RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

Socialism With a Human Face

Written by David Starr   
Monday, 28 June 2021 04:29


The title of this article is borrowed from the slogan characterizing the reforms that were implemented by Alexander Dubcek, chairman of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, starting in April 1968. The reforms were called an "Action Program," where there would be more of a liberalization of society economically and politically. Dubcek wanted to improve socialism to make it more dynamic. After about four months, the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia (a member of the Pact, ironically), stopping the process.

About two decades later, in the Gorbachev era, Czechoslovakia was "liberated," splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Now, both countries are afflicted by right-wingers who are homophobic and anti-semitic (not to mention anti-communist). The West refers to them as "democracies."

Perhaps an important feature of socialism with a human face was/is the de-Stalinization of socialism itself. There have been various forms and degrees of socialism depending on a country's historical conditions; and unfortunately Stalinism has more or less been included, notably in the USSR and the Eastern European countries.

Despite Stalinism, socialism has basically worked. To one degree or another, it exists in many countries. Even the United States has had a minimal degree of socialism. Think of infrastructure, postal service, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. But can the United States go further, constructing its own socialism with a human face?

The degree of democracy existing in the U.S. could help this along. After all, Karl Marx once said that democracy is the road to socialism.

A Socialist USA?! Mission Impossible?!

Actually, socialism in the United States is not some new phenomenon. One wouldn't know it from the U.S. media, but there have been a multitude of tendencies that have supported and struggled to achieve socialism: anarchists, communists, democratic socialists, Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, social democrats, and utopian socialists. Going back to the early 1800s, there were utopian communities, notably the Shakers. In 1877, the Socialist Labor Party of America was established by labor activists who were mainly European immigrants. The Socialist Party of America was established in 1901, lead by Eugene Debs, who ran as a presidential candidate in 1920 and garnered almost one million votes. Out of the struggles between capital and labor came the creation of May 1, International Workers Day in the U.S. and has been celebrated worldwide. In the 1930s, the Communist Party USA took an important role in the struggles between labor and capital as well as racial struggles. The McCarthyite era in the 1950s saw a crackdown against communists, real or imagined. In the 1960s, the New Left was born in a revival of radical politics. And today, we have democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who won 13 million votes in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. ("History of the Socialist Movement in the United States," Wikipedia.)

The United States establishment has had an obsession with seeing socialism as evil. The media, government and think tanks have bombarded the U.S. population constantly with anti-socialist propaganda.

But what is socialism, really? Marxist theory points out that socialism is the first stage of communism. But I've brought up another dirty word – the "c" word. Actually, communism hasn't really existed. An epoch cannot be established and developed in just 74 years (about the length of time that the Soviet Union existed). To reiterate, we've had various forms and degrees of socialism, and the legacy of Stalinism. The latter was a perversion of socialism, where words and actions were over the top: using and abusing the phrases "enemy of the people" and "counter-revolutionary," forced collectivization, show trials, massive purges, mass executions, and prison camps even for those who were innocent of any crime.

But getting back to the question: What is socialism, really? There is the B/W definition that socialism means the state controls everything. Socialism can also mean a sharing of power. If the United States did become socialist (I know, it sounds impossible), it would be with U.S. characteristics, i.e., based on the U.S.'s particular historical conditions. My take on it is as follows, although this is a hypothesis. And depending on the objective conditions, this may be both a gradual and quick transition based on what factors are involved:

Where the government and the populace more or less share economic and political power. Economically, there would be the further establishment of workers' cooperatives, where workers have the power of the vote to determine management, where they can make policy decisions and where there is a fair distribution of the profits. Additionally, there would be "mom and pop" stores and sole proprietorships. Major industries like oil and gas would be nationalized to protect the country's sovereignty. And there would be consistent government regulation to promote accountability.

Politically, there would of course be voting, town halls and forums, along with workers' representation in government, the population having the opportunity to decide policy through referendums,  and the enacting of laws by the government.

Furthermore, healthcare, education and housing would be basic rights. There is no excuse for a for-profit healthcare system, poor funding of public education and massive homelessness.

I'm not saying this would be a utopia. Where there are humans, there are problems. But humans have in some ways evolved. For example, the revolution that spawned the United States. This was a successful overthrow of feudal relations and established the bourgeois form of democracy, although it is not enough. But now, this form of democratization is threatened by the right with its dangerous agenda. An agenda comprising ultra-nationalism, religious fanaticism and the rule of capital. And the neoliberal side is just as much of a danger as it would act as conservative as the conservatives if things went "too far." But, ideally, things like worker ownership of the means of production, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, combating climate change, racial equality, and LBGT rights is not going too far. These are commonsense policies for the population as a whole.

Separating Socialism From Stalinism

One thing that needs to be done is to separate socialism from Stalinism. Enough damage has been done by the latter against the former. Ironically, Stalinism has done Western propaganda a favor by making it easier to point the accusing finger and say that socialism is "evil."

While Stalinism may have had certain socialist aspects to it, it was the use and abuse of socialism. Separating the two is thus a difficult task, considering how socialism was identified with Stalin's legacy. But it must be clear that socialism and Stalinism do not have to be equated with one another. Socialism has more in common with democracy than the Stalinist model. While democracy means government by and for the people, a socialist government goes further. It represents people who are without institutional power, those who are working class and poor, as opposed to a capitalist government where the bottom line priorities are different based on the accumulation of profit.

Another reason for separating socialism from Stalinism is the question of who really holds power. Socialism advocates for the working class, i.e., the masses, to hold at least some degree of power, where as a priority the government is representative of the class interests of workers. Stalinism, while putting emphasis on socialism in one country to quickly build up the USSR and protect it from outside threats, nevertheless engineered a cult of personality, with Stalin attaining absolute power. Stalin had fellow Bolsheviks arrested and put on trial for conducting "counter-revolutionary conspiracies." Notably, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev and Nikolai Bukharin were tried and executed. Leon Trotsky, exiled from the USSR in 1929, was eventually murdered while living in Mexico. Stalin's level of power allowed him to rule like a Tsar. He wasn't to be questioned or criticized.

So, socialism needs to be removed from the yolk of Stalinism. Socialism has the potential to be a viable alternative to capitalist rule, without the Stalinist baggage.


Perhaps it could be put out there repeatedly that socialism means a sharing of power, similar to the description above. Of course it's no easy task given decades of Cold War propaganda. But it could mean that socialism would not be associated with evil, and looked at in a more positive light. Then it would be socialism with a human face. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.