What is ‘scientific’ socialism?
By the middle of the nineteenth century two revolutions in thought occurred. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace proved the fact of biological evolution by natural selection. This does not imply ‘progress from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ life-forms’ as some people still imagine. That was the slant put upon it by Victorian bourgeois progressivism. This pseudo-theory of evolution – the ladder principle – enables capitalist society to retain the anthropocentric mythology Judaeo-Christian religion had inculcated for centuries in a supposedly scientific guise. Rather, Darwin and Wallace disliked the term ‘evolution’ as too easily open to such misinterpretation.
The other was that the study of human society since the emergence of settled farming communities to modern industrial capitalist society was scientifically enriched thanks to the work of two German thinkers, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Like the biological evolutionists, Marx and Engels had inherited a tradition of social research reaching back in time, and it is no surprise that the two monuments to human self-awareness were published about the same time: Darwin`s The Origin of Species, and Marx`s Capital. Marx`s friend Engels also produced some excellent shorter works such as Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and The Origins of the Family, Private Property & The State.
In Capital, Marx explained the theory of surplus value and the wages system, which is the basis of capitalist society, and showed how this system grew from its predecessor in Europe, the feudal system. He also showed how, with each move forward in social development since chattel slavery, classes are expunged from society, leaving under capitalism but two classes. The bourgeoisie, or capitalist class, lives on rent, interest and profit – the surplus value produced by the proletariat, or working class.
The worker must first be deprived of any control of means of production – be it land, industry, means of distribution, factories, railways etc. All of which are exclusively owned by the capitalist class. The peasantry had to be dispossessed of its cottage industries and evicted from the land so as to turn them into a propertyless class obliged to work for the capitalists. Having no access to, nor control of, the means of production and distribution, the worker is obliged to sell their physical and mental energy to the capitalist in return for a wage (call it salary for snob-value if you will). This wage is the price of the worker`s labour-power, and does not cover the value of what they produce. The difference constitutes surplus value, which goes straight into the pocket of the capitalist, enriching him at the worker`s expense. The worker thus remains for life in a state of economic dependence on the parasitical capitalist. As for work which is not directly productive, such as the so-called professions, services, and so on, all serve to buttress the system, of which the accumulation of capital, derived from surplus value, is the core.
Just as the slaves of ancient Rome ran the whole of society, so does the working class today. From surgeons to roadsweepers, from astrophysicists to labourers and the unemployed, all are members of the working class. If you are dependent on a salary (wage) in order to live (or on a handout when unemployed), whether your salary is high or low, if you are thus economically dependent, you belong to the working class. It is more likely that small capitalists will be thrown into the ranks of the working class by the machinery of capitalism, than that a worker will become a capitalist. Generally speaking, one is born into one class or the other. Still, it is inculcated in us by capitalist propaganda that ‘if you work hard, you ‘make good’ and that workers who do manage to switch class by exploiting others and becoming social parasites (capitalists) are to be praised and admired.
The state is the organ of coercion with which a ruling class maintains its rule over the rest of the population. Under capitalism, therefore, the state, of whatever political slant or colour, is the machinery by which the minority capitalist class keeps in subjection the majority working class which is exploited for profit. Under capitalism, only these two social classes remain in existence. There can only be a state where there is a class to rule over others. So, with the emancipation of the working class (the last subject class) from the wages system (capitalism), both classes cease to exist. The state therefore will cease to exist. Marx and Engels believed, and today`s genuine socialists (communists) believe, that in order to topple capitalist rule, the working class must seize control of the state and use its forces of coercion (army and police) to dispossess the capitalists of the means of production, placing those means in the hands democratically of everyone. Capitalist and worker both then cease to exist, as does the state, and we have for the first time a society of human beings, in control of their own destiny.
Thus we have scientific socialism (communism) – the common control of the means of production – following from a scientific historical analysis, whereas before we only had utopian socialism (communism) – usually expressed in terms of common ownership of goods – following from the ancient dream, running through the Middle Ages and into the 18th century, with only hope as a basis and incapable of an accurate historical analysis.
Socialism and communism are two words meaning the same – a future society in which the workers of today have emancipated themselves as described above. But very soon, pro-capitalist politicians saw the advantage in misappropriating the terms to confuse the workers. ‘Socialism’ came to mean Labour Party-type state-ownership, or Leninism, while ‘communism’ was misconstrued as something again which was different – a Bolshevik-style one-party tyranny (again, see below). But, since the state can only be the instrument of class rule, so state ownership (nationalisation) is not socialism, but merely capitalism run by state bureaucrats. This was the outcome in particular of the capitalist revolutions which took place in the 20th century in the Russian and Chinese empires.
In the 19th century too, anarchism arose within the genuine socialist movement to oppose the Marxian view that the state must be seized by the working class in order to use its coercive machinery to dispossess the capitalists. Anarchists were afraid that this would prove too tempting to socialist delegates doing the seizing, who would then use the state`s machinery against the workers. Since ‘socialism’ has been perverted by capitalist ideologues to mean ‘state-ownership’, this concern is understandable. However, unless the state is seized from the capitalists and their politicians, the armed forces remain in their hands and might be used to try to smash any attempted revolution. Hence it is absolutely necessary to take control of the state, thus disarming the capitalist class, which can then be dispossessed of the means of production. Socialist delegates to the parliaments (the law-making part of the state) would have but one mandate: the dismantling of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. They would not attempt to enter office under the capitalist state, and would be instantly recalled and dismissed by the workers if they attempted to do so. Furthermore, the absolute majority of workers would be actively making the revolution – which is why, too, any attempt by a socialist minority to stage a take-over against the wishes of the majority of workers would be doomed.