State socialism

from Brian Martin, Uprooting War (London: Freedom Press, 1984); this is the revised 1990 version.
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The problem of transforming the state takes on a special dimension when applied to state socialism. By the expression 'state socialism' I refer to societies such as the Soviet Union, China, Eastern European societies, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. These are commonly called communist, although these societies have little relation to the original concept of communism. They have also been called bureaucratic socialist, state capitalist and totalitarian.

Socialism can be defined as a form of social organisation in which ownership and control of the means of production (farms, factories, etc.) is in the hands of the community as a whole. Under state socialism this ownership and control is vested in the state.

Under state socialism the state has much more far-reaching powers than under capitalism. Factories, communications, farms, transport and publishing are owned and controlled by the state, as well as labour, police, education, military forces, trade and foreign relations. The state bureaucracies are large, powerful and pervasive, and this is why this form of social organisation is often called bureaucratic socialism.

State socialism could be considered rule by bureaucracy except for the important role of the communist party. The communist party in a given state is officially the political representative of the people, the means by which the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is implemented. In practice the communist party is also organised bureaucratically, but in a way which penetrates the other state bureaucracies. In its role as political executive of the state, the communist party organisation serves to control, and if necessary shake up or purge, other bureaucracies in order to maintain the system of centralised political control and to advance the goals of the state and the party.

What is the connection between state socialism and the war system? It would seem to be a close one. State socialist regimes have been called permanent war economies, since even in the absence of external war they are politically organised like capitalist societies during wartime. The wartime suppression of dissent under capitalism is the usual policy in state socialist regimes. Likewise, the pervasive control of the economy by state bureaucracies under wartime capitalism, the use of police and the military to maintain internal control, and generally the dominance of state power are all normal characteristics of state socialism.

War has played a key role in the creation of state socialism. The establishment of the Soviet Union was made possible by the collapse of the Czarist army in World War One. After the Bolsheviks took power, a number of governments supported a military attack on the fledgling Soviet regime. To defend the new regime, the Russian army was reconstituted and expanded along traditional hierarchical lines. Many Czarist military officers were restored to commands. Soon the Soviet military forces were organisationally indistinguishable from their opponents. This process helped to militarise the Soviet system.

Centralisation of power in the early years of the Soviet Union also occurred as the Bolsheviks reconstructed the secret police and used it to help crush internal opposition groups. The libertarian and democratic aspects of the revolution, such as the factory committees, were destroyed as political, economic and military power were concentrated at the apex of the state, especially in the communist party elites.

Many other state socialist regimes have been established following military struggles. This includes wars of liberation against colonial powers as in the case of China and Vietnam, and direct conquest by other state socialist military forces as in the case of most states in Eastern Europe.

There are several possible explanations of why socialism in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere has taken a bureaucratic, militarised, statist form. One explanation, which often serves as an apology, is that socialist militarisation has been a response, even a necessary response, to attacks, threats and encirclement by capitalist military powers. Undoubtedly this factor has played a role.

There have also been internal driving forces behind 'militarisation of the revolution.' During and shortly after the Russian Revolution, Lenin and other Marxists consciously addressed the theoretical problem of bureaucracy and attempted to think up means to prevent its expansion. But their political practice was different: state power was greatly increased. The dynamic for bureaucratic expansion came in part from reliance on a vanguard elite as the embodiment of the interests of the proletariat, both the smash the previous state and to administer the new society. Since that time, capturing and maximally exploiting state power has become an explicit part of Leninist practice. (This approach is sometimes traced to Marx's ideas as well.) The leaders of state socialist revolutions since the Russian Revolution have consciously oriented their actions towards capturing state power, and consolidating their hold on it by expanding state bureaucracies and military and police forces.

Another factor is the reliance on violence by some state socialist revolutionaries. Vanguard parties often resort to violence to capture state power and reconstruct economic relations. The use of violence tends to restrict participation, promote secrecy, reinforce the dominance of men, encourage ruthlessness and subordinate means to ends. In established state socialist regimes, a priority on military spending provides a continuing justification for centralisation of economic power.

After the success of the Russian Revolution, the previously strong tradition of socialist anti-militarism virtually dropped from view. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union for decades controlled or strongly influenced most foreign communist parties, and used this influence to serve the interests of the Soviet state. This led to the spread of a commitment to the use of armed force to build and protect state socialism. Support for military struggle to serve state socialism took precedence over opposition to war. Only war by capitalist states was condemned; socialist militarism was unquestioned.

Third and perhaps most important in the militarising of state socialism has been the squeezing of socialism into a state mould. Essentially, when socialism encountered statism, statism prevailed. To survive in a state system, including hostile capitalist states, socialism adopted a state form, which meant bureaucratisation and militarisation. For this reason, I consider the problem of challenging state socialism and promoting democratic socialism to be closely linked with the problem of challenging the state and promoting self-management.

Supporters of socialism used to think that the worldwide triumph of socialism, even in a statist form, would automatically lead to the abolition of war. That this is an illusion should be apparent from the wars and military confrontations between the governments and military forces of China and the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam, Vietnam and Kampuchea, and others. Until 1945 there was only one socialist state. Since 1945, almost all combat action by Soviet military forces has been against other socialist states, or against the Soviet people.

This assessment of Soviet militarism may seem unfair in the late 1980s, in the face of peace initiatives from the Soviet government under the leadership of Gorbachev. In evaluating these initiatives, it is important to distinguish between policies and social structures. State socialist governments have often proposed peace treaties; the new Soviet regime negotiated a sweeping treaty with Germany shortly after the revolution. The key link between the war system and state socialism lies in its statist, bureaucratic form, not particular policies.

Another illusion about state socialism was challenged in Poland in December 1981: the ultimate authority of the communist party. With the rise of Solidarity in 1980, the Polish Communist Party was strongly affected by the energies released for democratisation and participation. It required a military coup, as an alternative to Soviet military invasion, to contain this challenge to authoritarian rule.

This was not the first time the military was used in a state socialist regime to maintain state power against challenges from the grassroots. In China during the Cultural Revolution the army was called out to squash the more excessive initiatives of the Red Guards. Mao, to promote his interests in the power struggle among Chinese state elites, had originally stimulated the Red Guards into action. But the Guards had taken Mao's rhetoric seriously and had begun to get out of control--out of control of the state elites, that is.

As well as the structural similarities between different state socialist regimes, it is also important to be aware of differences. In China, for example, there is considerable local autonomy at the commune level; at the state level, foreign policy and ideological hegemony are as centrally controlled as in any other variety of state socialism.

I turn now to two approaches to the problem of transforming state socialist regimes, and to illustrate these approaches I use the stark stereotypes of the right and the statist left. The stereotypes are of course simplistic, but I believe they are accurate in at least one respect, namely in the conclusion that little has been done to develop a strategy for promoting self-managing socialism within state socialist regimes.

The failure of the right

By the right I refer to the supporters of capitalism in the West, specifically the supporters of currently dominant corporate elites. Those on the right tend to support state intervention to benefit capitalists, oppose state intervention to support workers and communities, and favour maintenance of social inequality within traditional structures of class, family, sex roles and corporate hierarchy.

What has the right done to help transform state socialism? This is a pertinent question, since the bulk of anticommunist rhetoric and action has come from the right. Capitalist anticommunism is based to a substantial extent on self-interest: socialism, by abolishing corporate property, is a direct threat to capitalists. This explains the right's unwillingness to acknowledge the undoubted advances under state socialism, such as increased material standards of living, relatively full employment, and comprehensive social welfare systems. By the same token, most of the right is blithely uncritical of capitalism. Right-wing anticommunism often stereotypes capitalism as good and socialism as bad. This does not help formulate realistic strategies concerning state socialism.

The typical approach of the right is to support the maintenance and use of military forces on behalf of capitalist states to hold state socialist regimes in check. Since the end of the Second World War the alleged necessity to contain state socialism has been the primary excuse for Western armaments and for intervention in Third World conflicts. In practice, military forces do serve other functions, such as containing internal dissent and maintaining capitalist penetration of Third World economies. But setting aside these other aspects of militarisation to serve capitalist interests, what has been the success of Western military confrontations and intervention in undermining state socialism? After all, ever since 1918, and especially since 1945, military methods have been the primary means of opposing state socialism. How has this approach fared?

In short, military opposition to state socialism has been an abysmal failure. There is not a single example of a well established state socialist regime which has even been seriously weakened by Western military force or the threat of it. Quite the contrary.

Western wars, military presences and interventions have in several ways helped promote the militarisation and centralisation of political and economic power under state socialism. The Western intervention against the Bolsheviks in 1918-1920 helped to militarise the revolution. Western colonialism and military intervention against nationalist movements in Third World countries have smashed noncommunist opposition to local elites and thus aided the dominance of state socialist orientations within national liberation movements. The Western military forces in Europe help the Soviet government to justify repression in Eastern Europe. From the viewpoint of state socialist elites, the Western military threat provides a way of justifying their own war economy.

From the point of view of promoting self-managing socialism, the right has no strategy at all, not even a counterproductive one! Nor does the right have a strategy to abolish war: the right, almost without exception, is committed to maintaining the military.

The use of military strength and confrontation helps destroy any middle ground between capitalism and state socialism, such as the nonviolent Buddhist opposition during the Vietnam war. Such middle positions, arguably, are greater threats to both capitalist and state socialist systems of unequal power and privilege than either system is to the other. Indeed, it could even be argued that it is in the interests of capitalists to encourage repressive rule in state socialist regimes, in order to discredit all socialist alternatives, including libertarian socialism which would pose a much more serious ideological threat to capitalism.

Not all elite supporters of capitalism favour military confrontation. Many, especially those who identify with large corporate and banking interests, prefer to supplement military preparedness with trade and capitalist activity in state socialist economies. One possible result could be the undermining of state socialist economies as they are gradually penetrated by capitalist investment and dependency-inducing trade. Is this the basis for a strategy to democratise state socialist regimes?

Certainly trade between East and West has grown, and has continued even in the periods of most intense confrontation. In addition, an increasing amount of Western technology is being imported into state socialist regimes in the form of entire factories to produce soft drinks or cars. But far from weakening these regimes, this trade interaction is strengthening the elites on both sides. As Charles Levinson documents in his book Vodka Cola, the result of the interaction is to provide modern Western technology to the bureaucratically slow-to-innovate state socialist economies, while the Western corporations benefit from the labour of Eastern workers who are paid less and not allowed to strike.

Western corporations have shown little interest in moves towards self-management under state socialism. The rise of the free trade unions in Poland in 1980 posed a threat especially to Western bankers, who cared more about the security of their loans to the Polish government than about the democratic rights of the workers. Besides, the activities of the Polish free trade unions were a bit embarrassing to capitalists, considering the persistence of right-wing attacks on trade unions in the West.

A collapse of state socialism and a triumph of worker and community-based, nonviolent libertarian socialism would be a disaster for the right in the West. The state socialist military threat could no longer be invoked and a truly non-authoritarian alternative would be offered as an example to Third World peoples, and to those in the capitalist world as well.

Failure of the statist left

By the statist left I refer to those favouring increased state control over the economy and other social areas. Those on the statist left in the West support state regulation or takeover of capitalist enterprises and state intervention to support the welfare of workers and communities. The preferred means for promoting these aims is through a social democratic political party, usually a labour or communist party, which when in government would move steadily towards reducing capitalist exploitation by increasing state regulation and intervention.

What has the statist left done to help democratise state socialism? For the most part, nothing. The statist left tends to take an uncritical attitude to state socialist regimes. Even among those on the statist left who recognise the severe shortcomings of these regimes, including denial of freedoms, bureaucratisation and militarisation, there is a tendency to be tolerant. The real evil is seen to be capitalism: state socialist regimes have, after all, expropriated the capitalists and established state control over the economy.

The statist left is uncritical of state socialism in part as a reaction to the anticommunism of the right, and the right's use of the state socialist bogy as a means for attacking the more moderate aims of the statist left for state intervention. While not many on the statist left warmly espouse existing state socialist regimes, openly opposing them seems to run the risk of aiding the uncritical pro-capitalism of the right. The result is a general disinclination to speak out about state socialism.

Given the inadequacy and counterproductiveness of military-based, right-supported policies of confrontation and containment of state socialism, there is a real need for left strategy to promote forces within state socialist regimes which favour self-managing socialism.

Another problem is the ambivalence of the statist left towards violence in social change. Within the industrialised West, most on the statist left see change coming through existing channels, especially parliamentary channels, without significant violence. But in Third World countries, violent liberation struggles against imperialist or neocolonialist rule are often supported by the statist left in First World countries. Furthermore, since the statist left wishes to expand state power in the West, there is no plan to remove the military. Lip service may be given to making reductions in the level of armaments, though usually only when a social democratic party is not in government.

It should not be surprising that the statist left has no strategy for promoting the shift from state socialism to self-managing socialism. The statist left favours expansion of state power, state bureaucracies and the military, the same social structures which are linked to centralised control under state socialism. The statist left does not want to buy into the anticommunism of the right, and so is stifled in developing a critical view or activist strategy concerning state socialism.

Aside from the views characteristic of what I have called the right and the statist left, there is very little else that is useful in developing a grassroots strategy for promoting self-managing socialism. Indeed, the polarisation between right and statist left views, plus the common assumptions of reliance on the military and the state, seem to have stifled creative thinking on this problem.


The prime force behind change in state socialist societies must come from the people living in these societies. 'Liberation' from the outside is more likely to lead to a new form of oppression, such as the imposition of capitalism.

In confronting and replacing state socialism, the goal must be to go in the direction of self-managing socialism. A viable opposition to state socialism needs to build on the strengths of socialist reality and visions in order to mobilise grassroots support.

In particular, the goals need to encompass and go beyond changes in the formal economic structure of society. For example, state socialist societies have not eliminated the oppression of women: the measures taken to do this have revolved around integration of women into the workforce without addressing the ways patriarchy is mobilised within the family and by the state, for example through the gender division of labour.

What groups have the potential and incentive to organise for self-managing socialism? The elements of opposition which are most publicised in the West are the dissident intellectuals. Their opposition is important, but it has many limitations. Much of it is concerned with ensuring constitutional rights rather than more fundamental changes in power relations. This reflects the social location of the intellectuals as a stratum or class with interests separate from the workers.

Equally or more important has been the internal opposition by working class individuals and groups. The major uprisings in Eastern Europe have depended on working class participation or leadership or both: East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968-1969, and Poland in 1956, 1970 and since 1980. The establishment of self-managing organs such as factory councils has been characteristic of these revolts. Also symptomatic of working class discontent, there have been quite a number of strikes and riots in the Soviet Union, though knowledge of these seldom reaches or is publicised in the West. Soviet military forces had to be used to repress a number of these revolts, resulting in tens or hundreds of killings. These acts of resistance demonstrate an enormous latent resentment toward the figures of formal authority.

There is also an individualised resistance by workers which is manifested in absenteeism, alcoholism, labour turnover and workplace sabotage. Much of this localised and sporadic opposition by the working class arises from dissatisfaction with wages and consumer prices, or from visible abuses of bureaucratic power. As such, it is not at the stage of contributing to an overall programme to challenge state socialist power relations.

Iván Szelényi and others have argued that developing linkages between the opposition of the workers and of the intellectuals is vitally important for the socialist opposition. For example, intellectuals could examine the way in which state socialist rulers are able to maintain and legitimate their power, and collaborate with workers to develop effective channels for grassroots opposition.

What can Western groups do? This is a difficult and delicate problem. The most obvious thing is to support Eastern opposition groups. This can be done by making personal contact, through publicity, and by applying pressure to state socialist governments. Portions of the Western peace movement in the 1980s, led by European Nuclear Disarmament, have had some success in building up links with Eastern peace groups.

What can be done beyond this? This is indeed a difficult question. In the past, too little was done in providing support for Eastern opposition groups in promoting self-managing socialism. But there is also a danger in too much intervention by Western groups. The Eastern opposition groups may become targets of state repression, and their independence and autonomy in developing a form of opposition appropriate to their own country may be jeopardised.

To raise some ideas for consideration, next I will present the ideas of two people who have developed comprehensive and original ideas on this subject. First is Stephen King-Hall, an ardent anticommunist and fairly uncritical supporter of Western societies, who favours conversion to nonviolent methods for confronting state socialism. Second is John Zube, a libertarian and opponent of the state in the West and East, who favours fomenting of people's uprisings within state socialist regimes.

The King-Hall approach

Stephen King-Hall's book Defence in the Nuclear Age, published in 1958, can reasonably be called the first major presentation of a programme for social defence. King-Hall argues that the aim of defence is not to protect territory but to protect a way of life. The way of life he wishes to protect is that of Britain especially and parliamentary democracies generally, in particular the parliamentary system and the free press. He sees state socialist regimes and in particular the Soviet Union as the major threat to this way of life. King-Hall argues that reliance on nuclear weapons is self-defeating, and that the key struggle is for people's minds, a struggle to which he says the West has devoted too little attention. He argues that the British government should renounce not only its nuclear weapons but also most conventional weapons, and that the populace should prepare itself for nonviolent resistance to any Soviet invasion.

King-Hall was in the British Navy in the First World War and retired from it in 1929. He was a prominent commentator on a variety of issues since the 1930s, edited the King-Hall newsletter until 1959 and wrote a number of books. He died in 1966.

King-Hall has received relatively little credit for his pioneering work on social defence. I imagine this is because he was a former military officer and an ardent anticommunist, and had rather simplistic notions of the goodness of Western capitalist societies. None of these features would be endearing to most academic or left-oriented proponents of social defence.

King-Hall has no analysis of the structural roots of war. He assumes that nonviolent resistance must be defence of the state against external aggression, that it would be implemented by government, and that governments would be convinced to do this by the power of knowledge and logic. But these and other limitations need not detract from the important insights to be gained from King-Hall's proposed programme. Unlike most other anticommunists, King-Hall favours nonviolent methods; unlike most proponents of social defence, he sees the importance of taking the struggle into the enemy camp.

King-Hall argues that the key weak point of a repressive regime lies with the attitudes of the subject population. If the minds of the people in the enemy country can be reached and changed, this is equivalent to success in a war without fighting. This idea that the power of rulers depends on popular acquiescence or support has become widespread in the nonviolent action movement, especially since the publication in 1973 of Gene Sharp's book The Politics of Nonviolent Action. This idea also has an earlier history, dating at least from Étienne de la Boétie's Discourse on Involuntary Servitude in 1648.

King-Hall advocates use of 'democratic propaganda,' aimed at the people in state socialist countries, to oppose state socialist governments. I will comment here on five features of King-Hall's approach, adding some notes on their application to grassroots strategies.


King-Hall insists that "TRUTH must be the dominating feature of democratic propaganda." In particular, he criticises the political warfare efforts by the Allies during World War Two which, being made subservient to immediate military ends, were ineffective or counterproductive.

What King-Hall does not say is that most Western government and private anticommunist propaganda, such as the broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, present only one version of the truth: an uncritical pro-capitalism. This propaganda is not likely to do much to stimulate a move from state socialism to self-managing socialism. What is needed is 'democratic propaganda' providing information, visions, history and analysis about the advantages and disadvantages of all types of societies, and about methods and experiences of nonviolent social struggle.


King-Hall bemoans the small size of Western government propaganda efforts. To have any chance of winning the battle for the minds of people, he argues, the scale of the political warfare effort must be comparable with the military effort.

King-Hall does not recognise the powerful propaganda content of Western lifestyles, including consumer goods, higher wages and popular music. This cultural influence is, like the Voice of America, largely pro-capitalist. This influence is enormous in impact. By comparison, propaganda for self-managing socialism is insignificant.

Methods of communication

King-Hall advocates use of radio, television, letters, leaflets, and talking with individuals to communicate democratic propaganda to people under state socialism. He assumes Western government support for such an effort, and so for him none of these methods poses a great difficulty. For non-government efforts to communicate information about self-managing socialism, many of the same methods could be used, though access to radio and television would be difficult. But there is nothing to stop efforts to share information while visiting state socialist countries or to send letters to people in these countries.

Propaganda stunts

King-Hall suggests as an example that the British Prime Minister in 1956 could have invited Khrushchev to appear on television with him, and then propose to Khrushchev that 100,000 Soviet citizens come to live in British homes for a fortnight at British government expense. King-Hall says Khrushchev would have rejected the proposal, and this refusal could have been given maximum publicity especially in the Soviet Union: "why has your government refused to let you visit us and let us learn from each other?".

Western groups supporting self-managing socialism could not realistically make such grandiose proposals, but there is a lot of scope for imaginative initiatives which would increase contact between individuals if accepted or be embarrassing to state socialist elites if rejected. Use could also be made of Western governments' reluctance to foster genuine grassroots interaction such as would have resulted from King-Hall's proposal.

Social defence

Aside from the role of social defence in actually resisting occupying Soviet military forces, King-Hall recognises the vital influence of nonviolent resistance on the morale of invading forces and on popular opinion in the Soviet Union. He sees occupation as a potential opportunity to spread the idea of the British way of life and so undermine the Soviet people's loyalty to their rulers.

Even more revealing than King-Hall's arguments are his experiences in trying to undermine the German people's support for the Nazi regime. For several years before the outbreak of World War Two, King-Hall tried to convince British state elites to undertake propaganda actions against Hitler's regime. He got nowhere. So in mid 1939 he used private funds to produce a series of newsletters addressed to the German people, and arranged for their distribution by posting them to individuals and making delivery by hand. The content of the letters was pretty innocuous: he wrote as a concerned individual, pointing out what the German government was doing from the point of view of the British people. According to King-Hall, this modest effort led to numerous useful responses, and greatly upset Hitler and Goebbels.

The key to the effectiveness of such actions lies in recognising as King-Hall does that repressive regimes are not monolithic. Their weakest point lies with their own people. Military opposition may only serve to unite the people behind their oppressors. King-Hall's alternative in practice is grassroots subversion: people-to-people communication and interaction.

A libertarian approach

John Zube is a libertarian favouring unrestricted individual rights such as free trade, free migration and non-territorial autonomy for all voluntary groups. He sees these and other liberties and the dissolution of states as guarantees against mass warfare. Zube also has many ideas on opposing and overthrowing state socialist regimes. It is some of these ideas which I examine here.

Zube was born in Germany and came to Australia in the 1950s. For many years he has done an enormous amount of work in publishing microfiches of libertarian writings, including books of his own. His work is little known outside of libertarian circles, partly because the anti-state libertarian position is so completely counter to the current political power structures and also to the thinking of most social activists. In addition, Zube holds his views quite uncompromisingly and does not tailor them for a larger audience.

Being a consistent libertarian, Zube strongly opposes state socialist rule as well as other forms of state rule and tyranny. To oppose state socialist regimes, he favours encouraging internal opposition. He suggests, for example:

The basic idea in these suggestions is to encourage the withdrawal of power from state socialist regimes by the uprising of the people in them or by the secession of people from them, especially uprising or secession by members of the military forces. Zube wishes to encourage the various potentially antistate forces in state socialist countries, for example nationalist and religious opposition movements in the Soviet Union, but only when these movements go beyond conventional territorial goals to seek full autonomy on a voluntary basis. He sees that the destruction of Soviet nuclear weapons can best be done by the Soviet people, especially by its military forces. (Likewise, Western nuclear weapons would best be destroyed by disobedient Western military forces acting unilaterally.)

To encourage such uprisings in state socialist countries, Zube argues that changes are necessary in the West. Guarantees against punishment or reprisals, or even provision of large incentives, would have to be made to Soviet military personnel to encourage them to desert or remain neutral towards popular anti-Soviet uprisings, or to resist, capture or execute tyrants. Asylum for refugees and deserters from state socialist rule would need to be provided, with guarantees of accommodation, jobs and autonomy (rather than incorporation into a capitalist state system).

More generally, Zube sees it necessary and morally imperative for the West to become more libertarian, for example by eliminating constraints on trade and eliminating territorial organisation. In this way the West would provide better alternatives to state socialist domination and also to be in a better position to offer guarantees to both internal opponents and adherents of state socialist regimes. He suggests that if a Western programme supporting popular revolution were developed and made well known in both state socialist and capitalist countries, then Western governments could begin unilateral nuclear disarmament to support disobedience and uprisings in state socialist countries. Indeed if such a programme were sufficiently prepared in the West, then even outward surrender might become an option: an occupation of the West by Soviet conscripts could be dangerous to the Soviet rulers.

Zube's programme relies mainly on nonviolent action, though he does not rule out forceful internal resistance to state socialist regimes, such as by Soviet military forces which could forcibly disarm Soviet nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he supports voluntary militias for the protection and realisation of human rights in West and East as the libertarian alternative to weapons of mass destruction which are associated with centralised power.

One problem I see with many of Zube's suggestions is that they seem to require policy changes by present Western governments, for example guarantees of asylum for refugees and deserters. Alternatively, people would need to withdraw power from Western states and society be transformed into a libertarian system in order to implement Zube's programme. As a libertarian, Zube of course does not expect governments to take the initiative, but rather hopes that the policies he suggests might be promoted by direct action groups of soldiers, workers and peasants. But what will mobilise them to do so? Zube relies on the power of libertarian ideas in the marketplace of ideas. Unfortunately ideas alone, however good, are insufficient to generate the required action.

Since a libertarian-inspired transformation does not seem in the offing, the practical implications of Zube's approach are not fully apparent. Nevertheless I draw from Zube's programme several important points.

(l) From the viewpoint of moving towards a self-managing society, the most vulnerable aspect of state socialist regimes is the loyalty of the people in them. Efforts to promote self-management should aim at stimulating the capacity and motivation of people under state socialist rule to undertake resistance themselves. The standard right-wing approach, namely military and other threats at the state level, is likely to entrench rather than weaken socialist state power.

(2) The self-managing alternative to state socialism needs to be recognised as a full-blooded revolutionary alternative, one which will see the collapse of centralised rule, secret police and military forces resulting from the withdrawal of support. The statist left view on state socialism, by contrast, usually sees the need only for reforms to ease repression or free up bureaucratic rigidity. But if state socialist regimes are built on bureaucratic, state and military power, reforms in these structures will not remove the driving forces behind war, repression and exploitation. It is an open question whether revolutionary change in state socialist regimes will come by military uprising or nonviolent noncooperation, whether the process will be quick or drawn out, and how traumatic it will be.

(3) Transformation of state socialist societies to self-managing alternatives must be accompanied or even preceded by parallel changes in capitalist societies. At the moment, military forces and political structures in West and East support each other. Moves towards self-management in capitalist countries would undercut the justification for state socialist repression and would provide inspiration for people under state socialism. But for any such changes to have an effect on developments in state socialist regimes, communication links must be established, and attention given by Western activists towards how to help promote the grassroots transition to self-management within state socialist countries.

More on strategy

To my commentary on the approaches of King-Hall and of Zube, there are only a few points I would add. To aid the transformation to self-management in state socialist countries, it is futile to look to Western governments for much support. Western government approaches are almost always self-serving. After the invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, and after the military takeover in Poland, there was much posturing by Western elites but little action. Furthermore, what action there is by Western elites is usually state action against socialist states, such as economic or Olympic boycotts. The orientation is state confrontation and competition, thoroughly in the state mould, which leaves unchallenged the premises of the state system. Entirely lacking is any support for grassroots socialist opposition.

This means that Western support for initiatives towards self-management under state socialism must come primarily from nongovernment groups. There are two basic approaches for these groups: to act at home in promoting social defence, local self-reliance and other changes to undermine the roots of war; and to provide direct support for democratic opposition groups in state socialist countries, by providing information, ideas, solidarity and by various initiatives.

While it is important to support democratic opposition groups in state socialist countries, it is also important to critically evaluate their initiatives. For example, glasnost in the Soviet Union deserves not only support and encouragement, but also disagreement, criticism, and ideas for new directions. Western leftists for decades have uncritically glorified social initiatives in foreign lands, whether they be Soviet communism, Cuban socialism or the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Social initiatives deserve more than this: they need to be engaged in dialogue, not worship.

The hardest problem for Western activists in supporting democratic initiatives within state socialist countries is doing something at a local level which actually has an impact on people in these countries. Some on the right will suggest public criticisms of state socialist regimes in Western media or demonstrations at Soviet embassies. These are all very well in themselves, but do relatively little to foster the initiative of people under state socialist rule. What can Western local action groups actually do that goes beyond this? Here are a few possibilities.

All these suggestions may sound quite inadequate to contribute much towards a move from state socialism to self-managing socialism. Exchange ideas, write letters--is that all that can be done? Certainly there is a need for developing other ways to encourage and support internal opposition to repressive regimes. But even the simple avenues of communication remain little used. One likely consequence of increased contact with state socialist opposition groups is learning what they think should be done. After all, they are in a good position to know their own political environment.

What information could be communicated through personal contacts, letters and broadcasts? It might be methods for social defence, strategies for self-reliance or news of activities of Western antiwar groups. State socialist regimes are based on a rigid control over information. They are like bureaucracies generally: free discussion is subversive. Therefore actions which puncture the elite monopoly on knowledge and communication can be potent. What may be innocuous in the West can be a powerful act of dissent or subversion in the East. Therefore even apparently minor actions by Western antiwar groups, aimed at state socialist regimes, are well worth considering.

Most important in developing actions to challenge war-linked structures in state socialist as well as capitalist countries is moving beyond uncritical anticommunism and uncritical anticapitalism. It is all very well to say, "we are opposed to militarism in all societies," and it is hard enough for many old-line peace groups to say this. But actions often speak louder than words. The challenging of bureaucracies, militaries, states and other roots of war needs to proceed in all types and parts of societies, and state socialism must be included. The development of practical activities to work with people in state socialist countries in confronting the war system is an urgent task in this project.