A spectre is haunting NeoGAF - the spectre of Leftism.
It's no secret that NeoGAF is a forum that harbors many liberal sentiments. But there are also many members, especially in the OT, who hold views that may be considered further to the left than the mainstream - socialists, anarchists, etc. Especially during the course of the recent US election season the differences have become more pronounced. Many are probably curious as to what exactly self-proclaimed leftists believe or how they differ from one another and from others, and that's certainly understandable - there are a dizzying array of left wing factions out there. Here we hope to have a thread where leftists of all stripes can hold communicate and debate with one another, as well as with anyone else who may have an interest in the subject.
To put it simply, leftism is a political orientation that supports egalitarianism and the creation of a more equal society. Depending on one's country, what exactly is left and what exactly is right can vary quite significantly. Here, however, we are focusing on the far left, that which in the modern day is not mainstream, but which has historically played a very significant role and which has to some extent begun to come back into vogue.
HISTORY, TENDENCIES, AND EXAMPLES
Elements of socialist thought stretch back to ancient times. Many socialists argue that anthropology indicates that the earliest humans, in the form of hunter-gatherer cultures, lived according to "primitive communism". Class structures did not emerge until wealth became stratified following the Neolithic farming revolution, which allowed specialization of jobs and the concentration of wealth in the hands of strongmen and priests who formed the rulers of the first states. We see ideas about land redistribution and/or the communal sharing of goods pop up time and again - whether King Cleomenes III in Sparta, the prophet Mazdak in Persia, the Apostles in the New Testament, etc. However, socialism as a concept in and of itself did not arise until after the dual revolutions - the French and Industrial, one egalitarian, the other material - as the old aristocratic order was shaken by the rise of the liberal bourgeoisie and its economic system of choice: capitalism.
As capitalism transformed the global economy, allowing private individuals to amass wealth through ownership of the means of production (the property used in the workplace) in contrast to the old orders of feudalism and mercantilism, the proletariat - the working class - was born. Once serfs who labored under their lords or members of highly protective trade guilds, the common people were forced to sell their labor to those who now owned the means of production - the capitalist class - in order to make money to survive by purchasing their necessities from the market system. Capitalism and liberalism no doubt were historically progressive forces, rapidly industrializing the West like never before and entrenching the idea of democracy in the minds of the masses. But the depredations of the working class were too much to ignore, as workers toiled in dangerous environments with little to no safety, regulations, benefits, or job security. For many, the promise of a society free from aristocratic tyranny simply seemed to morph into one with a new form of tyranny - the tyranny of the few who owned everything over those who owned nothing.
Hence, the labor movement grew as trade unions gained more power. But instead of working from inside the capitalist system to better the lives of workers, there came to be another movement which proposed the common ownership of the means of production in a society run by and for the workers. This was called socialism or communism - the modern definitions of these words had been solidified yet, so they were more or less interchangeable. Naturally there were many different ideas about how this society could be achieved. Karl Marx, the founder of the ideology that bears his name, lashed out against "utopian" socialists who did not take a scientific view at how socialism could be brought about, believing that it was necessary for the working class to capture the power of the state and use it to its own benefit. Others, such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, declared themselves to be anarchists, believing that the state itself had to be destroyed to ensure the liberty of the people.
Following the national uprisings of 1848 that rocked Europe, socialists of all stripes began to more defiantly organize, leading to the establishment of the First International Workingmen's Association in the 1860s. With the sudden rise and collapse of the socialist-influenced Paris Commune in 1871, the members of the First International debated what system to follow, leading to the "expulsion" of Bakunin's faction and the long-standing schism between anarchists and other socialists. Leftists of all kinds would continue to organize and radicalize laborers in the coming decades, culminating in a communist takeover in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Being that our modern concepts of "socialism" stem from that pivotal event, let us review some of the most notable forms of socialism that dominated the twentieth century and continue to influence the radical left today, as well as other egalitarian movements taken up by the left...
-State socialists, often referred to as "statists" by detractors, are any socialists who believe in the necessity of a state, at least temporarily. The most prominent state socialist philosophy has historically been Marxism, from which comes many ideological variants. It is important to note that one does not have to be a Marxist to be a state socialist, nor do (or can) all Marxists agree with every ideological variant or descendant of Marxism.
-An analytical approach founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism believes that socialism/communism - in other words, a stateless society in which everyone contributes and takes "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" - can only be brought about through the revolutionary seizure of state power by the working class. Marx promoted his beliefs as a scientific approach to socialism, one which sought actual realistic solutions to the question of how to institute socialism; ironically, however, he never went into much detail about what society would look like following the socialist revolution, as he was more concerned with critiquing capitalism than figuring out the details about post-capitalism. According to Marxist thought, the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle - the opposition of two classes, those who control production and those who work it (this ties into his theory of "dialectical materialism" influenced by Hegel, the constant opposition of a thesis and antithesis which produces a synthesis). Only by workers seizing state power and instituting a "dictatorship of the proletariat" (which translates badly into modern political speech but does not mean single-person rule, but something like "the total democratic control of the government by the working class") can they direct the economy and society to fulfill human needs rather than profits. With workers controlling the economy democratically, they will eventually build up the "productive forces" (in other words, tools, machinery, infrastructure, etc.) to such a degree that, at some point, nobody will need to work any longer to survive. In some respects this presages an automated society. In Marxist thought, this "higher phase" of socialism is the truly free society as the state will wither away, no longer needed to enforce class power.
-The most historically prominent variant of Marxism, this political ideology was originally simply thought by its founders - the Bolsheviks, and especially Vladimir Lenin - to be an applied form of Marxist beliefs to their particular struggle in the Russian Revolution. Following Lenin's death, Stalin declared it to be "Marxism-Leninism". Essentially, Marxist-Leninists believe that in an underdeveloped society, a revolutionary vanguard (the cadres of the Communist Party) must radicalize the workers and seize state control, governing in the interest of the people through the control of the government by the party. It was Lenin who made the distinction between socialism and communism, with socialism being the "lower phase" that Marx spoke of in which a state remained necessary and communism the later, stateless "higher phase". Marxist-Leninists are almost invariably believers in a centralized economy, believing that the government should be composed of workers elected from layers of different workers' councils ("soviets"); the degree to which has actually democratically been done, however, is debated. Despite being the most popular form of socialism in the twentieth century due to the influence of the Soviet Union, Marxism-Leninism has been heavily criticized by other socialists ever since its inception. There are multiple subdivisions of Marxist-Leninists: Anti-Revisionists ("Stalinists") who criticize the changes adopted by the party following Stalin's death, Trotsykists who criticize the end of democratic centralism and world revolution under Stalin, and a slew of others, including Maoists.
-Officially an application of Marxism-Leninism to China (hence "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism"), Maoism is seen by many other socialists as its own unique ideology. Maoism seeks the revolutionary seizure of the state in the context of a mostly agrarian society, with an alliance between non-bourgeois classes under the leadership of the Communist Party in the theory of "New Democracy". Maoism is very concerned with revolutionary strategy and tactics such as "protracted people's war", put to effect in China, Nepal, India, the Philippines, and other locations. Much like Marxism-Leninism, Maoism has been criticized by other socialists for its authoritarian tendencies.
Libertarian Marxists/Left Communists
-An anti-authoritarian ideological strain of Marxistm opposed to the actions and tendencies of Marxist-Leninists and other variants. Libertarian here does not coincide with the American meaning of the word, but with the original meaning still used outside the North America of anti-authoritarianism. Libertarian Marxists and Left Communists often claim that Marxist-Leninists failed to achieve socialism as the workplace and government were not sufficiently democratic, abusing state power to maintain control and forming nothing more than "state capitalism" - the ownership of the means of production by the state, which existed in a similar employer-employee relationship with the proletariat. LMs/LCs are not a unified bloc but a tendency that is also critical of reformists who seek to gradually evolve capitalism into socialism, as well as anarchists and social democrats (see below). They still believe in the necessity of revolution but may seek a minimal state or party apparatus, or one controlled through highly democratic councils ("council communism"). Many revolutionaries of the early Russian Revolution fit this mold before the Bolshevik ban on factionalism and subsequent purges. Other socialists have criticized this group for being perfectionists.
-Rather than a political program, market socialism is an economic belief that contrasts with the traditional centralized, distributive model upheld by Marxist-Leninists or the non-market beliefs of anarchists. There are many types of market socialists - those who believe in turning all companies into co-ops (such as Mondragon) allowing the workers to control the means of production directly within a decentralized market framework; those who believe in a socialist state but within which all industries work according to market systems; those who believe in utilizing markets temporarily as a means to an end to build up the productive capacity of the socialist state so that later a different form of socialism can be segued into (such as Leninists with the New Economic Policy in the USSR, or Deng Xiaoping in China), etc. Currently the government of China officially supports the last option within the framework of "Socialism with Chinese characteristics", but the genuineness of their commitment to a transition to socialism is often heavily criticized by other socialists. Those who believe in centralized economies tend to see market socialism as merely "democratizing exploitation".
-Reformism, founded by Eduard Bernstein, seeks to bring about socialism not through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism but by influencing and evolving the capitalist state from the inside through bourgeois democratic legislatures. One well-known example is the Fabian Society. Reformism has traditionally been heavily castigated by Marxists as impossible to achieve or subversive to socialist goals; many social democratic (see below) parties have historically begun as reformist parties that eventually shed their adherence to socialism. By virtue of their belief in a gradual transformation to socialism, many reformists tend towards market socialism.
-Derived from reform socialist, social democracy is a political ideology that is not explicitly socialist in nature. Many social democratic parties, being descendants of socialist parties, still call themselves socialist but rarely if ever demand giving control of the means of production to the working class. Under social democracy, the capitalist mode of production is maintained but heavily regulated by an elected government, with high taxes on the wealthy used to redistribute money for welfare purposes. Social democratic parties were once the mainstay of Western Europe and despite not being socialist they are included here as they represent much of the far left, comparatively speaking, in American politics. Bernie Sanders - who describes himself as a "democratic socialist" - has stated his desire for the American economy to be reoriented along the lines of the Scandinavian model, which is actually social democratic rather than democratic socialist.
-The other major strain of socialism, anarchism opposes the institution of a state - even one with socialist aims - believing that the state itself relies on and upholds exploitation and oppression. Anarchists, also known as libertarians outside North America (in contrast to what some anarchists refer to as "propertarians" who have co-opted the term), are by nature anti-hierarchical and therefore tough to wrangle. This may help to explain why anarchist schools of thought tend to be named after organizational procedures ("mutualism", "syndicalism", etc.) whereas Marxist ideologies tend to be named after their founders. There are a number of non-socialist anarchistic philosophies as well, but they will not be mentioned here. State socialists have historically been at odds with anarchists, believing that their methods are not pragmatic.
-A revolutionary form of anarchism associated with Marx's opponent, Mikhail Bakunin, which opposes private ownership of the means of production, preferring collective ownership. Being anti-state, they oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not all collectivist anarchists oppose money or labor vouchers, with some being adherewints of Parecon ("participatory economics"). Some, but not all, collectivist anarchists see the philosophy as a transitional one leading to anarcho-communism, but others see it as an end goal itself.
-A revolutionary form of anarchism associated with Peter Kropotkin, anarcho-communism seeks to overthrow all forms of hierarchy and oppression and immediately institute communism through associations and councils, viewing the concept of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" not as an end goal but a process itself. Unlike collectivist anarchists, anarcho-communists are strictly against currency and the concept of "ownership" of the means of production, favoring instead focusing on the usage of the means of production. Anarcho-Communism was influential in revolutionary territories such as Aragon and Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, as well as the Free Territory of Ukraine during the Russian Revolution.
-Anarcho-Syndicalists believe in utilizing trade unions to replace capitalism through direct action, leading to workers' self-management and democratic control of the means of production. By capturing the power over the means of production, they hope to re-orient the focus of production away from profit to human needs as well as abolish wage slavery. Because of its focus on labor unions, other anarchists have often criticized it for being too narrow in scope or outdated; however, anarcho-syndicalists themselves often find their beliefs compatible with other forms of anarchism. The syndicalist CNT-FAI played a very prominent role in the Spanish Civil War.
Communalism and Democratic Confederalism
-A new line of thought, communalism takes much of its influence from anarchism without being explicitly anarchistic itself. Created by anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin after his break with anarchism in general, communalism seeks not the nationalization of the economy as in state socialism or the collectivization of the economy as under syndicalism but giving control of the economy to democratically elected municipal assemblies. Communalists believe in democratic confederationism - the interlocking of these municipal assemblies to represent the people as a whole. Unlike anarchism, communalists may or may not be comfortable working within currently existing civil frameworks for purposes of transition. The most notable example of the institution of democratic confederalism is Rojava, a revolutionary autonomous region in Syria fighting against the Islamic State.