An essay on the development of the ideas of Socialism by R.G. Williams
This essay is a study of the ideas of Socialism. Specifically, this essay is about the politics of the ideas of Socialism. Socialism is a movement which seeks to place society — the means of production, distribution, and exchange — in the hands of the working class. This idea is a crucial idea for any alternative to existing society or to Capitalist society. Socialism is the main political struggle of the Left. Socialism, the principle of Socialism, is one of the great ideas of human society.
Socialism is an idea. Socialism is a good political ideal and a good political movement. The struggle for Socialism is a good struggle and a necessary struggle. The ideas and politics of Socialism might be denounced, by reactionaries and by the Right, but Socialism remains the basic and heroic idea of working-class freedom. Socialism is the basis of the struggle for a better world.
Socialism is an ideal. Socialism is about liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, the abolition of class, and the social control of the means of production. Socialism is workers’ power and workers’ democracy. Socialism is an association of free and equal producers. Socialism is about achieving these ideals in reality and not simply in abstraction.
Socialism is a movement. Socialism is the struggle to abolish classes and class society. Socialism is about the working class seizing political and social power in order to achieve the end of exploitation and oppression. The working class will achieve this by achieving a democratic society — a Socialist society. Socialism is thus an economic idea, a political idea, a historical idea, an enlightenment idea, and a social idea. This essay is about these ideas of Socialism. This essay is about how Socialism sees the ideas of Socialism — the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, social control of the means of production, and the ideas of Marxism.
The ideas of Socialism are about thinking about how to achieve Socialism and a Socialist society. The basic ideas of Socialism are equality and co-operation against hierarchy and oppression. These ideas mainly concentrate on the economic, political, historical, and social struggle for Socialism. These ideas also inform the basic principles of Socialism — the principles of a classless, stateless, prosperous, democratic, society based on the principle ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’.
The importance of the ideas of Socialism is that Socialism is the only ideology which has, at its base, the ideals of equality, democracy, co-operation, and solidarity. Socialism achieves this by achieving a society which is democratic, equal, classless, and based on the social control of production. Socialism is the only ideology which truly opposes hierarchy, exploitation, and oppression. This is shown in the ideas of Socialism. Socialism is an Enlightenment ideology. The ideas of Socialism, in the end, fulfil the ideals of the Enlightenment. Socialism, as an idea, is one of the great triumphs of thought and action. The ideas of Socialism are both ideals and realities.
The ideas of Socialism provide Socialism with its theoretical politics and its practical politics. The ideas of Socialism, the principles of Socialism, allow us to think about Socialism itself and the possibilities of Socialism.
Outlining the ideas of Socialism — working-class power, working-class self-management, equality, and co-operation — is central to Socialism. Socialism cannot exist without ideas about Socialism. This essay is a Socialist essay. This essay is firmly in support of Socialism and the ideas of Socialism.
Socialism is an idea and an ideal. Socialism, as an idea, is part of any struggle for a better world. This is because Socialism contains the ideas and the politics for both thinking about a better world and for achieving a better world. Socialism, as the struggle for a better world, has the ideas and the politics necessary for opposing the exploitation and oppression which is part of class societies. By placing the means of production in the hands of the working class, Socialism has the ability to both engage with the problems of the world and to solve the problems of the world. By abolishing exploitation and oppression, Socialism contains both the economics and the politics capable of generating a better world — a social world, a democratic world, a just world, a Socialist world. Socialism, as an idea, also has the political vision to look at the problems of the world and to solve them. Socialism, as the opponent of Capitalism, is also the opponent of all the ideas and political realities which create oppression, exploitation, and repression in the world. The ideas of Socialism, specifically equality, co-operation, democracy, and solidarity, are powerful ideas precisely because they are objectively better than the ideas which maintain class societies — and Capitalist society. The ideas of Socialism are important for developing the principles of Socialism and for developing the politics of Socialism. The ideas of Socialism, the great ideals of Socialism, are vital for making the intellectual case for Socialism and the political case for Socialism.
The ideas of Socialism are very simple. Socialism, in the end, is the social control of production and the social ownership of production. This is the starting point of the ideas of Socialism. From this come the principles of Socialism and the politics of Socialism — specifically humanism, democracy, freedom, justice, solidarity, liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The ideas of Socialism are ideas of theory and of action. Socialism is not about idealist abstractions — but about the intellectual and political achievement of Socialism.
Socialist ideas are part of modern politics. Modern politics are divided between the Left and the Right. The Left seeks to achieve human freedom through the abolition of class and class society. The Right seeks to maintain hierarchy, through the maintenance of class and class society. The ideas of Socialism are part of the politics of the Left. They provide the Left with both ideas and a purpose. The ideas of Socialism provide the Left with both theory and practice. While the Right seeks to maintain existing class society, the Left seeks to achieve a world of freedom — the abolition of class society through social revolution. This is why Socialism is part of the politics of the Left. In terms of the wider Left there are no better ideas than the ideas of Socialism.
Ideas are tools for social change. While ideas cannot change society, by themselves, they can inspire politics and political action. Ideas can inspire social change and become part of social struggle — when they are used by revolutionary classes. This is true of any ideology — including Socialism and the history of Socialism.
Socialism is a movement of ideas. Most Socialists are interested in ideas and the struggle of ideas. Ideas do not, by themselves, change society and history, but they can help in developing the struggles and politics which do change society and history. This is why it is important to understand the ideas of Socialism. The ideas of Socialism help in making social progress and political progress.
Socialism is about equality and democracy — alongside social control of production. Social equality, freedom, solidarity, and respect for Human Rights, are all central to Socialist ideas and to Socialism. The ideals of equality and democracy are central to Socialist ideas — and have been since the 19th century.
Socialism will be achieved by the political struggle of the working class. The working class, by freeing itself, will achieve Socialism. The working class is central to the achievement of Socialism, and thus the working class is central to Socialism.
Socialism will be achieved by either reform or by revolution – either by reforming Capitalism into Socialism or by overthrowing Capitalism through social revolution. Every major social and political idea about Socialism, in the end, comes down to achieving Socialism — either by reform or by revolution.
The ideas of Socialism are not abstractions. Either Socialism is the practice of Socialism or it is nothing. Socialism either exists or it does not. Socialism is the real movement to achieve human freedom. Socialism, the ideas of Socialism, the principles of Socialism, exist to be enacted in reality — not simply as abstractions about hopes for a better society or a better world. The ideas of Socialism help to make a better society and a better world.
The ideas of Socialism owe a great deal to Marx. Marx’s ideas about Socialism and Communism are vital for any ideas of Socialism. Socialism is a society committed to the idea that ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.1 Communism is a stateless, classless, democratic society based on a ‘free association of producers’ — a ‘community of freely associated individuals’.2 This was Marx’s idea of Socialism.
The ideas of Marx and Lenin help in developing the ideas of Socialism — specifically in the form of the politics of Socialism, the economics of Socialism, and the organisation of Socialism. In the end, however, the ideas of Socialism come back to the realities of workers’ power, workers’ organisation, social ownership, equality, co-operation, and solidarity. These ideas of Socialism inform any politics of Socialism.
The struggle for Socialism, in the 20th century, shows the strength and power of Socialism — specifically the ability of Socialism to change the world. The victory of the Russian Revolution of 1917 shows that the working class can seize political power and use it for its own purposes to establish a workers’ state. The reality of Stalinism, in the Soviet Union, and in the People’s Republic of China, undermined the struggle of the 20th century for Socialism, but the fundamental ideas of Socialism remain intact. Stalinism led to the degeneration of the Soviet Union, into a degenerated workers’ state, and limited the potential of the October Revolution, but it did not undermine the real ideas of Socialism — the idea of human liberation. Stalinism is a betrayal of Socialism. Socialism is possible — if it is based on revolution, humanism, and the democratic self-emancipation of the working class.
Any real Left, today, must be a Socialist Left. The Left needs to think long and hard about Socialism and the ideas of Socialism. The Left needs to think about Socialist ideas in order to actually achieve Socialism.
Defining Socialism itself is vital for any discussion of the ideas of Socialism. Socialism, essentially, is the idea that the means of production, distribution, and exchange, should be controlled by the working class and by society. Socialism, essentially, is the struggle for an equal, democratic, and just society.
The Marxist definition of Socialism is the best way to think about Socialism. For Marx, Socialism is social ownership of the means of production, production for use, and based on the principle of ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’. For Marx, Socialism is human liberation — the abolition of class, exploitation, and oppression. For Marx, Socialism is a society based on the free development of each and the free development of all. For Marxists, Socialism is the struggle to overcome Capitalism and to replace Capitalism with Socialism. For Marxists, Socialism is the struggle of the working class to achieve Socialism — for the self-emancipation of the working class. For Marxists, Socialism is the transitional social state between the overthrow of Capitalism and the victory of Communism. Essentially, for Marxists, Socialism is the struggle of the working class for the emancipation of the working class.
Defining Socialism is part of the struggle for Socialism. Socialism is about workers’ power and workers’ democracy. Any definition of Socialism which does not fit that definition cannot be Socialism. Socialism, the struggle for a society of equals, cannot be defined by any other terms. Socialism, social ownership of production, needs to be defined by the ideas of Socialism and by the politics of Socialism.
The basis of Socialism is that it is a product of both Capitalist society and the struggle of the working class for freedom and liberty. Socialism, as an idea and as a movement, has existed for as long as Capitalism. Socialism essentially emerged in response to Capitalism — as it is both an alternative to Capitalism and a replacement for Capitalism. Indeed, the earliest ideas for Socialism, in the 17th Century, in the 18th century, and in the 19th century, emerged in world history and in world politics as Capitalism emerged out of Feudalism and as Capitalism emerged out of the Industrial Revolution. The earliest forms of Socialist ideas emerged as a continuation of the triumphs of bourgeois revolutions —specifically the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution of 1789. Socialism, essentially, is a product of the ideas and politics which emerged out of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. Socialism is a modern idea which emerged from modern society. In the 19th century, Socialism emerged as the ideology of the labour movement and the ideology of the struggle of the working class. In this period emerged the chief thinkers and ideologies of Socialism — specifically the ideas of Marx and Engels. In these periods Socialism emerged as an ideology committed to social ownership of production, equality, abolishing class, and achieving a society based on co-operation and common ownership. Socialism, today, has emerged out of these historical origins and political origins — to become the historical movement and the political movement for Socialism. Socialism, today, is the struggle of the working class to liberate the working class. Socialism, today, is Working-Class Socialism.
There are a variety of Socialist theories about the ideas of Socialism and the ideas of Socialist society. Most of these ideas stem from Marx or from the debates of the 19th century and the debates of the 20th century. The most important thinkers, on economics, society, history, and politics, from the Marxist tradition, remain: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Gramsci, Connolly, Morris, Lafargue, Bebel, Bernstein, DeLeon, Kautsky, Eleanor Marx, Debs, Plekhanov, Bukharin, Zetkin, Kollontai, Ibárruri, Mariátegui, C.L.R. James, M. N. Roy, Tito, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Allende, Pannekoek, Lukács, Korsch, Padmore, Brecht, Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Reich, Fromm, Bloch, Lefebvre, Sartre, Rubel, Beauvoir, Dunayevskaya, the Praxis School, Deutscher, Hobsbawm, Hill, Thompson, Anderson, Hall, Althusser, Miliband, Mattick, Mészáros, Bauman, and Guevara. The most important thinkers on Marxist economics remain: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Hilferding, Trotsky, Kautsky, Lange, Mandel, Pannekoek, Kliman, Harvey, Wolff, Kondratiev, Okishio, Uno, Roemer, Laibman, Sweezy, Magdoff, Baran, Foster, the Monthly Review School, Resnick, and Kalecki.
The best Socialist thinkers, who outlined the really humanist basis of the ideas of Socialism, were Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Connolly, Morris, and Gramsci. These thinkers, alongside many others, really understood the humanistic basis of Socialism — that Socialism, in the end, is human liberation.
Some of the best ideas that have emerged out of Socialism and out of the Socialist tradition have emerged out of the politics of Socialism and the political ideas of Socialism. This is especially true of the Marxist tradition — from Marx to Lenin — which is primarily about the political organisation of the working class and the political struggle for Socialism.3
Marxism, the ideas of Karl Marx, are central to the politics of Socialism. This is because Marx was the first to see that Socialism is a political vision and a political struggle. It was Marx who first outlined the political side of Socialism and the specific Socialist idea that it is the working class, politically organised and socially organised, who will achieve Socialism. This means that any struggle for Socialism, past, present, or future, will rely heavily on the ideas of Marx — especially the political ideas of Marx. Marx was correct when he outlined the idea that Socialism is, essentially, the ‘independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority’.
Marxism is the theory and practice of working-class emancipation. Marxism is central to any struggle for Socialism. Marxism is central to the development of Socialist ideas. Marxism is (1) materialist philosophy, (2) the critique of political economy, and (3) Socialist politics. The fact that Marxist ideas have been crucial to the best examples of Socialist politics and Socialist struggle, in the 19th century and in the 20th century, also shows the power of Marxism.4 Marxism, after all, has come closest in terms of providing an effective politics and an effective theory for Socialism. The struggles of the 19th century and the 20th century — specifically the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, the Yugoslav Revolution of 1945, the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Revolutions of 1968, and the social revolutions of today — all show the power of Marxism for Socialist ideas and for Socialism.
Economics is vital for Socialism. This is because Socialism, in political terms, is about the struggle to place economics and the economy in the hands of the working class. This means that Socialism must have economic ideas and economic theories. Indeed, Socialism has a long history of ideas about economics and economic theories.
The greatest Socialist thinkers, from Marx to today, have tended to have economic ideas — about the achievement of Socialism via understanding economic development and economic ideas, about the achievement of Socialism via placing economic production in the hands of society.
Economics are the base of Socialist ideas. From the economic base of Socialism, social control of production, comes the wider intellectual ideas and political ideas of Socialism. Socialism, both as theory and as practice, can only be achieved by economic means — specifically by social control of production, distribution, and exchange. From this economic base of Socialist ideas comes all the other forms of Socialist theories, Socialist politics, and Socialist ideas. Economics lies at the heart of Socialism — because the struggle for Socialism, at base, is a struggle for economic democracy. All of the ideals of Socialism, especially liberty, equality, and fraternity, can only be achieved by economic terms and by political terms. The economic aspects of Socialism, specifically social control of production and social equality, are the base for Socialist ideas.
Political Economy, the political understanding of Capitalism, is vital to Socialism. Economics and Political Economy not only provide Socialism with a material basis but also with the material opportunity to transform Socialist ideas into Socialist action. By understanding Capitalism, its history, and its development, Socialist can understand how to overcome Capitalism and to replace it with Socialism. A key power of the ideas of Socialism is that they show the reality of Capitalism — the misery, the exploitation, and the oppression of Capitalism. A key part of the ideas of Socialism is that they provide us with a critique of Capitalism and a critique of Capitalist society.
Socialist economics is about creating an economic society based on co-operation and the common ownership of production. Socialist economics is about overcoming economic exploitation and abolishing the economic systems which place profit ahead of human need. As E.P. Thompson pointed out, many decades ago, in his essay on Socialist Humanism, Socialism ultimately is about social liberation, economic liberation, and political liberation.5 Socialism abolishes exploitation and replaces it with co-operation.6 Socialism, in economic terms, is about production based on need, rather than production based on profit. This makes Socialism both a productive form of economics, but also a transformative form of economics. Socialism, in both history and in economic history, has already achieved major social improvements and economic improvements in most of the societies which attempted Socialism in the 20th century. Socialist economics often ran into difficulties in the 20th century not because of fundamental problems with Socialism — but because of problems relating to Stalinism and the difficulties of achieving both transition and development. As Oscar Lange showed, in the last century, there is fundamentally no solid economic argument against Socialism. Socialism is economically possible. Socialism, when put into practice, can achieve both development and social progress. Socialism, when put into effect, can raise living standards, and achieve better social outcomes for human society. Socialism, the democratic organisation of economics, is the most economically transformative force in the history of society and the history of the world.
Socialism is possible because it has a workable economic theory and a workable economic practice. This has been demonstrated in many cases and many societies throughout the 20th century and throughout the struggles of today. Socialist economic development has usually led to the majority of social progress which has been enjoyed by working-class people. That Socialism transformed some of the most backward states on the earth, from Russia to China, into developed areas is a testament to the soundness of Socialist economics and Socialist economic ideas, even if those transformations were undermined by the reality of Stalinism in the 20th century. Even in the Capitalist states, in the West, many of the better social advances made in the last century occurred because of fundamentally Socialist ideas — especially in the areas of work, employment, education, healthcare, social progress, equality, and local government. The high tide of Capitalist society only occurred in the post-war period — when the Capitalist states were mostly forced to adopt Socialist ideas, or Social Democratic ideas, to save their failed economies. In today’s society, with its crises and its Neo-Liberalism, the failures of Capitalist economics, when compared to Socialist economics, is also clear. Capitalism might boast of its ‘economic superiority’ to Socialism but it has nothing to boast about — given its history of crises and disasters. Socialism, fundamentally, is sound as both economic theory and economic practice. Socialism, as an economic idea, can solve most of the problems of Capitalist society and Capitalist crisis — by replacing Capitalism with a society based on the free development of each and the free development of all. Socialism, by creating an economic system based on human need and human co-operation, will overcome the limits of Capitalism and Capitalist society. This is why Socialism is the future.
Socialist economics, in the 20th century, achieved wonders. Much of the social progress achieved in the 20th century relied on Socialist economics — such as the development of the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yet we cannot rely upon the experience of the 20th century, alone, in terms of achieving Socialism today. Whether Socialism is achieved by a planned economy or by Market Socialism, in the future, is largely irrelevant. For Socialism in the future the economic question is rather a question of achieving development and a question of placing the working class at the centre of controlling economic development. There are different roads and different methods to achieving Socialism, from planned economics to central economics, from workers’ co-operatives to Market Socialism, but the central point of Socialist economics and Socialist ideas about economics is to place the workers at the centre of controlling economics and economic power. Socialism, whatever its precise economic form, is about social ownership of the means of production, production for need, working-class power, the end of wage-labour, capitalism, and class society, and the building of a society based, firmly, on social and economic co-operation. For Socialism and Socialist ideas in the future a variety of economic thinking will be needed in order to achieve Socialism. Socialist ideas about economics come back to this basic principle of co-operation. Socialist ideas about economics come back to this basic idea of working-class control. In the end the economic base of Socialism is workers’ power. This is central to the economic ideas of Socialism.
Politics can be seen as the central point of Socialist ideas. Politics is central to the progress of achieving Socialism. It is via politics and via political struggle that the ideas of Socialism can be made into a political reality and a social reality. It is also via politics and political struggle that Capitalism can be transformed into Socialism. As a result, a large emphasis of Socialist ideas has been devoted to Socialist politics and to politics in general. This has been true since the days of Marx and Engels and since the days of the first Socialist parties. Indeed, the majority of Socialist ideas can be converted into ideas about Socialist politics.7
Socialist politics is about the political struggle for Socialism. The majority of Socialist politics have always been divided by the schism between reform and revolution — the reformist road to Socialism or the revolutionary road to Socialism.
Socialist politics is also about the organisation of the working class. Since the working class is central to Socialist ideas the working class is central to Socialist politics. This is why the majority of Socialist groups, Socialist organisations, and Socialist parties, have been based around working-class organisation and working-class politics.
Socialism is a major force in today’s world simply because it has become a political force. Socialism became a major force, since the 19th century, when it became a political force — based on working-class parties and political organisations. This political aspect of Socialism, the political organisation of the working class, is what makes Socialism a power and a political power.
Socialist politics is simply those politics which organise the working class to achieve Socialism. In political terms the ideas of Socialism have a great deal of influence on the politics of Socialism. Most clearly has been the commitment of Socialist politics, both in history and today, to reflect both Socialist ideas and Socialist ethics. The majority of Socialist parties and Socialist organisations, both in history and today, have tended to organise themselves on the basis of working-class organisation, working-class democracy, and working-class struggle. The majority of Socialist parties and Socialist organisations have always been parties which have tried to combine Socialist ideas with Socialist politics. This is specifically the case in terms of looking at working-class organisation and working-class politics. Since Socialism is about working-class struggle in order to achieve Socialism most of the politics of Socialism are organised around the organisation of the working class. Parties, groups, trade unions, organisations, fronts, and alliances, all make up the political organisations that Socialists use in order to organise the working class. These organisations have emerged, in historical terms, from the history of the working class. As the working class organised itself, from the 1800s, to protect its rights, to fight for better conditions, and to achieve Socialism, the early organisations of the working class gradually became the organisations of Socialism and the basis of the politics of Socialism.
The bulk of working-class politics have come out of Socialist ideas. When we look at the history of working-class parties almost all of them have been shaped, in one way or another, by Socialist ideas or Socialist politics. This is especially true of Social Democratic parties, Labour parties, Socialist parties, Communist parties, the parties of the New Left, trade unions, Anarchist groups, and other Socialist forces. The best type of working-class politics, in the end, have almost always emerged out of the working-class tradition of Socialism — both in ideological terms and in political terms. This is because it was usually Socialist parties which led the struggle for democracy in most societies — especially in Western Europe. It was the early Socialist parties which attempted to struggle to bring the mass of the working class, the mass of the people, into politics and into real political aspirations. Prior to the emergence of Socialism and Socialist politics the ordinary worker and the ordinary person was mostly ignored in most politics — either denied a voice or denied a vote. If we look at the struggle for democracy, in most societies, it was Socialists and Socialist parties which usually led the struggle for democracy. From the Paris Commune to the October Revolution the central democratic goal of Socialism has always been to place democracy in the hands of working-class people. As E.P. Thompson said Socialism is about placing real people at the centre of political aspirations.8 Socialism is Humanism because it places real men and real women at the centre of political liberation. Humanism is Socialist because it affirms the potential of real men and real women to achieve their own revolutionary potential. The whole history of any labour movement is impossible to write about or think about without some connection back to Socialist ideas and Socialist politics. The labour movement, made up of real men and real women, is the basis of Socialism.
The working class is linked, politically, to Socialist ideas. This is because Socialism has usually been the basis from which the working class has made social advances and political advances. Whether that is in terms of politics, social politics, suffrage, industrial relations, the struggle for Socialism itself, the political arm of the working class has emerged from Socialism. Socialism is also the ideology of the working class — both in intellectual terms and in political terms.
Socialism has a historic relationship with history. Indeed, the ideas of Socialism are a product of history and a product of historical development. Socialism emerged out of the historical developments of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the French Revolution. What has often made the ideas of Socialism so powerful is that they have often engaged with history and with historical development. Every serious Socialist thinker and every serious Socialist idea has always engaged with the realities and the limits of history. Socialism is a historic ideology — having emerged out of Capitalist society and out of the Industrial Revolution. Socialism is an ideology which is tied to history — but it is also an ideology which can move history forward and move social progress forward. This means that Socialism is a powerful historical force and a powerful social force. Socialism, as the social liberation of humanity and the working class, is a historic force — not a utopian force. Socialism emerges because of the historical development of history itself — through the social development of human society.9
Socialism emerged out of the history of Capitalist society and industrial society. Socialism is a historic ideology and a historical ideology. This is because Socialism can only emerge in the right form of historical circumstances — in advanced Capitalist societies and out of advanced Capitalist societies. Socialism can only emerge out of the historical circumstances of industrial production and the existence of the working class. For Socialism to emerge there must be a certain level of historical development — one which allows the development of an industrial society and of an industrial working class. Socialism is a historic ideology — both because of Socialist ideas about history and because Socialism can only emerge in certain levels of historical development. Socialism is the next stage of human history — and knows itself to be the next stage of human history.
Socialism, intellectually, also emerged out of the history of the Enlightenment. Indeed, the history of modern Socialism and modern Socialist ideas is a product of the ideas of the Enlightenment. If the ideals of the Enlightenment are taken to their rational and logical conclusion, especially liberty, equality, and fraternity, then the ideals of the Enlightenment become the ideals of Socialism. Socialism is, in philosophical terms, a continuation of the ideals and concerns of the Enlightenment. The final, logical, outcome of the Enlightenment is Socialism. The humanism of the Enlightenment leads to the humanism of Socialism.
The Industrial Revolution produced the economic basis for Socialism. Socialism, after all, can only emerge out of an advanced industrial society. The explosion of economic development in the 18th century, the 19th century, and the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution, produced the economic basis for Socialism. This expansion of Capitalism has produced the material basis for Socialism to emerge from. Socialism is the natural product of industrial society and industrial production. The Industrial Revolution results in the ideas of Socialism.
The French Revolution produced the political basis for Socialism. Socialism, intellectually and politically, emerged out of the ideas which emerged from the political experience of the French Revolution. The French Revolution also showed that political revolution and political change was possible. From this revolutionary experience and this revolutionary legacy, the possibility of Socialism becomes more possible. The French Revolution shows that there is a precedent for social revolution. The next social revolution will be Socialism.
Socialism emerges from history. Socialism cannot be separated from history or from historical development. Socialism is, in a sense, a product of history — both in material terms and intellectual terms. The development of society, both materially and intellectually, has produced the base and the superstructure for Socialism. Socialism, historically, is simply a further step in human development and human freedom.
Socialism has its own vision of history. Specifically, the ideas of Socialism and the theory of Socialism have their own visions of both history and historical development. Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism, the theory that history develops based on material conditions, productive forces, social relations, social struggle, class struggle, human agency, and social revolution, is in line with both the theory of Socialism and the practice of Socialism. Socialism will emerge because of the material development of society and the social conflicts of society. Socialist ideas can only emerge when Capitalism is in existence and when the development of both history and society produces the social development for Socialism and the social revolution for Socialism. This means that Socialism itself is a historic force. Socialism will emerge when the material conditions necessary for it also emerge — specifically the development of the Capitalist mode of production, the development of sufficient forces of production, the development of sufficient relations of production, the development of a working class, the struggle for Socialism, and the revolutionary struggle for Socialism. Socialism, as part of social progress, emerges out of history, out of development, and out of revolution. Socialism cannot be divorced from history. In many ways Socialism is the result of history. Socialism, in historical terms, and in terms of Historical Materialism, is simply the next stage of social progress.
Historical Materialism shows that Socialism is possible. Historical Materialism shows that Socialism will emerge out of the development of Capitalism, the mode of production, the forces of production, the social relations of production, and the reality of Class Conflict. Capitalism emerged from Feudalism. Socialism will emerge from Capitalism.
Socialism, as an idea, has also developed thanks to history. Socialism continues to adapt and change depending on the struggles of the times and the struggles of history. While key aspects of Socialism remain constant — namely principles, politics, and key ideas — Socialism itself always adapts to historical change, historical struggle, and historical development. Unlike other ideologies and other theories of politics, Socialism is adaptive to history. In many ways Socialism, as an idea, is an eternal idea simply because it can adapt to changing circumstances and to the changing struggle for Socialism. This gives Socialism its historical focus and its historical strength.
Socialism seeks to achieve a better society. Indeed, the very word ‘Socialism’ stresses the social aspects of the ideology of Socialism. The word ‘Socialism’, coined in the 19th century by British Socialists and French Socialists, refers to the goal of a changed society and the goal of an equal society. Socialism, as a word, simply means social control of the means of production by the community.
Socialism seeks a democratic society — through both political democracy and economic democracy. Political democracy and economic democracy are both central to Socialism because they provide the central point of achieving the social control of production, distribution, and exchange. Political democracy and economic democracy provide the basic political structure and basic political vision of Socialism. They are also vital in developing the other ideas and the other principles which are central to the ideas of Socialism. Democracy is the foundation of the ideas of Socialism. Democracy is the ideal of Socialism.
Socialism seeks a society of equal rights and the abolition of class rule. Socialism seeks an equal society — because only a society of equality can achieve both progress, liberty, fraternity, and solidarity. The Socialist vision of Equality is the vision of the abolition of Classes and the reality of the abolition of Classes. Equality is a central Socialist idea and a central Socialist principle. Equality, too, is crucial to any society which seeks to overcome the central problems facing any society. This idea of equality is the idea of abolishing classes. Marx and Engels believed in equality in terms of political equality — in terms of the abolition of classes.10 The development of this form of equality is crucial to any social progress or to any idea of Socialism. Socialism seeks to abolish classes as the basis of any real equality in society.11 Equality, in the end, is the demand for the abolition of classes. Equality is the foundation of the ideas of Socialism. Equality is the ideal of Socialism.
The ideas of Socialism are about transforming society. The goal of transforming society into something better is not unique to Socialism, but Socialism is the only ideology which seeks to have the vast majority of humanity struggle to achieve that transformation. Indeed, Socialism is about the majority struggling to achieve the freedom of the majority.
This essay has been an attempt to outline the ideas of Socialism. The importance of having a clear outline of the ideas of Socialism is crucial for the politics of Socialism. In order to develop the theory of Socialism and the politics of Socialism there must be a clear sense of the ideas of Socialism.
Politics is impossible without ideas. Socialist politics is impossible without Socialist ideas. This means it is vital to develop Socialist ideas alongside Socialist politics and Socialist organisation.
Socialism is impossible without ideas. This is because Socialism is based on its politics and its principles — both of which include ideas and the struggle for ideas.
As Marx showed, having a good sense of the idea of Socialism is vital to achieving Socialism from out of Capitalism: ‘In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.12
As Marx also showed, the ideas of Socialism are vital in both interpreting the world and in changing the world. This is why Marx’s theory of Socialism is ultimately about the practice of Socialism: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it’.13
As Lenin showed, having a good sense of the idea of Socialism is vital for Socialism. Indeed, this is what Lenin meant when he said: ‘without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement’.14
The struggle for a Socialist movement is a struggle for Socialist ideas — and vice versa. Socialists need both a Socialist movement and Socialist ideas to achieve Socialism. One without the other is useless in the struggle for Socialism.
In order to achieve Socialism, Socialists must have a sense of Socialism and a sense of the ideas of Socialism. Socialism cannot be achieved without both Socialist ideas and Socialist politics. This means that Socialists have to be committed to their ideas — to make their ideas effective.
XIII. Socialist Humanism
Socialist ideas are reducible to some very simple and very effective ideas. Socialism is not a simplistic idea, but it can be discussed in simple terms. This is because Socialism is about effective ideas. Socialism is about its theory, but Socialism is more about its practice.
All Socialists need to have a clear idea about their ideas about Socialism. In order to develop a Socialist alternative to Capitalism there needs to be a clear outline of Socialism and the ideas of Socialism. Socialists cannot argue for Socialism as long as their ideas remain abstractions. Socialism, after all, is a concrete movement to achieve Socialism. Socialism needs to be concrete in terms of its ideas.
Socialism can be achieved. Socialism is possible. Socialism can be achieved because the material conditions for Socialism exist — specifically the existence of industrial society and the existence of the working class. With these two elements Socialism becomes possible and achievable. Socialism still requires ideas in order to make Socialism possible but the basic economic and political conditions exist today to make Socialism possible across most of the world. The only problem preventing the existence of Socialism, today, is the problem of the struggle for Socialism against Capitalism. In order for Socialism to overcome Capitalism, and to achieve Socialism, there must be a further development of Socialist ideas and Socialist politics — to further the struggle for Socialism. The ideas of Socialism are vital for the achievement of Socialism.
Socialism, in the end, is a humanist ideology and a humanist movement. Human beings, in the end, are the agent of history. Socialism seeks to liberate all of humanity — every member of humanity. In many ways Socialism is Humanism and Humanism is Socialism. The ideas of Socialist Humanism remain the key basis of thinking about Socialism — both in the abstract and in general.
Concrete Socialist ideas are vital to Socialism. Socialists can be concrete about Socialism by being clear about what Socialism is and what Socialist ideas are. This means being explicitly clear about the Socialist vision of achieving a society in which production is controlled socially and by the working class. This means being explicitly clear about the ideas of Socialism — especially about Socialist visions about economics, politics, history, society, and the future of Socialism. The principles of Socialism, especially democracy, freedom, justice, solidarity, liberty, equality, and fraternity, are concrete principles and they can easily express, in simple terms, what Socialism is and what Socialism is about. The expression of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’ also, concretely, expresses a key Socialist position and a key Socialist idea. Socialists need to be clear and concise about the ideas of Socialism — in order to agitate for Socialism and to fight for Socialism. The ideas of Socialism, in the end, are simple and effective ideas. The ideas of Socialism, too, are concrete ideas about society and changing society.
Concrete Socialist ideas must lead to concrete Socialist action. The ideas and the ideals of Socialism must always be tested in the real world and in the experience of the real world. Socialism, today, has the advantage of learning from the successes and the failures of the past. The struggle for Socialism, in the 19th century and in the 20th century, produced both victories and defeats. The experience of the Paris Commune and the October Revolution shows that Socialism is possible, that Socialism can succeed, and that Socialism can win. Despite this, however, Socialism will only progress today if it is developed for the struggle for Socialism for today. Socialism cannot simply rely on its past ideas and its past triumphs. The ideas of Socialism must be constantly tested and updated — in order to shape the world and to transform the world. The struggle for Socialism is the struggle for today and the struggle for the future.
The power of the ideas of Socialism comes from the ability of Socialism to be translated into political action and political struggle. Socialism is not simply a theory — Socialism is a practice. The Socialist struggle for a better society and a better world, a world run by the working class, can easily be translated into direct political action. This is the key strength that all effective Socialist movements have had since the 19th century. The effectiveness of Socialism, at interpreting the world and at changing the world, is the reason that it is so effective in political terms. The ideas of Socialism, too, are effective because they engage with the real world, and with the material world. The ideas of Socialism help to both interpret the world and to change the world — for the better.
Socialist ideas need to always be developed. Socialist ideas always need to be advanced. When Socialists think about Socialism they often think about the possibilities of social change and social freedom that Socialism will bring. This is an excellent formulation of Socialism — but it cannot be enough. The ideas of Socialism need to be tested in the field of ideas and the field of struggle. Of course, this is an old point, but it remains crucial and it remains key in the struggle for Socialism.15
Marxist ideas about Socialism are revolutionary ideas about Socialism. This is because the Marxist idea about Socialism is based on material politics and material society. Marxism is about interpreting the world and about changing the world. This makes Marxism the most effective set of ideas in terms of thinking about the ideas of Socialism.
Marxist ideas can still help in the struggle for Socialism. Indeed, Marxist ideas are central to the development of the ideas of Socialism.
Political ideas often rest on political principles. Political theories often rest on political struggle. Political ideals often rest on political struggle. Socialism is an example of both an idea and a principle. Socialism is an example of all of these concepts, but it is also an expression of a social struggle for human freedom. Indeed, in historical terms, Socialism is the social struggle for human freedom.
Socialism is an idea, a principle, a theory, a struggle, an ideal, and a society. No other theory of politics or society has the reach of Socialism. No other theory of politics or society has the humanity of Socialism.
The ideas of Socialism are crucial. They are crucial because they inform the struggle for a better world and the struggle for Socialism. The ideas of Socialism are what gives the movement for Socialism both theoretical ideas and concrete ideas for a better world. This means that the intellectual power of Socialism comes from its ideas and its principles. We cannot make Socialism unless we have clear ideas about Socialism and ideas about achieving Socialism. The ideas of Socialism are crucial in another way — they give us a sense of what Socialism is capable of, they give us a sense of what can be achieved. The dream of a society of equals is possible. Socialism is possible. The ideas of Socialism can help us to achieve that.
The working class is capable of Socialism. The history and politics of the working class shows that the working class is capable of achieving Socialism. The large Workers’ parties and Workers’ organisations, both past and present, show that the political goal of Socialism is possible. In those terms the struggle for Socialism is not utopian, but rather a practical political struggle which can occur in today’s society and today’s world. In order to achieve Socialism, we need ideas about Socialism. In order to achieve Socialism, we need to have concrete ideas about Socialism. The struggle of the working class gives us the political mechanisms needed to achieve Socialism, but we also need the political strength which comes from having ideas, ideals, principles, and programmes. The Left today has the ability to organise and to act for Socialism. The Left simply needs to re-engage its ideas with its politics. The working class, because of its position in society and its own political experience, is capable of Socialism and of Socialist ideas. Marx’s old point about lived experience and lived alienation, alongside the reality of exploitation and oppression, means that the working class is capable of Socialist ideas and of Socialist politics — both of which are vital to the struggle for Socialism. In today’s world those ideas and those politics will be needed more than ever. In the end the ideas of Socialism ultimately come down to the politics of Socialism. The ideas of Socialism and the politics of Socialism, ultimately, come down to the reality of making Socialism. The ideal of social control of production, the ideal of a society of equals, the ideal of workers’ power, workers’ democracy, and workers’ freedom, is all possible. The ideas of Socialism make this possible. Today the struggle for Socialism continues — until we reach Socialism.16
Socialism is important — both as idea and as politics. Given the state of Capitalism today there is a pressing need for Socialism. Capitalism can no longer say that it has all the economic answers or all the political answers. The fact that Capitalism is in crisis today, and continues to fall into crisis, should show us all that Capitalism itself is incapable of solving its fundamental problems, its fundamental issues, or its fundamental crises. The threat of war and imperialism, today, should remind us all that Capitalism offers only death and destruction to large sections of the globe. The rise of the Far-Right, in several countries, shows that Capitalism is not the universal defender of Democracy, Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity. In times such as these it is vital to look for alternatives. Socialism is the alternative to Capitalism. Socialism is the logical replacement of Capitalism. It is time, once again, to think about the ideas of Socialism — in order to build on the ideas of Socialism. It is time to think about the idea of Socialism — in order to build a Socialist society and a Socialist world.17
Socialism, as an idea, emerged because of the working class and because of working-class struggle. Socialism, in political terms, exists because the working class organised Socialist parties and organised for Socialist politics. Socialism will always remain as both an idea and as an ideal so long as the working class exists and so long as the working class is prepared to fight for it. Socialism will continue to be one of the great ideas and one of the great ideologies. Socialism will exist so long as ideas exist.
The ideas of Socialism come from many ideas. Ultimately, however, the idea of Socialism is the product of the working class itself. The idea of Socialism is the idea of the working class. It is the working class, both intellectually and politically, which has developed the ideas of Socialism and the ideals of Socialism. In political terms this makes the working class a powerful social force and a powerful political force. The idea of Socialism relies on the working class. The working class can make Socialism. The working class have the ideas of Socialism.
Socialism is a struggle. Socialism, today, has suffered a series of difficulties and setbacks — since the 1980s and the 1990s. Despite this Socialism, the ideal of Socialism, remains part of the struggle for a better society and a better world. Socialism remains possible — both as the alternative to Capitalism and as the replacement of Capitalism. It is important, in the struggle for Socialism, to understand the ideas of Socialism. Socialism will never be achieved if we do not have any idea about the ideas of Socialism. The ideas of Socialism, the idea of a free and equal society, will always be part of any effective struggle for a better world.
- K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, (1848)
- K. Marx, Capital Vol. I, (1867)
- V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done?, (1902)
- E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)
5.E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957
- E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)
- V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done?, (1902)
- E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)
- F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, (1880)
- K. Marx, General Rules of the International Working Men’s Association, (1864)
- K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, (1875)
- K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, (1848)
- K. Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, (1845)
- V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done?, (1902)
- E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)
- P. Anderson, Problems of Socialist Strategy, (1965)
- C.L.R. James, The World Revolution: 1917-1936, (1937)
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