The Uses of the Word “Socialism”

The Uses of the Word “Socialism”

From Paris we have received the following letter which raises problems that we hope will be discussed in later issues of DISSENT. Its author, M. Rubel, is a distinguished scholar whose work includes a study of Marxism and morality. His letter came too late for any prolonged comment, but we hope to arrange a symposium on the questions he presents. Brief comments from readers will be extremely welcome.

Today, anyone who insists upon describing himself as a socialist runs the great risk of not being immediately understood. (I do not speak of another risk which such a profession of faith entails in certain countries of high Christian civilization.)

Since the Russian Revolution the term “socialism” has served to designate a regime with enough authority to prohibit its subjects from questioning the validity of this label. Be it usurpation or trickery, the fact remains: hundreds of millions of men are today forced to accept for the word “socialism” the content and thought decreed by their political masters in Russia, in China, in the European countries that revolve within the orbit of the Russian star. This fact is new and crushing. Is it not childish to ignore it? To call oneself a “socialist” today in countries where one can still speak freely and, at the same time, to condemn Russo-Asiatic “socialism”—is this not verbal fetishism? Or is not one, at least, indulging in a naive fidelity to a Western tradition more than 100 years old which no longer has any raison d’etre in a world where men and things, values and institutions, are ceaselessly undergoing profound transformations?