Capitalism is not democracy, and dictatorial 'communism' was not socialism

from the New Unionist, August 2002

Capitalism is NOT democracy! And dictatorial 'communism' was not socialism

By Erik Parsels

Most people today discount the possibility of capitalism ever being dethroned. Capitalism, they say, is here to stay. After all, hasn't capitalism already vanquished socialism?

No, it hasn;t. And to understand why we need to know what capitalism and socialism really are. And what they are not.

First, capitalism is not a type of government. There are capitalist dictatorships, governed by military strongmen, as well as capitalist republics, governed by elected 3representativesı of the people.

The thing that makes them both capitalist is not the particular form of political machinery each has. What makes them capitalist is the economic relationship between the people who work and the people who own the workplaces. Under capitalism those are two different groups. Under socialism they are one and the same.

Under capitalism those who do all the work are only allowed access to the workplaces and the chance to earn a living on condition that they fork over most of the value they add during the production process to the people who own the workplace.

Thus, a person who adds $30 each hour to the product or service he or she works on may only be paid $10 for each hour she works. The rest goes to capital: the owner of the workplace, his banker, insurance company, marketing consultant, etc.

To maintain this cozy state of affairs the capitalist class uses its great wealth to control the electoral process and screens out any political candidates who might interfere too much with the very undemocratic running of the nation's workplaces. Whatever the political government does, it is forbidden to really interfere in the economic relationship between workers and owners, or to do anything, however sorely needed by the vast majority of the population, against the basic interests of the owning capitalists.

Under socialism, on the other hand, the workers collectively are also the owners of all the workplaces in the economy. All the goods and services created by the people who work belong to those same working people, according to how much work each does.

A person who works twice as much as another gets twice as much. But since it is impossible for one worker to do hundreds of times more work than another, the situation we have now, with executives who are paid hundreds of times what average workers are paid, would be impossible. Not to mention the great sums of wealth that are now paid to absentee stockholders who do no work at all and may not even know where the workplace they 3ownı part of is located.

Since under socialism the workers own the workplaces they also, of necessity, have a democratic say in the running of those workplaces, which is a major advance for democracy. In fact, democracy is the defining characteristic of true socialism.

Now that we know the difference between capitalism and socialism we can judge whether the 3socialismı of the Soviet Union and its many late, unlamented dictator client-states was worthy of the name.

First, and most obviously, the Soviet-style states were not politically democratic. The governing 3Communistı party was not responsible to the working people at all, and most of its activities were not even known to them.

Of course, the party claimed to be 3representingı the true wishes of the people. But this was a sham, as those people demonstrated when they gladly cast off the fake socialist government.

But there is an even more direct and important criterion for socialism: Did the workers own and control their own workplaces, and did they each receive the full product of their labor?

They didn't. The party said that the workplaces 3belongedı to the people. But if they did it was on paper only.

Not only did the workers not receive the full value of what they produced they had no say in their workplaces' decision-making either. The extra value not paid to the workers went to luxury apartments, trips to spas and vacation dachas for the party elite - a true ruling class in a supposedly 'classless' society.

That is exactly the same economic state of affairs we have under capitalism. So if the Soviet Union and its off- shoots were capitalist, why did the West-tern capitalists hate them so much?

First, the Soviet Union and its offspring were a rival capitalism, a closed society which the Western elite couldn't get control of or buy into. Capitalism is a jealous god, and tolerates no rival capitalisms.

That is why Western capitalists insist on the 'free market.' That open and free market allows the ruling elite of the world capitalist system to buy up, edge out or abort its competition, wherever it may arise.

Every new 'revolution' that created a new 'communist' state put raw materials, exploitable workers and potential markets out of reach of Coca-Cola and General Motors. They didn't like that, especially as capitalism is a 3grow-or-dieı type virus.

Second, while the Soviet-spawned states weren't actually socialist their official ideology was 'anticapitalist,' which gave hope, inspiration and material aid to dozens of liberation movements struggling to resist capitalist globalization. For the Soviet government such aid was part of its own crude capitalist struggle to survive against its larger and stronger rival, Western capitalism.

Those fights, collectively known as the Cold War, were expensive for the capitalist West. Hence the jubilation in the West when the Soviet Union, driven to bankruptcy by the Reagan-Bush arms race, finally collapsed. The carcass of the Soviet bloc and the subsequent slow demise of Chinese isolationism fed the longest peacetime expansion in American history.

So where's the socialism that global capitalism supposedly vanquished?

There wasn't one. 'Socialism' in one country couldn't compete with global capitalism and stay socialist. Lenin's 'socialist' state could only hope to avoid takeover by the emergent global capitalism by repressive dictatorship.

Genuine socialism cannot be 'given' to the workers by a political or intellectual elite, however sincere it may be. Socialist self-government can only be built by the informed and united action of the workers themselves.