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Socialism in practice

A very interesting and thoughtful document.

I would add that a key weakness facing the socialist left today is the absence of a credible and readily understandable outline of how socialism would work.

I don't think this requires a detailed blue-print. But it does require some basic propositions that sound realistic, workable and achievable.

Too often, in my experience, when asked what socialism would involve, some socialists reply with dream-like scenarios of a conflict-free world of super-abundance and hyper-democracy.

Instead we need a vision that makes clear how socialism would create a practical social dynamic more conducive to solving certain key problems (those relating to climate change and poverty) without lapsing into child-like wishful thinking.

Such a vision must be able to provide us with credible answers to common objections.

For example, if we talk about workplace democracy, then how do we counter the criticism that such a system would be impractical?

If workplace A votes in a way that is inconsistent with the policy adopted by workplace B (perhaps resulting in A not receiving the quantity and quality of inputs it needs to meet a socially determined target) then what happens? Is democracy suspended? By whom and by what means? Will agreement always be possible? Really?

Will the broad social imperative to tackle poverty begin to erode worker control of production at the level of the office and the factory, with the performance of work increasingly decided by higher bodies of government? If so, what would the implications be for skill, the use of workplace technology, and overall human development?

In my experience these are questions that are not only raised by opponents of socialism. I have had discussions with union activists about these issues. Some firmly believe that some form of capitalist division of labour is unavoidable and that democracy in a modern workplace is a nice idea but impractical.

In general, we need a vision of socialism that is credible to those we want to mobilise in support of a different society. In the past, Communists pointed to the Soviet Union. Some Trotskyists also invoked the USSR – for economic, if not political, inspiration (although the distinction was never valid).

We don’t have a concrete example to point to. And platitudes, clichés and wishful thinking won’t cut it.

So mobilisation, while important, is unlikely to be sufficient when it comes to re-building the socialist movement. We need to know more about what we are fighting for and how it may actually work.


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