Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Has Socialism Ever Been Tried?

Has Socialism ever been tried and has Socialism ever failed?

When socialists say that socialism has never been tried or failed we are often derided by anti-socialists or incredulous workers. Our opponents point to the failure of the "socialist" policies of past Labour governments and the Soviet Union.

Are our opponents correct? Has socialism been tried and failed?

The debate is a pointless one unless our opponents are prepared to understand and accept our definition of socialism. We can use reasoned argument and facts to defend our unique conception of socialism. And it upon these arguments we want to be judged, not on what people ordinarily understand by socialism.

We are not the Labour Party. Nor are we associated with Lenin and Bolshevism. Throughout the history of the Socialist Party of Great Britain we have opposed both the Labour Party and Bolshevism. We have shown their policies of nationalisation to be capitalist not socialist ones.

This does not mean we do not expect to be challenged on our socialist case against capitalism. But what we do expect from our opponents is to be criticised on what we are, what we say and what we do, not on the past policies of other political organisations we are hostile to.

The definition of socialism we defend, for example, was stated clearly and unambiguously in the OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904.

Socialism was defined as:

"The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community"

That is the definition of socialism that we defend today and the yardstick by which we point out the shortcomings of our opponents use of the word.

Past Labour Governments

Why were the policies of past labour governments not socialist but capitalist ones?

Socialists have opposed the Labour Party since its formation in 1906. We have described the nationalisation policies of the Labour Party as state capitalism; policies that should not be supported by workers.

Take nationalisation which was reconsidered by Jeremy Corbyn when he was leader of the Opposition. He wanted to renationalise the transport system, the utilities and the Post Office.

In the Labour Manifesto, at the last election, these nationalisation programmes were described as "socialist policies". They were also attacked by the Tories as "socialist policies" although once upon a time the Tories advocated nationalisation in dealing with monopolies.

Although socialists have attacked nationalisation from many angles, the principle attack is the position of workers under nationalisation.

The claim of the Labour Party, and recently made again by the Corbyn leadership, is that workers would be better off employed in nationalised industries than they were under private companies.

This has not been the case. Workers have found that they still needed the protection of trade unions in the nationalised industries. They still had to strike for better pay and working condition coming up against the intransigence of the capitalist state rather than individual capitalists. The state have often used troops to break strikes and the secret service to spy on trade unionists. The Labour Governments under Atlee, Wilson, Callaghan and Tony Blair all used troops to break strikes.

Workers in the nationalised industries also did not have direct access to what they needed to live on. What workers produced were still commodities for the market. Workers in the nationalised industries still remained a class of wage earners. And they still faced unemployment. It was the darling of the capitalist Left, Tony Benn, who, when Energy Minister, made about half a million miners redundant in the 1960s with the implementation of the Labour governments' National Plan. Benn closed more mines than Thatcher (WHO KILLED THE MINES, WalesonLine 5 March 2005)

Fundamentally, workers in the nationalised industries were still exploited as a class. The capital-labour relationship was never done away with. Workers still produced, what Marx called, "surplus value". They still produced a profit which went to the state rather than individual share holders. The workers class position did not change.

The Soviet Union

Why do socialists say that the Soviet Union was state capitalist?

The main criticism against state capitalism found in dictatorships such as the Soviet Union is the same one we apply to the failed nationalisation policies of the Labour Party.

There is another aspect of Bolshevik policy which is not socialist and has nothing to do with socialism. And that is the rejection by Lenin and his followers that socialism must be the work of the working class themselves.

Marx and Engels were quite clear that socialism had to be established by the working class and no one else. Workers were the revolutionary class. This is echoed in the fifth clause of the Socialist Party of Great Britain:

"That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself"

Lenin and his followers rejected this important Marxian principle. They still do. They believe workers are too stupid to become socialists. They do not believe it is possible to convince an overwhelming majority of the world's population to support a change to a socialist society. Socialism, or what they erroneously believe is socialism, has to be imposed. Workers have to be led.

This has nothing to do with socialism. It has nothing to do with the socialism set out in the Declaration and Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. For socialists, workers have to establish socialism themselves. No one else is going to do it for them.

Therefore socialism has never existed. What previous labour governments and the Bolsheviks regarded as "socialism" or "communism" was various form of state capitalism. The wage-labour-capital relationship was never done away with. Workers were exploited in the production process just as ruthlessly as if they worked for a corporation or individual capitalist.

Privatisation and Economic Liberalism

Privatisation and economic liberalism has been the policy pursued by most governments over the last forty years.

It was seen by its supporters as the means to make society better for everyone. The reverse has occurred. Food banks, zero hour contracts, low pay, hire and fire labour market on the one hand and vast wealth going to the rich on the other is the reality.

There was no trickle-down benefit for the poor and nor was there a market utopia. Capitalism still went into boom and bust.

Yet defenders of economic liberalism ask for a viable alternative. Look at nationalisation, they say. It has demonstrably failed. There is no competitor in view. There is no alternative. They wish!

Yet there is an alternative to capitalism. There is the socialism outlined by Marx and taken forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. There is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution.

The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism

Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population.

The land, materials, factories, transport and communication and distribution points will be the common property of society as a whole. The wages system would not exist.

With each person having equal access to the means of living no one would be forced to sell their labour power to an employer in order to live. No one could buy labour power because there would be no one selling it. No one would possess the means of production and distribution, so no one would be able to exploit labour-power.

In socialism, then, there would be no classes. There would be no class ownership of the means of production and distribution. There would be no capitalists and wage-workers. There would be free, co-operative and voluntary labour.

Socialism will be global system of production and distribution. Humanity will not be segregated behind national frontiers or coerced by the armed forces of governments.

In a society based on common ownership the means of living, goods and services would not be produced for sale. Goods and services would only be produced for use, and production would continue as long as there were social needs to be satisfied.

Democratic control should speak for itself but the point must be made nevertheless, that in a society wherein the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution are commonly owned it is difficult to conceive of control other than democratic.

Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues-one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production and distribution of goods and services.

Production Directly to Meet Human Need would be how common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution would work in a socialist society.

People will have direct access to what they need to live worthwhile lives and to take democratic part in the affairs of society.

There has never been a society of free men and women in which production takes place to directly meet human need. There has never been a social system in which the socialist principle: "from each according to ability to each according to need" holds throughout the world.

From Capitalism to Socialism

Socialism will not come by itself. It cannot be introduced by "enlightened politicians". Socialism can only be established, democratically and politically, by a socialist majority.

All workers have an interest in the establishment of socialism. All workers have the potential to become socialists. Workers need to organise into principled socialist parties. Socialists need to elect socialist delegates to Parliament, and socialists need to conquer the powers of government, including the armed forces of the state. Only then can a socialist majority replace capitalism with socialism.

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