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In order for socialism to be possible, it must have some degree of support from the majority of the population. This does not mean that it's necessary for most people to become committed socialists. That's impossible, because most people are always apolitical, in any system. The only thing that is necessary is to have a majority of people that are willing to give socialism a shot, or who are at least not opposed to socialism. This kind of majority opinion does exist today in many capitalist countries.

Broadly speaking, there are three strategies that socialists have used or proposed for gaining power:

A. Build a socialist political party, compete in regular elections, and win.

B. Build a political party or organization focused on winning support in the streets and operating outside the framework of the existing state. When there is a wave of discontent against the existing capitalist system, organize marches and protests. If you can gather enough support for your cause to ignite widespread protests around the country, lead your comrades to break into government buildings, arrest the current leaders, and take over the state.

C. Build a trade union-like organization and, once you have enough members, organize a general strike and take over the factories and other workplaces.

Strategies A and B have been used successfully at various points in the past. Strategy C has never worked in the past, perhaps because it requires the most active involvement and carries the greatest risk for the people involved. Notice that although strategy A requires the greatest number of people to sympathise with the socialist cause, the only thing they need to do is vote - and that's a very easy, risk-free one-time deal. Strategies B and C actually require smaller numbers of sympathisers, but those sympathisers need to be a lot more actively involved - and take more risks - than in strategy A.

Of course, it's possible for the same organization to try to pursue two or three different strategies at once, and see which one seems to work best at the moment. That's the approach I support.

However, gaining power is only half of the problem. The other half is what to do once you have power. Many different socialist groups have won power in many different countries in the past, but none of them have succeeded in creating a stable socialist economic system. There have been two types of failure (again, broadly speaking):

– Some socialist groups didn't actually fail; they never tried to build socialism in the first place. This is the sad history of social democracy. Social democrats - using strategy A - have been the most successful at gaining power. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, they either governed or exerted a major influence on every democratic country in the world. But once they found themselves in power, the social democrats adopted a policy of reformism: Making small left-wing reforms to the capitalist system in the hope that, after some time, these reforms added together would lead to socialism. That did not happen. In the Scandinavian countries, some social democratic parties have been in power almost without interruption for 60 years, and still they did not reach socialism. Instead of them changing the system, the system changed them. Instead of their countries becoming more socialist, the social democratic parties became more capitalist and eventually abandoned even the idea of socialism. Today, no social democratic parties advocate socialism any more, although a lot of them still use the word "socialist" in their names (it's left over from the time when they really advocated socialism).

– The other major branch of the socialist movement that succeeded in coming to power was Marxism-Leninism (or just "Leninism" for short). Leninists are not just socialists, but also communists (explaining the distinction would require a separate post), and they founded the Soviet Union. Their strategy for gaining power was revolution, not election, and, unlike the social democrats, they maintained their commitment to changing society after they found themselves in government. However, they put far too much emphasis on vanguardism and democratic centralism - the idea that a single political party (and one with a highly centralized structure) was uniquely capable of playing a "leading role" in society after the revolution and carry out the transition to socialism (and, later, communism). On the bright side, the Leninist approach did lead to the creation of a new kind of society, different from capitalism. Unfortunately, the new system was not socialism. The single party was too powerful and too centralized, and, alongside a number of historical circumstances, this led to the creation of an economic system that somewhat resembled socialism but lacked its democratic element. That was the Soviet system. Without democracy, the political leadership grew rigid and corrupt, and the planned economy was mismanaged because the planners could not accurately judge consumer satisfaction (if people are not allowed to complain in public, they cannot tell you when you've made a mistake, so you will persist in your mistakes). These factors, together with a heavy dose of stupidity in high places (*cough* Gorbachev *cough*) eventually brought down the Soviet system.

So, we know two different ways that WON'T lead to socialism: (1) trying to make small, gradual changes to capitalism, and (2) putting a single, powerful party with centralized leadership in charge of the whole period of transition. You can look at these two errors as two extremes. In the first case, the socialists are too weak-willed and too eager to compromise with capitalism; in the second case, they are too intolerant of opposition and too eager to silence dissent. What we need is something in between. A socialist party that will fight to gain power and make sweeping changes to society in a short period of time, like the Leninists did, while also being committed to a multi-party democracy and freedom of speech and criticism, like the social democrats were. Of the two groups, I think the Leninists were closer to the winning formula. In the years following the Russian Revolution, their Bolshevik Party was under great internal pressure, and a lot of efforts were made to keep it together. I think those efforts were misguided. If the party had been allowed to fracture and split, the Soviet Union may have ended up with a genuine multi-party democracy.

But you're probably also asking about more specific, concrete measures, not general statements about the need to combine a commitment to democracy with rapid changes. Assuming we have a socialist party that got into power one way or another, what should it actually do? How should it proceed?

Well, this subject is also hotly debated, but there is broad agreement that the absolute top priority will be to prevent capital flight. In our globalized economy, it is very easy for capitalists to move money from one place to another. As soon as a genuine socialist government takes power, the financial markets will descend into panic as capitalist firms start trying to sell their assets, take as much money as they can get, and run to another country. This would be a disaster for the economy. So the very first thing that a socialist government needs to do is close the stock market, suspend all banking activities, and freeze the assets of foreign firms. Basically, it will have to take very quick measures to ensure there is no massive flow of capital away from the country. Once that is done, if banks and foreign trade are frozen anyway, might as well go ahead and nationalize them. After all, you can't keep them frozen for very long; the economy needs them in order to function. So, in the first stage, the socialist government should nationalize the financial sector and establish a state monopoly on foreign trade. This might also be a good time to nationalize the local branches of multinational corporations, since the state monopoly on foreign trade will have cut them off from their parent companies anyway.

All of that needs to happen within weeks, or a couple of months at most. And then, what comes next?

Well, different socialists have completely different ideas on how to proceed after that, so I can only give you my own personal proposal, inspired by a book called Towards a New Socialism by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell (you should read that if you're interested in how socialism would work, by the way - it's free to download).

After closing off the possible routes of capital flight, you can relax for a bit. The immediate danger has passed. The economy is still mostly capitalist, but the capitalists are no longer able to take their money and run. Some of them may choose to run anyway - I mean leave the country, physically - but that is actually a good thing. The government can pass a law to automatically nationalize the property of any capitalist who emigrates. This will allow for a string of simple, quiet nationalizations without much fuss or controversy.

By this point the country starts having a rather large state sector. It is time to establish institutions that will coordinate the activities of all those newly nationalized industries. Without such economic planning, you can only have state capitalism (a system where state-owned companies compete in a market as if they were privately owned). It is probably a good idea to take people, capital and knowledge from the old financial sector into the new economic planning agency. After all, the purpose of financial markets in capitalism is to allocate resources in the economy. The socialist planning agency has precisely the same purpose. It will perform that purpose in a different way, but still, knowledge about allocation in the old system is useful. We will need to equip the planning agency with state-of-the-art computers, because efficient economic planning requires processing power a lot more than it requires people sitting in offices. The new socialist economy-in-the-making will be technologically advanced. Also, since we're dismantling the financial markets, it's time to nationalize the last of the old corporations and close the stock exchange for good.

The time is now about two years after the revolution (or election, or whatever event put the socialists in power). The economy is still not fully socialist yet, but it's getting there. The corporations and the banks are gone. In their place, there is a large, state-owned, planned sector of the economy - the "socialist sector". This should include some institutions that provide credit to individual citizens like the old banks did; but unlike the old banks, such institutions would deal only with individual citizens, not with other firms.

At this point, we may pause for a while and take some time to make sure the socialist sector of the economy is efficient and democratic before we finish the transition. It must not be too bureaucratic, and it must not be organized just like the old corporations except with a new boss. Workers must be given a strong voice in the running of their own workplaces. It may be good to have them elect their own managers, at least at some levels in some industries. The emphasis of management must be shifted away from making profits at any cost, and towards ensuring a balance between productivity and job satisfaction. After all, every consumer is also a worker, and, ideally, socialism aims to make work as enjoyable as possible. And, of course, we need to get all the bugs out of the new economic planning software - there are always bound to be some bugs. ;)

In the realm of politics, new elections should be approaching. If the capitalists put up a serious fight after the revolution (including armed combat, perhaps), then capitalist parties may be under a temporary ban for the moment. It may be acceptable to go into the first post-revolutionary election with a single, massive socialist party. But it's a dangerous path. It would be better if there was more than one socialist party by this time. If there isn't, then one of our goals for the second term will be to help in the creation of such a socialist opposition by encouraging dissenting factions within our own party to split off (there are always some dissenting factions).

We are taking a pause before incorporating all remaining private businesses into the socialist sector, but the pause cannot be too long. Oskar Lange pointed out that capitalists who know their businesses will be nationalized sooner or later are likely to run those businesses very badly, without regard for the long term, and without making any new investments. The longer we wait, the more the remaining private sector will deteriorate (buildings will not be given regular maintenance, machinery will be allowed to rust, and so on).

So, maybe four or five years after the revolution, a constitutional law will be passed to abolish private ownership of the means of production entirely. All former private businesses will be integrated into the planned socialist economy. Their former owners will become workers. If they were owners of small businesses, and if their employees liked them, they may even stay in the same place and do roughly the same thing as before - except they would no longer have the power to hire and fire workers, or to order them around.

But there is still one last step to take after this, and it's a very important step. We now have a fully planned economy, but we're still using the same kind of money that we used under capitalism. This doesn't make much sense any more, and it needs to be changed in order to implement the socialist principle that payment must be proportional to the amount of work done. At first, we will set a fixed ratio between the existing currency and a standard hour of work. For example, we may decide that 1 hour = $30. This will be used across the entire economy, perhaps with small variations to account for differences in effort between different jobs. Then, some time later, we will rename $30 to "1 labor credit" or "1 labor hour" or something like that, to reflect its true value.

And now, with the new currency, the transition is complete. We have a planned economy. We have a roughly egalitarian distribution of incomes, thanks to the labor-hour system. And we have maintained and expanded democracy. Thus, we have socialism.


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Additionally Big change typically involves chaos. some chaos must be tolerated.The NPCs Must Die

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