Socialism Is Not Liberalism

By Daniel B.

My first experience with the DSA made a strong impression on me, which I have recalled often since then. It was a meeting that took place in Chicago at UE Hall—probably in 2017. Someone was trying to tell a room full of millennials what socialism is, by saying what it isn’t, with the clear intention of dissociating it from the ugly moments of the 20th century. We were told that socialism is about fighting and abolishing all forms of oppression and domination, about equality rather than hierarchy, about ending all forms of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and about working together to build a just society that works for everyone, not just the fortunate few. How could we relate the message of ‘socialism’ to skeptical friends, neighbors, relatives? The Soviet Union and German fascism (so-called “National Socialism”) could not have been real socialism, we were told, because they were authoritarian and repressive, while socialism is against all of that. I checked my watch. And the thought that went through my head was: “in order to hold those views, you don’t need anything more than ordinary, honest liberalism, the ideology of individual rights, which is prevalent in developed capitalist societies. That doesn’t have anything to do with socialism, because it doesn’t have anything to do with political economy, production, exchange, or class”. There was no serious discussion of the economic basis on which all of those forms of oppression rest and which they serve: economic exploitation (i.e. the production of profits by employing waged and salaried laborers). In what remains of this statement I’ll try to say what I wish I and everyone else would have heard in that room full of people on that day in UE Hall in 2017. It’s a statement of what socialism is insofar as it does not coincide with liberalism1.

First, before it is possible to present a workable definition of socialism, it’s necessary to define the actual situation in which all human beings on earth find themselves at present, which is the starting point from which we will go wherever we will go. It is capitalism: a social formation that is organized by economic relations of value (i.e. commodities and money) and the accumulation of value or capital, upon which the continued existence of our society depends. Capitalism is not an ideology or mental state or a belief. It is an economic system (mode of production) that is primarily oriented towards the production of aggregate profits (growth), not the satisfaction of human wants and needs. A person is a ‘capitalist’ only if he or she owns industrial, commercial, financial, or real estate capital (i.e. rentiers). A person is a ‘worker’ only if the source of income on which his or her life depends is a wage or salary, which he or she receives in exchange for performing labor (‘labor power’) in a workplace for a capitalist and thereby procures more value (surplus-value, profit) for the employing capitalist than the costs of wages and production. Workers exchange their capacity to work on the market for money, to buy a set of other commodities that they need, which have the same value as their capacity to work Marx symbolizes this process as “C-M-C”. Workers break even at the end of every term, and so they must repeat this cycle in order to live. If everyone acted as workers do, then we would live in what John Maynard Keynes called a “cooperative economy”, which is a kind of economy in which markets and money are used solely to distribute the products of labor that people need in order to live, rather than to produce aggregate profits (surplus-value) or accumulate capital2. But, clearly, in our contemporary society, everyone does not act as workers do. Markets illustrate that we do not live in a “cooperative economy” by failing every time that profitability and growth suddenly decrease to any significant degree. Capitalists, unlike workers, exchange money for the commodities that they need—like labor power or the means of production—in order to make more commodities and more money, profits or “surplus-value”. Marx formulates this process as M-C-M’—or more rigorously as M-C…P…C’-M’3. Capitalism depends upon the purchase of commodities (means of production and labor power) in order to produce and sell more commodities for money of a greater value, in order to yield aggregate profits (surplus-value), which are appropriated by the private owners of capital and distributed among them. It is essential to remember these words: production and appropriation4. In capitalism, workers do not appropriate the products that they produce or the values or profits that accumulate when those products are sold. Capitalists do not produce those products or values, though they do appropriate them. And so, again, persons are capitalists only if they own capital, which is to say they are legally entitled to appropriate products and profits, while persons are workers only if they live from a wage that they obtain by working for a capitalist.

Second, as is the case with capitalism, socialism is not an ideology, world-view, system of beliefs, utopia, or ideal society. It is a real economic mode of production and appropriation of the proceeds of labor, in which the workers who produce things also own them and appropriate any values or profits that accumulate when those products are exchanged. This definition might seem puzzling, if socialism is supposed to be “real”, though it does not seem to exist at present. We must be very precise here. There is a sense in which one can be said to “be a socialist”, even though socialism does not seem to exist. In this sense, “socialism” means the group of people who believe that society is, but should not be, organized on the basis of one class that owns capital, while another class works to enrich capital, but does not own it. In this sense, socialists are those people who are committed to the fight for a classless society, in which those who work to produce everything that everyone needs, as well as all of the values that are obtained when those products are exchanged, own (“appropriate”) those products and values, rather than a class of capitalists (i.e. absentee owners). Clearly, this definition of “socialism” must suffice for practical purposes until socialism is an actually existing mode of social-economic production and appropriation. However, it is still not socialism in any rigorous sense, which brings me to my next point.

Third, if socialism, which does not presently exist, is ever going to come to exist, it can only be developed out of the society and economy that actually exists now, which is capitalism5. It cannot be forced into the world from nowhere or from the opinions of a few marginal ‘radicals’. The social and economic conditions in which historical, political events occur, as well as social and economic developments themselves, will ultimately decide whether fundamental changes or innovations such as capitalism, socialism, and politics generally, move forward, stick around, or simply fade away6. A major deficiency of the contemporary ‘left’ is clear here: the way in which it has detached and discarded its 19th century commitment to the economic development of material, productive forces, the greater ability to provide for the needs of humanity economically, and the power of the working class as such, in favor of moral progressivism and ethical avantgardism (i.e. liberal, idealist ideology). Socialism will not be built from scratch or from ideas and adopted whole by the world, because ideas do not decide anything. The idea of a totally clean break with the past and the present is an error—a fantasy—that prevents us from recognizing the means that are already at our disposal at present for increasing the degree to which workers appropriate the things and value that they produce, such that we can approach socialism (i.e. worker ownership and control of capital). What is decisive now is finding and seizing upon the organizational means that are presently at our disposal for obtaining the end that we want and to realize our goal, rather than shouting radical slogans that have no traction with society or economy from every rooftop or media platform. The struggle consists in part in determining and resolving upon the way in which we can do this and in part actually doing it, which brings me to my next point.

Fourth, capitalism has already shown that it contains within itself the tendency to socialize the process of production of things and values that capitalists are entitled to appropriate within capitalism. The history of the development of society and economy, which modernity illustrates so well, is the history of the socialization of the process of production. By this I mean that every aspect of work is related to every other today. In order to complete one task or make one thing or profit, relations are drawn to many others all over the world. In order to so much as eat breakfast, even, webs of social relations of exchange are drawn throughout the entire planet. Everything comes to depend upon everything else. Work is collaboration. And consumption is participation. What is crucial to consider is how, in a way that might be surprising for some self-identified ‘socialists’, Marx characterizes the development of modern capitalism with respect to the formation of modern corporations (“joint-stock holding companies”). They are no longer owned and wielded by the single capitalist tycoon, in the form that dominates the fantastic caricatures of popular imaginations, but rather by absentee owners or share-holders. In one sense, this is a step forward, because it takes the power of capital out of the hands of single individuals, who are protected within the ‘private sphere’ by the state and police. But in another sense it makes matters more complicated. In volume III of Capital, Marx calls this development “the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself. […] the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself… It is private production without the control of private property”7. The point here is that the appropriation of the proceeds of labor is no longer the right of individual capitalists, but rather the right of a community of owners, which is socialized to a limited degree. Nevertheless, the right to appropriation of the proceeds of labor remains the private right of those who own the capital (i.e. shareholders), rather than those who control it (i.e. managers, police) or produce it (i.e. workers). Those who control the capital (i.e. managers) can admittedly present considerable obstacles to political-economic progress for the working class, as the present situation of the ‘left’ illustrates all too well, though those ‘bosses’ are not the ultimate issue. (Consider, for example, issues surrounding the ‘professional managerial class’, the ‘middle class’, and ‘unproductive labor’ here.) The ultimate problem is that, despite the fact that the process of production and appropriation is more socialized than it previously was, it is simply not socialized enough. The socialization of appropriation must coincide with the socialization of production. Within contemporary capitalism, the (industrial) workers who produce society’s wealth, economic value, and profits, as well as the unproductive (commercial and managerial) workers who are involved in realizing that value and profit, are not the ultimate owners and beneficiaries of capital who are entitled to appropriate them and control them. Anticipating matters somewhat, the solution is clearly to be found in this vicinity.

Fifth, in order to clarify matters here, it is important to note the way in which Friedrich Engels formulated the problem I have just mentioned, because it is often repeated by ‘leftists’ in a way that obscures that true nature of the current political-economic problem—to the political advantage and disadvantage of various parties. Engels often characterizes capitalism as the “private ownership of the means of production”. And many ‘leftists’ have clinged to this definition in order to argue that they are ‘workers’ rather than ‘capitalists’. But Engels’ characterization isn’t good enough, because it obscures the way in which persons today can be absentee owners of capital (i.e. capitalists) without owning the industrial machines (‘means of production’) that defined the classical image of the capitalist of the 19th century. In order to have an accurate perception of political-economic class relations, we must be more rigorous here. Fortunately, Engels also characterizes capitalism in a much more helpful way, in line with the approach that I have already taken, as follows: capitalism has socialized the process of production of commodities and value (profits) radically; but capitalism has not socialized the process of appropriation of those commodities and their value (profits) radically enough8. Appropriation remains private and even anti-social in capitalism. So, the outstanding task of socialism is to socialize the process of appropriation, over and above the socialization of labor, production, and consumption, which has already happened in capitalism. That is, the workers themselves must come to own (appropriate) the things with which they produce (means of production, capital), the things that they produce (all commodities, goods), and the value or profits that they produce (capital). Simply put, we must collapse the class distinction between workers and capitalists by making the workers the producers and appropriators (i.e. owners) of the products and values that they produce (i.e. capital). This must be the political-economic goal of “socialists”, if they wish to end class society and make “socialism” a reality. Workers must own the capital that they enrich, or else it will own them. And no civil substitute will resolve the fundamental class problem that workers face.

A further word of caution worth expressing here concerns Engel’s conception of worker ownership and control of the “means of production”. Many ‘leftists’ and Marxists still think about matters in terms of a relation to the “means of production” and political “interests”. But a rock, for example, is the “means of production” for a monkey, which is “interested” in catching ants. And this clearly does not track the fundamental issue within contemporary capitalism. We aren’t just concerned about technical means of production of goods or machines or subjective interests. We must be concerned with the objective interests of the entirety of humanity (workers) minus the minority of absentee owning capitalists. This requires that we widen the scope of our analysis. Today, that means, we are dealing with a kind of capital that is inherently financialized. For example, the financial assets of oligarchs = the financial debts of working people. And this form of wealth (financialized capital) is not just machines or ‘means of production’. So, in our assessment of the current situation in ‘socialist’ terms, we must beware of neo-Luddism and vulgar Marxism. If workers were to directly expropriate the machines with which goods are produced, this would not necessarily change the social structure of the economy. Moreover, the problem is not even that someone somewhere owns something. There is nothing wrong with owning things. And it isn’t even clear, from a socialist perspective, that the problem is with profits per se. The problem is not the private ownership of means of individual consumption (e.g. a toothbrush, car, house). The problem is the private appropriation of the proceeds of socialized production by capitalists, though the labor is performed by working people, to the detriment of those working producers; in other words, exploitation. The problem is that the working class produces products, value and profit, which does not accrue to them, but rather to the exploiting class of capitalists. Workers are not the ultimate beneficiaries of their life-activity. They have no control over it, though it controls them. They enrich another class, which appropriates all profits and controls them. So the solution, following the path of least resistance, is simply to collapse the distinction between the class of producers and the class of appropriators—to make them the same class. It is hopefully already clear, by now, that the means of social-organization to do so already exist, though it cannot hurt to spell out the way in which we must do so.

Sixth, toward that end, I would like to relate the options that Oscar Lange presents in his essay, “The Political Economy of Socialism”, because it names the only realistic avenues for achieving this goal at present9. There are only two ways for us to collapse the class distinction between those who produce everything socially, or workers, and those who privately appropriate nearly all the proceeds of production (i.e. products and profits), or capitalists. That is, there are two ways for workers to socialize the appropriation of the commodities and profits that they produce and to own their own productions. The first way (i) is the co-operative form according to which workers would exercise direct control and power at the point of labor by literally owning the entire corporate apparatus directly (i.e. the workers would be the shareholders); the second way (ii) is the state form according to which private property rights to the appropriation of proceeds of socialized production are no longer recognized by the state. In the latter case, the technical “means of production” (i.e. machines) are placed in the hands of the state; and the management of society is entrusted to a group of bureaucrats. The first way has never been adopted on a massive scale as a political strategy by socialists, while the second way has been adopted by virtually all of the nominally socialist governments in the world (‘actually existing socialism’). While the first form can “degenerate in an anarcho-syndicalist” direction and ultimately dissolve, according to Lange, the latter can degenerate in a “bureaucratic” and authoritarian direction, which is antithetical to republicanism and democracy. Both are clearly faced with their own dangers, though it is hard to see how either way would be more difficult for socialists advocating for socialism in an advanced capitalist country. In both cases, Lange writes, “the socialist enterprise must satisfy two conditions. It must act as trustee of the general social interest and it must be a self-governing body”. The question is: how could we do this, and which way is better suited to our ends?

Seventh, and finally, to begin to answer this question I would like to invite everyone to consider that the state-form of centralized organization is inherently hierarchical and essentially authoritarian. This is unappealing for obvious political and existential reasons. While bureaucratic trustees of social production might be elected nominally, there are good reasons to be skeptical about worker autonomy here10. ‘Leftists’ are often rightfully wary of the nefarious political control that the ‘professional managerial class’ (PMC) exerts over society. But they rarely consider whether the statist alternative that they present is much better than the hierarchy from which everyone already suffers. They should consider that ‘bureaucracy’ and what happened in Soviet Russia (i.e. state central planning) might not be just some accidental mistake or contingent coincidence that could be corrected at a later date. Even Lenin argued that “red tape” is bad, and this is true both in capitalism and socialism, independently of whatever else he may have believed or done11. Let’s take this as a bitter, if not ironic, lesson. If the workers’ so-called “ownership of the means of production” is administered by way of the state, then the appropriation of commodities and profits will inevitably fall into the hands of a class of state bureaucrats and be inherently bureaucratic, even if those state bureaucrats are democratically elected. A group of managers, intellectual laborers, will control the entire social process. And this is obviously not an especially appealing prospect, considering that it is part of the problem that we already deal with in contemporary capitalism. Indeed, it sounds like the dystopia of which we are often warned by novels and films. There is no reason to believe that a society that is divided into intellectual laborers (i.e. managers) and manual laborers will ever be a classless society12. ‘Leftists’ must concede to critics of socialism who rightfully point out that it did not complete its own goals in the course of the 20th century. The only alternative is to advocate for direct worker-ownership of the proceeds of production and capital, in which not only state representatives would be elected by workers, but also every manager or bureaucrat in every corporation. On this point, it’s worth considering the thoughts of Josip Broz Tito about the merits of worker self-management, direct worker control, and social ownership and appropriation, over those of state ownership and management13. In theory and for a moment in practice at least, Tito understood state centralism to be inherently constrained by all the limits of bureaucracy and management that we already suffer under in capitalism. The limits under which workers already suffer in capitalism might even be worse under state socialism. To address this, he argued for an economy that was “decentralized”, fully socialized, worker owned and directly self-managed—self-governed or autonomous—at the point of work itself. That is, capitalists are not simply abolished: workers are the capitalists. He rightfully considered bureaucratic management to be a “disease”, because managers will never abdicate control, even if they speak of the “withering away of the state” or equality, a contention which the history of the rest of 20th century socialism illustrates all too well. To be clear, the state as such is not the principal problem. Capital which is privately owned and the private right to appropriate the social proceeds of worker’s labor, guaranteed by the state in capitalism, is the principal problem. Capitalists use the state, which could also certainly play a large role in building the kind of society in which workers are the ultimate beneficiaries of their own labor, if it were industrially democratic, rather than wielded by capitalists. A balance must be struck between state control and cooperative worker control of economic assets. We must be careful not to keep ignoring the troubling lessons of the past (e.g. the fate of the USSR), as well as the organizational means that are already at our disposal (e.g. joint stock holding) for building socialism. And people who understand themselves as ‘socialists’ must place their political program on a footing of action oriented in terms of political economy—towards the end of worker ownership and control of the proceeds of socialized production within the parameters that are already at our disposal. That means production and appropriation of products, value, and profits. Anything short of this is liberalism, not socialism.

At this point many ‘leftists’ might understandably reply that building socialism from within a capitalist economy will be a threat that capitalists will not accept. It will not be easy. And it will indeed ultimately be a struggle. But it is not as though the struggle for state power in order to expropriate the class of capitalists who exploit all working people and to construct a state centrally planned economy for the benefit of workers will be any easier. It is not as though the capitalist class will accept that lying down either. It will be equally difficult, though arguably less successful, if we repeat failed methods. If the lessons of the past are any measure, it may ultimately repeat the failed statist attempts of the past that resulted in the discreditation of ‘socialism’. It is clear for Marxists especially, however, that the political-economic struggle has always been outside of the explicit sphere of politics (i.e. the state) anyways, within the ‘private’ economy and society (‘class struggle’)14. So this should not be news. 

In light of what I have already said, I would like to present the following suggestion for those who understand themselves as ‘leftists’, socialists or Marxists. If the goal is a classless society, we must orient our goals in terms of the general horizon of the struggle of human beings who exist in a society that is organized on the basis of economic classes. We must act on the basis of a political program that is firmly footed within the realm of political economy and the terms of the economic system which dominates everyone (i.e. sell your labor power or starve to death), rather than idealism or wishful thinking about utopias. Obviously, we must fight for every gain or policy that improves the standard of living for the working class, which comprises the vast majority of human beings (e.g. improved wages, universal healthcare, childcare, debt cancellation, and ultimately the abolition of rents, mortgages, etc.). But why must we do so? To have a nicer life as workers, on whose backs society continues to be built? To perpetuate a gentler status quo? We must indeed fight to improve the living condition of the working class, because it is our lives at stake and there is no other viable way to succeed politically. But a fight for better living conditions is not enough for socialist politics. Simply put, every gain for the working class must also at the same time be a loss or strike against our enemies—the class of capitalists (i.e. absentee owners). The idea that ‘everyone can win’ is a myth that must be discarded. Someone will lose. The only question is: who? Historically, it has been the capitalist class that has won and the working class that has lost. Will we continue in this trend, or will we address the struggle head on—so that we can end it?

The way in which we must proceed is twofold. First, we must not only fight for a better life (e.g. healthcare, wages, etc.) as an end in itself, but also so that the working majority can fight against its minority class enemy better15. If we are healthier and more fit, we are in a better position to fight for our goals. Second, we must direct our limited energies solely to those fights which will provide victories for the working class in the respect of owning and controlling the capital that currently dominates everyone—and at the same time provide defeats for the capitalist class. That is, if the goal is to win, we should not focus on gains for us that do not present defeats for them. For example, we should not only wage the struggle for universal healthcare because it is good for workers, because it makes us stronger in our fight against the capitalist class that exploits us, but also because universal public healthcare would mean the complete liquidation of a sector of financialized capital (‘insurance’) which lives parasitically upon the revenue generated by the exploitation of workers. Similarly, we fight for debt cancellation not only because the majority of working people are better off without being drained dry by creditors, but also because the financial assets of creditors = the financial debts of people. And so the cancellation of debts = the destruction of the financial wealth (i.e. power) of the capitalist class of oligarchs. The list goes on. But only such fights as these could spell victory in an economic class struggle. Ultimately, workers must fight to own shares of ownership in the capital that they enrich through their labor, in order to take that power away from the capitalist class that wields it over them through exploitation. Otherwise, their struggle against an unseen parasitic enemy will never cease, though they may win consolations or imagine that the source of their problem consists of what might seem to be other more obvious causes (e.g. immigrants)16. This must be the goal that guides our practical and political activity.

To conclude, I would like to recollect some of the points I have enumerated and return to the scene of the DSA, with which my reflections began. That day in UE Hall made palpably evident to me the way in which the contemporary ‘left’ is still stuck in an ideological rut that emerged in the 1960s. It is preoccupied with the right opinions—with individual morality and demands that individuals conform to prescribed norms. It is consumed with discourse (i.e. language), individual rights, and culture. In short, it remains all-too-liberal. It is not seriously concerned with a political economic understanding of our situation or enacting political economic goals. Consequently, it often obscures and neglects the most important aspect of the tradition from which it stems and which it claims to advocate. In a way which has become considerably intensified since then, it also illustrates a troubling inconsistency. On the one hand, many leftists and liberals are not ultimately opposed to the force of the state (i.e. authoritarianism), despite their own rhetoric, so long as it serves their desired goals, such as identity-based ‘equity’ (e.g. disparity discourse); many simply wish to win over state power to achieve their ends, rather than alleviate the suffering of all working people, with whom they might not agree on certain matters of opinion, in a single political blow17. On the other hand, consider the wrong-headed way in which many ‘leftists’ would like to see the police and the state “whither away” before capitalism as we know it has ceased to exist. This is clearly impossible, so long as production is socialized and appropriation remains private, because the police (whether public or privatized), the state, and all forms of oppression (de facto or de jure) in our society are just the guarantor of the private ownership of capital, profit, and the appropriation of the proceeds of production (i.e. exploitation). The police and state power cannot disappear so long as the class of workers is not coextensive with the class of capitalists, despite the best intentions of ‘leftists’. Fighting forms of individual oppression might be a noble way to fight one means or another that capitalism has used historically in order to secure its own ends, such as dividing working people according to ‘identities’, which the ‘left’ now ironically repeats. But that fight is not ultimately a fight against the cause of those problems, because neoliberal or financialized capitalism is equally happy to use anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, etc., for its own purposes of exploiting working people even more efficiently in order to produce more profits (e.g. managerial training sessions). Eliminating forms of oppression will not eliminate the exploitation on which contemporary society is based, which oppression serves. Indeed, it may only perfect that essential feature of capitalism and make it stronger and more formidable. An oppression-free form of ‘diverse’ capitalism would be beyond the critical scrutiny of even the most well-meaning liberals (i.e. equal opportunity exploitation). Consequently, socialists must rethink their politics within the context of political economy, must decide clearly on strategic priorities, and must radically simplify their vision, in order to find the lowest common denominator that runs through all of the various issues that preoccupy the left. The ‘intersectional’ concept that can yield practical gains for working people and defeats to their enemies is just the universal concept of class, which applies equally to every working human being on earth. Attempts to eliminate all of our problems at once will result in succeeding at nothing. Opposition to state power, moral indignation, public protest and controversial opinions about a myriad of divisive issues, though perhaps gratifying, will not result in any gains for the class of people who must work in order to survive. If we want to live in a classless society (‘socialism’), and if our aim is ending the exploitation of working people by a non-working class of exploiters, this can already be expressed in terms of direct worker control of productive assets under the shelter of a powerful democratic state—which are organizational means that are already at our disposal. This would require that we take seriously the possibility of cooperative worker control of productive assets, while also being realistic about its dangers. But it would also require that we leave individualism, culture, and identity behind. 


  1. While liberalism may suffice as a basis for an argument for a more just society in which all individuals enjoy a better existence, it cannot provide the justification for the expropriation of owners of capital (industrial, commercial, financial, and real estate) that socialism would require. And it cannot even understand the economic system in which we live, because it is committed to a kind of methodological individualism that limits its perspective to ‘choice’ or ‘consent’, and it is downstream of systemic, economic issues like exploitation (wage-labor). Liberal varieties of ‘socialism’ are one and all ‘utopian’ in the classic sense, which restricts their ability to have any theoretical or practical traction upon the real world.
  2. “The distinction between a co-operative economy and an entrepreneur [i.e. capitalist] economy bears some relation to a pregnant observation made by Karl Marx… He pointed out that [capitalist] production in the actual world is not, as economists seem to often suppose, a case of C-M-C’, i.e. of exchanging [a] commodity (or effort) for money in order to obtain another commodity (or effort). That may be the standpoint of the private consumer. But it is not the attitude of business [i.e. capitalists], which is a case of M-C-M’, i.e. of parting with money for [a] commodity (or effort) in order to obtain more money. […] The excess of M’ over M is the source of Marx’s surplus value. […] Marx… was approaching the… truth when he added that the continuous excess of M’ would be invariably interrupted by a series of crises, gradually increasing in intensity, or entrepreneur bankruptcy and underemployment…” (John Maynard Keynes. Collected Writings. Vol. 29. P. 81-2) “The [capitalist] firm is dealing throughout in terms of sums of money. It has no object in the world except to end up with more money [M’] than it started with [M]. That is the essential characteristic of an entrepreneur [i.e. capitalist] economy. (John Maynard Keynes, Collected Writings. Vol. 29, London: MacMillan CUP, 1979, p. 89)
  3. See Marx’s Capital Volume I, chapter 4; Capital Volume II, chapter 1.
  4. Cf. Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1978, p. 83; Geistige und körperliche Arbeit: Theoretische Schriften 1947-1990, Vienna: ça ira, 2018, p. 167f. & 509f.
  5. “[Socialism] is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call [socialism] the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (Karl Marx, The German Ideology, in The Marx-Engels Reader, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc. 1970, p. 162).
  6. “These conditions of life, which different generations find in existence, decide also whether or not the periodically recurring revolutionary convulsion will be strong enough to overthrow the basis of the entire existing system. And if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present (namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of society up till then, but against the very “production of life” till then, the “total activity” on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of [socialism] proves” (ibid. 165).
  7. Karl Marx, Capital Volume III, New York: Penguin, 1991, pp. 567-8. And in the Manifesto, Marx similarly writes: “the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed [the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant], and is destroying it daily. […] Capital is… not a personal, it is a social power” (Marx-Engels Reader, 484-5).
  8. “The means of production, and production itself, had become in essence socialized. But they were subjected to a form of appropriation which presupposes the private production of individuals, under which, therefore, every one owns his own product and brings it to market”  (Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific). Cf. Karl Marx, Capital Volume I. New York: Penguin, 1990, p. 647 & 929.
  9. Oskar Lange, “The Political Economy of Socialism”, in Science & Society, vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1959), pp. 11-12.
  10. Everyone who lives in advanced capitalist countries is already rightfully wary of bureaucrats and the state by instinct, even if their intuitions are not rationally well thought out or well placed. And socialists should turn this fact to their political advantage.
  11. V.I. Lenin, The Lenin Reader. Ed. Stefan Possony. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1966. 106, 110, 115.
  12. Sohn-Rethel 2018, 182: “As long as there is a separation between intellectual and manual labor, intellectual labor must take the lead” (translation mine).
  13. “The decentralization of economy and political, cultural and other aspects of life is not only profoundly democratic but has inherent in it the seeds of withering away not only of centralism, but of the state in general, as a machine of force. […] The workers [in Russia] still do not have any say in the management of the factories. They are managed by directors who are appointed by the state, that is, by civil service employees. […] the state cannot keep all functions — including the economy — in, its hands until it reaches that high degree of industrialization and creates all the necessary material and other conditions for socialism. Only those who want to revise the teachings on withering away of the state can put things that way. […] By turning over the factories, mines, etc., to the workers to manage, we will make it impossible for an infectious disease to take hold there, a disease bearing the name of bureaucracy. […] From now on, the state ownership of the means of production — factories, mines, railways — is passing gradually on to a higher form of socialist ownership. State ownership is the lowest form of social ownership, and not the highest as the leaders of the USSR consider it to be. Therein lies our road to socialism and that is the only right road as regards the withering away of state functions in the economy” (Josip Broz Tito, Workers Manage Factories in Yugoslavia). Cf. Marius J. Broekmeyer, “Self-Management in Yugoslavia”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 431, Industrial Democracy in International Perspective (May, 1977), pp. 133-140; Saul Estrin, “Yugoslavia: The Case of Self-Managing Market Socialism”. The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 5, No. 4 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 187-194; Alan Whitehorn, “Yugoslav Workers’ Self-Management: A Blueprint for Industrial Democracy?” Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. 20, No. 3, YUGOSLAVIA (September 1978), pp. 421-428.
  14. Cf. Marx’s Wage Labour and Capital, where he continually frames the economic dynamic of “competition” in military terms of warlike conflict for life and death (
  15. The immiseration of workers has never led to revolution—vulgar Marxism (i.e. ‘the immiseration thesis’) and accelerationism aside.
  16. Socialists must take a lesson from the so-called “Meidner program” that was attempted in Scandinavia, because it was precisely an attempt for workers to take direct ownership of capital. Cf. Rudolph Meidner, “Why did the Swedish Model Fail”, Socialist Register 1993 (
  17. Holding the right opinions often seems to be the condition for deserving healthcare, for example, according to many ‘leftists’ and liberals.

2 thoughts on “Socialism Is Not Liberalism

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    […] forms of oppression” with no unifying relationship to capitalist production. As we recently noted elsewhere, such an analysis requires nothing more “than ordinary, honest liberalism, the ideology […]

  2. What is a Socialist Program? – Class Unity

    […] would not constitute a program for socialist politics, but rather ordinary liberalism: as I  have argued before, if the goal is to win, we should not focus on gains for us that do not present defeats for them. […]

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