

    #88090
    stuartw2112
    Participant

    Thanks DJP, and lovely quote Gnome! “Like.”

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