This guide is my view of the various political systems and ideologies around the world, their contributions to revolutionary thought and my understandings of them. I hope this could be a good guide for people wanting to introduce themselves to revolutionary thought. I will try to keep these as brief as possible in order to make it simple.
This will be added to irregularly, so don’t expect regular updates.
Socialism is an economic system in which the means of production, distribution and industry are under the control of the community to some extent, either via the state or through direct community control and are used not for profit but for the benefit of the community as a whole.
Socialism as a political movement has been in existence for millennia, since ancient times and reformers like Tiberius Gracchus, just as many ancient societies were based on this form of production. In the last two centuries it has been predominated by Marxism and Revolutionary Socialism has become popular throughout the world. There are others forms, such as religious socialism, conservative/fascist populism and libertarian socialism (left wing and anarchistic but not Marxist).
Communism is a political and economic system, but moreover it is a social project. It is a vision of a society in which human existence is lifted to a new level. In this society, all property would be held in common, there would be no oppressive or coercive states, racial barriers would be removed and traditional gender would have dissolved away as all people live together free of discrimination. This new society would stretch across the world and there would be no more nations or war, and all people would live together in harmony, and care for the earth.
This dream has been attempted many times, never successfully, and can be looked at from many different views, most famous of which is the Marxist view which requires violent revolution followed by a transition. There are other variants of communism though.
Marxism is the political thoughts of Karl Marx, the German philosopher, political scientist and revolutionary. These also include the works of Friedrich Engels, Marx’s close friend and associate. His thoughts are consider one of the most potent criticisms of capitalism and the foundation for a lot of revolutionary thought.
His political/philosophical thoughts can be summed up as follows:
- Dialectical Materialism: This concept was originally developed by Georg Hegel, and as such is also referred to as the Hegelian Dialectic, though the main political application (developed by Marx) is that political systems, and economic systems evolve. all systems have contradictions, and through these contradictions being resolved, society evolves into new forms. There is a process through which the original idea (Thesis) meets with its contradiction/opposing concept (Antithesis) and through the struggle between the two, a new system (Synthesis) emerges. Karl Marx believed that these societal systems would continue to evolve until they reached the stage of communism (see: communsim), in which human happiness will finally be complete, and thus the struggle will have no need to continue.
- Class struggle: All of history, through the evolution of society, has been the story of class struggle. Society has always been divided into groups, which relates them to the means of production (the factories, the ports, the ways in which we produce) in a certain way. These form the basis of classes. Before capitalism, we had feudalism, in which society was divided into peasants, lords, journeymen and merchants.
- Now, the classes are being polarised, with only two major classes existing in the developed world. These are the proletariat (the working class) and the bourgeoisie (the ruling class). The bourgeoisie own the means of production and profit from it. They earn profits and invest capital. The proletariat do not own production capabilities, and as such have to sell their time, strength, intelligence and creativity to earn a living. There is a struggle between these two classes because their interests are permanently in conflict. The bosses want higher profits and the workers want better pay, conditions, healthcare, etc. There is many more proletarians than there are bourgeoisie, and thus the profits of the labour of the people, goes into the hands of the few. In this way, society is in conflict with itself, and through the process of dialectical materialism this process will be resolved.
- This system we have today has many elements that Marx outline through his works, but importantly, it is inherently exploitative. This thought comes from Marx’s Labour Theory of Value which proposes the idea that when the proletariat works, they only get paid a fraction of the wealth they actually produced that day (say they earn $25 when they have $500 of work that day). The rest of wealth that worker has created goes to the bourgeoisie in the form of profits, even if they have not worked. This revolutionary idea is the very root of class conflict.
- Capitalism also causes alienation, as all relationships between people begin to get boiled down to economic agreements. The lack of democracy in the workplace, the sense of pointlessness of the worker who is producing for the profit of another, cripples the human spirit and does not enable the human being to become truly free.
- The final product of this struggle will be a revolution, in which the proletariat will take control of the government and the economy and form a dictatorship (read: government) of the proletariat. This means a democracy, because it means the rule by the vast majority of the population, as opposed to the few. The new economy they will establish will take the means of production under democratic worker’s control, and they will begin to collectivise land and industry and eliminate oppressive social relations.
- Through this process, communism will eventually emerge, the state will be rendered irrelevant and whither away, leaving an egalitarian, democratic, peaceful society in which all things are held in common (private ownership is abolished).
Leninism (also known as Marxist-Leninism) is a theory of revolution, which can be seen as an extension to Marxism. This theory was developed by Vladimir Ulyanov (better known as Vladimir Lenin), leader of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
His idea of Leninism concerns the practical needs of making the Proletarian Revolution, especially in Russia in the early 1900’s. It broadly encompasses ideas on many topics, though it is most famous for its ideas on making revolution and the revolutionary party.
- The most important element of Leninism is the idea of the Vanguard Party. This idea is that the working class alone is not fully capable of rising up against capitalism, as it is divided, disorganised, uneducated, etc. This means that it is necessary for there to be an organisation of professional revolutionaries, mostly made up of activists and the intelligentsia whose job it is to organise and educate the working class, as well as leading the working class to victory during the revolution. How long the Vanguard is to exist after the revolution is heavily debated among Leninists.
- The Vanguard party is to be modeled on Lenin’s structure of “Democratic Centralism” in which all policies and officials within the party are democratically voted upon, but once the majority has decided, the platform is binding to all members of the party and they must follow it through.
- Lenin also put forward a theory of Imperialism. He stated that it is the highest stage of capitalism, characterised by the monopolies on powerful capitalist countries using the power of the state to divide up the earth amongst themselves. Lenin claimed that this would eventually lead to war between the nations (as it did in World War 1).
- Leninism advocated National Liberation and the right to self-determination amongst peoples.
Stalinism is a contentious and difficult ideology to map out, mostly because its adherents never refer to themselves as Stalinists. Stalinism is one of the two main inheritors of Marxist-Leninism, and tends to revolve around the works and actions of Joseph Stalin as leader of the Soviet Union, though it hard to distinguish between true theoretical work and attempts to justify actions of the USSR.
- Stalin advocated that in the face of isolation and the lack of a World Revolution, the USSR should move towards a policy of creating Socialism in One Country, as opposed to a commitment to Proletarian Internationalism. This also led to justifications of state encouraged patriotism, especially during the Second World War.
- Stalinism also advocated the Two Stage Theory of socialist development, stating that all nations must transition through capitalism on their way to Socialism. This was used to justify the USSR’s policy of supporting bourgeois nationalist forces in China and elsewhere.
- The USSR under Stalin was characterised by a enormous police state, forced collectivisations, using the Communist International for the benefit of the USSR and a growing bureaucracy that fully took hold after his death. While these policies were not ideologically articulated, Stalin’s enemies associate these policies with Stalinism as an ideology.
With the fall of the USSR, Stalinist parties in the West have been in retreat, many abandoning their traditional positions.
Trotskyism is an addition to the political theory of Marxist-Leninism, following the adjustments and additions put forward by Leon Trotsky. Most of these additions came forward after Lenin’s death when Trotsky came into conflict with Marxist-Leninism’s other successor, Stalinism.
Trotskyism mostly reinforces a commitment to Proletarian Internationalism and covers questions of programme amongst small communist parties.
- Trotskyism defends the idea of World Revolution, stating that socialism can only be achieved by a global revolution of all the world’s oppressed. Along with this point comes…
- Permanent Revolution. Trotsky proposed that the exploited peoples of undeveloped nations (which still live under semi-feudal condition) could revolt and march straight through to socialism without needing to compromise with their national bourgeoisie and establish a capitalist society on the way. This position directly contradicts the Stalinist Two-Stage Theory.
- The Transitional Programme is a form of platform that Trotskyist parties advocate that extends the traditional socialist model of having a minimum (immediate reforms and demands) and maximum (calls for the overthrow of capitalism) programme that remained separate from each other. The Transitional Programme outlines a model for small parties to agitate at the level of struggle, slowly increasing it in more of a sliding scale of demands, leading all the way from immediate demands to maximum demands for world revolution.
- Trotsky also proposed that the Soviet Union was could no longer be classified as socialist, saying that it had become a Degenerated Worker’s State under the totalitarian reign of Stalin. This meant that it had been over-run with a caste of bureaucrats that wanted to fortify their own privileges in the face of scarcity, and that a new worker’s revolution was necessary to correct this mistake. This degeneration occurred due to bad leadership, imperialist interference and backwards objective circumstances, a problem that can be rectified through World Revolution and Trotskyism’s focus on Revolutionary Democracy.
Trotskyism is one of the major forces in the current socialist movement, however its focus on programme has led to it being a highly sectarian (divided) force.