Introduction to Marx Lectures
by Dr. Jan Garrett
This page last modified: November 10, 2012
Introduction to Marx Lectures
In connection with Marx, the term "socialism" has two primary meanings. On the one hand, it is a social movement that would thoroughly replace the capitalist socioeconomic system with a social arrangement based on cooperation, real or substantive equality, real rather than merely formal democracy, and respect for human and ecological diversity. The movement includes a thorough and unending critique of all illusions that hide the truth about oppressive and unjust social realities. Marx thought of this movement as based upon the industrial working class, which was a large and growing class in his lifetime. Thinkers in the Marx tradition today see it as based on the working class, which includes non-industrial workers, and the peoples of countries in the Global South dominated by the world capital system. "Peoples" includes workers and farmers and small shopkeepers. Middle-class allies have always been welcome.
On the other hand, it names the social arrangement itself that would replace the capital system as an outgrowth of the socialist movement.
Socialism as a movement has existed since the time of Marx, sometimes in a partial and distorted form, but it still exists today and is in what may be an early phase of a major revival, along with a critical review of its own past. Socialism as a basic arrangement of an entire society has never yet existed. What has sometimes called itself socialism falls primarily into two categories:1) so-called welfare states, as in Western Europe and Scandinavia. These are capitalist states with a substantial social safety net, such as socialized medicine, a strong social security system, strong protection of workers rights on the job, and public investment in education. Some of these features characterized even the U.S. in the middle 20th century. About the only clear difference is the presence of a large parliamentary party historically linked to the early 20th century Social Democratic movement. These societies, like the U.S., were formally democratic, or representative, in their political systems, combining electoral process with basic civil rights.
They are capitalist b/c they preserve the basic institutions of the capitalist market and private property rights, though the market may be regulated for various reasons.
2) so-called "state socialist" societies, like the Soviet Union, Peoples Republic of China, and the countries of Eastern Europe up till approximately 1990. Marxists today describe these societies as state capitalist or part of the capital system without being capitalist. They shared with capitalist societies a drive to accumulate productive wealth—not in private hands but in the hands of the state itself. For most of their time in existence, they were governed by a single political party. They too had formally democratic institutions but the system was set up so that the ruling party could not be replaced, and the ruling party itself was not internally democratic.