A quick sketch of a new approach to socialism/communism plus an outline of history might help to reorient thinking on the left. Although Marx’s theories of history don’t work he had a lot of other insights that might be of value. But the issue of history (and evolution) is too vast and complex for a simple theory. To claim that civilization operates on economic categories and passed through a fixed series of economic epochs makes very little sense. Capitalism was born long before feudalism and was gestating in ancient Greece (which has a lot of records: the same must have been happening in a lot of places) and probably in Neolithic/Sumerian times. Capitalism is thus a process stretching across history inside or outside of the various civilizations as they emerged.
Instead of the idea of economic epochs we might look at empirical world history, we see a natural periodization or series of epochs given empirically:
the Neolithic from 10/8000 BCE to the take-off of Sumer and Egypt ca. 3000 BCE (with long build-ups in the Neolithic): these two surge ahead and define a whole era of successor civilizations across Eurasia, Africa, and probably the New World (a controversial issue). A whole series of civilizations arise in their wake.
Then in the first millennium starting from ca. 900 to 600 BCE the Eurasian world undergoes a stunning set of take-offs across Eurasia in Greece, the Near East plus the Persian realm of Zoroastrianism (in a more complex nexus), India, and China. These entities define a whole series of civilizations across Eurasia and define a whole era of multiple worlds in parallel, and diffusion across the world. Note: the world system blends two proto-religions at the start. The original monotheism was supposed to be we suspect a combined Semitic/Indoeuropean blend, but that didn’t quite happen/
Then there is in the accident of a long decline and finally, the medieval period, which indeed had aspects of feudalism. But the latter was never a defining system but an ad hoc mainly European system. This medieval period confuses us because it the slow decline from the take-off of the earlier period, e.g. Greece…This remarkable phenomenon can be partially understood as the dissipation of the energy of the earlier creative period.
Then around 1500 up to 1800 we see a sudden and explosive take-off into the period we call ‘modernity’, a useful term without Eurocentric implications, which spread globally in record time to the point that a first world civilization emerged (with a process accelerator in capitalism). The mystery of the European take off (Europe was backward for millennia until it entered the (Greco-)Roman diffusion field. In the eonic model this factor is analyzed with a discussion of a ‘frontier effect’, but we can simply take the rise of the modern as a kind of transition to a new era followed by its extension to a global field. Note that Japan entered this modern field and developed faster than most of Europe, a sign that we are right in seeing modernity as a global phenomenon jumpstarted from a core set of zones in Western Europe, and England. Such statements are empirical, more or less and by pass the confusion of economic analysis. Capitalism is as ancient as civilization itself, but it does somehow amplify around the period of the Industrial Revolution. Note that socialism and democracy appear in parallel and then become chaotic oppositions where it makes better sense to see that socialist can help to create a more robust democracy.
Note that this sketch does better justice to the facts of world history, without a theory, and analyzes all the immense range of factors required for analysis: culture basics, politics, art, literature, philosophy, religion, and economic systems. To reduce that complexity to economics was a considerable blunder. To make matter worse everything else was dismissed as ‘idealist’.
Many have noted, shaking their heads, that Marxist is one of the worst ways of analyzing history.
Note that our three eras (epoch if you like) are probably preceded by others in the Neolithic, and that the last, the modern, is still underway, or so we suspect.
This situation requires a new kind of model. We can’t apply causal theories to a system still incomplete that we ourselves are realizing in our present. The so-called eonic model deals with this situation. Everyone from Karl Popper to Isaiah Berlin criticized Marx’s theories for applying causal predictions to a future of free agents.
Here we can insert a quick sketch of a socialist system (we don’t distinguish socialism from communism at such as did Marx: one can alternately call socialism a stage leading to communism but that complicates the simplicity of the whole issue.
Our idea is that to refer to ‘socialism’ alone invites delusive interpretation of an undefined term. If we get more specific we can clarify the historical entity envisioned:
‘democratic market neo-communism’ suddenly puts into a four or five-term system: we must construct ‘democracy’, and economy of socialist markets, AND planning, a ‘communism’ based on expropriation of capital, but buffered in a Commons instead of ‘state capitalism’ or state ownership. This system must thus be a democracy with economic, political and social rights and liberties, a constrained set of markets based on ‘licensed’ resources from a Commons, along with a large-scale structure of political, ecological, and economic factors bound in a set of checks and balances. This system instead of using imaginary categories which can prove deceptive starts with a liberal system and remorphs it into (socialist) neo-communist system. Note the point; socialism has to start with a democratic/liberal system and remorph that.
This system (which needs more detail, no doubt) needs no theory of history, beyond noting the issue of modernity, can be described in one paragraph (but would need a lot of new legal and constitutional specifics), and has no mystical unknowns but no doubt rough points of realization. But you could construct such a system not from theory but as a recipe of a liberal (democratic) system remorphed in simple stages.
This approach cuts through the incomprehensible jargon of the Marxists and we know that it can (probably) work because we know its relatives work. Note that however hard in practice you can take a liberal system and make one change: expropriate capital to a Commons. The other changes follow naturally.
Note that this approach has a built-in failsafe: a system of Bolshevism flunks the definition and is in exile from the category of ‘communism’ which is an abuse of terminology by Bolsheviks. It is eliminated at the start.
We must have at least a four-term system: democracy, markets, planning, a Commons (NOT state ownership, as such), plus a whole series of other things,political/ economic rights, ecological agendas, etc, but a basic core that will automatically disqualify aberrations of the Bolshevik madness. Bolshevism wasn’t a ‘communism’ at all in our sense.
Update: Note that we can construct an ecological socialism/communism without marxism, without dialectic or dialectical materialism, without Marxist historicism, without Hegel/Marx and the oppressive jargon of German philosophy, The system is not a pretense of science, but a constructive recipe open to anyone at the level of basic literacy and recognizable as a socialist variant of democracy. We don’t need Darwinism which can be simplified to an empirical history of life, and not a theory, as yet. This system doesn’t indulge a battle between idealism and materialism, who cares, and follows the trend of religion from the Reformation to the rise of secular humanism: the system would probably need to incorporate the still developing history of religion in modern times. The system might stand beyond theism and atheism and still give a boost to secular humanism. The trend of modernity is beyond the ancient monotheism, but this need be no intolerant divide, another who cares in our system