The Myth of Socialism as Statism

The Myth Of Socialism As Statism by Larry Gambone


What did the original socialists envision to be the owner and controller of the economy? Did they think it ought to be the state? Did they favor nationalization? Or did they want something else entirely? Let’s have a look, going right back to the late 18th Century, through the 19th and into the 20th, and see what important socialists and socialist organizations thought.

*Thomas Spence – farm land and industry owned by join stock companies, all farmers and workers as voting shareholders.

* St. Simon – a system of voluntary corporations

* Ricardian Socialists – worker coops

* Owen – industrial coops and cooperative intentional communities

* Fourier – the Phlanistery – an intentional community

* Cabet – industry owned by the municipality (“commune” in French, hence commune-ism)

* Flora Tristan – worker coops

* Proudhon – worker coops financed by Peoples Bank – a kind of credit union that issued money.

* Greene – mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.

* Lasalle – worker coops financed by the state – for which he was excoriated by Marx as a “state socialist”

* Marx – a “national system of cooperative production”

* Tucker – mutualist banking system allowing farmers and workers to own means of production.

* Dietzgen – cooperative production

* Knights of Labor – worker coops

* Parsons – workers ownership and control of production

* Vanderveldt – socialist society as a ‘giant cooperative”

* Socialist Labor Party – industry owned and run democratically thru the Socialist Industrial Unions

* Socialist Party USA – until late 1920’s emphasized workers control of production.

* CGT France, 1919 Program – mixed economy with large industry owned by stakeholder coops.

* IWW – democratically run through the industrial unions.

* Socialist Party of Canada, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1904-05 program – common ownership, democratically run – both parties, to this very day, bitterly opposed to nationalization.

* SDP – Erfurt Program 1892 – Minimum program includes a mixed economy of state, cooperative and municipal industries. While often considered a state socialist document, in reality it does not give predominance to state ownership.

Well? Where’s the statism? All these socialisms have one thing in common, a desire to create an economy where everyone has a share and a say.

Why The Confusion

The state did play a role in the Marxist parties of the Second International. But its role was not to nationalize industry and create a vast bureaucratic state socialist economy. Put simply, the workers parties were to be elected to the national government, and backed by the trade unions, cooperative movement and other popular organizations, would expropriate the big capitalist enterprises. Three things would then happen: 1. The expropriated enterprises handed over to the workers organizations, coops and municipalities. 2, The army and police disbanded and replaced by worker and municipal militias. 3. Political power decentralized to the cantonal and

municipal level and direct democracy and federalism introduced. These three aspects are the famous “withering away of the state” that Marx and Engels talked about.

The first problem with this scenario was that the workers parties never got a majority in parliament. So they began to water-down their program and adopt a lot of the statist reformism of the liberal reformers. Due to the Iron Law of Oligarchy the parties themselves became sclerotic and conservative. Then WW1 intervened, splitting the workers parties into hostile factions. Finally, under the baleful influence of the Fabians, the Bolsheviks and the “success” of state capitalism in the belligerent nations, the definition of socialism began to change from one of democratic and worker ownership and control to nationalization and statism. The new post-war social democracy began to pretend that state ownership/control was economic democracy since the state was democratic. This, as we see from the list above, was not anything like the economic democracy envisaged by the previous generations of socialists and labor militants.



Blogger Brad Spangler said…
Thanks. Definitely a post to bookmark.

Tell me your impression of one of the talking points I’ve been considering using with other Rothbardians who don’t get what you’re talking about in this post…

“Anarchism is like the North Pole. Just as ‘East’ and ‘West’ start to lose meaning the closer you get to the North Pole, so do ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Socialism’ converge as you approach the stateless free market.”

7:49 PM


Blogger Just Ken said…
S.P.Andrews believed so as well, as is described in his “The Science of Society” which I’ve posted on my website.
Best to you,
Just Ken

7:54 PM


Blogger Larry Gambone said…
Thanks guys. I agree with you Brad to the extent that “capitalism” equals genuine free exchange. Unfortunately we can get tied up in word definitions here, since for most anarchists “capitalism” is seen as the antithesis of liberty. I think it was a bad idea for Rothbard to call his free market libertarianism “capitalist”, had he called it “agorist” or “free exchange” there would be few quibbles.

Thanks Just Ken, for passing on the Steven Pearl Andrews “Science Of Society” which is a real find.

4:40 PM


Blogger Werner said…
Hello Larry,

You’re probably aware of the anti-census campaign developing over at “Vive LeCanada”. Several of the “regulars” over there have openly declared they will refuse the census utterly and go to jail if necessary. Just previous to this announcement I added a small contribution under my usual pseudonym highlighting the fact the census should be opposed on principle and NOT just owing to the role of Lockheed Martin. Don’t know if that made any difference overall but I suppose it didn’t hurt. Anyway I was going to put all of this on my own blog, but thought that mentioning this on yours would reach a wider audience.


11:22 AM


Blogger Larry Gambone said…
Good point Werner. Sorry, I haven’t had the time to check out Vive these days but I hope more people do challenge the census.

7:28 PM


Blogger freeman said…
It’s nice to read and be able to make reference to stuff like this to people who think that socialism is inherently statist. Thanks.

8:01 AM


Blogger Sheldon Richman said…
Thanks, Larry. I love learning that my worldview is not quite so wide as I had thought. Much obliged.

7:55 AM


Blogger Graeme said…
wow, I just came across this. Brilliant Larry.

10:19 PM


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