The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

To Will: Class and anti-racism

| 0 comments

Inspired by this post.

I haven’t gotten involved in the “anti-racism” discussion, and, really, I’m still not.  I am replying to my good friend Will Shetterly’s comments on it, because I am a Red, and we Reds have a tradition of  saving our vitriol for those who come closest to agreeing with us.  I am doing so publicly, on my blog, because a) I don’t want to pull his discussion off track, 2) I still haven’t figured out exactly which of his blogs and feeds to reply to, iii) I want to open this up to any Smart People hanging around here, and D) I’m just that sort of asshole.

What I hear from you is a constant exchange that, it seems to me, goes like this: They argue that racism is a real problem, and you say that you have never denied this.  You say that it isn’t just those of color who are oppressed, but also the poor.  They have never denied this.  They say that by bringing up the poor, you are distracting the discussion from racism.  You say that it is impossible to discuss racism without bringing in class issues.  And so around and around.  What are we missing here?

It seems to me, Will, that you are basing your position on an abstraction that is, fundamentally, true: in terms of both the causes and the cures of social ills, class is a  fundamental distinction, race is secondary.  Okay, we both agree on that.  Now what?  If we want to understand the causes and cures, and if we begin with the idea that the class struggle is the essential motivating force in society, then it follows that ideas have class distinctions at their base.  Racism is an idea–an idea that expresses itself in poverty, in brutality, in misery, in oppression.  What is the class basis of this idea?  As you have said, it is an idea that serves the interests of the ruling class, of the propertied, of capital, of the elite.

“Anti-racism,” like racism itself, is an idea.  What is the class basis of this idea?  It is a theory of the middle-class, of those who deny that the class struggle is fundamental,  of those who exist between the two camps who have actual power.  What are the hallmarks of a middle-class idea?  First, the attempt to understand social issues without regard to class–the reduction of things to “just people.”  Second, reflecting the lack of real, material power, everything is reduced to an idea.  The problem is not children dying because the heat was cut off because there was no money because the factory closed and a black man in a poor area has a nearly impossible task in finding work; the problem is: people have racist thoughts.  The problem isn’t that the environment is being sacrificed in a reckless drive for profit, the problem is: people aren’t environmentally aware.  The solution, to them, isn’t the destruction of social classes forever, thus removing the material basis for racism and the destruction of the environment, it is to explore your own mind, and to learn how to speak without hurting people’s feelings and to learn the importance of recycling.

Environmental issues cannot be solved, or even seriously addressed, until the profit motive has been removed, and the full creative potential of humanity has been turned to the problem; but there are those who talk about how we should “reduce our carbon footprint,” removing the class issue from it, so it becomes not a problem of humanity organizing and consciously determining use of resources, but rather “just people.”  The women’s movement (as, in fact, the struggle against racism) has moved from being part of a proletarian movement, to being middle class; now it isn’t a question of wages, of medical care, of the right to a decent life, but instead a series of abstractions designed to appeal to those with a certain level of privilege, of comfort, and to hell with the rest of them.  (In fact, the women’s movement is probably the worst; where at one time it revolved around the fight for union representation, for equal wages, abortion rights, and for the right to vote, now they furiously argue with each other about how many women should be in the Senate and whether there should be laws banning pornography.  Ye gods.)

So here’s my problem with your approach: Merely by saying the working class is oppressed, without also seeing the power the working class has to remake society; by putting it in terms of income rather than in terms of relation to production (which is what gives the working class it’s power); by putting it on the level that one idea, “classism” is more significant than another idea, “racism;” you are, yourself, taking the same sort of middle-class stand that is at the root of what you are arguing against.  If your middle-class position is marginally less wrong than someone else’s middle-class position, that doesn’t carry the struggle forward one iota.

Why are you engaging with them?  Is it subjective frustration that “someone is wrong on the internet?”  Do you believe that you can change the world “one mind at a time?”  Can you name an individual whose life is better because of this dispute?  It may be that you’re arguing for the same reason I argue (and am doing so now): it helps me clarify my own ideas.  But if that’s the reason, be aware of it, and keep in mind that ideas by themselves aren’t going to change anything; and accepting the most fundamental error of your opponent is not the best way to avoid his mistakes.

corwin

Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

0 Comments

  1. Pingback: Guy Finley – Lift Yourself Into a Brand New World

  2. I’m personally a fan of ‘intersectionality’ — the belief that various -isms interact, and that you need to consider how they work when addressing one. I’ve also seen a lot of feminists who do address the needs of the working class or unemployed, precisely because those below middle class are more likely to be female. At least that’s the impression I get from my reading.

    It does come off that you think that various -isms and things like environment cannot be addressed with meaningful results in a capitalist society, and that we can’t act until society becomes less motivated by profit. That does rub me the wrong way, since I think we should try to do what we can in the ‘short-term’ with what we have to work with, even if ‘long-term’ goals would need some massive reorganizing. Even if it is just palliative care, it would make a difference — at least minimizing pain or giving a longer window to get the long-term solution working.

  3. I agree generally with Will on this issue, and I agree generally with you. I am probably less hopeful than you are about change.

    “In fact, the women’s movement is probably the worst; where at one time it revolved around…”
    The women’s movement was never classism-free, as far as I can see. As it happens, in a book I am editing now (and so I can’t say a lot about this, or quote from it), there is a piece about how the women fighting for women’s suffrage in the U.S. pretty much ignored the working-class Jewish women who worked for suffrage as well as other equal rights.

  4. Steve, this is going to be terribly scattershot, starting with the order of responses, ‘cause some of your points are easier for me to address by responding to folks who’ve already commented:

    Becca, I also like “intersectionality”. In general, I’m fascinated by the way the feminist community reinvents wheels. “Kyriarchy” seems silly—so far as I can tell, it’s just a fancy way of saying “hierarchy” by women who want to be at the top of the pyramid. But intersectionality is very useful; we all experience different mixtures of different forms of oppression by the rich. Where I disagree with feminists is with the idea that all oppressions are equal. I would trade my problems under the kyriarchy for Condi Rice’s in an instant.

    I think Steve’s more convinced than I am that capitalism has to break down entirely before we’ll get helpful changes. But with every failure of a global warming conference or a UN attempt at creating peace, I move closer to Steve. Capitalism does not care about human survival. It only cares about profit. In that classic SF distopia where only robots survive, they will be owned by corporations with computers eternally calculating the interest owed by the dead.

    Carol, very true. I find it a bit amusing when rich black and Asian feminists are just as classist as rich white feminists were.

    Steve, here goes:

    The main blog’s the one you linked to. Every time I try to shut down one of the copies, someone asks me to keep it open, and I’m such a pushover.

    I keep engaging with anti-racists because I keep thinking there must be a chink in the bourgeois armor. Hmm. Which is an imperfect analogy. Bourgeois privilege is more of a velvet cell, which may be why Sinclair Lewis’s observation about understanding and salaries is so damn true.

    I go back and forth on whether “classism” is a useful word. Like “racism”, it’s used by people who want equality and by those who want to preserve hierarchy in some patronly, noblesse oblige form. I suppose “class bigotry” might be clearer to people who don’t like “classism,” but I don’t think it would be any clearer to people who already use “classism.”

    As for the specifics of my argument with anti-racists, they never talk about poor whites, and they only mention poor blacks in sweeping generalizations (when insisting that Katrina was all about racism, for example, even though the poor whites in New Orleans suffered as badly as the poor blacks).

    I continue to think anyone who’s interested in both class and race would be fascinated by the fact that nearly half of the US’s black population says there are two black races–we’re seeing the evolution of black morlocks and eloi right now. But the anti-racist indifference to that is damning, imho.

    Well, to your main point: “Merely by saying the working class is oppressed, without also seeing the power the working class has to remake society; by putting it in terms of income rather than in terms of relation to production (which is what gives the working class it’s power); by putting it on the level that one idea, “classism” is more significant than another idea, “racism;” you are, yourself, taking the same sort of middle-class stand that is at the root of what you are arguing against. “

    What I’m trying to do is use the language they understand to present the problem in a way they can comprehend. But what I’m reluctantly coming to understand is that the language is irrelevant. When I point out to them that half of the poor in the US are white, they turn to abstraction, rather than dealing with the fact that the problem of poverty in the US is twice as large as they imagine and its solutions have nothing to do with race—they have to do with sharing resources.

    But I think I’m finally going to start treating anti-racists the same way I treat Mormons—I’ll like the good individuals as individuals, and I’ll ignore the professions of faith by the devout.

    Last, your paragraph about the basis of anti-racism is fucking brilliant.

  5. Will: What you should really do is post, on your blog, a long essay about why I’m full of shit; fair is fair. 🙂

    I understand much of what you say, and some I want to think about some more. But one thing I want to emphasize is that using the term “classism” or even “class bigotry” implies that it is all a matter of opinion, of thought, of ideas–that if people would just lose their prejudices against the poor, all we be well. But it wouldn’t–they’d still be poor. What makes the working class the working class isn’t anyone’s ideas–it is the reality of their relationship to production.

    And thank you.

  6. Okay, I agree. As often happens when I agree with you on fundamental principles, I then go on to say, “…And?”

    If one prefers not to simply sit back and Have Principles, what’s the next step? We have no effective socialist or communist political parties in this country. The power of unions has been pinched off to a trickle. Corporate interests and the politicians they rent have managed to silence or marginalize every organized group or publication I can think of with any interest in the working class other than giving charity to the poor.

    And we’re left with nothing to do but talk about class struggle–turning it into “a matter of opinion, of thought, of ideas”. With no effective action, knowing capitalism is the root of our unjust society is no damn help at all. Screw all this lovely verbiage; what do we do*?

    *Not that I think you have the One True Answer. Just that I need to emphasize that, damn it, being right is swell, but it’s not enough for me.

  7. Dude, if that’s an essay about why I’m full of shit, flatter me and write another.

    I’m not saying “classism” or “class bigotry” are useful terms to end discussions. Like “racism,” they’re useful for discussing prejudice. Why is the bourgeois so very content to live in comfort while others suffer? Because of their prejudices; they just don’t care much about poor folks. I’ll walk this far with the anti-racists: end prejudice, and the class structure fails.

    But you can’t end prejudice without ending hierarchy first. Anti-racists want to create multicultural capitalism. I’d think anyone who can criticize Bush’s cabinet would see the problem with that, but anti-racism isn’t about reality. It’s just about feeling good about being bourgeois.

  8. Wow. I leave the house for a weekend, and you hold a philosophy conference. Well said, all of y’all.

    Steve:
    One thing I would add to what you said here: racism is inherently beneficial to the ruling class, who are often too pragmatic to actually feel it themselves. Racism among the poor keeps them from working together, or working with the middle class (who look down on their provincialism). By contrast, the slur you use when looking down on a particular person doesn’t matter if you are looking down on the entire world, and you’ll probably have more in common with Kenyan dictators and Saudi sheiks than your fellow (insert-race-here) man.

    Will:
    Arguing people on their articles of faith is often the way to lots of grief for little benefit. Accepting those articles that you have at least some agreement for, and looking for common solutions, seems the much more useful approach to Mormons, anti-racists, and pretty much anyone with a different value system.

    Emma:
    As a lapsed socialist, I would like to thank you for putting such a fine point on the reason for my apostasy. A world-wide socialist revolution is a great idea whose time has past. It cannot be as successful now as it could have been twenty or thirty years ago, and its efficacy wains further daily.

    So what do we do? Build something better that works in and around capitalism, without requiring world-wide revolution to achieve meaningfully. Violent struggle will go to the side with the biggest guns, and the capitalists can afford much bigger guns. Intelligent struggles can, if done right, achieve great strides without (much) bloodshed at all, even in situations with asymmetric power levels.

    And unfortunately, part of that struggle is going to require making money. Because money is power in today’s system, and to change a system from within you must hold at least some real power within it. The common socialist allergy to this logical step, I think, is part of what dooms the movement to arguing for impossible solutions.

    Where is the next socioeconomic revolution likely to spawn? My guess is entrepreneurs, possibly even from the green entrepreneur movement I find so oddly discomforting, if capitalism doesn’t manage to wholly subvert it first. It’s going to be first world, it’s going to be cryptic, it’s probably already happening, and my timey-whimey ball can’t detect what happens if it’s successful.

  9. Emma: You do go for the guts of it, don’t you? That’s one reason you’re so damn good. *sigh*

    What you say is why I hesitate to call myself a Marxist–being a Marxist implies, to me, doing something about it, instead of standing here on the sidelines and spouting clever ideas.

    The real answer, I believe, is the construction of a revolutionary party; if this last economic blowup proves anything, it is that capitalism cannot solve it’s own problems (as if, by this time, we needed proof!). As you know, I support the Socialist Equality Party, in spite of some questions here and there about particular issues. But, yes, I think socialist revolution is necessary, possible, and is going to be on the agenda sooner than we think.

    Meanwhile, what I do is fight to understand the world as best I can, and I write my books with the (perhaps foolish) confidence that my worldview, my way of interpreting truth, my way analyzing and synthesizing reality, will work it’s way in and in some way make a few baby steps in the right direction.

  10. Emma again: One other point worth noting. When you say “We have no effective socialist or communist political parties in this country” it is worth considering what that means. The Socialist Equality Party has more members and resources now than the Bolshevik Party did eight years before the Russian Revolution. Lenin believed that if your analysis was correct, and you rigorously told the truth no matter how unpopular it was, the masses would come. I believe he was proven right. So my version of “effective” has to do with principles and method.

  11. Steve, I think your analysis of the “ideas versus actions” problem is very insightful. We need to stop the dueling ideas, and decide what – if anything – we can do to address the actual problems. I am so tired of people arguing about things like anthologies that don’t include women or blacks when people lack medical care, are starving, and worse.

    Unfortunately, I have to agree about current feminism. It has become a dead end, apologizing for itself instead of fighting the oppressors. I was horrified to see the cover of the most recent Ms magazine. It has the slogan “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.” I was chanting that 30, 35 years ago. One of the worst ways to oppress anyone is to deny them control over their own bodies. Why are feminists still fighting those battles, and losing?

    Will, I think classism is still a useful word. We need to educate Americans about class. Most of Europe is more aware of class issues. Americans all identify as middle class, from the minimum wage or less to the 6- or even 7-digit salary managers. That’s why people in poverty vote for Republicans, the chickens voting for Col. Saunders. They think that they are one winning lottery ticket away from being a millionaire, so they should vote like one. The Republicans have trashed the education system in this country and now they have these willing dupes. In my opinion, education is one of the keys to changing this.

    I have noticed a major and often invisible dichotomy in many political discussion, schools of thought, and the like. It could be described, somewhat facetiously, as “recycle or revolt”. Thus, too many people argue about whether or not it is worth it to recycle cans, or whether we need to do sweeping actions to Stop Global Warming. There are things every person can do to lessen the impact, but some of what needs to be done takes institutional and wide-spread change. (And I quite agree that the profit motive is one of the poisons that drives many of our problems. Look at health care!) This does not mean I’m going to stop recycling my cans, taking a cloth bag so I don’t use a plastic bag, and many other small actions. I also educate myself and vote, if only for the lesser of two evils. I’m not sure what else to do. This is the case for many issues. We need both the short view and the long view, and do both. It’s not an either/or situation, in most cases.

    I agree with Nathan, the time for violent revolution is long past, if there ever was such a time. How do we build the new world while the old rots around us? We have two meta-problems: lack of vision and lack of means. Not only, what do we want the future to look like? but, how do we get there, step by do-able step?

    (Carol, I’d be interested in learning the title of the book you refer to once it’s published, if you can.)

  12. Magenta @ 7: Good point on health care; it is THE classic case of a problem that cannot be solved until the profit motive is removed. And I think (I’d love to be proved wrong) that we’re past the point where the profit motive can be removed in such a major area so long as we have a market economy. As much as poverty and imperialist war, the health care crisis in this country screams for revolution.

  13. Magenta, excellent point about “classism”—every time it’s used in the US, it reminds Americans that classes exist and class warfare is more than an idea for rich people to mock.

    Steve, Medicare-For-All would work. But whether US capitalists would ever agree to it, I dunno.

  14. Steve, by “work”, I mean it would allow for plenty of profit by the health care industry. It only cuts out the insurance folks. But they’re the ones with deep pockets, so….

  15. I’m not sure anything will ever change until the majority of people in America stop dreaming that they will one day all of a sudden come into great wealth and prosperity.

    I’ve lived in a few countries, and visited a bunch more… and we seem to be the only one that only desires the types of change that benefits the fantasy that they’ve built up in their minds.

    Now a large portion of that I lay squarely at the feet of the mass media. 24 hour profit based news networks are the devil and need to be shut down, until they are I truly feel that the USA is doomed to wallow in the muck and mire that the mass majority do not even realise that they sit in on a daily basis.

    It’s all about talking points and spin. Spoon feeding the kool-aid to the viewers who then regurgitate it to others who spew it forth as fact, without ever actually questioning the original statements or bothering to look to see if the kool-aid is toxic. Which it almost always is.

    Now… I’ve never got racism, I grew up around it. The year I graduated highschool, two black youths were lynched for being in the wrong part of town. This was just 18 years ago. I mean, WTF. I just don’t understand hatred for someone based on something that they can’t help. Hatred towards someone they don’t even know.

    My least favorite sort of racism are the blokes that hate some generic race, but get alone fine with the ones that are living next door. They’re the good sort.

    So while I understand it in the way I understand a math problem, I don’t get it. In much the same way.

    Classism is a weird one for me. You can transcend to some extent from one class to another, if you go to school and get a good job and so on.

    Because of that I’m not sure I’d agree it’s the same sort of thing as racism. You don’t hate the poor. You ignore them and through your disinterest and lack of attention they wither and die, much like my wife’s basil out on the balcony.

    Is it better than racism or sexism? Not really. But it’s a much less… laser focused problem. It’s more amorphous and ephemeral to me. No less dangerous perhaps, depending on where you sit I guess.

    I don’t believe that racism and classism are necessarily linked.

    I’ve known rich educated racists as well as dirt poor ignorant ones. Sad but true.

    Oops. I got ranty and long winded. Sorry.

  16. @GWW “I’ve known rich educated racists as well as dirt poor ignorant ones. Sad but true.”

    The view by most Americans is that there is a teeny tiny ‘poor’ class, way down at the very bottom, composed mainly of immigrants and A.Americans living in ghettos. There is a teeny tiny upper class, way up at the top, and it’s possible for anyone to join that class. Most Americans firmly believe that they are ‘Middle Class Americans’, exactly that demographic that Palin and the TeaPartiers pander to.

    In that way, class and race are linked, because the wide held belief is that the members of the ‘poor’ are Mexican and black.

    I was raised to believe that I was middle class, and when I finally looked at the income numbers, at where the poverty line is, and really started to understand about class, money and power, it was a huge shock to me. I was working full time in a department store jewelry department. I had an apartment and a car, and I mostly paid my bills. And I earned three thousand dollars a year less than the poverty line.

    Once I read about a living wage, and looked at my paystubs, I got pissed off. I read about unions, and how in most places they’re actually illegal, I became enraged. I read about the environment and realized that the power to make the changes needed to save the planet rests not in my hands, but in the hands of corporations, and I started to cry. And then I read about healthcare, and realized that the decision about who lives and who dies is based on profit…

    I’ve come to realize that what is called ‘middle class america’ is an illusion sold to the citizens to keep them/us complacent. There is a way to reach the upper class, if you stay within the current systems and just ‘work hard enough.’ The “American Dream” is the carrot held out by the established upper class to keep the majority of people in line.

    In socio-cultural terms, it is important for people to feel that there is some outside group, some ‘other’ that is ‘less’ than they are. The group perceived as ‘poor’ is that other for most Americans, and is held out as the root and cause of all troubles. Not enough jobs? Immigrants keep taking them! Health care too expensive? The cost of care for ‘poor’ people is being fostered onto everyone else. Property values dropping? There’s a spreading ghetto nearby. Education going stroppy? Well, we have to educate to the lowest common denominator, and guess who’s in your school district…

    Add in the ‘Dream’ and the illusion that the levels between classes are easily navigated upwards, and you wind up with the poisonous idea that if you only ‘work hard’, ‘apply yourself’, ‘try’, ‘get an education’, ‘get a better job’, that you’ll be able to overcome being poor. Those poor slobs down there on the bottom, if they would just try harder, they too could be middle class.

    Immigrants could just apply for citizenship and pay taxes; poor people could take better care of their rented apartments; go to night school, get a suit, learn to speak english… but the ‘Dream’ demands that anyone who is on the bottom is there because they’re lazy, they didn’t try, they’re stupid and evil and they’ll drag you down, too. The poor are a warning, a threat held out to the middle class. You don’t want to be like ~them~ do you?

    To me, the answer is a combination of ideas and action. The idea is that the poor class isn’t composed solely of Mexicans and blacks living in trashed out ghettos, it’s the actual economic poor, those without power, those without money on the lowest tier of our society. The idea is that staying within the paradigm of our current culture isn’t the answer; the American Dream is poison used to keep the populous quiescent. The action is to stop trying for the American Dream.

    Stop believing that if you just work hard enough, play the game well enough, strive long enough, that you’ll get into the upper class. Don’t believe it. Reach for your own personal happiness, for your own kind of heaven. Find ways to grab contentment, peace and prosperity that don’t involve buying into the ‘Dream’. You can be prosperous without money, you can be happy without a lot of possessions, you can be full of peace in a ghetto.

    Change comes to a society from one of two sources: either mass movement of large numbers of citizens on an overt basis, or on a grassroots basis. Open revolt in the streets, or more and more people opting out of the game.

  17. This, coupled with Will’s initial post, could be my blog-conversation of the year. You guys rock. I don’t think I have anything substantive otherwise to contribute that hasn’t already been said better, earlier, so I’ll leave it at that.

  18. GWW, you’re right that racism and classism are not perfectly equivalent, but the poor of all hues are hated and despised when they’re not ignored. “White trash” and “trailer trash” are my favorite examples. They also got lynched—lynching was a multicultural practice in the US until the 20th century, when the Klan focused on blacks, but still went after the occasional scallywag or “agitator.”

  19. This conversation is very depressing. Are you guys really this nihilistic? The amount of credit that is given to the unknowable cabal you demonize is overwhelming. Capitalism isn’t what has failed the U.S., and the god of socialism won’t fix it. Socialism always fails when it runs out of places to take things from. You can’t get rid of money, because not all things are of the same value. There will always be people/places/things that are worth more than others.
    But, in the end, I only posted here because I was curious, based on this strange conversation, what you guys thought of the bizarre show, Undercover Boss, vis-a-vis, your world view?

  20. This thread is an addtional reminder of how 1984 has a lot of home truths today.

    In what Orwell describes how the Proles are managed is a little spooky.

  21. @code red:

    The ‘unknowable cabal’ you think is being demonized is neither being demonized nor is it unknowable. Fortune lists the top 500 once a year, and you can look at the lists of high earning corporations in the NYSE for the rest.

    Money is power now; no one in this conversation has advocated for its abolishment. Neither has anyone advocated for a switch to a pure barter based economy.

    The reason some things are worth more than others is because someone has made a judgment that one is ‘better’ or of more value than another. The question arises, who has made that judgment, and if you are accepting their decrees as to value, then why? What happens if you disagree? Market forces and market economies are interesting things, and are worth lots and lots of study.

    As to your question about the show, I can’t answer you, because I don’t watch commercial television. Sorry.

  22. Jennifer, I wanted to say I liked your post.

    As for code red, he wants a religious argument, and I’m trying not to get into those anymore. When capitalism fails even more, he may lose his faith.

  23. Steve, I was just reading a bit more of The Condition of the Working-Class in 1844, and came across this, which comes right after Engels has been documenting the rapid increase of crime that comes with industrialization under capitalism: “But then it is the bourgeoisie, and from its standpoint cannot even see the facts, much less perceive their consequences. One thing only is astounding, that class prejudice and preconceived opinions can hold a whole class of human beings in such perfect, I might almost say, such mad blindness.”

    Classism is that “class prejudice and preconceived opinions.” The mistake liberals make when they use the same terms is they assume class subjugation is eternal, or should be.

  24. Will: I should read that. Marx quotes it from time to time in the footnotes to Capital.

  25. I keep being amazed that he wrote it when he was so young. It’s a bit oddly structured, so I can’t imagine reading it straight through, but it’s perfect for dipping into at regular intervals.

  26. Jennifer, that is actually a helpful response. I am concerned again about the negativity in saying that everyone with money is evil, however. Can’t be proven, and incredibly generalistic (is that a word?).
    I am intrigued that you question the value of things. I haven’t read a great deal of political propaganda, so I was relying on my visit with Walden Two to speak a language that I though might be understood here. He points out that taking out the trash is not nearly as valuable as a great work of art because not everyone can do the great work of art. That’s simplistic, but hopefully gives you a reference point for what I was attempting to say.

    Will, I take your point. My point is this: my God and capitalism are not intertwined. My God is perfect but capitalism is only the best way so far that humans can live with each other. While, on the other hand, socialism has become the focus in the place where a god would be, if a socialist were wise enough to realize one there…not the best way to say it, but I do think you are smart enough to see what I mean.

    Oh, and Undercover Boss is a weird show where the big guy comes out of his ivory tower to work with the proles, and learn how he can manipulate them to work harder for him. I wanted to get the take of those in this discussion.

  27. code red, my God and socialism are profoundly intertwined–the only thing Marx did was to analyze the workings of capitalism. The Bible is filled with cries for the rich to share. If you’re a Christian, you can wrestle with John the Baptist’s advice to give one if you have two, or you can take on the greater challenge of Jesus’s advice on what to do if you wish to be perfect. No one minds if you fail to be perfect. But, oh, so few Christians even try to get halfway there.

  28. @23 “… documenting the rapid increase of crime that comes with industrialization under capitalism…”

    If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Reiman’s book “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice”, I think you’d find it very intersting. It’s the only socialist critique of the US legal system I’ve found that addresses all aspects of crime, including race and economic class. I’m sure you’d find his appendix, “The Marxian Critique of Criminal Justice”, to be most interesting.

  29. Will – 27: I cautiously admit that I can’t find a statement here that I disagree with. It is sad that you have never met a true Christian, but that doesn’t make your statement less true. I suspect that it is like that in many classifications of people; there are always some who don’t get it that make them all look bad.
    I agree that the Bible does teach, on the way to the bigger lesson, to take care of each other’s burdens. The goal is to have the kind of heart that you will gladly help those in need when God shows them to you. I have a couple orgs and a few individuals that I contribute to regularly, but it does not make me a Christian, only shows a facet of why I am.
    I will point out, though, that in no case of helping in the Bible does the government take half of what you have to give to who THEY think needs it. It is too personal of a duty, and none of their frikkin’ business. We don’t need universal health care, we need less insurance companies (read: none), and more “true” Christians.
    In fact, to take the point further, the Bible teaches us that having a government is unnecessary. 1 Sam. 8, God tells us what will happen to us when we have one; “…he will take your sons…your daughters…the best of your fields…your sheep.” Our government is out of control. It is doing jobs that it is not designed to do, and has become a god to itself. I don’t want more of that.

  30. Some things are worth more than others because people are willing to pay more for them. I don’t have to care about what someone says; but if he’s willing (and able) to pay more for a house than I am, then I’m not going to be buying that house.

  31. Seth: I think you posted in the wrong place.

  32. code red @ 29: Please watch your assumptions. I see no basis whatsoever for your assertion that Will has not met any “true Christians”, however you may define that phrase — and this is not the time or place to discuss that definition. But pause to consider how that reads to anyone here who is a Christian and has met Will.

  33. code red, I’ve met many true Christians, and I like to think I am one. After all, for Jesus and for people of many faiths, being “true” consists of loving God and loving people. It’s really hard to show that you love people or God when you’re hoarding your wealth rather than sharing it, which is undoubtedly why the only way for the rich to enter the state of heaven is by hearing God encouraging them to move toward perfection, i.e., giving what they have to those who have less.

    As for governments, communists are also working toward ending government. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” is simply a transitional time when democracy lets the working class majority become the class that shapes policy, as opposed to the present system, where the rich give us choices between rich candidates with different philosophies on how the rich should rule us.

    Seth, yes, you’re a capitalist.

  34. Apologies to Nolly, but I miss your point. It seems that I misunderstood Will’s point in his last sentence in 27. It seems that other than that, we don’t disagree much. I would guess that much of what I have said is also being missed, mostly due to my inability to state it clearly.
    In 33, the second paragraph, I will have to read it again, but I can’t see it as anything more than an artificial step that is unneeded. We are to be in the world, not of it. Chances are, I simply don’t understand your goal. Current demonstration of government (give the name you want to it) is to give them the control by telling me what light bulbs to use, what kind of car to drive, what food to eat, what my house can be made with, etc. That is just not the direction that I understand I am to be going. It impinges on my freedom to worship and live the life I should be as told by Paul in Galatians.

  35. Emma: there are a lot of practical steps that people take every day in small, grass roots ways to improve the situations of the poor and to build alternative economies. A few in which I participate:

    The LiveJournal PoorSkills Community, through which people share information: http://community.livejournal.com/poor_skills/profile

    The St Paul area ‘Hour Dollars’ community through which people barter services on an equal hours basis,

    Many cities have cooperatively owned car rental services. The Twin Cities version is the ‘Hour Car.’

    There are Freecycle networks everywhere.

    Scott Imes once said that there will be wars as long as there are more dogs than bones. We’re probably stuck with the profit motive until such a time as we’re technologically capable of meeting human needs without the oppression of some by others. Poverty is scary. Money is sexy. But it’s not like people aren’t doing anything to speed a better day.

  36. code red @ 34: By claiming Will has never met a “true Christian” — which is not what he said at all, but I’ll come back to that — you classify any Christian Will has met as a “false Christian”.

    What Will actually said, as I read him, is that few — not none, but few — of the Christians he is aware of — has met, read about, etc. — make a real effort to share their wealth with those in need to the extent taught in the Gospels and modeled by the early church as portrayed in Acts and the epistles.

  37. code red, when it comes to how to live my life as a Christian, I pay more attention to Jesus and John the Baptist than Paul.

    Laramie, we have more bones than dogs. The problem is 10% of the dogs have 90% of the bones.

    Nolly, thanks. I can’t add anything to that.

  38. code red, a PS: If you’re focusing on the importance of love in Galatians, you’ll have nothing against the representatives of the community distributing the wealth. That’s very Biblical. Peter, for an extreme example, was the representative of the community who dealt with the greed of Ananias and Sapphira.

  39. Will: The notion of “distributing the wealth” is a good example of what I mean as a middle-class idea, when it’s put in terms of “we should convince the rich to share” rather than in terms of the political Independence of the working class.

  40. Steve, Marx did say, “Democracy is the road to socialism.” He may have been wrong, and he lived a middle-class life, but he said it, and that calls for some convincing of middle-class folks.

    Also, in case you don’t know the story in Acts, Peter and God killed Ananias and Sapphira after they refused to be convinced.

    Now, I agree that democracy does not call for everyone to be convinced.

  41. Of course democracy is the road to socialism. 1. Democracy provides the means for dissemination of socialist ideas. 2. Democracy permits the creation of legal mass socialist organizations. 3 and most important: the fight for a consistent democracy necessarily, if it isn’t cut short, turns into a fight for socialism.

    But where has democracy been achieved that it has not been brought about by non-democratic means?

    Most significantly, however, the middle-class will follow the working class whenever the working class shows that it is determined, strong, and willing to go the whole way (look at the role of the middle class in, for example, the Minneapolis general driver’s strike, the San Fransisco general strike, the Flint sit-down strikes).

    Where did Marx (or anyone else outside of a loony bin) say that the road to socialism required convincing the capitalists to give up everything that makes them capitalists?

  42. With the enormous proviso that I’m not aware of a democracy anywhere that isn’t subject to manipulation by the rich and powerful, haven’t most democracies come about peacefully? Heck, the struggle for democracy within the US has been mighty peaceful–I don’t think there’s a strong connection between Shay’s Rebellion and the growth of democracy in the US over the following century and a half. You could say the Civil War is a point against that, but it was fought by capitalists on both sides, and what it had to do with democracy was more of an afterthought, given the number of people like Lincoln who thought the ex-slaves might go back to Africa. Women’s rights and the Civil Rights Movement were both won via our limited democracy.

    As for getting from democracy to socialism, that has nothing to do with convincing the capitalists, but it sure has to do with convincing enough of the people who’re currently propping them up.

    There’s an old tension in the commie movement: either the times matter and people don’t, so we needn’t try to convince anyone, or we ought to be trying to convince everyone we possibly can. I favor the latter, ’cause if it’s the times that matter, your efforts won’t hurt things.

    Hmm. Maybe I should just say that I’m not concerned with convincing the capitalists. I’m just concerned with convincing 51% of the public.

  43. “haven’t most democracies come about peacefully? ”

    So far as I know, none of them have. And, really, how could they? If they could be brought about peacefully, you’d already *have* a democracy. In the U.S., there was this wee li’l revolution, y’know. And then a civil war to finish what had been started.

    “As for getting from democracy to socialism, that has nothing to do with convincing the capitalists, but it sure has to do with convincing enough of the people who’re currently propping them up.”

    Okay, if the thrust of your argument has been to convince everyone else, rather than trying to convince the capitalists that they should voluntarily give up their wealth, then I misunderstood you and withdraw my objection.

    But then, the next question is, convince everyone else to do what? If the answer isn’t, “take it away from them,” then I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish. If that is the answer, then we have a basic agreement and we can move on to trivial matters such as how the fuck do we do that.

  44. Steve, does the UK have a democracy? Does Norway? I need to know your definition before I can go any further with this. I can certainly agree that rulers don’t accept democracy unless they’re fairly sure it’ll happen with or without them.

    How the fuck we get people to agree to take wealth from the rich and give it to the poor is the question. I think we first have to convince enough people that socialism in the US is viable. The polling is at, what, 20-30%? Double that, and we win.

  45. Will, the UK didn’t achieve the Westminster System by peaceful means. The King of the day did not willingly relinquish power on a benevolent whim.

    The UK’s model evolved by way of at least 3 civil wars since 1215. And the King in each instance certainly was not willing to accept reforms (John, Charles I and James II).

    You can argue Australia’s current system came about peacefully with the states getting together and forming the Commonwealth. But its system is a the Westminster system with a bit of the American system thrown in to boot – both of these came about through violence (albeit from other countries).

  46. schmwarf, for the UK, I was thinking about the slow acceptance of the goals of the Chartists, but I hear the argument that the earlier attempts were necessary to make the ruling class pay attention.

  47. Will: What schmwarf said. Yes, I consider the UK a bourgeois democracies, and Norway.

  48. Will, re: “we have more bones than dogs. The problem is 10% of the dogs have 90% of the bones.”

    Are you saying we have enough of every good and desireable thing to meet the needs of everyone living? I don’t think so. The rich don’t think so; which is why they are so desperate to hang onto as much as they can get. They believe there isn’t enough to go around and they have to get theirs.

    They are afraid – of being as needy and powerless as we all really are. They are acting out of fear and defensiveness, and you can’t cure people of fear by treating them as enemies.

    Imagine that you are a microcosm of humanity, embodying both rich and poor, working class and management. When you have resolved the conflicts in yourself you will understand how to approach resolving them in the world. Massive strokes destroying half your faculties don’t count as a cure.

  49. Laramie @48: “Imagine that you are a microcosm of humanity, embodying both rich and poor, working class and management.”

    In many people’s view, this is ultimately the crux of the problem. People refuse, or are unable, to rise above animal (me first, me second, me only, and maintain my place of dominance in the troop) thinking, even when they believe they are–they care about the “less fortunate” as long as it doesn’t involve “sacrifice.”

    Their intellects, and interest in creating civilization out of ape troops, simply can’t get engaged at the level you describe.

    In my environment, it is usually expressed as “why should I work so that those lazy people don’t have to?” Which is the animal view, because it seems to me to be another way of saying “why should I care if other people die? They’re not me, I’m only obligated to advance myself.”

    Obligated? The goal is to advance civilization to the point that the question doesn’t come up.

    As for “are you saying we have enough of every good and desireable thing to meet the needs of everyone living?”, there’s a key semantic choice there: “need.” Do we have enough to meet the “needs?” Absolutely. Food, Water, Shelter, Electricity, Medicine, there is more than enough (at least in the U.S.) to go around to everyone in the U.S., and probably enough in the world. If it were all free.

    “Wants?” That’s totally different. 🙂

  50. skzb, using your definition, I agree with you. I’m not aware of any true democracies. But I think democracy is a process, and bourgeois democracy can lead to proletariat democracy. For example, people (including the US) have tried to overthrow Hugo Chavez, but so far, Venezuela’s flawed, but worker-friendly, democracy has survived.

    Laramie, of course the rich don’t think there are enough luxuries. What they want aren’t bones–they want ornate pastries brought to them by grateful servants.

    But if you look at what people need, the world has more than enough.

  51. “But I think democracy is a process, and bourgeois democracy can lead to proletariat democracy”

    I agree. But I think it is very dangerous to think the transition is liable to occur peacefully.

  52. No, I wouldn’t argue that’s it’s most likely. But I think it’s most desirable, because it’s the transition that’s most likely to succeed. Violent revolutions beget violent counter-revolutions if you don’t have peacemakers ready to step in as soon as the revolution has succeeded.

  53. Will, ALL revolutions beget counter-revolutions. And many of them beget civil wars. One way or another, the two classes test themselves. As for peaceful revolutions, uh, just one did you have in mind?

  54. Okay. I have a question: who are the working class in the United States today? I’m not trying to be flippant, here, but I am trying to point out that one of the larger problems with socialist rhetoric is that the modern working class in the USA is no longer an industrial working class. We’re a service/information working class.

    That’s a different beastie, and a different world view. Honestly, sometimes I really wonder who the hell modern socialists are talking to? Most of us don’t build cars or work in textile mills or roll steel anymore. Or (in my part of the country anyway) belong to unions.

    We flip burgers, serve from the left and collect from the right. Or we put on polos and slacks and spend the day under the florescents keyboarding in data, or spend twelve hour days in hospitals changing bed linens, running IVs or centrifuging samples, or asking if we can help you find something in a retail store, or spend our nights sitting behind bulletproff glass in some godforsaken Quick Mart off Exit 87. That’s the working class. Today. That’s the class you have to reach and that’s the class you need to learn to talk to.

    Your dialectic is late 19th century. It’s not translating well.

    Anyway, thanks much for the opportunity to use my little soapbox. And @skzb: thanks for the stories… you build good wooden horses.

  55. Ensley: I can’t figure out why the service industry working class is “a different beastie” than the industrial working class, except that they’re harder to unionize. And given the current state of the unions, I’m not even sure that’s a bad thing. But with service personnel, just as industrial personnel, they still must sell their labor-power to live. So how is that different?

  56. skzb: In economic terms, there is no real difference between the industrial and service industry working classes. In psychological terms, there is. I think there is a breakdown in communications between traditional socialist rhetoric and the service industry working class.

    Semantics get important here. Most service industry workers don’t think of themselves as producers in the classical sense, and therefore phrases like “put the means of the production in the hands of the producers” don’t resonate. Also, the lines between “management” and “workers” is much less distinct. An assistant manager in a restaurant who spends much of his time waiting tables, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, etc does not fill the traditional bill. Nor does a charge nurse.

    Political education of the working class is generally considered a prerequisite to any kind of political/economic change, and traditional socialist rhetoric no longer serves to provide that education. Christ, “revolution”? Really? After the 20th century when anyone with the sense God gave geese knows damn well the pain and horror that revolutions bring and how infrequently they actually do the working class any good? Start talking “revolution” and the working class will back away slowly, smiling carefully.

    Socialism’s messages are desperately needed, but the language has to change, because it’s no longer spoken by most of us. A revolution on those terms just leaves the workers with another set of foreign bosses who wind up shrugging and saying “you just have to trust us” to a functionally politically illiterate proletariat (another term best avoided like the plague.)

  57. Steve, I think we’re disagreeing on shades of meaning. Democracy in Switzerland, for example, has been very slow–weren’t they the last western European country to give the vote to women?–but peaceful.

    Ensley, I try to use different rhetoric with different people. The problem for socialists is that Marx’s terms don’t have direct analogues, so they’re useful for discussing problems with each other, but not with people who only know capitalist economics. Which is why capitalists have been able to demonize anyone who uses words like “class” or even “capitalism.” (See the Texas school book debacle.)

    I sometimes toy with the idea of translating The Communist Manifesto into modern English. But it’s tricky. Take “bourgeoisie,” for example, which is suspect for being both commie and French. What’s the perfect alternative? American use of “upper class” has nothing to do with titles of nobility, so it’s not a terrible choice, but some of the US upper class are only very-well-paid proles. Ditto for “the rich.” “Owner” suggests someone who owns a house, not a business. Etc.

    I rather like old-school working class terms like bosses and workers. But that’s messy, too.

  58. “In economic terms, there is no real difference between the industrial and service industry working classes. In psychological terms, there is”

    I’d agree with that. A more basic disagreement, then, is that I believe economics trumps psychology. Economic forces will bring the working class to a revolutionary psychology for the simple reason that they have nowhere else to go.

    And however unpleasant revolution is (and even when it isn’t, the aftermath is), so far history has not found another way to move forward.

    Will: Swiss democracy was peaceful? Really? Are you familiar with Helvetic Revolution of 1803? What it was, was a huge step forward for Swiss democracy. What it was not, was peaceful.

  59. skzb: I’m reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, and I’m learning things about the Great Depression and Dust Bowl that I’ve never even heard of. Food riots, while produce rots by the railheads. Towns taking collective action in the form of strikes to try and drive up prices, only to be undercut by other towns, other farmers (at one point he market price for a bushel of corn was -$0.03). The worst economic disaster in world history and the worst environmental disaster in US history, yet the unrest among the workers and farmers was minimal, and never threatened the system. Maybe it was lack of organization or agitation, but if we didn’t revolt then… well, how bad does it have to get? And have we not already seen psychology trump economic interest in this country?

    I’ll chew on whether or not history has found other ways. I think you’re probably right, but there may be exceptions, particularly recently. I’m thinking China since 1972, and Vietnam since the 80s. Not really communist, nor socialist, nor Confucian, but an amalgam of all that is becoming something quintessentially Chinese and Vietnamese.

    Will: “The problem for socialists is that Marx’s terms don’t have direct analogues, so they’re useful for discussing problems with each other, but not with people who only know capitalist economics.” Good point. I admit the hardest thing for me is to break out of the capitalist framework. I don’t think my college classes in micro- and macro-economics ever went into any real detail with other possibilities. And you’re right again, the vocabulary just isn’t there, and the traditional has been redefined into something counterrevolutionary(!)

  60. Ensley: If you believe there wasn’t substantial social unrest during the dust bowl, I think you need to do a bit more studying of the dust bowl. Growth among working class parties during that era was tremendous, and the system was so desperately threatened that the ruling class elected Roosevelt to borrow against the future as the only means of saving it.

    Remember that the dust bowl was also the period of the San Fransisco general strike, the rise of the Teamsters, the rise of the UAW. The CIO was founded in the middle of the dust bowl.

    If your historian is attempting to understand the dust bowl in isolation from everything else happening in that era, you’re reading a very, very bad historian.

  61. skzb: Let me be quick to speak up for Timothy Egan. His focus is the Dust Bowl and the people who stayed in that region of the country throughout, but he does an excellent job of placing it in a wider historical context. Any ignorance here is mine.

  62. Ensley, understanding Marx’s idea of bourgeoisie and proletariat was very difficult for me, because I’d absorbed a lot of middle class liberal ideas about benevolent capitalism. When I finally got it, it was a eureka moment.

    Steve, I didn’t know about the Helvetic Revolution, and its fall to reactionary forces saddens me, but I think another difference between us is you’re taking a very long view, while I’m focusing on what the last, oh, 150 years tell us. The vote for women was won peacefully because men chose to surrender power simply because they realized, after much strong but peaceful protest, that it was right to give women the vote. Once slavery had ended and the question of equality for blacks arose, the violence was pretty much restricted to the people who opposed democracy.

    Or an example in the US that I think is more telling: there was no violent call for senators to be elected rather than appointed. But the most powerful interests in each state realized they would be better off if the people had a little more to do with choosing their representatives. That doesn’t get us to the goal. But it gets us closer.

  63. Will: Several things come to mind, but the thing that gets to the heart of the heart of it is, I think, this: “Once slavery had ended and the question of equality for blacks arose, the violence was pretty much restricted to the people who opposed democracy.”

    Well, yes. Of course. That’s how it works. The idea of revolution as a bunch of people suddenly deciding to violently implement their will isn’t how it happens. Revolution happens when the masses, seeing a way out of impossible difficulties, are met with violent opposition, and resist. Yes, there can at times be a conspiratorial element subordinate to the overall conflict–especially if there is a leadership that knows what it’s doing and wants to minimize the violence–but the violence in a revolution is invariably defensive in nature.

    Here’s something that lays it out neatly:
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1907/1905/ch31.htm

  64. For me, Trotsky’s argument centers on this: “Before passing to repressive measures the Soviet used words of persuasion. That was its true method, and the Soviet was tireless in applying it.”

    Which is what started our discussion: I’ve been trying to persuade anti-racists that they’re failing to see the problem clearly. How many of them are bourgeois, I don’t know. But I’m doing my best to give up on them now, because a great many of them clearly are bourgeois, and I know of at least one who has decided her future is with her privileged schoolmates.

  65. Uh, to clarify the last sentence, I know of one anti-racist from a working class background who has allied herself with the bourgeois. She strikes me as one of the most vehement and least-reasoned, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s how dissociation works–if she lets herself question her current understanding of justice, her world will crumble.

  66. Okay, Will. You’ve at least half convinced me. I can’t say that I think you’re right, but at least I’m no longer sure that you’re wrong.

    I’ll let it stew for a while and see what happens.

  67. Steve, we’re in perfect agreement now!

  68. skzb @63: Probably this was obvious to everyone but me, but it struck me as very interesting: “Revolution happens when the masses, seeing a way out of impossible difficulties, are met with violent opposition…” is a very Von Clausewitz (dare I say, Sethra?) view of revolution, apropos several earlier discussions. Good brain food in this thread!

  69. @Laramie Sassevill : Are you saying we have enough of every good and desireable thing to meet the needs of everyone living?

    Yep.

    There is now enough food produced each year to provide 3,500 calories per person on the entire planet, each day. See: http://km.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/fsn/docs/CanWeSolvetheProblemofHungerandMalnutrition.doc And that’s without taking into account anything other than grain production.

    We have the technology and knowledge needed to provide clean drinking water to every human.

    We have low cost building methods and materials, and can provide shelter to all people, with no regard to where they live or in what climate.

    Food, water, shelter. We can provide for the basics of life for every living person.

    We have vaccines, medications, treatments for illnesses. We have surgical techniques to correct birth defects, repair accidental injuries and mitigate lasting diseases.

    The only reason left for anyone on this spinning marble to be hungry, thirsty, homeless or sick is because someone somewhere hasn’t squeezed the last drop of profit out of them.

    We have the means to alleviate human suffering.

    It’s in the hands of the rich, and they don’t think they’re rich enough yet.

  70. I think Jennifer has gotten close to the heart of the matter. But is not primarily the rich getting their profit. It is the ones in power staying in power. Keeping the rich content helps them stay in power. Communism is a fine ideal but unfortunately, it ends as strictly an ideal. All of the modern attempts to communism have become dictatorships almost immediately upon success of the revolution. This is due to basic human nature. Lust for power, greed and humanities need for control and dominance. The type of people who gravitate toward the front of these movements tend to have these characteristics and a greater ambition. Then they want to maintain their status. Until you can totally curb human greed, lust and ambition; ( see statistical probability of global human altruism) the possibility of a true benelovent communsitic society is doomed from the start. PERIOD. It is logically and philosophically impossible. 95% of people in the world have a price, either monetarily or viscerally(threats), to betray their fellow man through action or inaction. If you can provide me with any quantifiable data to contrary I would be more than happy to consider it.

  71. The bible states that only GOD will provide true benevolent rule to the world. Maybe we should all pray for that day to come?

  72. Jennifer @69, That’s wonderful. It sounds like the problem is one of perception then, because the rich are still acting from a mentality of “there’s not enough to go around so I have to get mine.”

    And Will is right to draw the distinction between needs and wants – there may be enough of the necessities to meet everyone’s needs, but not enough BMWs, mansions or Picassos to go around.

    I could see two separate economies operating side-by-side – an underlying universal economy to assure the distribution of necessities on an equal basis, and a competitve economy for the extras that people could earn by contributions above and beyond the call of social duty.

    My basic problem with Socialism per se is the same as with Capitalism – you just wind up with a different bunch of rascals on top, running the system of distribution. We need a more evolved human consciousness before we get a more evolved political system.

    And I like his brother, Groucho better.

  73. There are studies which conclude we have to evolve societies first if we want to evolve people. For example:

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/03/evolution-of-fairness/

    Socialism emphasizes egalitarianism and sharing. Capitalism emphasizes hierarchy and hoarding. Which do you want to be the norm?

  74. Will @73 asks:
    Socialism emphasizes egalitarianism and sharing. Capitalism emphasizes hierarchy and hoarding. Which do you want to be the norm?

    Ideally, something in between, where private enterprise and accumulation of wealth is still possible, but the market and government are restrained from behavior which works directly against the general welfare (e.g. insurance companies, monopolies).

  75. Rathgar@74: “Ideally, something in between, where private enterprise and accumulation of wealth is still possible, but the market and government are restrained from behavior which works directly against the general welfare (e.g. insurance companies, monopolies).”

    Yes, but that’s not possible. In the absence of a self-aware and active working class (of which we have neither), no economic actor in the market system has the power to curb excesses EXCEPT the government. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, has been bought off by said market.

    Perfect example–and here I’m revealing myself as a corporate tool. Consider the tanker. The USAF, through the last decade has been flying Eisenhower-era tankers through two wars.

    One would think that the idea that 50-year-old planes are going to start dropping out of the sky would galvanize politicos to action. One would be wrong. From a sweetheart deal that ended in prison sentences to our current fiasco with a major US contractor dropping out of the bidding, our country’s blind obsession with the notion of competition has lead to the passage of a full ten years, and not a single plane has hit the design stage, so we can start wickedly overpaying for a piece of junk.

    So the choices are: single-source a plane to a maker who has sworn to abandon their Washington State roots to build the plane in South Carolina where unions are illegal (thus disappointing congressional members from Alabama and elsewhere), or allow a foreign company to bid on the plane, and outsource ALL of the jobs thus created.

    Who exactly was supposed to restrain this market excess? The government caused it!

    Who was supposed to restrain the government? The very market forces that aided, abetted and bribed their way to this very end?

    Pardon me if I fail to see a “middle solution,” let alone a middle solution that doesn’t leave me as broke and poor as if I’d been left bleeding in an alley.

    And don’t get me started on health insurance, please.

  76. Rathgar, I should’ve formulated that as communism versus capitalism, because then socialism is the compromise. Sometimes socialism and communism are used interchangeably, but socialism can refer to a state moving toward communism, like those that give health care to everyone. (Or, if you’re a right-libertarian, provide libraries.) I would happily be thrown into a socialist hellhole like Norway.

  77. Steve,

    I agree that if we could remove the profit motive and destroy social classes forever it would be easy to pull up a lot of other problems by the roots. I just don’t see how even absolute political power can do those first two things.

    It’s natural for a human who has to deal with a great number of other people to mentally organize them into groups and then have attitudes towards the entire group. What a person spends the majority of there time doing is going to tend to correlate with other characteristics so it’s natural to see people practicing types of professions as a groups. I think you right when you say ” What makes the working class the working class isn’t anyone’s ideas–it is the reality of their relationship to production.” As long as there is some social division of labor and some is actually working there will be a distinct working class. I am also a little confused that in other contexts you don’t seem to want “the reduction of things to “just people.””

    As for profit motive the reason the majority of people do the majority of there acts is because we think it is going to benefit us in some way, allowing us to obtain some status or advantage or avoid something disagreeable. While there are other motives for the occasional action they wouldn’t be enough to get me out of bed and to work on time 5 days a week. I don’t see a way to eliminate profit as a major motivating factor without exterminating the human species, which I am very opposed to on but sentimental and religious grounds.

    You can use public policy to make people parrot back a creed and say they believe it. But you can use it to reach into there hearts and make them less selfish or into their minds and make them less prone to relying on stereotypes. They will still tend towards what ever actions will get them more for less effort in the situation they find themselves in. They will still want to dislike and disregard the needs of what ever group in most vulnerable under the creed that has been imposed on them.

    I would like to live in a classless, non profit driven society but I don’t see that political power offers and mechanism for changing human nature on that fundamental level.

    Will,

    @73 The article you linked to is saying that “participation in markets” correlates with fairness which sounds to me like they are saying that counter-intuitively capitalism promotes fairness. Thinking about that side by side with your statement that “Socialism emphasizes egalitarianism and sharing.” It occurred to me that if under a socialist of communist system maximum equality and sharing were imposed from without by the government or society at large than individual souls would have no chances to make such choices for themselves and thus it is possible that our capacity for sharing and fairness would atrophy.

  78. “As long as there is some social division of labor and some is actually working there will be a distinct working class.”

    Yes. Until everyone is equally a member of the working class, and then no one will be. It isn’t that hard to conceive of; it just means eliminating private property in means of production.

    ” I am also a little confused that in other contexts you don’t seem to want “the reduction of things to “just people.”

    Until “just people” is the reality, trying to understand things as “just people” will necessarily produce inaccurate results.

    “I don’t see a way to eliminate profit as a major motivating factor…”

    by “profit” I refer to that portion of surplus value that goes to the private account of those who exploit labor (and please note that I’m using the scientific definition of exploit, not a moral one).

  79. Classism, racism — all such labels, even the overarching oppressor/oppressed — describe ingroup and outgroup identities. And one man’s outgroup is another man’s ingroup.

    The dominant paradigm in the West has long been sociologically ascetic: identity is designated by the ingroup. And in this then we have the pitting of one group against another, with successful domination a sign of divine right to profit and control. In this domination the ends justify the means, the group seeks to bend the world to its own idea of natural law. Each individual gives up their own right to identity in order to participate in the identity of the group. Fear of loss of identity (thru loss of group purity) has long been the driving force behind the ills of society.

    The recessive sociological paradigm is mystical — the existential individual. And it has rarely been represented in sufficient numbers to make an impact. But it functions through the individual testing oneself against the world, one’s own actions matter because the mystic holds his/her identity autonomously. There is less fear here and more the tendency in the negative towards despair. And the means are the only thing that is important – this would be process based society.

    My view is that you are all using to one degree or another an ascetic paradigm to express mystical desires. Marx wrote under the ascetic paradigm; he may have switched the orientation of ends and means but he still held an “end” as desirable. That’s ultimately what defeats Marxist ideals; in a system dominated by groups vying for dominance vertical power hierarchies clearly have the advantage. “Workers” are still looking to become the dominant group — and in doing so would inevitably come to reflect all that they originally sought to throw off.

    Is it possible to view Marxist ideas under a mystical paradigm? Maybe… for workers to do so would be more coalescence around efforts as empowered individuals whose actions would always be geared to “what is best for the other is best for me.” And that’s not out of line of the spirit of Marx. Existential Marxism?

    But watch carefully — boomers are still working under cultural imprinting that prizes the ascetic paradigm of group identity. A lot of us have found ways to throw that off but it’s still running the thought processes in general. Millenials — they don’t do this. They will be the first of many mystic majority generations baring a collapse of society (widespread fear caused by survival issues always throws humanity back into pack mode).

    But Millenials prize the existential nature of individuality and the equal and infinite ground of all individuals. In the ideal there are no “isms” possible and practically they are much reduced. We’ve already seen that they are the most pragmatic and accepting generation to come up. Weber and Troeltsch both felt that the sociological mystic paradigm was not worth exploring as it simply led to anarchy. But they worked out of a strongly ascetic mind set and too, could not have seen the nature of social networking that is available to drive the cohesiveness of Millenial cultural constructs and political activism.

  80. But you see, Kathryn, the goal is not to find the idea that pleases us the most–or even, necessarily, the idea that is the most useful. The goal is to understand objective reality. We cannot change the world in a deliberate, conscious way without understanding it.

    You speak of “group identity” as something that exists in the mind. It is worth remembering that human beings are, by nature, social animals; we lived together, created and exchanged together, and survived together long before we got around to theorizing about the effects of doing so.

    Class society exists objectively; it is a product of economic development, and it is, in my opinion, the driving force behind racism, oppression, and the need to create theories that turn human misery into mere ideas. Whether one chooses to “identify” with an “ingroup” or not, one’s position and identity are defined, above all, by one’s relation to the means of production.

    The cry for the full development of the individual, in this context, is self-defeating. By refusing to understand that we live in a society that, because of harsh economic realities, denies the possibility of individual development, one becomes unable to contribute to the creation of social conditions that would permit the full development of individuality.

    Feel free to reject “isms” if that pleases you; but capitalISM exists, and dominates our lives. The more one tries to deny its existence and its all-pervading nature, the more control it has.

  81. “Whether one chooses to “identify” with an “ingroup” or not, one’s position and identity are defined, above all, by one’s relation to the means of production. ”

    erm..these days if you dont want to be defined by your relation to the local production you can hop a cheap flight or the greyhound to a city with a different economic/social dynamic. You can even leave the country pretty easily and find another that fits your desired identity better. Since people no longer are born live and die in the same 15 miles area the only people who have this problem are the people who choose to stay.

  82. evrett: Yep. I’m sure you believe that. I rest my case.

Leave a Reply