Implementing socialism

I think that figuring out how to implement a functioning socialist system is an indispensable part of advocating for such a system for two reasons. First, it is hard to know whether you actually want a system if you can’t even understand what that system will actually look like. Additionally, the maxim that “ought implies can” should probably be taken seriously in this context, meaning that figuring out how socialism might be doable is a necessary for arguing that it ought to be striven for. Second, I think you will be hard-pressed to convince people to get on board if you can’t describe where you are headed in more than abstract principle terms. This will especially be the case given the history around this subject.

Many are not fans of this idea, and I suspect that’s because many also fear where it might lead. When you start getting into the particulars, you might find that you can’t figure out how it might work. And that would be a real bummer if it’s something you’re really invested in, something your identity is built around, and so on. Of course, that’s not a good reason to avoid the question. At minimum, you should be trying to read stabs others have made at describing implementation. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason not to do so. Or so I thought.

Recently, I’ve come across an argument that I don’t find persuasive, but which I do find kind of interesting. It’s not an uncommon argument among a certain left crowd, just one I haven’t really considered in a long time. The argument goes like this: the problem with trying to figure out implementation in the status quo is that our minds are shaped by the capitalist institutions and structure of society. Minds shaped like that wont be able to think about what the socialist system will look like and how it will work because such minds are so warped. So we have to first change our consciousness and our mental ideas en masse, and at that point new horizons and possibilities will occur to us. In those horizons and possibilities, we will find how to make socialism work.

The argument is interesting because it is internally coherent and non-falsifiable, at least if it is constructed in a particularly careful way. It has a very religious tone to it: the limitations of our minds render certain truths impossible to fully comprehend, and that comprehension will come once we’ve reached a certain time and place (whether that’s the afterlife or the historical moment when socialist consciousness has been achieved).

As far as unpersuasiveness goes, I just am not intuitively moved by the theory. I can’t rule it out, but it doesn’t scream to me as compelling. More than that, it is hard to imagine why individuals who have appropriately altered their minds — for example the socialists that expound this theory — don’t have access to these new possibilities and horizons that are supposed to occur to people once they’ve achieved the socialist consciousness. Why can’t this small group at least see where things can go given that they’ve liberated their minds into a socialist consciousness? Why do these new horizons and possibilities only become apparent after a big enough mass of people have appropriately changed their consciousness?

Finally, as a practical matter, this theory — even if totally true — will run into the second problem I mentioned in paragraph one. I can’t imagine trying to get folks on board by telling them: although I don’t know how this is supposed to work, those details will become apparent at some future point so long as they and enough of their fellow humans work to develop a socialist consciousness, thereby unlocking the blueprints for the socialist implementation.

We’d be much better off with a story about how this will all work right now. They do exist, at least in partial form (the market socialists have an especially strong literature on this front). Those who waive off such plans or programs have interesting, but fairly unpersuasive reasons for doing so, at least of the reasons I have generally seen.