A socialism for the 21st century must include and stress the importance of micro-level social transformation at the base of society in the workplace. Ending exploitation in workplaces is that transformation. Instead of workers producing surpluses for others to appropriate and distribute, they must now do that for themselves collectively.
As “producer cooperatives” or “democratized enterprises” (among other names), such transformed workplaces represent a priority goal of a new socialism.
Government revenue, for example, to the extent it depends on taxes on enterprise surpluses, would then flow from (and hence be responsive to) workers in their capacity as enterprise self-directors. The state would then become directly and financially dependent on the organized (in and by their enterprises) workers in a way and to a degree unequalled in human history. Correspondingly, the risks of power passing from the mass of people in their residences and workplaces to a state bureaucracy – a serious problem for traditional socialism – would be reduced.
Capitalism[‘s] spokespersons and defenders forever celebrated (and still do) a democracy that is rigidly excluded from the system’s enterprises (where most adults spend most of their active lives). Capitalism’s history repeatedly demonstrates that the absence of democracy inside enterprises undermines it elsewhere in society (or else yields caricatures, as in “democratic” elections corrupted by the system’s economic inequalities).
Imagine democratic enterprises interacting with democratic residential communities – economic and political democracies reinforcing one another and making one another real, not merely formal. Jointly they would co-determine how society functions and changes
Any attempt by 21st Century Socialists to take over existing production will founder on current capitalist-friendly laws and governments, barring revolutions, which tend to be nasty affairs and don’t always attain the desired results in any case.
To my way of thinking, local production could be established based on socialist principles and simply out-compete capitalist-based production for one simple reason – it would not have to have a huge part of its ‘excess earnings’ siphoned off to support the rentiers. The excess can be reinvested or distributed among the producers.
Such a system could be established in parallel with the existing capitalist system and is actually in progress now in a small way – farmers markets, CSAs, Makespaces, co-ops of various sorts. However, it lacks widespread proselytizing, planning, support and teaching.
The current awareness of gross income inequality can be a strong support for a more equitable socialist arrangement.
The disconnect people feel between themselves and their political ‘representatives’ is a second support – people are more comfortable dealing with people they know and iive/work with daily, not to mention the utter distrust most people have of politics and politicians.
The resentment of being at the mercy of huge, impersonal corporations and their money-hungry ways is a third support for being independent from the capitalist economy.
One advantage of managing the change this way is it can occur in parallel with capitalism. We can stay on the power grid until we get our own local grids operational; we can still get products we have not yet been able to produce locally; we can enjoy the [expensive] benefits of capitalism while minimizing our requirement of them. One of those mixed blessings of capitalism is employment, and we can establish a ‘shadow economy’ in our spare time, with the full-time work spread among the unemployed or retired until the local communities become well-established. Eventually, with enough building at the grass-roots level, a national coordination could occur and would have enough political muscle to further the cause.
As the need for the products of capitalism shrank, the wealth and influence of capital/capitalism would shrink. If the moguls of agriculture, oil, banking, etc. saw their profits dwindle, their ability to buy the government might likewise be reduced. My guess is that in the face of losing both their captive workforce and their captive consumers, they would be forced to downsize, reduce the income inequality and treat both their workers and customers better.
Of course, if they decide to double down, they would try to outlaw anything outside their domain. For example, they have gotten courts to declare that a farmer could not eat his home-grown produce because it wasn’t certified by the state; sale of raw milk is often prohibited or tightly regulated, etc. But I might point out that if push ever comes to shove and a revolution turns out to be necessary to establish a more humane and equitable society and to take control back from the rentier class, the revolutionaries would be a lot better off with a network of relatively self-sufficient communities scattered over the land and a people less dependent on the products and whims of the capitalists and their bought government.