Ideas become a material force when they grasp the minds of masses.
This is true not only of ideas that can support revolutionary change. It is also true of those ideas that prevent change. An obvious example is the concept of TINA — the idea that "there is no alternative", no alternative to neoliberalism, no alternative to capitalism.
Certainly we know that there have been significant changes in the terrain upon which the working class must struggle — changes that are a challenge because of a new international division of labour and because of the role of states in delivering a passive, docile working class to international capital.
It is not only changing material circumstances that affects the working class, however. It is also the loss of confidence of the working class that makes these material changes a deadly blow. Even the Korean working class, which has demonstrated so clearly in the past its militancy in the struggle against capital, has been affected.
But it does not have to be that way — because things are changing.
Look at Latin America, where the effects of global restructuring and neoliberalism took a very heavy toll. People said ultimately — enough! And they have said this not only to neoliberalism but, increasingly, they have moved further and say no to capitalism.
For many, it came as a great shock when Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, said at the World Social Forum in January of 2005 in Brazil that "we have to reinvent socialism".
Capitalism, he stressed, has to be transcended if we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world. "We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, that puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything."
That statement, however, did not drop from the sky. It was the product of a spontaneous rejection of neoliberalism by masses in 1989, the election of Chavez with a promise to change things in 1998 and the response to the combination of the domestic oligarchy and imperialism in their attempt to overthrow Chavez in 2002 and 2003.
The embrace of this new socialism, in short, was the product of struggle.
The struggle continues. And we can see that out of struggle comes creativity. In particular, the struggle in Venezuela has stressed the importance of a revolutionary democracy — a process in which people transform themselves as they directly transform circumstances.
Through the development of communal councils representing 200 to 400 families in urban areas and as few as 20 in the rural areas, people have begun to identify their needs and their capacities and to transform the very character of the state into one which does not stand over and above civil society but rather becomes the agency for working people themselves.
"All power to the communal councils" has been the call of Chavez. "The communal councils must become the cell of the new socialist state."
Ideas can become a material force when they grasp the minds of masses.
In Latin America, the idea of a socialism for the 21st Century is beginning to move the masses, with its emphasis upon Karl Marx's concept of revolutionary practice — the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change.
At its core is the concept of revolutionary democracy. In contrast to the hierarchical capitalist state and to the despotism of the capitalist workplace, the concept is one of democracy in practice, democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism.
Democracy in this sense — protagonistic democracy in the workplace, neighbourhoods, communities, communes — is the democracy of people who are transforming themselves into revolutionary subjects.
Here is an alternative to capitalism — the concept of socialism for the 21st Century with its emphasis upon struggle from below, upon solidarity and upon building the capacities of working people through their own activities. It is an idea that a working class with a tradition of struggle against capital should have no difficulty in grasping.
Socialism is the future — build it now.
[This the preface to the forthcoming Korean edition of Michael Lebowitz's Build It Now: Socialism for the 21st century, which as available through Monthly Review, . Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He is also a member of the Miranda International Centre (CIM), a left-wing Venezuelan institute. Green Left Weekly journalist based in Caracas, Federico Fuentes, who also works for the CIM, will be a special guest at the national Resistance conference in Sydney, June 27-29, to discuss the struggle for socialism in revolutionary Venezuela. Visit http://resistance.org.au.]