Sunday, November 2, 2008

Robin Hahnel: Fighting for Reforms without Becoming Reformist

What’s the future of socialism? In retrospect of history, there’s almost no positive answer. Just as Hahnel wrote, “we saw socialist ideals of egalitarianism, cooperation and liberty perverted through authoritarian, violent, wholly anti-democratic and anti-socialist arrangements.” How could those ideals lead to their opposites? What happened between ideas and practice? Socialism cannot answer these questions based on its performance in history.

Socialists have always been criticizing capitalism, and actually capitalism knows its own drawbacks. But up till now, it hasn’t come out a successful alternative to capitalism. Socialists failed to accomplish this goal, and they didn’t expect capitalism could be such stable and resilient. Marx seemed really make a mistake that “unfortunately for those of us working for progressive economic change, capitalism does not dig its own grave. Instead it charges us dearly for the shovels it sells us to dig our own graves.” I could feel how ironic history happened to be.

Then, does socialism have future? Step back from being too idealistic, “social democrats pledged themselves only to pursue reforms geared toward making a system based on competition and greed.” It means, to some extent, socialists adopt the idea of competition, free market or private property, but at the same time, they won’t give up the idea of equality in terms of result, or saying communism. What they want to do it “testing the principles of equitable cooperation and proving that they do work in living experiments in equitable cooperation.”

When thinking about the example of China, I’m not really optimistic. Since 1978, Chinese opened the door as well as our minds towards the world. The government leaders changed their ideas that no matter whether it’s socialism or capitalism, as long as it’s good for people’s lives, we should adopt it. That’s what Deng Xiaoping called, “a cat is good as long as it catches mice, and no matter the cat is black or white.” Undoubtedly, it’s a huge forward from the Culture Revolution. However, the political reform is intentionally ignored, resulted in an unchanged political system plus a “capitalist” economy. China is obviously not a capitalist country, nor is a traditional socialist country any more. China combines the worst things in two systems: political authoritarian and social inequality.

Through all sacrifices been made in history, it’s not uncommon to be skeptical about any socialist trials. And what Hahnel told us is just to “keep hope alive.” But do we still have the confidence to keep hope alive?

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