Wendy StokesPolitics and GovernmentHow do political ideasconnect with political practice? Describe and analyzeusing sources from the moduleOneof the most prominent disputes between scholars of social sciences lays in thecorrelation of political ideas and material reality. Materialists, on one side,usually claim that theory is drawn from empirical examples and adherethemselves to descriptive analysis.
Idealists, on the other side, maintain abelief that material reality is fuelled by pre-existent theories and thereforecomply with the normative approach(Goodwin, 2014, pp. 4-6). Regardless whicheverconception may state the truth, it demonstrates that political theory andpolitical practice are inseparably linked to each other.
Besides, it is also true that political ideas and relative activities are remarkably influenced by socialand historical circumstances in which they evolve. The aim of this essay is to investigate thedevelopment of Socialism and evaluate the relationshipbetween political ideas and practical conduct. This essay will present thepractical strands of socialism – orthodox Communism and revisionist SocialDemocracy, and analyze its relevance to a theory of “Classical Marxism”.LikewiseLiberalism and Conservatism, Socialism has emerged as a widely recognized political theory in the 19th century (Eccleshall,Geoghegan, Jay, Kenny, MacKenzie and Wilford, 1994, p. 99). As a politicaldoctrine, traditionally it has been defined by its opposition to capitalism.Indeed, what Heywood argues is that Socialism was a result of harsh and inhumane conditions of the industrial workingclass, which had to suffer from the attributes of the heavy industry. Typically it was child and female labour, longworking hours, no social protection, and low wages (Heywood, 2007, p.
100). In order to eliminate all thenegative features caused by the capitalistsystem, socialists have attempted to provide the more humane political and economic system. However, due to manystrands within the socialism itself, it has resulted in various alternatives and the way they were established differentiated significantly. The main division between socialists has emerged in1918 when Russian Bolsheviks began callingthemselves Communists instead of Social Democrats (Brown, 2009, p. 52).Subsequently, at the beginning of the 20th century, one major form of implementing socialismhas been “Revolutionary socialism”, more often known as Communism (Heywood,2007, p. 112-114). The main motives behind revolutionary socialism were theearly stages of industrialization and capitalism, which produced a significant divide between proletariat –working class, and bourgeoisie – owners of means of production, who tended toexploit their workers.
According to “Classical Marxism” theory, the conflict between these two classes wasinevitable and working-class was supposed to overthrow existing capitalism inorder to establish a socialist society without the private property (Heywood,2007. p. 120). By contrast, towards the second part of 20th-century socialism has been concerned much moreabout taming the capitalism, rather than abolishing it. Such a tendency amongstsocialists of Western Europe was called “Social democracy” but it has beenwidely contested due to its apparent similarities with Liberalism (Heywood,2004, p. 308). Consequently, both variations were seeking to impose certainaspects of equality.
In this case, communism was particularly associated witheconomic equality, whereas social democracy was more concerned about socialrights, such as equal opportunities and provision of the welfare state.Asit has been mentioned above, one of the most prominent ways of establishing a socialist society in the first part of 20th century was a Communism. Themain reason for this was a 1917 Russian revolution, which had turned TsaristRussian Empire into a Revolutionary Communist state, led by the dictatorship of VladimirIlyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin (Brown,2009, pp. 47-52). However, it is important to emphasize that the kind of reformswhich took place across Union of SovietSocialist Republics were remarkably different from what Karl Marx had described asa “Spectre haunting Europe”. As opposedto Marx, Lenin had claimed that revolution was not an automatic consciousnessarising spontaneously, he had stated thatthe party must engineer a revolution withpeasantry as its main force(Goodwin, 214, p. 97).
Nevertheless, Marxhad predicted that communism will spread to highly-industrialized countries of WestEurope and arise from industrial working class. With this in mind, one canassume that the type of Communism that has been deployed in Russian model wasremarkably distorted. Even if USSR had manifested the idea to give everyone equal social and economic rights, ithas never been implemented in practice. The violence and oppression, which Marxhad justified as a means of implementation forcommunism were supposed to wither away(Eccleshall, Geoghegan, Jay, Kenny, MacKenzie and Wilford, 1994, p.
98). However, in the USSR it had actually remainedas a permanent measure of control. Nevertheless,the state had remained as the main rulingfigure. Indeed, in Soviet Russia, therole of the state in a form of dictatorship was only increasing (Brown, 2009, pp. 71-72). Not only the dictatorshipbut also the economic system fostered the level of state intervention – “commandeconomy”. This meant that the state was makingdecisions about what should be produced in what amounts, and for what price itshould be sold (Brown, 2009, p.
108). Atthis stage, it may appear like it could have been a kind of alternative that Marx had been looking for capitalism. It iscertainly true that under Stalin’s reforms theprivate property had diminished and there was no place for capitalism. However,it was a product of a ruthless and coercive collectivizationpolicy, which in its most radical shape during the Ukrainian famine had starvedapproximately five million people (Brown, 2009, p. 63). Indeed, “Marxhad acknowledged that collective ownership wouldentail some centralization but had never conceived of the state as becoming thenew exploiter, as it did in the Soviet Union” (Goodwin, 2014, p. 98).
Furthermore, in the “Revolution Betrayed”,Leon Trotsky (Soviet Bolshevik leader) argued that instead of classlesssociety, Stalin has created a state capitalism in which surplus value is stilltaken from the workers, just by the state rather than bourgeoisie class (Trotsky,2012, pp. 185-187). The coercion to surrender the private property to the state has resultedin deprived populations and wealthy elite of Communism, rather than equalsociety. The form of Socialism in USSR indicatesthe transition of Marx’s egalitarian theory of communism to the practical bureaucraticCommunism.
Remarkably, the latter one illustrates that social and historicalcircumstances perform a notable role in diverting material reality fromprecedent ideas and beliefs.However, in contrast to the orthodox revolutionary socialism,the spread of socialist ideas in Western Europe have taken remarkably differentroute. From the late 19thcentury the class system was becoming much more complicated than Marx hadpredicted. Conditions of the working urban class were significantly improvingand wages alongside living standards were rising up (Eccleshall, Geoghegan, Jay, Kenny, MacKenzie andWilford, 1994, p. 107). Furthermore, a range of working-classinstitutions, like trade unions and political parties protected working-classinterests and granted a sense of belonging tothe society.
Nevertheless, owing to the advancement of political democracyworking-class people were granted the right to vote (Heywood, 2007, p. 114).This fundamental gamut of changes anddevelopments within the society made Marx’s theory of wealthy bourgeoisie andimpoverished proletariat nothing but irrelevant.
Indeed, Crosland had arguedthat Marx has little or nothing to offer the contemporary socialist, either inrespect of practical policy, or of the correct analysis of our society, or evenof the right conceptual tools of the framework(Crosland, 1980, p. 35-37). With this in mind,socialists started to lean towards gradualist, parliamentary approach. RegardlessMarx’s analysis of an exploitative state,Bernstein argued that universal suffrage shouldbe deployed to introduce evolutionary socialism (Steger, 1997, p.
131). At this point,Democratic Socialism was facing its main dilemma – how to approach capitalism.Consequently, since capitalism has been regarded as the only reliable mean ofgenerating wealth, socialists committed themselves to the mixed economy, whichstands between free-market capitalism andstate nationalization (Heywood, 2007, pp. 129-130). Post-war Clement Atlee’sgovernment can be taken as an example of such a policy. It had nationalized heavyindustries such as coal and steel but left mostof UK industry in private hands. On top of that, Atlee Labour government hadset up the welfare state and national health service financed by progressive taxation (Goodwin, 2014, p.117).
This transition from orthodox common ownership to the revisionist distribution of welfare was adapted by Crosland in a description of socialjustice (Crosland, 1980, pp. 88-95). Reduction of inequality by redistributivesystem, rather than common ownership reflects the gradual change of socialforces. In this case – growing middle-class. Socialists had to adapt their actionsand policies to such a change in order to keep their political agenda relativeto current society. Social democracy illustrates that political practice has toadjust itself to the inconsistent social circumstancesand in due process, it may have toreconsider its primary goals and beliefs.
Academic Books:- Brown A., (2009). TheRise & Fall of Communism. The Bodley Head, London.- CroslandA.
, (1980). The Future of Socialism.Jonathan Cape, London.- Eccleshall R., Geoghegan V., Jay R., Kenny M.
, MacKenzie I.and Wilford R., (1994). Political Ideaologies:An Introduction. 2nd ed.
Routledge, London.- Goodwin B., (2014). UsingPolitical Ideas. 6th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.- Heywood A., (2004).
PoliticalTheory: An Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire. – Heywood A., (2007). PoliticalIdeologies: An Introduction. 4th ed. Palgrave Macmillan,Hampshire.
– Steger,M., (1997). In The Quest forEvolutionary Socialism: Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.- Trotsky L., (2012).
TheRevolution Betrayed. ACLS Humanities E-Book, New York.