What is Marxism? 
Q. What is Marxism?
A. Marxism is the system of Marx’s views and teachings. Marx was the genius who continued and consummated the three main ideological currents of the 19th century, as represented by the three most advanced countries of mankind: classical German philosophy, classical English political economy, and French socialism combined with French revolutionary doctrines in general. Acknowledged even by his opponents, the remarkable consistency and integrity of Marx’s views, whose totality constitutes modern materialism and modern scientific socialism, as the theory and program of the working class movement in all the countries of the world.
Q. What are Marxism/Leninism and Trotskyism?
A. This term is generally used to describe what are considered revolutionary Marxists (those who see that the present system must be replaced by a new one), as opposed to reformists (those who believe that the capitalist system can be made “kinder and gentler”—which is not possible!). Leninism is really nothing more than the extension of Marx’s ideas into the age of imperialism (the age of the domination of finance capital and monopolies, and the total subjugation of the colonial world to the will of the major powers).
But there is still some confusion as far as Marxism/Leninism goes. There are those who follow Stalin, Mao, or Trotsky. Stalin and Mao were not Marxists, they were actually quite anti-Marxist in that they led regimes based not on democratic control of the state by the workers, but rather based on totalitarian control by an elite stratum of bureaucrats who were a parasite on the workers’ state.
Trotskyism, or those who follow Leon Trotsky (who led the opposition to Stalin’s reactionary policies after Lenin’s death in 1924) is actually a continuation of Marxism/Leninism, but many people use the word Trotskyism to distinguish themselves from the Stalinists. We are in agreement with Trotsky, and see him as the continuer of Marxism/Leninism, but due to the negative connotations associated with Trotskyism (due to the fanatical and often ultra-left tactics and policies of many of his followers), we are content to stick with calling ourselves Marxist/Leninist, as Trotsky’s ideas are an extension of that. Among Trotsky’s most important contributions to Marxist theory are are his scientific analysis of the nature of Stalinism, and his ideas on the permanent revolution especially as regards the colonial world.
Q. What do people mean when they say they are “socialists”?
A. As for “socialist,” there are again two types—genuine ones fighting for the abolishment of wage labor and the rule of capital, and reformists. Many reformists call themselves “socialist” but as they accept the continued existence of the capitalist system their policies end up bolstering the system. For example, the French government is currently “socialist”—yet they are pursuing criminal imperialist aims and carrying out cuts and austerity! In Marxist terms, socialism is generally regarded as the period of transition between capitalism and communism—the transition to a system in which we can truly have “from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs.” Genuine Marxists can be interchangeably called socialists so long as they have as their goal the abolishment of capitalism and the establishment of genuine, worker-controlled democratic socialism. Many of those who call themselves “socialists” need to be taken with a grain of salt—look at the contents of the jar before you eat it—don’t rely only on the label!
Q. What is the difference between “Communism” and “communism”?
A. “Communism” (with a capital “C”) is generally used when it is the name of a formal party (like the Communist Party of France) and “communism” (with lowercase “c”) is used when one is discussing the communist socio-economic system or ideas in general. The same can be said of “Socialism” vs. “socialism.”
Q. What is the difference between socialism and communism?
A. Due to the media and the educational system, many people have a different understanding of the words “socialism” and “communism” than the founders of Marxism intended. It is easy to understand this confusion: many modern day, so-called “socialist” parties are nothing of the sort, and most people associate “communism” with Stalin’s totalitarian USSR. But for scientific socialists (the original term for Marxists), these words have precise meanings, and describe definite social forms. For Marxists, socialism is a transitional phase between the exploitative capitalist system of private property of the means of production, and the classless society of communism, where there is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word, no compulsion to work, no national borders, etc.
Under capitalism, society is governed by a handful of rich elites who exploit the working class in order to extract profits. They are not concerned with what or how they produce commodities, as long as these bring them a profit. They have developed the state—bodies of armed men; the laws, courts, prisons, military, police—in order to preserve their privileged position. Under communism, the whole of society will be the “owners” of the means of production, and will produce in the interests of all people in harmony with the environment. But between these two phases of human social development lies the transitional period of socialism.
Despite the illusions of the anarchists that we can somehow magically abolish the state and capitalism overnight, what is required is a transitional period in order to usher in a new era of peace, freedom, and plenty. The material basis for communism is the ability to provide enough to go around for everyone. While we have already developed the technology and the know-how to make this possible very quickly, we still cannot jump from the poverty and want of capitalism to full-fledged communism overnight. For Marxists, this transitional phase is called socialism. As Marx explained in Critique of the Gotha Program:
Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
The first step in this process is the seizure of political power by the working class majority of society, known in Marx’s day as the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as opposed to the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” we currently live under. Once in political power, the working class can then move to assert its control over the economy. Once the working class democratically runs the economy in the interests of all, instead of in the interests of a handful of capitalists, then very quickly we will be able to provide the basic necessities and then much more to everyone. We will be able to abolish unemployment, provide universal, quality healthcare, education, housing, and more to everyone. The creative and productive potential of humanity will be unleashed.
As Engels explained, this socialist “state,” which would truly democratically represent the vast majority of society, would already be withering away in the proper sense of the word. The capitalist state represents a tiny minority of society, which is why they resort to such brutal measures to keep the majority under their boot. But once the state is run in the interests of the majority, then the need for police, a military, etc., will rapidly disappear along with the inequality and oppression of the capitalist system. Gradually, the coercion and compulsion of the capitalist system will disappear and be replaced by the democratic administration of things in the interests of everyone.
From Lenin’s State and Revolution:
Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then “the state… ceases to exist,” and “it becomes possible to speak of freedom.” Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever. And only then will democracy begin to wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all copy-book maxims. They will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the state.
The expression “the state withers away” is very well-chosen, for it indicates both the gradual and the spontaneous nature of the process. Only habit can, and undoubtedly will, have such an effect; for we see around us on millions of occasions how readily people become accustomed to observing the necessary rules of social intercourse when there is no exploitation, when there is nothing that arouses indignation, evokes protest and revolt, and creates the need for suppression.
And so in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority. Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord.
In other words, under capitalism we have the state in the proper sense of the word, that is, a special machine for the suppression of one class by another, and, what is more, of the majority by the minority. Naturally, to be successful, such an undertaking as the systematic suppression of the exploited majority by the exploiting minority calls for the utmost ferocity and savagery in the matter of suppressing, it calls for seas of blood, through which mankind is actually wading its way in slavery, serfdom and wage labor.
Furthermore, during the transition from capitalism to communism suppression is still necessary, but it is now the suppression of the exploiting minority by the exploited majority. A special apparatus, a special machine for suppression, the “state,” is still necessary, but this is now a transitional state. It is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word; for the suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of the wage slaves of yesterday is comparatively so easy, simple and natural a task that it will entail far less bloodshed than the suppression of the risings of slaves, serfs or wage-laborers, and it will cost mankind far less. And it is compatible with the extension of democracy to such an overwhelming majority of the population that the need for a special machine of suppression will begin to disappear. Naturally, the exploiters are unable to suppress the people without a highly complex machine for performing this task, but the people can suppress the exploiters even with a very simple “machine,” almost without a “machine,” without a special apparatus, by the simple organization of the armed people (such as the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, we would remark, running ahead).
Lastly, only communism makes the state absolutely unnecessary, for there is nobody to be suppressed—”nobody” in the sense of a class, of a systematic struggle against a definite section of the population. We are not utopians, and do not in the least deny the possibility and inevitability of excesses on the part of individual persons, or the need to stop such excesses. In the first place, however, no special machine, no special apparatus of suppression, is needed for this: this will be done by the armed people themselves, as simply and as readily as any crowd of civilized people, even in modern society, interferes to put a stop to a scuffle or to prevent a woman from being assaulted. And, secondly, we know that the fundamental social cause of excesses, which consist in the violation of the rules of social intercourse, is the exploitation of the people, their want and their poverty. With the removal of this chief cause, excesses will inevitably begin to “wither away.” We do not know how quickly and in what succession, but we do know they will wither away. With their withering away the state will also wither away.
Without building utopias, Marx defined more fully what can be defined now regarding this future, namely, the differences between the lower [socialism] and higher [communism] phases (levels, stages) of communist society.
So when asked if we are socialists or communists, we can say that we are both. We are fighting for communism, but the first stage toward that is democratic socialism. But above all, we are Marxists—the ideas of Marxism are the “guide to action” that helps us get our bearings in order to fight the capitalist system and hasten the building of socialism.
For further reading on this subject, be sure to check out Chapter 5  of Lenin’s masterpiece The State and Revolution.
Q. What about “human nature”?
A. The question of so-called “human nature” is one of the most commonly raised arguments against socialism—but it is also one of the easiest to debunk. Many people believe that the way people think has always been the same, and that we will always think the way we do now. But a few examples will show that nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is, like all things in nature, human consciousness and society are always in a state of change. Marx explained that “conditions determine consciousness.” In other words, our environment determines to a large degree how we think. We know what rap music, Hollywood movies, and a Boeing 747 are because they exist in our world. For example, if we were born 5,000 years ago as peasants in China, our worldview would be very different! If we were born as royalty in China 5,000 years ago, we would also have a very different view of things than if we were peasants.
Human beings rose to the top of the food chain not by competing against each other and crushing one another in the struggle to “get ahead,” but through cooperation. Only by cooperating were humans able to combine their resources to hunt, build shelters, and eventually domesticate plants, animals, develop pottery, build the pyramids, etc. Just look at a human baby! Compared to a deer, which can stand up and run within minutes of birth, human young are totally helpless for years. Infants could not survive even a few days without the help of others! So you see, primitive humans needed to cooperate if they were to survive the elements, wild animals, find enough to eat, etc. For the vast majority of human existence, there were no classes, and we lived communally in small bands, dividing up the work and dividing up the wealth in the interests of everyone.
And although on the surface is appears that nowadays we are all “individuals,” the truth is we are even more dependant on literally thousands and even millions of other humans around the world. Can any one person design a car, mine and process the metals and other materials needed, build the factory, and the put together a car themselves? To even pose the question shows how absurd the idea is. And what about the gasoline to fuel it? Or the roads to drive it on? What about the food we eat? The list goes on and on—and we have only scratched the surface. Think about it carefully, and you will see that under capitalism, almost everyone is indirectly linked to everyone else through the world market and the exchange of commodities.
We work together, live together, hang out together, go to the movies together, go to the park together, etc. Do we have police around 24/7 to make sure we don’t all kill each other? Do we run around murdering each other “to get ahead”? If that were the case, then nothing would ever get done and we would all starve to death in a matter of days! So why do people have this strange idea that we are all “individuals”? Well, getting back to the first point we made, which is that conditions determine consciousness—the ruling class (the capitalists) do everything in their power to affect the way we think. Through our education, through the media, religion, etc., we are raised to have the values of the capitalist system. And what values are these? Precisely the “dog eat dog” attitude which states that the only way to get ahead is to stomp on your opponents. We are raised to look away and think nothing of the homeless, the starving, those killed in war, etc.—or at most to say a prayer for them and give a little “charity” to ease our conscience.
But if we look a little harder, we will see that these “values” benefit only a tiny handful of people—the ultra-rich capitalists! The rest of us, in our daily lives, gain nothing from this. What we want above all is peace, stability, a decent job, no worries about healthcare or education, time off for family and loved ones, etc. It is only the capitalist class which thrives off the individual competition between one company and another. One of the main contradictions of capitalist society is that we have social production (meaning we produce the things we use socially through the cooperation of many people—like the example of the car), but private appropriation of the surplus wealth produced. In other words, we produce the wealth socially, but the profit goes into private hands! The thousands of workers who actually know how to produce the cars in a factory do not get to decide what to produce or how, or what to do with the extra wealth—the capitalist class does. Socialists want to end this contradiction by having social control over the socially produced wealth. The surplus wealth produced by working people would be used to provide better wages, benefits, healthcare, education, safety conditions, new technology that could reduce the working day, etc.—instead of for the private gain of a handful of people while millions starve, are homeless, and unemployed. This is not a utopian idea—the material pre-requisites for this exist now! The only barrier to this is the grip the capitalist class has on political and economic power. Only unity of the world working class can put an end to this situation, and end the horror, degradation, poverty, and instability of the capitalist system once and for all. Then a whole new world will open up!
So just imagine a baby born into a world with no hunger, no want, no poverty, no lack of jobs, etc. Since conditions determine consciousness, they would see the world in an entirely different way than we do today. Even babies born today do not notice differences in race, language, etc. until these are pointed out to them as they get older. Under socialism, people will relate to each other as people, and not as mere commodities to be bought and sold.
The reason for the vast bulk of the problems we suffer under capitalism is scarcity created by the contradictions of the system itself. To take an example from nature, if you take 100 rats and put them in a cage with enough food for 100 rats and then a little bit more, you will have docile, friendly, and gregarious animals before you. But if you put those same 100 rats in a cage with only enough food for only 50 of them, you will quickly see the situation deteriorate into a murderous, greedy, self-interested orgy of violence and bloodshed. Of course, humans and their society are much more complex and on a different level than 100 rats in a laboratory cage, but the example illustrates an important point.
As we all know, much of the scarcity we find is artificially produced. We have all heard the stories of farmers being paid not to plant or to destroy crops, even though there are millions of hungry and malnourished children right here in the United States, let alone around the world; or shoe and clothing stores which punch or tear holes in their old stock, to make them unusable, even though millions of people could use those products; of restaurants firing employees for taking food home, insisting instead that this perfectly good food be thrown in the dumpster; or of perfectly healthy, capable, and willing people being paid not to work, or forced into unemployment when they are willing to work, instead of creating meaningful jobs for them.
“Human nature,” like all things, is in a constant state of change. To accept that it is set in stone for all time does not stand up to even the most simple analysis. Humans have created wonderful tragedies, comedies, songs, poems, paintings, sculptures, and countless other expressions of artistic creativity which are a reflection of our changing world view at any given time. Just take a walk through an art, science, or historical museum and you will see the changing consciousness of humanity graphically portrayed. As Marx explained, “the philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways—the point however, is to change it!” Our way of thinking will change with it!
Q. What will socialist society look like?
A.. Although no one can provide a blueprint in advance of what such a society would look like, we can say that this form of social ownership and democracy would mean the beginning of the end of the class division of society, and indeed of the social division of labor. The working class having taken power will proceed to radically transform the way the economy and society is run. Socialism is democratic or it is nothing. This refers not to some formal democracy on paper—more accurately, bourgeois democracy where you are allowed to vote every few years for a committee (parliament/congress) who then run things in the interests of capitalism—but a democracy where we all play a full and active part not just in voting but in actually running our communities, our workplaces, and our society. Once the modern economy, industry, science, and technology, is in the hands of all members of society, we will be able to achieve full employment and shorter working hours—giving us the time as well as the resources we need to really begin to realize our talents. We could see the economy forge ahead at 10 or even 20% a year! This would be entirely possible once we have done away with the anarchy of private ownership and the profit motive. Such growth could double the wealth of society in five years!
The reduction of the working day, and an increase in the productivity of society are the prerequisites for the disappearance of the class division of society, and for the birth of socialism. It would be, as Marx put it, a society where everyone contributes according to their abilities and receives according to their needs. Such a society is no utopia but the only alternative to a slow and painful descent into barbarism. But it will not come about automatically even in a million years. Only a socialist revolution, that is, the conscious movement of the working class to take control over their own lives, can effect this change. This requires the building in advance of a trained and educated leadership that can ensure its success. For the last hundred years, at least since World War I, the capitalist system has ceased to play a historically progressive role. It stands like a roadblock in the path of human progress. We cannot wait for its instability to drive us back into the dark ages. There will be many opportunities for us in the coming years. But the success of socialism is not inevitable, it can only be guaranteed in advance by the extent to which we begin preparing for it today.
Q. What about individualism under socialism?
A.. Often, people’s idea of individualism under socialism is based on the idea that socialism is represented by either Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. This brings to mind everyone running around in uniform, in terms of both their clothing and their behavior, and an all-powerful state to which the rights and wishes of the individual are subservient, in the “interests of the whole of society.” In reality it was not the whole of society whose interests were being served in those cases but the interests of the small bureaucratic clique who led a parasitic existence on the backs of the working class, and on the back of the nationalized, planned economy.
This bureaucratization had a fatal impact on all the gains made by the revolution in Russia, not just economically but in every sphere of life. Bureaucratism has a stifling, suffocating effect not just on production but also on art, science, and culture. The Stalinists were terrified of any potential opposition, and especially the intellectuals that they could not control. They were snuffed out, in many cases quite literally. Individual expression was portrayed as counterrevolutionary, even culture was subjugated to the “collective will”—not of society but of a handful of bureaucrats desperate to cling on to their power and privilege. Not just the economy but all aspects of life require the oxygen of democracy if they are to flourish.
The capitalist society we live in today is supposedly individualistic, and this is made to sound positive. In reality the profit based society is one that engenders greed, selfishness, and egotism. It is a society based on the idea of “kill or be killed,” and under capitalism people will do anything to “get ahead.” In the name of profit, the talents and abilities of the vast majority of people are squandered on the production line, or the unemployment line. We don’t have the right to a job, the right to an education, the right to healthcare, the rights that could ensure the bare bones of a civilized existence, let alone the right to express ourselves and contribute, to fulfill our potential.
The collective society of genuine socialism is one where the rights of the individual can truly flourish for the first time, without any force or coercion. It will be a society without borders and frontiers, based on the democratic running of all aspects of life by the whole of society on the basis of an economy of super-abundance, where all our needs and more can be catered for. With modern technology we can produce more than enough for all the needs and desires of humanity with relatively minimal effort. For example, it used to take many workers to build a television set. But now, with automation, robotics and other improvements in efficiency, it takes far fewer workers. But under capitalism, the machines replace the workers, who must then find other, usually lower-paying jobs or be unemployed—wasting their potential away. Under socialism, improvements in technology will be put to the use of humanity. Machines will be made to work for us—the time we save due to their efficiency can then be spent pursuing other goals in life. We will be freed from the drudgery of human labor that is our existence under capitalism, and we will have the time to breathe in life, to study, to travel, to mingle with other cultures, to realize our talents.
The development of our economy, will enable us to spend less time in work, and free us to participate in those fields blocked off from us today either by money or by overwork. Art, science, music, etc., will all be able to blossom once they are unshackled from the constraints of capitalist society. How many Shakespeares or Beethovens have existed to date? Barely a handful. Or rather barely a handful whose talent we’ve been able to enjoy. How many more have been confined to the factory, the field, or the office? Having done away with the outmoded private profit system and the anarchy it introduces into our economy, not only the rights of the individual, of all individuals, but their aspirations and their dreams will be set loose as well. New heights of human culture will be attained, and from those summits on the horizon ever newer peaks will emerge. Standing on the shoulders of all previous experience, men and women will stand head and shoulders above history. With our primitive past behind us, and with a democratic plan on how to use our resources and technology, humanity will be free to develop and realize its true potential as a whole and as individuals.
Q. What do Marxists think about technological innovation?
A. As we have seen, the main area of expansion in the present economic cycle (1991-2000) has been the new information technology. Former labor secretary Robert R. Reich believes that as much as 70 percent of credit for expansion belongs to computers and the Internet. From a Marxist point of view there is nothing new in all of this. It is already anticipated in the Communist Manifesto, never mind Capital. The Manifesto already explains what is ABC for any Marxist—namely, that the capitalist system, unlike any previous system in history can only exist by constantly revolutionizing the means of production.
It has become fashionable to talk about the far-reaching effects of information technology. Clearly these are important developments. But there have been such developments in every economic cycle. We refer here not to the trade cycle as such, but to broader historical periods that have characterized different phases of capitalist development, such as the period of the postwar upswing as opposed to the period between the World Wars, for instance. Even the most superficial examination of the broad cycles of capitalism will reveal that every one of them since the Industrial Revolution has been characterized precisely by investment in new technology, with very far reaching consequences. Steam power was the basis of the Industrial Revolution. It revolutionized the production of textiles. This was followed by the railways boom in the second half of the 19th century.
In every cycle, the capitalists seek a profitable field of investment. At present this role is being played by IT. The Internet is without doubt an extremely significant and important invention, with enormous consequences particularly for a socialist planned economy in the future. But to argue that it has so modified the productive system that the boom-slump cycle has been eliminated is simply absurd. In every cycle, as we pointed out in On a Knife’s Edge, there were inventions that were no less revolutionary, and often far more so. The effect of the railways, the steamship, and the telegraph was far more revolutionizing in linking the world together than the Internet. After the railways we had the motor car (“Fordism”), electricity, energy, chemicals, plastics, radio, television, aeroplanes, radar, nuclear power—all these represented great advances.
All these tremendous and impressive technological advances serve to provide us with a glimpse of what would be possible in a future socialist society. However, from the fact that technology exists, one cannot deduce that the economic cycle does not exist. This conclusion does not follow, even from the point of view of formal logic. Seen from a historical perspective it is merely absurd. For example, in the 1920s and 1930s the most staggering technology existed: telephones, electricity, aeroplanes, cars, television, and a host of other things, but it could not be developed. Why could it not be developed?
In order for a given technology to be developed, it must be in the interest of that class which has the material power to develop it. This can be shown even in ancient times. The Greeks invented steam power and actually built functioning models of steam engines. But it could not be developed and remained a mere toy and a curiosity. Why? Because the slave economy was based on an apparently unlimited supply of unpaid human labor. Why then should the slave-owners be interested in labor-saving machinery? An analogous situation existed under feudalism, which was based on the bonded labor of the serfs. The feudal landowner also had no interest in investing his surplus on machinery and technology. Why should he when he had at his disposal the labor of the serfs? Only with the advent of capitalism and the industrial revolution does the economy of labor time acquire a crucial importance, and this has been seen at every stage in the development of capitalism for the past 200 years. As Marx explains, capitalism is the only socio-economic system that has ever existed which bases itself on the constant revolutionizing of the productive forces.
However, this does not at all mean that the capitalists are interested in investing in technology for its own sake. The bourgeois will invest only insofar as they get a suitable return on their investment, and not one moment longer. At a certain point in the investment cycle, the return on capital is no longer sufficient to warrant further investment. At that point, the capitalists cease to invest and the boom collapses. The mere fact of the existence of technology and productive potential is therefore no guarantee against a crisis. Rather the contrary. It is the uncontrolled flood of investment into new avenues that eventually gives rise to over-investment, over-production, a fall in the rate of profit and ultimately a fall in the mass of profit, leading to a crisis.
Q. If socialism is the next stage of human society, why bother fighting for it?
A.Under capitalism, the material means for creating a socialist society are created, but the capitalist system will never suffer a “final” collapse—it won’t go on its own, it needs to be pushed. If it were to continue in existence for any length of time it would lead the whole of humanity back into barbarism. Even today that barbarism is spreading across the world, from ISIS in the Middle East to the drug cartels in Mexico. The tragic acts of mass violence are other examples of barbarism. During the course of such a decline the working class internationally will be forced into struggle time and time again. If they fail in conquering power, then over their bones the capitalist system will continue, only maintaining any kind of stability through dictatorship, wars, and counterrevolutions. Eventually if the working class does not succeed in capturing power and creating a democratic, socialist society, the whole of humanity could descend into chaos. The task of Marxists is to spread the ideas of genuine Marxism and to build in preparation of upsurges in the class struggle so that when revolutionary opportunities arise, the working class is able to take power as quickly and peacefully as possible.
Q. How can democracy and socialism exist at the same time?
A. First of all, the idea that Marxism and democracy are opposites is false. The fact is that under capitalism (which is often mistakenly used to be synonymous with “democracy”) there is no real democracy. Yes, you can vote every few years in the presidential and congressional elections. But look at who stands in those elections. Only those who have enough money to do so. Who finances their campaigns? The big corporations. So you do not have a real choice. In practice, there is democracy only for the rich and powerful—bourgeois democracy.
More important than that, the government which is elected does not really have much choice of what policies to follow. When the 0.01% own more than the bottom 90% it is clear: they are the ones who really run politics. With their economic decisions they determine the lives of millions of ordinary people, their job prospects, their access to health care, education, etc. When the interests of these big corporations are threatened they use the government to save them. For example when the democratically elected government of Allende in Chile in 1973 decided to nationalize the copper mines and the telecomms (owned by US companies), these corporations and the CIA organized a military coup in Chile which replaced the democratically elected government of Allende with the military dictatorship of Pinochet under which tens of thousands were tortured and murdered. Government and bourgeois political parties are in the last analysis a tool of big business and they are the ones who determine the policies which are implemented. These parties do not exist in a vacuum but are directly funded and influenced by the billionnaires and corporations. Therefore they do not really act in the name of “law,” “truth,” or “justice,” but in the interests of the hand that feeds them.
Under socialism on the other hand, the economic resources of the country and world would not be in private hands, but in the hands of the majority of the population who would run and control them democratically. This would be a real democracy where the people would have real control over their lives. They would be able to democratically elect their representatives in government, and at the same time these representatives would have real power over the economy, to really change things. These officials would be subject to immediate recall if they did not satisfactorily do the jobs they were elected for. The people would then elect someone else who they thought would do things better. Also, these elected officials would not earn any more than a skilled worker. Unlike today where the “perks” often outweigh the salary of our “elected” officials. This will get rid of careerists and make sure that the people doing the jobs are there because they want to be there, not so they can get extra benefits from the job. These elected officials would also come from all members of society—as Lenin said, “any cook should be able to be prime minister.”
A further complication to this issue is that people generally identify Marxism with the regime which existed in the Soviet Union. Despite, on paper, having one of the most democratic constitutions in the world, there was no democratic control of politics or the economy. It was Stalinism, that is, a regime where the economy was in the hands of the state, but the citizens had no way of participating in running it. The bureaucratic caste took control over the state apparatus, and used it in their own interests. This had nothing to do with socialism and in fact, in order to come to power Stalin had first to kill hundreds of thousands of communist militants, including most of the members of the central committee of the Bolshevik Party who organized the Russian Revolution in 1917. But the bottom line is that genuine socialism and genuine Marxism are based on the ultimate democracy—workers’ democracy—democracy by and for the vast majority of people. As Leon Trotsky said, “socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen.”
Q. How will production be socialized and wealth distributed under socialism?
A. Modern production is already socialized—for example, one person alone cannot build a car from start to finish, or the computer you are typing on. The modern economy is so complex it requires the efforts of millions around the globe in order to put together a final product such as a computer. From the people who get the raw materials, to those who design the hardware. From those who assemble it to those who ship it to your door. It is a collective process. Yet the wealth created by all these workers is not shared equally—the corporations and billionaires keep a very unequal share for themselves.
The modern working class are the ones who really run the factories and businesses on a day to day basis, they are the ones who produce the wealth of society collectively. Yet they do not really share in the reward for their efforts. Sure they may receive a few crumbs in the form of bonuses and minor raises, but this is nothing compared to the “bonuses” the capitalists get (it is not uncommon for corporate CEOs to get multi-million dollar “Christmas bonuses!”). What is needed is for this wealth to be distributed among those who actually produce it.
Q. What is the attitude of Marxists to small farmers and business people?
A. From a long historical point of view, the development of large scale farming is obviously progressive. It allows for a greater productivity of labor and thus means that the bulk of the population can be provided with its food needs by a tiny minority of the population. In the US, only about 1% of the working population works on the land. That liberates the overwhelming majority of the population for other productive activity.
Thus, under socialism we would have a situation where mechanization and large-scale farming would be the norm throughout the world. Obviously we would oppose the widespread use of toxic pesticides, and damaging chemical fertilizers, etc., which is a consequence of the profit motive driven capitalist system.
So what do we say to small farmers? In fact, what do we say to all small business people, small shopkeepers, etc.? From a historical point of view these elements are condemned to disappear under capitalism due to the relentless competition of the big farmers, the big supermarkets, etc.
But they still exist in this society and it is our duty to develop a program that would win them to the revolutionary party. Trotsky takes this up in the Transitional Program, and also in other writings. These layers are potential allies of the proletariat and can be won on the basis of a clear program. That means we demand cheap credits for the small farmers and small businessmen. Under capitalism these layers are crushed by the big monopolies and banks. They have to pay big levels of interest on their loans that they take out to develop their business, but end up unable to pay or being limited by the huge amount of their income which is eaten up by the interest. We explain to them that we demand cheap credit to purchase machinery, but also cheap fertilizers, cheap seeds, etc., but that leads us to the demand to take over the banks, take over the big monopolies that control the production of fertilizers, seed, etc. In this way we can show the small farmers (and small shopkeepers) that they should unite with the workers against the big capitalists and thus remove them from the influence of the capitalists.
Additionally, a program to incentivize small businesses to join the planned economy could be implemented. These small businesses could be sold into the broader socialist economy which would free many small business people from being shackled to their businesses. Of course, this would be done on a 100% voluntary basis.
Q. What is the incentive under socialism?
A. “What is the incentive under socialism?” is a commonly asked question.”If everyone is paid the same wage then what is the incentive for the worker to produce more than he or she has to or even the quota amount?”
Lenin explains in the State and Revolution, and Marx explains in Critique of the Gotha Program, it is impossible to jump straight from capitalism to the most advanced stage of human society—a classless society based on the democratic administration of things in the interests of all. Communism is based on being able to provide more than needed for everyone—and though in the US we could reach that level fairly quickly, it is still not there right now. This is why a transitional period, which we often refer to as socialism, is necessary.
During this time there will still be elements of the old society (some market economy, some armed forces until the whole world is in the democratic hands of the workers, etc.) But already things will be moving rapidly towards the complete dissolution of the state, of the market economy, and so on. Once the workers begin to democratically all plan the major industries—the ones which dominate our lives—energy, banking, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, etc., then we will be putting the surplus produced by the workers towards improving our lives.
New technology and greater productivity of labor will lead to a decrease in the working day, to more time for study, travel, exploration, research, music, art, culture, etc. Nowadays the incentive to work harder is “work so you can pay your rent, your mortgage, your interest on credit card and school loans, your overpriced food, healthcare, transportation, and entertainment, and so on or starve.” That is the only incentive capitalism offers us! Why work more efficiently at work if you know you have to be there for 8 hours no matter what?
Under socialism, the incentive to come up with more efficient ways to do things is that we’d have to work less time to do the same amount of work! The amount of necessary labor needed to produce the things we need like food, housing, etc. would gradually decrease so that eventually we may only need to “work” for 2 hours a week or less! Of course, as humans we would not be lazy and sit around—humans are curious, exploratory, and want to learn, invent, etc. Our “free” time would be spent creating ever better works of art, scientific research, cures for diseases, etc. After a period of time, the new generations will not even know what it was like under capitalism, and the productivity of labor will be tremendously high. The barrier between “work” and raw human exploration and mastery over its environment (in harmony with the environment!) will disappear also—no more coercive state, police, etc. No more chaos in the markets—the workers will plan what we need and then reinvest a portion to continually make even better things. Everyone will be “rich” so to speak—able to travel, to live comfortably, to eat what they wish, to continue their education throughout life.