Thursday, April 30, 2009

The End of a Course on the History of Socialism and Communism

by Norman Markowitz

I am ending a course that I teach tonight in the history of Socialism and Communism. The students will be a little nervous because they are giving in their term papers and taking their take home finals to write. It is big course and a do a lot of other teaching and we are fighting to maintain our union contract so I will be working harder than usual and may not write for the blog as much as I would like

So I thought that I would give our readers both highlights of the final points that I will be making and also attach the exam for those who would like to respond to it. This is an experiment, a sort of Open University of the PA blog.

My first point is this: the developments of the late 20th century, seen widely as socialism's end, can also be seen as socialism's beginning/. the capitalist world system has produced not only a glutted grossly unequal global market, but transnational productive forces that have deepened rather than overcome its contradictions Capitalism seeks to make everything small and isolated, people and nations, to make the world into a very few little Switzerland's(rich, uncaring and expensive) a lot of little Guatemalas(poor and becoming poorer) and ,where possible a fair amount of big and little Congos, places to exploit raw materials, sell weapons, and make the oppression of the people largely invisible

The failure of socialist states and societies are real, mostly the failure to develop a socialist world system(the Soviet-Chinese conflict really crippled that possibility) but capitalism, as it carries forward an overproduction has produced mutual underdevelopment, stagnation in the rich countries, and deepening imisseration in the poor ones. And all of this, was demonstrable before the present economic crisis, the greatest since the great depression. If it weren't, there would be higher, not lower international labor standards, less, not more global "underdevelopment" in the form of destitution poverty and its many ills, from severe malnutrition to the lack of elemental sanitation, not to mention access to housing.

The "new world" economy has also produced what progressive historian Charles Beard long ago called "perpetual war for perpetual peace." Although Beard was no Marxist-Leninist, Lenin's theory of imperialism helps us and were he still alive him understand the truth of his comment. Conflicts between great powers over export zones, raw materials, captive markets, the development of economic blocs to protect their members and challenge others, and most of greatly increased militarization has become a much more central part of political economy and society. Lenin contended that capitalism in its imperialist phase could not create a stable world order, could not even stabilize itself, much less raise world living standards. It could only create bigger wars and revolutions.

But what about socialism? Marx and Engels saw capitalism developing fully after political revolutions for capitalism (whatever its leaders said the revolutions were for) followed a long period of capitalist development in the form of commodity production and the rise of a capitalist class seeking political power to both keep and expand its developing economic power.

This was why Marx and Engels, without ever making specific predictions, saw the rising working class in the most advanced countries as the center for the establishment of socialism through political revolutions that would organize society on socialist principles, because capitalist relations of production were completely dysfunctional to its development just as feudal relations of production were completely dysfunctional to the capitalist class and was no longer tenable for the masses of peasants producing agricultural goods according to the feudal system.

It may be that socialism will once more be centered in the advanced countries, although, as underdevelopment becomes mutual, the possibility of a world socialist system will become real as a global labor movement and political authority will become the only way to prevent economic and social collapse. This won't be any socialist "utopia," but a response on the part of the working classes of the world to save themselves from an emerging capitalist dystopia.

Of course, Marxism provided a framework to understand real social conditions and their historical roots. We can't say what China's socialist market economy will become and whether it will become a new model for socialism as the Soviet Union's centrally planned economy was in the past. We can't say that new peoples revolutions will not develop, even here in the U.S. and contribute both models and practical assistance to people struggling to achieve socialism. We can't even say that new horrors in terms of both economic crisis and political reaction, both old and new forms of fascism and new great wars are unlikely, not even impossible. But we, and this is my view can say that capitalist crisis, long chronic, is now becoming acute and that in the
world today,only socialism, not narrowly defined and restricted to one model or set of dogmas, is the only system/mode of production/ way of life that can positively replace capitalism

Those are the major points of the lecture. Here is the exam as we make the PA blog today an open university:

Take-home Final Examination Due Monday, May 7 7 P.M in class

l. Beginning with the Russian Empire Socialist Revolution of 1917,
Marxist socialism was both divided into Social Democratic and Communist
wings and transformed into a global movement.This divided movement
struggled both against itself, against local ruling groups and against
powerful foreign states, both liberal capitalist and fascist states,
throughout the 20th century, suffering both huge victories and major
defeats over the last ninety years.
From both class lectures and your readings in Eric Hobsbawm's Age of
Extremes ,including our earlier theoretical readings, classwork and
films,ask yourself the following questions:What were most important
achievements and failures of socialist movement in both its Communist
and Social Democratic wings in the twentieth century in regard to both
its attempts to gain power in and change the world?
Finally, and this is your speculative analysis based on what you have
studied and learned, what would you see as the future of both Marxist
ideology and the socialist movement today?

I am interested in learning what you have learned analytically about the
history of socialism and communism in the course as seen by your
selection of relevant material to develop your points, to chose
intelligently what to present and omit. Of course you are free to
disagree with and challenge anything from the readings class lectures
and films in developing your answer. Try to keep the exam in the range
of five to eight typewritten pages; this is a guideline. Answer the
question as fully as you think you have to