I’ve lived in Australia since 1998, which is long enough to be almost an insider yet short enough to retain a foreigner’s perspective. I’m an outsider inside.
I’m also a leftist, green feminist with an interest in Buddhist philosophy and Marxist theories. Whilst Buddhism provides me with guidance for ethical living, Marx and Engels have outlined the economic, political and social structures of capitalist societies to help me recognising what I’m dealing with in my reality.
As useful as Marxism has been to explain the inner workings of capitalism, its vision for a socialist society as the intermediary between capitalism and communism was intrinsically and deeply undemocratic. Marx and Engels proclaimed that the dictatorship of the proletariat was morally superior to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, but history has shown that it doesn’t really matter whether a dictatorship is socialist, bourgeois or fascist – it’s based on the oppression of the majority of its people. I know what I’m talking about; I grew up in one.
Here’s what I’ve learned from living in a socialist dictatorship:
• The term “democratic socialism” is an oxymoron. One cannot democratise a dictatorship. As soon as people tried it, socialism broke down completely.
• Nationalising every single company, factory, business, shop and farm etc as well as pressuring them into conforming to centralised economic plans caused socialism to be a phenomenally inefficient economic system.
• One result of this inefficiency (amongst many others) was the complete disregard for environmental issues. Not poisoning their soil, air and water would surely have greatly contributed to a better life for “the proletariat”.
• History has also shown that the abolition of capitalism and the constitutionally guaranteed equality of men and women doesn’t automatically liberate women from the patriarchal yoke. Due to the woefully low productivity in all socialist countries women were desperately needed in the workforce, and married women with children had to work because their husbands’ wages were too low to sustain a family. Despite all this the tired, old gender stereotypes were never officially questioned, no educational work was done to shift them, and no institutional changes were implemented that would have enabled true equality. Women just worked full-time in their jobs plus full-time at home.
In 1978 I managed to leave my “dictatorship of the proletariat” and set up camp in a true democracy nearby with free elections, free parties and free speech. I think that a communist and at the same time truly democratic system is impossible on a scale bigger than a very small community. For now I have no better idea than to threaten and chip away on existing power structures. Unions will have to keep fighting for the rights of workers (good luck with that in Australia!), feminists will have to keep fighting for the true liberation of women, and environmentalists will have to keep fighting against the pollution of soil, air and water. None of us can fight on all fronts, but we can choose one for ourselves and support the others.