Building: Twenty-First Century Socialism

By Lebowitz, Michael A. | Canadian Dimension, September-October 2008 | Go to article overview

Building: Twenty-First Century Socialism


Lebowitz, Michael A., Canadian Dimension


A spectre is haunting capitalism: the spectre of twenty-first century socialism. Increasingly the outlines of this spectre are becoming clear, and we are able to see enough to understand what it is not. The only thing that is not clear at this point is whether this spectre is actually an earthly presence.

Consider first what twenty-first century socialism is not. It is not the belief that by struggling within capitalism for reforms it is possible to change the nature of capitalism--that a better capitalism, a "third way," can suspend the logic of capital. Twenty-first century socialism is not yesterday's liberal package: social democracy. Further, from the standpoint of the twenty-first century, socialism should not be confused with state ownership of the means of production, so that all that it is necessary to do to achieve it is to nationalize everything. Nor does it accept the notion that anything that builds a nation's productive capacity (thereby supposedly bringing it closer to socialism and communism) is justified, including gulags, dictatorship and, indeed, capitalism.

Finally, socialism for the twenty-first century is not based upon the concept of representative democracy--that institutional form in which rule by the people is transformed into voting periodically for those who will misrule them. All these fall into what I call "yesterday's socialist package."

So, if twenty-first century socialism differs from yesterday's packages, what is it?

The Centrality of Human Development

Twenty-first century socialism stresses above everything else the centrality of human development. In this respect, it is a restoration of the focus of nineteenth-century socialists, including that of Karl Marx. The young Marx envisioned a "rich human being"--one who has developed his capacities and capabilities: "the rich man profoundly endowed with all the senses." But it was not only a young, romantic, so-called "pre-Marxist" Marx who spoke so eloquently about rich human beings. In his last work, the Grundrisse, Marx returned to this conception of human wealth--to a rich human being--"as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations." Real wealth, he understood, is the development of human capacity--the "development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption."

That these ideas live today can be seen very clearly in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela. In its recognition that the goal of a human society must be that of "ensuring overall human development" (Article 299); in the declaration of Article 20 that "everyone has the right to the free development of his or her own personality"; and in the focus of Article 102 on "developing the creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society"--this theme of human development pervades the Bolivarian Constitution.

Further, this Constitution also focuses upon the question of how people development their capacities and capabilities. Article 62 declares that participation by people in "forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective." This focus upon practice as essential for human development was, of course, Marx's central insight into how people change: the concept of revolutionary practice--"the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change."

Look where this key link of human development and the simultaneous changing of circumstance and self-change leads:

* To democratic decision making in the workplace and the community.

* To a focus upon building solidarity and new, socialist human beings, rather than relying upon exchange relations (buying and selling) and material self-interest, which leads to a blind alley. …

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