The Marxist-Humanist Initiative maintains that when socialist revolutions arrived to power, they did not proceed to establish “a truly new, human socioeconomic system” in accordance with the philosophy of Marx. It maintains that nationalization of the economy and the financial system does not transform capitalism. It argues that, in nationalizing industry, agriculture and banking, socialist revolutions were developing structures not essentially different from capitalist nations that regulate the economy and intervene in the economy in defense of the interests of the capitalist class. It asserts that both state ownership of economic enterprises and state regulation in support of private capital belong to the state-capitalist stage of capitalism, as was analyzed by Raya Dunayevskaya.
Marx’s vision of the abolition of alienated labor, hierarchy and the state was rooted in his observations of the technological development of large-scale capitalism toward automated industry. However, the anti-colonial movements for national and social liberation took power in social and economic conditions very different from those that Marx was observing. Moreover, the triumphant revolutions confronted serious political and economic obstacles: the determined and morally unconstrained resistance of the global powers and their allies within the nation seeking liberation; the deep roots of national economic structures, designed to facilitate the wealth of the few and the poverty of the many; and the established weight of global commercial and financial structures, designed to protect the interests of the Western power elite. At the same time, triumphant revolutions faced the challenge of feeding the people and providing for their materials needs, in order to maintain popular support for the revolution.
Accordingly, in Third World nations in which socialist revolutions triumphed, charismatic leaders reformulated the meaning of socialism on the basis of reflection on their particular conditions. And recognizing that their societies did not have the possibility to fully develop socialism, even in accordance with their reformulated socialist vision, they declared their nations to be in transition to socialism.
Thus, we can understand Third World socialist nations as characterized by the political will to take steps toward socialism, to the extent that such steps are politically and economically possible. In spite of their incomplete and imperfect character, the socialist revolutions maintain that they have established political and economic structures significantly different from capitalist societies, for they have developed: structures of popular democracy, eliminating the electoral farce of representative democracy and establishing a decision-making process of, by and for the people; protection of the social and economic rights of the people, including universal and free health care and education; defense of the sovereignty of their nations, blocking imperialist and neoliberal intentions; and a foreign policy based on cooperation and solidarity, rather than domination and superexploitation. They see themselves, and they are seen by progressive and Leftist social movements throughout the Third World, as in the vanguard of a global movement that seeks a transition from a capitalist world-economy to a socialist world-system.
Certainly, if a triumphant socialist revolution does nothing more that nationalize industrial and agricultural enterprises and convert them into state property, this step in and of itself does not imply a significant move toward socialism. However, this step is integral to a transition to socialism, when it is accompanied by other measures, such as: the elimination of representative democracy and the development of popular democracy; the nationalization of the media of communication, thus restricting the capacity of the wealthy to ideologically manipulate the people; the cultivation of values of cooperation and solidarity through educational institutions and the media; the teaching of national and world history in a form that is liberated from the distortions of the previous ruling class; and the formation of community and political leaders, intellectuals, and artists with advanced scientific understanding of national and global social dynamics. Third World socialist revolutions have taken such steps, and we intellectuals of the North, whose own nations are floundering between reform and reaction, should obverse these revolutions, as we seek to understand socialism and envision a future socialist world-system.
The development of the capitalist world-economy since Marx’s time has made some of his conclusions dated. We should take today not Marx’s conclusions, but his method, and seek to understood capitalism and socialism from the vantage point of social movements from below, most fully expressed in Third World socialist nations. In Third World nations that have declared their intention to build socialism, the delegates of the people are taking concrete steps in the transition from a capitalist world-economy to a socialist world-system. They are building socialism in practice each day, and it is through reflection on that experience that we intellectuals of the North must construct our theory of socialism.
Key words: Third World, socialism, Marx, Marxist-Humanist Initiative