Getting Beyond the Label

February 29, 2008 at 8:49 pm (Libertarian Socialism)

red-iceberg.jpgWhenever anyone admits that he is a socialist, it takes about seven seconds before Soviet Russia finds its way into the discussion. The USSR was evil, the USSR was socialist, therefore socialism is evil.

But when faced with this objection, Chomsky often points out that there is an “R” in USSR — it’s the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But no one claims that republics are therefore evil, do they? Why not?

Well, Chomsky answers, it is simply because calling something a “republic” doesn’t mean it really is one, nor does the title “people’s democracy” mean that a true democracy exists. By extension, then, the mere fact that Russia was once called “socialist” doesn’t mean it really was.

The essense of true socialism is the decentralization of power, taking it from the hands of an unaccountable elite and placing where it belongs: in the hands of the people. When seen in this classical sense (rather than in the more popular American version), “socialist” and “libertarian” are synonyms, not antonyms.



  1. Paul Baxter said,

    What exactly does it mean to “take” power from the elite? How exactly is this done and by whom? And what mechanism allows said power to reside in the “hands of the people”? What is the nature of this power and does it’s nature change when it changes ownership? Have there been any actual examples of this phenomenon or is it purely theoretical? How do we know where power rightly belongs?

    A have a few questions.

  2. The Pundit said,

    Hi Paul,

    You asked quite a few questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1. An example would be workers demanding their right to unionize so that they can gain fair working conditions, or citizens demanding that candidates who represent them be allowed to participate in the campaigning process.

    2. See above; rights are never granted from on high, they’re always won through popular struggle.

    3. The mechanism is a citizenry that demands a say in their affairs. In countries where the government fears the uprising of the people, some pretty amazing and democratic policies can result.

    4. The nature of thispower is simply the right to have a say in one’s own affairs. Do we want fairer wages? Public health care? A less agressive foreign policy? Polls say we do, but are there candidates that can extricate themselves from corporate lobbyists and contributors for long enough to fight for the people on these matters?

    5. I’m no historian, but there have been a few examples of libertarian socialism, but they’ve always been crushed. But if you think of it as a spectrum with America being on the more corporately-controlled end if it, you can certainly see better functioning democracies if you look to Canada, Scandinavia, France, and parts of South America.

    6. Our Declaration of Independence says that the role of the government is to ensure our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (this now applies to blacks, women, and the poor, too). If those rights are not maintained by our government, it is the responsibility of the people to “alter or abolish it.”

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