Monday, August 17, 2015

Chomsky Answers

From the Media Lens Message Board

Dear Mr Chomsky, 

I think it is commonly understood that 'socialism' means a large degree of involvement by central government in the economy. 
Isn't it fair to say, then, that all countries, e.g. America, China, are socialist - the only difference being in where a government chooses to concentrate its involvement, e.g. military, health? 
[my name] 

Chomsky: That’s a modern concept. Socialism traditionally meant nothing of the sort. Rather, its core principal was control of decision-making by producers, with perhaps no state at all.


grace dunn said...

Why do socialists reject 'reform'?

ajohnstone said...

This earlier post partly explains why

"...The WSP(NZ) does not oppose attempts of our fellow workers to improve their status under capitalism. But we do know the limitations of these attempts. It is one thing to say that socialists should not oppose the non-socialists fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that socialists should place themselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers, when all along they know it cannot. There are so – called “socialist” organizations which seek to gain leadership over the workers by aiding them to improve their position under the present order, at the same time they know this is a futile struggle. We should not be confused with these “socialists.” It is inconsistent, in the WSP(NZ) opinion, for socialists to seek to solve problems for the workers under a system which they say cannot solve these problems, but in a practical sense, such a twin-directional approach would never bring about socialism. Suppose the WSP(NZ) were to embark on a campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, roads, and so forth. Perhaps we would get a lot of people to join our organisation. On what basis would they join? The same basis on which we appealed to them. We would in the end have an organisation consisting of workers who were seeking continual improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution, under a price, profit, and wage economy. What happens when such an organization is voted into political power as a majority? It merely uses the power of the state to carry on capitalism under different forms state- ownership or ‘nationalisation. It cannot use the control of the state to abolish capitalism, because its own members who joined on a reform basis, would be in opposition to it. The Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism, or lose its members to another organization which advocated remedial measures. We could cite example after example where a party calling itself “socialist,” but advocating immediate demands now and “socialism in the future” came into political power, and instead of abolishing exploitation, merely altered the form of it.

ajohnstone said...

The WSP(NZ) appeals for members on the one issue of obtaining state power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. Whereas, if elected to office, we would not oppose social reforms, at the same time we would not advocate them. By the same token, by putting forth a programme of immediate demands, we would not be educating any workers to the necessity for socialism. We would instead be educating on the need to get all they can under the capitalist system. This latter type of education has never produced socialists from among the workers. The WSP(NZ) does not spurn the day-to-day struggle. By the very nature of the fact that they are workers they participate in the fight for better wages and working conditions. But with an important qualification, which arise from the fact that they are socialists first, and members of unions second. First, socialists understand that this economic struggle against the capitalists is merely a defensive struggle, to keep capital from beating the working class living standards down. For this reason they couple their struggle on the economic front with political education of workers. They point out the limitations of wage increases. So socialists are involved in the economic struggle by the fact that they are members of the working class which naturally resists capital. But this is not the same thing as stating that the World Socialist Party engages in activity for higher wages and better conditions. This is not the function of the socialist party. Its task is to fight for socialism, and the method it employs is education of the majority. The socialist party is not concerned with reforms under capitalism.

It is not true that we ignore daily struggle and think only of the future in heaven. Rather it is those who postpone socialism to the unlimited generations ahead who are spurning everyday life. By this we mean that socialism today is a practical proposition. It is the profit system which prevents workers from obtaining decent homes, clothes, education. Those who call themselves realists, and call the socialists dreamers and utopians, are in truth unrealistic themselves in believing they can gain the good things of life under capitalism. By the way, if the latter be true, then why fight for socialism at all? Only if people see the need for socialism, and work actively for it, will we ever obtain socialism. On the other hand, if everyone who reaches a socialist understanding comes to the conclusion that socialism will never come about in his lifetime, this is this the best guarantee that we will never see socialism...."

ajohnstone said...

Other reasons can be added to the above such as that only reforms acceptable to the ruling class and often those that reinforces and strengthen their position are passed or that each and every reform is reversible as we are now witnessing with austerity and so it is a treadmill, just to keep running to stay in one place and defend what we had previously gained. The above though is the basic position of why as socialists we advocate only socialism and not reforms.