A retreat from core values and goals has been a continuing feature of the history of socialism’ The core values and goals of traditional socialism have transitioned from its previously radical and revolutionary roots founded by socialist figures like Marx and Engels to a more evolutionary vision that believes in gradualism. Traditional socialism is arguably entirely distinct from today’s notion of socialism; it previously sought to create absolute social equality through a workers revolution that would result in the abolition of capitalism and a classless society.
In contrast contemporary socialism has different ‘means and ends’, it seeks relative equality, achieved by harnessing capitalism that will result in a more equal society. I will assess whether the different factions of socialism have retreated from the values and goals of the original concept or if they continue to embrace them. Socialism has seen a distinct retreat from its core values and goals, this is particularly evident in New Labour’s revision of clause IV.
The Labour party from its inception was a socialist party formed by the trade unions with a commitment to creating a more socially equal society through the even redistribution of wealth and common ownership. Their socialist agenda was outlined in the original clause IV, ‘To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’.
The original clause IV was entirely socialist and subscribed to the ideology’s core values of redistribution of wealth and common ownership of the means of production. However New Labour distanced its political agenda away from the core values of socialism and proposed responsible capitalism and relative social equality, this is a stark retreat from traditional socialism. The defining values of traditional socialism have been discarded by New Labour, the present version of clause IV does not oppose capitalism nor propose a class-less state.
Thus socialism has experienced a retreat from its core values and goals as contemporary socialist party’s do not adhere to them. On the other hand, the different factions of socialism do in some forms subscribe to the core values of the ideology. There are parallels between the groups that unite them and suggest that there has not been a marked retreat traditional socialism. One of the central goals of socialism is to create social equality, achieved in part by the even redistribution of wealth.
This commitment is evident in Bernstein’s ‘Revisionist socialism’ which promotes a socially and economically equal state. However Bernstein’s view of how this state can be achieved conflicts with traditional socialism and Marxism. Revisionist socialism seeks to bring about greater equality through a gradual transition to socialism introduced through the ballot box in which capitalism would be outgrown. Although Revisionist socialism possesses the same goals as Marxism and traditional socialism, it offers a drastic alternative as to how this change can be achieved.
Revisionist socialists argue that the transition should be peaceful and gradual and do not seek the abolish capitalism. Rather they argue that the economic system can be harnessed to create greater equality. Furthermore revisionist socialism opposes the core Marxist value of revolution; they do not agree with a violent overthrow of capitalism and argue instead that political equality would inevitably lead to economic and social equality. Therefore socialism has evidently witnessed a retreat from its core values and goals although there is still enduring similarities.
There in fact has been a significant retreat from the core values and goals of socialism; this is exemplified in Orthodox Communism’s perception of how socialism should be achieved. Orthodox Communism’s offers an alternative view of socialism, the ideology argues in favour of an elite group termed the ‘Vanguard of the proletariat’ who would initiate and fulfil the revolution. However Orthodox communism does seek to create a class-less society and abolish capitalism.
Nevertheless Orthodox communism does differ from traditional socialism as it refutes Marx’s belief that the working class would develop a ‘Class consciousness’s’ and thus a sporadic revolution would occur. They argue that this is impossible as the working class are deluded and had developed a ‘False consciousness’ so they required a party of dedicated revolutionaries that would lead awaken and lead the revolution and in communist Russia this effectively became a dictatorship.
This perception of Socialism greatly differs from the original concept as it advocates a communist dictatorship that although acting in the interests of the proletariat oppressed all other political forces, this conflict with the socialist vewi of social and political justice. Therefore although Orthodox communism sought the same goals as Socialism it has a distinctly different view of how this would be achieved, they denounced Marx’s core value of a proletariat led revolution and instead proposed an elite group.
Neo-revisionism and the ‘third way’ is a broadly socialist faction that has retreated from the core principles of traditional socialism to an extent. The third way offers an alternative to socialism and capitalism, instead proposing a pro enterprise stance in which they favour the market over the state. The Third way beliefs directly conflict with both the values and goals of traditional Socialism, this is because it does not seek to abolish capitalism or create a class-less state.
The ideology in fact embraces the institutions traditional Socialism sought to eradicate, such as enhancing enterprise and the economy. However the third way does to a lesser extent subscribe to the values of traditional socialism, one of those is creating ‘Communitarianism’ in society. The term relates to a fundamentally socialist belief that a person is constituted through the community, this third way value subscribes to the socialist belief of fraternity in society and the collectivist vision that human beings can overcome social and economic issues by drawing on the power of the community.
In conclusion, Socialism has witnessed a retreat from its original values and goals, this is evident in the different factions no longer seeking to accomplish socialisms original goals. Revisionist socialism has certainly retreated from socialism as it does not seek to abolish capitalism nor create a classless society, it however pursues ‘relative equality’ in contrast to the socialist pursuit of ‘absolute equality’.
In addition the perspective does not align itself with the traditional socialist goal of a revolution; it in contast argues socialism will be implemented gradually. However traditional socialist values are still apparent in revisionist socialist beliefs, the ideology pursues greater economic and social equality, this is fundamentally socialist. Nevertheless socialist political parties such as the Labour party have significantly retreated from the ideology, the party previously stated its commitment to the even edistribution of wealth and nationalisation in the original clause IV. However these profoundly socialist principles and commitments were discarded in clause IV’s revision; New Labour now asserted a commitment to responsible economics and no longer sought the even redistribution of wealth. Furthermore Orthodox Communism also conflicts with the values of socialism as it opposes a worker led revolution and instead favours an elite group to lead and fulfil the revolution, this belief is a retreat from the socialist belief of a proletariat led revolution.