Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

2. Reconceptualizing Socialism

Book cover: Global Capitalism and Climate Change: The Need for an Alternative World System by Hans A. Baer

Numerous observers have viewed the collapse of Communist regimes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as an indication that capitalism constitutes the end of history and that socialism was a bankrupt experiment that led to totalitarianism, forced collectivization, gulags, ruthless political purges, and inefficient centralized planned economies. What these commentators often overlook is that efforts to create socialist-oriented societies occurred in, by and large, economically underdeveloped countries. Historically, Marxists or socialists have engaged in intense debates as to whether the transition from capitalism to socialism would occur vis-à-vis revolutionary change or more gradual change by way of reforms in various parts of the world. Revolutions involve sudden and radical social transformations and are often associated with varying levels of violence, as was the case with the American, French, Bolshevik, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions.

The efforts of Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolsheviks to develop the beginnings of the process that they hoped would result in socialism occurred under extremely adverse conditions, including constant external threat. Although the Bolsheviks, particularly under the dictatorial leadership of Stalin, managed to transform the Soviet Union into an industrial powerhouse by the 1930s, a variety of external forces, such as World War II and the Cold War, and internal forces, such as a centralized command economy and a political system of one-party rule, prevented the development of socialist democracy.

Book cover: Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon

With some modifications, the model of bureaucratic centralism was adopted by various other post-revolutionary societies after World War II, starting with China in 1949. The contradictory nature of Leninist regimes imploded first in Eastern Europe in 1989, particularly highlighted by the opening of the Berlin Wall, and in the Soviet Union in 1991. In the case of China, its Communist leaders embraced capitalist structures as a means of rapid development to the point that some scholars argue that it now constitutes a state capitalist society, entailing tremendous social inequalities and environmental devastation. The collapse of Communist regimes created a crisis for many leftists throughout the world. Many progressives had hoped that somehow these societies, which were characterized in a variety of ways, would undergo changes that would transform them into democratic and ecologically-sensitive socialist societies.

Copyright © 2016

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