The idea behind this one, failing the false logic of "Omigod the Soviet Union," is that if socialism has never happened before it will never happen. "Name a society where your version of socialism has actually occurred," the debaters challenge me. This sort of challenge is supposed to be part of a proof that socialism is impossible. The people who argue this kind of stuff reason that there will always be some sort of ruling class, because some people (an elite few) were destined to rule while others (the great masses) were destined to follow. Socialism is, then, against human nature.
I suppose in one major sense this diary is a variation on a previous diary -- the "socialism is a utopian fantasy" diary. If socialism (at least of the conception discussed here, with public ownership and control over the means of production) has never happened before, this must be because it's impossible to enact, and so it's just a utopian fantasy. Right? Right? Never mind, of course, that social invention is still possible, and that the past may be no indicator whatsoever as to how the future will turn out.
(And of course if people had gotten to the Wright brothers and told them that nobody had yet found a way to make practical aircraft, they would still have invented an airplane, but only by ignoring what such people said.)
The world could possibly be socialist. Here's how it would happen:
First, there would have to be some sort of revolutionary change in the way power operated. This is the hard part. We'd need to have some sort of new willingness to try economic arrangements that didn't just prop up old and dying power structures. Government would have to be reoriented -- it would have to be something other than a mechanism for reinforcing the privileges of the few. Government would have to be a place where the popular will was exercised rather than being a commodity traded among business interests, their lobbyists, and politicians.
Second, the governments of the world would nationalize all of the "means of production" -- the factories, mass production farms, mines, and so on. Small cottage industries can stay in private hands -- they're owned by the public already.
Third, each government would set up a scheme for genuinely PUBLIC control over the means of production. This would have to mean that everyone would be given the right to participate in basic production decisions. There might be votes, but votes (as David Graeber points out in his book on democracy) are in themselves not ways of establishing people power -- there would have to be some elements of consensus process added to the processes of public control. (If some of you were still wondering, this is why the Occupy movement was run with a consensus process in place.)
Lastly, there would have to be some scheme for the distribution of benefits from public control over the means of production. Our governments know how to do this already.
There are plenty of small-scale "socialisms" already in the world. These include co-operatives and communes. They've had some degree of success even with an outside world putting enormous pressures upon them.
So socialism is clearly possible. The first condition is quite daunting, however, and reasonable readers are likely to ask, "do we really need to go through all that?" Must we reorient the functions of government in order to solve basic social problems? If you want to end hunger, feed the hungry. If you want to mitigate global warming, develop alternative energy. So why socialism? Aren't these problems simple?
The standard progressive proposals for change through government are typically mediated through the "knight in shining armor" theory of government. We'll elect someone who will solve our major problems -- never mind the incredible power of money over our elected officials and our government. Meanwhile it's socialism, in the minds of those putting forth the standard progressive proposals, that is the utopian fantasy.
It's easy to see, then, why there will be no knights in shining armor. It's common knowledge among the political class already that the standard progressives are easily fooled. Politicians can get up on stage, pretend that they're going to solve everyone's problems, and then cash in once they're in office. Voters are going to elect Candidate A and Party A for fear that Candidate B and Party B will be elected, and things will be worse. Rinse and repeat.
So, yes, we have to go through all that.