Sunday, 18 October 2009

New socialism: how to build a new socialism for the 21st century

If you've read previous posts on this blog you'll know that I've been blogging about how we build a socialism that will work for the 21st century just as the Communist Party tried to make socialism work in the 20th Century. In order for socialism to succeed its vital to create a viable economic alternative to capitalism, an issue I explored in a previous post. I've also looked at how a socialist government could drive lasting change in our society. here I want to further explore two key requirements for building socialism. They are:
1. capitalism cannot be replaced politically it must be overcome economically
2. socialism must empower individuals and social groups to take control of their own lives and communities. The key to this control is economic control.

Real power is economic power. If socialists want to transform society they must gain economic power. Simply winning political power in elections is not enough. Historically socialist and social democratic governments have been able to use the power of the state to ameliorate the excesses of capitalism without ever shaking its grip on society. Real power has always remained with those who own the means of production.

The traditional socialist answer to this has been to put the means of production in the hands of the state, thus ending the power of capitalists to dominate society. This didn't work in the Soviet Union - why? Because it didn't fulfill the requirement in 2. above. People weren't empowered economically. They swapped a capitalist employer for a state employer without ever gaining economic control over their own lives. They lacked the incentive to create real wealth for themselves and the communities they lived in.

To gain economic power socialists need to start creating wealth. Workers create the world's wealth. Marx's development of the idea of surplus value in Das Kapital enabled socialists to understand how capitalists expropriate that wealth for themselves leaving the crumbs from the cake of wealth creation for the rest of us. To gain economic power socialists must enable workers to create wealth and keep it for themselves. How can workers do this without becoming capitalists? The answer is mutualism. There is nothing new about this. Robert Owen advocated this 150 years ago. In the UK there are over 4000 successful co-operatives with a turnover of £27 billion. This may be small beer compared to the whole economy but it has the potential to grow.

Co-operatives are socialism in action. They are democratically controlled enterprises in which the workers own the means of production. They create wealth for workers and communities instead of for capitalists. Co-operatives tend to have a greater success rate when started up than capitalist companies. Many socialists feel uncomfortable with the notion of making profits and commercialism of any kind but this is how economies work. Profits can be used to make co-operatives grow and benefit communities. Commercialism does not have to be of the rapacious, dehumanising capitalist variety. One of the historical weaknesses of socialism is that it has failed to meet the aspiration of people to improve their material condition. Co-operatives allow workers to do just that without the need for capitalism.

Co-operatives are social enterprises . They can be not-for-profit or explicitly for community benefit. The key is that workers have control over their own economic destiny, and are able to improve their own and their community's well being. The beauty of this is that we can do it now. Their is no need to wait for a general election or a socialist government. If you want to help to bring about socialism go out and start up a co-op. Demonstrate that we can create wealth democratically and equitably without the need for capitalism. Co-operatives completely undermine many of the arguments of the right - that socialism doesn't reward individuals or encourage enterprise, and can't create wealth. Every successful co-op diminishes capitalism.

I'm not suggesting that we don't need socialist parties, or trade unions, or that we shouldn't be trying to create a socialist state. But doing those two things without creating a viable economic alternative to capitalism won't bring about a socialist society. I'm in the process of trying to set up a co-op for community benefit in Cheshire and I'll keep you up to date with developments via this blog. As a socialist I've no doubt its one of the most important and useful things I've ever attempted.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds a positive idea - not sure how I came upon this blog, but this is a good article.

Best of luck with it - you must be a real go-getter (my get up and go sort of got up and went - courtesy of my union activities & a bunch of quite interested but ultimately lazy stewards, who wore me out so I quit...).

BUT this project does sounds interesting.......