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The Fantasy World called “Practical Politics”

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One of the most important things to a writer of fantasy is to know how to make a magical, impossible world seem real to the reader. This is one of the skills we share with capitalist politicians. There is a conversation many of us have heard over and over, which, distilled to its essence, goes something like this:

“There is actually no way forward for the oppressed unless the working people unite and challenge the two parties of big business.”

“Agreed. But in practice, that’s never going to happen, or at least not for a long, long time. So, in the meantime, wouldn’t you rather vote for someone who is at least going to support <insert favorite liberal hobby-horse>? That’s something that affects real people, you know, and until this magic day (in which I don’t truly believe), we should do the best we can.”  This is often found in neat, succinct form in such phrases as, “Who is your viable alternative?”

This is, by the way, closely related to the “lesser evil” theory. One difference between the usual fantasy setting and the Land Of Practical Politics is that, in the latter, the protagonist is recognized as evil, which is something I find potentially interesting in fiction, but rather frightening in reality.

In constructing a fantasy world, one of the key elements is misdirection–“Hey, reader, look over here, at the wonderful meal, or the explosive magic, or the sword fight, or the witty dialogue–nothing to see over there.” Or, “Hey, reader, look over here at the dangers of terrorism, or how jobs are going overseas, or how despicable our enemies are, or our inane dialogue–nothing to see over there.”

At this point, I must tip my hat to Bernie “As Trustworthy as Syriza” Sanders, who has mastered what is, for fantasy novelists, a key technique: injecting just enough reality to be convincing. If I have roses in my novel, and I can manage to describe the sight, smell, and texture well enough that the reader fully identifies this with his or her own experience, the reader will then be that much more likely to believe my wizardry and sorcery and witchcraft. In Sanders’ case, he talks about actual problems that no other bourgeois politician is addressing, which makes the reader think that he’s going to do something about them. Then, when he bows out of the race and throws his support to Hilary Clinton, you won’t notice him smiling and muttering, “gotcha” under his breath. (Of course, if he were somehow elected, it wouldn’t be any different–he remains a capitalist politician).

Point being, for a fantasist, there are things one doesn’t want the reader to think about: Magic isn’t real; in many cases, the economy simply doesn’t make sense; sometimes, for the story to work, the author must introduce basic errors in biology or geology or even metallurgy. If the author is doing things right, the reader will never notice. For a capitalist politician, the big thing the reader’s attention must be directed away from, at all costs, is history, but pretty much every other realm of social science can also break the “willing suspension of disbelief” that leads to electoral victories.

History teaches us that, when reform is possible, it is accomplished not by “kinder, gentler” politicians, but by the ruling class’s fear of the movement of the masses. Just in this country we saw the women’s suffrage movement emerge from the Civil War, and become a powerhouse with the 1909 New York garment workers strike;  the mass movements of the ’30s in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution that led to the rise of the CIO and produced the New Deal;  the mass movements and riots of the 60s that resulted in Medicaire and Medicaid; and the mass movement against racial inequality that led to the end of Jim Crow segregation. Can someone show me a serious step forward in equality that was not accomplished by mass action on such a scale that the ruling class felt threatened? They don’t give away their power because they want to have less–they give away some of their power when they fear they have no other choice except to lose it all–again, assuming there remains the possibility of reform.

Short version: when reform is possible, it is only the threat of revolution that produces it.  When reform is impossible–in my opinion, that is the case today–a reformist party will inevitably betray those who trust it into the hands of the most reactionary, right-wing elements. We saw that in Hungary in 1921, in Italy in 1922, in Germany in 1933,  in Spain in 1936, and on and on–until the latest example, Syrzia (not even really a reform party,  they just like to sound like one) that has opened the door of Greece to the Golden Dawn.

Of course, the question “is reform possible” never comes up, because in the Land of Practical Politics, reform is always possible–the fascist dictatorships that arose were simply errors made by bad people, having nothing to do with intolerable social crisis.

And in the Land of Practical Politics, capitalism is permanent; it is the economic system that is the final culmination of human wisdom. The fact that no other economic system has been permanent in history, and that it has inevitably required revolution to replace it, is simply not the case in this fantasy world.

In the Land of Practical Politics there is no history–the past is gone.

In the Land of Practical Politics people have opposing viewpoints just because.

In the Land of Practical Politics there is no possibility of understanding economics–things cost what they cost, and we can never understand why.

In the Land of Practical Politics there are no social classes–political parties just represent folks who kind of think  alike.

In the Land of Practical Politics racism and sexism are sins in the hearts of individuals, not products of definite economic and social relations.

In the Land of Practical Politics the masses can do nothing for themselves, and it is up to the Enlightened Middle Class to ease their sufferering a bit when their attention can be spared from improving the condition of the Enlightened Middle Class.

In the Land of Practical Politics nothing ever changes in a fundamental way, because things have always been the way they are.

In the Land of Practical Politics we are helpless.

In our world, revolution happens when intolerable conditions produced by an economic system meet the end of that system’s flexibility. Sometimes the revolution is successful, sometimes it is not. One of the factors that determines its success–the key factor–is how ready the revolutionary class is to take and hold power. In modern society, preparing the revolutionary class is the task of the vanguard party. Preventing the revolutionary class from being prepared is the task of the authors and distributors of stories set in the fantasy world called Practical Politics.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

88 Comments

  1. I have a question that might sound snarky and insulting but is meant to be serious. You believe that Bernie Sanders and people like him are just sugar-coating something fundamentally rotten. You think only a revolution, or the serious threat of one, will have a real impact.

    So have you considered advocating votes for the most blatantly capitalist, crush-the-poor, trod-on-the-working-class candidate you can find for the sake of hastening society on the path to revolution?

    If not, then what is the path forward?

    I work in the technology industry, and of course that flavors my perception of what matters and what can be done. I’m trying to contribute some of my time and money to projects that replace centralized, data-mined, privacy-negating, closed services and products (like Facebook, Twitter, Google Search, Google Mail, Android phones, Apple phones, Windows, etc…) with projects that are decentralized, end-user-owned, private, and open. Then whatever path forward we want to take can be discussed and planned in private without the powers that be listening in and halting action before it starts.

    The Arab Spring, limited though it was, only accomplished what it did because governments in the Middle East didn’t have the legal authority to subpoena Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter for the name, address, and posted content for every citizen in their country. We’re in the US, we don’t have the benefit of our chosen web services and hardware and software vendors being hosted in foreign countries.

  2. skzb

    “So have you considered advocating votes for the most blatantly capitalist, crush-the-poor, trod-on-the-working-class candidate you can find for the sake of hastening society on the path to revolution?

    If not, then what is the path forward?”

    The path forward is form a conscious revolutionary leadership within the working class. This is done by continually explaining how events fit into the broader picture, and working for a scientific understanding of how society works. The first and most important element in this is a ruthless honesty, even when it is unpopular. Advocating for a candidate one knows is hostile to the interests of the working class would hardly be honest. How could the working class possibly trust anyone who did that?

    I can’t say I know how new technologies will interact with the advancing revolutionary conditions, but I believe you are over-estimating the importance of secrecy. Secrecy is vital in a coup-de-etat, but popular revolution is, by its nature, carried out in the open.

  3. I’ve felt that a revolution is on the brink, and as you say we need a leader of the working class to be honest with everyone.

  4. One key underlying problem with this argument is that a government that comes to power by any kind be of soft or peaceful revolution doesn’t in general have any additional powers, legitimacy or effectiveness when compared to a government that came to power by being elected. And likely has less, because of the majority against them.

    On the other hand in the 21 st century world, even a successful civil war is so destructive of infrastructure and institutions that it will take multiple decades to merely get back to the pre-war status quo. Which exceeds the time any new government can be trusted to pay any attention to its founding principles.

    The other is of course how are you going to win a civil war if you can’t win an election? Especially when money has more influence military campaigns than political ones, and the idea of ‘playing fair’ is even more comedic.

  5. Is there any evidence for sheepdog theory? I’ll support Sanders until the Clinton machine steamrollers him. Then I’ll throw away my vote on a third-party candidate who is naive enough to run in a two-party system, because voting in a bourgeois democracy is about gestures that tell the rich whether the people are content—I want them to know I am not.

  6. Skzb, it sounds like you are responding to some of my comments on an earlier string.

    You are right that reform will ONLY happen when there is a threat of revolution or disruption of the status quo. That is basic. Demonizing attempts at a peaceful solution is politics worthy of the GOP.

    But there are things that can be done other than trying to rile up the masses for armed revolution. One would be voting rights. There is a reason the GOP wants to suppress the ability to vote by the poor. Make election day a holiday because the poor often cannot get the time off from their jobs to vote. More voting locations, etc.

    I really do not want an armed revolution. Look what happened in Russia, China, etc. You and I would be up against the wall (yes, you) for being intellectuals. So that is a dangerous way to go. The power vacuum will be used by the most ruthless against the very people of the revolution. Millions of innocent people would be killed. That is history, not fantasy. I am not for killing innocent people for any cause.

    Support Unions. Wages are going up (slowly) in an attempt by the powerful to relieve some of the social pressure toward disruption. True, we need a lot more than that, but it improves the quality of life for some people. Preventing reforms because they relieve revolutionary pressure is a strange way to think.

  7. Sometimes, when I dare to turn the television on and watch something other than cartoons and my favorite fantasy/sci-fi shows (don’t judge me) I happen to stumble across the media and politics. And as I watch this soul-crushing display of back-patting or cat-fighting, I wonder: are they getting something out of this other than money? Is there a giant slot machine of after-life worlds into which one can pump in influence like coins to get a better life once this one is done? Do they never think ‘How is my lies and sugar-coating and pointing the other way going to hurt people and perhaps make me into a terrible, shriveled, soulless half-human?’ Do they have no morality?

    Then I turn it back to my favorite show and try not to be overwhelmed by the degradation of the human soul.

  8. Sheepdog is the wrong metaphor. A sheepdog scares the sheep so they bunch up tight into their herd, and the herd moves away from him. So two sheepdogs can scare all the sheep into moving the direction they want.

    Maybe a better metaphor is assistant Judas goat. The Judas goat leads the sheep into the slaughterhouse. The assistant Judas goat says “Hey, anybody who doesn’t want to go into the slaughterhouse follow me instead!” He leads them around in a circle and then says “Sorry, I thought there was an alternative but there just isn’t. We better all line up to go into the slaughterhouse instead.”

    If the assistant Judas goat wasn’t there, some of the sheep might line up behind some random sheep and go places at random and maybe get in somebody’s way.

    I can imagine something like that. Sanders finds he can’t win the nomination, Clinton offers him the vice presidency, and all his voters get to vote for him but as vice president he can’t actually do anything unless Clinton dies in office before him, and likely in a year or two he dies instead.

    But what if the Clinton campaign does lots of dirty tricks, they smear him, they use the nominating rules to make sure he doesn’t get as much of a chance as his supporters ought to give him, and they don’t offer him the second slot. Why would his supporters vote for Clinton after she pees on Sanders? I expect it won’t work that way.

    He might break his promise not to run with a third party. Sure he promised, but if Clinton or the DC break enough promises he can say they’re liars who don’t keep their agreements and he isn’t going to keep his. Assuming his own intention isn’t to be the assistant Judas goat. To make that scheme work they have to work it right, and so far it doesn’t look to me like they’re even trying.

    If Sanders wasn’t running, some third party candidate might get more attention than they are while he’s running. But they can’t get as much attention as Sanders. If Sanders could get the nomination maybe he could win. The third party guys can’t win. Sanders can’t get the nomination, but for all we know maybe he could.

    Say that he gets popular enough that he clearly has a better chance to win than Clinton. Could the party make a deal and give him the nomination after all? His supporters would consider it a giant victory and they’d campaign hard for him. A lot of other democrats would support him. Nobody thought he could win the nomination and he did! They thought the Democrats were too corrupt to let him win, and they’re OK after all! It would be a bold move, would the Democratic leadership try it? I can’t say for sure they wouldn’t.

    That scenario seems unlikely to me, but only from my cynicism. I don’t really know anything about how the Democratic High Command works, I just assume they’d never do something like that. What do I know?

  9. Someone else suggested Clinton might offer the VP slot to Sanders, but I can’t imagine that. Centrists don’t reach to the left. Obama stayed clear of anyone left of him. Clinton probably didn’t know what he was getting when he gave Reich a cabinet slot, or maybe Reich’s journey hadn’t taken him then as far left as he has now. Mrs. Clinton’s VP will almost certainly be male, probably white, younger than her, and a supporter of neoliberalism.

  10. I think that was me. It makes sense that she wouldn’t. It makes a certain sense that if somehow Sanders won, he wouldn’t give her the second spot either.

    Maybe some ways it would be a good idea, but I have the idea it just doesn’t happen.

  11. Huh. I’ve never considered the idea he might get the nomination because from the DLC’s POV, his real job is to see whether Mrs. C should make token gestures to the left. I think if he did get the nomination, he might offer the slot to her, but I doubt she would take it.

  12. skzb

    David: It may have been a response to you, but if so, I don’t remember at this point. It is something I hear a lot. I think it was triggered by a comment a few days ago on the WSWS article on Sanders where someone said, “What’s your viable alternative?”

    “I really do not want an armed revolution.” No, neither do I. But, as I believe revolution is inevitable, I’d prefer to win the fucking thing. Life after a successful revolution is difficult; life after an unsuccessful revolution is worse. See that list in the OP starting with Hungary in 1921? Not a single one of those revolutions was “started” by people who wanted a revolution. Revolution explodes. There is either a leadership in place to carrying it through to the end, or not.

    “Look what happened in Russia,” Which part? You mean in October of 1917 when Kornilov was prevented from the butchering the entire Petrograd working class? I kinda liked that part.

  13. At this point, I find myself looking forward to a regime change. As terrible as it will be when it happens – especially with the major technology changes since the last major revolution here – it’s needed. I’m not yet certain if it’s needed to the point where someone inadvertently starts it, but it is needed.

  14. @skzb, I just saw your initial response. Thanks for your points. You may be right that open revolution needs no secrecy. Maybe I’m overestimating the power of surveillance. I respect and agree with your point that honesty is essential.

    On the other hand, once the revolution is in progress I think a socialist society would still benefit greatly from communication platforms that are decentralized. The bureaucracy wouldn’t be able to use management of the flow of information as an excuse to accumulate power.

    But again, I could be making huge errors in estimating the value and importance of the services I describe. I work in software, so naturally that’s going to lend itself to a mindset that overvalues software. “When the only tool in hand is a hammer…” and so forth.

  15. SKZB: When I followed a link to this page, the random quotation at the top was Abraham Lincoln’s statement that labor is superior to capital (which I don’t remember seeing before). Do you think that, as a very successful Practical Politician, he didn’t believe it?

    Speaking of Lincoln, in an earlier post you gave reasons that slavery was ended in America, and the threat of revolution wasn’t one of them–but I think that was “a serious step forward in equality”. Likewise no threat of revolution caused the legalization of homosexual acts (“sodomy”) or the legalization of same-sex marriage. I may be back later with some other examples.

    On a literary note, you wrote, “If the author is doing things right, the reader will never notice.” Even in my favorite fantasy authors–nothing impersonal intended–I often notice. If the author is doing things right, I don’t mind much.

  16. Jerry as for no “revolution” for homosexual acts being made legal, Have you heard of “The Whitehall Uprising”? Check out the documentary.
    I’m not saying violence is necessary, but sometimes we need”a kick in the pants” to set things in motion.

  17. There may not be a good precedent for revolution in the USA, but there are lots of precedents that might somewhat apply.

    In general, nations find relatively small groups plotting against them, and destroy those groups one way or another, and the general public doesn’t much care. But eventually the government does something that the public is not willing to put up with. They stop cooperating, the military can’t make them communicate and a lot of the military doesn’t want to put up with it either. The leader of the government flies away on a CIA plane or a US Navy ship, typically with a lot of gold or something. The US Navy does not necessarily give him the gold back when he leaves the ship.

    Examples include Syngman Rhee in South Korea, Batista in Cuba, the Shah of Iran, Marcos in the Philippines, and many more.

    Usually the military does not fight the public much. (Sometimes the military killing civilians is part of what gets people disgusted with the government in the first place.) The military gets involved when it’s an ethnic conflict. Say the officers are mostly one ethnicity, the enlisted men are split, and it’s one ethnic group that’s revolting. Then there can be a lot of bloodshed before it gets sorted out.

    The government collapses because the public is sick of them, and revolutionary groups are mostly irrelevant to that. Afterward, somebody starts a new government. It’s somebody who has a lot of self-confidence, at least a little organization, and not much serious opposition.

    In Cuba it was Castro. He had been fighting in the mountains, mostly irrelevant to anything much except that the government annoyed people by sending futile army detachments that were not successful at hunting him down. But after Batista ran away, Castro came down from the mountains and announced he would set up a new government, and nobody was ready to tell him not to.

    In Iran, Khomeini had been a respected religious leader persecuted by the Shah. When he announced he would set up a new government nobody told him not to.

    In the Philippines, the wife of a respected dead politician said she would set up a new government.

    In Korea, Rhee had allowed political parties as long as they didn’t actually try to do anything much, and one of the parties established a parliamentary system which would officially make the top leader less important. But they also started a witch-hunt of military officers for illegal support of Rhee, and there was promptly a coup.

    It goes every which way, but after the old government fails somebody that the public is willing to accept starts a new government. This is hardly ever somebody who was part of a secret group that tried to start a revolution, but it can perhaps be the leader of a well-publicized revolutionary group — like Castro.

    It usually doesn’t take a lot of violence. If the soldiers’ attitudes reflect the general public, in the crunch they won’t fight for the government. If the soldiers are a special elite which supports the government which supports them, still they don’t collect their own taxes and when the government stops paying them then they need to look for a new patron.

    It is extremely unlikely that communists would set up the next US government unless communists become widely respected in the USA before the current government collapses. At this point I’d give them less chance than I’d give the Nationalist government in Taiwan to take over all of China if the communist Chinese government falls.

    But of course, the various precedents may not apply to the USA. One obvious example — if the public gets totally disgusted with the President and important members of Congress etc, they cannot escape on a CIA plane to the USA.

  18. “I’m trying to contribute some of my time and money to projects that replace centralized, data-mined, privacy-negating, closed services and products (like Facebook, Twitter, Google Search, Google Mail, Android phones, Apple phones, Windows, etc…) with projects that are decentralized, end-user-owned, private, and open. Then whatever path forward we want to take can be discussed and planned in private without the powers that be listening in and halting action before it starts.”

    That’s a worthwhile thing to do independent of government.

    I have volunteered for the Democratic Party in several elections, and they are currently excited about the Obama method of campaigning which they say works. Since I was at the lowest level I may have misunderstood it, but here’s how I see it: Data collection was heavily computerized, and cheaper than it used to be. They sent volunteers out to knock on doors. Volunteers were not supposed to discuss politics, but instead find out who people intended to vote for, and ask them to volunteer to work for the Democrats.

    A surprising fraction of the people I talked to were already volunteers. I thought they might have included those to get a sense how accurate my reporting was.

    So they got an estimate how likely they were to win in each precinct, and they got a list of people who would vote Democrat. They set up a massive phone bank with the intention that in the few days before the election, every voter who said he would vote Democrat would be called and reminded to vote.

    There was absolutely no intention to persuade people to vote for their candidates. Instead, the intention was to map out the people who were “tribal” Democrats and get them to vote. The better that Democrats did at getting their people to vote as opposed to tribal Republicans voting, the more likely they would win.

    I noticed that some of the veteran Democratic canvassers really wanted to persuade people to vote their way. They traded stories about persuading people, because that’s what was personally rewarding to them. But it was not an efficient use of their time. Whether this approach is like eating the seed-corn, I can’t say. I didn’t get much sense why I should vote for these guys myself from the experience, except that I read some of the little handbills we could give people, and there were a few lines of issues on them. The main thing was that they were Democrats and not evil Republicans.

    A sophisticated approach would involve getting a sense of the communication lines. Some whole networks of people are mostly Democrats, others are mostly Republicans, some are mixed. Ideally you might look for ways to get the ones that are all Democrats to vote and otherwise ignore them, find effective ways to get the mixed groups to turn more Democrat, and do things to disorganize and demoralize the GOP groups.

    You wouldn’t have to secretly monitor their communications to find out about them, traditional methods work adequately. What you’d use special internet stuff for would be to map the groups, and for that you don’t need to know the message contents. Just monitoring the traffic would be enough.

    Similarly for anti-terrorism. If Stephen is a revolutionary, then people who talk to Stephen probably are too. But punishing innocent people for reading Stephen’s blog is the sort of thing that gets the public upset with the government.

    The government falls when people get too disgusted. Censorship tends to bother people when they notice it happening, they don’t know how much disgusting stuff is going on they haven’t heard about. Probably the USSR trying to keep Tchernobyl a secret when people were getting exposed because of the secrecy, was one of the things that led to their collapse.

    I’m nervous about what we might get after the government falls from general disgust. The public is too fragmented to agree on much. There’s “Democrat”/”GOP”. There’s “left”/”right”. There are special issues. I say you don’t have the right to destroy my environment just because you think the government doesn’t have the right to stop you.

    If there’s nobody we trust to start a new government, what do we do then? Would it be like Yugoslavia?

  19. Anne Englehart: In fact, I hadn’t heard of the Whitehall demonstration. Wikipedia tells me that in 1964 “A small group pickets the Whitehall Street Induction Center in New York City after the confidentiality of gay men’s draft records was violated. This action has been identified as the first gay rights demonstration in the United States.” Are they missing some violence?

    I have heard of the Stonewall riots, which were violent–some people had to go to the hospital, apparently. But I don’t think anyone was worried that there would be a revolution. There was no trembling on Wall Street, a mile or so away, or in Washington. Instead it was what you say, a kick in the pants that set things in motion.

  20. skzb

    ” I think a socialist society would still benefit greatly from communication platforms that are decentralized. ” I can’t argue with that.

    “Speaking of Lincoln, in an earlier post you gave reasons that slavery was ended in America, and the threat of revolution wasn’t one of them”

    Agreed. It wasn’t the the threat of revolution–it was an *actual* revolution. Those tend to be even more effective than the threats.

  21. “‘Speaking of Lincoln, in an earlier post you gave reasons that slavery was ended in America, and the threat of revolution wasn’t one of them’

    “Agreed. It wasn’t the the threat of revolution–it was an *actual* revolution. Those tend to be even more effective than the threats.”

    I don’t understand that at all. In the OP, you’re talking about mass movements on the part of the oppressed that forced the rulers to give them a step toward equality. The U. S. Civil War was a mass movement on the part of the oppressors because they feared that the rulers of the rest of the country would force a step toward equality on them. I’m surprised you even call it a revolution. I thought you had some other technical term for that kind of thing.

  22. Seconding Jerry Friedman. It seems to me that if the Civil War is a revolution, its a bourgeois revolution like the American Revolution. Mind you, a bourgeois revolution isn’t necessarily bad—ain’t nothing wrong with the fact that many and perhaps most of the advances for gay rights in this country should be credited to conservatives, like the Log Cabin Republicans forcing the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

  23. I feel that there are many ways revolution can make itself present. War is one of those ways. Now, not all of them have to be anarchic and bloody, but when the target of said revolution doesn’t want to allow those who start it to change things, it almost always ends up with a war.

  24. Sorry I did mean the Stonewall riots.

  25. Yet it started paving the way for our most recent legal rights for same sex couples to marry. It is not a revolution in the since that Wall street or Washington DC is being threatened, but “every revolution needs a spark.” I’m seeing signs of sparks taking place. When people have finally had enough, I think the change in regime will be on the upswing.

  26. Let’s hope so. There are several countries that need a regime change, not just the U.S.A. I just hope people realize that these things don’t always end better than it was before. Look at China.

  27. skzb

    The Civil War was a, indeed, a revolution–it was the completion of the bourgeois revolution begun in 1776. It has all the features of revolution: dual power, the conscious intervention of the masses in making history, a struggle for state power by competing economic systems, even competing definitions of what can be private property. I’ve heard the argument (by McPherson, among others; see his book ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION) that it didn’t become a revolution until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, because at that point it became overtly a question of expropriating the slave-owning class. This is something I’d love to hear smart people argue about.

  28. Steve: I’m curious. Suppose Sanders had decided not to run – meaning Hillary was anointed nominee without noticeable opposition? How would that be an improvement over the current case. I can see the argument for Sanders not making things better. But how, in your view, does his running make things worse than if he did not run? What will happen that would not have otherwise happened? Would the Democrats nominate someone better without Sanders run? I’m going to guess your answer is not, since that would be a lesser evil argument. Would 3rd parties get more of the vote with Clinton winning a contested nomination than they would with a cakewalk? I’m just trying to see what the downside is from your viewpoint. What exactly is it that gets worse with Sanders running?

  29. skzb

    I suppose, if pressed to answer, I could say that, without Sanders, a lot of the rage against capitalism would look for other avenues, some of which might actually be productive. But, really, I’m not sure “better/worse” applies here. You could ask the same question in the form, “what if the Democrats decided not to field a candidate at all? Or the Republicans?” It’s not a question of better or worse, but of understanding what Sanders is doing. The question is: Why does the ruling class want him to run? What are they getting out of it?

  30. I think there will be a chaotic event that will destabilize the capitalist system. Not of our causing, but of capitalism’s cause, all by itself.

    Right now the stock market is in a super-critical state, much like the securities for the housing market right before the housing crash. Stocks have been pumped up to ever higher levels by companies deliberately inflating the price by buy backs. At the same time, worker’s wages have not increased sufficiently to support buying goods at an increasing price. Worker loans are maxed out and only go so far and then depress the economy.

    Are companies and the government stupid enough to try to keep inflating the balloon?

  31. skzb

    “I think there will be a chaotic event that will destabilize the capitalist system. Not of our causing, but of capitalism’s cause, all by itself.”

    That’s what I think, too.

    I don’t know if I’d say they’re stupid; I’m not convinced they have any other choice.

  32. I do not think the power elite wants Sanders to win. There has been obvious suppression of good news by some media. Particularly those who are the most controlled.

    I fear that if Sanders starts doing too well, he could catch a bullet or have a fatal “accident.”

    The only reason some power players would want Sanders to win is to try to release some of the pent up social pressure against the oligarchy. In other words, you and the elites have similar motives, just from opposite sides.

  33. “I don’t know if I’d say they’re stupid; I’m not convinced they have any other choice.” If by that you mean that they are so F**king greedy that they cannot control themselves, I guess I agree.

    They think their money will protect them, and it might.

  34. “it didn’t become a revolution until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, because at that point it became overtly a question of expropriating the slave-owning class. This is something I’d love to hear smart people argue about.”

    Ditto. All I’ve got is “Yeah.” And, very, very tentatively: someone might make an argument that the defeat of the Copperheads was more important than the defeat of the Confederacy. Both were certainly necessary.

  35. “Suppose Sanders had decided not to run – meaning Hillary was anointed nominee without noticeable opposition? How would that be an improvement over the current case.”

    Let me try that one.

    I figure that the gameplan is that Sanders acts like a real traditional liberal. He says all the right liberal things, and he wants to fix a bunch of problems and get the money to fix them from rich people. So then he loses the nomination, and he tells his followers “Sorry, there just aren’t enough of us, we lose this round. Now we support Clinton and win the Presidency for the Democrats, and we’ll try again later.”

    The result is a whole lot of people get the idea that they had their chance, and the game was not rigged — they just didn’t win because it’s a democracy and there weren’t enough of them. They can try again next time and maybe then there will be enough to win a fair election.

    Without Sanders, it comes out looking like the GOP runs an extreme-GOP candidate and the Democrats run a moderate-GOP candidate. A whole lot of Democrats don’t want that, but they do it anyway. Officially a two-party system but the majority of the public is not getting represented by either party. The whole thing looks like a sham.

    If in fact the elections are a sham, it’s better that the public notices that sooner rather than later.

  36. “If in fact the elections are a sham, it’s better that the public notices that sooner rather than later.”

    I think they don’t want to believe it. Just like people who buy a lottery ticket think they have a chance of winning. They might, but not as much as the wealthier people who drop hundreds of dollars each drawing. I think it’s the same way for voting. They tell you ‘your vote counts’, but they don’t tell you how or how much. That way, when someone comes along and says that elections are rigged, the sheeple say ‘But, I was told I’m important and special and there’s no way a politician would lie to me!” There will always be gullible people.

  37. Depends on what you mean by a sham. If you are saying that you do not get to pick the candidates, that’s probably true. Unless you participate you have no input.

    There must be a reason the GOP is so deathly afraid of poor and minorities voting. Perhaps it’s because their vote does have an effect? Or else they wouldn’t bother. So your complaint sounds like sour grapes and a rationalization for not putting any effort into the process.

    Sure, you may not get what you want. But at least you will have tried. If you haven’t tried, your complaints are meaningless noise.

  38. SKZB: We definitely don’t seem to be communicating. One more try. Are you saying that the U.S. Civil War was a revolution on the part of the *North*?

    Are you saying that women got the vote because the mass suffragist movement made the ruling class fear a revolution in which they’d lose all their power? Not just that some of the politicians would get voted out of office, but a revolution?

    Anyway, I’ve been reading about various other social changes and finding more where revolution was threatened than I knew about, so thanks for inducing me to do that.

  39. skzb

    “We definitely don’t seem to be communicating. One more try. Are you saying that the U.S. Civil War was a revolution on the part of the *North*?”

    Yes.

    “Are you saying that women got the vote because the mass suffragist movement made the ruling class fear a revolution in which they’d lose all their power? Not just that some of the politicians would get voted out of office, but a revolution?”

    Yes. I’m kind of curious why you think it happened? Did the ruling class say, “Well, what the heck, we’re all nice guys, right? I guess women should get to vote”? I should point out that the passage of women’s suffrage was coincident with the first Red Scare following the Bolshevik revolution.

  40. Gotta disagree. The story of women’s rights is much like the story of gay rights: people with power finally decided to share it a little. Here’s a map of states that gave women the vote before the 19th Amendment: http://constitutioncenter.org/timeline/html/cw08_12159.html

    States that couldn’t possibly have given a damn what was happening in Russia:

    Wyoming 1890
    Colorado 1893
    Utah 1896
    Idaho 1896
    Washington 1910
    California 1911
    Arizona 1912
    Kansas 1912
    Oregon 1912
    Montana 1914
    Nevada 1914

  41. skzb

    I was speaking on the national level. Take it state by state, and I’d have to do a lot more study than I have any intention of doing–but I’m pretty sure you’re going to find, at a minimum, intimidation. Or else, hell, I may be wrong; there’s always that possibility. But from what I’ve seen, the suffrage movement emerged from the Civil War (especially involving the changing role of Northern women), and it’s pretty clear that it got a huge boost from the NY garment workers strike.

  42. Dude! You and I are never wrong. Disagreeing with each other does not change that.

  43. Don’t wish for an armed revolution. I get the feeling that some of you do not understand the horrors of armed revolution or the savagery of despots when they seize power. skzb kind of goes pfft and blows it off. As if this isn’t a big deal. That somehow this time we will avoid all the horrors if we put him in charge. Some reporting of Stalin’s exploits.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33788518

  44. For the suffragettes etc, I can imagine that the “ruling class” was not unified. They had agreed on this voting thing as a way to choose successors without a lot of destructive violence. Once they had the nonviolent game going, they got to play with changing the rules. The side that thought they would get more votes if women could vote, would want to extend voting rights, and the side that thought women would hurt them wanted to stop it. When the side that thought they would help it got ahead, they gave women the vote.

    It wasn’t to keep the women from having an armed revolt. It was a move in the usual game.

  45. “Depends on what you mean by a sham. If you are saying that you do not get to pick the candidates, that’s probably true. Unless you participate you have no input.”

    How much input do you get if you do participate?

    I’m ready to believe that Democrats and Republicans actually do compete, sometimes. When they see a seat that can go either way, they may put serious money into trying to take it. Part of their competition involves saying things that voters like to hear. It used to be that they believed in the strategy of “capture the center”. If one party took an extreme stand, the other could win by saying things that more people liked to hear.

    More recently the Democrats have discovered an even better way. When the Republicans take an extreme stand, the Democrats talk like moderate Republicans. Democratic voters vote for them, because who else is there? They get more votes if they’re closer to the middle on the GOP side.

    Meanwhile, you can try to influence which candidate gets the nomination for one of the two parties. This might be rigged, or it might be a real competition. I don’t know which and neither do you. If it’s a real competition, definitely the game is rigged to favor some candidates over others.

    I can understand why it should be rigged. If you let the voters choose their own candidate, they might choose some sort of radical who will let the other party capture the center. I mean, if the Democrats got to choose anybody they wanted, they might even choose some sort of socialist candidate who couldn’t win! What good is that?

    But I’m not convinced that participating gives you more than the warm feeling you get for participating, plus whatever tangible rewards you get for it.

    I want the Democratic nominations to be done by acceptance voting, or IRV, or something like that. Let me vote for all the candidates I think are good enough, so I don’t have to choose the second-worst of the two that get presented to me as front-runners. And I want the national elections to do that too, but the nominations first because they don’t need a constitutional convention. That wouldn’t keep it from being manipulated, but it would help some.

    Then if one candidate was particularly good at saying things people like to hear, he’d have a better chance.

  46. This is a comedy skit on the voting process by Key and Peele. While it is mean to be humorous, it is fairly accurate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xt5VpSy6Xk

    Remember, don’t click the link unless you have a sense of humor. I’m not making light of the situation, I just think this has to be the most humorous way that the voting process is explained.

  47. Jerry- I’ll try to add my two cents to the view of the Civil War that Stephen is proposing. I see it in much the same light, I think.

    From the first Articles of Confederation, the southern slaveocracy dominated American politics and ran roughshod over the free states. Their power was cemented by the compromises they forced into the Constitution, allowing them to hold humans in bondage without any civil rights, but still count them as population for the purposes of calculating representation in the House.

    The dissolution of the Whigs, growing influence of the Republicans and, most importantly, the splitting of the Democratic Party into Northern and Southern parties, turned the election of 1860 into the first shot in the revolution. Although I think Lincoln wanted a peaceful, democratic transition of power from South to North, electing him was a provocation that the South could not ignore. Their system was already imploding under its inherent, economic unsustainability. Any loss of political power would accelerate that end.

    As long as you don’t accept that Secession ever had a legal basis (as Texas v. White established), then the whole conflict can be seen as an attempt by the slaveowning elite, in control of significant elements of the nation’s established military, to suppress a politcal movement that had seized control of the executive office. The Grand Army of the Republic, which was formed almost entirely after the conflict began, could then be seen as an insurgency, trying to solidify the power that had been seized in the political arena. Since the end result of the war was Reconstruction and the 13th Amendment, which together completely ended Southern political dominance, you would have to call it a successful revolution.

    I don’t go as far as the Beards did, in claiming the war was purely a power struggle between the capitalist North and plantation South. I believe firmly that both sides were moved by deeply held moralities, disparate world views of what was and should be right. It was a struggle over what the United States should be, and whether they should be united at all. Given the power they still retained in Congress at the start of the conflict, force of arms was probably the only way the slavers’ power could be finally broken.

  48. Will Shetterly: What you said. I’d add that, although I can certainly see that the garment workers’ strike did a lot for women’s morale and for getting men to take women seriously, the first states where women could vote had economies based on agriculture and mining, and I doubt anyone there was worried about women’s strikes.

    I imagine that what happened was indeed much like what happened with gay rights. As the result of decades of hard work by the people discriminated against, other people started to see that there was no logical basis for their position. In the case of women’s suffrage, men got tired of fighting that losing battle with their wives and being scorned as old fuddy-duddies by their daughters (and their daughters’ young men). They got used to an idea that had sounded unthinkable when it was first proposed, and some who couldn’t get used to it died, and their sons had grown up with the idea taken seriously. Privileged realized that women’s votes weren’t a threat to their privileges. The political parties saw the trend and realized that being the second to accept women’s suffrage would cost them a lot of votes, especially once some states were letting women vote in state elections.

    The histories I glanced at seemed to think that the changing role of women in WW I, parallel to that of the Civil War, was important. I think the Red Scare was mostly a coincidence, since the trends were in place.

    I imagine there was intimidation on a personal level in some cases–“If I’m not good enough to vote, when Finnegan the hod carrier can, then I’m obviously not good enough to spend any time with you”–but not a threat of revolution.

  49. larswyrdson: “From the first Articles of Confederation, the southern slaveocracy dominated American politics and ran roughshod over the free states. Their power was cemented by the compromises they forced into the Constitution, allowing them to hold humans in bondage without any civil rights, but still count them as population for the purposes of calculating representation in the House.”

    I don’t think “ran roughshod” is compatible with “compromises”. If the southern slaveocracy had dominated American politics, slavery would have been legal in every state, the African slave trade wouldn’t have stopped, and no northerners would have been elected president. The slave states were powerful enough to get a lot of what they wanted, but by no means everything.

    Also, the South in 1861 didn’t try to retain its supposed ability to run roughshod over the North; it tried to escape from the North. If the North had wanted to throw off the South’s domination, all it had to do was let the South secede.

    So I wouldn’t call it a successful insurgency. I’d call it a successful expansion of government power, the opposite of a revolution–and for a very laudable purpose. I do largely agree with your last paragraph.

  50. skzb

    David: “skzb kind of goes pfft and blows it off. As if this isn’t a big deal. That somehow this time we will avoid all the horrors if we put him in charge.” Some example of this? Above I said: ‘“I really do not want an armed revolution.” No, neither do I. But, as I believe revolution is inevitable, I’d prefer to win the fucking thing. Life after a successful revolution is difficult; life after an unsuccessful revolution is worse.’ Do you call that “blowing it off?”

    You speak of revolution as if it’s something a group of people just decide to do, as if it doesn’t come from anything. A bunch of guys woke up one morning and said, “Let’s kick the Brits out of the colonies!” “Let’s cut the head off King Charles!” “Let’s free the slaves!” Just a bunch of folks with nothing better to do?

    So far, economic systems have never advanced except by revolution. Revolutions that fail are catastrophic. It matters to me if we win it.

  51. skzb

    larswyrdson: Give or take this or that quibble (we disagree on how important the legality was, for example) I agree with your assessment. The Cotton States were willing to compromise so long as the compromise meant they maintained power; but when the power swung over to the alliance of Northeastern capital with the West, they were no longer willing to compromise.

    Will & Jerry re women’s suffrage: I am sometimes guilty of making simple, mechanical connections among things when the actual connections are more complex and contradictory, and I think you are both correct in calling me on it in this case.

  52. Jerry- The South’s domination of politics wasn’t limited to keeping a few slave states. It was comprehensive and far reaching. They held majorities in Congress, the Supreme Court and provided most of the Presidents for the first 80 years of the country. They dictated the location of the capitol (if it weren’t in the South, why would anyone want to build a capitol in a swamp?), set tariffs to suit themselves, refused to allow investment in infrastructure that would have helped interstate commerce, enforced fugitive slave laws that were hated in the North, dictated foreign policy to cripple all trade except cotton.

    Compromise is a term of art in politics: it doesn’t mean that eveyone gets what they want, just that the deal is made. I doubt any of the non-slaveowning Constitutional delegates thought that the 3/5 rule was fair. They just didn’t see any other way to get the damned thing signed. Remember, under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states had been in a financial freefall since the Revolution. Foreign loans were piling up unpaid, veterans had begun to revolt for back pay, and there was no way to force the individual states to pony up a share to fix the problems. There was no federal authority to tax, no central bank. The Southern states didn’t care, though. They didn’t need capital, solvent banks or anything that came with it. A little cash in hand and some slaves in the field and they could ignore the slide right up until the final crash. It was the North that was bleeding dry trying to deal with runaway inflation, land speculation and mounting foreign debts. The Southern delegates knew very well that they had the North bent over a barrel.

    Saying that the Confederacy was trying to “escape” the North is also more than a little disingenuous. They didn’t pick up and move to South America. They stayed right where they were, reverting to the model of the country they had always preferred, a loose Confederation. I’m sure they believed that the Northern states would eventually be forced to capitulate and trade with them again, to get access to King Cotton. The country would effectively reform, and they would have the upper hand.

  53. Just a quick list of slave owning Presidents to illustrate. Not all of these men owned slaves while they were in office, but please note which state provides more Chief Executives than any other:

    1) George Washington, 1st President, Virginia
    2) Thomas Jefferson, 3rd, Virginia
    3) James Madison, 4th, Virginia
    4) James Monroe, 5th, Virginia
    5) Andrew Jackson, 7th, South Carolina/Tennessee
    6) Martin Van Buren, 8th, New York
    7) William Henry Harrison, 9th, Virginia
    8) John Tyler, 10th, Virginia
    9) James K. Polk, 11th, North Carolina
    10) Zachary Taylor, 12th, Virginia
    *) James Buchanan, 15th, Pennsylvania

    Even after the Civil War, the next two presidents, Grant and Johnson, had both owned slaves at one time. It was an insidious system.

  54. “I am sometimes guilty of making simple, mechanical connections among things when the actual connections are more complex and contradictory, and I think you are both correct in calling me on it in this case.”

    You could use a “plus” or “like” button for people like me who aren’t quite sure what to say to something like that, but don’t want it to go unacknowledged. Since I’m in a confessional mood, yeah, sometimes guilty too.

  55. skzb

    I don’t know if the software permits that. I could ask Felix.

  56. Having attended a couple Democratic caucuses I can say that you could have a lot more affect than some think. You could introduce a candidate (probably won’t go far, but maybe next time). You really can introduce items into the political platform. It all depends on how good a sales person you are and if you have friends to support you.

    Sometimes those get rolled into the national platform. So you are not powerless. But you are one of millions.

  57. skzb, here’s what I consider blowing off the question about the horrors of armed revolution, particularly under Stalin. ““Look what happened in Russia,” Which part? You mean in October of 1917 when Kornilov was prevented from the butchering the entire Petrograd working class? I kinda liked that part.”

    You have never admitted to the horrors of an open revolution and the perfect soviet state, and still have some fantasies about it. You are somewhat like the old guy in the link I provided.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33788518

    You seem to be in denial. At least you have failed to fully acknowledge the horrors that were committed in the name of socialist ideologies. And you seem to feel that the potential for those horrors are preferable to what we have now. You say you want to win a war. Wouldn’t it be better to win without having a war?

  58. There has been effort, by the GOP, to install proportional voting. Yes, the GOP. They want it in all blue states, so the Democratic vote will be cut in half.

    I am for proportional voting, only if it is national in scope, so that the system is fair.

  59. skzb

    Ferschrissakes, David. You are going to try to point out to a *Trotskyist* the horrors of Stalinism? My comrades were the first ones slaughtered and tortured. I replied ironically to your initial question because you spoke of the October Revolution as if it occurred in a vacuum, as if a bunch of people just decided they were bored and it gave them something to do. In fact, it was very clear–take power at that point, or let Kornilov (perhaps under a different name) massacre the Petrograd garrison, the Kronstadt sailors, and the entire Petrograd working class. That was his agenda. It was not a secret.

    Every time you mention revolution, you speak of it as if there were a choice. I don’t know where you’re getting that, but history doesn’t agree. The choice is: win, or lose. I vote win. To lose a revolution is to open the door for a Kornilov, a Horthy, a Mussolini, a Franco, a Hitler.

    As to my attitude on the general question of the dangers of dictatorship arising from revolution, see point #4 here: http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

  60. @skzb:
    You say that all the features of revolution are:
    A) dual power
    B) the conscious intervention of the masses in making history
    C) a struggle for state power by competing economic systems
    C.1) even competing definitions of what can be private property.

    Obviously this doesn’t describe what most people mean when they refer to a revolution. Why do you feel B) is a necessary component?

    I’m fairly sure I’ve read one or more articles by (probably) Marx or Trotsky involving this defintion, but it was before I had a system to organize my notes and I don’t recall which one(s). Could you point me to a source that expounds on this point of view?

  61. skzb

    L. Raymond: I would say that it is exactly what most people mean when they refer to a revolution, only expressed in precise terms.

    The only example that comes instantly to mind is an assertion, rather than an argument. It is the third paragraph of the preface to Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. https://www.marxists.org/ebooks/trotsky/history-of-the-russian-revolution/ebook-history-of-the-russian-revolution-v1.pdf

    But there is a great deal more in that preface and the rest of the work, analyzing the changes in the consciousness of the masses, and how it affected the ebb and flow of events.

    I’ll try to recall better examples.

  62. skzb, I disagree. There is a choice. The choice is to work now to improve the situation for workers and minorities or to wait until or encourage things to blow up. You seem to be of the latter group. Your goal is stated as communism and simply shut down arguments not leading to that goal. I don’t agree with this as a goal. Even though I share a goal of improving worker’s lives.

    I ask you to cite where I said revolution happens in a vacuum.

    ” My comrades were the first ones slaughtered and tortured.” What you don’t seem to acknowledge is that this IS the way socialist revolutions have historically been done. Often the original people of the revolution (perhaps you) are killed off in subsequent grabs for absolute power because you are a limitation to their power. So do you have a solution or do you intend to sacrifice yourself on the altar of socialist ideology?

    This is kind of the way people have functioned for thousands of years for any kind of transition of power. Without addressing this shortcoming of human nature ahead of time, you would not be learning from history and could thus be doomed to repeat it. That is why I keep bringing it up. Your link did not address this.

    It is possible future “revolutions” might not be this way due to better communications. I don’t know enough about the details of socialist revolutions in South America to evaluate how well they have worked, but certainly better than under Stalin or Mao.

  63. skzb

    ” The choice is to work now to improve the situation for workers and minorities or to wait until or encourage things to blow up. You seem to be of the latter group.”

    The choice is to fool the working class into believing their problems can be solved by capitalism, or tell them the truth, that only organizing under a socialist program can provide a way forward.

    “I ask you to cite where I said revolution happens in a vacuum.”

    1. “I really do not want an armed revolution. Look what happened in Russia, China, etc. ”
    2. “Don’t wish for an armed revolution. I get the feeling that some of you do not understand the horrors of armed revolution…”

    Both of these contain the implication that revolution is a *choice*. That people can just decide, “No, revolution is a bad idea, let’s not.” As if revolution were not a response to an intolerable situation with no other way out–in other words, in a vacuum.”

    “” My comrades were the first ones slaughtered and tortured.” What you don’t seem to acknowledge is that this IS the way socialist revolutions have historically been done. ”

    All once.

    “Without addressing this shortcoming of human nature ahead of time, ”

    Oh, Christ. Now it’s about “human nature?” See point #11: http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

    Also, concerning the Stalinist dictatorship, read point #4 in the same post, since you obviously didn’t the last time.

  64. I read both #4 and #11 before writing. Snarky as they are, they do not address the problem. And yes, there is such a thing as human nature as indicated by history. Call it a predictable behavior pattern if you prefer.

    As I said, and which you do not seem to understand and dismiss out of hand is that, yes, you do have a choice. At least at this time.

    Certainly, circumstances could suddenly throw everything totally chaotic and violent. But that has not happened and it may not. So you have a choice as to how you want to deal with an unfair situation as it exists today. But this does not work toward your goal of a communist paradise. So you blow it off (yes, blow off) any suggestions to try to solve problems today.

  65. skzb

    “Certainly, circumstances could suddenly throw everything totally chaotic and violent”

    Has there ever been a time when they didn’t happen? Has there ever been an economic system that was permanent? Has there ever been one that didn’t require revolution to change it? But *this time* will be different. No *might* be different. Maybe *this* time the sun will rise in the west, and perhaps water will flow uphill.

    Now, of course, I am in favor of improving things now, of attacking injustice, inequality–I’ve worked to do so. But not in a way that deceives the working class. And not deceiving the working class means making it clear that this or that bourgeois politician will only serve their capitalist masters. Your snide remarks about a “communist paradise” aside, saying, “this time might be different,” in my opinion, translates to leaving the working class disarmed and helpless before fascist gangs. Syriza just did exactly that in Greece, because the working class was told, “we can do something now to improve things,” and, “this time might be different.”

  66. You took “this time” out of context and ran with it. I did not suggest it would be different. I was speculating that YOUR position is that this time it would somehow be different, because you will somehow avoid the horrors of power grabs. I say that because I cannot imagine any sane person wanting us to go through what happened under Stalin or Mao. I fully expect an armed revolution to be horrible and a power grab. Which is why I am against it. So please read more carefully.

    Also, you have not answered how you intend to avoid these horrors in your quest for a “communist paradise.” I use those words because you seem to think that simply making this country communist will solve our problems. Even if it was possible to change this country to communist, it would just be trading one set of problems for another. We would just have a different master.

    Sorry, I don’t see denouncing politicians as working to improve worker’s lives.

  67. “So far, economic systems have never advanced except by revolution.”

    This could be true, depending on how you define “economic system” “advance” and “revolution”.

    It looks to me like using railroads in addition to canals was an advance, and it didn’t exactly take a revolution. At least very few people died except from the accidents building and operating both systems.

    Often people figure out how to create bottlenecks in economic systems where they can siphon off wealth, and then it’s an advance when one way or another they are swept away. That kind of advance sometimes requires revolution because sometimes they get so much wealth and power that nothing less can dislodge them. But I think often we can have advances without that.

  68. “And yes, there is such a thing as human nature as indicated by history. Call it a predictable behavior pattern if you prefer.”

    What I see is that human behavior is quite varied. Sometimes it varies with circumstance, other times — who knows. Sometimes we all do pretty much the same things, mostly when we obviously need to. Other times less so.

    Humans have a lot of variety in sexual positions, in language, in speech pattern within a language, etc. Lots of people follow the same fashions but the fashions change quickly.

    Sometimes revolutions are followed by dictators and purges, and sometimes not. Once a revolution has started it’s pretty much out of anybody’s control, but there might be things we can do that could help get good results.

    One good thing is to reduce the level of violence. The fewer people who’ve been killed already, the more it seems wrong to kill people you disagree with later. To some extent it’s the old government that gets to decide how much violence it will do, but also to some extent government violence is something for citizens to get disgusted over.

    So a revolutionary movement which starts committing violence before the revolution is ready, will provide an excuse for government violence against them. It reduces the level of disgust at government violence. But government violence against purely political anti-violent reformists makes the government look bad. At least in some cultures. In South Korea, a government massacre of protesting students helped to precipitate the revolution.

    Of course, it helps morale for a revolutionary group to feel like they’re ready to fight the police and the army. They want the enemy to be afraid to attack them. And the better armed they are, the easier they can seize power after the government has collapsed. It’s easy for members of revolutionary groups to think that the government will never collapse unless armies of civilians attack it with their sporting guns and whatever.

    ——————
    It is a problem when the new government is run by a revolutionary group that is too small. When they must use violence to take over, they may lose members right there, and that makes them even smaller. They need new members, but the members they get when they’re officially running the country are more likely to be opportunists than the members they got who were inspired by an idea and who supported it even if they were likely to be killed for it. When the movement contains too many opportunists, they may follow the leader who offers them the most opportunities — maybe one who says to kill off the senior membership (providing more room for advancement) and who distributes the spoils of victory.

    To prevent this, it helps to expand the revolutionary group as large as is practical beforehand. If political parties are allowed, try to become the second-largest political party, or even the largest party (that doesn’t win because the vote is rigged). When people get disgusted by the government, organize a new government and let anybody compete in elections, and then purges are not so important. If the party splits and some members are forced into a splinter group, nobody has to die over that.

    —————-
    It is a problem when the revolutionary group that takes over has an agenda that the public does not support. Maybe things will be much better after the new agenda is enforced, but first they must enforce it. As a minority government, they must use government violence, and people learn to obey because of the consequences of disobedience. If they already kill people for disagreeing with policy, why not kill people who are partly on their side but who deviate about what the policy should be?

    To prevent this, it helps to spread the agenda widely ahead of time. If a large majority of the public agrees before there is any way to force them to agree, then things can go smoothly. Failing that, set up a democratic government and use your bully pulpit to spread the word, and follow the special agenda when you get a solid majority and not before. An authoritarian government that follows a minority doctrine can be replaced by an authoritarian government that works for naked self-interest. The people who don’t care for the doctrine might even prefer the latter government.

  69. larswyrdson: The Three-Fifths Compromise, the Missouri Compromise, and the Compromise of 1850 were all compromises in the ordinary sense. Both sides got some but not all of what they wanted. If the South had really had the North bent over a barrel, they could have made slaves count the same as free people or whatever else they might have wanted. I’ll agree that the figure of three-fifths instead of one-half probably indicates some disproportionate power for the South at the time.

    “Riding roughshod” doesn’t admit of exceptions. Neither does “comprehensive”. The examples I’ve already brought up suffice to refute those exaggerated claims. So do the high tariffs of about 20 years. Again, the low tariffs of the other 52 years before the Civil War do suggest some disproportionate power for the South.

    I have no idea why you call my statement that the South wanted to “escape” from the North disingenuous, but I resent it. I assure you that I meant what I said. I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear, but it didn’t occur to me that you’d think I meant a physical escape rather than an escape from the power of the North, as the South didn’t have the power to prevent the Republicans from gaining control of the presidency and the House.

    Speaking of fantasy worlds, I suppose some Southerners might have hoped the North would capitulate to the Confederacy as you suggest, but considering the North’s increasing population and wealth, which was already greater than the South’s, there can’t have been too many who hoped that.

    I can’t see a democratic, legal transfer of power as a revolution; otherwise there would have been a lot of revolutions in American history. And I can’t see a war fought to prevent the losers from seceding as an insurgency; insurgencies are against the government.

  70. skzb

    David: So far, no economic system in history has lasted. So far, no economic system has been replaced except by revolution. So far, every failure to move forward in a revolutionary period has resulted in suffering far worse than in a successful revolution.

    I am not, in these comments, going to get into the pages and volumes of study about the causes of the degeneration of the Soviet Union. If you think the matter is worth serious study, then I encourage you to make that study. If not, don’t.

  71. Here’s a new TV show that might be interesting to this group. I’m going to check it out.

    http://www.alternet.org/culture/usas-mr-robot-anti-capitalist-tv-show-weve-been-waiting?akid=13363.308614.XKOOE1&rd=1&src=newsletter1040551&t=20

    J Thomas. Thank you for your thoughtful (as usual) analysis.

  72. skzb

    Thanks for the link.

  73. “So far, no economic system has been replaced except by revolution.”

    I don’t understand what you’re saying here.

    As far as I know, the spread of double-entry accounting was a revolutionary development, and it spread disconnected to any actual revolutions.

    The Federal Reserve was a fundamental change in banking that had great big effects on the economy, and there was no revolution involved.

    The spread of operations research to the civilian economy after WWII was a game-changing event, with many big changes to the economy, and no revolution.

    Similarly, the spread of farm machinery in the US south in that same time, which resulted in many sharecroppers thrown off the land and settling in northern cities, made a giant change in US agriculture leading eventually to today’s monopolistic agribusiness. No revolution.

    The spread of electricity, including REA. The switch to an oil-intensive economy complete with automobiles. The creation of the managerial class.

    Are you going to say that none of these were “replacements” because they were all capitalism?

    Well, but Henry Ford was an owner, and he ran his own company. Sloan hired managers to run his companies, and he sort of supervised them. It was a different system. Owners were stockholders who often had little control or influence. Managers were employees themselves. It didn’t exactly start then, the roots were older, but this was not your great-great-grandfather’s capitalism. And there was no revolution.

    There was no revolution for mass production, which let workers be far more productive by acting like machines. There has been no revolution (yet) associated with automation, which replaces workers acting like machines with actual machines.

    I don’t get it.

  74. I think that neither woman’s suffrage nor gay rights were ever a threat to the ruling class. Once they acquired popular support it wasn’t worth the effort to stop them. On the other hand, Occupy did threaten the rulers and they used their power over the press to ridicule it.

    On the other hand, I want to take issue with the idea that choosing the lesser of two evils is not worth the effort. Does anyone except Ralph Nader seriously think that Gore could have been as much a disaster as Bush? That he would have invaded Iraq, effectively making it a dependency of Iran. Notice that the same hawks that wanted a war with Iraq now want one with Iran. Will they never learn (of course not). So I will hold my nose and vote for Hillary. And would happily vote for Bernie. And being a dual citizen, I will vote Liberal in the upcoming Canadian election.

  75. When I wonder whether Gore would’ve invaded Iraq, I remember how many Democrats supported the invasion, and I remember that far from shortening Bush’s timeline for the occupation, Obama tried to extend it. People love to think the Lost Prince would’ve been a better ruler, but there’s nothing to support that.

  76. I think Gore would have been much better about climate change and alternate energy.

    But it’s hard to say what would have happened if things were different. 9/11 drove a whole lot of americans crazy and whoever was in office had to cater to them. Would 9/11 have happened with Gore in office? I’m no Truther to say I know how it happened, but it isn’t all that implausible that the attack might not have been launched without Cheney and a bunch of other PNAC guys in government.

  77. J Thomas: my grasp on the details of the French Revolution are eroding over time, but you might want to look into them as the French Revolution managed to go through just about every permutation you can think of: legalism; terror; middle class uprising; worker uprising; rural counter-revolution; struggle against external intervention; greater equality for women and minorities; suppression of women and minorities; celebration of the modern and rational; celebration of the superstitious; self-restraint; libertines; the Man on Horseback (or Behind a Cannon), etc.

  78. PrivateIron, thank you.

    I have been thinking about government, and I want to take this opportunity to think aloud a little.

    I think government has four steps.

    1. Notice what goals are worth pursuing.
    2. Decide what to do.
    3. Do it.
    4. Notice the results, and if necessary change the goals or the methods, repeat at #1.

    For the moment I want to ignore #1 and look at #2. I will use the metaphor of software development. When the actions are very simple, you can just map them out. As they get more complicated it gets harder and harder to get the results you intend. In general, software works best when one programmer can handle all the details in his mind at once. If one programmer can easily do it, then likely another programmer can understand what he did with a lot of effort.

    When it gets complicated, people attempt a variety of approaches. To my way of thinking, what works best is to start with what your hardware can do, and build up things to do with it which are each simple to accomplish and simple to think about. At the same time, start with your goals and break them up into simpler pieces. As you go from the bottom up and from the top down simultaneously, look for ways to connect the two.

    Part of what makes that work is that on average the paths you have to take speculatively, hoping things will somehow work out later, are on average half as long as when you do only one approach.

    If the two just don’t match up, then you need to revise the top-down part of it to better fit what you can actually do. If your goals or your methods don’t match up with your capabilities, you can’t change the hardware all that easily.

    As you start to get a plan that you think will work, you will need to test it. First against mock trials, and then against reality. Try to test all the low-level pieces first, and then larger sections, and finally the whole thing. Think about how people could break it if they were trying on purpose. In the above list this is #4 but you need to start early.

    How does this relate to the way legislatures make laws? It mostly doesn’t.

    But often legislatures make laws and then give administrative organizations a lot of leeway in how to enforce those laws. If we treat the laws as #1, deciding goals, then it’s the administration which decides what to do and how to do it. They aren’t supposed to break laws the legislature makes, and they can’t go over budget. To this way of thinking, the elected legislature represents the people in deciding what goals are worth doing, and then the administration decides what to actually do. Not very democratic. But if you want it not to apply to you, your legislators may choose to apply pressure and the administration will make an exception in your case. They might do that if you look like somebody who needs help and they want to help you, or if you are doing something that they think is important to the nation that should not be interfered with, or maybe if you give them enough money.

    If you are an administrator deciding how to build your organization, there’s an art to breaking things down in to simple categories that make clear sense, that can be acted on effectively. Your organization will develop habits though, ways of doing things that get passed down directly from older employees to newer ones. You can’t stop that. So the federal government tries to deal with it by occasionally destroying bureaus and creating new ones that lack those traditions.

    Sometimes that’s hard to do. Lots of cities would be better off if they could occasionally fire their entire police departments and start over. But they can’t. Hiring a new police chief doesn’t help that much. Requiring the police to take sensitivity training doesn’t help that much. They have their traditions that are exceptionally hard to break. The best chance is with a new organization and new people.

    This is one of the things that a revolution can do. Toss out the old organizations and start fresh. It tends not to work that way though. In the USSR, when they needed a secret police they tended to hire members of the old secret police, who brought their traditions with them. When they needed a legal system quick they didn’t spend years deciding on a new one, they used big pieces of the old one. Somehow, it turned out that everybody was subject to a lot of the laws that previously had applied to serfs….

    It’s only natural to use the old experts, and do things their way, and then what you rebuild will have big echoes of the old system. So if you want to do things a new way, you need to build small-scale model systems of the new way ahead of time, and have them working. The more people who already know how to do it the new way, the better the chance you can actually make the switch.

    Organizations are kind of like people. Somebody tries to give orders, and then there are a lot of habits. They are not very flexible. If you decide one day that from now on you will eat a healthy vegetarian diet, and you will exercise, strength and stretching for at least 20 minutes and you’ll jog 5 miles, and you’ll spend an hour a day studying quantum mechanics and an hour a day learning spanish, how likely is it that you’ll keep it up? To truly revolutionize your life, you need to first destroy your old personality, and then….

  79. skzb:

    “You say that all the features of revolution are:
    A) dual power
    B) the conscious intervention of the masses in making history
    C) a struggle for state power by competing economic systems
    C.1) even competing definitions of what can be private property.”

    “I would say that it is exactly what most people mean when they refer to a revolution, only expressed in precise terms.”

    I’d argue that when referring to a revolution, most people mean mass violence in which the weaker overthrows the stronger party. The idea of dual power doesn’t fit into it at all. That would be a civil war, a confrontation between equals or near-equals. “[A] struggle for state power by competing economic systems” is clearly meant to be applicable only to modern revolutions, given the concept of the state included in it, and in that form wouldn’t apply to earlier revolutionary uprisings.

    “B) the conscious intervention of the masses in making history
    It is the third paragraph of the preface to Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.”

    OK, I knew I had read something akin to that. I never could finish this book. Can I assume you’ve read memoirs written by leaders from both sides in the Civil War? I found a lot of similarity between how Trotsky, Joe Johnston and Jefferson Davis told their story, while Sherman and Grant both had a markedly different style.

    “So far, no economic system has been replaced except by revolution.”

    That’s a sweeping generalization, especially given your list of requirements for a revolution. What details do you have for the revolution that replaced the hunter-gatherer system with subsistence farming, where it occurred? What were the circumstances of the revolution that replaced subsistence farming with a system of guilds and trade associations? I understand some Marxists consider Cromwell to have been an agrarian capitalist who attacked a feudal society, making his “the” capitalist revolution. I don’t know how widespread that idea is; have you any thoughts on it?

    From two other responses:

    “Will & Jerry re women’s suffrage: I am sometimes guilty of making simple, mechanical connections among things when the actual connections are more complex and contradictory, and I think you are both correct in calling me on it in this case.”

    I can suggest an excellent body of work that I think you’d enjoy, the writings of the John Keegan. He the only historian whose books I purchase on sight because of his particular approach to his topic, which is to draw connections across time and cultures. For instance, his book “The American Civil War: A Military History” not only points out areas of continuity in tactics from the Crimean War, but he discusses ways the Civil War anticipated some developments that became prominent in WW I. It’s fascinating to encounter a comparison to the Somme in the middle of a Civil War battlefield. When he’s focusing on more general military topics, he discusses how culture, and not just material considerations, affects a society’s response to military matters.

    “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.” (From Point 11 of tiresome things you referred Mr. Hajicek to.)

    But not by the definition of revolution you gave above. Many groups of native Americans across the country thrive on their casino profits. Did they take up arms and demand the right to trade in their old ways to become entrepreneurs, or would you say the casino wealth doesn’t count as a more advanced economic form than hunting or farming? In other words, while the definition of revolution you’re likely to hear from the person on the street, i.e. a major and definitive change in a specific condition, could be applied to such things as the change from hunter/gather to farming or husbandry, the definition you give doesn’t fit.

  80. I will state categorically that Gore would not have invaded Iraq. Afghanistan very likely if 9/11 had happened but he would not have trumped up the fake intelligence on Iraq. And perhaps he would have paid attention to intelligence reports and prevented 9/11, but is unknowable.

    Certainly, many Dems voted for Iraq war. Partly on account of the fake intelligence and partly, alas, because they didn’t want to appear “weak”.

  81. The pressure to not appear “weak” would not have changed. Democrats have an impressive record of going to war. Was the Civil War the only one they wanted to stay out of?

  82. skzb

    Will: I’m pretty sure if Nixon had won back in ’64, we’d have gotten involved in Vietnam. Dodged a bullet that time, didn’t we!

  83. Democrats wanted to stay out of Iran while Bush was in charge. They’ve been pretty good about staying out of Iran since then too.

    There might be other examples. It’s harder to notice the times they wanted to stay out of a war we actually stayed out of, than the examples where both sides wanted to fight the war and we did.

  84. Steve, Yeah, whew!

    You’re thinking of Goldwater in ’64. My dad lost his faith in the Democrats when LBJ was the peace candidate and then pretty much did what Goldwater had said he would do.

    Hmm. If LBJ had lost, Dems would talk about him the way they talk about Gore.

  85. J Thomas, same argument applies: Bush also was good about staying out of Iran. So far as I can tell, internationally, Obama has stuck to Bush’s plans. Did I mention in this thread that he tried to extend Bush’s plans for the occupation of Iraq, but he couldn’t get support for it?

    As for domestically, the Log Cabin Republicans did the hard work of ending DADT and much of the hard work promoting gay marriage. (Many ACLU volunteers also did their part, but the ACLU includes Republicans as well as Democrats and right- and left-libertarians.)

  86. Bush talked like he wanted to go into Iran and intended to, but he somehow never quite got around to it. After the quick victory in Iraq, I forget whether it was Cheney or Wolfowitz who announced to the world that Iran and Syria were next, soon.

    Obama talked like he’d attack Iran if they didn’t agree to do what he wanted but he insisted he’d try diplomacy first. He didn’t get around to it either.

    Somehow I want to give the Democrats more credit for not starting a war with Iran than the Republicans, because the Democrats talked like they didn’t want to while the GOP talked like they were raring to go. But I have to admit the result was pretty similar.

  87. skzb

    Right, Nixon was 1960. Getting old.

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