Offering a practical and historical perspective on socialism this work explains the evolution of socialist ideas from the French Revolution, and examines why past attempts to implement socialism might have failed.
The immediate causes of the current crisis in socialism are the highly authoritarian and extremely hierarchical political and economic structures created by Leninism. Yet the collapse of state socialism also appears to be part of a more general crisis of socialism, a crisis that includes even its potentially more democratic variants. At the core of this broader crisis lies the diminishing appeal of the publicly owned enterprise, an institution that has always been central to the very definition of socialism, but whose economic advantages are called into question by the recent and rapid development of global markets in factors of production and especially in assets. Consequently, communism's demise by no means signifies a victory for either democratic socialism or even social democracy.
Socialism is not often defined clearly or examined closely by Marxist & other theorists who conceive it as a goal but do not examine its dynamics as they do those of other societies. Socialism is a step past the welfare state, & analysis of the welfare state is a first step to analysis of socialism. The welfare state exists to solve the problems created by capitalism's anarchic nature, & by bourgeois culture's lacks, & thus to preserve capitalism. Socialism must be a system of economic planning & of culture founded in a morally conscious collectivity; it cannot use the market without subverting itself, & tradition cannot work in guiding a changing economy. Socialist culture must be founded on aspiration not to individual material achievement, but to collective moral achievement. Such aims cannot be achieved by reform of the existing bourgeois order, but only by basic change. Lewis Coser finds the welfare state significantly different from capitalism; in addition, capitalism in the laissez-faire era was founded on moral conformity to a great degree, & socialist theorists have regularly called for increased individualization. Bogden Denitch notes Heilbroner's questioning whether democratic institutions can exist in a socialist society. Yugoslavia offers an example of the use of markets both for economic efficiency & as a means of turning economic enterprises into communities; the basing of democratic institutions on these productive communities offers a new form of democracy appropriate to socialist societies. Michael Harrington finds only two future polar extremes likely: authoritarian bureaucratic collectivism & democratic communitarian collectivism. Heilbroner recognizes the danger of socialism leading to the first, but not the opportunity to make it into the second. Michael Walzer finds capitalist individuality founded in individual isolation from wide political issues & fixation on narrowly egoistic concerns. In bourgeois society, the kind of commitment which can make genuine use of freedom is found mainly in the struggle to create socialism, & the freedom of socialist society is best understood as freedom to debate paths to socialism. In A Reply, Heilbroner notes that equality & democracy, along with individuality, are products of bourgeois society, & that their preservation under socialism is desirable, but not necessarily achievable. W. H. Stoddard.
This volume examines the 20-year aftermath of the 1989 assaults on established, state-sponsored socialism in the former Soviet bloc and in China. It brings together prominent experts on Eastern Europe and China to examine the respective trajectories of political, economic and social transformations that unfolded in these two areas, while also comparing the changes that ensued within the two regions.