The Right Socialism for Workers

Ho Say Peng

What state socialism essentially is.

The socialist’s chief concern is the condition of the worker—the wage laborer—and how he can improve it. Several different means of achieving such an end have been proposed, and as such there exists several different schools of socialism.

There are broadly two schools of socialist thought. One school advocates that the state is the best mechanism to improve the condition of the working class; this is state socialism. There are varying degrees of state socialism, from the more statist Marxist-Leninism and Stalinism to the less statist democratic socialism and social democracy.

The other school advocates a less state-oriented, or even an anarchic, and a more worker-oriented approach. This other school comprises libertarian socialism, syndicalism, and social anarchism or anarcho-socialism.

This article is intended especially for state socialists. But I would not have written this were it not for the existence of the only explicitly state socialist political party in Singapore—the Socialist Front. So this article hopes to get the SF to think about the flaws, ineffectiveness and destructiveness of state socialism (if they are not doing so already) and consider the better alternative of a more libertarian worker-oriented socialism.

State socialism aims at state ownership and operation of the means of production. As SF puts it, “A socialist government will take control of key industries within Singapore’s economy by nationalizing and running such industries and essential services for the benefit of the Singaporean people.”

The key question then is: Would such a system work in practice? Historical examples of such centralized economies as Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Castro’s Cuba prove otherwise. The material conditions of the people who lived under said regimes not only worsened, many were subjected to a form of slavery worse than the “wage slavery” under corporate capitalist economies, and many died as a result of overwork in filthy labor camps.

The failures of state socialism are attributed to a few factors; some of them are elucidated by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, namely “a pretense of exact knowledge that is likely to be false” (as Hayek put it in his Nobel Prize Lecture) by state planners, which explain their failure at economic calculation and therefore, their abject failure at economic planning.

Under state socialism, exploitation of the workers shifts from being committed by state-backed corporations under corporate capitalism to being directly committed by the state itself.

Contrast state socialism with libertarian socialism and syndicalism, which argues for workers ownership and operation of the means of production—in essence, for workers’ self-management. (The state need not be abolished but its activities should be minimized to cover only the maintenance of peace and the enforcement of law and defense, and it should definitely not interfere with the lives of nonviolent people.)

The historical case for such worker-centric business models, called worker cooperative and worker-managed enterprise or “syndicate”, has been positive. Worker cooperatives have existed in several stages of history. Some currently exist and appear to be performing well.

A 2009 article from The Dominion, which describes itself as “a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada”, entitled Bendable Businesses, reports that worker cooperatives, compared to modern corporations, are better able to react to, and weather, financial crises.

The benefits are not purely economic, but also mental and spiritual, as some libertarian socialists and syndicalists argue. Since workers are now working for themselves, with the profits (but let’s not forget losses, too) going into their own pockets instead of some “greedy capitalists” and “fat cat CEOs”, workers are emancipated from the mental and physical drudgery of wage labor, of feeling like “a cog in the capitalist machinery”. (Check out the Wikipedia page for “worker cooperative” for more.)

I am not arguing for a complete replacement of modern corporations with workers cooperatives (though I very much want to see the statist element of modern corporations—its limited liability—eliminated); I am just pointing out that it is a valid working alternative. So if the commercial, economic, socio-political society is reshaped along these lines, peaceful nonviolent non-statist decentralized worker-centric libertarian socialism and syndicalism is one alternative (among others) to violent state socialism and corporate capitalism.

What do you think, Socialist Front?