Sunday, 10 March 2013

Introduction to Socialism (part 1)

[Click here for original video]

Transcript and references to quotes

Hi, my name is David and today I will be talking about the different meanings of the word socialism. I will also quickly look at the meanings of some related terms such as communism, anarchism and liberalism.
·         So let’s start
·         The word socialism originated in the early 19th century. Some believe the word was first used by the followers of the French utopian writers Comte de Saint Simon and Charles Fourier.
·         However, the origins could also lie in England, which was going through the industrial revolution. At this time, many commentators, such as William Thompson and John Francis Bray thought that local communities or worker cooperatives should jointly control factories and other work places as well as capital and land.
·         An important organisation to think about in the development of socialist ideas is the first international workers association.
·         This organisation was made up of workers, trade unionists and various revolutionaries or socialists of different kinds.( The police estimated its membership to be approximately 5 million at one point.)
·         The organisation was split into two main camps. On the one side there were the anarchists led by figures such as Bakunin.
·         On the other side were the communists led by Karl Marx.  
·         Despite being enemies in some ways, Bakunin and Marx had very similar views of a future society – which were also similar to the views early English socialists.
·         Firstly, they both opposed concentrated private economic power – meaning private ownership of the means of production such as factories and farming land.
·         Secondly, they both opposed state power.
·         Instead of private ownership and control of factories, they thought factories should be owned and managed collectively by workers and communities.  They extended this idea to farms, and other workplaces.
·         They also thought the state should be abolished and society should be run via a system of direct democracy – an idea of democracy which goes back to the Ancient Athenians who invented the word.
·         We also have examples of direct democracy today. For example, some Swiss districts have had direct democracy for centuries.
·         Also, in Portoe Allegre they have a famous system of participatory budgeting where thousands of people from the city meet to decide on local government spending. The system has helped improve water, health and education services so the experiment is being rolled out to many cities throughout the world including London and New York.
·         Returning to Bakunin and Marx, a social experiment which they praised was the Paris Commune of 1871. Here, the Parisians rose up against the government and instituted a direct democracy. They also turned several workplaces into worker cooperatives. However, eventually the commune was crushed by the French government.
·         Now, Marx and the communists referred to the future society they favoured as ‘communism’.  They sometimes used the word socialism interchangeably with communism, but often avoided the word socialism because this term was also associated with ideas of St Simon, Fourier and others who they were not supportive of.
·         Now, Marx and the communists also thought that there needed to be a temporary state government to manage the transition from capitalism to communism. This state government could either be achieved through the election of the communist party or it could be achieved through revolution. 
·         However, many revolutionaries such as Bakunin opposed the idea of a transitional state, arguing that it would either fail to finish revolution or that any such state would end up oppressing the people. These revolutionaries referred to themselves as either anarchists – anarchy meaning no ruler - or often just socialists. Meanwhile, they referred to Marx and the communists as ‘state socialists’.
·         Another term used to describe the anarchists was ‘libertarian socialists’.
·         It is worth noting that today the words anarchist and libertarian have taken on different meanings but this is how they were popularly used in the late 1800s.
·         Let us look at the word libertarian. Today, in the US, the Libertarian party, opposes state power to some extent but unlike libertarian socialists, does not fully oppose the state. Also, unlike libertarian socialists the libertarian party does not oppose concentration of economic power.
·         It is worth noting here that on this, the libertarian party is also very different to the father of classical liberalism, the enlightenment philosopher, John Locke. Like libertarian socialists, Locke opposed both private and state power. Locke proposed that private economic power should be checked by people’s ownership of property being limited to what they could manage with their own labour. He was a pre-industrialist so society consisted mainly of farmers.  He thought farmers should only own the small plot of land which they farmed themselves, without interference from rich landlords who didn’t do the work directly. 
·         He also thought that state power should be limited to keeping in place this kind of system and that the people should revolt if the state over-stepped this mark.
·         It is a definite possibility that if writing later, Locke would have also opposed concentrated ownership of modern means of production such as factories and like libertarian socialists, would have preferred communal ownership.
·         Moving on, other terms used to describe the future society favoured by both the traditional anarchists and the communists included democratic socialism and social democracy – although again, these terms have different meanings today.
·         Recently, other terms have been used such as ‘radical democracy’. Others just use the word ‘democracy’.
·         Now, many socialist groups during the 19th century engaged in parliamentary politics. This included the Communist Party which wanted to be elected to government, with the aim of putting in place communism. However, the Communist manifesto also outlined other short-term policies such as universal education, progressive taxation and state control of key industries. 
·         Other socialist parties such as the German Social Democratic Party had similar programs and in this way, the terms ‘socialism’, ‘social democracy’ and ‘democratic socialism’ came to also be associated with state redistribution and provision of public services as well as state control of industries.
·         OK, so that brings us to the end of part 1 of this video. So far we’ve seen that the word socialism has several meanings. It could mean a pre-planned utopia, a direct-democracy with communal ownership of the means of production, or a state-managed economy with redistributive policies. 
 ·         During the 20th century the word took on even more meanings and that will be the subject of part 2 of this video. 

 References to quotes can be seen more clearly by clicking on the slide whereby the slide will expand...

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