The Dream Café

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

Answers to A Few Things I’m Tired of Hearing

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My active political life and serious study of social issues began in April of 1968 when I was 12.  By the time of my 13th birthday, that November, I had already come across all of the worn-out, threadbare arguments the unstudied throw in the face of Reds.  Now, when I’m nearly 58, I’m starting to get tired of them.

I need to clarify some points: First, just because a lot of people repeat the same lines, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.  In fact, it means that, on some level at least, the arguments are reasonable.  I get that.  Second, I understand that very often the questions or arguments are sincere; unfortunately, the same argument is often advanced with a smugness that grates and sometimes makes it hard for me to separate someone genuinely interested in an answer from someone trying to score points.  Third, I understand that my personal frustration doesn’t help anyone: it is, as my brother would have said, a subjective reaction (the word “subjective” was as much a curse for him as “unscientific” was for my father).

So I’ve decided to gather up the most common of these, in no particular order, and put my answers where I can just point to them.  I may add additional arguments and questions as they occur to me.

1.  You on the Left should stop squabbling among yourselves and work together.

..a:  Work together to do what, exactly? The real issue, I think, is fetishising terms.  “Red” “Leftist” “Socialist.”  It’s not about the word, it’s about the content of one’s program. Let me put it in terms some of you may be more familiar with: If someone labeling himself a Christian is celebrating the life of Jesus, as he thinks, by promoting tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, charity, and love; and another is celebrating the life of Jesus, as he thinks, by promoting hatred for homosexuals, contempt for the poor, and attacks on reproductive rights of women, the fact that both use the same term to identify themselves seems beside the point, doesn’t it?  More precisely, if I am fighting to break the working class from the hold of the bourgeois parties and mobilize its independent strength, and another is working to get a Democrat elected to make sure the Republican loses, then the fact that we both use the word socialist to describe ourselves seems beside the point, doesn’t it?

..b:  The revolution will be made by the working class, not the “Reds.”  For this to happen, what the working class needs above all is an understanding of its social role, or, to use the parlance of Marxism, its historic mission, and that is the job of Reds: analysis of events and communication.  A group, calling itself whatever, that attempts to prevent the working class from coming to this understanding, isn’t a group you ally yourself with, it is a group you fight.

..c:  Point ..b above,  in turn, requires constant study, and the sharpening of one’s own understanding.  What you call “squabbling among yourselves” is a vital part of this, like using a whetstone to sharpen a knife.

2.  The problem with socialism is that human beings must carry it out.

I’ve never understood this one.  I suspect it’s saying that greed and competition, rather than sharing and cooperation, are inevitable.  But the whole point of socialism is that it is based on an understanding of humanity—that we are social animals above all, and that our means of gaining sustenance and shelter and so on dominate all other considerations until those problems are solved.  If you disagree with that understanding (e.g., you think that greed is biological rather than social; or that people simply cannot be cooperative over the long run), then I think you’re wrong, but say so and we’ll talk about it.

3.  If you can’t make predictions with absolute certainty, it isn’t science.

This generally comes up in the context of predicting when a revolution will take place, or when an economic crisis will break out. One might identify a potentially revolutionary situation, but say that we can’t know for certain if an insurrection will occur.  That’s when, inevitably, someone will say, “Science is about exact predictions and if you can’t make them, it isn’t science.”  Well, okay then. I live in Minnesota.  Next time the National Weather Center tells me that conditions are right for a tornado, I will point out that they have not said with absolute certainty that a tornado will touch down, and so it isn’t science, and so I’ll ignore the warning.  Oh, wait, no I won’t.

4.  What’s to prevent a dictatorship from forming?

Short answer: The power of the armed working class.  The followup question will inevitably involve the Russian Revolution.  The answer to that cannot be a sound bite; volumes have been devoted to the question of what conditions provided the opportunity (almost the requirement) for dictatorial measures.  I can briefly mention devastation by years of war and by the invasion of 21 armies representing 11 nations resulting in the massive destruction of infrastructure and production capacity; the betrayal of the German, British, and French revolutions resulting in the isolation of the Soviet Union, and other matters.  But, really, the answer is, if you seriously want to know, you’ll have to study the issue.  Start with Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed.

ETA: I’ve done a series of blog posts on this.  They start here.

 5.  Who gets to decide what is fair distribution, and how resources are shared?

I don’t know.  How can anyone know in advance?   This is like demanding of the Founding Fathers that they detail the means of separation of powers before issuing the Declaration of Independence.  We have to get to a place where the solution is possible first.  But do you honestly believe that all of humanity, working together without a profit motive, will be unable to figure this out?  Really?  Look around you at everything we as a species have accomplished, and under terrible conditions.  What more can we accomplish when greed is not built into the most fundamental relations of life?  Once we have achieved a common ownership of production—once we, as a people, own everything we need—I have a theory that we can put our heads together and come up with solutions for what is, in fact, a pretty trivial problem.

6.  If you hate the police so much,  isn’t it hypocritical to call them when you’re in trouble?

Imagine you are kidnapped, brought to an isolated compound, and forced to labor for another’s enrichment.  Around the perimeter are guards whose job it is to keep you there, or shoot you if you try to escape. If a fight breaks out between captives, the guards will often jump in to break it up, because you are valuable as a laborer.  If you were attacked by another captive, therefore, you might call the guards to assist you. This does not change the fact that, in the last analysis, they are working for those who kidnapped you, and that they are upholding the system that keeps you captive.

7.  Why do you want to take my stuff?

..a:  “Possession” does not equal “ownership.” The first is the relationship between a person and a thing, the other a relation among people.  Ownership, or, more precisely, property, has to do with courts, jails, people with guns; in other words, the State.  It is not possession that is being challenged, it is ownership.  And if I can use my drum whenever I feel like it, why do I care that I no longer “own” it?

..b:  The real answer, however, is that when Marxists talk about the abolition of private property, we are talking about it in a limited way.  The general formulation in Marxist literature is “The abolition of private property in the means of production.”   What that means is public ownership of  factories, raw materials, and infrastructure that are used socially to produce goods that are needed socially but owned privately in order for the capitalist to then sell to realize a profit.   Socialists do not want to take your favorite end table.  And if it was made, for example, by an individual craftsman working with a few tools by himself in a small shop, no one wants to interfere with that, either.  It  isn’t about your car, it is about the local Ford plant; we want it to be run in the interest of those who work there, and of society in general.

..c The subject of the small, family farmer sometimes comes up in this regard, and the snide part of me wants to reply, “I don’t know, go ask them, and see how they both feel about it.”  More seriously, there is some truth in the snide–the degree to which the small family farmer has been destroyed by agribusiness is nothing short of appalling.  Socialists believe the agribusinesses should become cooperatives, owned and run in the interests of those who work them and society in general.  As for the individual farmer, we believe in encouraging them to combine for the purposes of more efficient production, but, this not being a devastated and ruined Soviet Union suffering from ten years of mismanagement, there is no need to force them to do anything they don’t care to do.  No kulaks; no problem.

8.  But isn’t that stealing?

..a:  Yes, just as the capitalist steals the surplus value from every worker he employs. The followup argument, that the worker enters into the agreement voluntarily, ignores the fact that the worker has no choice but to sell his labor power; his only choice is to whom to sell it. That sort of undercuts the “voluntary” part.

..b: An examination of history will reveal that capitalism itself came to power by stealing from the landed aristocracy.  Sometimes, in some places, this stealing had a legal cover; other times it was more brutal and blatant.  While capitalism cannot be “blamed” for this (no social class has ever achieved power without appropriating, ie, stealing, from the class it is replacing), we can justly raise the cry of hypocrisy when capitalists whine about socialists being in favor of theft.

..c:  Even assuming you’re right, are you claiming that refraining from stealing from 1% of the population is preferable to global catastrophe?  If Marxists are correct, those are the choices.  For my part, I say, “Go with the stealing.”

..d.  And in any case, I will not take my morality from the mouths of those who benefit from keeping me in chains.

 9.  Without competition/greed/the need to survive, what is to keep someone from doing nothing?

..a:  Peer pressure.  Seriously.  How do you feel when you’re working on a joint project and someone is being a burden?  In nearly all such cases, it is dealt with by glares and remarks.  We’re social beings, and we don’t like it when our peers are pissed off at us.

..b:  “Work” can be reasonably divided into two classes: what is done for love, and what is done only out of necessity.  If unemployment were not an issue, if the full power of humanity were to cooperate on creating and using technology to relieve us of the burden of tedious or unpleasant occupations that were needful to society, just how much of those would be left that require a person?  Me, I’ll gladly put in my three hours a week supervising the robots who are cleaning up after dogs.

..c:  Continuing from ..b, if some things have to be done, and no one is excited about doing them, then let’s set it up so that the more unpleasant the task (as determined by the difficulty finding people to do it), the fewer hours are required.  If we haven’t yet fully automated coal mining, then maybe an hour a week divided among thousands of people would do what is required; whereas a less unpleasant task, such as tech crew for a space shuttle, might involve six or seven hours.  Adjust hours and jobs by trial and error until everyone is happy.  If you want to know who administers this, see (5) above. This is just to show that solutions are possible; it isn’t intended to predict what will end up happening.

..d:  The real point, however, is that I simply don’t believe people are as grasping and as ready to take advantage as many seem to think. We really do like to cooperate—anyone who has been in Minnesota in the winter knows this. We live in a society where greed, where “taking advantage,” is not only encouraged, but quite nearly required. In so very many cases, if you want to do better in life, you must do so at someone else’s expense. What if it were the case that, if you want to do better, you must bring everyone else up with you? Think about that for a while.

10.  Do you support violence to instigate social change?

I don’t know.  Do you support violence to prevent social change?

11. The problem is human nature.

Please forgive the tone of my response to this one, but, for the son of an anthropologist, it is especially annoying. To the extent that the “human nature” argument has any validity at all, it is a variant on #2 above.  It has, however, the additional feature of being disguised mysticism.  It is never accompanied by scientific evidence, or by any actual explanation. Where does this purported “human nature” come from?  God?   Those who haul out this hoary old bugbear bring with it pronouncements that not only have no evidence, but are contradicted by the most casual observation.  Case in point: “Humans are better at destroying than building.”  That would certainly explain why we are all still living in caves.  Only we’re not—we’re living in structures that are getting better all the time, usually in complex cities with huge infrastructure; seems to me that we’ve built significantly more than we’ve destroyed.   Do we also destroy?  Of course we do.  And, every time we do, the reason for the destruction is knowable without resorting to vague handwaving: wars over resources, wars over markets, wars over profit are the most contemporary reasons.  But these can all be traced to class society, and will end with the destruction of class society.

In general, “human nature” is used in three ways: 1) As a shorthand for those characteristics that are intrinsic in human beings among people who all agree with what they are.  2) As a lazy excuse for not investigating whether certain characteristics common among people have their origins in our biology or our social forms.  3) As faith-based hand-waving to dismiss arguments one cannot answer.

The history of the human race is the history of increased knowledge, greater equality, multiplied productivity, and advances in economic forms brought about by social revolution.  Why should this stop?  If “human nature” means anything at all, it means the drive to survive, and to improve one’s lot in life.  And it is “human nature” that we are social animals, and thus inclined toward cooperation.  The reasons for competition, war, class conflict, and other things that prevent cooperation are available for study by anyone who wishes to learn.  To take casual, uninformed, unverified surface observations and, using them, make sweeping claims about “human nature” is intellectual laziness, and unscientific.

 12. We don’t actually have capitalism, you know.

We don’t actually have drinking water, either; on account of there’s something besides hydrogen and oxygen in it.  And there’s no such thing as winter, because sometimes it warms up a little.  Also, we don’t have automobiles, because there are regulations that require extraneous devices be put on them.  For that matter, none of us are human beings because we’ve all been changed by advancing technology and civilization. Unscientific rubbish, of course; purity is not a requirement for something to be what it is.  But useful rubbish, because it forces us to ask: when we identify an economic system, what do we mean?

For society to exist, articles of human need (food, clothing, shelter, &c) must be created and distributed. There are many different ways to drive the production of goods.  They could be created by sheer, naked force: work in the copper mines, or you will be beaten or killed; we call such systems slavery.   Or by arrangement of land ownership—if you are going to eat, you must grow food, some of which you will give to your lord in exchange for being permitted to live on and work the land.  We call such systems feudal.  Another way of seeing to it that goods are produced puts exchange at the center—that is, I am going to gather what is needed to produce something (tools, raw material, and labor) and then I will produce it with the intention, not of using it, but of exchanging it for something that I can use—for example, money.  We call this “capitalism.”  An item that is mass-produced for exchange is called a commodity.  When commodity production is the dominant economic form of a society, we refer to that society as capitalist.  For production-for-exchange to work, the capitalist must be able to appropriate the surplus value, otherwise he has no incentive to produce, and production stops.

What does dominant mean in this context? Well, it doesn’t mean unfettered—that is, unaffected by regulations forced from the government; or by the activity of the working class.  Such a thing has never existed and cannot exist.   Nor does it have to do with a headcount of the people involved: in the United States and many other countries today, for example, it is actually a minority of capitalists and a minority of the workforce that is directly involved in commodity production. Nor does it mean exclusive—there can be and usually are other forms of production happening along side capitalism: individuals who create craft items for barter; co-ops who produce goods for each other’s consumption; there is even socialism, which is defined as production based on need, rather than exchange, and so on.  But if all of these other modes of production suddenly, for some reason, vanished from the United States; the economy would scarcely notice; whereas if all production for exchange vanished, society would collapse. For this reason, we refer to our society as capitalist.

13.  What is the difference between socialism and communism?

I refer to communism as the goal, as a society that functions based on “from each according to his ability to each according to his need.” The society that exists after the State has withered away; in which money, at least as we understand it now, is no longer useful; a true cooperative culture.  I use communism to mean, in essence, a world-wide classless society: there is no “working class” as such, because labor and the fruits of labor are shared.  National boundaries no longer exist.  I am aware that some people consider this Utopian; for me, it is sad to think that so many people believe that a society in which we can finally begin to address the creation of a true human culture, in which poverty, untreated disease, and homelessness no longer exist, in which there is true equality, in which the full creative force of each individual can express itself according to that individual’s wishes,  is Utopian.  To me, it is simply the starting point for the adulthood, or at least the adolescence, of humanity.

I refer to socialism as a step toward that goal: as a society in which the working class controls the mechanisms of the State as well as the means of production, in which banks and basic industry are nationalized under workers control and the effort of society is to increase the productive forces, improve how they benefit everyone, and, above all, insure that there is no danger of a capitalist counter-revolution.  While the notion of socialism in one country is an absurdity, it is entirely reasonable, during the transition period, for a set of nations to work cooperatively to build socialism and defend themselves against attacks by the remaining imperialists.

Though it isn’t part of the question as it is usually asked, I use “workers state” to refer to the post-revolutionary condition of a given nation, where the working class, through the revolutionary party, has taken state power, and has to face the tasks of reaching out to the working class of other nations, and begin to build socialism.

14, What will you do with those who want to accumulate wealth?

This is one that I have a lot of trouble answering, because it’s so hard to get my head around.  I feel like I’ve just said, “Hey, let’s quit playing baseball and play some basketball,” and after explaining the rules of basketball, someone says, “But if you don’t touch home plate, what’s to prevent someone from throwing you out?”  Let me try, though.  What we mean by wealth under capitalism is an accumulation of commodities.  Since commodities (by the strict definition) will no longer exist, there cannot be such an accumulation.  I suppose, then, this question could mean, “what about someone who wants to accumulate a lot of stuff?”  To that, well, my immediate response is, if someone wants more things than he could ever use, so long as it isn’t hurting anyone else, why not?  I mean, there are certainly people who enjoy collecting sea shells or pezz dispensers, and they seem pretty harmless.  If there is someone who wants more stuff than he can use and particularly wants to deny it to others for no reason except to be mean, that seems like sort of a strange, off-the-wall kind of sickness, but I admit it could exist.  In that case, how would this person, with no state power, go about enforcing this wish?

Historically, Man has always lived in fear of not having enough, which has led to all sorts of pathologies, including and especially the competitive desire to have more stuff.  Once this fear is removed by combined effort of humankind, there is simply no reason to expect those pathologies to continue.  And with no means available to gratify them if they do exist, there is no danger in any case.  Remember that, traditionally, wealth has been property, which means it has  been protected by the armed might of the state.  In a socialist society, wealth is social.  We accumulate it for all of us, to be used by all of us, and there is no need for a state to protect it.

15. Okay, I understand what you’re saying, but revolutions are violent and terrible events.

Let’s set aside the question of just who revolutions are terrible for, and against whom the violence is directed.  And we’ll also ignore the issue of the systemic violence of war and oppression that capital has inflicted on us for hundreds of years.  The real point is that, so far, society has found no other way to advance itself.  The image of a group of revolutionaries simply deciding to take State power, popular as it might be, reflects Blanqism, and has nothing whatever in common with Marxism.  Marxists believe that at a certain point in the relations between an historically exhausted class and an historically progressive class, they will clash.  With the best will in the world, neither I nor anyone else can prevent that.  What we—by which I mean, those who act consciously in an effort to influence history—can do, is work for the revolution to be successful.  Because however unpleasant you might consider a revolution (and I certainly concede that the aftermath of a revolution is difficult under the best of conditions), a failed revolution is far more horrific in its results, and doesn’t carry with it the promise that the difficulty will result in better lives for those who follow.  Obviously, you may disagree that revolution is inevitable; that is something we can talk about.  But please remember that Marxists do not see their role as creating revolution, but rather as guiding it to a successful conclusion.  I realize that I’ve gone through this whole thing so far without a quote, so here’s one from Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution: “Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”

16. You mentioned the Russian Revolution in an earlier question, but what about China, Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and the other Communist countries?

The real question, to me, is, what do these countries have in common that would lead one to call them communist?   So far as I can tell, the only thing they have in common is that at the head of the state is someone who identifies as a socialist, a communist, a Marxist.  Is that really how we analyze a social-economy, by the name the leader of the state calls himself?  I can call myself an astronaut, but that won’t turn my car into a spaceship. What defined the Russian Revolution was not that the Bolsheviks were Marxists, but that, for the first time (or the second, if we count the Paris Commune) the working class took power in its own name.   This has not happened in North Korea, or Cuba, or even China.

Venezuela is a purely capitalist state in every sense, led (at this moment) by a bourgeois nationalist who uses Marxist rhetoric.  Cuba is similar, in spite of the nationalization of certain industries, except that because of the period of its activity and the hostility of US Imperialism, it had to draw itself into the orbit of the USSR in order to survive, which necessitated certain measures demanded by the Stalinists.  The Chinese revolution was huge and complex and earth-shaking.  The capitalist government of Chiang was overthrown, but, unlike the Russian Revolution, the leadership (Mao, heavily influenced by Stalin) based itself on a peasant, rather than a working class program, thus producing a deformed workers state.  That it was unable to actually build socialism was inevitable, as Trotskyists warned at the time: the peasantry, as a class, cannot play an independent historical role.  Of course, China has long since abandoned any shade of its radical past beyond the name of the ruling clique.   North Korea, Vietnam, are products of their own history, but generally the result of efforts to fight imperialism.  Each country has its own unique history, which must be studied in order to make generalizations that reflect the actual conditions.

So what we find these countries have in common is nothing more than socialist, or communist, or Marxist rhetoric among their leaders.  Why the rhetoric?  It is hard, after a hundred years, to understand the tremendous wave of hope and excitement felt by millions upon millions of workers at the news of the Russian Revolution.  It is no wonder that opportunists will use that to advance their agenda, especially if that agenda includes elements of anti-imperialism.  But if we are to understand society well enough to consciously change it, we need to dig deeper than just accepting what political leaders say at face value.

17. In such a complex society as ours, reducing all of our problems to a single cause, capitalism, just doesn’t make sense.

..1 To be clear, there are problems socialism will simply solve, eg imperialist war, exploitation of labor, income inequality, unemployment, preservation of basic human rights.  There are other problems that socialism can provide the opportunity to solve, that are insoluble under capitalism: eg racism, sexism, climate change, health care, housing, mental health (many of which can and must be attacked as part of the fight for socialism).

..2 In the mid 19th Century some of the problems that concerned liberal and radical US thinkers were: Abolition of slavery.  How to keep from forcing Northern citizens to act as slave-catchers.  How to provide infrastructure (ie, the railroad) to the west.  How to create tariffs and trade laws that would help build up industry, especially in the northeast.  A national banking system to benefit eastern capitalism and western expansion.  Strengthening the power of the federal government in order to benefit eastern industry.  Every single one of these could not be solved until the slave power was broken, because the domination of the slave power in Congress, especially the Senate, was blocking them because they conflicted with the expansion of slavery.   At that time, to say, “every one of your concerns reduces itself, in the last analysis, to the need to break the power of the slave-owners” would have been exactly correct.   (This leaves out the Great Unspoken: the policy toward the native peoples, but I think my argument still stands.)

18. If you hate capitalism, why do you sell your books in the capitalist free market?

Seriously?  Because, against my will, I live in a capitalist society.  This means that, to live, one must either sell the product of one’s own labor, sell the product of someone else’s labor, or sell one’s labor-power.  I make no judgments about any inherent morality or immorality in any of those, that’s simply the society we live in.  One cannot overthrow capitalism by pretending it doesn’t exist.

19. You’re using products, like your computer, created under capitalism!  Isn’t that hypocritical?

Cromwell fed his Model Army with food produced under feudal property relations while he fought to overthrow those relations and create a capitalist state.  How would you have suggested he proceed?

20. Why do you think destroying capitalism will automatically end racism?

I don’t. Furthermore, I have never in my life met anyone who did. My theory is that, with many of you, any time someone says, “racial oppression has its origins in class society,” your ears shut down and you fill in the rest of the sentence with what you expect to be there: something about the revolution will fix it and we should ignore it in the meantime.  I’ll repeat: I’ve never met anyone who said that.  And anyone who did, is wrong.

Racial oppression has its origin in class society. The theory of race first appeared in the work of such anthropologists as Francois Bernie  in the 17th Century, but was largely ignored until the late 18th Century work of Johann Friederich Blumenbach started to take hold in the early 19th century for its value in justifying African slavery, after the unprecedented and highly influential attack on slavery by the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The more modern forms of racial oppression were deliberate and created for profit. I am linking to a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. not in order to say, “MLK said it so you must believe.” I differ with many, many things he said—his name at the end of a quote does not make it convincing to me. But this is the most succinct, precise, elegant, and accurate summation of the history and causes of 20th Century racial oppression I’ve ever come across. The part I’m referring to starts in paragraph nine. But read the whole speech; it is amazing. I’ll wait.  (And I should also add a recommendation for the book he refers to, The Strange Career of Jim Crow.)

That speaks to the causes of racism and racial oppression. As to the cure, no, the institution of full legal, political, and economic equality will not end racism. It will, however, create the conditions for ending it, mostly through education. I argue that socialism is necessary, but not sufficient.  When racism is no longer profitable, it will become possible to eliminate it for good, but it will still take work.  It is ingrained in so much of society that expecting it to simply vanish is idealism.

And in the meantime, am I suggesting that it be ignored, that no fight for racial equality take place, that those who are doubly and triply oppressed just suck it up and deal and wait for the Great Day of Liberation? Not even close. The fight for equality must be, above all, put on a class basis, and be made under a socialist program, and used as part of the fight to unite the entire working class against the system of greed and exploitation, and that means the entire working class must demand justice and full equality—two things capitalism is unable to provide. This fight helps bring us together, and, just incidentally, is the only way we can make any sort of real progress toward equality. If, in the course of this fight, we run into bigotry or other forms of backwardness among white workers, then this is exactly the way to address it.  We begin the attack on racism with the simple question: Whose interest is being served by your race hatred? Does it help you? Or does it help the boss who is trying to keep your wages down and make sure you don’t work together?  Those who believe that racism is endemic to the white working class are invited to look into the great steel strike of 1946, and what it produced in benefits to workers, in class solidarity across racial lines, and in combating racial prejudice, especially among white workers who, a generation before, had been rural southerners, many of whom were members of the Ku Klux Klan.  And then look into the early years of the UAW, especially in Detroit.  Study the Wobblies, and the rise of the CIO.  One central demand in all of these cases was: the same pay, benefits, and working conditions for everyone regardless of race.  If you do not believe that winning those demands is an important step toward racial equality, then your sense of entitlement must be off the chart. We know that working class unity can combat both racial inequality and racism itself, because it has done so.

Of course, those who benefit from class oppression, who are enjoying their six-figure (or more) salaries, are unlikely to go along with any program that seeks to improve the lives of the oppressed—their idea of equality means trying to reach the level of those above them, not working to raise those below them. That’s okay. We don’t need them. The working class creates all of the wealth there is, and, when united under a program based on what we need rather than what capitalism can give that represents a force that is unstoppable.

 

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

117 Comments

  1. For further evidence of the general altruism of people, here is a video compilation from Russia that made the rounds a while back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGEiA80ZL08#t=17

  2. Do you think the maker culture (3D printers, open source hardware, etsy, disintermediated commerce, bitcoin, etc. etc.) will help bring on the social ideal, or just create a new class of oligarchs?
    (somebody go grab Cory Doctorow)

  3. That is simply beautiful.:) I will ponder this for a while and write more later. It is, however, just lovely.

  4. so #2 is my main quibble and part of the reason why I say that I’m not a socialist. The problem is that there is a certain *biological* imperative in humans, and chimps and gorillas and primates and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) that, because of evolutionary pressure, causes us to seek to alter situations to our own advantage, usually regardless of the expense of others. This isn’t greed, it’s “survival” – ‘there are five bananas. If I take all 5, I can eat one now and 4 later. If I share, I only get to eat one. If I tell everyone else I will hold them until later, then we can all eat them, then I can still eat one now and four later.’

    The only way I can see that a society can avoid being corrupted by this is through a very very conscious decision being made to continually reinforce “good behavior” through constant education. But because there is a certain biological instinct at work, it’s difficult to get past sociologically.

    And then you have to guard against corruption in the education program, and etc. etc. etc.

    And thinking you can avoid this through peer pressure is to ignore the lessons of history post 1900.

    The problem I have with your #7 is the limits of vision and the question of what is best for society and local interests. How do you handle competing local interests – ala the cattle/sheep land wars relating to the use of the ‘open prairie’. Cattlemen want free range across the entire plains states, and sheepmen don’t want their sheep wandering off, so they build fences. Same property, conflicting local interests, no clear indication of which is best for society.

    Again, you need methods and institutions set up to manage this, and you then have to guard against corruption in the methods and institutions.

    Just like the American democracy has been altered from it’s original intents and practices.

  5. re redistribution of wealth, Nos. 7 and 8:

    Perhaps needless to say there is a long-established government privilege called “eminent domain” which is even more similar to stealing than most socialist forms, because eminent domain is selective and is not meant to balance inequity but to achieve some particular goal of the local government. I believe it’s used most often to benefit some corporate monopoly like railroads or power companies, sometimes as part of a police action, and occasionally for some more enlightened purpose. Yet for some reason this always-hated government power is never cited as a fault in capitalism.

    It’s almost ironic that an attempt is being made right now in California to use eminent domain to rescue underwater mortage holders, because that in that case the town is trying to seize property from the foreclosing banks and to give back to the original owners at a lower valuation and interest rate.

  6. It would be nice if there was a shorter phrase for ”The abolition of private property in the means of production,” because the usual shorthands lead to so much confusion. Talking about nationalizing big businesses isn’t helpful, I think, because it suggests increasing the commitment to nations and big government. I keep feeling like there’s a useful term that I’m overlooking.

  7. So, where do we start? Can this kind of social paradigm shift come about gradually, or is it like when Sweden (I think it was) switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right – do it all at once or all hell breaks loose.

  8. I want to consider this in some depth.

    1. I agree with you right down the line. If the time comes that a whole lot of people agree about political philosophy then they will be a force for political change. In the meantime people don’t agree that much and the few who have a lot of clout tend to get their way.

    “1..b: The revolution will be made by the working class, not the “Reds.””

    I’m concerned that in the US south particularly, we have developed a peculiar masochistic culture that says the “working class” is supposed to fail. It’s their place in life to work hard and make a lot of money for somebody else, to occasionally get drunk and maybe self-destructive, and that’s just how it’s supposed to be. People I’ve known from that tradition who wanted to be successful tried to leave the tradition by being smart and ruthless and other than working class.

    “2. The problem with socialism is that human beings must carry it out.”

    I agree with you. It’s a problem for capitalism that human beings must carry it out. They keep finding ways to abuse the rules to get rich without benefitting anybody. They’re supposed to compete and satisfy their customers better, and they keep coming up with anticompetitive practices. It’s a problem for militaries — an army where everybody did just as they were trained to do would achieve tremendous victories over every army in existence, unless the training was particularly bad.

    It’s just some sort of platitude that applies to pretty much everything human beings are involved in.

    “3. If you can’t make predictions with absolute certainty, it isn’t science.”

    I hear that about global warming too, and yet many of the same people who say climate science is bunk accept absurdly vague predictions from Austrian economics. Their standard of prediction applies only to things they don’t want to believe.

    “4. What’s to prevent a dictatorship from forming?”

    If you can manipulate material forces well enough, you can probably prevent a dictatorship from forming. People support dictators when they think they need to. If you can’t manipulate material forces that well, maybe you will be lucky. Many democracies regularly have spells of dictatorship, and then after awhile the dictator chooses to step down or is forced to, and they have something else for awhile. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened in the USA yet. Maybe our generals think they have better lives when the public doesn’t blame them for the economy. Maybe our politicians are particularly good at selecting relatively stupid or unimaginative men for the top slots. I’ve heard the claim that Eisenhower was an exception, that he pretended to be dull and stupid until after WWII started and they thought they needed him.

    “5. Who gets to decide what is fair distribution, and how resources are shared?”

    “I don’t know. How can anyone know in advance?”

    Agreed! Also, it doesn’t have to be completely fair. It has to be fair enough that few people are ready to fight for something better. Which — perhaps unfortunately — we have now.

    “6. If you hate the police so much, isn’t it hypocritical call them when you’re in trouble?”

    Great argument! Similarly, if you are living in an unjust society which gives you a few perqs you don’t have a perfect right to, should you throw them away because you don’t deserve them? Better to use them for a good purpose than waste them or leave them to the unjust society to mis-use.

    7. “The general formation in Marxist literature is ”The abolition of private property in the means of production.” What that means is public ownership of factories, raw materials, and infrastructure that are used socially to produce goods that are needed socially but then owned privately in order for the capitalist to then sell to realize a profit.”

    I’m real undecided about this. On the one hand, I want people who have good ideas to have the chance to try them out — occasionally when it’s good ideas about big factories. But I don’t want people who have horrible ideas to try them out. Somebody has to decide, and I’m not sure about a good way to arrange that. Whoever owns the factories, there’s an important question about who controls them.

    Private individuals doing whatever they want has a lot of potential for awful results. Bureaucracies deciding things by committee doesn’t have enough potential for great results. I don’t have a great answer.

    I much dislike the current approach about ownership and profits. People invest in businesses they can’t know much about, and gamble, and they spread their bets so they won’t lose too much on one throw of the dice. It would be better if they invested in things they looked into a whole lot and decided were good because they cared. They don’t have to care because of profit, but they should have some good reason for their choices. Meanwhile, we have companies that are officially run by CEOs who have tremendous power and not much responsibility. That’s bad too. They have to keep most things secret because they can’t be open and still compete against competitors with secrets. But that reduces the amount *anybody* can learn about how the system works, and it reduces anybody’s ability to predict results.

    I don’t see that public ownership of means of production will cure much, or hurt much, it depends on other details. Corrupt mostly-capitalist societies that have tried it in limited ways have tended to do it badly. I haven’t heard about it being done exceptionally well, but the devil is in the details. Maybe it could be done well.

    “8. But isn’t that stealing?”

    With the end of feudalism they stole serfs from the nobles, they stole laws that gave them lots of special rights, and eventually even their castles were mostly taken from them. I wouldn’t go back. If I had the chance to be a feudal lord or to be me, I want to think I’d rather be me. Too bad feudal lords didn’t get the chance to live like me when they were losing their perqs.

    If we found a way to run an economy without private ownership of means of production that worked particularly well, maybe we could just outcompete the private companies. It certainly isn’t stealing if they plain can’t compete and go bankrupt. If they can’t compete, what should anybody do about it? Give them government handouts?

    Imagine that we could somehow make the means of production cheap. Or modular, and easy to expand. If anybody can do it, it isn’t a big deal whether private individuals do it. I don’t know whether we can head that way, but if we do it could make this argument irrelevant.

    “9. Without competition/greed/the need to survive, what is to keep someone from doing nothing?”

    There is no necessary relationship between the amount of work that needs to be done and the amount of labor available. Any approach that gets the work done is fine. It’s hard to make it fair, but it only needs to be fair enough that no one fights it too much.

    Social pressure to make people do more visible work can be a bad thing, but if it isn’t too bad we can live with it. If some grasping greedy individuals find ways to avoid doing their share of the work, or if they find sneaky ways to get twice or three times or ten time their share of the rewards, well OK. You can’t expect social systems to run perfectly, the main thing is that they run well enough. While there’s more than enough to go around we can have a few grifters get away with some stuff, just like we have some people who do armed robbery or embezzlement etc now. You don’t have to stop it, just keep it from getting too much out of hand.

    “10. Do you support violence to instigate social change?”

    I figure by the time you get a solid majority who’s pretty clear what they want, you probably don’t need violence. If they do, they’re likely to win.

    If you have a group who are heading toward a consensus and the government tries to kill them off, then you’ve come to violence for survival. Hope that the rest of the population doesn’t support killing you.

    Better to reach for a consensus than plan an oppressive revolution. Urban populations are larger now, and it’s harder to survive violent revolutions. When the Pol Pot regime emptied their cities, it started out as a rational plan. The USA was not going to let them get the oil they needed to feed cities, so they had to move the people to where the food was and would be. It would be worse here. Far better if you can get a lot of agreement, and maybe new organizations that work at small scale and then scale up.

  9. Brilliantly and simply put, Steve.

  10. My conversations with friends and acquaintances, and even my own understanding of socialist ideas, most often get diverted off course at point 7. “Private property” and “means of production” stand out to me as the two concepts most in need of better socialist PR. I only recently became aware that important distinctions were to be made between “private property” and “personal” or “moveable property.” (Admittedly, the way I learn is by working backward toward foundational texts, so if that distinction is on page 1 of Capital, forgive me.)
    Similarly, the factory, which in some times and places is the essential embodiment of the means of production, is a distant metaphor for me as someone who has always worked in retail and service jobs. But David Graeber’s essay “Revolution in Reverse” emphasized an aspect of the means of production that hit much closer to home for me. Implied in the ownership of the means of production is the exclusive rights to the “imaginative labor,” i.e., the right to decide what gets produced in the first place. I think getting people to understand that ceding control over the means of production entails ceding control of their own imaginative and creative faculties would go a long way toward answering point 8a as well. Currently, saying that someone enters the workforce “voluntarily” is like saying the ability to select from an unlimited number of ice cream flavors constitutes “free will.”

  11. I have to pick on #9: 1)Though it is true that there are many people that are more than willing to do their part, especially when their part entails doing something that they enjoy anyway, there are definitely those who are concerned much more with their own needs and wants than that of others. Greed will inevitably rear its ugly head. If there is positions of authority, some amount of corruption is bound to happen. If those who have authority are also greedy, then they will try to make policies, or even laws, which make that corruption easier, or even acceptable. Eventually you end up with the same problems and a system that will callapse just as this one is on the verge of doing.

    2) Distribution of labor does not always work out as you are envisioning. For every teenager that wants to do something noble, or even productive, with their life, there are a thousand more that want to be video game testers or something just as relatively useless to society. Granted many of them eventually grow out of it, but for many, that growth means studying for the job you want and then ending up with the job that is available. You talked about short-term work for jobs that no one wants to do. That isn’t really feasible though. If we are to use your coal mining job as an example. If someone were only required to show up and work for one hour. Half of that time would be spent just getting ready for work, traveling to the site to be mined, and getting ready to go home. Also, if they are only required to do that job once a year, or even per month, they would never develop the skill level necessary to keep up with production demands. There are just some jobs that some people are going to have to suck it up and do in order to keep the productivity that the society requires.

  12. Point five does seem to reveal some problems but it also reveals something of people’s thoughts on the matter of who gets to control means of production.
    Currently, people (workers) seem willing (or complacent enough) to allow the means of production (be they factories or intellectual control mechanisms) to rest in the hands of an increasingly smaller set of other people (owners). This condensing of ownership has been an accelerating process over the last couple of decades. So, currently, people are quite willing for a majority of the means of production to rest in the hands of a minority of the people.
    Then, “5. Who gets to decide what is fair distribution, and how resources are shared?” could be rephrased to the asker as, Why, in a democracy, is it wise to allow the few to determine the means of the many?

  13. skzb

    For the most part, I’d prefer to just let this conversation run, at least for a while. But I do want to make a brief and partial answer to Jeff Lowrey. First, thanks for the thoughtful remarks. In my opinion, the fact that human beings are social animals at the biological level (a result of being born immature) very strongly works against this argument. Look at other social animals (bonobos, chimps, &c) and you’ll see that sharing and cooperation is simply a part of their wiring.

  14. J.Thomas, another fine post. I agree completely.

    I thank everybody for their posts. I usually don’t have to actually focus my thoughts on things many people say (I’ve gotten lazy). But you guys raise the bar. My brain needs that. ;>)

    Re the OP, I guess I have to ask the purpose? It is not a good sales job for socialism.

    Is it a reaction against capitalism? If that is all, there may be more constructive approaches, like changing capitalism and forming unions. The word “socialism” scares away most of the people who could benefit the most (workers). Trying to get them used to socialism is a hard sell and may not be very productive if what you really want is eliminating injustice. Eliminating injustice is more direct and productive of effort rather than trying to institute socialism and hope that makes injustice go away.

    The US worker was better off during the Cold War, when there was competition to predatory capitalism. So the threat of socialism could be useful. The GOP is running scared right now. So keep up the pressure.

  15. I am not a Socialist and, at 75, am not likely to take up Socialism. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this post and think I learned something from it. I am more sympathetic to your views as a result of reading it. You did good by writing this.

  16. “Re the OP, I guess I have to ask the purpose? It is not a good sales job for socialism.”

    I get the impression that Steven is tired of facing the same old (stupid) arguments and he wants to rebut them.Of course the best sales job doesn’t come from rebutting opponents’ arguments, but that’s what he felt like doing.

    “Is it a reaction against capitalism? If that is all, there may be more constructive approaches, like changing capitalism and forming unions.”

    I don’t see that unions help much, although I suppose there could be social organizations that got called “unions” that would help.

    When you get a big business with a lot of employees, the business has a giant bargaining advantage. Mostly people need their jobs far more than the business needs any one of them. And so employees tend to do things like hoard their knowledge so they will be important after all….

    Unions balance the bargaining problem by turning it into something like a monopoly on both sides. One company bargains with one union — who has the advantage? I would far rather see employees get lots of choices of employers to negotiate with, than see employers get no choice about which union to negotiate with.

    Businesses try to avoid competition so they can get bigger profits for themselves at their customers’ and employees’ and suppliers’ expense. Unions do the same. I don’t begrudge them their chance at getting a bigger share of the loot, but it isn’t going to change much.

  17. Some Unions have corrupted themselves by aligning with organized crime, which destroyed the union credibility. They also got the reputation for protecting the slackers and corrupt. So bad PR. It becomes one corrupt organization fighting another corrupt organization.

    It need not be that way. I’ve read about unions which were not corrupt and improved both the worker’s and the company’s situation. So it does happen.

    Worker owned companies seem to work out well (at least the ones I have heard of). The trouble is, with today’s worker being financially strapped and in debt, this is a hard thing to do. It also limits worker mobility.

    We have plenty of problems out there, we need to look for solutions. The primary problem right now is that costs go up and wages, if anything, are going down. That is not sustainable.

  18. David, socialism has a much more positive association than you realize. Last poll I saw, 39% of Americans had a positive association with the word–in a three-way race with everything else equal, the socialist would win. Compare that with feminism, where only 24% of women and 14% of men consider themselves feminists in the absence of a definition.

  19. Interesting. What were the other two things in the three-way comparison?

    We do need an alternative to the predatory capitalism going on now in the US. Some of the Scandinavian countries seem to do pretty well with socialism. Their standard of living is significantly higher than the US. I think a primary difference is that oil and mineral wealth is shared rather than going to a few individuals.

  20. No one has any rational claim to the property they own.

    If we say, “All property is theft.” We’ll be very close to the truth. Anyone that disputes this is giving an instinctive response, not a reasoned one.

    If no one can own property, then why do some people have so much more of it than others and why are some people allowed to use it to advantage? Because nations, governments, laws, armies, and police are set up to justify, impose, and enforce these illusory property rights.

    The question is: What is the question? Are we looking for the most efficient allocation of resources? Are we looking for the ‘fairest’ allocation of resources? Are we looking for a system that allocates resources to maximize ‘happiness?’ Are we looking for a system that maximizes human potential? None of the above? All of the above?

    All of this presupposes that we’ve answered the *previous* question satisfactorily. Previous question? Yes: What are you? We excel in creating arbitrary lines on maps; delineating countless villages, towns, cities, counties, states, and nations from one another. These arbitrary lines exert influences on our lives subtle or great. For many they are the difference between life and death.

    If you consider yourself an American first, or a Minnesotan first, or a New Yorker first – then there’s still work to be done. First and foremost, we are citizens of the world. Countries, states, provinces, cities are convenient geographical markers. But the claim to property ownership is just as illusory in Germany, Indonesia or Mexico as it is in the United States. The arbitrary lines we’ve drawn make it *easier* to justify and impose these illusory property rights.

    I am a citizen of the world.
    All property is theft.

    This is essentially the starting point that Marx left us. When enough people accept the truth of – and are willing to act on – these two statements, then we’ll be ready to intelligently ask and answer the relevant questions.

  21. “It becomes one corrupt organization fighting another corrupt organization.”

    “It need not be that way. I’ve read about unions which were not corrupt and improved both the worker’s and the company’s situation. So it does happen.”

    In theory, when there is a labor shortage then employees don’t have to worry about being underpaid or mistreated etc — if they don’t like their current jobs they can get better ones. Traditionally one of the purposes of the Federal Reserve was to keep this from happening, because they said it caused inflation. So whenever there was the threat of a labor shortage, the Fed would act to slow down the economy so that less stuff got produced, thereby keeping wages low enough. In theory, if there was a labor shortage unions would not be necessary during that time.

    In practice, when there is a labor surplus then unions serve to protect union members from the unemployed. Without unions employers would have a buyer’s market and could drive wages down. Fire the high-price workers and hire people who’ll work cheap. Unions improve things for workers on average — instead of the work being done by the people who’re willing to work competently the cheapest, it gets done by union members at union rates, and the people who can’t get into the union are stuck.

    So it’s good for union members who have jobs. And it’s not particularly good for anybody else. Unions are not particularly a way to change the system, unless they provide a social background for education etc — which has been mostly shut down in the USA.

    “We do need an alternative to the predatory capitalism going on now in the US.”

    Definitely! At a minimum, we need the pension funds to be handled some other way than by pension fund managers who basicly keep their high-paying jobs as long as they win at the casino. Get a bunch of old people who starve because their pensions were gambled away and a lot of younger people won’t care about keeping the system stable at all.

  22. “What were the other two things in the three-way comparison?”

    The percentage is from a poll about people’s reactions to “socialism”, and they weren’t being asked to rank anything, but if somehow you had equally viable candidates and none of them had crossover voters, the socialist with 40% would defeat most combinations of the Democrat and the Republican who would be fighting over the 60%. If I had time, I’d google Lincoln’s percentage of the 1860 vote.

  23. #2 I’ve been thinking about this recently. I live with a confirmed Marxist and our philosophical disagreements always/discussions come down to human nature.

    People are better at destroying than building and our unique blend of lone predator and social herd animal makes it way too easy to f*ck things up.

    Oddly enough my attitude is partly formed by writers like you. While I realize Drageara isn’t real, I have a suspicion that the characters, Vlad included, are not unrepresentative.

  24. skzb

    Bruce K: I missed that one; thanks. I’ve updated the original post. I’ll add that the characters I write about, insofar as I’ve succeeded in making them representative (for which, thank you), are products of specific societies and conditions; and not in the least slaves to “human nature.”

  25. “I live with a confirmed Marxist and our philosophical disagreements always/discussions come down to human nature.”

    “People are better at destroying than building and our unique blend of lone predator and social herd animal makes it way too easy to f*ck things up.”

    Any social plan needs to take account of the predispositions of the people it involves, and if the people change it needs to change with them.

    In general, social plans that have everything worked out so that all people need to do is follow the rules, don’t give people enough room to be heroes. People want to be heroes every now and then, and if they don’t get enough chance for that then some of them will turn into monsters to give others the chance to be heroes against them.

    So any plan that’s too complete is wrong.

    Any successful plan has to fit in with what people want to do, and that will vary. But are you sure you know what people are always like, or usually like, to say that a whole class of approaches can’t work?

    Pretty often this argument can almost be stated as “People have a fundamental need to cheat each other and steal from each other, and drive each other into the deepest poverty, and any system which doesn’t encourage those needs will fail.”. Which leaves me wondering what kind of success we can expect from systems that *do* encourage those behaviors….

    In north america the native americans had a custom where the young men would raid other villages and wound or kill people, occasionally stealing slaves or brides. Scotland had the same custom, as did Sparta and lots of places. Today young men have a lot of those same feelings and they get channelled into sports where the most successful are rewarded with advertising spots and action figures, groupies and trophy wives. Human nature hasn’t changed much but society is not as much inconvenienced as it used to be.

  26. Steve –
    So you and your siblings always got along and helped each other with everything?

    Also, chimpanzees are ruthlessly competitive with each other, and horribly aggressive towards everyone else.

    Also, science: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGGxguJsirI

    It’s a long one, but the kicker at the end is worth the wait.

  27. On #s 4, 5, 7, 8, 9: Thanks. It’s clearer now what your vision is, and the extent to which various parts are colored in and which are penciled for later elaboration. I appreciate it.

    On #1: It’s funny, why target anti-capitalists with this, when the capitalists haven’t stopped squabbling either?

    On #2: The problem with ________ is that human beings must carry it out” is as valid a criticism of any solution. Personally, I suspect that if the concerns in 4, 9, and 11 were solved it might not matter much whether the nominal form of the solution involved private property or the barring of it. And yes, #11 is #2 all over again.

    Thanks again 🙂

  28. It’s not that we’re better at destruction, or that we’re innately destructive, or any of that. It’s that destruction is much more efficacious that creation. Thousands of workers, millions of hours, huge piles of resources both natural and artificial. There’s your cathedral. One jerk with a bucket of gasoline and it’s gone.

  29. corwin

    Inspiring post Dad, appropriately reflected by the relative absence of grape-shot.

    As a parent, I have no difficultly believing in the inevitability of cooperation; no family raises four kids alone. This is why child focused predators are so fucking scary- isolationism isn’t an option.

  30. @Will Shetterly: Although vote binning (by state) combined with the winner-takes-all-by-state electoral system to give Lincoln about 60% of the electoral vote (the one that decides elections), the votes cast by individuals who were qualified to vote and bothered to do so gave Lincoln ~40%. And that percentage was ten points higher than his nearest rival (Douglas, the Democratic candidate). Interestingly the Whigs had been destroyed by north/south division over slavery and the Democratic party split. So the Southern Democratic candidate Lane, with nearly 20% of votes cast, would apparently not have been a separate ballot item from the Democratic candidate but for the North/South division that split the Democratic Party. From the perspective of the popular vote, this party split – and the winner-takes-all vote-binning caused by the prevailing implementation of the electoral college – seems to have cost the Democratic Party the leading vote. I haven’t analyzed the electoral college vote distribution to ascertain whether this would have affected the election result, but it’s interesting. If Lane’s votes had gone to Douglas, he’d have had ~48% of the popular vote.

    This effect shows how “dangerous” third parties are to national political parties. The einner-takes-all system in most states means that two similar candidates who share a common pool of voters are likely to prevent wither from obtaining enough votes to defeat a single diametrically opposed candidate. Third parties in the U.S. tend to get absorbed by larger parties, desperate not to be destroyed in the next election by defectors from their own ranks. The Bull Moose Party, Tea Party, etc. end up merged into something bigger, under pressure by voters driven by the winner-takes-all system that gives all a state’s electoral votes to the most-voted candidate. In the U.S. a vote for a minority candidate doesn’t yield one lone seat in Congress, it is erased in the state-by-state vote aggregation and is widely viewed as a “wasted” vote. Maintaining a third party in the U.S. is – under current voting schemes – a rough road. Parliamentary systems that require coalition-building seem to be better at including minority viewpoints in government, though these minorities’ power may remain negligible if they can’t negotiate their way into the ruling coalition.

    Elections driven by geographical districts prevent representation of parties that can’t obtain a majority in any district.

  31. Will you wanted a shorter phrase for:
    >”The abolition of private property in the means of production,”
    A certain bearded white male had one: “Expropriate the expropriators.” Don’t know that it is clearer, but it is shorter.

  32. Gar, it’s not clearer, but it’s swell, and the fact that it’s not clearer might help–you have to explain it, while if you say you’re abolishing private property, some people assume you want to steal their baby’s crib.

    Everyone who thinks humans are better at destroying than building, why are we writing about this on the internet instead of throwing sticks at each other on the savanna?

    C.D. Lewis, I’ve thought that socialists need an issue as great as slavery in order to create a viable third party in the US–or rather, to create a new second party, ’cause the system isn’t designed for more.

  33. (Non-sequitor alert) Okay, my head just exploded a little with Corwin’s phrase, “As a parent…” (/alert)

  34. skzb

    Will: “Everyone who thinks humans are better at destroying than building, why are we writing about this on the internet instead of throwing sticks at each other on the savanna?” Well put.

    Jean: I know, right? Right? How do you do, my name is Steve, and I’m the grandfather of four. I mean, whatthefuck?

  35. In review, I am probably being overly emphatic in the terms I am using to describe what I mean.

    As an example. It is a biological imperative for the human animal to piss. It is a natural tendency to do so at the first available opportunity when the need presents itself. It is social conditioning to determine where to piss, and under what circumstances one should delay the act until a more appropriate opportunity presents. Under certain kinds of social pressures, one may indeed find one’s self pissing inappropriately.

    But it’s not correct to say that one is a slave to one’s need to piss.

    Likewise, when I say that there is a biological imperative to try to alter a situation to further one’s own survival, I do not mean that it in any way makes one a *slave* to that.

    But one can view poverty as a certain kind of social pressure that will cause one to alter the theoretical ownership of other people’s properties in ways that are deemed socially inappropriate.

    There are certain kinds of social pressure in the other direction from poverty that will cause one to alter, or attempt to alter, one’s situation to further one’s own interests without regard for the needs of others or the good of society. For example by avoiding tax codes on inherited property to ensure that one’s children can grow up to be just as ignorant and self-aggrandizing as one believes one was fortunate enough to be able to do.

    Just as a society needs to build a sewer system, it needs to find ways to shape and manage the output of the urge to cheat.

  36. “But, really, the answer is, if you seriously want to know, you’ll have to study the issue. Start with Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed.”

    Thank you. Why exactly the Russian Revolution failed into dictatorship is a question I’ve come up against myself. This is exactly the kind of response I’ve been looking for to that question; one where I can sit alone and read it. Instead of trying to talk about it with people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. *walks off to the library* If you don’t see me for a while, please send food.

  37. “Maintaining a third party in the U.S. is – under current voting schemes – a rough road.”

    With a slightly different voting method, it might not be.

    Say for example that instead of voting for one candidate, you can vote for every candidate you want. (This is called “acceptance voting”.) And then if more than one candidate gets a majority, you pick the one with the most votes. Then third parties get all the votes that are coming to them. Some people say that this is useless because third parties still seldom win. But that’s OK, the reason they seldom win is that they’re third parties. If they were likely to win they’d be first parties. When they get enough support to be second parties then somebody else will be the third party that seldom wins.

    Some people prefer IRV (Instant Runoff Voting). This is a simple scheme where you vote for as many candidates as you want (or maybe just 3) in order of preference. Count up all the votes and the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his votes go to their second choices. Eliminate another one and that candidate’s votes go to their second or third choices. Continue that until somebody wins. Some people object to IRV because they think it leads to “strategic voting” where you vote first for a third party that can’t win but that many of your dangerous opponents’ voters will vote for, hoping to eliminate the dangerous candidate first leaving your real candidate to win. To make this strategy work you need accurate information and precise control over your strategic voters. If too many of them do strategic voting you can eliminate your own candidate first, or even cause a win for the third party you hate.

    This approach is better for people who care about third parties, though, because they can vote for their first choice and it *is* their first choice, and their backup votes are really backups.

    Either approach is far better than what we have, as are almost all of the proposed alternatives which differ in subtle details. I’d go with any of them that have a chance rather than argue about which is the very best.

    I think many states could switch to this if they wanted, though many others would require an amendment to their state constitution. It would take an amendment to the national Constitution to require it. Is this sort of thing worth pushing for when there are so many more immediate issues? Sure, if it doesn’t take a tremendous effort.

    I’m advocating it for state primaries, on the way toward advocating it for national primaries. These don’t require amendments. And if a party were to choose for its candidate the one who actually has support from the largest number of members of the party, that might tend to be better than they do now. Often parties pick extremists who don’t even get full support from their own party, much less from independents. I argue that a party which uses this approach is likely to win more often.

    It matters even if you believe the US governments can’t be salvaged. If you want to improve them, then obviously it’s on the list. But after the revolution will you have elections? People will tend to want things they’re familiar with. Give them the idea first.

  38. “Everyone who thinks humans are better at destroying than building, why are we writing about this on the internet instead of throwing sticks at each other on the savanna?”

    It’s complicated.

    So like, we have things set up so if the USA wanted to, we could drop a few dozen nukes on Syria very very easily. We have that system set up so it’s easy.

    It’s kind of expensive, though cheaper than you’d think. Suppose that instead we wanted to give Syria 9 million Volkswagens. That might cost close to the same, and it would be a whole lot harder to arrange. Building an extra 9 million Volkswagens wouldn’t be trivial, paying for them, delivering them to Syria particularly after we have sanctions set up that make it illegal, etc. It would be very hard to get Congress to agree even if the President wanted to and even if the majority of the voters wanted to, which they wouldn’t.

    In a whole lot of ways we have things set up so it’s easier to destroy than to build.

    But on the other hand, we have no intention of nuking Syria either. We’ve been able to for a long time, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of money so we can do that kind of thing on a moment’s notice, and we haven’t nuked anybody in my lifetime. Why? It’s complicated. Not easy to explain.

    So I don’t think that argument works as a simple explanation why we couldn’t live under a good system if we could build a good system in the first place.

  39. Ain’t sayin’ humans ain’t awesome at destroyin’. I’m saying history says we’re better at building. World War 3 would change my argument, of course, but so far, building is winning.

  40. skzb

    I’ve added a 7..c about small farmers.

  41. “Ain’t sayin’ humans ain’t awesome at destroyin’. I’m saying history says we’re better at building.”

    Yes, exactly!

    We have things set up so destruction is easier, but somehow we do more building than destroying anyway.

    It’s almost as if we do more of what we need than what we’re best at. How could that possibly be explained? 😉

  42. I hear that, but I’ve got to try to be clear as possible now: We are not better at destroying than building. What we have built is the proof. The people who love to destroy are outnumbered by the people who love to build. Even where the destroyers seem to have won, the builders come.

  43. Will, I’m being picky and it might not be worth doing. But here goes —

    It might be that we are better at gnashing our teeth than at competently chewing.

    Maybe we’re better at falling down than at walking.

    We are definitely better at giving wrong answers to questions than right answers.

    But we don’t try to do what we’re best at. We try to do what we need done.

    Yes, the people who love to destroy are outnumbered by the people who need to build. We do what we need first, and then in our spare time we do what we enjoy. People enjoy building what they want too, even though it isn’t as easy as demolishing stuff.

  44. There are distinctions that may be too important to me, but my socialism is built on the idea that humans naturally build. If I thought we were best at destroying, I’d back hierarchy in general and capitalism in particular, because capitalism is great at channeling people’s energies and destroying what’s not immediately profitable.

    Ah, well. I’m going on an internet vacation now, so I’m unsubscribing to comments here. Ciao!

  45. “The real issue, I think, is fetishising terms.”

    I agree, and this is why I have such a hard time with labels. People seem so intent on pigeonholing others, saying who is X and who isn’t, that, as you say, the discussion seems to center around the terms instead of whatever the topic had been.

    “b above, in turn, requires constant study, and the sharpening of one’s own understanding. What you call ‘squabbling among yourselves’ is a vital part of this, like using a whetstone to sharpen a knife.”

    The problem with squabbling is when it takes the place of doing anything. I’ve seen plenty of groups of all kinds argue so much about a proposed plan that they never actually did anything. On philosophical questions, discussion may well be the end, but if action of some sort is required, it should be the means to an end.

    “If you disagree with that understanding (e.g., you think that greed is biological rather than social; or that people simply cannot be cooperative over the long run), then I think you’re wrong, but say so and we’ll talk about it.”

    Studies have shown that monkeys alone in a lab who are perfectly happy with a particular piece of fruit will become disgruntled and angry if another monkey is moved near and given a bigger piece of fruit. They wouldn’t have been disgusted if not given a neighbor, which I guess is what you mean by “social”, but the response was so consistent it’s reasonable to assume it’s hardwired in somewhere, which I assume is what you mean by “biological”. I doubt it’s worth a full discussion, but it’s an interesting point.

    “The followup question will inevitably involve the Russian Revolution. The answer to that cannot be a sound bite; volumes have been devoted to the question of what conditions provided the opportunity (almost the requirement) for dictatorial measures.”

    If I said I were an expert in hydraulics but you could prove I’m lying, that fact I lied isn’t important because I don’t do anything with hydraulics. If I decide to build a car from scratch and someone dies because the hydraulic brakes failed due to my ignorance, the lie becomes hugely important. Likewise, if I claim to have a scientific philosophy concerning the workings of society and a lifetime of knowledge gained by studying history, only to misjudge conditions so badly I help bring to power a dictator who thinks nothing of killing whoever he feels needs it, then that’s also hugely important.

    “I don’t know. Do you support violence to prevent social change?”

    In this context, violence practiced against another isn’t ever justified if not done to defend against the aggressor. Not that I don’t understand the impulse, but as a mechanism for change I abhor it. But suicide, which is violence done to oneself, can be a very powerful statement and even praiseworthy. It’s when the suicidal person drags others into death with him that I find it horrifying.

  46. “There are distinctions that may be too important to me, but my socialism is built on the idea that humans naturally build.”

    I don’t want to challenge the foundations of your thinking.

    I say though, even if it were to turn out that we are better at destroying than at building, still we build. A whole lot of what we do, we do for rewards. And mostly we get rewarded a lot more for building than for destroying. Whatever our bodies and minds tell us to do, still material conditions matter a whole lot. And before we set off fireworks somebody has to make the fireworks, before we blow up a building somebody has to make the building, etc.

    The argument you oppose, does not work. Even if it’s easier to destroy than create, the destruction does not pay as well. Even if it’s more fun to destroy than create, we don’t spend that much of our time having fun. The argument fails.

  47. Great post. I think in terms of whats to prevent a dictatorship from emerging out of revolution, a few other points can be made. First of all, it’s critical that the working class have a high level of political consciousness and culture, something that suffered major blows in Russia as a result of the deaths of the most class conscious workers in the civil war against the White army and the major imperialist powers.

    But most fundamentally, the Stalinist bureaucracy emerged on the basis of the material backwardness of Russian society. The perspective of the Bolsheviks, and Lenin and Trotsky was always that the Russian Revolution was the first shot of a global social transformation, i.e. the world revolution. For any revolution to develop and prosper, it is necessary that it extend internationally. The objective basis for such a development has been strengthened by the unprecedented globalization of the productive forces, of which the internet is just one example…

  48. “I think in terms of whats to prevent a dictatorship from emerging out of revolution….”

    Ah! How do you keep a dictatorship from emerging out of revolution.

    First off, lots of dictatorships emerge out of otherwise-stable societies. Costa Rica might have a start at how to prevent that — don’t have an army. No army, no coup.

    Similarly, to keep a revolution from turning into dictatorship, the first thing is don’t start with a war. People believe that wars are run best with one brain in charge, even if he does the wrong thing he’ll do better than a committee that takes too long arguing what to do. And it’s only a short step from killing the enemy to killing your own citizens who do things that interfere with the war effort. If you lose the war you have nothing, so your own citizens who would get you to lose the war are as bad as enemy agents.

    Second, don’t try to do things your people are not ready for. If you have to coerce the public to go along with your correct plans, because they don’t understand what’s right, then they won’t much care if a dictator coerces them instead. Particularly if he coerces them in ways they do understand, but not as hard. They sort of expect a dictator to have palaces and dancing girls, and if the dancing girls don’t object then it’s par for the course. They don’t understand if you change the laws in ways that give them new rights and they lose old rights. That’s a big imposition. A dictator with a light hand gets preferred over a bunch of idealists with a heavy hand.

    Currently in the USA the revolutionary group that’s ahead about getting people to agree with them, is the one that says we don’t need any coercive government at all. Or maybe one that only coerces people into not coercing each other. I don’t begin to see how that could work, but a lot of people seem to think it would somehow all work out. So that’s probably what we’ll try next. Other ideologies should be ready to surge on the aftermath from that one, though they might as well convince as many people as they can in the short run too.

  49. Usually, I am (mostly) in agreement with Steve. But show my one revolution that wasn’t betrayed? The American “revolution” is correctly called the “rebellion” in England since it didn’t change the structure of society in any significant way. (I am not claiming that’s why the English called it that.)

    The one experiment in socialism that was really attempted was the Israeli kibbutz. And it worked for maybe one generation. But the ones who grew up in it wanted some kind of private property and I think most of the kibbutzim turned into more-or-less shared businesses. I think that was a shame, but it does suggest that there is more to the human nature argument than Steve thinks.

    Call me an ameliorist, but what I would choose would be a regulated capitalism. Heavily regulated. Not the current system where the regulators and regulated change places so often you need a scorecard to tell them apart. But real regulation in which the regulators and regulated are really separate with different mandates.

    When I was much younger, I got interested in the question why the economic outcomes were so much better in North America than South. Rightly or wrongly, I concluded that the big difference was that in South America, a few families controlled all the wealth and all the power and this didn’t work well at all. Well now South America has changed and so has North America.

    If I were dictator, the first thing I would do would be to take money out of politics. Money doesn’t talk, it shouts, and where in the first amendment it says that free spending is protected, I don’t see it. Then I would reinstate the 91% marginal income tax that there was under Eisenhower. That would not only reign in the capitalists, it would go a long way to fixing the deficit problem. I would, needless to say, institute universal health care (and fuck the insurance companies; they are a major part of the problem). Not just the Canadian system, although that is a vast improvement, but the whole system of fee for services instead of treating patients. Here in Quebec, we still have fee for service for doctors, although not for hospitals, and there are still doctors who make over $1,000,000 a year. And 45% of the provincial budget goes to pay for it. Still it is what is keeping me here instead of moving to where one of my kids is.

    But I digress. I think I might love free markets if I ever saw one in real life. The only people who really want a free market (as opposed to those who profess to believe in them) are the ones trying to break into some business. If they are successful, they then join the rest of the monopolists. Is there any way to prevent that? I don’t know. What this means is that nobody really likes competition; they prefer cooperation, but only with their competitors. Otherwise you get a race to the bottom.

    Bottom line: as sympathetic as I am to Steve’s socialism, I just don’t see it working.

  50. “If I were dictator, the first thing I would do would be to take money out of politics.”

    If you were dictator, what kind of politics would you institute?

    Are you thinking maybe of you in the position of Solon, who somehow got entrusted with revising the Athenian government all by himself? He told them what the new laws would be, and then he left.

    The story goes that after Athens was unable to enforce Solon’s laws on itself and descended into a dictatorship, he blamed them.

  51. “The one experiment in socialism that was really attempted was the Israeli kibbutz. And it worked for maybe one generation.”

    I’d consider it more significant that you can only think of one example than that your one example mutated.

    I’ve read that Canadian Inuit traditionally practiced a form of socialism. Hunters brought in food which they shared with everybody. They got prestige. But then there’s the Inuit aphorism “Whips make dogs, and gifts make slaves”. And there’s a story about a young man who talked about how wonderful his wife was, until a great hunter said if she was that good he’d take her himself. The elders said the man was too important a hunter to allow him to be killed but the young man and his wife could run away if they wanted. Probably it was complicated.

    There was an effort to bring reindeer into Canada for the Inuit to herd. The only visible difference between a reindeer and a caribou is that reindeer can be herded. The Inuit who did not own reindeer herds thought they should be allowed to hunt them. They thought the meat should be shared with everybody. Inuit capitalists wanted to keep their reindeer and sell the surplus on Canadian markets. Everybody thought the capitalists were stingy and greedy, and there were some instances where somebody killed off whole herds of “caribou” and distributed the meat.

    It sounds like the sorts of things that you consider socialism are not robust. Ideally there would be lots of variations, and we’d have lots of things that were partly socialist, some more and some less, and the various different approaches would have different problems and different strengths. Lots of things would work well enough, and we could argue about the details.

    Instead you don’t see it anywhere, at all, with one temporary exception. Perhaps your idea of socialism is something that could only work in its purest form and would automatically fail if it was ever mixed with something else.

  52. skzb

    Oliver Campbell: Yes, well said indeed.

    Big Mike:I believe you are wrong about the nature of the American Revolution, but we can discuss that another time You seem to be using “betrayed” in a very loose and unscientific way. If you mean simply, became dictatorial and interfered with human rights, then you’re right, but there’s no need to make the American Revolution an exception; look at the Whiskey Rebellion.

    New social classes, upon coming to power, will inevitably use force and harsh measures to secure their rule. But then they back off from these when it is possible–when the pressure lets up, as it were. In the Soviet Union, the pressure never let up for the reasons Oliver Campbell stated. But, whether or not, there will be no other choice than revolution as a means of moving society forward until there is no longer a ruling class that controls the armed might of the state.

    For Christ’s sake, the bosses won’t even give workers a raise in pay without a long, brutal strike, in which, like as not, they’ll call in thugs and the National Guard as strikebreakers. Do you honestly think they will give up *everything they own* without a fight? Heh. And they call ME a Utopian.

    .

  53. “For Christ’s sake, the bosses won’t even give workers a raise in pay without a long, brutal strike, in which, like as not, they’ll call in thugs and the National Guard as strikebreakers.”

    Sometimes they do give workers a raise without a strike. When it’s human beings involved you can’t really depend on them to act any one way. But maybe they only do that because they know how much trouble they’d have if they got unionized and they want to prevent that, so it’s still *because* of the long brutal strikes. I dunno.

    If they let you talk, then you have a chance to persuade people. If they do visible oppression, that hurts them — it costs money with no immediate payoff, it gets people upset at them, etc. Foreign backers see the reduced profits and back off.

    When you have a large majority in favor of a new plan, you can probably get it without much of a fight. Your oppressors may not notice that the best and brightest of their children choose to do something else.

    You want to give them a way out, an escape chute. Don’t leave them thinking they have to win or die. Better if you can make the emphasis “This plan will work much better than what we have” instead of “The evil oppressors must pay”.

    I don’t say it’s guaranteed, but it has a good chance, and the decades you lose may compare favorably against the citizens you lose in a violent revolution — plus the later opposition from people who just plain haven’t gotten the message yet.

  54. Big Mike: “The American ‘revolution’ is correctly called the ‘rebellion’ in England since it didn’t change the structure of society in any significant way.”

    They call it that because that’s all it was from their perspective. For us, it was incredible that we thumbed our noses at the most powerful nation in the world and won.

    The most impressive thing about the Revolution didn’t come about until 20 years after it ended, though. The creation of the Constitution was significant, but other nations throughout history had similar documents. What we managed that was truly revolutionary was the transfer of power from one party to another in 1801. Jefferson was elected as an opponent of almost everything Adams and the Federalists stood for, and he walked into office with no bloodshed or civil strife at all. And even though the Federalists tried the more civilized attack of stacking the judiciary, that resulted in an affirmation that the government will police itself, another amazing development.

    To my mind, what you say about the Kibbutz is the difference between a successful political political experiment and a failure. If a significant change only lasts for a generation, that suggests it was an idealistic experiment that appealed to that specific generation, but had no power to hold those who didn’t grow up in the same environment.

  55. “If a significant change only lasts for a generation, that suggests it was an idealistic experiment that appealed to that specific generation, but had no power to hold those who didn’t grow up in the same environment.”

    In this particular case it had two failures — it didn’t adequately hold the ones who grew up in the environment it created, and it didn’t continue to grab the minds of outsiders and persuade them to join.

    Perhaps it might have worked better without the 1967 war. The war established Israel as a military super-hero, and they got lots of investment to create an arms industry that could keep them winning wars, and to create big industries to transform their economy, etc. It wasn’t kibbutzes that won the war, and they didn’t share in the riches — they seemed increasingly quaint.

    Perhaps in a different environment it would have worked better.

  56. Well the Kibbutz happened in the context of grabbing other peoples land by force. Not just the 1967 war but the founding of Israel was built on mass expulsion, plus reducing non-Jews in Israel to second class citizenship. The initial UN partition gave 1/2 of land (and two thirds of the best land) to the one third of the population that had immigrated recently. The 1948 war that changed the boundaries of Israel then involved mass explusions. For that that settlers before the founding of Israel bough land from the occupying power, often land that had been held for centuries by Arabs. The Kibbutzes could not last, because they were an attempt to establish socialism among a ruling caste displacing and ruling over a native population. Which over was never socialism.

  57. Gar, I don’t deny your facts but I don’t see how they’re relevant.

    “Hey, we all ought to feel guilty that we took this land away from a bunch of arabs. So that means you guys ought to sign over ownership of the means of production to me.”

    Do they have to be perfect in any way to be socialists? Does it mean the Moravians weren’t socialists because they kept slaves? Oh! I’d forgotten about the Moravians! Were they socialists?

  58. “Yes, just as the capitalist steals the surplus value from every worker he employs.” Of everything written, here’s where I call bullshit!

    I own my own business and I didn’t steal anything. I trade a fair market wage for 40 hours of labor per week. I bought all the equipment. I pay all the other bills. I trained the employees. If the business fails I lose everything and my employees lose their job. Therefore I receive a premium on the risk that I took to open my own business.

    What happens if my employees produce a shortfall from their labor one week? I lose money, but they do not. I have guaranteed that they will receive their pay, benefits, and safe working environment, as long as I can afford to do so.

    To argue that I am stealing the surplus value from every worker makes the same fundamental mistake that Marx does. You don’t understand where profits come from. You believe that the cost of production is what drives prices, not supply and demand. Smith misses the point on this too so I’ll point you towards Hayek.

    Profits come from risk.

    The beauty of Capitalism is that ANY of my employees can leave my company and form his or her own, and I am powerless to stop them. They can chose to assume that risk or not. They have freedom of choice. The market decides who should run my business, not the government.

  59. “You don’t understand where profits come from. You believe that the cost of production is what drives prices, not supply and demand. Smith misses the point on this too so I’ll point you towards Hayek.

    “Profits come from risk.”

    Jo’din, I call bullshit also.

    I’m not at all convinced that Marx knew who deserved how much of the products of work. I’m pretty sure that Hayek doesn’t know that.

    And the risk argument is no more valid than the argument that it all comes from people working with their hands. How is it that many of the most profitable companies are also the least risky?

    Profits come from comfortably beating the competition. When transportation costs are high you can win by carving out a geographical area where no one can compete with you. When there are big economies of scale you can win by being the biggest. When government intervention is important you win by developing the right contacts. When customers strongly prefer service with a smile, then you win by smiling.

    Whatever you do that gets market share at a decent profit, gives you profits. Usually that is not particularly from risk.

    Why is it that salesmen tend to be paid commissions, but bookkeepers don’t? Partly because salesmen do most of their work on their own initiative and it’s hard to check on them, but partly also it’s that when they leave they tend to try to bring their customers to their new employer. Whatever personal relationship they developed to get the sales, belongs to them and not to you. So they get paid for it. In general, people who do necessary jobs that are easy to sabotage get paid for not sabotaging you. It isn’t moral, but paying them off sort of works, while not paying them off is inviting them to be immoral.

    It’s true that your employees have the legal right to start their own businesses. This is an improvement over feudalism, where a hill-bandit could never be more than a hill-bandit though if things worked well perhaps his daughter might pass herself off as minor nobility and marry a minor aristocrat.

    It’s certainly not true that employees have no risk. Here’s a quick story — one of my friends got a job in a hardware store. He learned fast and worked smart, and the boss noticed. Within 6 months he was given full autonomy over a section of the store which was kind of a mess. So he worked hard for 3 months getting it organized, everything laid out well, popular items where customers could see them, everything else so he could find it quick. Then when he had it running well the boss fired him and gave the job to his nephew. The reward for a job well done.

    Another quick story — some of my friends ran small retail stores in a somewhat-seedy part of town. The Federal government was giving away money to cities — to that city — for civic improvements. They lobbied the city and got some of that money. They got better streetlights, and parking. They replaced a traffic-circle jam with an improved design that was beautiful. They got the whole place somewhat beautified. And then their landlords saw that the area was generally a better area and doubled their rents. They couldn’t pay that, some of them moved and some of them went broke.

    One more — I knew a guy who developed a useful electronic gadget. He developed a working prototype and got some venture capital to help him market it. He got the price down. He did innovative advertising to show people that it was actually worth having. About the time he started to get profitable, a competitor moved in. They had a lot more money than he did. They quickly paid for a design that wasn’t as good. They paid for a lot more advertising though, and somehow people were willing to pay more for their product. His looked like a cheap knock-off. He did a bit better than break even but it was obvious he couldn’t compete and they pulled the plug before losing money.

    Any time you do something in the economy, you risk that somebody else will grab the benefits. But when you become an employee, usually that *guarantees* that somebody else will get most of the benefits. Why are there so many employees? I think a lot of it is that the laws and the government have it set up so that employers are subsidized for having employees, and also regulated. Try to hire contractors to do the work and they’ll investigate you. They don’t want you to do that.

    Imagine a world where there were no employees. You don’t hire sweepers, you contract the sweeping to a company which does that. You don’t hire 6 bookkeepers, you contract out the bookkeeping. Everybody is a contractor. And any time one of your contractors wants too much or does too bad then you consider hiring a different company and putting up with the problems of new people on the job….

    If one contractor underpays another contractor, whose fault is it? If you can only get the jobs by working cheap for cheap clients, whose fault is that? If you work at something where there’s too much competition, whose fault is it?

    But we live in a society where the major part of the work force is employees, and they mostly don’t get to take the initiative that private contractors can. They are stuck doing what they’re told, for small rewards. If they had the capital, and the connections, and the know-how required to successfully go into business for themselves, don’t you think a lot of them would do it?

    But they do have the legal right to do it, not like they’re serfs.

  60. To Jo’din – Do you at the end of the day and after all the expenses have been paid, divide the money you’ve made among you and all your employees? Or do you take a little off the top for your “risk?” Bear in mind, your employees are taking a risk, too, and they’re NOT getting paid for it. If the company goes under, everyone loses. But if the company does well, you get more than they do, because you get all the profits and their pay remains at what you’ve agreed upon. So, therefore, you are taking (or stealing as some prefer) the surplus value from every worker you employ.

    I actually sort of hate the argument that employees choose to work at a given place or not. That is the case in a worker surplus environment, which we haven’t been in in a long time. Well, we may have been, but most American workers have been so brainwashed into thinking they can’t possibly find another job that it may as well be an employers’ market all the time.

    To your credit, you seem to be one of the good ones. But I believe you are in the minority. Many employers (Sam Walton and Bill McGuire, I’m looking at you!) value profit over workers every day of the week.

  61. @miramon re eminent domain: Under US law, the federal government was early on barred from certain acts that were widely viewed as tyrannical invasions of liberty. The Fifth Amendment caps a list of such prohibitions with “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” Although losing a beautiful field to support a public transit station – or a family home to a highway on-ramp – may be offensive, the government is required to pay “just compensation” to those who will lose possession and enjoyment (fundamentally, control) of the property (any limited resource). The parties often fight about what compensation is “just” but it’s unusual to avoid eminent domain (without winning a political battle for votes in the body conducting the eminent domain proceeding). (There are weird circumstances in which uncompensated losses occur, such as destruction of property by enemies in war, or to prevent it from falling into the hands of enemies who would destroy it before retreating, isn’t a taking for public use entitled to just compensation but a war loss.)

    So while people can colloquially state that eminent domain is the government “stealing” it’s certainly not in the nature of common understanding that a thief subjects himself to proceedings over the fair value of property and pays up. Of course, there’s a whole category of cases called a “regulatory taking” in which government prevents people from making the uses owners are expected to be able to make, and the government gets sued for “taking” the property and owing just compensation despite that they didn’t formally declare a taking as eminent domain.

    The cases on what purposes constitute a taking “for public use” – thus blessed by the Fifth Amendment – suggest that nearly any purpose is acceptable. In Hawai’i, longtime land owners were unable to sell land because they’d pay enormous capital gains taxes, so land was concentrated in a small number of historical land owners despite that the owners were generally willing to sell and tenants were generally interested in buying. So the government bought huge tracts of land under eminent domain and offered them to the tenants, paying (and charging) fair value. The public interest in allowing more of the population to control resources was considered a public good.

    In keeping with this principle, a state could take ALL the property in the state by eminent domain and administer it in keeping with communist principles. All that’s required is a population to vote into power a state government willing to do it. No revolution required. Just … a big check for just compensation.

  62. Oh, and as I understand it, Socialism means that the workers own the means of production, not the government, so your last sentence is a straw man. But I could be wrong. Steve?

  63. skzb

    Jo’din: If profits do not come from the surplus value of your workers, then you ought to let them all go; clearly you don’t need them. You say you pay them a “fair market value.” Fair market value for labor-power is socially determined, by the class struggle. That said, I have no doubt you pay them a fair market value. Which has nothing to do with the case.

    You seem very upset that I call it stealing. All right, call it “appropriating” then. I am not making a moral judgment; I’m talking about a basic aspect of economics. It isn’t wrong, it isn’t right, it just is. The worker produces value in excess of the wage paid him. That excess (or, rather, a portion of it) goes into the pocket of the capitalist.

    Furthermore, capitalism came to power by stealing land and resources from the feudal lords (sometimes through law, sometimes through direct coercion). I do not make a moral judgment about that, either–in point of fact, it is a damned good thing for all of us that they did. I merely point out that, when the time comes to expropriate the capitalists, I’ll not be troubled about the morality in the least. As a capitalist, I understand that you would be–our morality, after all, tends to follow our interests. Mine does; I wouldn’t expect you to be any different.

  64. skzb

    Jean: You’re right.

  65. @preacherjean: “own” is one of the hot-button words. Steve has urged that there will be no property, because property is a coercive relationship between people.

    To discuss this one, one will have to think about control of resources. And Steve just wrote an answer to #5: he isn’t sure how the resource allocation would work, but views the status quo as so broken that it needs dismantling even though it might take a while to work out the answer – much like the delay between the Declaration of Independence and the eventual agreement on the Constitution.

    I wouldn’t expect an answer to the conundrum of equitable and efficient resource allocation in these comments. But the theses regarding what might work would be interesting to hear. If a group were to decide how it should work – say, in a particular state with broad support for the principles behind the project – the state could by eminent domain take all the property there, and use whatever means were required to have it administered only in compliance with whatever procedure was agreed. Is this a different result than what would be gained by bloody revolution? I have doubt the blood will help solve the real problems, and I expect the effort to justify it to breed new ones.

    Since Trotsky makes clear his view that government should be kept in check by an armed public, and that a standing army is anathema to liberty, it seems he preaches much of the same material as those who conducted our last revolution. But Trotsky didn’t end up in charge, and a political elite controlled resources with a standing army and the threat of political persecution through a nasty gulag system. In the U.S., we were able to avoid a standing army until the aftermath of WWII. But now that is gone.

    I think the current administration has essentially admitted that the rule of law is gone now. http://jadedconsumer.blogspot.com/2012/03/holder-to-us-no-rule-of-law-needed.html

  66. “I wouldn’t expect an answer to the conundrum of equitable and efficient resource allocation in these comments. But the theses regarding what might work would be interesting to hear.”

    Here’s one thing. Free market theory wants to use money as a signal, and it’s one signal for almost everything. That’s — inefficient. So for example, how much investment should be done? Investors decide that by investing rather than keeping their money under their mattresses or buying consumer goods. It’s easy to get too much investment because it depends on the desire of investors to invest, far more than on the supply of good investments. Get investment out of balance and you can wind up with a persistent recession like Japan.

    I read that the USSR tried to handle that by having two different kinds of money, one for investment and one for consumption. That way, to some extent they could decide the amount of investment instead of leave it to a bunch of people’s desires. I’d expect there was probably a black market for currency exchange, but so what?

    If you look at cell physiology, cells have a whole lot of different chemical signals. The same signal will have different effects on different metabolic pathways, and different effects on different cells. Calcium ions. cyclic AMP. Iodine, bound in several forms. A variety of other nucleic acids in unusual configurations. Maybe exons. Each signal has its effects, and it’s a giant tangle that biochemists etc are just beginning to sort out. Because it evolved in a patchwork way and it doesn’t make obvious sense. Dogs and men have somewhat different iodine metabolism because part of the system evolved after they split.

    Humans have extremely complicated chemical signals, with hormones and specific pieces of double-stranded RNA etc. All evolved over hundreds of millions of years with no intelligent thought involved.

    When a single cell has dozens, maybe hundreds of chemical signals, why would we want to run an economy with only a few?

  67. @J Thomas — I hope you do not intend by your comment to attribute to me the claim that “free markets” are somehow “efficient”.

    The “efficiency” of markets is typically an assumption indulged by economists rather than the conclusion of a study based on evidence. They make assumptions about transactions costs and other features of markets largely to simplify their analysis of some other problem. When people begin adopting these assumptions as religious dogma they lead themselves down silly paths.

  68. @J Thompson: I think you may have missed the point of the quoted text, which was that examining the theses offered on the subject would be interesting.

    It’s not like the comments are going to divulge the secret to world peace, either – but hearing thoughts about how to mitigate conflict are frequently interesting.

  69. If I trade my labor for an object and the government then takes that object from me, they have stolen my labor. Since I pay top marginal rates including ATM, I am familiar with my labor being stolen. The current confiscating government at least recognizes my right to property once I pay the protection money. Some group that does not even do that much should expect violent disagreement.

    Why do you hate freedom so? The freedom to work harder for more, or the freedom to work less because one wants less. Or perhaps you think a system where everyone can choose both how much they work and what they get will be functional. In that case, roll another and rock on.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  70. skzb

    Rod Rubert: Oh, I do, indeed, expect violent disagreement. And I have no more problem abridging the “freedom” to exploit others, than the North had to abridge the “freedom” to own slaves. But why talk about it? You know where I stand, I know where you stand, and this is a matter that will be settled by the armed masses, not a blog discussion. In the meantime, peddle your reactionary bullshit elsewhere.

    And have a nice day.

  71. “I hope you do not intend by your comment to attribute to me the claim that “free markets” are somehow “efficient”.

    No, of course not. You didn’t say anything like that. I interpreted your comment to say that we can’t expect to actually solve the problems in blog posts, definitely a low-bandwidth medium, but you were interested in ideas about what might work.

    And I wanted to suggest that we should have multiple specific signals that don’t take a lot of careful thought to run, and not just one general signal like money.

    Also I thought it was interesting that the USSR used two signals, investment currency and consumption currency, if they did. I think I read it in World Book encyclopedia a long time ago.

    If you were not inviting new ideas but only wanted to look at ramifications of what Steven said, then I apologize.

  72. @ J Thomas: I don’t mean to impute to you something you didn’t intend, either 🙂

    And I’m here more to gather what I can on viewpoints than anything else.

    I agree it’s interesting the USSR at least considered a two-signal system. I’m not sure it’s fair to say the US uses a single signal, however much economists want to boil everything into fungible units converted into currency. We have regulatory interventions that are often driven by public expectation (imagine medical licensing, pre-sales approvals of drugs by the FDA, zoning restrictions on construction) and market behaviors are driven in part by participants’ reputation, the quantity and color of coverage given press, and other factors that impact what people are permitted to do both formally (permits, licenses, zoning, spot-zoning, etc.) and practically (both in gentle terms like reputation’s impact on intent-to-buy, and in harsh terms like the ability to sell into a boycott, ability to acquire supplies despite a strike, etc.). Word of mouth means a lot in a system that permits competition from multiple vendors: consumers have power. Where a single vendor controls supply, consumers are at the mercy of suppliers. I grew up with a close friend who emigrated from the Soviet Union, and much of my thinking about command economies is colored by a combination of his family’s anecdotes and my readings from the history of things like China’s “Great Leap Forward” (read: backward; people instructed to make steel in their backyards destroyed a lot of useful tools making worthless slag in a great triumph of public confidence in government over the power of practical experience constructing quality steel).

    The anecdotes I heard from the USSR weren’t from people involved in strategic planning or public resource allocation; they were geologists with experience trying to acquire necessities of life in a nation plagued with chronic shortages (and, consequently, thriving black markets: necessity breeds solutions, even unintended ones). While it’s possible there were currencies other than the ruble with which consumers were compensated, I’m unfamiliar with them and am very interested to hear how they were used, or were planned to be used.

    The tone in this thread has reached a point I’d sort of like to continue this on another wavelength, but when I click your name I don’t get anything. Send me an email?

    Best regards.

  73. “…when I click your name I don’t get anything. Send me an email?”

    When I click your name I get a website that appears not to provide any email address.

    The obvious alternative is to join Complaints Board and send a message there, can you suggest another way?

    A quick search didn’t show the dual money. I found chervonetz and sovsnak in early times.

    During the disorganization they first tried to mostly eliminate money, but that didn’t work. With the problems of war and disorganization they printed a whole lot of roubles and devalued them badly and quickly, so they tried to establish stable currencies backed by gold, and with the usual traditional bank chicaneries. But when they had a stable currency for people with connections and a hyperinflating one for everybody else, nobody wanted the inflating one and they switched to the stable currency for everybody, inflating it and attempting a new stable currency alongside it. Inflation stabilized when production went up and the starvation ended.

    I found a second double currency:
    http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/op32_second_currency_in_USSR_loeber_1978.pdf

    The stress from western analysts was that people with connections could get this currency which came in two forms, one convertible to western currencies and the other not. Special stores, particularly those selling imports, would sell only for these currencies and not for roubles. This could have been an offshoot of the system I had heard about, which allowed industries that were intended to grow the chance to buy capital equipment etc from the west and also first priority for capital equipment inside the USSR. The coupons were denominated in roubles but in fact could be traded for roubles at the international rate.

  74. My quick study of the early days of the USSR give me the strong impression that they didn’t quite know what they were doing, and they faced horrible problems.

    Since they didn’t have the details straight and they needed to win a war and build a functional economy fast, they tended to do whatever seemed to work. As a first approximation it doesn’t make sense to me to pay workers in cash. If you’re going to give to the people who need it and get work from the people who can work, you might as well pay them in ration stamps etc.

    But in the early days there was not enough food available for ration stamps, many people needed cash to buy food on the black market. There was no time to get a new system working so they used the old wage approach and people got paid what their work was supposedly worth, and it was corrupt from the start.

    They had not thought out the details well enough before the revolution was thrust on them, and they had no time to work out the details during the crisis.

    Now I think. The Czar’s empire collapsed fast, from the failures of WWI, faster than anybody could have expected. And later the USSR collapsed faster than anyone expected, it was an utter shock to the west. Could the USA collapse that fast? Yes. Faster. Is anybody ready to pick up the pieces and build a new system out of the wreckage of the old? No. Nobody is ready.

    If you have the start of a concept how to do that, you need to work out details to fit a collection of plausible scenarios for collapse. And you need to test your ideas. One beginning approach might be to hold a series of LARPs and see how well people actually carry out the roles they would be assigned. Maybe run some whole conventions by the new rules. (Apart from hotel and outside restaurant fees, which must go the old way.)

    I suggested a pale imitation of that to some libertarians. They were talking about their libertarian convention. One of them sold special buffalo jerky, another libertarian jewelry, etc. I suggested that they arrange to run the whole dealer room on silver dimes.

    They were stockpiling silver dimes to spend as money after the collapse. Gold coins would be too valuable and too hard to get change for, but they thought silver dimes would spend very well. They insisted that silver dimes are better money than government scrip. But none of them was willing to go to a convention and spend dimes. Dimes were for stockpiling for the collapse, they weren’t for spending this year. They absolutely refused. It looked to me like an example of Gresham’s law — dimes were a commodity investment and emphatically not money, because they were driven out of the money role by inflating government dollars. Dimes were a seller’s market because nobody wanted to sell them. What the libertarians said did not match up with what they did.

  75. @J Thomas
    I would have to respectfully disagree. Someone designed the fall and rise of Russia and the coming collapse of our country and will be ready to move forward. Unfortunately sociopaths have no interest in the good of humanity.
    You can’t hope to play the game on a level field if the DM makes sure that you aren’t allowed to know the rules.

    “I can tell you that none of my favorite fantasy characters would put up with a game like that–one thing they have in common is that they’d all go after the system and people running it.” – SKZB’s reaction to a post on Reddit.

    To understand what I am going to show you, cognitive dissonance and critical thinking are a must. In the last few months many conspiracy theories regarding our government and others world govts have proven to be conspiracy facts. I venture to say that most of the recent whistleblowers have been staged or planted intentionally. It is a shock test to see what we the people of the world will tolerate before uprising and to indocrinate us into acceptance of a dispicable tryannical NWO govt. The rabbit hole is much deeper than Dems vs Reps, USSA vs USSR or anything else in the MSM circus. Nothing but smoke and mirrors. If you want to know the true enemy and DM of the game you have do some research because I don’t have enough space here to write it all. People have spoken about and written for over 200 years that powers beyond our government actually controlled the game. There are many wild and wacky theories. But, there is enough real evidence out there. Do your own research on these few topics then read the paper in this link and you will have answers or laugh a lot. Just like any form of due diligence sift the truth from the fantasy.
    I recently heard about this document which explains much if it is true. Maybe just more shock testing, who knows

    http://www.stopthecrime.net/docs/SILENT.pdf

    Research to put it in context.
    CFR, if you can find their original charter from 1958. It was taken off the internet some 10+ years ago.
    Bilderbergs
    Rothschilds
    Trilateral Commission, Same as CFR, Original charter removed from internet.
    More will come up if you really do some research.

    Think of this like a very large (5000+) member family that intends to control everything. Like any family there is distrust, back stabbing, and fierce competition for the top spots. So all does not go as planned all the time. But they are focused on the core beliefs and goals.

    Every world leader is either one of them, in their pocket or on the short list like Saddam and Qaddify. ie. Putin is playing exactly as scripted in the play.

    It is past time the rest of us get serious about changing the game.

    Or maybe it is all really just chaos and entropy and conspiracy theories are just bedtime stories for paranoid delusionals.

  76. Ken A, I quickly went over your interesting document. It is clearly not a government document or a conspirators’ document but a polemic against such things. It is not a manual for anyone who is involved in following the plan, it is mostly a complaint that a plan exists.

    Of course there are lots of conspiracies to take over the world. As RA Lafferty said in Forth Mansions, “The world is a big apple and everybody wants a bite.”. How would you find out whether a conspiracy is successful? As you point out, a successful conspiracy that has a lot of back stabbing will be pretty much indistinguishable from no conspiracy at all.

    If you assume that there is a successful conspiracy, and everything that happens is according their plan, then you can work backward to guess at their plan. It has to be a rather evil plan to account for world events, it’s the same problem you’d have with guessing God’s plan from the same observed events.

    But this approach is not useful. It leaves you depressed. A successful evil conspiracy has taken over the world and there is nothing you can do about it. You can only watch in horror as evil things happen and guess at why the evil conspiracy wants those things to happen. If you oppose them you will lose because they run the whole world. If you start to do anything important that doesn’t fit in with their plan they will stop you or kill you.

    I think it is better to assume that none of the conspiracies is all that successful, and you have a chance to influence public opinion etc. It’s more fun that way. Chances are you won’t be successful enough to matter, but so what? If you do attract attention you might be killed by any of the unsuccessful conspiracies who kill people in a desperate attempt to believe they themselves matter. That’s a chance you must accept if you take initiative of almost any sort.

    I liked the description of economic systems as electronic circuits. I have used the same metaphor discussing economics with free-market electrical engineers. They know how hard it is to design feedback systems that do what they want, why would they assume good feedback systems would evolve by accident? I’m not convinced that your writer has gotten the details right, but it’s a decent first attempt. It occurs to me that we now have GUI programs that simulate circuits nicely, with lots of tools available to sample the results, and these models could be used more generally simply by relabeling the components. That’s worth a close look.

    Thank you.

  77. Weeks is also interested in rehabilitating the practical usefulness of utopian thinking. She discusses proposals that offer alternatives to a life dominated by work, such as the 30-hour work week and the provision of a guaranteed basic income to all. These proposals are utopian in that they envision a profound transformation of the work society in the direction of greater equality and freedom. But they are not therefore impractical. I don’t have space to recite the times and places in which these projects have been proposed and tested – a Google search took me well beyond Weeks’s examples. But clearly there is not now – if indeed there ever was – an authentic need for all capable adults to engage in long hours of alienating labor. Advances in technology and productivity suggest that basic needs could be met if all those who wish to work worked far fewer hours and if the products of their labor were more equitably distributed. But then, what would the working class (and the middle class for that matter) do if they weren’t working (or looking for work) all the time? Imagine the possibilities!

  78. skzb: Thanks for taking the time to write up such an enlightening post.

  79. I’m late to the party; sorry.

    But re #4, I just finished reading _Tombstone_, by Yang Jisheng, translated by Edward Friedman, Stacy Mosher and Jian Guo, the story of the Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. It’s gut-wrenching; shattering. 36 million people dead.

    Any meaningful discussion of Marxism has to address the consequences of the Revolution going wrong.

  80. 1.a Beginning with the second sentence.

  81. Wickersham’s, I have to disagree. Before the revolution of 1911, China was run by hereditary Mongols, foreigners who were too weak to keep out other foreigners who preyed on Chinese. Sun Yat-sen said that China was like a pile of sand, too weak and disorganized to do anything but no one who wanted to grab it could get more than a handful. He wanted to create patriotism to cement it together into strong concrete. But he failed at that. After the revolution china was run by warlords who didn’t cooperate at all well with each other. China became their litter box, and they each established their own personal territories. They didn’t cooperate well enough when Japan attacked, and later they didn’t cooperate well enough against the Communists.

    So I say that when you consider the consequences of the Revolution going wrong, you must also consider what if there is no revolution and things go wrong. Should Sun Yat-Sen have assumed that the Mongols would do a better job that he would? Should Mao have assumed that Chiang Kai-Shek would do a better job than he would?

    If you think the guys who are already running the country are doing a better job than you would, then it’s better to let them continue.

  82. @J Thomas —

    I enjoyed your anecdote about the libertarians unwilling to use the currency they advocate. And as you point out, bad money drives out good.

    But then, in a market that accepted only silver dimes as “money” maybe only the crummy silver dimes would have the power to drive out good silver dimes: nothing else would be “money” in that market, would it? As an aside, I wouldn’t consider a real-world silver-dime market a pale imitation of a LARP, I’d consider it a real occurrence with real risk to real silver dimes and real products. People who believe precious metals’ value will skyrocket may have a hard time parting with them ahead of an economic apocalypse.

    Regarding email — all the comments on the Jaded Consumer blog are moderated. I’ll happily email you back at any email you would care to leave. I always assume comments with emails in them are intended not to be published and don’t. Since your email won’t be published, it won’t matter which post you comment 🙂

    I loved the idea that the USSR tried two currencies. The folks I knew from the USSR experienced the USSR only as consumers trying to buy goods: everybody had money, but the shops were short of what people wanted. This persisted into the early ’80s when my friends emigrated. One wrote a fascinating essay on what to do when summoned for interrogation by the KGB. I think about it when I think about Putin. You can have a thugocracy with or without a government that pretends to act on behalf of the people, apparently.

    “Is anybody ready to pick up the pieces and build a new system out of the wreckage of the old? No. Nobody is ready.” <– This, exactly.

    This is the concern raised by the answer above to #5. Solving this problem seems to be the sine qua non for selling cautious people on a scheme's adoption, regardless its tenets. The perfect is the enemy of the good: surely we need a solution known to be survivable in the near term (I'm thinking about the Great Leap Forward), even as we imagine better solutions. But I _love_ your LARP beta-test idea. I believe many good ideas break down over execution rather than concept, so one would want to look carefully at how things collapsed as one iterated with the rules. So, for example, a meaningful system should be tested for feedback on ailments like corruption (that aren't specific to the form of government, they simply subvert all authority by subverting those holding it). Krapotkin's solution to liberty seems to be that there's no-one to catch or punish cheaters, so the result would be mob rule. Trotsky's solution wasn't tested, so we don't know what it looks like in the real world, but his idea of banning a standing army hasn't held up indefinitely in either the US (where the Constitution allows Congress "to raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years") or Japan (which, Constitutionally barred from having an army, has one of the most-funded militaries on the planet), raising the question how even explicit rules can be enforced against the government.

    It will take some thinking – and some gaming – to develop a system that delivers what people want delivered, instead of merely providing a series of symbols that evoke warm feelings about certain attractive principles. I strongly suspect that the game theory subject of mechanism design would be an important tool in engineering a system that delivers desirable results from a system operated by the kinds of people we know to exist in the real world. If we expect a system to be operated by ideal people who've never been demonstrated to exist, we could be setting ourselves and our children up for some serious disappointment. Since even people who intend to do "good" can disagree strongly what "good" means in a given scenario, our improved system should be very robust about handling disagreement. In a large country, we may want to consider whether this robustness should include attention to the possibility of regional priorities in resource allocation (places that are subject to earthquakes, windstorms, or flooding might want to allocate more resources to structural safety inspections than places where those risks aren't a local priority; battling yellow fever may not be as big a deal in the Rockies as along the Gulf Coast; etc.). The problem identified in question #5 is nontrivial. That doesn't mean it hasn't an answer, it means that the answer deserves more respect than many have historically seemed inclined to give it (in any system).

  83. “But then, in a market that accepted only silver dimes as “money” maybe only the crummy silver dimes would have the power to drive out good silver dimes: nothing else would be “money” in that market, would it?”

    I don’t really know what to think about catastrophes that eliminated the value of paper money. Likely it would be mostly barter at first. How would you decide what a silver dime is worth compared to a can of beans, when they don’t make either of them any more? It would take awhile to find out how many of them were circulating….

    “As an aside, I wouldn’t consider a real-world silver-dime market a pale imitation of a LARP, I’d consider it a real occurrence with real risk to real silver dimes and real products. People who believe precious metals’ value will skyrocket may have a hard time parting with them ahead of an economic apocalypse.”

    Sure, and it’s predictable in the short run. Currently you can buy silver dimes for around $2.00 each. So if you figure you might spend $80 at the dealer room, you can buy 40 dimes and spend them, and you haven’t lost any of your reserve, you’ve lost the cash you would otherwise have spent at the dealer room. But people don’t think about it that way….

    “I loved the idea that the USSR tried two currencies. The folks I knew from the USSR experienced the USSR only as consumers trying to buy goods: everybody had money, but the shops were short of what people wanted. This persisted into the early ’80s when my friends emigrated.”

    Yes, the USSR didn’t put much effort at all into getting people to want what they produced, while a big part of US GDP gets spent on that. They made a lot of stuff that was all the same, like they believed in equality, and then the status symbols were importado. If there’s only one quality then people will feel like it’s Walmart quality even if it’s pretty good.

    “But I _love_ your LARP beta-test idea. I believe many good ideas break down over execution rather than concept, so one would want to look carefully at how things collapsed as one iterated with the rules. So, for example, a meaningful system should be tested for feedback on ailments like corruption (that aren’t specific to the form of government, they simply subvert all authority by subverting those holding it).”

    Yes! One modern possibility is to allow the government only plastic money. Every transaction is recorded and is public. People could collect silver dimes to do corruption with, but there’s a limit how much of that you can do when it has to stay covert. But that approach can only work when you have enough stability to keep the financial computing system running.

    “Trotsky’s solution wasn’t tested, so we don’t know what it looks like in the real world, but his idea of banning a standing army hasn’t held up indefinitely in either the US (where the Constitution allows Congress “to raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years”) or Japan (which, Constitutionally barred from having an army, has one of the most-funded militaries on the planet), raising the question how even explicit rules can be enforced against the government.”

    I’m not sure about the details, but there should be somebody who wins big if he can catch the government breaking the rules. The USA did pretty well about standing armies until we got nukes. Then we got so scared of the nuclear USSR that we couldn’t do the right thing. It just seemed totally impractical not to have a big standing army when the USSR was ready to take over the world from us.

    “It will take some thinking – and some gaming – to develop a system that delivers what people want delivered, instead of merely providing a series of symbols that evoke warm feelings about certain attractive principles. I strongly suspect that the game theory subject of mechanism design would be an important tool in engineering a system that delivers desirable results from a system operated by the kinds of people we know to exist in the real world.”

    Sure, we have much better concepts of product testing now. Particularly with software. We have some beginning sense of what’s needed for a new government model to go into beta-testing.

  84. skzb

    FYI: I’ve added a couple more points to the OP.

  85. OK, I give up. Besides adding “untreated” to #13, what is new?

  86. L. Raymond, I can’t say what’s really changed. But to me it reads better now.

    More hope, more charity.

    Less of a gripe and more of a manifesto.

    Maybe most of the difference comes from rereading it closely after discussion, but to me it has gained something.

  87. Yes a couple of point on this:
    >so #2 is my main quibble and part of the reason why I say that I’m not a socialist. The problem is that there is a certain *biological* imperative in humans, and chimps and gorillas and primates and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) that, because of evolutionary pressure, causes us to seek to alter situations to our own advantage, usually regardless of the expense of others. This isn’t greed, it’s “survival” – ‘there are five bananas. If I take all 5, I can eat one now and 4 later. If I share, I only get to eat one. If I tell everyone else I will hold them until later, then we can all eat them, then I can still eat one now and four later.’

    Hell of a lot assumptions in that. The thing is that any anthropologst who has studies early human societies would disagree with that. For that matter so would most primate specialists looking at primates other than humans. Another counter-example; disasters. Contrary to the myths of people rioting and turning on one another during disasters people actually cooperate and work together ans share scare resources. During Katrina, in spite of really garbage coverage by the media, people cooperated and worked together. Shared scare resources rather than hoarded them. Some who had been street predators before stayed street predators after, but interestingly even many street predators put aside their habits of violence and cooperated and helped people. The worst cases of predators remaining were police officers, and some units of the national guard. In short, what you fear the most happens, like homicidal police officers or CEOs, happens as a result of social institutions designed to create them. Or they happen,like street predators or serial killers, when people break in response to extreme social pressure created by deformed and deforming social institutions. The vast majority of people do not turn predator, not the violent kind, not the resource hoarding kind. A few years ago my wallet fell out of my backpack. A homeless man ran up and handed it to me. (I admit I gave him the ten dollars in it on grounds he probably needed it more than I did – which was a moment of sentimentally. I believe that social activism is far more productive than individual charity.) But he sure did not show any instinct to “keep the banana”. Come to think of it, neither did I.

    Note; I’m Gar W. Lipow. StrawberryRevolution is my wordpress blog.

  88. L. Raymond: I was giving out the information that I’d added #13 since the last time I mentioned the post.

  89. “The society that exists after the State has withered away; in which money, at least as we understand it now, is no longer useful; a true cooperative culture. I use communism to mean, in essence, a world-wide classless society: there is no “working class” as such, because labor and the fruits of labor are shared. National boundaries no longer exist.”

    Such a society seems to me like regressing to primitive tribalism, as all of those characteristics were generally present in small tribes. I am curious why you believe such a society would be stable; how once we reached this state, such a society would be able to defend itself from those who would seek to convert such a society to their own ends, and become warlords.

  90. Oh, OK. I already had the paragraph in the version I had saved and didn’t realize it was new.

  91. “I am curious why you believe such a society would be stable; how once we reached this state, such a society would be able to defend itself from those who would seek to convert such a society to their own ends, and become warlords.”

    Moosebreath, you are implicitly asking for all the details that prove a profession of faith.

    It should be obvious that nobody can prove this to your satisfaction. If you are interested you will look at the evidence and see what you choose to believe based on that.

    My own view is that we don’t know nearly enough to prove Steven wrong. Science has not advanced far enough to decide such things.

    History shows that things go every which way. Sometimes warlords split a society into little armed enclaves. Other times a king arises who suppresses all competitors. Sometimes the king allows a whole lot of initiative because he’d rather control a smaller fraction of a stronger nation, than a large fraction of a repressed society. On the surface it’s chaotic. You might see subtle patterns that you might think are always present. Good luck with that.

    Are we heading toward some sort of stable situation that will stop changing? I dunno, how would we tell? Around Marx’s time a lot of scientists developed a sense of that in ecosystems. They believed that in each environment there was a “climax” ecosystem and whenever things got disrupted from that, a sort of inevitable series of events would lead the environment in a series of stages back to that climax, which would be maintained indefinitely until the next disruption. Evidence shows that they were partly right. It started out as an intuitive leap, that made sense out of chaos, and now it’s been partly confirmed.

    For each stable environment and each particular set of species, there may be some arrangements that are very stable. Consider a sequoia forest. It takes the sun’s energy and devotes a whole lot of that energy to pumping water up high to sequoia needles which harvest that energy. They have a little bit of energy left over for the trees to grow a tiny bit more. So those trees are the first to get the light, and they use almost all that energy to make sure they are the first to get the light. Meanwhile their dead needles poison the dirt below and keep most other plants from growing. Occasionally the needles burn in a hot fire that kills most everything but sequoias which have thick fire-resistant bark.

    Similarly with peat bogs. Special plants use much of the energy they harvest to produce acid, which leaches away the minerals other plants depend on. They create an environment that hardly anything can grow in but them, and they slowly accumulate dead plant material — they live in their own mausoleum. They inhibit their own growth, but not as much as they do everything else. As long as the water holds out, they survive pretty much alone.

    What decides whether we wind up with a sequoia forest or a peat bog? Local circumstance. Lots of places aren’t heading toward either one.

    Do humans tend toward any particular steady state? Not that I can see. Any environment that humans can create, we can also destabilize. We’re good at it. Are we progressing toward a level of technology that allows us or requires us to create stable societies? Maybe. Will that stability require that there not be too much repression, since repressed people may feel little compunction to avoid destabilizing things? Maybe. Will we be able to maintain that stability rather than fall apart with a population crash, perhaps reverting to feudalism for awhile? Maybe.

    I don’t think the scientific evidence is in yet. Steven could be wrong, although he has reason for optimism — not least the reason that optimists get better sleep. But people who have faith that he’s wrong have no more proof. And if you choose to believe things that leave a bad taste in your mouth — nobody forces you to eat that.

  92. J. Thomas,

    “Moosebreath, you are implicitly asking for all the details that prove a profession of faith.”

    While I do not necessarily disagree, my experience in discussions with Marxists is that they get remarkably peevish if someone describes their professions as being ones of faith, rather than dispassionate and inexorable readings of history.

    “Do humans tend toward any particular steady state? Not that I can see. Any environment that humans can create, we can also destabilize. We’re good at it. Are we progressing toward a level of technology that allows us or requires us to create stable societies? Maybe. Will that stability require that there not be too much repression, since repressed people may feel little compunction to avoid destabilizing things? Maybe. Will we be able to maintain that stability rather than fall apart with a population crash, perhaps reverting to feudalism for awhile? Maybe.”

    I’d agree with that, likely changing some if not all of your “maybes” to “probably nots”. And I’d add that even if one believes that the stability is better off for some, or even the vast majority of people, it does not take very many people who believe they could get a larger slice of the pie by destabilizing the situation and grabbing control to do so. And that to me is very much part of human nature as shown over the millenia (which goes back to item 2).

    And proposing societal reorganization based solely on faith that human nature will be different than it historically has been is pretty much the definition of utopianism.

  93. “I’d agree with that, likely changing some if not all of your “maybes” to “probably nots”.”

    I don’t think the evidence is in for estimating probabilities on all that. You can make your guess but there isn’t adequate data to make a particularly informed guess.

    “And I’d add that even if one believes that the stability is better off for some, or even the vast majority of people, it does not take very many people who believe they could get a larger slice of the pie by destabilizing the situation and grabbing control to do so.”

    People who believe that often believe it wrongly. Usually after a situation is “destabilized” they are not better off at all. But if it happens they usually just have to ride it out like the other survivors.

    It may be that we are better at destabilizing stuff by accident than on purpose. When stability demands that we perform the correct responses, some of us try things out at random. But the result is about the same. “Mean or stupid, which is worse?”

    Can we achieve a beneficial system which stays beneficial despite everything we do to change it? It doesn’t seem plausible to me that we could do that by accident. But who knows how well we will learn to plan systems, in the future?

    We have less than one lifetime of experience with simulation software. We have very little experience with big data. It’s hard to predict where we’re going, except our old systems are going to be thoroughly destabilized.

  94. “While I do not necessarily disagree, my experience in discussions with Marxists is that they get remarkably peevish if someone describes their professions as being ones of faith, rather than dispassionate and inexorable readings of history.”

    Sure, but Steven is a grownup. It’s a scientific question. If I have some sort of unqualified opinion about it, no big deal — there are lots of people who have unqualified opinions about pretty much everything.

    If there’s scientific disagreement about it, he can look at the data to the best of his abilities and make a choice based on that. For science it isn’t necessary to decide issues that are hard to decide, they can wait until more data comes in. But if there’s reason to make a decision on incomplete information then there are more-or-less scientific methods to do that, too. I’m sure there are lots of Marxists looking at these questions. Science doesn’t stand still and there’s no reason Marxists should, basing their results on current science.

  95. J Thomas,

    “People who believe that often believe it wrongly. Usually after a situation is “destabilized” they are not better off at all. But if it happens they usually just have to ride it out like the other survivors.”

    Zero disagreement with that. However to me, that makes it more, not less, likely that people will choose to destabilize such a situation, as they will misguess how likely it is that the destabilization will turn out favorably for them.

    “Sure, but Steven is a grownup. It’s a scientific question.”

    Ignoring the fact that most of the people I had such discussions with in the past were grown-ups (at least chronologically), I don’t think it is. Which is why I asked him what makes him “believe such a society would be stable”. I am genuinely curious why Steven believes that. As I indicated above, I do not believe it, as it goes against my reading of history (which is not a science). If someone else reads history differently, he or she is capable of explaining how and why.

  96. “Which is why I asked him what makes him “believe such a society would be stable”. I am genuinely curious why Steven believes that.”

    Well, that’s OK. But remember that Steven originally posted to make a sort of FAQ for simple questions he gets asked a lot, so he can just point to the simple answers.

    If this is a long complicated answer he might not want to bother putting it here now.

    I particularly liked #10. Two short sentences, and it gave a perfect answer, with lots of great implications not actually spelled out.

  97. “Such a society seems to me like regressing to primitive tribalism, as all of those characteristics were generally present in small tribes. I am curious why you believe such a society would be stable.”

    J. Thomas is right; this isn’t the post in which I want to go into questions that require complex answers.

    That said, I’m not clear on what you’re saying. Are you suggesting that such a society would resemble the tribal arrangements that lasted at least 40,000 years, or are you suggesting that it would be unstable? I don’t think you get to have both.

    In any case, the answer is beside the point. Question 13 was intended to answer the often asked question of what is meant by the terms “communism” and “socialism,” not to detail the practicality or lack thereof of those societies.

    For what is to prevent warlords from gaining power, see question 4.

  98. “Are you suggesting that such a society would resemble the tribal arrangements that lasted at least 40,000 years, or are you suggesting that it would be unstable? I don’t think you get to have both.”

    Without asking you to get into the details here, I want to point out that he can have both. He could be right that a good society would require we get back to the good social relations that (we assume) primitive cultures had, and he could be right that it would be hard to do that stably in a great big modern society.

    He wouldn’t be right to assume that both must be true, but there could easily be some problems in these areas that would have to be worked around to create a good society. There’s no solid evidence that these are gotchas which cannot be fixed and so no good society is possible, and there’s no solid evidence that this would work out automatically with no concerns.

    Still, it’s a beautiful rhetorical trick to give the impression that his concerns appear to contradict each other and so must be false.

  99. Steven,

    “Are you suggesting that such a society would resemble the tribal arrangements that lasted at least 40,000 years, or are you suggesting that it would be unstable? I don’t think you get to have both.”

    I think J Thomas is close to the right answer. I’d say that such a society would resemble primitive tribal arrangements (though not just in good social arrangements), and that they are generally only stable where you are dealing with a small number of persons whom one knows well, as such societies often collapse when the come in contact with new societies. In a modern society, where one regularly travels great distances and meets new people, I would expect that this would not hold.

    J Thomas,

    “There’s no solid evidence that these are gotchas which cannot be fixed and so no good society is possible, and there’s no solid evidence that this would work out automatically with no concerns.”

    There’s also no solid evidence that they can be fixed (and I would argue millenia of history saying they cannot). The burden should be on those seeking significant societal change to deal with the concerns before the changes occur.

  100. “I’d say that such a society would resemble primitive tribal arrangements (though not just in good social arrangements), and that they are generally only stable where you are dealing with a small number of persons whom one knows well”

    You seem to be pointing to the fact that in primitive tribal arrangements people tend to be personally responsible because in small groups people know each other, and big anonymous groups don’t work that way.

    >There’s no solid evidence that these are gotchas which cannot be fixed and so no good society is possible, and there’s no solid evidence that this would work out automatically with no concerns.<

    "There’s also no solid evidence that they can be fixed (and I would argue millenia of history saying they cannot)."

    There's no solid evidence. I claim that the past millenia of history are suggestive but not at all definitive because some things are different now.

    It's like — look at the Iliad, where small numbers of bronze-age warriors dominated everybody else, because bronze weapons were rare. A person from that time could say that all of history showed mass movements had no chance because the masses were mostly disarmed.

    But then look at the book of Joshua, where 600,000 warriors genocide a whole area and take it for themselves, possible because of cheap iron weapons. For 3000 years after that, nobody could reliably stand against a horde of fanatics with iron weapons. Moses, Cyrus, Xerxes, Genghis, Attila, Timur, Cromwell, Napoleon, Andrew Jacson, an endless list of genocidal maniacs followed by hordes of fanatical warriors. For all that time there was no better solution to a horde of fanatics than a bigger, better horde of fanatics.

    "Whatever happens we have got,
    the Gatling gun and they have not."

    It changed. At one battle in the Sudan, Maxim guns helped create a death ration of 20:1. Increasingly, small armies of highly-trained professional killers can destroy hordes of fanatics — to the point that the big issue has become protecting innocent civilians while slaughtering small numbers of fanatics who have completely lost by any traditional standard but who have not yet surrendered.

    Who can be sure what will be impossible with future technology?

    We might develop a methodology for creating and testing social change, in which people choose new societies to live among on the basis of what they like. Your life after work could be like one long SCA meet, if that's what you wanted. Why not? And if it carried into work too, people would adapt.

    "The burden should be on those seeking significant societal change to deal with the concerns before the changes occur."

    How about the burden to deal with the concerns about new technology before the changes occur? Testing to show that GMO organisms are safe has been utterly inadequate. I seen no reason to expect problems, but the actual testing has completely lacked imagination. Testing for depleted uranium in weapons? Testing for the social effects of cell phones?

    Heinlein was the first one I saw who pointed out that when the automobile came out some people thought about what would happen to horses. But that no one predicted young people would drive automobiles to lonely places and use them as portable bedrooms, to have sex. With a car you could drive far enough that nobody knew you, that scandalous behavior didn't get reported back home. It had a tremendous affect on human mating behavior, and there was no thought to check on that before mass sales were allowed.

    Look at the changes the Internet is making! Lots of things that nobody thought out ahead of time at all, random accidental changes! If we don't like them we won't get rid of the Internet, we'll just try to adapt.

    And you want to put great big burdens on people who want to design improvements on purpose, when we put none at all on people who in fact do make giant changes for the sole purpose of making a profit. Those are unreasonable demands.

  101. Socialism rejects a class-based society. But socialists believe that it is possible to make the transition from capitalism to socialism without a basic change in the character of the state. They hold this view because they do not think of the capitalist state as essentially an institution for the dictatorship of the capitalist class, but rather as a perfectly good piece of machinery which can be used in the interest of whichever class gets command of it. No need, then, for the working class in power to smash the old capitalist state apparatus and set up its own—the march to socialism can be made step by step within the framework of the democratic forms of the capitalist state. Socialism is primarily an economic system so it exists in varying degrees and forms in a wide variety of political systems.

  102. “But socialists believe that it is possible to make the transition from capitalism to socialism without a basic change in the character of the state.”

    Cassie, I don’t see that it’s necessary to have an opinion about this question.

    If you think you have a method that works better, then it makes sense to try it out in whatever context you can, to find out about the inevitable glitches and bugs and fix them. When chemical engineers have a bench-scale process that works then they scale it up to a pilot plant and find out about the new problems at that scale. Then when they ramp up to production level they have a whole new set of problems, some of which they can predict from the pilot plant. So it’s predictable there will be a lot of problems that can only be fixed by trial and error though careful planning helps. It’s better to get some of your trial and error done early. As much as you can.

    If you do have a method that works better, capitalists are likely to look for ways they can exploit it. They will help you set it up provided it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. They’re all for finding methods that work better that they can exploit. So it might be better not to tell them you are their enemy, if you are in fact their enemy. Better not to tell them that you intend to spread the new system everywhere and make things work better by eliminating them. That’s only common sense, right? And you don’t even have to decide ahead of time about details of how the large-scale system will work.

    So to the extent that you can spread something that works on a small scale, some people will get to decide how well they like it by trying it out. This is a good way to get supporters.

    Maybe the government will work against you. You can deal with that when it happens. Maybe the capitalists will wage war. You can try to be ready for that. You don’t have to assume it’s inevitable, and you don’t have to assume it won’t happen. Maybe you can take over the existing government, by voting if voting works, by coup or general strike or revolution if otherwise, whatever works. When you get the large majority of the population on your side, something will work. If the majority is against you, then you have problems even if you tactically win. You don’t have to decide which method to use to take over the government. When you are strong, the enemy can decide what they want to try against you before they give up.

    One possible approach they might try is to kill off your people before you get all that strong. This happened in Indonesia. As I understand it, communists were getting increasing influence, particularly in the civilian government, and they were sort of balanced not by capitalists but by the army. There was an attempted coup in which a number of generals were killed, this may have been staged by junior officers who weren’t getting their cut of the corruption money. The military blamed it on the communists, and led a killing spree which at the time was estimated at 2 million deaths, though revisionists have cut it down to as little as half a million. In 1965 the population of Indonesia was over 100 million, so 2 million was not all that many from the total, but the communist party only had 2 million members. While a lot of chinese and christians were killed, basicly anybody who was unpopular, surviving communists have never again gotten much influence in Indonesia, so far. General Suharto persuaded foreign investors that Indonesia was a safe place to invest, and so the Indonesian economy did reasonably well and the people were moderately satisfied for a long time.

    If you absolutely have to demonize somebody, better to do it to somebody who’s weak and harmless that people don’t like, so they can’t hurt you much. But there are no guarantees. Somebody might try to kill you off even if you are gentle pacifists who only want good for everybody.

  103. skzb: “#15: Obviously, you may disagree that revolution is inevitable; that is something we can talk about. But please [bear] in mind that Marxists do not see their role as creating revolution, but rather as guiding it to a successful conclusion.”

    Since that you yourself have said no worker’s revolution has ever succeeded, what will make the next one different? That’s a serious question. Given the history of revolutions, where does the optimism come from?

    A question about day-to-day functioning of the post-revolutionary world: when you say, “And clearly anyone in any position that might permit such accumulation would be immediately recalled from that position, right?”, who would be in such a position and who would be able to recall her? Would Marxists institute a bureaucracy, a council, a sole executive supported by soviets? I ask this because of the tendency, at least among those I’ve read, to say that /somehow/ the new society will be worked out without being able to put forward any actual plan of government. I always get the feeling they plan to just wing it.

  104. skzb

    Misspelling corrected, thank you.

    The failures of the working class to take power have been the result of failures to build a revolutionary leadership, or betrayals by that leadership. This implies the solution.

    In the early stages after a revolution, I would imagine there would need to be some sort of council, or bureaucracy. Soviet government is based on democratically elected representatives subject to immediate recall. After the early stages, once the state has begun to wither away, I can no more guess what it would look like than Cromwell could have imagined modern parliamentary democracy.

    Winging it is correct; see point #5.

  105. skzb: “The failures of the working class to take power have been the result of failures to build a revolutionary leadership, or betrayals by that leadership. This implies the solution.”

    If every attempted implementation of an idea results in failure, whether through the weakness of its adherents or betrayal, the obvious conclusion is that idea itself is too weak to inspire people, which in this case suggests the implication that a working class revolution is fatally flawed. At what point do you ask yourself if it’s possible it’s not the leadership that keeps messing up, but rather the ideas with which they’re working that are weak?

    “In the early stages after a revolution, I would imagine there would need to be some sort of council, or bureaucracy. Soviet government is based on democratically elected representatives subject to immediate recall.”

    Are you referring to the Politburo?

    “After the early stages, once the state has begun to wither away, I can no more guess what it would look like than Cromwell could have imagined modern parliamentary democracy.”

    Cromwell did not establish a government that survived his death so I don’t think he’s a very good example.

    “Winging it is correct; see point #5.”

    I saw it before, and it’s not persuasive: “I don’t know. How can anyone know in advance? This is like demanding of the Founding Fathers that they detail the means of separation of powers before issuing the Declaration of Independence.”

    I see no relation between the two ideas. The founders did not feel they needed to kill every loyalist or annihilate the social order; they were practical men of business and skilled politicians willing to compromise in order to reach their goals. The Bolsheviks rejected anyone who didn’t agree with their philosophy or goals and were quite willing to kill anyone connected with the previous government. Setting out to destroy the existing society without having planned its replacement simply leaves a power vacuum to be filled by the first person strong enough to take over. This is the most puzzling thing about Marxism – there’s complete disdain for what it calls “idealism” yet it says the ideas of communism are enough to govern the post-revolutionary world without having any practical plans to run things. Could you explain this seeming paradox?

  106. While I in no way agree with the system of socialism, mainly because I consider myself an individualist first and foremost and find the idea of putting society ahead of myself distasteful, I can at least express my appreciation of the clear cut, well thought out, and intelligent points you make. Were it not something that was completely opposing my core beliefs it would likely have swayed me. So thank you for the informative post. Be well.

  107. skzb

    Maybe someday, Mike, you and I can talk, and I can tell you why I believe socialism isn’t about “putting society first” but rather about allowing the development of full creative and spiritual potential of each individual according to that individual’s wishes. In the meantime, I accept our differences, and thanks for reading with an open mind.

  108. Mr. Brust,

    Is it more important to help someone go from a 2 to a 4 or help another go from an 8 to a 10? In other words should a socialist society be organized to help the weakest, stupidest among us or to help the smartest, most intelligent? Under socialism is that where the old “to each according to his needs…” would come in?

    I just found out how to properly pronounce your last name after 15 years of reading your books!

  109. skzb

    Hey, Stew. Your question is a bit too abstract for me to get a handle on it. I mean, I assume there’s a reason why it’s one or the other, but as you present it, I can’t quite follow the question. Expand a little? (And sorry for the delay; for some reason, my blog thought your comment was spam.)

  110. I think the answer is that in a healthy society, not based on mandatory greed, means could be devised to get our 2s up to 5s AND our 8s to 11.

  111. skzb

    What I’m not following is what the numbers refer to. 2 out of 10 in what?

  112. I think it’s the question “do we spend our efforts helping the low become adequate or do we spend our efforts helping the good become extraordinary.” Which is to me a lot like the question “why do we keep exploring space when we have hungry to feed?”

    To which my own answer is, on the first one, a socialist program that isn’t capable of doing both things at once isn’t ready to be implemented; a healthy society can do more than one thing at a time. And to the second… well, it’s pretty much exactly the same. Civilizations of billions of people should be able to do two things at once, without even slightly sacrificing one for the other.

  113. I read it to mean functionality as a contributing member of society. 10 could be Galileo and 2 could be the guy who can sweep the floors and empty the waste cans after hours, as long as he is closely supervised. Well, he may actually be a 3.

  114. A point on the “human nature” question. There is not one, monolithic human nature. Say, if 90% of the population genetically tends towards collective, sharing behavior, and 10% (or even far less) towards sociopathic, me first regardless of consequences to others behavior, then you have to have a system that acknowledges and deals with both. Of course, that is way too simplistic. But I feel that it is always the outliers of a society, rather than the mass of society, which ends up setting the tone of that society, whether for good (eg. artists, sometimes scientists) or bad (politicians, business leaders, sometimes scientists).

  115. “What I’m not following is what the numbers refer to. 2 out of 10 in what?”

    I’m pretty sure they’re asking the Harrison Bergeron question.

    Do we try to make everybody equal by handicapping the most capable, or should we put more resources into increasing the capabilities of the most capable, or what?

    The USSR tended toward the latter. The best scientists etc got a lot of resources they could use, while lots of people didn’t get much. Education for the best was maybe the best in the world, while education for the average was not so great.

    In the USA we maybe tend to pay attention to the extremes. In schools, they make some effort to help the students who lag behind get up to the point they can meet minimal standards. And they try to provide special resources for the ones who get tagged as the best, “magnet” schools etc. The ones in the middle mostly get whatever treatment is standard for that particular school with that particular local tax base.

    I expect there’s a way to put the question that would make sense. I can’t quite think of it.

  116. Stephen mentioned Trotsky’s book, and I’d like to recommend another author: Victor Serge.

    Serge was an anarchist-turned-Bolshevik who was both a loyal supporter of the Revolution and also critical of the excesses he witnessed. Because of his background he was often able to be privy to the inner workings of the Party but also be detached from the Party ‘bubble’.

    He liked Lenin and Trotsky, but was not afraid to be critical of things he didn’t like. He was long critical of Stalin and was part of the Left Opposition that opposed him. He’s also considered to be the first person to refer to Stalin’s rule as ‘totalitarian’.

    Anyway, Serge’s books on the Revolution include: “From Lenin to Stalin”, “Russia Twenty Years After”, “The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky”, and “Memoirs of a Revolutionary”. All are worth reading.

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