Essay: Socialists agree about the means and ends of Socialism. Discuss
All of the documents [including this one] in the Political Ideologies section of this website were written prior to the introduction in 2017 of the new Government and Politics Specifications Changes in the new Specifications and in particular the emphasis placed upon particular key thinkers within each ideology mean that the documents on this page do not currently adequately reflect the requirements of the new Specifications. Consequently my advice to students following the New Specification would be to rely upon advice from your teachers and recently published A Level texts on Political ideas rather than the documents posted here. I hope eventually to rewrite these documents to reflect the new Specifications but this is going to take a long time.
It has been argued that the broad ideology of Socialism contains several important core values of which perhaps the most important is the support for economic equality of outcome both within and between nations. For socialists economic equality of outcome is a pre-requisite for political equality, equality of opportunity and individual liberty since according to socialists it is the limited economic resources of the disadvantaged which limit their political participation, their opportunities and their freedoms. Socialists believe further that only in a relatively equal society can self-interested values be replaced by co-operative fraternal values: individuals are not naturally self-interested and competitive but become so as a result of living in an unequal, competitive, self-interested society. The ultimate ends of socialism broadly involve the creation or relatively, equal, meritocratic, free, prosperous and co-operative societies. However there are disputes within socialist ideology as to the means by which socialism is to be achieved and also as to the ultimate ends of socialism.
Marxists argue that capitalism has to be abolished before socialism can be achieved and that in most cases the abolition of capitalism is to be achieved by revolutionary means although Marx did argue also that in capitalist countries with universal suffrage a parliamentary road to socialism might be possible. In Marxist theory capitalism is an inherently unequal, exploitative, unjust system and increasingly severe economic crises will result in increasing poverty and inequality and intensified class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Working class consciousness will increase; the proletariat is transformed from a class in itself to a class for itself and it succeeds in overthrowing the capitalist system which is the ultimate source of its exploitation.
According to Marxists a parliamentary road to socialism was generally unlikely because leaders of parliamentary socialist parties might wish to humanise rather than to abolish capitalism; or because they would need to espouse more moderate policies in order to attract electoral support; or because once elected, the institutions of the state ,far from being neutral, would frustrate the implementation of a radical socialist programme; or because the continuation of capitalism within a reformed mixed economy would itself inhibit the extent to which socialist reforms could be introduced by parliamentary means.
The revolution was to be followed by a series of stages leading to the eventual achievement of the classless, communist society. First would come the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat in which the capitalist state would be taken over by the leaders of the proletariat in order to restrict the powers of the opponents of revolution to organise counter-revolution. Private property would be abolished and the revolution would then enter its socialist phase in which resources would be distributed from each according to his/her ability to each according to his/her work which implied that economic equality would still be necessary to provide economic incentives. This would be followed by the gradual transition from socialism to communism in which resources would be allocated from each according to his/her ability to each according to his/her need implying a very high level of economic equality of outcome.
The abolition of private property meant that in the Marxist scheme social classes had been abolished and this would mean that the state [which under capitalism was an instrument of class rule] could wither away although there would still be a need for some form of administrative apparatus to organise society at a national level. Thus according to the Marxists the revolution would eventually lead to the creation of a classless, very equal, free, prosperous and cooperative society.
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In practice, however, the actual outcome of the Russian Revolution was not as hoped for in the Marxist schema. Far from withering away the USSR state quickly came to be a One Party state dominated by the Bolshevik Party and subsequently by its leader Stalin [who replaced Lenin as leader of the Bolsheviks in 1924] who soon came to believe that it would be necessary to purge thousands of his opponents from the Bolshevik Party via imprisonment or execution .The USSR economy was at this time extremely underdeveloped and Stalin embarked upon the collectivisation of agriculture and rapid industrialisation programmes in an attempt to modernise the economy. These strategies resulted in severe hardship for the Russian people as collectivisation led to reduced food output and industrialisation resulted in the allocation of resources to the construction of factories and machinery rather than consumer goods.
It is clear, however, that the USSR did industrialise very rapidly but at the cost of great hardship to its people in the short and medium term whose political rights were very limited and living standards poor although party leaders and officials continued to enjoy a privileged life style as a result of their political power. The Stalinist political system was reformed to some extent after Stalin’s death but it was clear that by the 1980s further reforms were still necessary. However when leader Gorbachev began to introduce more significant reforms in the late 1980s rising expectations in the USSR resulted in the so-called “End of Communism “ and the disintegration of the USSR in the 1990s
We may add that most of these developments had been anticipated by some Anarchist socialists in the late C19th who argued that any revolutionary vanguard party would lead to the repressive one party state and to the impossibility of libertarian socialism, the preferred anarchist variant of socialism.
There are considerable variations within evolutionary socialism in attitudes to the capitalist system. Some more radical evolutionary socialists [who we might describe as democratic socialists and associate, for example, with the left-wing of the Labour Party] have argued in support of very significant modification of the capitalist system via large scale nationalisation of private industry and major expansion of the welfare state. However Labour governments have in practice been influenced much more by more moderate social democratic ideology as outlined perhaps most significantly by Anthony Crosland in his study “The Future of Socialism .In this study Crosland argued that Marx’ analysis of C19th capitalism was of little relevance for the understanding of C20th capitalism Thus according to Crosland:.
- By the mid C20th capitalism had changed in ways not predicted by Marx such that his analysis of C19th capitalism had become irrelevant to the analysis of capitalism in the mid C20th.
- The nature of the capitalist class had changed as a result of the managerial revolution [or the divorce of ownership from control] such that large capitalist firms were increasingly controlled by specialist managers whose objectives included the job security and satisfaction of their workers and the public image of their company as well as its profitability.
- The recent history of capitalism indicated that it could provide for significant improvements in working class living standards rather than the immiseration or pauperisation of the working class as predicted by Marx. Indeed according to Crosland poverty had been virtually abolished in the UK by the 1950s.
- Capitalist class structures had become more complex and the growth of the middle classes undermined the Marxist theory of class polarisation which suggested an increasing economic and social gap between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat.
- Points 2, 3 and 4 meant that there was therefore no reason for inevitable conflict between managers and workers equivalent to the class conflict which may well have existed in the C19th.
- Whereas Marx had claimed that states in capitalist societies inevitably governed in the interests of the dominant economic capitalist class Crosland argued in accordance with the theory of democratic pluralism that states in modern capitalist societies were neutral and that elected Labour governments would be able to use the powers of the state to regulate capitalism as appropriate [e.g. by anti-monopoly legislation and welfare reform] in order to improve the economic and social \conditions of disadvantaged citizens.
- The experience of the 1945-51 Labour Governments indicated that capitalist firms and industries were in general more flexible, dynamic, efficient and better able to respond to changes in consumer demand than were the recently nationalized industries which Crosland saw as comparatively inflexible, bureaucratic, wasteful and inefficient.
- Crosland believed therefore that Socialism was to be achieved not by increased public ownership but by the government’s promotion of capitalist efficiency and social responsibility which in turn would increase economic growth and provide the resources which would enable socialist governments to increase equality.
- Nationalisation was at best a means to an end and according to Crosland an ineffective means to an end whereas the end or goal or ultimate objective of Socialism was Equality, not Public Ownership.
In order to achieve the goal of greater equality, revolution was certainly unnecessary and Crosland did not favour either the expansion of public ownership or nationalisation beyond what had been undertaken in 1945-51.Instead it was necessary to use the dynamism of the private sector, combined with some state regulation of the private sector, redistributive taxation and social security policy and increased government spending on other aspects of the welfare state such as Education, Health and Housing to improve overall living standards and to generate greater equality and equality of opportunity while maintaining some inequality in order to maintain economic incentives.
Socialism, in Crosland’s view, should mean greater equality and increased common ownership could actually contribute little to this. Unfortunately Crosland’s version of socialism depended for its success on the achievement of a faster rate of economic growth to finance improvements in the welfare state and to promote greater economic equality. Broadly speaking it was the poor performance of the UK economy which undermined the social democratic strategies of the Wilson and Callaghan Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s.
This led the Left of the Labour Party to demand more radical economic policies involving more widespread common ownership and greater regulation of the private sector of the economy although it was clear that even the Labour Left still supported the continuation of a substantial private sector of the economy. In any case when Labour fought the General Election on a radical manifesto involving among other things, increased common ownership, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the then EEC [now the EU], they were soundly defeated all of which has resulted in a shift toward moderation in the Labour Party, gradually at first but then more rapidly under the leadership of Tony Blair.
For Mr Blair and his supporters, and probably also for Mr Brown, common ownership plays a limited role in their “neo-revisionist” redefinition of socialism. In this view the increasingly globalised economy means that at all costs the UK economy must be competitive if living standards are to be maintained and unemployment and poverty are to be reduced and that UK economy can be competitive only if it has a dynamic private sector.
Furthermore the Croslandite critique of common ownership has been accepted and Labour’s commitment to public ownership has been removed from the party’s constitution so that there is no prospect that industries privatised by the Conservatives will be renationalised by New Labour and there are indeed attempts to involve the private sector more fully in the financing of the welfare state via private finance initiatives whereby private companies build hospitals, schools, prisons etc and lease them back to government. Nowadays the railways, coal, gas and electricity are no longer commonly owned but neither a large number of new state schools hospitals and prisons.
The disputes as to the means of achieving socialism are related to further controversies as to the ultimate ends of socialism. Thus as we have seen revolutionary socialists support the abolition of the capitalist system, private property, private profit, social classes and the capitalist state all of which are necessary in their view because the ultimate ends of socialism consist in the ending of class exploitation and the production and allocation of goods and services according to social need rather than according to the dictates of the profit system. The new socialist society will be far more economically equal than the capitalist society which it replaces and greater economic equality will promote greater liberty, equality of opportunity and political participation……unfortunately in theory but not in practice as yet.
Contrastingly moderate evolutionary socialists have aimed to humanise the capitalist system rather than to replace it and to retain the institutions of liberal democracy. For them the ultimate economic ends of socialism are greater economic equality and rising living standards especially for the poorest which they believe can best be achieved by combined the dynamism of a regulated capitalist system with more egalitarian social and economic policies .Some economic inequality may well be acceptable as a means of preserving financial incentives although such inequality should not be great enough to adversely affect the living standards of the poor. Furthermore the state is seen not as a capitalist state but as a neutral state which can be used to advance socialist objectives. In general liberal democratic political institutions help to safeguard the civil liberties which are also essential components of socialism.
Socialists disagree about means and ends: about how to achieve socialism and about the nature of socialism itself.