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Gradual vs. Abrupt Shift to Socialism

Debater Slayer

Vipassana
Staff member
Premium Member
Under a socialist system, the restrictions on private business are far greater than in a heavily capitalistic counterpart. Taxes on larger capital are also far higher, and there are fewer areas where private ownership is allowed.

I have been thinking about this in relation to the current unprecedently interconnected global economy. In theory, socialist principles may sound appealing enough to implement immediately, but this would inevitably drive away businesses and sources of economic growth to other countries. There's also the issue that an abrupt transition to socialism could be so disruptive as to lead to brain drain and alienate a significant segment of a given country's own population.

Do any other socialists here think that a gradual systematic shift where capitalist and socialist principles are combined sounds more realistic and productive than an abrupt or especially forceful one, at least in theory? Private ownership of the means of production won't disappear overnight, and attempts to make it do so can be catastrophic. However, gradual changes can feed into a more socialist direction even if capitalist elements are present—such as in the case of Germany or Sweden compared to the hyper-capitalistic system of the US.

Marx himself saw capitalism as a stage in the progression of human societies. It's far from the best system, but it seems to me that human nature is such that we can't force-feed large-scale systemic changes abruptly without running roughshod over major ethical, humanitarian, and political concerns. In my opinion, this is the main reason Lenin and Mao were so ruthless and murderous; they wanted to force change at all costs and neglected to consider that human nature and societies simply don't work that way.

Socialism is a much more recent development in history than capitalism, so perhaps it needs to take effect incrementally and not all in one fell swoop.

What are your thoughts? Is a gradual but steady shift to socialism better than an accelerated one, or is it the other way around? Or are both options undesirable in the first place?
 

Altfish

Veteran Member
There is a half-way house.
What you describe above is more akin to communism; in Europe 'Socialism' is a left of centre policy stance but private ownership and free market contracts remain for many government provided services (e.g. refuge collection). Corporations are not taken over, although some essential services may be government controlled e.g. Railways, Health Care, Energy, Water
In the US the term "Socialism" is used as a scaremongering tactic to rally the right.
 

Debater Slayer

Vipassana
Staff member
Premium Member
There is a half-way house.
What you describe above is more akin to communism; in Europe 'Socialism' is a left of centre policy stance but private ownership and free market contracts remain for many government provided services (e.g. refuge collection). Corporations are not taken over, although some essential services may be government controlled e.g. Railways, Health Care, Energy, Water

I described the principle of public ownership of the means of production, though. What falls under the "means of production" umbrella isn't entirely straightforward, but communism typically goes much further than this.

I know European economies retain private business and contracts; that's why I used Germany and Sweden as examples of more socialist-leaning economies that haven't done away with capitalism but aren't as entrenched in it as the US is. Their general direction could possibly make it easier to implement more and more socialist principles over time.

In the US the term "Socialism" is used as a scaremongering tactic to rally the right.

I can't comment on this: we're in the Socialist Only section, so we must refrain from criticizing outsiders and other ideologies per Rule 10.
 

Altfish

Veteran Member
I described the principle of public ownership of the means of production, though. What falls under the "means of production" umbrella isn't entirely straightforward, but communism typically goes much further than this.

I know European economies retain private business and contracts; that's why I used Germany and Sweden as examples of more socialist-leaning economies that haven't done away with capitalism but aren't as entrenched in it as the US is. Their general direction could possibly make it easier to implement more and more socialist principles over time.
I think 'means of production' means what I described, plus roads, education and maybe some others.
In other words infrastructure without which the country couldn't function.

I can't comment on this: we're in the Socialist Only section, so we must refrain from criticizing outsiders and other ideologies per Rule 10.
Apologies, it wasn't meant to be against Rule 10, just stating a fact.
 

Alien826

No religious beliefs
In general, successful change tends to be incremental. We tend to be a conservative (small c) bunch and distrust sudden change. So abrupt change is usually followed by a big negative reaction, fueled by fear. So yes, we only have to look at countries where socialism was imposed by force to see the result.

I'm not sure that a totally socialistic system will work well, as government doesn't seem to be be very good at (directly) managing economies. It's too easy to react to political pressure rather than follow principles.

From what I can see, a "mixed" economy seems to have been the best solution so far, to ensure more equitable distribution of wealth and also to have the wealth to distribute. Can that successfully migrate to a fully socialist system that works? I don't know.
 

Yerda

Veteran Member
Public goods should be brought under public control immediately. That includes land use, resource management, health, housing, education, transport, infrastructure etc. So abrupt in that case.

I don't believe we can forcably move the entire economy and system of ownership to worker control without ruining the gains made under liberal capitalist democracy. Until worker controlled, publicly owned enterprise can outcompete private ownership we'll need to retain capitalism in some form, imo. That could require generations of directed public policy. Or it might not be possible.
 

libre

Hermit Thrush
Do any other socialists here think that a gradual systematic shift where capitalist and socialist principles are combined sounds more realistic and productive than an abrupt or especially forceful one, at least in theory? Private ownership of the means of production won't disappear overnight, and attempts to make it do so can be catastrophic. However, gradual changes can feed into a more socialist direction even if capitalist elements are present—such as in the case of Germany or Sweden compared to the hyper-capitalistic system of the US.

Marx himself saw capitalism as a stage in the progression of human societies. It's far from the best system, but it seems to me that human nature is such that we can't force-feed large-scale systemic changes abruptly without running roughshod over major ethical, humanitarian, and political concerns. In my opinion, this is the main reason Lenin and Mao were so ruthless and murderous; they wanted to force change at all costs and neglected to consider that human nature and societies simply don't work that way.
I think Marx, Lenin and Mao's priority on revolution isn't so much to do with whether the transition should be gradual or abrupt, but more that the state is in itself a tool for the repression of one class by another.

Marx and Engels opposed the perspective that private property could be abolished in one stroke that was popular among Utopians in the Principles of Communism and instead argued for a continued ongoing struggle that would eliminate the exploiting classes.

Lenin, similarly did not think that Socialism could be imminently achieved and he died during the period of the New Economic Policy, which featured small business owners and managers for the purposes of developing productive forces. During this period, Russia was capitalist but with the capitalists under the heel of the state, with the owners referred to derogatorily as 'NEP men'.

By Mao's time Socialism had actually been created in one country, and would under his leadership be built in China also. However Mao's leadership pioneered the theory of 'New Democracy' wherein revolutionaries could work with their own national bourgeois to create a 'new democratic' revolution against Imperialism, in cooperation with the capitalists in periphery countries.

I don't mean to get too off track from the original post, but I wanted to posit that what distinguishes the Marxists from those who argue for reform is not that Marxists reject 'gradual' changes or ideas, but understand that Socialism can only be won in struggle.

To borrow a phrase from Mao 'Everything reactionary is the same; if you do not hit it, it will not fall."
 

Debater Slayer

Vipassana
Staff member
Premium Member
I think Marx, Lenin and Mao's priority on revolution isn't so much to do with whether the transition should be gradual or abrupt, but more that the state is in itself a tool for the repression of one class by another.

Marx and Engels opposed the perspective that private property could be abolished in one stroke that was popular among Utopians in the Principles of Communism and instead argued for a continued ongoing struggle that would eliminate the exploiting classes.

Lenin, similarly did not think that Socialism could be imminently achieved and he died during the period of the New Economic Policy, which featured small business owners and managers for the purposes of developing productive forces. During this period, Russia was capitalist but with the capitalists under the heel of the state, with the owners referred to derogatorily as 'NEP men'.

By Mao's time Socialism had actually been created in one country, and would under his leadership be built in China also. However Mao's leadership pioneered the theory of 'New Democracy' wherein revolutionaries could work with their own national bourgeois to create a 'new democratic' revolution against Imperialism, in cooperation with the capitalists in periphery countries.

I don't mean to get too off track from the original post, but I wanted to posit that what distinguishes the Marxists from those who argue for reform is not that Marxists reject 'gradual' changes or ideas, but understand that Socialism can only be won in struggle.

To borrow a phrase from Mao 'Everything reactionary is the same; if you do not hit it, it will not fall."

I had Lenin's and Mao's policies in mind as examples of destructively abrupt and brute-forced attempts at transition to socialism when I asked the question, since I believe their utopian visions and brute-force methods to achieve their stated goals are examples of what to avoid when aiming for social and economic changes. Many of Mao's policies in particular, even more so than Lenin's (although Lenin's were also disastrous in many ways, in my opinion), seem to me a case study in the catastrophic consequences of trying to transform social, cultural, and economic conditions too quickly, too aggressively, and too abruptly.

This was also a large part of why I found (and still find) the question of how any attempted transition should be carried out to be interesting. It seems to me that most of the historical examples of leaders who tried to force economic and cultural changes through violence or "struggle"—such as Lenin, Guevara, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh—did immense harm and ultimately failed to improve the average citizen's quality of life, hence my wondering about what, if anything, other people think could be realistic and humane means of transitioning to socialism.
 

Altfish

Veteran Member
I had Lenin's and Mao's policies in mind as examples of destructively abrupt and brute-forced attempts at transition to socialism when I asked the question, since I believe their utopian visions and brute-force methods to achieve their stated goals are examples of what to avoid when aiming for social and economic changes. Many of Mao's policies in particular, even more so than Lenin's (although Lenin's were also disastrous in many ways, in my opinion), seem to me a case study in the catastrophic consequences of trying to transform social, cultural, and economic conditions too quickly, too aggressively, and too abruptly.

This was also a large part of why I found (and still find) the question of how any attempted transition should be carried out to be interesting. It seems to me that most of the historical examples of leaders who tried to force economic and cultural changes through violence or "struggle"—such as Lenin, Guevara, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh—did immense harm and ultimately failed to improve the average citizen's quality of life, hence my wondering about what, if anything, other people think could be realistic and humane means of transitioning to socialism.
Lenin and Mao are communist policies.
As I have stated previously, the word "Socialism" is used as a war cry by the right wing in the US. In Europe many countries embrace socialism but it is NOT what you are describing. The meaning of the word has evolved and now means left of centre, but usually fairly central.
Hopefully the UK will vote in a Labour Government next year, that will be described as a socialist government but it still embraces many capitalist ideals.
In the US the people that get called 'socialists' are actually in many cases to the right of the Labour Party in the UK.
 

Jayhawker Soule

-- untitled --
Premium Member
Lenin and Mao are communist policies.
I think folks should become more familiar with Trotsky.

Marxism-Leninism is, first and foremost, internationalist with the dictatorship of the proletariat benefitting from having a mature and class conscious international proletariat rather than being confined to a State surrounded by more advanced and deeply hostile imperialist powers.
 

libre

Hermit Thrush
It seems to me that most of the historical examples of leaders who tried to force economic and cultural changes through violence or "struggle"—such as Lenin, Guevara, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh—did immense harm and ultimately failed to improve the average citizen's quality of life, hence my wondering about what, if anything, other people think could be realistic and humane means of transitioning to socialism.
I would agree with you that the above figures were all heavy-handed, but my perspective is that they realistically needed to be.

Vladimir Lenin's theories while in continuity with Marx's were born out of the failures of the social-democratic 2nd international to meaningfully oppose World War 1. Russia was the only country in world war 1 who chose to engage in revolution instead of imperialism, there were realistically no other options, as the Russian February revolution showed the government of liberal democracy were not going to withdraw from the war under any circumstances.


Ho Chi Minh was a long time liberationist against the French, and came to Communism as a form of last resort in his resistance to colonial domination when he found no other path would work to achieve the liberation of his country from France. Che opposed a US backed slave state and worked to ensure a progressive Cuban revolution in the midst of organized criminals and right-wing revolutionaries who also wanted to take power.
Similarly, Mao's perspectives grew out of how to defeat Japanese invasion and establish national self-determination.

In my viewpoint, the brutality of their struggle came from the fact that they were being realistic in the methods needed to crush their oppressors.

I don't think there was any chance of a nonviolent or democratic socialist movement in these contexts. The only parallel I can think of Allende, who's virtue lead him vulnerable to a military coup and subsequent suicide.

Perhaps in democratic countries the non-violent socialism might be more conceivable, I don't think it's true of the 3rd world though.
 
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