Alexander Gray’s classification of socialisms

This is a further commentary on Alexander Gray’s The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin, 1946.

At the outset of the book, Gray expresses skepticism about a neat definition of “socialism.” He is, of course, correct in his skepticism. Most words suffer from ambiguity and vagueness; much more so abstract words which end in “-ism.”

He is probably right to begin with a survey of individuals who were called socialists, and reserve any attempt at classification and definition to the end of the book — as he does.

Although explicitly he classifies socialists into four categories, he actually uses five. The fifth category is whether the socialist was a Revolutionary Socialist or an Evolutionary (or Reformist, or Revisionary) Socialist. In this broad sense, socialism is simply a dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. That is a necessary condition; it is not sufficient. It has to do with the nature of this dissatisfaction.

Well what can you do with the State? Incidentally, asking this question without saying anything about the nature of a particular State, is totally unproductive. When people talk about a “State” they are really talking about a particularly constituted government. It is entirely misleading to equate the State with government. The genus here is “government” and “State” is a species. Government exists when rules exist. And without rules, we have a Hobbesian brute state of nature.

As to the dissatisfaction with the status quo, from a historical perspective society is divided between masters and slaves, lords and serfs, and presently employers and employees. This is the perspective of Karl Marx, and constitutes what Marx called a “class struggle.” Well, certainly such a classifications can be made. But, as Gray asks, do these classes actually struggle? Well, there were various rebellions — but were they between classes? They were local and limited. And currently, when there are strikes, it is for improving wages of a narrow sector of this working class; and not for the improvement of workers in general, and certainly not to get rid of wages as such.

Gray is right to point out that there is no “solidarity” among workers in even one factory, or one country; no less than a solidarity between workers of different countries. And the solidarity which does exist is usually not greater than the strike of one trade union. We cannot ignore the fact that many workers are, indeed, satisfied with their wages, and do not want any radical changes.

And those that are unemployed or underemployed seem to place their hope in an opportunity to vote. This was the case with women and now this is the case with blacks. They think they can elect a candidate who will represent their interests, but the more likely scenario is that they will elect a candidate who will seek his own interests. Even if a true representative is elected, he or she will be in a minority.

But I stray from Gray.

In the concluding chapter 18 of his book, Gray classifies socialists into four types. I have tried to place his classification into a chart below. In order for the category of Anarchism to fit as I have placed it, people must be granted a free access to subsistence land. Although Gray discusses the Agrarians in chapter 11, who advocated a free access to subsistence land, he seems to forget them when discussing anarchism in general. Well, I put them on the chart where they seem to belong.

Alexander Gray’s classification of socialisms

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