Although there are encouraging signs of popular resistance, governments in rich Western countries are advancing in their brutal design to transfer the cost of the economic crisis to their workers and to people in the poor countries. The capitalist crisis aggravates the global environmental crisis and ominously sharpens international tensions, at a time when the military capacity of imperialism reaches its historic peak, its economic base is weakened, and the center of gravity of the world economy continues to shift southward.
The political weakness of socialism in the world (exception made of the encouraging developments in South America) is an indication that, not to mention the pressing need, even the mere possibility of dissolving capitalism and building socialism is far from being established in the collective consciousness and will of the workers of the world. Capitalist propaganda has managed to impose its interpretation of the historical record of 20 century socialism, taking one side of it and framing it as an irredeemable failure. Another aspect of this ideological desolation is, of course, the inability of socialists to appropriate their historical experience, , both critically and in a spirit of solidarity, separating carefully necessity from chance, causes from effects, form and substance, and – on such basis – to develop a more potent vision of the future we want.
Socialism – a society of, by and for the direct producers, a society in which producers exercise direct control, as socialized individuals, over the premises, processes and results of their activity – cannot be a spontaneous historical outcome. On the contrary, it can only be built on purpose, deliberately. This implies that a workable design, more complete and detailed, of a socialist society must be formed in the collective mind of the producers before it has a chance to become reality. This collective thought process must be nourished, not only by learning from the ongoing struggles that workers face today, but also by assimilating the past historical experience.
We, the workers — as we are in flesh and blood, from our own time and circumstance, but tending towards a growing unity, organization, education and militancy — need to think of socialism, before we start and re-start the task of building it. This remains true even if – on the fly, in the process of struggle and construction – we are forced to start it all over again, and again. If we have to redesign socialism ab initio, as often as may be necessary, until our results and radical needs match, let it be that the decision to start from scratch is no premise, but careful conclusion from a fair evaluation of the historical record.
The fact is that, insofar as workers do not build in our minds a plausible view, sufficiently coherent and detailed future society, insofar as we suppress our political imagination in deference to the status quo, our political practice will remain trapped in the miserable confines of opportunism and reformism. As David Laibman (Science & Society) has argued, to the TINA (“There Is No Alternative”) of Margaret Thatcher, socialists must oppose our TIARA (“There Is A Revolutionary Alternative”). Our revolutionary alternative needs to grow — acquire shape, texture and colors — in our collective consciousness, before we are able to implement it in practice and during this implementation.
In this 21 st century, we socialists in rich countries cannot ignore the historical practical experience of socialism. The fear that the tragic (but also heroic) legacy of this experience may pollute and discredit us, the tendency to distance ourselves emotionally, intellectually and politically from that record, is not disconnected from the racist and imperialist ideological arrogance that belittles the experience that the periphery counter-poses to the Western world. We can not accept the argument, perhaps valid in the 19 th century, that socialism remains a mere ideal, its seed lodged in the purposeful universal activity of human beings that we call labor. In the 21st century, socialism has a practical historical record to show, with mixed results.
The tragic element of this experience, in its gigantic human scale, is undeniable. But there is also a constructive element that we must embrace. The historical practical experience of socialism starts with the Paris Commune (1871) but reaches historical universal significance in the 20th century with the October Revolution (1917), the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Nazi yoke (1945), the Chinese Revolution (1949) and, of course, the Cuban Revolution (1959) and the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam (1975). Bitterly, workers in the rich Western world are now in a position to appreciate the enormous positive gravitational force, the tangible impact on their living and working conditions, exerted by the living example of real socialism. The socialists in the North cannot, must not, dispatch tabula rasa this glorious epic. We need to reclaim it, appropriate it, in the spirit of ruthless criticism against the status quo that Marx left us, but also with the sense of solidarity that the struggles of the exploited and oppressed, always under adverse and hostile conditions, deserve from us. The lessons are to be learned, not to justify surrender or treason, but to intensify the struggle for socialism, and to win.
Future posts in this blog will try to examine an aspect of the historical experience of socialism in the 20 century that I consider crucial: the organization and planning of the economies in transition to socialism. I admit that, at this point, my work is not systematic. This is a modest work in construction. I start from the premise that the problems that the enemies of socialism have emphasized and continue to emphasize, in their zeal to deny the practical viability of socialism are not imaginary but real, and painful, and have not yet been solved or overcome, in theory or in practice. Ultimately, these problems will not be resolved by purely theoretical means. The role of theoretical work is limited to generalizing and socializing the pre-existing experience in order to minimize the inescapable cost of the practical struggle, but it is only in and through the practical struggle that we will demonstrate once and for all the historical and economic viability of socialism in the 21st century.