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Socialism: What will it look like?

By Paul D'Amato | April 16, 2004 | Page 9

"WE KNOW what you're against. What are you for/" is a question that we socialists get a lot. Socialism was well summed up by Eugene Debs: "The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interests of all the people! That is the demand.

"The elimination of rent, interest and profit and the production of wealth to satisfy the wants of all the people! That is the demand. The end of...class rule, of master and slave, of ignorance and vice, of poverty and shame, of cruelty and crime...That is the demand."

But socialism cannot be created, as Marx was fond of saying, out of blue-prints or "ready-made utopias." It has to be created, from the bottom up, by ordinary people. But that doesn't mean that we have no idea of what a future socialist society would look like.

The starting point for creating a socialist society is the collective solidarity that is a prerequisite for a successful mass revolution in the first place. Without a high degree of unity, whereby division of race, sex and nationality begin to be overcome in the course of struggle, there would be no starting point.

But the fact that a revolution is necessary at all indicates that we cannot escape the past. Socialism must be created by people who have grown up in a society that has in many ways stunted their character and suppressed their potential.

"What we have to deal with here," wrote Marx, "is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges."

Hence we cannot leap from the "realm of necessity" into the "realm of freedom." There must be a transition period in which new human relations emerge, in which the elements of the old that degraded humanity and new mix in such a way that the old is partially suppressed (revolution is, after all, suppression of the old), and partially withers away and gradually dies.

"Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other," wrote Marx. "Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship [i.e., rule] of the proletariat." In this transition period, the working class uses its political power to implement a series of reforms that transforms the whole economic, political and social arrangements in society and creates the foundations for a classless society free of oppression and exploitation.

We cannot foresee exactly how such a society would evolve. But we can have some idea of how it would start. Imagine a city under workers' control, run by a government composed of workers' delegates elected directly from workplaces and instantly revocable.

The workers would first move to solve the city's most pressing problems--like homelessness. They might select a committee to requisition the thousands of unused offices, mansions, houses and extra rooms of the wealthy. They might then call on the homeless of the city to report to a certain location to be allocated a place to live.

In the meantime, unemployed construction workers--using city funds that had been earmarked for a billion-dollar football stadium project--could immediately begin the construction of a thousand rent-controlled, low-cost housing units.

The market and money cannot be done away with at one stroke. But the workers' state can nationalize the banks and redirect funds into much-needed state projects like health care, transportation and child care. From being a means of profit-making, money becomes a means of accounting for what is produced and how it is distributed.

In this way, we could begin to construct a society where resources were democratically produced and distributed according to a conscious plan that took into account above all the needs of all.

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