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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society


What will things be like after the revolution? How will we deal with such and such a problem under socialism? How will X, Y or Z be organised? These sorts of questions are often put to Marxists. It has to be said that the answers given are frequently vague. Certainly the writings of Marx in this area are slight compared with his monumental analysis of capitalism and his works on history and contemporary politics. Although what Marx did have to say on the subject possessed all his customary brilliance and formed the basis for all subsequent Marxist thinking about socialism, it remains the case that he dealt with the major problems only in the broadest outline.

There were good reasons for this.

Before Marx the dominant school of socialism was that of the ‘Utopians’, such as Saint-Simon and Fourier of France and Robert Owen of England. The Utopians specialised in drawing up grandiose schemes for the future organisation of society but lacked any strategy for bringing them about, apart from appealing to the goodwill of the ruling class.

Marx was determined to differentiate his scientific socialism from this middle class daydreaming. He stressed that socialism could arise only from the actual contradictions in capitalism – the anarchy in capitalist production, and the antagonism between the working class and the bourgeoisie. This set very strict limits to predictions about the organisation of socialist society, limits which excluded any attempt at a detailed blueprint. In the main these limits remain in force today.

Since socialism emerges out of capitalism as a result of a successful struggle against it by the working class, the specific measures introduced by the revolutionary socialist government will obviously depend on the particular economic, social and political conditions at the time.

We cannot know in advance what those will be any more than we can now forecast the date of the revolution. Also, since the whole point of the socialist revolution is to place society under the conscious control of the working class, there are many questions which it is quite futile to try to answer in advance and which must simply be left to workers of the future to decide. There is, for example, no point in trying to draw up plans now for the design of housing in a socialist society. It will all depend on the kind of houses people in the future choose to live in.

Nevertheless questions remain. If people are to take up the struggle for socialism, they want to know what they are fighting for. This is especially true when the matter has been so clouded by the phenomenon of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, and by the numerous other regimes around the world which claimed the title ‘socialist’.

There is a need in socialist propaganda for angry denunciation of capitalism.

There is a need for hard headed analysis of the strategy and tactics of the workers’ movement. But there is also a need for inspiration, for a vision of the goal which makes the struggle worthwhile.

Moreover, in certain respects we are better placed than Marx to answer some of these questions. A further century of capitalist development has involuntarily prepared the ground for socialism in many ways and made it easier to envisage how certain goals set down in principle by Marx – such as the achievement of material abundance or the overcoming of the division of labour – can actually be realised.

Also we have the advantage of a century of workers’ struggle. We do not as yet have experience of full socialism in the Marxist sense. But we do have the experience of a few years of socialist revolution in Russia, and of numerous near misses – the workers’ revolutions that failed like those in Spain 1936 or Hungary 1956 – which contained the seeds of socialism.

It is for these reasons that this pamphlet will attempt to set out in some detail a Marxist view of the future socialist society. I stress the word attempt because, quite apart from the personal errors and idiosyncrasies that may creep into my account, one thing is certain: the reality of socialism will differ markedly from any possible anticipation of it. This does not, however, invalidate the enterprise to try to show concretely how it is possible for humanity, through socialism, to eradicate the fundamental problems that plague it under capitalism and win real freedom.

One further preliminary point needs to be made. Socialism – or communism, to use Marx’s original term – is not a ready-made state of society that can simply be introduced the day after the revolution. Rather it is a historical process.

This process begins with the destruction of the capitalist state by workers’ revolution. It is completed only when a fully classless society is achieved on a world scale – that is, when the whole human race collectively manages its affairs without class antagonism or class struggle.

Between the overthrow of capitalism and the classless society lies a period of transition. Called by Marx ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, it is more simply referred to as ‘workers’ power’.

When discussing the socialist future, it is always essential to bear this in mind. For what can and will be done in the initial stage when the working class, although in power, is still locked in struggle with the dispossessed bourgeoisie, is not at all the same as the possibilities that open up when humanity is at last fully united.

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Last updated: 15 November 2015