Monday, January 15, 2007

Socialism Defined

Socialism and communism are bad words. They instill a mind-numbing fear in people who hear them uttered without the necessary contempt. They stand for violence and oppression and death. They represent the exact opposite of freedom and democracy and all those wonderful nebulously-defined terms we love. They are also sorely misunderstood and often not clearly defined.

Let's look at another word that is often used without full understanding: evolution. To many religious people, xians especially, evolution is the opposite of god. It is evil, it is destructive, it is an unnatural and corrupting idea that makes humans no more than monkeys and apes and attempts to remove and deny the holy spirit that resides in each of us. Evolution has been (unconvincingly) linked with teenage pregnancy, violent crime, abortions, moral decay, and yes, even communism. To those who claim these things about evolution, the word itself is not clearly defined and understood THE WAY IT WAS INTENDED TO BE. Charles Darwin did not explicitly say: "Because humans are merely soulless animals, it is perfectly acceptable if they behaved in violent and destructive ways, without care and concern for others." What he was talking about was the way and mechanism by which organisms change and adapt over time.

Fortunately, long ago humans invented writing, which allows information to be stored for long periods of time and passed to many people with very little loss of content or meaning. Writing allows us to view the lives and accomplishments of pharaohs and kings of the ancient world, it allows us to peer into the minds of the early Greeks as they desperately tried to understand the world around them. Very little of what they meant to convey is lost because the writing doesn't change meaning from person to person as it must do with verbal communication. This property allows what we call "static definitions". The Rosetta Stone does not mean anything different now than it did when Napoleon's troops found it, nor when it was written in Greek, nor when it was originally carved in hieroglyphs. (Side note: I will admit our understanding of this artifact may change with new or better interpretations of the ancient languages, but this has no bearing on this discussion and does not nullify my point.)

Using this new understanding of "static definitions", we can interpret the words of Marx more along the lines of what he originally intended them to mean. Let's examine perhaps the most misunderstood concept of the last century:

"Socialism is based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange... so that humanity, at last freed from economic exploitation, from oppression, from any form of coercion by a state machine, can devote itself to its fullest intellectual and cultural development. Much can perhaps be added to this definition, but anything less you can call whatever you wish, but it will not be socialism."

This definition is from a great debate from 1950 between someone who understands what socialism is and someone who supported the USSR.

When discussing socialism with others, I often get the "human nature" argument, delivered with a smug tone, arms crossed over chest to denote a sense of finality, as if I had been given something I could not refute. I don't quite understand it myself, but what I think they mean when they say "human nature" is that humans are not "altruistic." They say human beings are not ants, and so cannot live in such a society. I have three counter-arguments that I must set down here, because I'm tired of having to explain these things over and over again.

Firstly, as the altruism link suggests, there is no such thing as altruism as it is commonly defined. Humans are inherently selfish because we are the units of survival. My collection of cells must get food for itself, it must find shelter for itself, it must interact with other collection of cells to mate. Does that mean we can't work together, as independent and fully realised survival units, towards our mutual survival and aid and thrive together?

Secondly, ants are not "altruistic", they regard themselves (to the extent possible in ants), as their own individual survival units. It is the job of the queen to guide the colony with scents and to oppress the other ants by dictating what kind of ant they will become (worker, warrior, etc) as they are forming in the larva stage. If we compare this practice with the current operations of human society, we would see that this is actually very much like what we do. Before birth, someone's role in society is determined by the amount of money, skills, and training their parents and caretakers have available to them. Those who dominate the means of production also dominate the state apparatus, and determine the fates of those who do not by dictating what kind of schooling they receive, what kind of job opportunities are made available, and by controlling mass media to influence their perceptions and outlook on life.

Third and last, Marx and subsequent *socialist* thinkers (i.e., NOT Stalin, Mao, etc) did not use the terms selfless, sacrifice, or altruism, and certainly did not base their ideas on them. If you don't believe me, you yourself can access the largest collection of Marxist works on the internet and do a search for these terms. I am fairly confident you will not find blatant references to these terms, nor will you find any strong link between them and the ideas of Marx. If you happen to find them, and if they are stated explicitly and with this connotation, show them to me, and if I was too hasty or incorrect in my assessment, I will acquiesce and apologise.
Have fun!

Some people think that socialism is when control of the means of production is in the hands of the state. What this does is make society one big dominance hierarchy,

as opposed to an interconnected and overlapping web of control over the means of production and decision-making.

From the static definition of socialism, we see that this is very much against the main idea. If the means of production are owned and operated by the state (more exactly, the individuals who comprise the state: managers, etc), and not democratically by the workers who use them, then this is more like capitalism than socialism. The power of this managing class is legitimized by the power of the state, just as the power of the nobles of previous eras was legitimized by god. The latter is known as divine right, and the former is what we call "state capitalism".

Some people think that socialism means having a planned economy, one determined by the state and not that most magic of words: the market. This market myth will be destroyed here and now. Any and all decisions undertaken within an economy are necessarily formulated by humans. To put it simply: EVERY ECONOMY IS PLANNED. The forces of supply and demand are the actions of multitudes people making countless individual decisions writ large. There is no invisible hand, there is no awe-inspiring final-decision-making force, there is no equation inherent to the universe that dictates supply and demand. NONE. ("Free" market freaks, please get over this. It only makes you look like theists.) Now that we have dispelled this unplanned magical nonsense, we can view how an economy REALLY works.

In the Soviet Union, the economy was planned (rather poorly) by state managers, factory foremen, and other bureaucrats. How did this happen? Incentives were promised to these decision-makers if they could meet or beat quotas determined by some over-arching state entity. What ended up happening is that to meet these quotas, the managers ordered up to almost a third more of the raw materials they needed to ensure they had enough in reserve, and also intentionally under-estimated how productive their factories could be so they reap the bonus of exceeding the quota. I would like to point out an ironic twist. It is often claimed that socialism necessarily means abolishing individual self-interest and reducing incentives for productive economic activity, and that this is what caused the Soviet economy to stagnate. As I have just shown, there most certainly was a measure of self-interest on the part of the managers when they intentionally lied about the productive capabilities of their factories to receive the incentive bonus. The irony, of course, has to do with the main theme of this paragraph: it is not that there were no incentives, that there was no self-interest, it is that those making the decisions were far removed from those most affected by them; what to do with the means of production and how was not determined by the main users of this equipment, the workers, nor by the main benefactors of the use of this equipment, the consumers. Notice how very much like our economy this arrangement is. Meaning that both economies (as all economies) are planned. By and for whom and for what purpose should really be the questions we ask, and, by that static definition, are exactly what socialism means to address.

Now we turn to hypocrisy, both of those who call themselves socialists/communists and those who profess to believe in the compatibility of capitalism and democracy.

Personally, I do not believe that violent revolutions are the way to spread democracy and share control of the means of production amongst the people, for several reasons:

1) Violence does not work. Memes are ingrained and have built-in safety mechanisms that resist attempts to change them. Violence is clumsy at best, and more galvanising than eroding.

2) Someone has to perpetrate this violence. I do not think someone is refining themselves as an individual by hurting others.

3) Someone has to produce the tools of violence. Again, I think this is counter to personal development and the welfare of others. It is productive power stolen from society to help destroy society.

4) Dead people can't vote. If the point of socialism is to create a highly motivated and democratic society, it seems very counterproductive to kill people.

5) Sudden change in society is often more damaging than it is helpful, especially when violence is used. Humans need time to adjust to drastic changes in their environment.

I do not advocate violence as a means to bring about positive social change. I believe past attempts to bring about socialism on a national scale have failed because these movements used violence. Pointing to hideous deeds committed in the name of socialism can be matched, point-for-point, with hideous and vicious deeds committed in the name of freedom, democracy, security, profits, etc. I no more consider slavery in the United States to be any more a result of the desire for freedom and democracy than gulags and forced labour were of the desire for socialism.

Using violence to stop the spread of communism is just as bad as using it to help spread communism. The Vietnam War (and Cold War in general) made a few people that work for arms manufacturers really, really rich. Any despicable and vicious act perpetrated in the name of preserving freedom and democracy that undermines the true meaning of these terms does not deserve such associations. The only thing that flows from the barrel of a gun is pain, suffering, and death.

As to you free-market capitalists, I have some issues to raise. First, you erroneously assume that the market is an entity unto itself, making decisions out of thin air, with no respect or regard to the input of humans. Then you oxymoronically claim to champion individual liberty and the attendant responsibility that entails. Instead of promoting them, you undermine them. According to this magical free-market view, our conscious choices as individual consumers do not dictate what occurs in the market, because the market, as an entity unto itself, does this for us, removing us from the equation. We no longer need to concern ourselves with being responsible, because by assuming the market is an entity, and by arbitrarily declaring it "free" and outside our conscious control, you excuse any and all behaviour of it. This is in essence delegating responsibility to some inhuman "other", instead of owning up to the consequences of your actions (i.e., global warming, rampant consumerism, etc). Third, you see the state as an entity in competition with the free-market, and assume again that the former is all evil while the latter is all good. What we have left is a runaway non-entity competing with another runaway non-entity vying for the destiny of humanity. Sorry to break it to you, but capitalism, as it was defined by Marx, is incompatible with democracy. Take a close look at the current Bush administration and draw some lines between these officials and large corporations, and you'll see why.

Those who own the means of production will inevitably use their power to shape public policy. This should be plain as day and undeniable. Either directly such as with blatant campaign contributions or indirectly through insidious pre-made propaganda media spots, corporations and wealthy individuals dictate and determine policy. Our political system and economy both are planned, to the great benefit of the planners. Socialism, as we have defined it thus far, is planning done by society, for society. It is therefore in contradiction with capitalism, which is planning done mainly by those who own the means of production, and mainly for those who own the means of production, and very often at the expense and detriment of those who merely operate them.

Socialism most definitely works, even as it was described above, and is being practiced right now as you read this. It is not on a national scale, nor even a significant proportion of the global economy, but there are workplaces in America and around the world that operate according to the democratic control and decision-making principles defined above. If socialism is to come about, it ought to come about gradually and organically, evolving its way towards the ideal with mutual understanding and consent.

This was another long post that took several days to compose. If you feel I missed something, or got something wrong, feel free to inform or ask me about it. Some readers will be angry and argumentative, and I understand that. I can imagine them disagreeing with the way things were run in the USSR, and I would second these opinions, much to their confusion and frustration. I do not accept the USSR nor PRC nor any other totalitarian state as being socialist nor communist, no matter how profusely they use the terms to describe themselves. I go by the static definition and that should be the end of it. Some readers will be genuinely lost or confused, as much due to my disjointed writing as to the foreignness of the material. If such is the case, please ask for clarifications, and I would be happy to oblige.


Blogger Delta said...

Very nice post. I've been wanting to respond for days but this first week of classes has been very hectic.

You do a good job at debunking some of the standard anti-socialist criticisms. Unfortunately these criticisms, even though they are as intellectually on par as the theist's "without god there can be no morality" arguments, are quite common, even among the more freethinking crowd. Of course, this is mostly due to bad information.

By simply thinking about what society may be like say, 100 or 200 years from now, I think it's fairly obvious that capitalism cannot be the final and best economic/political system. As mechanization and technology increasingly displaces workers in all areas of life, from the picking of produce to the diagnosis of hospital patients, how will the world's population (which will be larger than it is today) make a living? The only options one has at that point is to whore oneself out (and hope that the sex robots aren't very lifelike) or work for a low enough wage such that it's cheaper to employ you than to invest in the technology needed to displace you. But as technology advances and becomes cheaper, that wage that you will be forced to accept will continue to go down until you cannot compete with it any longer. In addition, it's obvious that in capitalism the wealth of the world concentrates into a smaller and smaller group of people over time. In a few hundred more years, it's quite likely that the majority of the world will be "owned" by a few people who've never worked a day in their life. The economic ramifications of this are obvious, but I think also the political.

In terms of your criticism of violence, I have to disagree somewhat. While violence is certainly the last resort, I don't think a revolutionary movement can be very successful if it portrays the idea that it will not use violence for any reason, even defensive measures.

Certainly violence committed by a minority is bad. For a revolution to be truly libertarian in nature, the majority of the population has to be behind it. This involves education, not violence. And education is what our society needs today. However, once the great majority of the population seeks change, and a small minority resists it and seeks to maintain hierarchies and exploitation through the use and threat of force, only by force (or hopefully simply the threat of it) is it possible to make fundamental change. This is because, as you say, memes are so powerful and are not easily changed. Should the majority of the world continue to participate in an unjust organization of society in order to wait out until the small minority in power changes their mind? Until they miraculously come to the realization that their position of privilege is not somehow justified? Is it not better to stand up for their rights and hopefully a large enough majority of them will do so such that the minority realizes that they would lose any sort of violent confrontation? I think this is the goal, but a minority will never concede power to a majority whose only weapon is to constantly make the peace symbol with their fingers. The abolition of non-wage slavery had to be done by force and I don't see why it should be expected for the abolition of wage slavery to be any different.

The anarcho-communist Errico Malatesta said "Violence is justifiable only when it is necessary to defend oneself from violence. It is where necessity ceases that crime begins". I think this is a good rule-of-thumb, but unfortunately when people decide they want change, you can usually count on the police and the military using violence to oppose that change and I think that not only is it okay to resist, but perhaps it's immoral not to.

21 January, 2007 16:36  
Anonymous mad as a fish said...

Interesting points - and yes, though I agree with most of them - it should be said that Marx's vision of revolution does not nessecarily have to be seen as a violent one.
Though I would say that any catastrophic schism in societal development is bound to cause a degree of displacement (which can easily be taken advantage of by groups within society who posess coercive force) - the idea of a true 'mass movement' to a different system of economic and social organisation is a very compelling one.
Unfortunately I have long held the belief that the Marxist ethic of 'latter day primitive communism' was an unrealistic one - In order to achieve such a society in which only the 'administration of things' were to occur, you would need a populace who were (across the board) broadly educated, individual, healthy and truly interested in bettering themselves.
I am not under ANY illusions whatsoever about the mindset of the majority in modern western 'democracies' - not to put too fine a point on it, I doubt whether most people could PRONOUNCE the above criteria, let alone aspire to them.
This is of course, an exaggeration (I do like to make them), but society at present simply does not posess the objective mindset to make Marxist 'communism' work. The idea of the socialist state, perhaps, but then Marx did say that the final stage of socialism would be achieved through gradual development - In order to prove this either way though you would have to judge in hindsight (which of course we cannot do - to whit, there have been no true socialist states).
The reason, I would say, that people have become largely depoliticised in the west (strange - you would think that it would be the opposite in the 'home of democracy' wouldn't you? Irony.) is because we are governed and employed by people who actively promote passive misinformation.
Essentially I think this creates a bleakly distracted worldview, which I once summed up in the early days of university as,


I've mellowed a little since then - but suffice it to say that after one or two generations (of the majority living in reasonably comfortable material circumstances - this being the big cause of the collapse of the 'class struggle' base of politics) it does become self-perpetuating, to the point where the majority no longer have any interest in traditional politics.
I'm not aware what effect this has had in the States, but certainly in Britain and Europe it has led to a much more 'populist' approach to politics in the form of new social movements etc.
I wonder too if allowing this to continue isn't partly a contrivance of capitalism - because since all political representation actually still stems from the power of the vote (at least for those who do not have the 'government's ear', ie. corporations) - and no matter how many demo's you attend, you are still only making a show of opinion - nothing NEEDS to happen as a result.
I agree completely, Delta - capitalism is anathema to true democracy - and the less people participate in the voting process, the easier it is to control the outcome of elections.
The result of this of course are governments who (and this is something I have NEVER understood either) end up becoming separate entities from the people, justifying this by acting in the best interests of 'the nation' when the very DEFINITION of 'nation' is that of the people who comprise it! It is almost like, when entering into politics, a person forgoes their common ground with the rest of humanity and elects to become a unit in a hegemonic organism.
No offence meant to our American bretheren, but from the perspective of an British general election, the American democratic process is an absurd puppet theatre - there is no true diversity between the two main parties economically (though the democrats are slightly more concerned with enterprise regulation) - and in terms of social policies, both espouse brands of religious conservatism.
Some would argue that this kind of two-party system is very stable, but surely this defeats the point of democracy - representation of individual interests. Parties tend to become enitities of themselves rather than in themselves over time - espousing a very narrowly defined ideal, which actually may not reflect the views of voters at all - and the voters do not risk voting for fringe parties based on the flawed logic that they may not 'get in'. Lunacy. And a particular brand of lunacy which is only aggravated by the inflexibility of the parties themselves.
The upshot of all this is a huge bloc of the world in which the people regard themselves as carrying the torch of democracy, when in fact it is doing anything but. Socialist parties are in themselves undesirable elements (not to mention an odd concept from the Marxist viewpoint) to the established system of governance, as their sole purpose would be to deconstruct the capitalist ruling apparatus from the inside out. For this reason it seems to me, passive misinformation is encouraged at every tier of society.
It seems we live in a dictatorship of silent manipulation. It is likely it is not consciously directed by some scheming, overarching entity - to suggest this would smack of paranoia - however, it is undeniable that the self-sustaining systems of justification which have come about allowing capitalism to maintain and legitimise itself prove that as an economic system, it is much more insidious than Marx ever imagined.
The point you make, delta, concerning the increaingly small capitalist class, was again one that Marx espoused (I wish I did not have to lean quite so heavily on him to make these arguments - but unfortunately, economics IS [largely] the base of politics, and one cannot consider economic determinism without referring to Marx) - it is just interesting, that again, technological development seems to now be the logical cause for the reduction of the capitalist class.
Marx originally envisaged that it would be the competition between capitalist entrepreneurs which would eventually create the diminishing numbers and class disparity - however the beginning of what seems to have been a 'corporate' stage of capitalist development (and the associated growth of the share-owning middle classes) seem to have disproved the purist approach.
As Ambrose Bierce put it,

"Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit, without individual responsibility."

This extended the lifespan of capitalism somewhat - but I am convinced that it is still bound to be defeated by its own internal contradictions - just different ones from those Marx envisaged.
Back to the first point I made then - the creation of this small capitalist class is theoretically what leads to a 'bloodless revolution', in that the weight of opinion is so heavily stacked against the minority, that the second the majority achieve awareness of their shared interests, the minority are simply brushed aside.
I do not think that revolution will now be the cause of the next shift in modes of production, not by any means, but the point that socialist revolution is not nessecarily envisaged as violent is one worth making I think.
As to defining Socialism - this seems difficult (without being trite at least), perhaps (Marx and Engels, The Communist Maifesto: 1848),

"a movement of the vast majority, in the interests of the vast majority" is the closest that you can get without going into specifics.
Then of course, it can be argued that ANY system which works in humanity's best interest is Socialist (lit. Social - ist: A believer in society) - and then you get into the whole horrible minefield of 'defining humanity's best interest'.
In truth, the economic model has always seemed the cleanest to me (though of course there is undeniably economic AND social right and left) - though it is a tad cut and dry.

A very thorough analysis of the nature of Socialism, I must say (aside from my one niggle of course! It was a petty one at that) - thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I have to ask though, Delta - what makes you think that the governmental structure of capitalism would not simply view mechanisation again, as counter to the 'best interest of the nation', and would ensure to keep powerhouse sectors of the economy in human hands?
Surely also, any job which requires emotional interaction, requires human participation? This is why we put up with accursed call centres - THE SERVICE SECTOR - once again proved to be the biggest coup ever pulled off by capitalism.
The service sector feeds off human laziness, and endlessly expands to meet the needs of an ever growing, ever more demanding society.
I think you may be wrong to suggest that mechanisation ALONE will be the cause of economic restructuring. IT seems scarcity of resources may have a bigger part to play in this regard. Let me know what you think.

26 January, 2007 17:37  
Anonymous mad as a fish said...

Apologies, now reading my post, I perhaps should have defined 'passive misinformation' better. By this I mean the process via which people are never ENCOURAGED to learn the finer points of political theory.
They are not DENIED the right to learn - it just would never come up in the mind of someone who is situated at the second or third 'generation of ignorance' so to speak. this is a generalisation of course, as many people clearly DO become involved in politics - but do they get involved in TRUE politics? Or the puppet theatre set up in it's place.
Mostly the latter. Currently reading for a Politics degree in Liverpool (and whatever the views of the tutors) - I am consistently shocked by the degree to which - though the study of Politics is central to the course - the neo-liberal consensus is quietly enforced on every aspect of the subject.
SO - this is Milton Friedman - we'll spend a week or so studying him - And this is Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx and Maynard Keynes. Moving on. Infuriating in other words - the material is there to be learned - but you are never ENCOURAGED.
A recent survey in England asking members of the public what they thought 'politics' was, turned up the overwhelming response - the goings on behind the doors of number 10, and in the house of commons. Not so - Politics is simply the means by which human beings interact and construct rough guidelines to govern the way they live, at ALL levels of society, not only government.
This view is the effect of passive misinformation.

26 January, 2007 18:07  
Blogger Mookie said...

"The reason, I would say, that people have become largely depoliticised in the west (strange - you would think that it would be the opposite in the 'home of democracy' wouldn't you? Irony.) is because we are governed and employed by people who actively promote passive misinformation."

I have often wondered about this. The movement around Marx' time seemed to be a bit more aware and adamant. I suspect the shower of goods and services provided to the western public helps to quell any desire for change. "Well, so long as I have an SUV and a big flat screen HDTV with 150 channels, I don't mind working as a mindless slave."

"The result of this of course are governments who (and this is something I have NEVER understood either) end up becoming separate entities from the people, justifying this by acting in the best interests of 'the nation' when the very DEFINITION of 'nation' is that of the people who comprise it!"

That people don't notice this is very disturbing to me.

"No offence meant to our American bretheren, but from the perspective of an British general election, the American democratic process is an absurd puppet theatre"

No offense taken. It is puppet theatre. I found this website a while back that I thought was a very good caricature of the whole thing:

"the voters do not risk voting for fringe parties based on the flawed logic that they may not 'get in'"

They have no idea what a third party means and how it may change the political landscape. I voted third party in 2004 because I thought Kerry was crap. My friends thought I was nuts because it seemed I was voting for Bush by "stealing" a vote from Kerry. As far as I'm concerned, I voted against both of them.

"SO - this is Milton Friedman - we'll spend a week or so studying him - And this is Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx and Maynard Keynes. Moving on."

I read a bit of Friedman, I was not impressed. I thought he was a greedy jerk who was encouraging others to be greedy jerks. The economists that actually give a shit about workers are the ones they don't want you to read.

Thanks for stopping by, mad as a fish, it is great to have some new people around here. I would highly recommend delta's blog as well, as he posts some very good points as well. If you keep a blog or have recommendations of your own, please don't hesitate to share.

27 January, 2007 12:43  
Anonymous mad as a fish said...

Apologies for the criminal delay in my response! Essay season is upon us again, and the turgid pilgrimage to the library must now be performed on a daily basis (groan).
Enjoyed reading your reply Mookie (interesting alias by the way, any reason in particular why you chose it?) and though I regrettably have to be brief, there are a few points that I thought deserved a reply.
Unfortunately I have no such thing as a blog to call my own (I am relatively new to this game), and though I do poke my nose into the odd interesting topic here and there, I don't get to do it as often as I'd like.

"Well, so long as I have an SUV and a big flat screen HDTV with 150 channels, I don't mind working as a mindless slave."

Well put, but I wonder if perhaps it is as complex as this. I don't believe people make this CONSCIOUS choice, simply that they are unwittingly conditioned by their relations and experience with the rest of society to be unable to see any other alternatives.
It is not even that they strive to seek an alternative. The question is never so much as raised, the very concept of doing so is being fundamentally at odds with the whole superstructure that capitalist society has set in place to legitimise itself.
Perhaps it is wrong too to suggest that capitalist society 'wills' this - there is no intent involved it would seem - no direct exertion of will in order to construct this superstructure - and yet it continually functions and grows.
It is frightening that the human race can create such a cunning, seeming uncontrollable, seemingly unsentient entity as the market economy, and then allow it to quietly go about its business.
Of course it is not 'alive', has no free will and no shape other than what we deem - and yet most are unaware of the fact that it all hinges off CONSENT - consent of the majority - as does any system.
This is terrifying to me, but then, the human mind is an amazing thing. If it can create God, it can create the Free Market - without wanting to philosophise too much - perhaps the modern personification of the 'unattainable divine'.
Nietzche may have been a chauvinist pig who was in love with his sister, but he was bang on the money to say,

"God is Dead"

Except that, humans didn't 'kill him' - The Free Market supplanted him.
Before anyone worries too much, I am most decidedly NOT a believer - I simply hold that if the idea of God exists inside the mind, then it can be said to exist somewhere. This does not make God worthy of worship (it in fact makes him more dependent on belief as a quantifier for his own existence), or praise - just that to recognise that mental constructs are as real as anything flesh and blood to human perceptions is important.
Rambling again I suppose, and before I get too off topic...

"I voted third party in 2004 because I thought Kerry was crap."

More power to you (to use a cliche :)) - people who question your right to vote for the party of your choice, who you feel best represent you, do not understand the nature of democracy - to attain a majority leadership reflecting the mindset of the majority.
'Oh my!' some then argue, 'but then the idiot public might vote in some bigoted right-wing lunatic! We can't trust them!' IRRELEVANT - if the public vote for some fascist loon in overwhelming numbers, it is because this is what the public wills.
However unfortunate that decision might be, it has to be abided by - democracy is about what the people want - not what is 'best for the people'. Only they know this, and only they can legitimately decide it.
Even if they decide they don't want democracy, so be it. It is their decision alone - and (though correct me if I am wrong), it does not seem that there is a single government of consequence in the world today that aspires to these principles.
Some people may say that this argument is flawed, as people are easily swayed by propoganda and misinformation. This is true - but what society other than an obviously hierarchical one employs such methods?
Democracy is thus the first casualty of Capitalism - Capitalism creates a structure of rule whereby true democracy is both unnatainable and undesirable because to attain it would just as surely undermine the base of production.
I liked the voteourcandidate business immensely. I was reminded strongly of a story I heard once concerning the Roman emperor Caligula. He declared his horse a senator, had it fitted for a toga and introduced it formally at the forum in Rome - A cutting point about the pointlessness of electoral process.
Some things as they say, never change.
Must dash now (turned out to be quite a long post after all!), but would be gald to hear anything you have to say on my points - we need to get more people discussing this stuff - the only way to keep the bastards from grinding you down under the millstone of commerce! ;)

12 February, 2007 05:17  
Blogger Mookie said...


"interesting alias by the way, any reason in particular why you chose it?"

I happen to look like a monkey (hairy and lanky) and (scream like) a Wookie (very hairy, very lanky). Monkey + Wookie = Mookie. I am also familiar with the term meaning "a contemptible person" which I thought was fairly accurate as well. Another moniker I've used on blogs before is "goob", short for "goober" - a peanut. The term can also be used to mean "a contemptible person". Example: Mookie is a goober. So it all ties together.

"The question is never so much as raised"

A good quote I recall from a fellow student in high school: "Man, who the hell cares about all this shit anyway?" Sums up the view of many people.

"Democracy is thus the first casualty of Capitalism"

And the cousin of anarchy!

Always a pleasure, fish. Do stop by from time to time and leave comments; I enjoy the opportunity to discuss these things with others.

14 February, 2007 13:32  
Anonymous mad as a fish said...

So would you hold that Anarchism is the correct respose to the capitalist nation-state? Hell knows, I'm not a nationalist - I have left wing affiliations enough to worry the local police plenty ;) - but I'm not certain if anarchy is the 'correct' course (if there is such a thing).
It may well be the 'cousin of Democracy' as you put it - but can it really be argued that were we to destroy the Capitalist state, say, tomorrow - that the majority of people would begin the process of organising themselves into supportive, liberal social relations?
It doesn't seem rational to think so. The majority are preconditioned by the capitalist system right from the off. Take Chomsky's example of teachers encouraging competition in schools. Hasn't this (among many other things in Marx's 'superstructure') already created a societal culture in the west which, via nurture, creates a self-interested populace?
Only the law, the threat posed by coercive force, keeps the selfish multitude from enforcing the rule of the strong. Of course the capitalist government does this anyway - but were you to remove the apparatus of the state tommorrow and expect people to just 'get on with it' - capitalist preconditioning dictates that (for the most part) a widespread, wholesale and localised struggle for authority would ensue.
Of course, some choose to argue that perhaps the administration and prodction of things could well continue as before - just without the mechanics of State imposing a hierarchy - but this is not a gamble I would personally care to take.
Can it honestly be argued that the shock of transition from the 'private property' based mode of production would not lead to such disorder that all societal structure would fragment? The ensuing competition over dwindling resources would most likely become a kind of repellent 'Social Darwinism' it seems - and if this is the option, I would choose the lesser of two evils - maintain the Nation-State.
At the very least, a period similar to Marx's 'socialist' developmental stage would have to ensue, where people were given time to adjust to new ways of thinking - and given the opportunity to learn new ideas and create new social relations.
This gives me cause to believe (though it may seem obvious to say so) that Anarchism has more in common with Marxism than democracy - Just that one seeks total economic parity as a path to equality, the other total liberty.
If you ever come across a book called 'No Gods, No Masters' have a look - I'm currently chewing through it at a rate of knots, and would recommend it. It's a good summary of Anarchist thought (even if it isn't 'light' weekend reading) - but though it is compelling stuff - I simply can't help but feel it is a lot less mature and well thought out as an ideology when compared to socialism.
I won't go so far as to dismiss Anarchism as petty-bourgeois delusion - it is an interesting idea - simply that I have known plenty of self-styled Anarchists, and... well... hopefully one of my rambling stories should suffice.

An 'anarchist' friend and me were having a drink (about a year ago, when I was still working the 9-5) and we moved on to the inevitable 'why do we bother with work?' convo.
"It's all in the mind you know." He said, as if I hadn't heard it before. "The State. You don't have to go to work tomorrow - we could all just up sticks and stop - and that would be the end of that. People don't realise their own power." To which I responded,
"Yes, but I am, unfortunately, living under a capitalist system of labour organisation - which means that in order to achieve my goals I have to engage with it - Would you suggest that I simply stop the pursuit of what I desire?"
"Ah!" He said, as if pulling off some particular coup. "But then most of what you desire is measured by the private property you can purchase with your earnings! Property is theft, man."
So I reach for his glass,
"You won't mind if I take your pint then."
"Get off - that's mine!"

Property is theft - moron. It's not that I condone private property as an institution - it's just that it is UTTERLY pervasive as an idea, and has been since it was begun by enclosure acts in the 1600's. Removing such a deeply entrenched idea takes time - this is why I think Anarchism - at least in practice (if not theory) - is a little juvenile.

Would like to hear your thoughts on Anarchism (even though, strictly speaking, this post is more concerned with Socialism) - as it's actually quite a new idea to me.
I know 'without state' does not nessecarily mean 'without order' - it's just that given the six billion people we have on this merry little dirtball, can there be any other means of realistic mass cooperation than the state? Would you advocate the 'small social units' approach instead? And wouldn't that in turn lead to cultural and technological stagnation? Is that a bad thing?
Ahhhh - so many questions, and so little time to answer them! Think I've had more than enough finger-gymnastics for one evening though - so, take it easy, and I most certainly will pop in from time to time to have a look what's going down in 'Meme Processing'.
- Laurence.

16 February, 2007 17:53  

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