Kjersti Ericsson:
The polyphonus revolution


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In this chapter: The future is shaped now

We live at a time when the societies which came into existence as the result of people's struggle to rid themselves of capitalism and imperialism, are collapsing. Many of them had long ago receded from the dreams and ideals of those who fought for them. Proclamations of "the death of socialism" have followed in the aftermath of these collapses. In particular, the massacre at Tienanmen in Beijing in the Spring of 1989 and the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe in 1990, constitute the background for the death certificate.

Socialism's death certificate is being written at the same time as the consequences of the imperialistic world system appear with frightening clarity: The international debt crisis is well under way. The poor countries have become net capital exporters to the rich countries. The silent, economic genocide of the poorest in the South is increasing. Life conditions on earth are being razed at a rate which we dare not contemplate. More and more people in Western Europe are disturbed about developments in their own societies and feel this insecurity stronger than at any time since World War II.

In proclaiming that socialism is dead, propagandists for those in power want us to forget that the task is still there, even though there is no ready answer: to rid humanity of capitalism and imperialism. They manage to make some people forget, at least in our part of the world. But for the large majority on our earth, the poor of the Third World, forgetting is hardly possible.

If the answers in many cases have proven to be invalid, the questions are still valid. They demand new answers. This book is an attempt to contribute to that process. Many will object that this book does not contain many answers, in fact, that it raises a whole new line of questions. And that is true. But the road towards new answers must often detour along the route of reformulating the questions, or of raising new problems. I have no comprehensive solution, or sometimes no solution at all, to many of the problems I raise. This does not worry me too much. Bringing forward answers and solutions has to be a collective process where my voice is but a contribution along the way.

It is difficult to write about a new society, new forms of organization, new relations between people. We are all prisoners of the society in which we live. That society decides our horizons, our way of thinking and feeling. And it decides our language and the concepts available for shaping our thoughts. Central structures and power relations are built into this horizon, this way of thinking and feeling, this language and these concepts. Language separates some phenomena from others and brings some together. Some things are made visible while others become invisible because they are not given words and concepts. When we use our concepts and expressions in the attempt to describe something new, we often carry the old with us into the new.

Aspects of the woman question are central to this book. Writing about women's reality and experiences with the language and concepts we have available, is often like trying to push square plugs into round holes. One has to file away the corners. But that means one says something different from what one wanted to say. One example of this is women's work in the home, which in this book is termed "free work" or "unpaid labor". In our society work is done at the job, as paid labor. Labor "at work" is visible and important, it is real work. The work done by women in the home is made invisible and underestimated. How can it be brought to light, made visible, given importance? The obvious solution is to say that the work which goes on in the home truly is work too, just as paid jobs are, only it's not paid. But to present women's efforts at home, with all the diverse activities these encompass, with the diverse senses of the word which "women's efforts" contain, to present all this as a parallel to paid jobs - that is to whittle the square plug away until it is almost round. One carries this mildly disfigured plug along in our line of reasoning and in continuing discussions on women's life now and in the future. And this makes its mark on our reasoning.

I think there are a number of disfigured plugs in this book. And there are sure to be many metaphors and expressions which carry old refuse, without the author, meaning me, being aware of it. Perhaps it has to be that way when one tries to step from something old over to something new. But when we are aware of the problem, both the author and the reader can avoid some traps.

The word "socialism" itself is not, and never has been a word with only one meaning. It has been used both as a description of the more important characteristics of a certain social formation, and to designate an ideal goal. "Socialism" has been used both in a descriptive and a normative way. This dualism is problematical in itself. But there are also problems within each usage. Let us look at the attempt to describe the important characteristics of socialism as a social formation. Some will point at "society's ownership of the means of production" as an important criteria. But state ownership is extensive in capitalism. The state can be among the dominating capitalist groups, as it is in Norway. Another important criteria is that "the working class hold all power in the state". But what does that mean? As long as there is extensive distribution of work and a specialized state, someone other than the working class will govern in practice. Will they govern in the best possible way for the working class? This is disputable. "Socialism" has also been used as a name for a type of intermediate society between the old and a future classless communist society. Societies which carry through a socialistic revolution can have very different starting points, therefore the actual intermediate society must differ. This makes it no easier to find clear criteria for what socialism is.

What about socialism as a word for an ideal goal? Everyone who thinks that capitalism and imperialism are unbearable and must be abolished, will naturally wish to exchange this system with a better one. If not, the struggle for socialism becomes meaningless. The problem with using "socialism" as a normative concept, is that one may come to reject everything which isn't ideal: "This isn't real socialism." Socialism stops being something real. But there are no ideal societies. And an intermediate form between the old and the new must be full of conflict. If one rejects all the things one doesn't like, one may end by pushing all the real and important problems which the struggle for socialism raises, into the future.

Nor can I rid myself of the dualism in the concept "socialism". Perhaps that is not a bad thing. One needs both the dream and the attempt to find the way. To me "socialism" is an intermediate form which has it source in the uprising against imperialism and capitalism, an attempt to shape a society which breaks away from the old system of exploitation. Such forms will of necessity differ greatly. For that reason I use "socialism" about some societies which I would find unpleasant personally, and which have many repulsive aspects. When I write about my view of socialism, it is based on what I see as desirable and valuable for mankind, and of what I think may be practicable roads from the old to the new. Which is which may not always be clear, not even to me.

The future is shaped now

For generations the question of changing society step by step or by revolution, has been a central demarcation line between various viewpoints which have called themselves socialistic. Can the working class gradually forward their positions until they have conquered the power over society? Clearly, the different classes' position of strength, can vary within a social structure, and this affects the concrete shaping of the society. But the society's basic character must be changed through a break, a jump, a revolution, where the rule of one class must be overthrown and another takes over. Raymond Williams points out that the central question is whether one thinks that the socialistic changing of society has an enemy or not (1989, p. 71):

"Next, and decisively, you find you have to believe - and in this, from my whole experience, I was well prepared - that this transformation of society has an enemy. Not just an electoral enemy or a traditional enemy, but a hostile and organized social formation which is actively trying to defeat and destroy you. Now this recognition of an enemy is something that the inevitability of gradualism had not allowed for, unless we are to suppose - and such complacent fantasies have occasionally occurred - that its policy of cunning permeation was a way of dissolving an enemy without him noticing. But the real question about an enemy was always this. Was this the kind of enemy who could be defeated by the normal processes of civil society; that is to say by the processes of political democracy, parliamentary democracy, trade union action, social organization, and so on? Or was this an enemy who had to be defeated by power, and in the last instance, if necessary, by actual violent defeat?"

It is impossible for me to look at today's world, at the capitalistic and imperialistic world system in all its shapes and forms and ramifications, and arrive at the conclusion that this is a system which can be basically changed through parliamentary democracy or dissolved from the inside step by step. I see, as Raymond Williams does, an enemy who must be defeated by force, and in the last instance, if necessary, defeated with violence. And I find it difficult to see anything undemocratic or aggressive in this point of view. The existing world order is upheld by brutal economic warfare against the poor majority on our earth, and by weapons and violence against those who try to tear themselves free. If a majority rises to overthrow a gruesome and undemocratic system which serves a tiny minority of the world's people, they are in their full rights.

What happens before a revolution matters, however, a great deal as to what happens after. The social forces and movements which build up, will also affect the shaping of the new society. A coup brought off by a small minority would not be likely to lead to a society with an active, participating democracy for the majority. A revolutionary movement which looks on the oppression of women as a minor and unimportant question, will carry on that oppression in the new society. For that reason today's struggles must be used to build up social forces, movements, organizations, modes of organization, alliances, working methods, knowledge and forms of consciousness which point forward, which "anticipate" socialism. The future is shaped now.

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