Five fundamental principles of socialism are considered here. These principles are approached from the viewpoint of Marxism and its practice and history to date. They are a starting point for further discussion about how to present socialism as a realistic alternative to imperialism and capitalism.
We live in a time of severe economic and financial crisis for the global imperialist-capitalist system, a time when millions of people across the world are rejecting imperialism and monopoly capitalism with the policies of war, exploitation and oppression, and destruction of the natural environment.
Consequently, there is renewed interest in the concept of socialism; a system based on collective ownership of the means of production, rather than private ownership and greed. But what do genuine people find when they try to investigate this revolutionary alternative?
They find that all sorts of people, including political organisations and the governments of various countries, proclaim themselves to be ‘socialist’ without ever really defining what is meant by the term. There might be some vague and incomplete references to the wealth and resources of society being used for the benefit of all the people rather than a privileged minority, but not much else, and rarely, any strategy of how to achieve this.
The reasons for this lack of clarity are several. In part, there is a certain arrogance of intellectuals in presuming that everybody knows what socialism is, just because they do, or think they do. A more compelling reason is the deliberate clouding of the issue by opportunists and reformists to escape responsibility for their actions and inactions and to avoid being ‘pinned down’ by explicit principles. Their concept of ‘socialism’ can mean anything from mildly reformist bourgeois democracy to state monopoly ownership and the corporatisation of water, gas and electricity, through to state capitalism. None of these have much at all to do with the genuine socialism that Marxists are talking about, but are used to confuse and mislead the people, and hence to deflect interest away from Marxism.
A common smokescreen put up is to avoid any attempt at defining socialism on the grounds that we can’t predict the future and that a ‘blueprint’ cannot be imposed. Since nobody is going to argue with that, it just closes off any deeper consideration of the subject, leaving ‘socialism’ as a pie-in the-sky vision somewhere in the distant future. It also leaves the opportunists and pragmatists free to vacillate and somersault through various policies and tactics with no scientific goals other than a ‘pragmatic’ and resigned critique of capitalism.
This is not good enough for people striving to change the world for the better, and it is certainly not good enough for those who want to understand and practice Marxism-Leninism. We believe the fundamental principles of socialism and their universal application can be clearly defined without imposing a ‘blueprint’ for the form of their application in any country.
1. The working class has achieved state power and exercises working class control over a completely new state apparatus – a workers’ army, police, courts and other institutions of state, including the administrative bureaucracy.
The class rule of the minority, the imperialist-capitalist bourgeoisie and their agents, has been overthrown and their state apparatus smashed or dismantled. In its place, working class rule operates on behalf of the majority of the people and establishes its own state apparatus to defend and extend working class control over society. It is absolutely necessary to break up the old state apparatus because the institutions, structures and personnel are contaminated with the ideology of the exploiters and provide an avenue for counter-revolution.
There are too many negative examples where workers and working people and their allies suffered huge casualties after putting their reliance in the ‘reasonableness’ of the old apparatus – think of Spain, Chile and Indonesia. Conversely, socialist revolutions were consolidated only in countries where the old apparatus was replaced entirely with a completely new working class state apparatus – think of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions.
Furthermore, a state apparatus led by the working class is no longer just an instrument of class rule as it was under the old system. It becomes not only an instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and serving the interests of the people, for delivering justice and fairness, for dealing with natural disasters and emergencies, but also a powerful and positive instrument for building confidence in the revolutionary transformation of society and for taking a leading role in building the new socialist economy. The working class, by its solidarity and determination, is at the core of the revolutionary transformation. With its vision and organisation, the working class has the capacity to rally the support of other classes and sectors of society who have been exploited and oppressed under the old system.
2.There is a centrally planned economy with long-term development cycles and goals to steadily develop the productive economy to meet the needs of the people.
Socialism is a stage in the transition to the classless society of Communism. In order to satisfy the Marxist definition of Communism as a society which operates on the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, socialism must build the material and social foundations. This means building a society where all people contribute to the common good and, in return, receive all their material needs such as housing, food, healthcare, education, decent working conditions, social and cultural development, and live in a sustainable manner compatible with nature and the environment.
Furthermore, a healthy surplus must be built in to provide for expansion of the population and a reserve for emergencies and natural disasters.
All of this cannot happen overnight. It requires a planned and measured development of the economy to meet the immediate, medium and long-term needs of the people. In addition, a new revolutionary government must move quickly to fulfil the very demands of the people that carried the revolution to victory – for example, demands for land reform, for ending involvement in imperialist wars and pacts, for releasing political prisoners, for nationalising key industries, etc.
Consequently, all aspects of the key sectors of the economy must come under the immediate control of the new revolutionary government. In most societies this would include energy and fuel, water and sewerage, mining and resources, steel and other heavy manufacturing industries, chemicals and other strategic industries. Railways, airlines and public transport must also be nationalised, and price controls applied to rents and basic foodstuff. All education and healthcare and social services should be nationalised to deliver free, quality service to the people. The production of selected essential products such as pharmaceuticals, rubber, plastics and electronics should also be taken over by the government.
Export trade and marketing should be regulated by the government, cancelling all unequal or unfair trade agreements and implementing a system of fair trade for mutual benefit. Important commodities such as grain, metals and oil/gas should be traded through state-owned enterprises.
Profits generated from all these nationalised enterprises should be returned to the people in the form of better and cheaper services, better working conditions and a steadily improving standard of living. By eliminating the profit-taking of the capitalist class and taking advantage of the economies of scale, a healthy surplus can be quickly created to fund the modernisation, expansion and diversification of essential industries.
Central planning for this re-focussing of the economy is essential to co-ordinate all the various aspects of building the new economy in a sustainable way that steadily improves the lives of the people and consolidates the revolution. Central planning ensures that longer term goals are set and that there is systematic progress made to achieving them. The early five-year plans in Soviet Russia and People’s China built the basis for their socialist societies, each followed by a period of review and reassessment and adjustment of priorities to ensure that the overall direction of the revolution was being maintained. Such control over the economy is impossible for market capitalism, which only produces the things that can be sold for the quickest profit, and is therefore confronted with periodic gluts and shortages and a lop-sided economy.
3. There is sectoral and representational democracy in national, regional and local assemblies – to frame policies, and to implement and monitor them.
Socialist democracy should be more enlightened, more comprehensive and more deeply entrenched than any bourgeois democratic system. As part of all national, regional and local assemblies of elected representatives, there should also be an agreed number of places provided for sectoral representatives and special interest groups such as indigenous peoples, victims of the old regime, people with disabilities, the aged, students, etc.
A socialist Constitution should uphold extensive human rights, especially the rights of workers to organise and take industrial action over workplace, political and social demands. An essential part of the construction of a socialist society is the empowerment of the working class, and this should be reflected in Constitutional guarantees dealing with informed and extensive consultation on key economic and social issues, together with the power to recall elected representatives.
4. There is vigorous and deep-seated participatory democracy in the workplaces and communities.
Socialist democracy should be an enlightening and inspiring experience for the working people, one that taps into their enthusiasm and stretches their imagination to work towards building a better society for all. It should not be an abstract thing that only the ‘politicians ‘or ‘activists’ are concerned with.
In workplaces and communities, working people would initially be encouraged and assisted to establish collectives to make recommendations and provide feedback to the management and different levels of government. Over time, these collectives should become progressively more involved in implementing and monitoring decisions, and eventually take over major decision-making and management roles in their workplaces and communities. Democracy itself would change from being a formal and occasional process to an everyday way of life.
5. The role of the revolutionary party/parties is to guide and lead the masses in achieving these goals, to encourage empowerment of the masses and to continue the revolutionary process of transforming society to liberate the full potential of all people.
In order to maintain the respect and trust of the people, the revolutionary party/parties must stand shoulder to shoulder with the working people and must stay deeply connected to them. At the same time, revolutionary organisation is distinct from other organisations of the masses in that it is composed of the most ideologically advanced workers and intellectuals who combine practical leadership with the long term perspective. Members of the revolutionary party/parties should devote themselves to serving the people, work hard at their political and occupational tasks, and live modestly among the people.
The revolutionary party/parties must continually analyse and sum up the class relationships in society, the development of the productive and economic forces, the mood and consciousness of the working class and the masses generally. They must take account of internal and external hostile forces and maintain vigilance against aggression, sabotage and counter-revolution. Only from this analysis and from listening carefully to the masses, can the revolutionary party/parties formulate the path of revolutionary change, map out the key stages, and set the order of priorities.
Class struggle continues under socialism. The backward and reactionary ideology and petty-bourgeois outlook that is inherited from the old system will re-generate itself unless challenged. The revolutionary party/parties must lead the struggle to change not only the material conditions of the masses, but also their political consciousness. This is a continuous process, a “cultural revolution” integrated into the lives of the masses and moving bit by bit in the direction of a classless society.
These are five key principles of Marxist socialism. History shows that the implementation of these principles does not happen automatically as soon as the working class takes power. Their implementation has to be planned, constructed, consolidated and maintained. While all five principles require attention, some can be achieved quicker than others. History also shows that they are inter-related, and that when and where any single principle is not implemented or lapses, the revolutionary movement loses its way and eventually decays or is overthrown by counter-revolution.