Not a Time to Abandon Socialism

By Kinsman, Gary | Canadian Dimension, November-December 1990 | Go to article overview
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Not a Time to Abandon Socialism

Kinsman, Gary, Canadian Dimension


The collapse of what has been called 'actually existing socialism' in some Eastern European countries has led to confusion, demoralization and disillusionment among socialists in Canada. While many of us rejoiced as popular democratic revolutions dislodged Stalinist party rulers, we have despaired at seeing the marginalization of the democratic left in East Germany and other countries, and shifts toward what looks like the restoration of capitalist social relations.

The western mass media and pro-capitalist politicians have been successful in portraying events in eastern Europe as "the defeat of communism and socialism." There has been talk of "the final victory of capitalism over socialism," and claims that democratic freedoms exist only in association with 'free' markets and 'free' capitalism.

Is this then a time for abandoning socialism, for abandoning the social and political movements that have inspired working class and oppressed people around the world for close to two centuries? Is this the time to abandon Marxism and its critique of capitalism?

For me this is not a time to give up. Nor is it a time to resign ourselves to accepting the limitations of small scale reforms and the tepid social democracy of the NDP. Hopes persist and struggles continue for profound and liberating changes in Canada and around the world. It is instead time to redouble our socialist efforts, but in so doing we must make socialism anew.

In this effort the critical insights and methods of Marxism will be invaluable. But we must also draw on other historical and contemporary resources of the struggles of working class and oppressed peoples. These include anti-racist struggles, national liberation and anti-imperialist struggles, socialist feminism, ecological socialism, gay and lesbian liberation, AIDS activism, non-Marxist strands of transformative socialism and other sources of resistance and renewal.

Bureaucratic class societies

Never having believed that the 'actually existing socialism' of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was socialism, I have been less disillusioned than others by recent transformations in these countries. In my view, these countries have been bureaucratic class societies in which a new ruling class, based in the Party and the state bureaucratic apparatus and using Marxism-Leninism as its ideology, rules over the working class. While these types of societies achieved some successes, like in industrializing the USSR up to a point (at tremendous human costs), they aren't socialist countries -- the working class and other oppressed people do not democratically control these societies. Whatever gains these countries established, they are not socialist. They were not the kinds of societies we are fighting to establish.

These bureaucratic class societies have their own internal contradictions and class struggles in which workers and others fight against the powers of the bureaucratic class over their lives. What has begun to crumble in the 'East' is not socialism but bureaucratic class societies which can no longer meet the needs of their people.

Unfortunately, these ruling classes use Marxism as their official state ideology, so that socialism and Marxism have become rather despised in these countries. Rather than socialism being associated with emancipation, freedom from exploitation, and greater democracy, it became associated with oppression, bureaucracy, and lack of democracy.

In contrast, we must remake an emancipatory, transformative, pluralist socialism that is defined by greater grass roots and participatory democracy and struggles to end exploitation and oppression. In reflecting on what has gone on in these 'eastern' countries we need to be extremely critical of what there was in Leninism that facilitated the rise to power of these bureaucratic ruling classes. The Leninist theory and practice of organizing, whatever its usefulness in particular historical contexts, hasn't been the vehicle for emancipation that many had hoped for.

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