Points of Continuity
The taking of power through any means necessary. The revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua came to power through guerrilla wars that first attained control of rural territory and then moved to capture control of the cities. The Russian Revolution came to power through a combination of the formation of popular councils (soviets), mass protests, the arming of workers, and the taking control of some strategic military garrisons; it is evident that the use of arms was a component of its strategy for taking power. In Venezuela, the taking of power was through the electoral process, but the revolutionary leader was a career military officer who had been working for years on the revolutionary transformation of the military. In general, the socialist revolutions in political power today have developed for structures of armed defense and armed resistance to a military invasion and occupation, if they were to be invaded by a military power; this preparedness has functioned as a partial deterrent to military intervention by the global powers.
The structures of popular democracy. The triumphant socialist revolutions of the twentieth century for the most part developed structures of popular power as an alternative to bourgeois representative democracy, as well as mass organizations integrally tied to popular power. Elections at the base are direct elections among multiple candidates, whereas they are second-degree elections at higher levels, elected by delegates elected at the lower levels. Structures of popular democracy are less developed in the socialist projects that have emerged in the twenty-first century, but their experience confirms the need for the further development of popular democracy, if popular consensus and political stability is to be attained.
The vanguard. The majority of the people think in terms of concrete problems, and most do not spontaneously analyze their problems from a global, historical, and scientifically informed perspective. The people, therefore, must be led by a committed and prepared vanguard, which plays a central role in the education of the people. The role of the vanguard in the construction of socialism is often misunderstand in the capitalist societies of the West, where it erroneously is assumed that the people do not decide. In fact, the people decide, doing so with the guidance of the vanguard. That is, the decision of the people is based on public debate that is framed or reframed by the vanguard, rather than of the basis of a public debate that is framed by particular elite interests, as occurs in capitalist societies. In socialism, in carrying out its role of leading the popular revolution, the vanguard checks the manipulation of public debate by the elite.
The important and necessary role of the state in the economy. The government formulates a national plan for social and economic development, and the state itself is a key actor in the economy. The socialist revolutions in political power in the Third World plus China and in Russia have made important and significant advances through this strategy, largely ignored by Western academics and the corporate controlled media.
The protection of the social and economic rights of the people. The socialist governments played an important role in the formulation of Articles 22 to 29 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which describe the various social and economic rights of the people. The socialist movements take the view that education and health care are rights, not privileges that are distributed on the basis of capacity to pay.
Science, technology and economic development. From the outset, the socialist revolutions recognized the need for economic development, in order to provide for the social and economic needs of the people. To this end, they have supported scientific research, especially research that it integrally tied to technological development and economic development. In addition, they appropriate from Western scientific and technological advances that they see are useful for the project of scientific, technological, and economic development.
Women’s equality. Socialist movements were among the earliest supporters of the cause of full and equal rights for women, and in positions of political power they have been committed to this principle, even though it has taken decades to overcome traditional customs among the people. This commitment has included full opportunity for women in employment and in political leadership; full funding for the particular health needs of women, including reproductive rights; and the protection of women from violence and abuse. The commitment is to immediate equality of educational and employment opportunity for women and girls; and to long-term equity, or absolute equity in the distribution of wealth, income, and power. Equity can take a long time to be realized, because of culture and customs; it should not imposed ahead of educational and cultural advances.
Racial and ethnic equality. Leaders of socialist movements have understood racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination as functional for the ideological legitimation of prevailing social and economic inequalities; according, they view it as an antiquated relic of the past. They believe that this view as confirmed by recent development in science, which show that differences in skin color have emerged from ancient differential levels of exposures to the sun, and they have no relation to human capacities and qualities. As in gender equality, the commitment to racial and ethnic equality involves short-term commitment to full equality of opportunity, and commitment to equity in the long term to economic and cultural development.
Public media. The twenty-first century socialist projects in Latin America have permitted private ownership of the principal media of communication, because they did not have sufficient political power and ideological influence to move to state control of the media. However, the experience of the destructive and counterrevolutionary role of corporate ownership of the mass media make evident the need for public ownership of the principal media of information.
Power to the people. In the vanguard of the revolution are found not only factory workers, mineworkers, construction workers, and service workers, but also farmers and professionals. Indeed, peasants and professionals played the most decisive roles in the triumph and subsequent development of socialist revolutions of national liberation in the Third World plus China.
Various forms of property, including private property and foreign investment. These components were present from the beginning, out of necessity. As productive needs continued to evolve, and as experience demonstrated that private property and foreign investment were effective in responding to needs, diverse forms of property came to be recognized explicitly as necessary. Socialist economic theory has arrived to understand the necessary and important role of national and foreign private property, even though complementary to that of state property, in the national plans for economic and social development during the stage of constructing socialism.
A nationalist internationalism. In the West, there emerged a movement of internationalist solidarity among the workers of the world, standing against the manipulation of patriotic sentiments of the workers in order to attain their participation in imperialist wars. However, in the colonies of the capitalist world-economy, the socialist movement was integrally tied to the forging of a sovereign nation that would exercise control over its own resources. Accordingly, the great revolutionaries of the Third World, such as Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, were great patriots. They forged an understanding of internationalism different from that of the West. Their internationalism finds space for the legitimate and necessary defense of national interests and for the expression of patriotic sentiments. Accordingly, socialism for the twenty-first century not only sees the importance of the nation, but moreover, it tends to express the revolutionary project primarily as a defense of the sovereignty of the nation and the dignity of the nation’s people, such that the nation becomes the unifying and integrating concept of the revolution. Third World revolutionary internationalism, therefore, respects the sovereignty and dignity of all nations, and it expresses and acts in solidarity with all of the peoples of the world. Such cooperation among nations and solidarity among peoples is seen by socialism today as necessary for the sustainability of the world-system and to ensure the future of humanity.
The protection of nature and sustainable development. The twentieth century socialist revolutions came to power before global ecological consciousness had emerged. Its subsequent embracing was consistent with its historic commitment to science. Taking into account its need for economic development, it rejected the tendency of the Western ecology movement toward a pejorative view of development; and it arrived to the notion of sustainable development. Accordingly, it treats ecological issues in a comprehensive and balanced form, integrated with a commitment to promote the economic development that the people need.
The family as a necessary unit of socialist society. There has been a tendency in intellectual Marxism to view the traditional family as reproducing the oppression and exploitation of women and of restricting the sexual and economic options of men and women, thus envisioning the abolition of the family. However, in the experience of socialism, the necessity of the family in the construction of the socialist society can to be understood, because in practice, parents, grandparents, and other relatives play an important role in the socialization of values. At the same time, the diversity of families is recognized: families include single parent families, blended families, heterosexual couples, and gay couples. And the full equality of women in the family is affirmed.
Religiosity as an element of a revolutionary people. Marx famously wrote that “religion is the opiate of the people,” and there has been a historic tendency in socialist movements for leaders and intellectuals to believe that religious belief is a superstitious and antiquated legacy of the past, which would disappear as the people developed a more mature understanding. However, experience has demonstrated the persistence of religious beliefs among the people, even as socialist states are lay states that are neutral toward religion. Socialist projects have evolved to view religious persons as included in the diversity that comprises a revolutionary people.
Gay rights and transgender identity, and their inclusion in the socialist revolution. The socialist revolutions came to power before the question of gay and lesbian rights and transgender identity became issues of public debate. Indeed, at the time that most of the twentieth century socialist revolutions came to power, psychologists defined homosexuality as an illness, and the socialist revolutions possess a commitment to science. As science has moved toward affirming homosexuality and transgender identity as a part of nature and humanity, socialism has moved toward recognition of rights, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, including the right of gay marriage. In the case of Cuba, the Party and the government have indicated that they will not adopt a gay marriage law without the consent of the majority of the people, in accordance with the principal that socialism is attained through education of the people, and it cannot be imposed.
When the contradictions of the modern-world system first became evident during the 1960s and 1970s, the global elite reacted with a neoliberal economic war against the world’s poor, beginning in 1980. Subsequently, it launched new wars of aggression, seeking to assure control of the vital resources of oil and gas. In taking such actions, with ignorance of or unconcern for their consequences for the long-term wellbeing of humanity, the global elite has made evident the unsustainability of capitalism, the capitalist world-economy, and the neocolonial world-system.
If capitalism no longer can work, perhaps socialism could. Unfortunately, our images of socialism have been shaped by the Cold War, in which distorted images of a distorted form of socialism were widely disseminated. We tended to overlook, then, the other forms of socialism that emerged as the Cold War began, in places like China and Vietnam, and then in Cuba, and then in Nicaragua, and then in Venezuela and Bolivia. Our overlooking of them was in a general sense consistent with treating the world of the peoples of color as essentially unimportant. However, these socialist projects were, on the basis of their accumulating experiences, deepening the human understanding of socialism, the only practical alternative to a capitalist world-economy in decline and decadence. They thus constitute an important source of wisdom. Our duty is to study these continually evolving socialist projects, not only to more fully understand what socialism is, but also to discover what they have to teach us with respect to the possible formation of socialist movements in the USA and the nations of the North.