Who isn’t a socialist in today’s world? Everyone from millionaires, to small business owners, to the casual member of the political peanut gallery declares fidelity to “socialism” in some form. It makes no difference what the actual political content of this socialism is, as it is clear that the term has been emptied of all revolutionary meaning, but that so many people conceptualize socialism as the base, or contours, of their own political vision is grounds enough for many writers to declare an upsurge in “socialist thought”. But what does this mean beyond uninformed declarations from sensationalist hacks? Absolutely nothing.
Where once such a ringing chorus of delight in socialism’s intellectual and political ascendency would have served as a signpost of a coming revolutionary outburst towards a post-capitalist world, we see none of that. Instead we see hackneyed and hodgepodge definitions of socialism that emerge as an ideological a la carte, acting as a complement to liberalism, or as a defanged and idealistic “alternative”. Something invented in people’s heads, a dream of a better world assembled with the same pieces that make up our current nightmare, with the naive hope that something different will form. Yet, this “alternative” will never, and can never, come to fruition because it is not rooted in the class struggle of the revolutionary subject (the proletariat), which has a material interest in a world beyond capitalism, and because it does not emerge from a materialist analysis of the capitalist mode of production. For all the claptrap about millennials supposedly favoring socialism over capitalism, we must face facts, the socialism that they want, and that they understand, is moderate reform to soften the contradictions of capitalism. It’s not a revolutionary departure from capitalism and bourgeois democracy, but strengthening both in the name of “inclusion” and “fairness” (as if such a thing was possible within the framework of bourgeois society). But it must be borne in mind that this “socialism” is not just the result of some grand political ignorance ascribed to the media’s favorite punching bag, millennials, but the result of a century of class struggle, the enduring mailability of bourgeois rule, and a realignment of class forces that has affected the entire revolutionary movement.
The days of socialism causing terror in the hearts of the ruling class are long over. Socialism died its first death before and during World War I. It fell amidst the bodies and smoke of a war-torn Europe, exposed as a movement moth-eaten by liberal ideology and chained to an inflexible dogmatism that forestalled revolution in the name of preserving the very social order that its goal was to destroy. Since then the rotten corpse of socialism has continuously been exhumed as a nonviolent revenant, only to ritualistically die again, whether in Chile’s presidential palace or amongst a long-faced crowd of Sanders’ supporters. This is especially true when “socialism” can now be employed to restrain revolutionary struggle and to direct the masses back into the bourgeois political system. It has become an agent of pacification in the hands of the bourgeoisie, no longer the revolutionary watchword of the oppressed masses.
This situation is the result of a three-fold process. Firstly, the wane of the official socialist movement, concentrated in the Second International in Europe, due to its national chauvinist line and its anti-revolutionary stance. With the outbreak of World War I the European working-class stood betrayed, sent to die by their own governments, with the blessings and war credits of the very socialist parties that had supposedly declared war on imperialist war in the name of the proletarian masses. This betrayal of proletarian internationalism and the alignment of proletarian mass parties with the interests of capitalist-imperialism led to a crisis in the international revolutionary movement. This caused a realignment of class forces, leading to the creation of the Third International and the demarcation between reformist social democracy and revolutionary communism. The working class, and its advanced guard, the communists, saw in socialism (then called social democracy) the preservation of the bourgeois order. The official socialist parties had become permeated, especially in their leadership, with bourgeois ideology and could not act as a revolutionary force, instead acting as a massive dead weight of careerism, opportunism, and bureaucratism on the working class. Of course, this is nothing new. The fight against bourgeois hegemony in the workers’ movement is as old as the organized proletarian movement itself. The bourgeoisie always seeks to extend its ideological and political dominance into all sections of society, even absorbing once revolutionary struggles and mollifying them into liberal and non-revolutionary struggles. In essence, they become the “loyal opposition”, the lap dogs of the ruling class.
The split between reformist socialism and revolutionary communism led to the emergence of the international communist movement and birthed the national liberation and anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century. During this period communists were the fiercest enemies of the ruling classes of every country. Mercilessly hunted, slaughtered, and hounded into oblivion. Yet, where were the socialists? Those who, desperately clinging to a dying politics in the face of the necessary ideological struggle that unfolded in the revolutionary movement, refused to break with the opportunism codified in the socialist movement in the West. They became the defenders of incremental change, the upholders of the “justness” of liberal democracy, the harbingers of an enlightened imperialism on behalf of the “advanced” countries over the “backwards” countries.
As the international communist movement struck blow after blow at the capitalist-imperialist system, both the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries, and their socialist lap dogs, howled about the “despotism” and “totalitarianism” of communism. While the motives might have been different, as the socialists still naively believed they were acting as socialists and in defense of socialism, they were both united in a chorus denouncing the very movement unearthing the roots of this rotten system. The bourgeoisie learned through its struggle with communism who its friends and enemies are. They learned that the so-called revolutionaries, the socialists, could be reliable allies in the struggle against the communist menace. One need only think of those “heroic” socialists like George Orwell, Karl Kautsky, and others who acted as even more vehement attackers of communist attempts at constructing socialism than the professional bourgeois propagandists. In short, these socialists balked in the face of actual implementations of a proletarian dictatorship (socialism), retreating into the realm of theory where the complicated reality of making revolution doesn’t exist but on paper.
In their attempt to condemn communism and preserve their legitimacy in bourgeois society they needed to distance themselves from the twentieth century’s revolutionary experiments. However, their further integration into the bourgeois electoral circus, their continuing retreat from revolutionary activity (even legal), and the loss of their working class base to the communists de-revolutionized and corrupted their political praxis. Socialism became a mere label and a flourish to add to a speech, no longer something to be actualized, only something to be idealized in a world that will never come.
This is where we find ourselves in today’s world. A world in which “Socialists” rule in France and preside over neoliberal austerity measures, where “socialists” in Brazil and Greece remain hamstrung in bourgeois legality, unable to handle the contradictions of growing financial and debt crises within their reformist framework and instead continue to deepen austerity measures. It would appear that the socialists have become better mangers of capitalism and discipliners of the working class than even the bourgeois parties. In the U.S. the so-called socialists, especially of the self-proclaimed “democratic” variety, can’t even fight for, or imagine, any coherent vision beyond a papered over version of the existing order. In such a world can we not hesitate to say that socialism is dead, lurching forward carrying the politics of years past in the face of new struggles? And what of communism, did it not die with the birth of our post-ideological age? No, communism lives. It lives in the revolutionary struggles of today, from India, to the Philippines, to Nepal, to Turkey. There is where communists are fighting for socialism, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not for management of the system, not for short-sighted reforms, but for what socialism always was, the proletariat in power on the road to communism.
We communists don’t reject socialism, in fact we are its last defenders, the last people willing to lead the working class in realizing it. We only reject the bankrupt, distorted, and opportunistic caricature that the “socialists” have made of socialism. We stand with the oppressed and downtrodden the world over that fight for socialism, the communists, which means we stand against the modern socialists who would condemn them as “terrorists” and “fools” working for a “totalitarian vision”. We must recapture socialism, inject revolutionary fervor and clarity back into it. Thereby declaring that socialism is nothing less than the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transition to communism. Such a thing is necessary to firmly demarcate ourselves from the modern day “socialists”, to provide a clear theory and orientation for the masses in the revolutionary struggle of today. We must insist on communist (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) praxis as the only means of bring the proletariat to power, that all other means lead to failure at best or a continuation of “business as usual” at worst.
In today’s climate one must be a communist, which means being a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, not a socialist. We must not forget that even in our desire for socialism that that is not enough. Socialism is transitory and still is a system based on exploitation (still having remnants of capitalist social relations and a suppressed law of value and commodity production). It is a contradictory stage of emerging communism and dying capitalism, a stage in which the masses must be unleashed in order to combat bourgeois remnants in the State apparatus (and thus lead to its withering away) and continuing the struggle for control of production and the abolition of bourgeois right. We must insist and not forget that, in the words of Etienne Balibar, “…socialism only makes sense from the standpoint of communism, as a phase of its concrete realization.” Those who don’t understand socialism in relation to communism understand nothing of socialism, and those who refuse to speak of the realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat speak nothing but meaningless tripe. Without power for the proletariat, all is illusion, including socialism.