Answering some questions about Marxism and socialism
Source Louis Proyect
Date 10/03/29/09:22

Answering some questions about Marxism and socialism

Dear Mr. Proyect,

I am very much interested in Marxism – or theories resulting from Marxism – which deal with the question as to what a Marxist Government would look like. I do not subscribe to any notions that under a Marxist – or similar system, that there would not be a Government which is hierarchical, as I believe our world is much too complex. At the same time, my understanding of Marx is limited and I get very confused about what is Marx or is not Marx, and what is Maoist or Leninist etc.

For example what kind of Government is Cuba? or what was the Soviet Union? China, Vietnam? What is Chavez doing? What is the real difference between Marxism and Socialism. What are the differences between Lenin and Stalin and Trotsky?

When I was in the Trotskyist movement in the 60s and 70s, I used to use the term “workers state” to describe Cuba, the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam. This term tried to convey the sense that these were transitional societies that retained features both of capitalism and socialism. This concept is not exclusive to the modern age. In the 1600s most of Western Europe could be described as being in transition from feudalism to capitalism. Of the four countries mentioned above, I would say that Cuba is the only one that can still be described as a workers state. The rest have relapsed back into capitalism, although some Marxists would disagree with me about China and Vietnam, comparing the two to the USSR in the 1920s when the New Economic Policy allowed the capitalist mode of production some leeway. Perhaps Vietnam is still not as far-gone as China but I remain to be persuaded.

The problem I have is that these subjects are often discussed as textbook without real world application. On the one hand are those such as the Democratic Socialists who claim that they would use for example the Democratic Party of the USA as long as it would help them reach socialism, then there are the Revolutionary Marxists who claim that they refuse to vote for any party, and evidently are waiting for some big proletarian uprising in the USA which I don’t see coming for another one hundred years.

I don’t know about one hundred years but a proletarian revolution is certainly nowhere as near as the “revolutionaries” claim. Leaving aside the proximity of such an event, the real political issue facing us is how to achieve substantial reforms on issues such as health care, gay marriage and climate change. My direct experience from the 1960s and from studies of the 1930s tells me that real change takes place because of direct action, such as demonstrations, rallies, petition drives, picket lines, and even individual acts of conscience like burning a draft card. Unfortunately, those on the left seem to have lost the appetite for activism of this sort while our enemies on the right, especially the tea party movement, are going like gang-busters.

Therefore I spend my time trying to keep the fascist right from coming into power, yes I realize that both parties are flirting with Fascism in the USA, however I am taking my chances with the Democrats, to at least advance more to the left.

I strongly disagree with you on the Democratic Party. In my view the DP is the main obstacle to the kind of principled and uncompromising direct action that will lead to major reforms. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than Obama’s refusal to call upon the countless numbers of young people who volunteered to elect him. A huge network of idealistic and energetic young people could have been mobilized to press for single-payer but instead the movement was turned off like a faucet once Obama was elected. Interestingly enough, the Republican Party is much better at mobilizing people in action, even if it is for reactionary ends. This is one of the reasons I was a supporter of the Green Party until it decided to tail-end the DP. It could have been an electoral party that had an activist dimension. We still need something like that and I hope that worsening economic conditions can bring into being.

So in conclusion, if I am a Marxist, what the heck am I trying to establish?? Dumb question? I hope not. I am looking for some kind of specifics. Can Marx incorporate into such things as World Federal systems? Like World Parliament movements for example. I see this as necessary in my understanding.

What type of political system we can look forward to on a national or global level will be answered down the road when people in the USA finally take power and begin producing for human need rather than private profit. Since that is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future, but let’s hope sooner than a hundred years, I wouldn’t worry about it. I suspect that we will not see the typical separation of powers you see today, which is largely designed to frustrate direct democracy.

Thank you for your response if you can find the time. I am asking you these questions as you seem like you may have some answers to these questions.

I do have answers. Whether they are correct or not is of course another question altogether.

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