TODAY IN THE PERIOD after World War II, revolutionary socialism was everywhere in retreat. What passed itself off as 'socialism' was generally an elitist and authoritarian doctrine strongly resembling the anti-democratic visions of socialism from above. There were, of course, major national liberation struggles, such as those in China and Cuba, which freed colonial nations from the oppressive grip of a major world power. As victories against imperialism, these movements were justly deserving of support. But the claims of the Chinese and Cuban regimes to be 'socialist' have stained the image of genuine socialism everywhere.
The national liberation movement in China was led by a guerrilla army that had no base among the organised working class. When Mao's army rolled into China's major cities, workers were told to stay at work and obey the orders of their managers. At most, some owners and managers were replaced by officials of the new government. In no sense was there a working class reshaping of society from below. In Cuba, a small band of guerrillas were fortunate enough to confront a regime so weak and corrupt that it fell under the first assault. Again, workers played no serious role in the Cuban revolution of 1959. By no stretch of the imagination can either the Chinese or Cuban revolutions be said to represent working class movements for self-emancipation.
What's more, in both China and Cuba, the new regime modelled themselves on the totalitarian state capitalist structure of Russia. A one-party state was created in which all elections were a meaningless ritual. Opposition parties -- workers' parties included--were outlawed. Trade unions were put under rigorous state control. Strict press censorship was introduced. Left-wing critics were thrown in jail. All of industry and finance was put into state hands. No organs of democratic social control were encouraged or tolerated. The fact that these state capitalist dictatorships passed themselves off as 'socialist' was an enormous blight against the most democratic and revolutionary movement ever created.
Fortunately, workers soon began to put the lie to the socialist pretensions of the Stalinist regimes. Beginning in East Germany in 1953, continuing through Hungary and Poland in 1956, China in 1967, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland again in 1970, 1976 and 1980, the spectre of workers' power has returned to haunt the ghost of Stalin. What's more, young dissidents have come increasingly to recognise the true nature of the state capitalist regimes in which they live--and to affirm the perspective of socialism from below.
Such an approach was presented most clearly in the open letter to the Polish Communist Party written in 1964 by two young rebels Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski. Kuron and Modzelewski argued persuasively that the Polish working class is exploited by 'central political bureaucracy' that controls the economy in the interests of state competition:
... all means of production and maintenance have become or centralised national 'capital'. The material power of the bureaucracy, the scope of its authority over production, its international position (very important for a class organised as a group identifying itself with the state) all this depends on the size of the national capital. Consequently, the bureaucracy wants to increase capital, to enlarge the producing apparatus, to accumulate.
And Kuron and Modzelewski knew that, if this situation was to be changed and genuine socialism created, the conclusion was inescapable:
The revolution that will overthrow the bureaucratic system will be a proletarian revolution.
In Eastern Europe, then, working class action has exposed the lies and hypocrisy of the 'socialist' states. At the same time, western capitalism has exposed its violent, militaristic, inhuman face. Military madness has re-emerged on a terrifying scale. The world is now spending $1.3 million per minute on the means of destroying human life. The United States is in the midst of the biggest peacetime arms build-up in history--and Russia is scrambling frantically to catch up. With each such escalation in the arms race, the threat of war--global nuclear war- -looms larger.
At the same time, the world capitalist system is sliding once more into depression. In the major capitalist countries, this economic crisis means massive unemployment, particularly for young people; it means a life of poverty and despair for millions. In the underdeveloped nations, the crisis means death--on a horrifying scale. According to the World Bank, some 800 million people now live in a state of 'absolute poverty'. Every day hunger and hunger-related diseases kill 41,000 human beings. That's 28 victims of hunger per minute--two-thirds of them children-- while more than a million dollars per minute is spent on armaments.
So none of this has to be. The means exist to banish forever hunger, poverty and starvation. The wealth devoted annually to producing weapons of destruction could easily solve the problem of food production. The problem is not a material one, it is social in nature; it is a result of the barbaric priorities of a system founded on economic and military competition.
The same goes for the multitude of other problems that threaten lives, that distort and mutilate human existence. Whether it is the alarming rise in industrial accidents and diseases, the terrifying spread of nuclear power, or the near-catastrophic destruction of our natural environment, the cause--the capitalist organisation of world society-- remains the same.
The solution also remains the same. The democratic and socialist restructuring of society remains, as it was in Marx's day, the most pressing task confronting humanity. And such a reordering of society can only take place on the basis of the principles of socialism from below. Now more than ever, the liberation of humanity depends upon the self- emancipation of the world working class. And the transition to a new society of freedom and abundance depends upon the construction of a world federation of workers' states, each based on the principles of workers' democracy.
The vital task confronting all those who desire the creation of such a new society is to raise up the banner of socialism from below, to establish once again in the popular consciousness the inextricable connection between socialism and democracy. The challenge is to restore to socialism its democratic essence, its passionate concern with human freedom.
And the socialism with which we meet the battles of the future must not only build upon the heroic struggles of the past. It must also incorporate the fresh initiatives of contemporary struggle to break the chains of oppression. Socialist emancipation in the modern world must also be women's liberation. It must embrace struggle of women to free themselves from a second-class existence, from the ties that bind them to the endless drudgery of housework, from the images and ideology that try to reduce them to mindless sex-objects. Socialist emancipation must be black liberation. It must centrally involve the battles of black people against institutionalised discrimination and injustice; against racial harassment and ghetto existence. Socialist emancipation must also be gay liberation. It must include the struggles of gay men a women to live their lives free to love those whom they choose, free from the fear of harassment and victimisation.
Once again there are signs that the international working class is flexing its muscles and making its power felt. Perhaps on a small scale but whether it be Solidarity in Poland, a general strike against the military in Chile, miners' strikes in South Africa or Britain, workers testing their strength in North America or Australia, the workers of the world are again moving towards the centre of stage of world history. In the crisis-ridden decade of the 1980s, are confronted once again with the choice presented over sixty years ago by Rosa Luxemburg: socialism or barbarism.
Last time humanity entered a similar period of crisis, during the 1930s, the result was fascism in Europe and the immeasurable suffering and barbarism of a world war that saw the explosion the first nuclear bomb. Yet there is an alternative. WorkersS democracy, an end to poverty and oppression--these are the prospects held out by an advance towards international socialism.
That vision, that dream of a new world of freedom is more the just an idle daydream. As William Morris wrote a century ago
Ours is no dream. Men and women have died for it, not in ancient days, but in our own time; they lie in prisons for it, work in mines, are exiled, are ruined for it; believe me when such things; suffered for dreams, the dreams come true at last.
We are international socialists, and, linked with revolutionary socialist groups in other parts of the world, we are dedicated bringing that dream into being, to realising the principles socialism from below. We are as yet small. But our vision is big. We have the opportunity of building a movement that can change the world. Won't you join us? After all, we have a world to win.