Reflections on Twenty-First Century Socialism

In order to explore the perspectives for socialism in the 21st century, it is essential to recover some of the basic postulates, which inform the socialist project. In addition, it is important to recover some of the basic advances achieved by 20th century socialist regimes as well as to critically reflect on their distorted structures and failed policies.

In the most basic sense it is important to remember that ‘socialism’ is a means to a better material life than under capitalism: Higher living standards, greater political freedom, social equality of conditions, and internal and external security. ‘Respect’, ‘dignity’ and ‘solidarity’ can only be understood as accompaniments of these basic material goals, not as substitutes. ‘Respect” and ‘dignity’ cannot be pursued in the face of long-term, large-scale deprivation, sacrifice and delayed fulfillment of material improvement. Governments claiming to be ‘socialist’ which idealize ‘sacrifice’ of material living standards in the name of abstract principles of justice, are more akin to ‘spiritual socialism’ of a religious order rather than a modern dynamic socialist government.

Social transformations and the replacement of capitalist owners by the socialist state can only be justified if the new order can improve the efficiency, working conditions and responsiveness to consumers of the socialist enterprise. For example, in some socialist regimes, under the guise of a ‘revolutionary offensive’, the state intervened and eliminated thousands of small and medium size retail urban enterprises in the name of ‘eliminating capitalists’. The result was a disaster: The stores remained closed; the state was incapable of organizing the multitude of small businesses and the great majority of workers were deprived of vital services.

Twentieth century socialist states built effective and successful medical, educational and security systems to serve the majority of the workers. The majority of socialist states eliminated foreign control and exploitation of natural resources and in some cases developed diversified industrial economies. On the whole, living standards rose, crime declined, employment, pensions and welfare were secured. However, 20th century socialism was divided by deep contradictions leading to profound systemic crises. Bureaucratic centralism denied freedom at the workplace and restricted public debate and popular governance. Public authority’s over-emphasis on ‘security’ blocked innovation, entrepreneurship, scientific and popular initiatives leading to technological stagnation and mass passivity. Elite material privileges based on political office led to profound inequalities, which undermined popular belief in socialist principles and led to the spread of capitalist values.

Capitalism thrives on social inequalities; socialism deepens through greater equality. Both capitalism and socialism depend on efficient, productive and innovative workers: The former in order to maximize profits, the latter to sustain an expanding welfare state.

20th Century Lessons for 21st Century Socialists

Twenty-first century socialist can learn from the achievements and failures of 20th century socialism.

First: Policies must be directed toward improving the living as well as working conditions of the people. That means massive investment in quality housing, household appliances, public transport, environmental concerns and infrastructure. Overseas solidarity and missions should not take priority over large-scale, long-term investments in expanding and deepening material improvements for the principal internal class base of the socialist regime. Solidarity begins at home.

Second: Development policies should focus on diversifying the economy with a special focus on industrializing the raw material, making major investment in industries producing quality goods of mass consumption (clothing, shoes, and so on) and in agriculture, especially becoming self-sufficient in basic essential foods. Under no conditions should socialist economies rely on single products for income (sugar, tourism, petroleum, nickel), which are subject to great volatility.

A socialist government should finance education, income and infrastructure policies, which are compatible with its high economic social and cultural priorities; this means educating agronomists and skill agricultural workers, skilled construction workers (plumbers, electricians, painters) and civil engineers, transport workers and urban and rural planners of public housing to decentralize mega-cities and substitute public for private transport. They should set up popularly elected environment and consumer councils to oversee the quality of air, water and noise levels and the availability, prices and quality of food.

Twentieth century socialist governments frequently alienated their workers by diverting large of amount of aid to overseas regimes (many of whom were not even progressive!). As a result, local needs were neglected in the name of ‘international solidarity’. The first priority of 21st century socialism is solidarity at home. Twentieth century socialists emphasized ‘welfare’ from above — government as ‘giver’ and the masses as ‘receivers’ — discouraging local action and encouraging passivity. Twenty-first century socialism must encourage autonomous class action to counter privileged ‘socialist’ bourgeois ministers and functionaries who use their office to accumulate and protect private wealth through public power. Autonomous popular organizations can expose the hypocrisy of rich ministers who attack well-paid industrial workers as ‘privileged’ while riding in chauffeured Mercedes and enjoying luxurious apartments, second and third ‘vacation homes’ and who send there children to expensive and exclusive private schools at home and abroad.

Above all socialism is about social equality: Equality in income, schools and hospitals; equality between classes and within classes. Without social equality, all talk of ‘diversity’, ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ is meaningless. Capitalists also support ‘diversity’, as long as it does not affect their profits and wealth. Socialists support income and property equality which effectively re-distributes wealth and property to all workers, white and black, Indian farmer and urban worker, men and women, and young and old. There is no ‘dignity’ in being poor and exploited; dignity comes with struggle and the achievement of socialist goals of social equality and rising living standards.

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on August 18th, 2008 at 8:25am #

    a beautiful piece by petras. but i am a very strong socialist. to an antisocialist petras’ piece may be ugliness.
    as petras says, socialist land wld not depend on just one or few products but wld produce a mass of diverse/needful products.
    healthy planet is our goal. before helping others, we first establish strong socialism at home.
    people wld love socialism. higher education wld be available for all who want it.
    in US and in many other asocial lands, basic schooling is mandatory for obvious antisocial agenda, while higher education is available mostly to the children of the rich/super rich.
    sharp division of classes wld also abate. and people wld eventually appreciate a land tiller as much as a poet, engineer, singer, doctor.
    a label like “housewife” now imbued with dysphemism, wld become a noble calling.
    women get mad at me when i use label ” housewife” to describe what is to me, a noble labors. i put a housewife in special category because she is more miseducated and looked dwn on by the ruling class than men.
    also we may cease with grading children; thus, no child wld be left behind or out looking in.
    thank u

  2. Donald Hawkins said on August 18th, 2008 at 8:25am #

    Eight Strikes and You’re Out
    Wednesday 13 August 2008

    by: Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

    Senator McCain failed to show up to vote on renewable energy legislation eight times this year, but shows photos of wind farms in his political ads. (Photo: wordpress.com)
    John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.
    Sorry, but I can’t let that one go by. McCain knows why.
    It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill – S. 3335 – that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.
    Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits – which expire in December – to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.
    Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year – which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.
    “McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines – the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.
    Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either – which is equally inexcusable in my book – but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.
    The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don’t want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don’t believe in renewable energy.
    What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 – when the credits expire – and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain’s home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.
    But because of the Senate’s refusal to extend the solar tax credits, “we cannot get our bank financing,” said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. “Without the credits, the numbers don’t work.” Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.
    Roger Efird is president of Suntech America – a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They’ve been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: “Don’t set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don’t have stability in the incentive programs.”
    One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, “Sure, we’ll need wind and solar energy, but it’s just not cost effective yet.” They’ve been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil – which is why some people are trying to block them.
    As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have – perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”
    This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive – and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency – we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.
    That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid – so bloody stupid – that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power – when you didn’t.

    This is Capitalism at work. It is also still on path to the darkside and stuck on stupid.

  3. Michael Kenny said on August 18th, 2008 at 9:53am #

    This is perhaps a good place to draw Americans’ attention to the distinctions, fundamental in Europe, between socialism and communism, and between marxism and socialism, distinctions which Americans frequently fail to make and which leads them to totally misunderstand where modern Europe is coming from and where it is going. And not going! Europeans are naturally and instinctively socialist, but have utter contempt for communism and regard marxism as a quaint, and now irrelevant, ideology.

    Naturally and instinctively socialist because the European state is seen as the protector of the people. That is exactly the opposite of the American idea, in which the state is seen as threat to people’s freedom and needs to be held at bay. Never forget that your ancestors were Europeans who rejected, and were rejected by, the European protector state. Americans say “homeland”, Europeans say “mother country, fatherland”.

    Contempt for communism because in Europe, communism died in Prague in 1968. Or more accurately, committed suicide. Once Dubček was crushed, the youth of that day, my generation, realised that communism was just another form of fascism and from then on the only question was how to get rid of the communists. That view prevailed on both sides of the iron curtain, which was why it was so easy, finally, to overthrow the communists: the people who were running the communist dictatorships at the end didn’t themselves believe in communism! Essentially, nobody born in Europe after 1940 believes in communism! Hence all the party fat cats wanted was to keep their wealth and privileges, or better yet, acquire even more of the same as oligarchs, mafia bosses or whatever you want to call them. They didn’t ditch communism, because they were never communists in the first place, only opportunists. And the communists were not swept from power because, by the end of the 1980s, there were no communists left to sweep! Thus, there are no communists waiting in the wings in Europe and dreaming of a mystical resurrection of communism and the pipedreaming of America’s grumpy old comrades in that regard is absurd in the extreme.

    Thus, the mistake Professor Petras and other American commentators should not make is the classic American hubris of universalising the American experience. That’s what led the neocons to imagine that the soldiers would be welcomed in Baghdad by cheering crowds! If Baghdad had been inhabited by Americans, they would have been!

  4. bozhidar balkas said on August 18th, 2008 at 12:05pm #

    kenny,
    communism as an ideology in many aspects is not fascism. fascist favor work place ownership and dictatorship.
    communists as a rule rule dictatorially but insist on social possession of
    major works.
    fascism offers higher education only for rich people. communism gives everybody a chance to attend universities.
    fascism allows corporately- owned media while communism allows the state to contro/own it.
    fascism also uses private soldiers. no communist or socialist land allows that as far as i know.
    since fascist lands are much stronger econo-diplomatic-militarily than communist lands, communist lands, in order to survive and prosper had to deal ruthlessly with any dissent.
    in US dissent is tolerated because it does not threaten in any way whatsoever uncle sam’s iron grip on america.
    as soon as diseent wld pose a serious threat to uncle, he too will resort to bestiality.
    hey, we are one specie. thank u

  5. Donald Hawkins said on August 18th, 2008 at 1:03pm #

    by: Matthew Blake, The Washington Independent

    Whistleblower helps build case against EPA chief.
    Four Democratic senators demanded late last month that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency must go. Their call for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson’s resignation – after eight months of looking into his actions as agency chief – is largely due to Jason K. Burnett, Johnson’s former deputy in developing global warming policy.
    Since resigning in May as the No. 3 official at EPA, Burnett has helped congressional investigators build a compelling case that the White House strong-armed Johnson into denying California a waiver to police greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions and also stopped the EPA from setting a national greenhouse gas standard.

    The white house strong-armed Johnson . Just how is that done in the twenty first century.

  6. Michelle said on August 18th, 2008 at 4:19pm #

    To continue this discussion read this short article too:
    http://democracyandsocialism.com/Articles/ALittleTalkAboutSocialism.html

  7. heike said on August 18th, 2008 at 5:00pm #

    MK: I also found the description of “socialism” to be unsatisfactory. Brezhnev et al. 40 years ago this Thursday, invaded Czechoslovakia to preserve the gains of “real socialism.” Social equality? Did Comrade Petras ever read Milovan Djilas? Higher living standards than under capitalism? I remember a classic picture in 1985 in the Helsingin Sanomat, showing a group of poor Russian tourists ogling a car in a Helsinki showroom. Well today, there is no more “socialism” in the East, and Russian tourists are driving many of those fancy cars on their neighbor’s highways and buying up their hotels and restaurants.
    Eliminate foreign control of their natural resources? Did he ever hear about the joint stock companies in EE?

    Wannabe presidents for life like the caudillo of Venezuela also proclaim themselves to be “socialists.” Maybe communism has been so discredited that its practitioners (maybe excepting Russia and the FSU) proclaim themselves to be “socialists.” Back in the 50s people like Eisenhower criticized countries like Sweden as “socialist.” Maybe from a Republican perspective they were, but that doesn’t say much. On certain issues, there isn’t a proverbial “dime’s worth of difference” between the extreme left and the extreme right.

  8. Hue Longer said on August 18th, 2008 at 5:35pm #

    it’s hard to be communist when capitalism doesn’t want one to be…the US has had a hand in why so many “Utopian dreams” never came true. Have we all heard something similar to, “Communism looks good on paper, but doesn’t work in real life because men are corruptible”? This is true in a sense, but leaves out who’s doing the corrupting–not to mention the black mailing, extortion, sabotaging, arming and espionage. Pointing this stuff out usually gets the elephant dismissed with, “OK fine, the US may have had a hand in destroying that country’s aspirations, but they were going to collapse anyways”. Yeah, DO look at Chavez and those insinuating he’s a dictator…They think Washington financed opposition, coups and propaganda are so secondary to seeking to rid term limits.

  9. Socialist-Marxist said on August 18th, 2008 at 7:25pm #

    Long live socialism !! USA has 2 options: Socialism or death of the American republic !!

  10. Socialist-Marxist said on August 18th, 2008 at 7:44pm #

    heike: Chavez is not a caudillo like Pinochet, Trujillo, or Bush who become caudillos dictators against people’s will, without popular support. A popular supported president *is not a dictator*. A dictator is in power against people’s will, a popular leader is in power supported by people’s votes

  11. evie said on August 18th, 2008 at 9:15pm #

    James says: “Socialists support income and property equality which effectively re-distributes wealth and property to all workers.”

    Does that mean the property myself and spouse own, after working, sacrificing, and building up our “properties”, would it no longer be ours, or our children – but be redistributed so that others can live more equal? Would we have to pay our 8 hour a day employees the same as we pay ourselves or those employees who go the extra mile?

    I’m never sure exactly how socialists plan to “re-distribute wealth”, and who’s wealth they will re-distribute. Are there any exemptions? For example say Bill Gates, Rockefellers, Oprah, and the like – will their wealth be confiscated and redistributed?

    Or will the non-believers be purged and/or reeducated or …?

  12. Sheldon said on August 18th, 2008 at 11:26pm #

    bozhidar balkas said:
    “women get mad at me when i use label ” housewife” to describe what is to me, a noble labors. ”

    Sorry Bozhidar, that just isn’t goint to fly! Why presume that it is the woman who should stay home and take care of the kids and cook and clean? Yes, those can be noble things to do, and that is why a man shouldn’t hesitate to do it also. So don’t hide your sexism behind “oh, its so noble to be a housewife”.

    When my son was from 6 months to about 2 years, I worked part time in the very early morning, and took care of my son, and did housework. Well, mostly I just enjoyed taking care of and playing with my son. Those were very good days!

    And I always cook because I am better at it than my spouse!

  13. john andrews said on August 19th, 2008 at 4:47am #

    The left has missed a very important point for a very long time. There is nothing wrong with wealth PROVIDING it does not control political power. By missing this point the left has succeeded in alienating the rich as well as those ordinary folk who rightly recognise that endeavour should be rewarded more than sloth.

    It is perfectly possible to have a society controlled directly by the people with equal opportunities for all AND where the generation of wealth is not anathema. The trick is to ensure the wealthy never control the political decision making process.

    Free Democracy is a solution.

    http://www.freedemocracy.co.uk.

  14. Brian Koontz said on August 19th, 2008 at 5:49am #

    “Twenty-first century socialism must encourage autonomous class action to counter privileged ‘socialist’ bourgeois ministers and functionaries who use their office to accumulate and protect private wealth through public power.”

    But that’s the problem – these “bourgeois ministers and functionaries”, as in the Soviet Union, have no interest in promoting popular democracy. So who’s going to “encourage” it? And if there is a dominant popular force in place to encourage it, why not have anarchic socialism (socialism without a state)?

    If a classless economic system is brought in concurrently to a move to socialism, there will be no societal forces strong enough to compete with popular forces.

    Top-down socialism by definition cannot be classless, since the “top” always needs to be a higher class to perpetuate their power and influence.

  15. bozhidar balkas said on August 19th, 2008 at 6:14am #

    sheldon,
    you may or may have not read/studied my post in which i speak of the label “housewife”
    your first mistake is trying to ban some labels. to boot, you are angry because my usage of word is not identical with your usage of the same word.
    you let the word use you; it shld be the other way around.
    i too do housework. mns of men do it.
    i do not presume that only women stay at home. it had been society lead by corrupt/immoral miseducators who largely determined the structure of society and who not only came up with the terms “housewife”, “farmer”, “peasant”, “boor”, “moron” , “worker”, but imbued them with negativity.
    perhaps we should ban all these labels? nothing wld please me more.
    unfortunately the word “doctor” will (forever) evoke a different reaction than the word “ousehusband” or “ditch digger”.
    unless, sheldon and mns others, think of the labels as genuine/honest description of what actually goes on and not jump to wishful thinking.
    if you haven’t understood what i mean, then i can’t help you.
    thank u

  16. bozhidar balkas said on August 19th, 2008 at 6:35am #

    socialism is a set of ideas. let not ideas scare us. socialism or its ideas are not set by gods but by people.
    thus people being fallible all or some of the ideas contained in the word “socialism” may be fallible.
    but only when applied; i.e., not a priori.
    let’s not enshrine ideas. capitalists do that. they enshrine/beatify constitution and the individual’s right to abuse others.
    let’s say, we try giving people free higher education. and in decades we obtain more geniuses than ever before?
    suppose we obtain fewer geniuses? well, we simply say that it was a mistake and we try something else.
    some capitalists are aware of all this. and they know how to miseducate/terrorise kids. thank u

  17. Socialist-Marxist said on August 19th, 2008 at 7:11am #

    evie: stop relying on TV to learn about socialism. Turn off your TV. Go to http://www.marxists.org/ and to http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/ to learn what is socialism. Socialism is not sharing your personal things. You have no clue what socialism is

  18. Tennessee-Socialist said on August 19th, 2008 at 8:34am #

    USA HAS 2 OPTIONS !!

    SOCIALISM !!

    OR

    DEATH OF THE AMERICAN ECONOMY, REPUBLIC AND INDEPENDENCE !!

    I REST MY CASE !!

  19. cg said on August 19th, 2008 at 9:30am #

    Some heavy hitters here. Their thoughts on socialism…

    “Socialism is nothing but the capitalism of the lower classes.”
    Oswald Spengler

    “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
    Winston Churchill

    “The goal of socialism is communism.”
    Lenin

    “As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for socialism is its adherents.”
    George Orwell

    “Socialism is the same as communism, only better English
    George Bernard Shaw

    “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
    Alexis de Tocqueville

    “The state is a great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else.”
    Frederic Bastiat

    “Man exists for his own sake and not to add a laborer to the state.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    “If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intent of doing you good, you should run for your life.”
    Henry David Thoreau

    “The mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble, through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will lose our independence of thought and action which is the cause of much of our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or German who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die, and, in time, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to paradise.”
    Mark Twain

  20. evie said on August 19th, 2008 at 9:42am #

    socialist marx –
    Another problem with most wannabe socialists – they shout often but cannot give straight answers to direct questions. I’m sure you understand very little of the doctrine on the links you provided. BTW a tv is not one of my “personal things.” Do you own one?

    I agree with john – “ensure the wealthy never control the political decision making process.” But that would be great in any political/economic system.

  21. Deadbeat said on August 19th, 2008 at 10:03am #

    Typically folks like evie tends to distort the notion of “property”. They conflate personal belongs to what is the real meaning of “property”. This is the same adoption of ruling class language and thought and is used to make fallacious arguments.

    Property is the ownership of the means of production. Clearly too there should be limits to the notion of ownership. Why should someone like John McCain be allowed to own 10 homes in the midst of homelessness. This kind of gluttony should also require limits as well.

    You don’t have to worry evie, you’ll be able to keep your TV in a socialist society.

  22. evie said on August 19th, 2008 at 10:18am #

    deadbeat –
    I produce. My employees produce. I own the restaurant – should they share equal ownership and profits? What if they do not want the responsibility in what the law requires (taxes, licenses, health dept., etc. long hours)?

    I agree there should be a cap on how much a person can own/acquire b/c at some point it reaches obscenity and corruption.

    How many homes can I own? I have 3, but only live in 1, the other 2 are rental. And, my FIL owns an island which he has already put into the name of my spouse and myself (FIL is 80 now but still runs the business he built) – so that makes 4. The island is just a vacation spot. Is that too many homes to own b/c there is homelessness?

  23. bozhidar balkas said on August 19th, 2008 at 10:37am #

    one more try at “socialism”
    to me, it is important what socialism does and not what socialism is.
    the word “is” is dangerous word. in public usage it means that it can be looked at as an unchanging thing.
    but even capitaism is not about what it is but what it does. it also consists of a set of ideas.
    capitalism is also changing. for better? for most people?
    however that may be, i think that the basic relationship of payer/master-payee/serf remains the same.

  24. Sheldon said on August 19th, 2008 at 10:23pm #

    Evie,
    As a socialist, I would like to apologize for some of the rather unthinking responses to your concerns. Socialists need to argue better than that.
    Evie said;
    “I produce. My employees produce. I own the restaurant – should they share equal ownership and profits? What if they do not want the responsibility in what the law requires (taxes, licenses, health dept., etc. long hours)? ”
    Evie,
    I would just like to redirect your attention back to the article by Petras where he acknowledges and criticizes the actions and mistakes of socialists of the past. My comments follow.

    “For example, in some socialist regimes, under the guise of a ‘revolutionary offensive’, the state intervened and eliminated thousands of small and medium size retail urban enterprises in the name of ‘eliminating capitalists’. The result was a disaster: The stores remained closed; the state was incapable of organizing the multitude of small businesses and the great majority of workers were deprived of vital services. ”

    So, it would seem that Petras would argue that there is a place for small scale privately run business. And there would be justifiable but relatively small (compared to today) inequalities of income for people who might work harder, develop a business, or who have a special and rare talent.

    As a private business owner in a socialist society, you might have to hire your workers out of a labor market where workers have more and better options than working for you. Your potential workers might have the opportunity to join their fellow workers in a cooperative restaurant, and you might have to compete with them in your restaurant business. It might be the case that those cooperative workers, because they enjoy cooperatively running their own work life, and they provide better service, and they might out compete your restaurant. Or, on the other hand, maybe because if you are a good employer, and not all workers are going to want the responsibilities of cooperative membership, you will be able to hire the workers you need, run your business, and make a moderate profit.

    As Petras argues, a decent and sustainable socialism would be one that is flexible. Where private business works at providing people good services, and without exploitive practices, then they would be allowed. What would be, and should be different is the balance of power in the labor-capital relation. Gone should be the days when you have an abundant supply of cheap compliant labor because workers have few options.

    How much wealth, such as houses, and how much income inequality should be permitted in a socialist society? Well that would depend. One thing it would depend on is to what extent are we able to expand the material well being, broadly speaking, of everybody in society, starting at the bottom.

    And again, because people at the bottom might have more options, you might not have renters. The question of how many houses you can own is dependent on where we are in attaining a decent life for everybody. But to be honest, I would place my bets on owning fewer than more houses.

    Also, unlike in present day capitalist society, in a just socialist society, there would be more rewards for people who performed work that is significantly more dangerous and ardous work.

    And of course another important issue is sustainability. Accumulation of scarce resources and wealth tends to be less sustainable. I will leave it at that.

  25. Hue Longer said on August 20th, 2008 at 1:13am #

    Boz and Sheldon make a good point I’d like to run with…

    When socialism or communism (or any “ism” that USAmericanism doesn’t like), does anything negative, it has a flood light put on it….When something under capitalism of any flavor goes negative, capitalism is never questioned—and many times, blame is even projected onto non existent socialism!

    I remember an interview I heard on Pacifica where a black woman during the Watts riots was explaining to the reporter that black folks are expected to act better than white folks, because no one blames all white folks when some of them get angry at injustice. Look at Chavez’s record compared to any US president and it makes it look damn silly all the people hoping and cheering for any misstep

  26. AJ NAsreddin said on August 20th, 2008 at 4:49am #

    Sorry, I can’t really take any of this seriously. Petras ought to know that history has proven him wrong. This is really Marxism in sheep’s clothing. I am all for “socialist” controlling communal concerns, like police and fire services, education, health care, infrastructure, etc. – even providing housing and financial support to the poor. History has shown that these things are generally run best by the government. But when he starts talking about “mass consumption” in the same article as “dignity,” I have to laugh. Mass consumption is the opposite of dignifying people. Whenever you remove choice, you dehumanize a person and thus remove his dignity.

    When he talks about “‘Respect’, ‘dignity’ and ‘solidarity’ can only be understood as accompaniments of these basic material goals…” I can see that he’s no better than Donald Trump. Why must Respect, Dignity, and Solidarity have to be connected in any way to materialism? Shouldn’t they be connected to humanity?

    His statement “Capitalism thrives on social inequalities…” is based on what? Capitalism is driven to sell. To sell, there must be consumers. To have consumers, capitalism raised the average person to better economic levels allowing him to buy all that junk capitalist industries produce, thus “bettering” the life of the average person. Petras goes on… “socialism deepens through greater equality.” And history has shown that most people in “socialist” countries end up very poor – equality in poverty.

    There must be a distinction made between “Socialism” as a devastatingly undignified economic system and “Socialism” as a political philosophy that uses capitalism’s profits to better the lives of the poor. What Petras wants is for you to give up you humanity to become a human resource – little better than a farm animal.

    The last knee slapper: “Without social equality, all talk of ‘diversity’, ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ is meaningless.” There is no diversity when people are all equal – the two are exclusionary concepts. Dignity and respect do not come from equality, they come from humanity. In the unfortunate world that Petras lives in, I’m sure no rich man respects a poor man. In Muslim countries that I have visited, I have eaten with rich ministers and their poor servants all together on the floor from the same dish. This did not stop the minister from being a minister, nor the servant from being a servant. These are just jobs. Everyone had respect for each other and thus had their dignity.

  27. AJ Nasreddin said on August 20th, 2008 at 7:39am #

    Bozhidar, pondering…. Hmmmmm…

    I would like to say that basic education is mandatory because we would like everyone to have the ability to think – and education in the West, emphasizing analytical skills, does a fair job of it. My high school economics teacher told my class in the last hour of the last day of our public education that all our years of government – or tax – funded education was about making us smart enough to get a job and pay taxes. If that’s true, wouldn’t you want to go to a private school that was less cynical?

    Private schools take many shapes and forms. Some are for the rich folk, guaranteed to churn out lawyers and doctors – or more rich folk. Some are religiously based, churning out good Christians or whatnot. At any rate, why should I care to take away anyone’s choice?

    More important to me is the kind of education. I do not support a “technical” style of education that churns out people who are taught to fill in the job blanks of society. This kind of education produces people like the train engineer whose job is to operate the train, regardless of whether it’s going to Paris or Auschwitz. This kind of education belongs to the scientists who make nerve gas, biological weapons, and depleted uranium munitions. These people are “just doing their job.” At the same time, why should I support “socialist” education if it only teaches me that I’m being dignified while stripped of my humanity? I’ve seen people churned out by that system, and they all pretty much think the world is full of shite. Is that what you want?

    As far as university education goes – yes, let it be open to anyone who wants it. Move to Arizona. Last I heard any state resident could go to Arizona State free. Move to another country – many countries provide free university education. I never said America was ideal.

    But ask yourself why you need a university education? Is to get respect or dignity? There was a time in the past when respect and dignity was about the kind of person you were – whether your behavior was good or bad – not about what degree you hold or what job you have. Truth is, you don’t need universities to get educated and become enlightened. Truth is, most universities are self-perpetuating institutions of conformity. Yes sadly, it’s not about enlightenment.

    The truth is that a society needs the doctor as much as the garbage collector. Love your doctor when she heals you, and love your garbage man when he takes your stinking refuse away. I’m not one to spit on the garbage man any more than I’d spit on the doctor – unless either did something so reprehensible that it was better to imprison them.

    Finally, freedom, according to my spiritual guide, comes through giving up the desire of the material world, and enlightenment comes through meditation and focus on the One from which everything comes.

  28. bozhidar balkas said on August 20th, 2008 at 1:39pm #

    AJ,
    thanks for your reply. but is see that my post asking you some questions is no longer on DV.
    in US and canada, the two lands or empires i know best, basic schooling is mandatory because children can also be much miseducated and thus made to be serfs.
    in elementary schools, children are abused by other children and by society by grading.
    and one child must finish last in his class. now, how sane is this? how’s it feel to be left behind?
    but higher education is not mandatory. and universities in US are, as far as i know, privately-owned and not collectively or collectively while excluding other collections.
    competition is demanded; that brings ou the worst in people. competition causes divisiveness/rancour/hatred
    even cooperation is demanded. a CEO demands both cooperation and competition.
    and people turn to drugs, sex, liqor, TV, warfare. more cld be said.
    i wonder if my posts are being erased? i hope not.
    i’ve already been pushed out of several web pages. thank u

  29. Joseph Danison said on August 20th, 2008 at 8:11pm #

    Why would any American advocate for socialism? America is the birthplace of individual liberty that disdains interference from state authority and demands self-government.

    We have never achieved real democracy because the system was designed as a representative republic. The Declaration, however, is a democratic document.

    The present oligarchical government with its capitalist ideology is no more American in character than a socialist structure. So why is there no talk of the truly indigenous form of American political economy? This native democratic form is called populism and it advocates for two essential conditions: direct democracy and popular control of the monetary system.

    Thanks to eg for the excellent array of quotables from notables.

  30. Sheldon said on August 20th, 2008 at 9:54pm #

    One thing that always bothers me about discussions about “socialism” or “Marx(ism)” etc. is the manner in which people unthoughtfully react to the words themselves, carrying with them ideological baggage and preconcieved ideas that are misguided and wrong. They make pronouncements about “socialism”, arguing against strawmenn socialisms of the past without stepping back and dealing with actual arguments.

    Such is much of the discussion here about Petras’ article. For example, AJ Nasreddin responds with a non-sequitor statement like this:

    “Sorry, I can’t really take any of this seriously. Petras ought to know that history has proven him wrong. This is really Marxism in sheep’s clothing. ”
    Later AJ says:

    A good portion of Petras’ article is about the failures of past socialisms. Yet, AJ writes as if he didn’t even read that. How specifically has history proven Petras wrong? Petras argues that we need to learn from the mistakes of past socialist states, and create a better socialism. Perhaps AJ presumes that all different models of socialism are doomed to failure, but he makes no rational argument that this is the case. And AJ presumes that all of the various socialist experiments have been uniform failures. But this is simply false.

    And AJ makes a snide remark about Marxism that betrays the fact that he doesn’t really know much about Marxism at all. He just presumes Marxism is an evil, dressed up in sheeps clothing. Petras by the way is a Marxist, but that doesn’t mean he is the strawman caricature you would like to create.

    Marx himself in his most famous political work, The Communist Manifesto, wrote about and argued against the various types of socialist thought prevalent in his day. Undoubtedly in the 150 plus years since he wrote that, we could classify several more types of socialism that existed in history. Marx then constrasted these various trends of socialist thought with his own ideas for socialism. Marx proposed a socialism based on the empowerment of the working class as a ruling class, thats runs society in a radically democratic fashion. He theorized that at an advanced stage of socialism the state would “wither away” creating a stateless society he called communism.

    Now many arguments can be made about the unlikely possibilites, that this is attainable for humanity. Fine. But the point is, for Marxist socialism the goal is not to empower the state as an end in itself, it is to empower the working class.

    Also, Marx’s concept of socialism isn’t neccessarily against an enlightened individual freedom, his goal was “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. ”

    So if you are going to argue against socialism define what socialism you are going to argue against, not the all purpose strawman socialism you wish to easily defeat.

    Same goes for Marx and Marxism, know something about what you wish to argue against, not against something you think you know, and don’t.

    And finally capitalism. Nothing stays the same. Capitalism may have been relatively successful, more or less, in meeting the needs of most members of society at given times and places. I believe those times are fading into the past. But it is doubtful that capitalism such as that can be sustainable for a lengthy amount of time.

    The question is, can we replace capitalism, with a better type of society, or will we let capitalism pull us into barbarism?

  31. AJ Nasreddin said on August 21st, 2008 at 1:34am #

    Bozhidar, you have a good point that education in public, or government, schools has a good deal of indoctrination. Back in my day, I remember a lot of “multiculturalism” talk. I finished my schooling in Texas, and I can honestly say that we had a decent, tolerant, progressive atmosphere in the school – apart from the normal cliques of preppies, punkers, and whatnot. However, after entering the University of Texas, I saw my old classmates go off in their separate directions – some joining the Chicano Students’ Association, the Indian Students’ Association, the Evangelical Students’ Association, etc. In short, people who used to sit together during lunch in high school, respectfully talking about their beliefs and concerns, wouldn’t give you the time of day on the university campus.

    The number grading system was developed by the French. It’s true that the system is set up for competition – and I would really question what a student learns in the end. The number, in the end, is the product of the system and merely records how well the student has gone through the system. My experience in traditional education, where you sit with a teacher and read through a text together, is much harder and more rewarding than any of my western educational experiences.

    Neil Postman wrote several books on these issues. He’s worth reading.

  32. AJ Nasreddin said on August 21st, 2008 at 2:27am #

    Sheldon, I am sorry that you seem to misunderstand my remarks. I used to be an active socialist. I started reading Marx when I was 13 years old. Obviously I don’t hold much to the ideas of socialism these days – the primary reason is that it degrades and dehumanizes people.

    I’m saying here that Petras’ idea of socialism is really Marxism made to look nice. Marx had some good ideas. I think his criticism of the capitalist system in the Manifesto still holds today. Despite that, I look at most of his work as a dated reaction to the industrial revolution of his day. Marx also makes bad assumptions about human nature – like the fact that given the opportunity and the power, people will not be greedy. This may be true of a minority of individuals, but it is not the rule. This misunderstanding of human nature is why I believe socialist of Marxist leanings are always doomed to fail. History has shown that. The Soviet Empire didn’t fall because greedy capitalist conspired against it – it fell from within, from the hypocrisy of the system. If you are watching the news, we may be seeing the same now of interest- based capitalism.

    I did read Petras’ list of past failures. My comments were on his assumptions that socialism will bring dignity, equality, diversity, etc. as wrong. I don’t argue with his list of socialism’s past mistakes. But really – what NEW things are being offered by Petras’ take on socialism? Nothing. It’s logical then to assume that you’ll get the same results – failure.

    As far as shades of socialism – I’m all for the government taxing me to death if they really spend that money to really help people. Personally, I give my money to individual people that I know actually need it. I do not enquire into how they spend it – that’s not my business. This is my form of socialism – being involved with people around me.

    Sheldon, your assumption of capitalism is as bad as your accusation of my ideas of socialism. The western, interest based capitalism is doomed to fail because it creates money from nothing. The bubble has got to burst one day. There are forms of non-interest based capitalism which work much better.

    Finally, nothing ever stays the same. Why should it? I will not make the mistake made in 1989 when people clamored that capitalism works because communism didn’t. If and when our capitalist system fails, I will not rush out and say socialism must be the answer.

  33. bozhidar balkas said on August 21st, 2008 at 1:09pm #

    AJ,
    good point about universities in US doing some or much misteaching about important aspects of life/reality.
    but is this a consequence of conspiracy of mostly rich people and the so-called educators or as i say ‘educators’?
    the words under single quotes in my usage indicate that such words do not have full symbolic value.
    if an university wld teach instead of misteach, the rich parents wld not, i deduce, send their kids to that university.
    i wld hope that with influx of poor kids into universities, many of these kids wld see the education they wld be getting as miseducation because their parents wld not have previously miseducated them and wld see the obvious.
    thank u

  34. Sheldon said on August 21st, 2008 at 9:50pm #

    AJ,
    I understoond your statements perfectly well. And you still fail to engage with actual arguments instead of strawmen.

    All you offer so far are simplistic ideological platitudes against a mere word, which you automatically associate with the alleged so-called “socialism” initiated by Stalin. Yes that system did indeed degrade and dehumanize people. We have no disagreement there. I don’t think Petras would disagree either. So why do you argue against a system that nobody is advocating here?

    Lets put aside the word socialism for a moment and attempt to come to some kind of understanding.

    Capitalism also degrades and dehumanizes human beings. A worker is treated as a mere instrument of production, as a “human resource”, as a means to an end-profit and capital accumulation. Those who have nothing to sell but their labor, must surrender their autonomy to the authoritarian rule of owners.

    Capitalism creates vast amounts of wealth, where a few become absurdly wealthy, while many are left in poverty or at least insecurity. It is a system of incredible waste, of material wealth, and of human potential.

    Furthermore, capitalism is a system that must continually grow, and it does so recklessly and irrationally. Thus capitalism also threatens the earth’s ecosytem, and I would argue is ultimately unsustainable.

    So, the question is, is there a better alternative social and economic system to replace capitalism as we know it? A more humane system? To replace our current insanity, what kind of social system adresses those structural features of capitalism that fail human beings?

    Now I have no desire to replace capitalism with what you AJ have been arguing against. Although we use the same word, “socialism”, we are talking about something very different. What I and I think Petras proposes is something radically democratic. And that democracy extends itself into the workplace and the distribution of societies economic product.

    “I’m saying here that Petras’ idea of socialism is really Marxism made to look nice. ”
    Aj,
    This is a non-sensical empty statement. Yes, Petras is a Marxist. So what? Your statement simply betrays the fact that you don’t even have an idea of Marx’s concept of socialism, or of the range of Marxist thought. You blame blame the some unitary strawman Marxism for the errors of Stalinism.

    It is fitting today to remember the end of the Prague Spring forty years ago, when Soviet eastern block soldiers invaded Czechlovakia. And what is my point? The reforms initiated by Dubcek, the leader of Czechlovakia’s communist party was not an effort to end socialism there, it was an effort to create a genuine democratic socialism, a “socialism with a human face”.

    And we might also remember September 11th 1973, when a military coup overthrew the elected socialist government of Allende.

    So how can we jump to the conclusion that the failure of socialism is inevitable when some of its best efforts have ended through subversion and violence?

    “Despite that, I look at most of his work as a dated reaction to the industrial revolution of his day. Marx also makes bad assumptions about human nature – like the fact that given the opportunity and the power, people will not be greedy.”

    Again, you betray your act of pretending to know something you appear not to know. Where does Marx make these assumptions about human nature? He makes no such assumptions. And despite many changes in the course of history, Marx’s basic critique of capitalism is as relevant today as it ever was.

    “But really – what NEW things are being offered by Petras’ take on socialism? Nothing. It’s logical then to assume that you’ll get the same results – failure.”

    Again AJ, you fail to engage the arguments of Petras’ article so as to make mere assertions. From the Petras article:

    “Twentieth century socialists emphasized ‘welfare’ from above — government as ‘giver’ and the masses as ‘receivers’ — discouraging local action and encouraging passivity. Twenty-first century socialism must encourage autonomous class action to counter privileged ‘socialist’ bourgeois ministers and functionaries who use their office to accumulate and protect private wealth through public power. ”

    In one sense you are correct, these socialist ideas have been around since the time of Marx, and this type of socialism was forcefully argued by Rosa Luxemburg. But it isn’t the bureaucratic authoritarian Stalinist socialism that you presume represents all socialisms.

    So please, if you wish to argue against socialsim, do so honestly by confronting the actual arguments being put forward, instead of falling back on ideological platitudes about a “socialism” nobody is arguing for.
    If you are actually interested in thinking and learning about actual socialist and Marxist ideas, I highly recommend Monthly Review magazine.
    http://monthlyreview.org/

  35. AJ NAsreddin said on August 25th, 2008 at 3:30am #

    Sheldon, I thank you for your response. There are a lot of rather vague terms floating about here. Socialism can be defined in many ways. Capitalism has its shades. Not many people look beyond the current modern, western capitalistic system – but “capitalism” has been around for thousands of years in various forms.

    Honestly, my feeling is that any materialistic philosophy will degrade and dehumanize people. Marxism or “socialism” (as an economic system) treats people no less as resources than capitalism. The plus with capitalism is that the individual is free to sell himself into labor at the best price he or she can get according to the market – that’s generally better than what one gets in some forms of “socialism.”

    I really see economic systems as a fulfilling a function in life and not the point of living. I believe that other systems are needed to check and balance each other. The evils of capitalism that you point out need not exist if another idea was held as dear – like the idea of giving and helping people. What we’re talking about in the end is wealth redistribution. If your socialism is for the haves to give to the have nots, that’s fine. If you’re talking about some government institution telling everybody what to do and not to do in order to regulate the world, that’s not fine.

    Democracy is also a vague term – what are we talking about? Pirate ship democracy? Town hall democracy? DDR democracy? American democracy? Plato said that democracy – rule of the mob – was doomed to fail because the mob is thoughtless and easily manipulated. Bread and circuses was the Roman way – a brave new world? Don’t we live in a mix now between Orwell and Huxley? When you ask the mob about climate change or managing resources, you cannot expect much. Churchill said the best argument against democracy is a five minute talk with a voter. Will “socialism” bring enlightened governance?

    Governments set laws and policies, not economic systems. The industrial revolution saw tremendous amounts of worker abuse – after some bombings and strikes, we now have many laws which improve the situation. Now we need to move into regulating environmental resources to become more sustainable. With democracy, that will take a lot of time, especially in a large country like the US where the mob is more fixated on American Idol than the state of the planet. Maybe Simon can get everyone to sing about the environment, no?

    Lastly, Marx’s philosophy does have assumptions about human nature. Even if Marx didn’t write it out, you ought to be able to understand it by reading between the lines. Every philosophy makes assumptions about people. I am not talking about Stalin, or even Lenin. I am talking about Marx. Marxism works as well as democracy – and works best when the numbers are very small. I’m sure Marx and Fred had a great form of communism. When the numbers get larger and the inevitable ruling class is created, it’s hard to distinguish between the people and the pigs, as Orwell put it. Minus the economics, the same abuses will occur. Why? Both systems are materialistic and materialism has only one end – everything comes up for sale. The differences are in how things are sold and how things are managed.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll add it to my favorites.

  36. Sheldon said on August 25th, 2008 at 10:54pm #

    “Not many people look beyond the current modern, western capitalistic system – but “capitalism” has been around for thousands of years in various forms.”

    AJ,
    We may indeed be having a certain level of mis-communication. First, it is precisely my point to look beyond our current modern capitalist system, and to argue for something better, not worse like the sabotaged and mis-directed socialist experiments of the past.

    The question is, is there the possibility of alternative to capitalism, that expands the possibilities of all of humanity? I believe there is at least hypothetically.

    I would argue very strongly against the view that “Capitalism” has been around for thousands of years. As a dominant socio-economic system it has not, but has developed within the last 500 years as the predominant economic system of the world. Perhaps merchants have been around, trading goods and services for currency, for thousands of years. But it would be an error to equate that with capitalism as a system.

    To advocate the view that capitalism has been around for thousands of years is a sly way of considering it ahistorically and attempting to make it appear as though it is some natural state of humanity. If I wanted to make a counter-point that is equally fallacious I could say that “socialism” has a much deeper history in the form of primitive communal property relations. But I am not going to do that.

    Essentially, I consider capitalism to be the system where the means of production is privately owned, production is for profit, and depends on the exploitation of wage-labor.

    “I really see economic systems as a fulfilling a function in life and not the point of living…….If your socialism is for the haves to give to the have nots, that’s fine. If you’re talking about some government institution telling everybody what to do and not to do in order to regulate the world, that’s not fine.”

    You continue to write as though you ignore the points of the Petras article and what I have written. This is quite frustrating! It has already been acknowledged in the Petras article the significant problems of socialism and an authoritarian state. This problem is often discussed in socialist journals. The question is, can non-authoritarian democratic institutions be built that work around this problem? You seem to have arrived at your predetermined conclusion rather hastily and with little consideration of the problem.

    First, the socialism of which I have argued for has the goal of eliminating the conditions which divides people into haves and have nots. Its not the charity of the rich giving to the poor. It is the primary producers of society running society in their own and all of societies interest.

    I would certainly agree that an economic system should fulfill a function in life, and not be the point of living. An economic system should meet human needs, and be orientated toward that goal. This is precisely one of the Marxist critiques of capitalism, where production is pursued for the purpose of profit and capital accumulation. Capitalism has developed the productive capacities that could meet the human needs of all. But because of its structural and systemic properties, capitalism leaves many people in deprivation, while a few have ridiculous amounts of wealth. Capitalism requires that some people be unemployed and desperate to work. If that wasn’t the case, then the balance of power would be tipped to labor, thus threatening profit accumulation.

    “Democracy is also a vague term – what are we talking about? Pirate ship democracy? Town hall democracy? DDR democracy? American democracy? ”

    Well the goal should be a deepening of democracy that extends into direct control of economic institutions. A more direct form of partipatory democracy than our phony “representative democracy” controlled by corporations. But I have to observe that it is you that seems to drift into an argument for less democracy in your paragraph above.

    And Aj, you write as though worker abuse is something of the past, way back when during the industrial revolution. Pay more attention, despite our laws we have a system of labor aparthied that defines some people as “illegal”, despite an economic demand for their labor. Here is a recent illustration of the point.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2008/8/20/iowa_town_turned_into_open_air

    “Now we need to move into regulating environmental resources to become more sustainable.”

    Totally agreed! This is the major problem facing humanity. And a big barrier to regulating our environmental resources and creating a sustainable society is capitalism. It is a system that must continually grow, ecological limits be damned. The current issue of Monthly Review deals with this topic in greater detail.

    Finally, regarding your final paragraph. While Marx may make assumptions about human nature, he doesn’t make the assumptions you mis-attributed to him. “That people won’t be greedy…”

    “Marxism works as well as democracy – and works best when the numbers are very small. I’m sure Marx and Fred had a great form of communism. When the numbers get larger and the inevitable ruling class is created, …”

    Aj, once again, quit pretending to know about things you don’t. Marx and Engels did not theorize about the specific intsitutional forms that socialism would or could take. They simply argued that socialism should be developed through the initiative and in the interest of those who actually produce societies’ wealth, the working class.

    Now there may be significant problems with the tendency for a ruling class to develop, large population numbers or not. The question is, can institutions be developed that limits that tendency? I think you are too hasty in assuming inevitability, although I concede it is a significant problem.

    But a ruling class is a problem of capitalism as well. Again, the quetion is, what are we to do about it. Sit by and lets civilization slip into barbarism?

  37. AJ Nasreddin said on August 26th, 2008 at 4:35am #

    Sheldon, many years have passed since Marx or Smith wrote their ideas out – the world is very different. Although Smith is considered the father of capitalism by many, I believe it has been around much longer, especially if you look at the archaeological record. Examining tablets from Sumeria and Akkadia indicate that economic life was not much different than what we have seen in the last century or so. All the trappings of “capitalism” appear – labour contracts, loans, business contracts, ample accounting tablets indicating prices, costs, etc. Of course there are lots of tablets on taxes – governments can only get what they don’t have by taxes. The saying “The only two things assured in life are death and taxes” comes from Sumer. Evidence from the Indus valley, dating back 4000 years or more indicates a form of “capitalism” to some extent – though evidence is sketchy. There is thus evidence from the last four to seven thousand years that “capitalism” has been in existence – and that’s just within History. Prehistorically, there is evidence of personal property – or so we assume.

    You could go ahead and argue for communal property as well because the record is there for it. It is interesting though that you mention “communal property.” Is your take on “socialism” really communism? Communism is now a loaded term. If this is your idea, I can understand why you are avoiding the term.

    I view capitalism and “socialism” – economic socialism – in view of markets rather than a means of production. In this view, labour becomes a resource to be traded – this is the end result of any materialistic system. Whether the individual, a corporation, or the state owns labour is the only difference. Here we would have to get into the sticky issue of the value of labour. We need the garbage man as much as the doctor, but we probably need the garbage man more often than the doctor. Does this mean that the labour of the garbage man is worth more? A doctor needs many years of education and training – how can one put a value on that? An IT specialist may sit around the office a lot, but when a computer breaks down the workers are glad to have his expertise. How are you going to fit in specialized workers into your new economy? How is their labour going to be valued? On what basis?

    I disagree with your assumption that the capitalist system requires people to be unemployed and desperate to work. Is this not more a problem of demographics or population? In reality, we have the means to produce more with less and less human labour – not everyone needs to grow their own food, for example – this is how civilization has expanded. Some developing countries purposefully use people instead of machines (even if more expensive) in order to provide jobs. Is this what you want? The article you mention is problematic in that we could argue that it is a not an issue of worker rights but of the legality of a worker. In America, unlike other countries, illegal immigrant workers have no rights. Move to Iceland, for example, and things are the completely different. The problem of the immigrant workers could be solved by granting them citizenship, or even a greencard, and thus letting them have access to American rights. This is a political problem, not economic. But is there really a difference to you?

    Also consider that certain specialized skills are always in demand – quite the opposite of your theory of unemployment. The people I know that have taken the years to educate themselves for a particular job generally get a more than satisfactory salary for their effort. They also get the opportunity to choose their employer and their employment “package.” On the opposite end, the uneducated, unskilled worker cannot expect to always be employed simply because he or she has very little to offer. Does this mean that we ignore his or her humanity? Absolutely not. I don’t believe the answer lies in dignifying people by making them produce something, especially if the product is not needed – that would be very harmful to the environment at the least. The answer is in social aid – government welfare payments or whatnot – political “socialism.”

    I presuppose that there will always be haves and have nots. But there are levels. Petras says “Above all socialism is about social equality: Equality in income, schools and hospitals; equality between classes and within classes. Without social equality, all talk of ‘diversity’, ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ is meaningless.” This, I maintain, is nonsensical and typical of a lot of socialist/communist/Marxist literature that I have read. I have already mentioned above why I think that equality, diversity, etc. is meaningless, but let me discuss the main argument: Does socialism need to be about social equality? Why should someone invest in his or her education to be a doctor or engineer to get the same income as a garbage collector or janitor? I would agree that everyone should have access to the same schools, hospitals, and utilities (water, electricity, internet, etc.). However on the issue of education, let’s look at reality: not everyone has the same potential. Would we want just anyone entering medical school and going through the program to come out a surgeon? Isn’t the real expertise of a person worth something a bit more?

    What is meant here by equality? – it seems to be another vague term. Equality, for me as someone who views the world through a spiritual perspective, lies in a person’s humanity and not in the means by which people produce things. The person who thinks or meditates is as important as the person who farms my food, produces my clothes, or takes my rubbish away. The product of the thinker may be ephemeral, but then again it may be the answer to everything. If you continue to view the world through economics, you will always be calculating the value of humanity based on money. In those terms, when everyone becomes of equal value, then everyone will be worthless.

    You seem to sidestep my question by what you mean by democracy. You want democracy that controls economics – would that be the DDR democracy choice then? Why not just come out and say you want another chance at communist government – a kinder, gentler Soviet system? I’m not big on democracy, true. It works well when people are involved and understand the issues – but when was the last time that happened in America? Europeans, I have to admit, do better than Americans – the ones I’ve met at least. On the one hand, it’s not possible to expect everyone to understand everything on every issue. It’s not practical to bring “experts” to lobby public opinion – look at the mad cow fiasco in England, or the reports of it in America. In the end, also, many democratic systems have become like corporations – individual responsibility is removed and the system gets away with murder. Prosecution of dictators, we see a lot of – by definition he is responsible for everything. But in democracy, responsibility conveniently gets lost in the system. Should we hold Bush or the American people responsible for the use of DU munitions? The guy who thought it up? The general who gave the order? The pilot who drops the bomb? However much as I would like, I won’t write an essay on good governance here.

    But to conclude, as this is getting quite long, I don’t believe that civilization should slip into barbarism, but I don’t agree on the process or perspective you or Petras propose. Dignity, equality, respect, humanity and much more do not come out of economics. Does the dignity of people end when they stop working? Is the guy who lives outside the system no longer a person? This is perhaps a sad fact of America where identity is so tied to people’s job title, but it would be no less so in the direction you are looking. I know dignified people, though they have no job or money; they are respected, though they have no job or money. Their dignity comes from their humanity and they are respected for their humanity – it can happen. I do not believe the world can be Utopia or a Republic where everyone knows their place and cannot question the way of things. I believe there will always be rich and poor – so what? I also believe the rich have an obligation to care for the poor. How to arrive at that is a more practical question. Everyone has an obligation to care for the world. How best to do that is an important question. Overall, the whole outlook of society needs to change, not merely the means of controlling production.

  38. blowin in the wind said on August 26th, 2008 at 11:29am #

    A few observations. Firstly, it is possible to train young person of normal intellectual ability to perform routine tasks, even the quite complicated but essentially routine tasks of medicine and surgery-I say normal, because it is simply a fact- as is amply demonstrated by the capacity of Cuba one of the poorest (due to the infamous US blockade) to produce an abubance of world class doctors (though not particularly esteemed in a society where all neccessary labour is honoured and all uneccessary labour abolished) and the world’s best public health system-that intelligence clusters around a mean with only the exceptionally gifted and the intellectually disabled substantially deviating from it. The famous bell-curve would put a sudden end to the class system if doctors in capitalist countries had to have IQ’s in the percentile occupied by the numerical preponderance of their class.

    Secondly, the outlay of monies to become a doctor or whatever merely represents an investment, an investment capable of being made due to the privileged class position of the people wo make it-so your argument is looking a little circular-the upper-middle class invests in the education of their offspring expecting a return. So what?

    Thirdly, your mastery of routine research reflects your class postion and the incapacity of its members for critical thought and illustrates my argument perfectly when you start talking about Sumer. How retrograde do you want to be? How about direct colonization and racism, an even more recent example of the impenetrable darkness of the human soul? Or is liberation only viable when it applies to you personally? Why don’t you grow a brain? You can afford to.

    PS You idea of spirituality reeks of hypocrisy. Do you remember what Nehru said at the Red Fort? Do you recall what Ghandi stood for? They stood for socialism-the development of each as the condition for the development of all.

  39. blowin in the wind said on August 26th, 2008 at 11:57am #

    One last thing.

    The point about capitalism is that it is the vilest kind of materialism not because it dares to assume that human life has a material basis but because it systematically obfuscates this fact. It makes human suffering a metaphysical conceit, exactly like a conceit in a poem only this epic is played out with real flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the common people not the pigs who are edified by its spiritualization.

    If you do not start with the actual conditions of life you end up not only thinking nonsense but thinking you are uncommonly virtuous in doing so.

    As to the possibilities of socialism, that is a question for people who can think not idiots who think that real life is somehow too sordid and materialistic when lived by others and too elevated when lived by themselves.

    I will probably get thrown off this website but honestly I cannot imagine why Sheldon bothers with you. You clearly know less than nothing-precisely less than nothing.

  40. Sheldon said on August 26th, 2008 at 10:40pm #

    Ok Aj, I am going to try to make this short or break up my response over a couple of days. I don’t think I will hit everyone of your points.

    First, you can call the mecantilism of the ancient world as a form of capitalism if you want. Few anthropological theorists would agree. Regardless, even if I were to concede that point, there is still the point that the capitalism of today, conforming to the definition I offered, is a system that has a distinct line of historical development that has taken place within the last 500 years or so.

    I can’t help but notice though that you are full of contradictions on these questions. Within the same paragraph you argue that things are very different from the 1800s (which is obviously true) , but then capitalism is this timeless system dating back to ancient Mesopotamia.

    “Is your take on “socialism” really communism? Communism is now a loaded term. If this is your idea, I can understand why you are avoiding the term.”

    First, it is immediately transparent that you have pretended to know something about basic Marxist/socialist ideas, when you don’t. If you did you would know precisely how the terms socialism and communism are used within the Marxist intellectual tradition. That is, the latter meaning the hypothetical advanced stage of socialism where class distinctions have ceased to exist and the state withers away.

    And please note, once you have grasped this basic fact that the goal of socialism is not the strengthening of the state over people, but instead its subservience to working peoples’ will, and ultimately to its disolution, then your ideological caricatures seem meaningless.

    “I disagree with your assumption that the capitalist system requires people to be unemployed and desperate to work. Is this not more a problem of demographics or population?”

    Really, this is just basic empirical fact that both radical and conservative economists would agree on. If there is full employment, then this tips the balance of power to the hand of labor, thus threatening profits. To continually expand, and to increase profits, capital demands a reserve army of labor. This is what the phenomoena of globalization as well as the alleged problem of illegal immigration is all about. Capital moving production to places where labor is cheap and human beings are desperate for any kind of livelihood.

    “You seem to sidestep my question by what you mean by democracy. You want democracy that controls economics – would that be the DDR democracy choice then? Why not just come out and say you want another chance at communist government – a kinder, gentler Soviet system?”

    I did not sidestep the question at all. I said this: Well the goal should be a deepening of democracy that extends into direct control of economic institutions. A more direct form of partipatory democracy than our phony “representative democracy” controlled by corporations.

    And of course this kind of democracy would require an engaged population, alot more politicized than the present American population.
    And perhaps I shouldn’t just leave it at economic institutions, but all institutions.

    I think the germ of the kind of radically democratic socialism is best represented by Peter Winn’s book Weavers of Revolution, where workers take the initiative of building the base blocks of a socialist society.
    http://www.amazon.com/Weavers-Revolution-Workers-Chiles-Socialism/dp/0195045580/ref=sr_1_2/103-4176143-2805414?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219814965&sr=1-2

    Or in the more recent film The Take, where Argentinian workers take over and re-start the factory that they have been locked out of.
    http://www.thetake.org/

    MAYBE, I will address more of your points and questions tommorow.

  41. AJ Nasreddin said on August 27th, 2008 at 12:55am #

    Blowin, firstly I never said that wealth was directly linked to intelligence as you assume. So Cuba has a great medical system. The point being? The point is that the Cuban government invested themselves to do that. I have heard that taxi drivers in Cuba are licensed doctors – that’ll probably be great if you ever got into a severe traffic accident.

    Secondly, my argument about the time it takes to become a doctor is not directly linked to the cost in dollars or peso or whatnot. Sheldon is intelligent and I’m assuming there’s a shared understanding that time is a consideration in the production of anything, therefore there is a cost to consider. My point is that whether you study medicine in the US or Cuba, it takes a number of years past the basic education. This is opposed to garbage collecting which, let’s be honest, doesn’t even need a formal education to perform. My question, in the end, is whether it is fair to compensate everyone equally regardless of the job or the skills and education needed for the job. In the extreme, you’d have a society of doctors or garbage collectors – and that’s a society that cannot function.

    Thirdly, you ought not make assumptions about people’s class. In the US, as with many western countries, class is linked to money and money is linked to education. However, it would be wrong to assume that poverty equals stupidity and wealth equals intelligence. You clearly don’t understand my point about Sumer. How is Sumer an “impenetrable darkness of the human soul?” Perhaps you should educate yourself on the matter.

    As for my spirituality, it is not based on Nehru or Ghandi. It is more based on doing something positive despite the situation rather than crying about the situation and anyone’s miserable or exalted place in it. I am not against helping people as you assume. Here I am merely questioning whether Petras’ idea of socialism, shared by Sheldon and others, is really the answer – or will it bring more problems.

    Lastly, my point in the end is that materialism is vile. It degrades and dehumanizes people. Whether you prefer socialism as a better sort of vile over capitalism doesn’t make much difference to me. I don’t share your opinion. I feel that capitalism works best – and works when working within another philosophy of social conscience which counters the degrading influences of materialism. Your mistake, I feel, is that you’ve put all your hopes into an economic philosophy that is, by its nature, not designed to really care about the human condition.

  42. blowin in the wind said on August 27th, 2008 at 4:14am #

    Removing garbage should not be anyone’s profession. It is a simple task that can be performed by anyone and eveyone should have a turn at it. In any case there is no reason why society shouldn’t turn out billions of scientists, teachers, artists and doctors. We have the means to do this, and to radically decrease the need for drudgery by the re-orientation of production to the satisfaction of human needs and interests rather than the production of junk for sale and arms to enforce sales. Consider the routine waste of production and resources by catastophic war and preparation for war. Consider the waste of labour time involved in planned obsolescence, monopoly pricing, crises of overproduction and speculative booms and busts. Simply consider all the ghosts towns the sub-prime crisis has produced, or the lost production the recent spate of speculation on oil prices has produced. Consider the depletion of fish stocks that break-neck economic growth and the long stagnation produced in Japan or the incapacity of China to break out of environmental catastrophe due to its desperate need to compete with the west. Or India itself-thoughout its history threatened with on the one hand isolation and on the other dependence. Denied access to technology and or foreign exchange with which to buy it save on terms profitable to the licensees. Witness the ferocity with which intellectual property rights are enforced against dying people. You will say these are political issues and you are right. But what drives them, what makes such murderous absurdity a matter for pusilanimous debate rather than straightforward action is the drive for profits. The only debatable point you raise, or rather half-raise is whether mankind is capable of living with freedom and justice or whether we must occupy the half-light of hallucination and slavishness. That is my point about Sumer. You say capitalism has an ancient lineage. That is certain, at least in the uncritical way you take it-as does imperialism, racism, slavery, pillage and mass murder. So what? It also has a dynamic, a dialectic that produces increasing consciousness, increasing resistance and ultimately, let us hope, complete liberation. The reason it can do this is because it can produce on such a massive scale that the farcical social organization of Sumer is quickly replaced by formations of greater and greater rationality and intensity and finally by organizations of such sophistication and intensity that the debate you and I are having across thousands of miles can take place-the question is: Can we take it a step further and organize production in the same direct way you and I are having this debate. The question is: for how long can you and I and everyone else be excluded from decision-making that we know costs millions of lives and potentially our own. And for how long can we tolerate a political motive, namely profit-seeking, that neccessitates the destruction of millions of lives? And, is this deman we socialists make a viable project? And if it is not, how can we remain human?

  43. blowin in the wind said on August 27th, 2008 at 5:16am #

    Of course this is not to say that Sumer is capitalist or that it is immediately replaced by capitalism. Sumer was essentially a little group of fortified towns on a fertile flood plain. It prototypoical organisation was the clan supplemented by captives becomes these little commercial hives were in a contant state of war. Their writing cuneiform is developed to keep accounts and this gives rise to literature because these accounts are also the accounts of vendetta. And so you see, it is a nasty brutish little society in which life if not short is cheap and calculated to the last penny. Sumer is superseded by slave societies proper, organized on massive milltarization, conquest and forced labour and these are superseded by feudalism, and the dawning of the idea that human life is a value in itself, albeit a spiritual one. This in turn is superseded by capitalism and the idea of individual freedom and property rights and capitalism proper which develops by commercial and millitary means into imperialism. Hence all the early forms of ignorance and tyranny are preserved in the later forms but something new is nonetheless always coming into being.

    Your question about labour time is quite central. Labour time in capitalism is not the measure of value but rather surplus labour time. Profit is the difference between what it costs the capitalist to sustain the labourer and what he can sell the product of the labourers labour for; in other words the labour time the worker does not get paid for. Because the surplus can never be consumed but must always be used to extract a greater surplus, no matter how much the society produces, the people are always poor. Moreover periodically such massive surpluses accumulate that they cannot be disposed of profitably and crisis-unemployment, hunger and war-breaks out. Hence, the only real question is how do we get out of this? Or: THe only question is: How do we profit from it? So. AJ. Where do you really stand? With the problem or with the solution?

  44. blowin in the wind said on August 27th, 2008 at 5:46am #

    One last point.

    Feudalism was not a totally barbarous system. And feudal societies and semi-feudal societies existed alongside the great slave empires. It is possible to be romantic about feudalism. India undr the moguls was feudal and I would not, while deploring the servitude and ignorance, decry the beauty and grace of that world. Even the great slave empires were not without their redeeming features. The Roman republic was brutal but it was a republic and Greece was a slave society in which the welfare of slaves was preserved-up to a point-as a matter of law. Even the British empire while it was inventing its version of democracy countenanced slavery and then abolished it while remaining an empire and without having extended the franchise to its subjects at home or abroad. But this simply proves the point, that human beings reach for better things even when the general circumstances are vile-but that only real freedom can lead to real well-being and the end of absurd suffering.

  45. AJ Nasreddin said on August 28th, 2008 at 4:03am #

    Blowin,
    Everyone should have a turn at collecting garbage? Can you imagine yourself in a hospital and told that you will probably die because the surgery you immediately need can’t be performed because it’s the doctors turn to go out and collect garbage? But wait! Hail a taxi, I’m sure the driver can save you!

    There’s nothing wrong with someone being a garbage collector. It seems you have underlying assumptions about what is dignified and not – and again, because of your materialistic mindset, you have deemed garbage collecting as a way to even the class system. Why can’t society turn out billions of scientists, teachers, artist, doctors, AND garbage collectors. Is life drudgery because of work? Why do you need to be defined by your work? I know a street sweeper who has a fulfilled life – not because he’s a street sweeper, but because he is involved in philosophical studies as a student and teacher (nice hobby, no?). Street sweeping is how the guy makes the money he needs for living, but it doesn’t define him. One of Islam’s greatest religious philosophers, Imam Ghazali, cleaned public toilets as his job – still he is remembered for writing one of Islam’s greatest philosophical works which is still read and used 900 years later.

    I do agree that western, credit-based capitalism is bad, among other reasons, because it produces mass produced goods – this in itself is dehumanizing and degrading. Just because the workers of the world own the factory that mass produce goods will not change anything in my opinion. The Luddites wanted to save craftsmanship because it is key to a person’s humanity. Consider the difference, for example, of going to get a tailor-made shirt versus buying a mass produced size medium. Which mode of production considers the person and which considers the person as a thing? In a mass produced world people always make compromises in order to live. If you actually had to get everything made for you, would you really need so much? A mass produced world always needs to produce need – even of the useless.

    Petras’ article is not on the positive accomplishments of socialism – and I’m still looking. How will collective ownership be much different than individual ownership? A business is a business – either one guy is after profits or everyone is after profits. What changes in the end? Maybe you would suggest that we collect or own garbage, teach ourselves, cure our own diseases, paint our own pictures – or take turns at doing all these things for other people? Honestly, I have heard these pipedreams thousands of times. No one here has said anything new. The idea may look good in theory, yet I don’t see any success in reality. My belief is this is because people are looking at the wrong thing. Materialistic philosophies are concerned with materialism – not humanity. The end result of capitalism or socialism/communism or whatnot is the same.

    Sumer and Akkadia, if you really look at them, are not much different in form from any modern society. True, their level of technology was far less than what we have – but that’s not my point. The basic attitudes and assumptions that people had have not changed for thousands of years. Take a look at American society – people work all week then they go out and have fun on the weekend. That’s their life – and so much like that of the Sumerian. Sumerians, like us, grappled with all the issues of life. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a story about the meaning of life and death, is Sumerian and is as current as any discussion on the subject today. The war between Ur and Uruk was about resources and who would be the slave of whom – quite a bit like Iraq today, no? You’re afraid of slipping back? My friend, we never went forward. Look at Sumerian, Roman, American society and politics – it’s all the same in the end, just the stage setting and costumes change. If anything has changed for the better, it is that we have managed to be more inclusive of others and have a better recognition of humanity. However, looking at the world today, you can still see lots of exclusions.

  46. AJ Nasreddin said on August 28th, 2008 at 5:50am #

    Sheldon,

    First off, I will drop the discussion about the creation of capitalism because we obviously have come to an impasse. As far as Marxist and socialist terminology goes, I am more at trying to understand what Petras, and you in the mix, mean by socialism. You communicate to me that you are a Marxist and it would be easier for our discussions if you would be more direct.

    “As in private life one distinguishes between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, still more in historical struggles must one distinguish the phrases and fancies of the parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality.” – Karl Marx

    Trying to understand from you people what are the “phrases and fancies” from reality is something I find frustrating. There is no more straight talk these days and you would have me unshelve and dust off my old collection of books to have a conversation with you.

    You mistake my “ignorance” of not understanding that the state should disappear in Marxist philosophy as exposing my pretentions.

    “We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” – Karl Marx

    Now I honestly pulled this off the internet rather than dust off my books – but try as I might, I cannot recall where Marx said the State should disappear. Rather, all I can recall is as quoted above – that the workers merely take over the State. And this seemed to be the focus of a lot of political meetings too. Now, I can’t say that I have read absolutely everything Karl and Fred wrote – you are obviously more learned in this area. Do enlighten.

    I don’t believe that the ultimate goal of socialist or Marxist is to eliminate the State – haven’t seen it in history, haven’t seen it in any of the literature – what have I missed Sheldon? Has there been some radical change since I shelved my books and gave up on the idea?

    As far as democracy goes – you are starting to frighten me. You say “Well the goal should be a deepening of democracy that extends into direct control of economic institutions.” And then “And perhaps I shouldn’t just leave it at economic institutions, but all institutions.” Well, you still haven’t really defined your take on “democracy,” only now it seems more like Athenian democracy that got Socrates killed. You actually want everyone to monitor and vote on everything? We’d have no Socrates, no Einstein – I’m sure he’d have been voted out for his “loony” ideas much like some are losing their jobs these days because of their political beliefs. Intelligence cannot exist under the pressure of conformity. What about the institution of marriage? Do you want a committee voting to resolve your marital spats? This is rather typical of materialistic thinking – everything is defined by economics so everything needs to be controlled by some economic philosophy.

    I had a look at the Argentinean neo-Marxist stuff. As it is, it looks great. If this becomes truly the norm, then I imagine the National Movement for Recovered Factories will become the new politburo – don’t you think so? But what is the difference between this business and a “capitalist” business? In the end both are out for profit, both create mass produced goods which will have to be sold, and both will be bad for the environment beacause the actual means of production hasn’t changed. Do you believe that the theft of the factories is justified?

  47. Sheldon said on August 28th, 2008 at 9:25pm #

    Ok AJ,

    Lets back up a little here. Originally, I called you out for simply ignoring what Petras wrote. Remember? Both explicitly and explicitly Petras criticizes the socialist experiments of the past. He acknowledges their failure, as do I. He does this to raise the question of what a viable, just and humane socialism should look like. A different socialism that steers a different path away from the very unpleasant experience of the authoritarian socialisms of the eastern block etc..
    (I agreed with most of what Petras wrote, but I have some points of departure).
    Immediately your comments proceeded to a point that completly ignored Petras’ article. You just insist on arguing about the socialist failures of the past. You assume that it is inevitable that all socialism must lead to the failures such as occurred in the Soviet Union. And throughout our discussion you continually throw up the same old tired platitudes.

    I beg to differ. Could have history taken different paths?

    The Soviet Union, came to be the society it was due to a variety of historical circumstances. It started out relatively under-developed, it was attacked from foreign imperialist powers, and then the revolutionary government was highjacked by Stalin. Here is an article that goes into greater detail.
    http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/contemp/pamsetc/socfrombel/sfb_6.htm

    And we might also remember that even when a socialist government comes into power through democratic elections, such as Allende’s Chile, it is attacked and never allowed to develop peacefully.

    Now I think there are some very good questions to explore about the possibilities, or not, of a viable socialist project. However, you insist on starting out with your assumptions, then we really have nothing to discuss, because you have already arrived at “the truth”.

    Congratulations, you went to the Marxist internet archive and pulled some quotes. This does not impress me. Its kind of like the creationist who quote mine. You said this two posts into the past:
    “Is your take on “socialism” really communism? ”

    Now obviously there are different ways to use the same word. In popular parlance, the word “communism” refers to the authoritarian socialist states of the old Soviet Union etc.. And then there is the use of the word as is used in Marxist theory, which I attempted to explain.

    “Now I honestly pulled this off the internet rather than dust off my books – but try as I might, I cannot recall where Marx said the State should disappear.”

    Of course, because you never really bothered to have an open mind and learn about it, you already “know”. Regardless, the following page has quotes and links to the entire works where the hypothetical stage of communism is discussed and where “the state withers away”.

    http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/c/o.htm#communism

    Like I have accused you before, and you are caught here PRETENDING to know something about those dusty old books. You could have done better research to be a convincing poseur.
    I might add that I am dubious of the real possibility of “the state withering away”. But I have already stated the reason I brought it up.

    “What about the institution of marriage? Do you want a committee voting to resolve your marital spats?”

    Well of course not. See, now you are just being silly. You would rather shoot scatter shot strawmen arguments than have an honest discussion.

    So I will address only one more point.

    “But what is the difference between this business and a “capitalist” business? In the end both are out for profit, both create mass produced goods which will have to be sold, and both will be bad for the environment beacause the actual means of production hasn’t changed. Do you believe that the theft of the factories is justified?”

    I cited the film “The Take” to illustrate a simple point. That working people have the potential to operate industries without bosses and owners. See the film, and tell me that this was dehumanizing to these workers. Them collectively taking a hopeless situation and becoming empowered.

    You finally raise some good questions there. These worker’s cooperatives would be just one single but important building block in a much larger socialist project. What is produced, how much, how it is distributed, would very much need to be changed to create an eco-socialist society. Production for sustainable human needs, and not for consumption and profit as the ultimate ends in themselves would be another important transformation. And no I don’t have a complete idea of how and what that would look like.

    “Do you believe that the theft of the factories is justified?”

    Yes, absolutely. It is worker’s labor that made everything in that factory. Capitalists owners may risk capital, created from exploited labor, but workers create that wealth and they risk life, limb, and health.

  48. Sheldon said on August 28th, 2008 at 9:52pm #

    Hey Blowin In the Wind,
    I was just going back and looking at the other comments when I say yours:

    “Removing garbage should not be anyone’s profession. It is a simple task that can be performed by anyone and eveyone should have a turn at it.”

    Right on man! What I always like to say is: In a just world, everybody would have to clean their own fucking toilet!

    Hey modetators, how we can cuss a little here 🙂

  49. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 1:18am #

    Your friend-if I am following you- who sweeps the streets and studies philosophy is we both agree a human being first and an instrument of labour second. Clearly he has the leisure to study philosophy. And this may in fact be the case in Islamic cultures-I confess my almost total ignorance in this matter. But the history of capitalism is one of enslavement-a history you for one must be bitterly familiar with-western imperialism eventually destroyed all its competitors, though I would be the first to admit it may well have succeeded in destroying itself in the process.

    You admit this when you say in an offhand way ( the way one might dismiss the inevitable existence of base instincts in the best of men, that I must say I truly admire) if I might paraphrase you that business is a zero sum game. Unfortunately this has more than moral implications, and cannot simply be politely dismissed-though, as I say, my sympathy for the man or woman whose honour forces them not to see this is boundless. Nonetheless, it must be faced.

    If business is a zero sum game it is contradictory-there must be a winner who wins by eliminating the competition and hence the motive for business, ie competition-if that is the motive-ceases. However in capitalism all motives are deeply obscure because capitalism is deeply contradictory. To take just one: Competition is supposed to lead to the production of an abundance of goods at the lowest possible cost and hence the lowest possible price but instead leads to monopoly-disinvestment in production and the production of fewer goods at the highest possible price-a price borne at both the production and consumption end by the worker.

    Pre-capitalist societies could contain this contradiction and many others by means of laws made by eccesiatical authorities and enforced by the state, and these laws had the dual effect of restricting production and ensuring social stabilty, a stability that lasted almost 1000 years.

    However once the capitalist path was taken everything had to fall before it, including time-honoured custom and even elementary justice.

    THe worker under capitalism is reduced not to a philosophy studying craftsman or even streetsweeper but the appendage to a machine, a creature who has no liesure to study anything, who is forced by an economic position tantamount to slavery to do whatever he is told whether it is just or not, honourable or not, moral or not or be thrown into an industrial wilderness to die wilderness-how often do we see this-whole countries behind barbed wire, men begging for an oportunity to sweep the streets from dawn to dusk at incomprehensible borders. If this is not the case anywhere at for even the shortest period of time it is because workers have joined in solidarity AS workers across all thse stupid borders and forced an industrial truce. Whether they can even put an end to this system entirely is an open question. But that is what Petras is trying to debate.

    As to the division of labour question. I believe I have answered it-if a man has the leisure ans security to study philosophy or to do anything else while contributing to the strictly material neds of his community then that is a just society. But, tell me AJ, where in the world is that the case, where in the world has it ever been the case in the last 300 years.

    The socialist ideal is a world in which, yes, I suppose we do cure our own diseases, just as any truly human enterprise is a cooperative effort among equals-it is not an enterprise in which some people do things to others even for their own good, but where people do things with others for the common good, their own primarily included. The only question is: How do we get there, and what are the consequences if we do not try.

  50. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 1:55am #

    AJ you admit that people are even now losing their jobs for their political ideas in the post-communist utopia we are enjoying, even though communism is hardly an imminent threat. You say a workers’ democracy would vote not on the ideas of Socrates ( which of course happens whenever ideas are publicly expressed , it is part of discourse and what can make it so devilish, particularly in small face to face forums and particularly when one is forced to live in them) but on his right to hold them. However you just assert this-is your only evidence that it was done during the cold war on both sides and continues now under late capitalism’s period of reprieve?

    But surely that is the question Petras is trying to address. Was it a fault in Marx’s descripton of reality or a series of strategic errors that occured in an ongoing revolution. After all if the revolution was defeated we cannot authomatically assume that this was because its aims were deficient. In any case since the present is no better than a future that never hapened are you proposing that we live without a future altogether? Or do you believe hunger, insecurity, injustice, humiliation, and possibly catastrophic war, not to mention inevitable ecological disaster constitute a future we can believe in?

    As to the question about Marxists and Capitalists using the same means of production, do you seriously propose that production must take place by means unknown to either?

    The question about marital disputes is not worthy of you.

    The quotations from Marx from the net!?! What the hell are you playing at?

    Finally, why are the property occupations theft-is it not enough that the worker’s built them in the first place only to be forced to strave while they stand idle lest they be called thieves? Really AJ, I am beginning to wonder at you.

    And will the workers sell the product?-Well! What filthy swine they must be-Won’t the filthy swine wait for the impossible socialist future?

  51. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 2:42am #

    When I ponder what you said AJ, I wonder whethr it cannot be boiled down to your comments about Gilgamesh. Yes, as I pointed out, literature emerges from the keeping of accounts, and its subject is who shall enslave whom. This primitive stuff. Hegel takes it up at the turn of the 18th century when he observes that culture most have gone beyond its most primitive elements in that the slave becomes subtle and complex due to his intimate knowledge of reality while the master becomes brutish and stupid due to understanding only how to intimidate the slave. Of course, Nietzche in his tortured contradictory way drove himself insane trying to resolve this contradiction-ie how one could be both could become human and superhuman. And Spengler continues the tradition.

    But supermen do not starve children, do not deny them access to medicines for fear of losing their profits-supermen do not torture families with insecurity and ghettozation, supermen do not deprive their people of hope making them work harder and more efficiently only to make them poorer and more fearful.

    Men who do this, and they are mainly men who do this are Hegel’s stupid, brutal and lonely masters-and they assure us, as you do, that it has always been so, and that no one need dare hope for any better thing than the brutal, stupid world, these supposed men have prescribed for all time.

  52. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 4:27am #

    Dear AJ

    I might as well admit it I am a graduate of a very provincial university in a ver provincial part of the world. Nonetheless, my good professors prescribed for us a book with the laughable title “The Portable Karl Marx” in order no doubt to spare us the humiliation of quoting from the internet. It is by Eugene Kamenka, a Marx scholar, and it is very good. But it does not make any claim to a new interpretation of Karl. It is rather one of the many selections of Marx that make the commonplace point that Marx envisioned the withering away of the state. To quote Kamenka ” In 1843, on becoming more seriously aware of (French) socialism and of Moses Hess’ work on money, Marx proclaimed that such a transformation of society had for its prime targets the two fundamental conditions (and expressions) of human alienation: monet and the state. The struggle against these required not only philosophy but also ‘a material weapon’-the proletariat-the class outside existing society and the existing system of property which was fitted by its very deprivation to overcome the whole apparatus of social and economic coercion and to inaugurate the socirty of freedom”

    To claim as you do that Marx envisaged a state over and above “the free association of producers” he thought must come into being completely misrepresents Marx and is to indulge in childish cautionary tales. The question of whether he was right is an open one. But deal with what he said.

  53. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 4:30am #

    ref:
    Eugene Kamenka
    The Portable Karl Marx
    Viking Penguin Inc 1983

  54. blowin in the wind said on August 29th, 2008 at 4:42am #

    One last point.

    You condemn the Athenians for their treatment of Socrates. But the Athenians were not socialists but slave holding republicans. Do you condemn all forms of democracy.

    May I take it I am talking to an Islamofascist?

  55. AJ Nasreddin said on September 1st, 2008 at 3:33am #

    Blowin’ and Sheldon,

    I’m sorry you guys feel quoting from the internet is humiliating and laughable. If an archive exists as a set of “complete” works, why not use it? Better than getting my allergies all worked up by pulling down all those dusty books. You guys make a lot of negative assumptions about people. Do you guys feel negatively about yourselves, or is there a bit of arrogance?

    Sheldon, thanks for the definitions and additional quotes. They make me realize that Marx is really a relic of history. As far as pretentions go, it has been well over 20 years since I have moved on from materialistic philosophies in trying to finding justice and meaning in life. It is sometimes difficult to get the little grey cells working on dismissed ideas of the past. But basically, again, your arguments are unconvincing. You spend a lot of effort in telling me that I’m stupid, which tells me merely that you have no real idea about what you are talking about. You have faith in your ideas, however fuzzy they may be, and I laud you for that. Marx says the State will wither away – when did it ever happen? Never. Why? Oh, the world is so unjust – others attack the poor communists or they get hijacked by Stalin. Yeah, right. And the future will be brighter and better? Truth is that there has always been and will always be some form of government – even in the ideal world of goat herders, fishermen, and critics that Marx dreams of. Humans are hierarchical – someone needs to be on top and some need someone on top. Personally, I’d rather not be bothered with organizing traffic or checking every new drug someone thinks up as being safe. I’d rather have a government take care of all the daily routines, etc. The question really comes down to what kind of government.

    Again, my comments are on Petras’ last words:

    “Above all socialism is about social equality: Equality in income, schools and hospitals; equality between classes and within classes. Without social equality, all talk of ‘diversity’, ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ is meaningless. Capitalists also support ‘diversity’, as long as it does not affect their profits and wealth. Socialists support income and property equality which effectively re-distributes wealth and property to all workers, white and black, Indian farmer and urban worker, men and women, and young and old. There is no ‘dignity’ in being poor and exploited; dignity comes with struggle and the achievement of socialist goals of social equality and rising living standards.”

    The only thing I agree with is that there is no dignity in being exploited. Everything else is nonsense. Why? Again because I no longer believe that materialistic philosophies hold the answers. Any materialistic philosophy, whether communism or capitalism, will dehumanize and degrade people – because people will always be viewed as commodities of one sort or the other within such a system.

    My basic argument and disagreement with Petras is that socialism cannot reach the ends he wants.

    Democracy. The definition and concept of democracy is really relative. Sheldon still hasn’t really defined it, but I would gather that he is in favor of Marx’s ideas on the topic. Blowin’, my example of Athenian democracy is that it is considered to be the first form of democracy – well, given its place in history, etc., you may argue that it was not real democracy. Let’s face it – women couldn’t vote and you had to be a land owner in order to participate – you had to have a piece of Athens and have a stake in it in order to vote. This basically defines democracy up until about a hundred years or so. But my point about Athens, if you’ve read the Apology of Socrates, is about how the mob can be manipulated. It’s about how forces in society demand conformity. It’s about how new and innovative ideas can be killed by special interests. Do you really believe that socialism will remove these ills of society? I believe they will become worse.

    I would not be the first to argue for an oligarchy – I suppose Plato might be. I believe in the idea that enlightened people should lead. Because I hold these ideas and happen to be a Muslim does not make me “Islamofascist.” I also believe that government reflects its society in this day and age. Stupid people get a stupid government. Enlightened people will get an enlightened government.

    It may be hard to comprehend, but people can be very complex and hold a number of ideas that defy a label. I am against the way western capitalism works, but I am not against capitalism. I support workers’ rights and co-operative forms of business, but I don’t support communism or economic “socialism.” Outside of economics, I believe in political “socialism” or humanist “socialism.” My religious beliefs also stress a form of “socialism.” Democracy has some places where it seems to work well – those places being where the public is well informed and care about the issues – but let’s face it, overall it is a manipulative system. America is a good case in point. The average voters could care less to take the extra effort to educate themselves on EVERY issue (even if that is humanly possible).

    The example of the street sweeper is about a guy who lives in England actually. Although he does earn a meager living, other people are generous in subsidizing certain things in his life, like travelling for the purpose of his philosophical hobby.

    Overall, both your comments are interesting – I have enjoyed them, even though you’ve both turned to personal attacks. However, it is clear now that we are not in the same box. All I can do is urge you to explore outside your own box. Blowin’, if you feel your education has been provincial, then get out and see the world a bit. There is nothing like entering a foreign culture to make you realize how narrowly you see the world. Don’t go as a tourist – go and live somewhere for a year or more – obviously you’ll need to avoid the expat ghetto.

    Sheldon, if you ever do get an idea of what a perfect socialist world would look like, do tell. That has been the point here – what is that socialist world. I don’t believe it can happen – it is an idea that has been tried and found wanting, just as we’re now seeing with capitalism. If you have some REAL arguments with support, I’d be interested.

    I find that both of you agree that the theft of the factories is justified. You’re logic is that it was their labour that made the business possible. Clearly neither of you two have ever started a business. A business starts long before the workers arrive. The success of the Take is only due to circumstances. The workers had to have some capital to buy supplies, but the factories and shops were there already. I wonder what these guys would be doing if there wasn’t a readymade place for them to go into and work. I wonder what these people would have done if they hadn’t been previously hired into the business and trained. The Take only gives hope to the masses that after capitalism fails, they can continue their slave like existence, even if at better pay.

    Since you guys don’t believe in property rights, I will never have to listen to you complain about anything being stolen – well “theft” doesn’t really exist. It’s just wealth redistribution.

  56. blowin in the wind said on September 1st, 2008 at 5:05am #

    I do not believe that plant that is left idle at the expense of the hunger of workers can be the property of anyone-it is simply not conscionable; anymore than owning a slave is conscionable-liberating a slave is not theft even if his master paid good money for him. Owning slaves to use a theological term is intrinsically evil. Democracy does not rest on property but on the willingness of its members to uphold one another’s rights, and their capacity to do so against usurpers. This capacity and sometimes this willingness disappears in capitalist as well as socialist economies. Clearly in a capitalist economies the last laws to be challenged are always those which sustain vested interests. However as interests may be diverse, laws that sustain particular interests may if abolished sustain particular other interests. Moreover the public may find relief in opposing some capitalists and supporting some others. Hence, the hand-rubbing about the possibilities of carbon neutrality among some business sectors and the recalcitrance among some others. But fundamental change is almost totally ruled out-socialists generally have a hard time in capitalist societies, and sometime face official and unofficial persecution a la Socrates. In socialist societies the reverse is true. So for a Stalin-a demagogue of socialism, a traitor, murderer and bully, we find a Hitler, a traitor, murderer and bully and a demagogue of capitalism.

    In between we find someone like Chavez, a respecter of human rights and a socialist and-sorry can’t think of a contemporary-but perhaps Olaf Palme, a defender of capitalism in the broad sense and a respecter of human rights.

    The debate is about whether a social system as contradictory as capitalism can work even in its own terms vs whether it is possible to go beyond it to a society that can provide for the development of the full human potential of each and every one of its citizens.

    You simply do not address this, which is why I have become impatient and even alarmed at you-you argue sloppily and cynically, and I think without much appreciation of the human cost of the things you appear to defend.

    At any event you address none of my substantive points, unless your ludicrous defence of the industry of businesspeople is supposed to constitute a defence-I do not believe they are not decent people-what I believe is that a business that is abandoned while the local people starve is a business that has, in truth forfeited itself to the people, and that furthermore a system that continually reproduces these abuses and many others including that of tormenting the good conscience and faith of the Argentinean workers who have been forced to “steal” the factories is a system that is morally bankrupt-its only justification can be that there is no feasible alternative to it, the point we set out to debate at the instigation of Petras’ article.

  57. blowin in the wind said on September 1st, 2008 at 5:24am #

    To anticipate an objection. I also believe it is impossible to convince anyone of something that their livliehood depends upon not being convinced of. In this way can find the most sophisticated discussions of politics and economics simply missing the point-not because the protagonists are “bad” people but because they occupy a class position that makes the disaapearence of that position-even if the benefits of this to them personally could be proved-inconceivable. It is like the existence of a political unconscious-it is a like a political id and a political superego, a whole world of political neurosis. This is what I mean by ideology and class-capitalism and fascism and perhaps even pesudo-left variants like Stalinism may be quite literally forms of collective insanity. At any event the issue is far from simple-and I am not immune to it. But, freedom is largely notional for the vast majority of the six billion people on this planet and radical insecurity is the norm for almost everyone else. The question is: Why can’t we change it?

    Is it simply because we are as intolerant 10000 years later as we were at the dawn of civilization? That we are driven by some horrible id that will never be overcome? Well, what are the consequences if this is the case?

    That the earth is a vale of tears that will be dried in heaven?