Theses on the path to socialism


This note was motivated by an interesting discussion on Doug Henwood’s Facebook page regarding Karl Kautsky’s political legacy. A prior version of the post ended in item 15. The remainder was updated on 3/11/2019.

  1. One can learn from history, but more than that is required to build socialism. It will take a gigantic leap in mass creativity to resolve the singular, novel problems the struggle faces today, let alone those that it will face tomorrow.
  2. To learn from history means two things: (1) to study it in light of the present needs of the struggle and (2) to socialize this knowledge (i.e. to help working people appropriate this knowledge) in and through today’s struggles as widely and deeply as possible.
  3. In principle, the more educated, organized, and united the working class is before taking the reins of the State, the more likely to withstand the tsunami of opposition that will be unleashed against it.
  4. However, while the task of socialism is to endow the workers’ movement with the sharpest historical consciousness and careful political planning, the struggle will necessarily be subject to a host of surprising circumstances or shocks and, more importantly, to wild swings in the people’s energy and morale.
  5. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the movement (and there will be a leadership, though better if it is committed to historical self-effacement) to anticipate these ebbs and flows in the disposition of the people and prepare conditions by careful organization and planning to increase the chances of success in each of the struggles.
  6. As a rule, when the people are disposed to struggle, the task of socialists is to help them prepare and organize their political campaigns most carefully. While it is a responsibility of socialists to warn people when their movements are misguided, make them aware of potential difficulties and risks, socialists should not seek to discourage or demoralize the people, but rather be supportive of them in their struggles.
  7. When people are most demoralized, the task of socialists is to go back to the basics in terms of the preparatory work of organization from the bottom up, drawing the hard lessons from prior experience. This preparatory work consists of helping the workers organize to carry out local, temporary, narrow, concrete struggles to improve their living and working conditions within the confines of the existing social order. It is only on the basis of a substantive development of this basic-level organization that the workers get themselves ready to take up broader political struggles.
  8. A democratic socialist State will seek to minimize the use of coercion even against its most ruthless adversaries, because the productive forces spent in coercion are diverted from the most essential tasks of reconstructing social life. While seeking to minimize coercion, a democratic socialist State, with due respect to its own laws, must be ready and willing to use coercion decisively against those who may take illicit action to disrupt the social order under construction. The rulers will not, except in isolated individual cases, respond to persuasion. They will only answer to the language of coercive power or credible threat thereof.
  9. The material content of all social power is cooperative labor power. The highest form of social power flows from labor cooperation elicited by logical and factual comradely argument. Cooperation elicited by coercion, by psychological manipulation, or by exploiting necessity leads to lower forms of social power that wind up backfiring.
  10. To minimize coercion, the workers need to (i) enlighten themselves (i.e. appropriate extant science and technology subordinating them to their needs), (ii) build up and strengthen their organization (i.e. develop a complex organizational ecosystem, with overlapping networks of working-class mutual support), and (iii) unite broadly while fostering division, disorganization, and demoralization among the rulers.
  11. Ability to disrupt the social order is cheap. The social order itself is already highly disruptive of human life and of the metabolism between human society and the rest of nature. Entropy is not our friend. Organization is. Ability to construct a new social order, to reorganize social life on a new democratic basis is dear. Again, the ability of people to consciously structure a new social order depends on their self enlightenment, organization, broadest unity, and militancy.
  12. The ultimate concern of the ruling class is not profit but profit-making, i.e. the social order they rule. Their real concern is not quantity, i.e. the speed with which their capital grows, but quality, i.e. their ability to exploit labor recurrently, which requires the permanent fragmentation and impoverishment of the direct producers: the workers.
  13. As a consequence, any serious political challenge will confront the kitchen sink, i.e. the ruling class will seek to sabotage, disrupt, disunite, throw a monkey wrench in economic and social conditions overall, and then blame socialism for the mess. The rulers will resort to terror with 100% certainty, and the most serious and formidable terror is not that of paralegal thugs, but the terror of the State apparatus. Hence the need to conduct the struggle in ways mindful of the essential need to win over the rank-and-file workers in the State apparatus.

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