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State socialism has various meanings, but is generally described as an economic system with a limited number of socialist characteristics, including public ownership of major industries, remedial measures to benefit the working class, and a gradual process of developing socialism through government policy. Alternatively, it is used to classify any variety of socialist philosophies and ideologies that calls for ownership of the means of production by the state apparatus, either as a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism, or as an end-goal in itself. State socialism is generally held in contrast with libertarian socialism and socialist anarchism, which reject the view that socialism can be achieved by using the existing state apparatus or by government policy.
The philosophy of state socialism was first expounded by Ferdinand Lassalle. In contrast to Karl Marx and his adherents, Lassalle rejected the idea that the state was a class-based power structure with the function of preserving existing class relations and destined to "wither away" in a future classless society. Instead, Lassalle considered the state as an independent entity, an instrument of justice essential for the achievement of the socialism.
In Statism and Anarchy, Mikhail Bakunin identified a "statist" tendency within the socialist movement and contrasted it with anarchist socialism, arguing that Karl Marx's theory of transition from capitalism to socialism in which the working class seized state power in a Dictatorship of the proletariat would eventually lead to a usurpation of power by the state apparatus acting in its own self-interest. Benjamin Tucker, an American individualist anarcho-socialist author, wrote of "state socialism" in his 1886 essay entitled State Socialism and Anarchism, defining it as a tendency that advocated for governmental control over the means of production as a necessary strategy in order to transition from capitalism to socialism.
As a political ideology, state socialism rose to prominence during the 20th century Bolshevik, Leninist and later Marxist-Leninist revolutions where single-party control over the state, and by extension, over the political and economic spheres of society was justified as a means to safeguard the revolution against counter-revolutionary insurrection and foreign invasion. The Stalinist theory of Socialism in one country further legitimized state-directed activity in an effort to rapidly mobilize the Soviet Union's resources to industrialize its internal economy.
Proponents of state socialism claim the state, through practical considerations of governing, must play at least a temporary part in building socialism. It is possible to conceive of a democratic state that owns the means of production but is internally organized in a participatory, cooperative fashion, thereby achieving both common ownership of productive property and workplace democracy in day-to-day operations.
Description and theory
State socialism is one of the dividing lines within the broader socialist movement, and is often contrasted non-state or anti-state forms of socialism, such as those that advocate direct self-management, adhocracy and direct cooperative ownership and management of the means of production, and political philosophies such as libertarian socialism, anarchist socialism, anarchist communism, syndicalism, free-market socialism, De Leonism and economic democracy. These forms of socialism are opposed to hierarchical technocratic socialism, scientific management, and state-directed economic planning.
State socialism was traditionally advocated as a means for achieving public ownership of the means of production through nationalization of industry. This was intended to be a transitional phase in the process of building a socialist economy. The goals of nationalization are to dispossess large capitalists and consolidate industry so that profit would go toward public finance rather than private fortune. Nationalization would be the first step in a long-term process of socializing production: introducing employee management and reorganizing production to directly produce for use rather than profit.
Traditional social democrats and non-revolutionary democratic socialists argued for a gradual, peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism. They wish to abolish capitalism, but through political reform rather than revolution. This method of gradualism implies utilization of the existing state apparatus and machinery of government to gradually move society toward socialism, and is sometimes derided by other socialists as a form of "socialism from above" or political "elitism" for relying on electoral means to achieve socialism.
In contrast, Marxist socialism and revolutionary socialism holds that a socialist revolution is the only practical way to implement fundamental changes in the structure of society. Marxists maintain that after a certain period of time under socialism, the state will "wither away" because class distinctions cease to exist and representative democracy would be replaced by direct democracy in the remaining public associations comprising the former state. Political power would be decentralized and distributed evenly among the population, producing a communist society.
Many Socialists, such as Fredrick Engels and Saint-Simon, take the position that the state will change in nature and function in a socialist society; specifically, the nature of the state would change from one of political rule over people into a scientific administration of the processes of production; specifically the state would become a coordinating economic entity of inclusive associations rather than a mechanism of class and political control, and in the process, cease to be a state by some definitions.
The economic model adopted in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and other Communist states is often described as a form of state socialism, and in some cases, state capitalism. The ideology was based on Socialism in One Country; this system was based on state ownership of the means of production, and bureaucratic management over production and the workplace by state officials ultimately subordinate to an all-encompassing communist party. Rather than the producers controlling or managing production, the party controlled the government machinery which directed the national economy on behalf of the communist party and planned production and distribution of capital goods.
In the 20th century's so-called "communist states", the state did not in fact wither away. Some Marxists defend them and contend that the transitional period simply wasn't finished. Other Marxists denounce those "Communist" states as Stalinist, arguing that their leadership was corrupt and that it abandoned Marxism in all but name. In particular, some Trotskyist schools call those countries degenerated workers' states to contrast them with proper socialism (i.e. workers' states); other Trotskyist schools call them state capitalist, to emphasise the lack of true socialism and presence of defining capitalist characteristics (wage labor, commodity production, bureaucratic control over workers).
In the former Yugoslavia, the successor political parties to the League of Communists in Serbia and Montenegro, the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro have advocated progression towards a free-market economy but also advocated state economic planning of elements of the economy, maintaining social welfare and have advocated significant state influence in the media.
Otto von Bismarck implemented a set of social programs between 1883–1889, following his anti-socialist laws, partly as remedial measures to appease the working class and detract support for the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Bismarck's biographer A. J. P. Taylor said: "It would be unfair to say that Bismarck took up social welfare solely to weaken the Social Democrats; he had had it in mind for a long time, and believed in it deeply. But as usual he acted on his beliefs at the exact moment when they served a practical need". When a reference was made to his friendship with Ferdinand Lassalle (a nationalist and state-oriented socialist), Bismarck said that he was a more practical "socialist" than the Social Democrats. These policies were informally referred to as "State Socialism" by liberal and conservative opponents; the term was later adopted by supporters of the programs in a further attempt to detract the working class from the SPD, with the goal of making the working class content with a nationalist-oriented capitalist welfare state.
Otto von Bismarck made the following statement on his social welfare programs:
"Whoever has pensions for his old age is far more easier to handle than one who has no such prospect. Look at the difference between a private servant in the chancellery or at court; the latter will put up with much more, because he has a pension to look forward to".
Many libertarian socialists, Syndicalists, Mutualists and anarchists go further in their critique, deriding even Marxism as state socialism for its support of a temporary, proletarian state instead of abolishing the state apparatus outright. They use the term in contrast with their own form of socialism, which involves either collective ownership (in the form of worker cooperatives) or common ownership of the means of production without state economic planning. Libertarian socialists and anarchists believe there is no need for a state in a socialist system because there would be no class to suppress and no need for an institution based on coercion, and thus regard the state being a remnant of capitalism. Most also hold that statism is itself antithetical to true socialism, the goal of which is the eyes of libertarian socialists such as William Morris; "to destroy the state and put free society in its place".
State socialism is often referred to by detractors simply as "socialism". Austrian economists such as Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek for example continually used the word "socialism" as a synonym for state socialism and central planning. The attributive "state" is usually added by socialists with a non-state based method for achieving socialism to criticize state socialism. Some socialists may deny that it even is socialism, calling it instead "state capitalism". Those socialists who oppose any system of state control whatsoever believe in a more decentralized approach which puts the means of production directly into the hands of the workers rather than indirectly through state bureaucracies—which they claim represent a new elite.
Trotskyists believe that central planners, regardless of their intellectual capacity, operate without the input and participation of the millions of people who participate in the economy who understand/respond to local conditions and changes in the economy, and because of this criticize central state planning as being unable to effectively coordinate all economic activity.
Orthodox Marxists view state socialism as an oxymoron; while an association for managing production and economic affairs would exist in socialism, it would no longer be a state in the Marxist definition (which is based on domination by one class). This leads some socialists to consider "state socialism" a form of state capitalism (an economy based on wage labor and capital accumulation but with the state owning the means of production) - which Fredrick Engels states would be the final form of capitalism.
Today, many political parties on the political center-left advocate a mild version of what may be considered "mixed economies" or "regulated capitalism" in the form of modern social democracy, in which regulation is used in place of ownership. These social reformers do not advocate the overthrow of capitalism in a social revolution, and they support the continuing existence of the government, private property and the capitalist economic system, only turned to more social purposes. Modern social democracy can also be considered "state capitalism" because the means of production are almost universally the private property of business owners, and production is carried out for exchange rather than directly for use.
- Bureaucratic collectivism
- Degenerated workers state
- Deformed workers state
- Market socialism
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
- New class
- Planned economy
- Right-wing socialism
- Socialist state
- State capitalism
- State Socialism (Otto Von Bismarck's social policy)
- State socialism, Merriam-Webster Online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/state%20socialism: "an economic system with limited socialist characteristics that is effected by gradual state action and typically includes public ownership of major industries and remedial measures to benefit the working class"
- Berlau 1949, p. 21.
- Statism and Anarchy. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from Marxism.org: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1873/statism-anarchy.htm: "The theory of statism as well as that of so-called ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ is based on the idea that a ‘privileged elite,’ consisting of those scientists and ‘doctrinaire revolutionists’ who believe that ‘theory is prior to social experience,’ should impose their preconceived scheme of social organization on the people. The dictatorial power of this learned minority is concealed by the fiction of a pseudo-representative government which presumes to express the will of the people."
- "State Socialism and Anarchism". Retrieved November 7, 2011, from Panarchy.org: http://www.panarchy.org/tucker/state.socialism.html
- Flank, Lenny (August 2008). Rise and Fall of the Leninist State: A Marxist History of the Soviet Union. Red and Black Publishers. p. 57. ISBN 1-931859-25-6. "Lenin defended his actions, arguing that the Revolution could be consolidated 'only through dictatorship, because the realization of the transformations immediately and unconditionally necessary for the proletariat and the peasantry will call forth the desperate resistance of the landlords, of the big bourgeoisie, and of Tsarism. Without dictatorship, it would be impossible to defeat counter-revolutionary efforts."
- "Leicester Research Archive: Redistribution Under State Socialism: A USSR and PRC Comparison". lra.le.ac.uk. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisted, by Nove, Alexander. 1991. (P.176): "The original notion was that nationalization would achieve three objectives. One was to dispossess the big capitalists. The second was to divert the profits from private appropriation to the public purse. Thirdly, the nationalized sector would serve the public good rather than try to make private profits...To these objectives some (but not all) would add some sort of workers' control, the accountability of management to employees."
- The Two Souls of Socialism, Draper, Hal. http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/contemp/pamsetc/twosouls/twosouls.htm: "Ferdinand Lassalle is the prototype of the state-socialist -- which means, one who aims to get socialism handed down by the existing state."
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Saint Simon; Socialism
- Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, on Marxists.org: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/soc-utop/ch01.htm: "In 1816, he declares that politics is the science of production, and foretells the complete absorption of politics by economics. The knowledge that economic conditions are the basis of political institutions appears here only in embryo. Yet what is here already very plainly expressed is the idea of the future conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things and a direction of processes of production."
- A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck. The Man and the Statesman (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955), p. 202.
- Taylor, p. 202.
- Bismarck, Edgar Feuchtwanger, (2002) p. 221.
- "Bismarck’s Reichstag Speech on the Law for Workers’ Compensation", March 15, 1884: http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1809
- A. J. P. Taylor, Bismarck. The Man and the Statesman (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955), p. 203.
- Writings 1932-33, P.96, Leon Trotsky.
- Berlau, A Joseph (1949), The German Social Democratic Party, 1914–1921, New York: Columbia University Press.