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On Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed

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In my opinion, there is no question today more important and simultaneously more difficult than understanding the degeneration of the workers state in the Soviet Union.  Interest in socialism is growing as capitalism produces greater and greater income disparity, and more open measures of police repression in response.  There are the “socialism is a good idea but—,” people, and there are the, “I’m in favor of it as long as it can be accomplished peacefully” people, and the “I’d be in favor except that it always turns into a dictatorship” people.  It is impossible to talk to any of them without the question of the Soviet Union coming up.  Only once in history has the working class taken and held state power; how can those with an interest in socialism not care about it?  With this in mind, I’m going to be rereading the classic work on the subject, The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky, and working through it here as I do.

In the course of discussing the Soviet Union with people, one will find a great range of assumptions, from the mystical (“It’s human nature that any group in power will want to keep that power, even if it means harsh measures of repression”) to the deeply ignorant (“Stalin simply continued what Lenin had started.”)  These, and all of the other quick and easy explanations, are natural and understandable.  If the Trotskyist position is wrong, that by itself explains why so few accept it; if it right, then it is a strong argument in favor of socialism, and so hardly in the interest of the educational system and capitalist propaganda to represent it fairly.

And, speaking of propaganda, if you want to follow along on these posts, be clear that that is what I am doing: propaganda, defined as conveying one’s opinion in an attempt to convince.  In my previous efforts at logging notes from books I was reading (The Wealth of Nations, Capital Volume 1, and Anti-Duhring) my agenda was, above all, trying to clarify my own understanding; as a result, I mostly ignored comments unless answering them helped me work through the issue.  In this case, my agenda is more polemical—I’m hoping to persuade you that I’m right.  Of course, I still won’t bother answering comments from those who seem only interested in taking shots, unless doing so gives me the opportunity to advance an argument in a positive way.  Reactionaries, and those who have an interest in preserving oppression, will obviously not be interested in giving my remarks a fair hearing: the view of the Soviet Union as proof that communism can never work is simply too important to them to relinquish it—just as, on my part, I have no interest in giving a “fair hearing” to avowed representatives of capital.  I am coming at this from being on a particular side (the working  class) and viewing things from a particular perspective (Marxism).  If I do this well, those of you who are already on my side, will, perhaps, come to see the value of my perspective.

My intention for these posts is that they’re designed for those who are reading along with them; in other words, I’m going to be attempting to comment on and explain the points I want to emphasize, not recapitulate Trotsky’s arguments.   I’m going to be using the Labor Publications edition, Copyright 1991, introduction by David North.  I hope some few of you, at least, will follow along with genuine curiosity, motivated by a sincere desire to make the world a better place.  That is all a propagandist can reasonably ask.

ETA:  Will Shetterly pointed out that the text is available free on-line.  Here’s the link.

Next Post: Introduction by David North.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

128 Comments

  1. I would suggest that it would also be very interesting/important to understand why the Chinese communist revolution eventually evolved peacefully into what amounts to communism-in-name-only but effectively capitalism.

    That would seem to be a near impossibility based one the story of historical imperative that Marx lays out. Whereas a counter-revolution of reactionaries in Soviet Russia seems like a completely plausible story, though as you say understanding how the workers became disillusioned enough to permit it is also very interesting.

  2. One thing I’ve often wondered is what the probability of getting socialism “right” is. I’m making the critical assumption, for the purposes of discussion, that “socialism done right > capitalism > socialism done wrong.” (You may disagree.) Part of my fear of change stems from the notion that we would be sacrificing a bad thing, in hopes of a better thing, but with the likelihood of a worse thing.

  3. skzb

    Thanks, Will. Good idea; I’m going to add that link to the OP.

  4. skzb

    Shawn: With luck, this is one of the things that will be addressed during the read-through; if not, feel free to bring it up at the end. If I think of it, I’ll do a last post on the subject that’s pretty much a free-for-all to deal with unanswered issues.

  5. Hacksoncode, there’s a story that somebody asked Chou En Lai about the consequences of the French Revolution, and he replied that it’s too early to say. I read that this may have been a misinterpretation, he may have been talking about the events leading to the Fifth Republic, not long after the events themselves.

    But it might be too soon to talk about the end of the Chinese Communist revolution.

    I have read claims that no more than a third of the Chinese economy has converted to apparent capitalism. Think about it. Doing this has gotten China access to a whole lot of western capital and intellectual capital. And particularly the USA is deeply in debt to China.

    They have put up with mostly-foreign-owned capitalist industry because that’s what gets us to give them the money and the talent. They have a chinese stock market that’s rigged to have repeated booms and busts and take people’s money. Their people complain to the government. “Why do you let these thieves take our money?” And the government replies “We have been teaching you about capitalism since you were five years old. What did you expect a capitalist stock market to do?”

    I really don’t know how this will play out. But I can imagine that at some point the USA might declare that we will not pay our debts to China. And China then might claim title to the various IP that they have nominally been paying licensing on, and nationalize the partly-US corporations there. They have precedent. Argentina, Greece, etc.

    If we stop giving them money and raw materials and engineering talent, why should they keep doing things our way?

    I don’t know what to expect here, but the aftermath of the USSR might give some clues. Our desperate search for hard currency might easily turn us into a net oil exporting nation. It could get ugly.

    And the Chinese government would say “We gave capitalism a try and you all see what happened. It didn’t work for the USA, and it didn’t work for us. Now we’ll go back to something that works.” Their factory managers would be responsible to the Chinese government instead of to private Boards of Directors or stockholders or whoever. I expect they could make that work.

    That’s just one scenario. We could make lots, I don’t know how to predict what will really happen for sure. But it’s too soon to say that Red China has given up communism. If 50 years from now they’re calling what they do “capitalism” probably then it would be appropriate.

    For myself, I think we’re about due for a new economic model. As I understand it, Marx did not particularly propose one, he claimed that the capitalism of his day could not work in the long run. It would have to be replaced by something else. It has in fact been partly replaced by something else — today’s capitalism does not have exactly the same flaws that Marx saw, and so it can flounder along longer than Marx would have predicted. I think it might be possible to design a system that would actually work.

  6. I am not a political scientist, but in reading Paul Krugman I feel I understand capitalism, and its excesses, better than I did a couple years ago. My fear is that what is lost in socialism is /research/ and (cough) /capital investment/. Today’s industry is very heavily capitalized, less of the value is produced from workers, more of it from multi-billion-dollar chip fabs, pharmaceutical computer simulations and fermentation biofactories, and even robots manufacturing cars, tractors and the like

    So that job, of long-term investment, would fall to the state. Over the course of the last 50 years, we have seen that role diminish in western nations – pharma research isn’t much done in countries with socialized medicine, the chip fabs are using western designs, etc.

    My only evidence for this is that neither China nor Russia have been innovators in high tech industry,

    What happens when the means of gross national production isn’t in the hands of the people?

  7. Joelfinkle, I wish someone would make a list of socialist achievements someday. Space is the obvious one. And that one’s also related to identity issues: they got a woman into space twenty years before the US did.

    Another is eye surgery—we wouldn’t have lasik if not for radial keratotomy, which began in the USSR.

  8. Pharma research is a pretty big deal here in Canada proportionate to our population, despite having socialized healthcare. And there’s plenty of engineering innovation happening in China now, though it’s not a perfect example of socialism.

    Ultimately, the problem we face is that capitalism is killing the species. If we don’t want to change our environment to the point where we can no longer live in it we need new economic models. Furthermore, on a more immediate level, capitalism is proving to be dangerously unstable over the last seven years.

    From a perspective of wanting a peaceful and secure planet we need a new economic model. And I think in both of these cases, much of what we create should come from the socialist model. Because the other option: distributed capitalist models like Air BnB and Uber will just lead to greater inequality, less regulation and more harm to the world ultimately.

  9. @skzb I am happy to play along at home. I have restarted the PDF and gotten some distance in.

    @joelfinkle one thing to remember about capitalist investment in research is that it’s inherently inefficient. It’s difficult to prove but highly likely that Intel, AMD, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc… have each investigated the same avenues for computer processors in duplicate with each other. Likewise we know that most of the major automakers have duplicated each others’ work on hybrids, cylinder direct fuel injection, aerodynamics, etc…

    An acquaintance of mine is a researcher at a pharmaceutical company, and he said the depressing aspect of his job is that some colleagues spent their entire careers researching drugs that were either too ineffective or too dangerous to take to market. The fact that those substances were not put on sale is great. The fact that pharmaceutical companies don’t publish that information so other pharmaceutical companies can avoid wasting billions making the same mistake is a crime against humanity.

  10. “Today’s industry is very heavily capitalized, less of the value is produced from workers, more of it from multi-billion-dollar chip fabs, pharmaceutical computer simulations and fermentation biofactories, and even robots manufacturing cars, tractors and the like”

    Joelfinkle, this is a situation that is a poor fit for traditional capitalism, and it is being managed in ways that would be considered theoretically unsound.

    I’ll describe the problem. When you get old-fashioned head-to-head price competition, capitalist theory says that the price should fall to the variable cost of the least efficient competitor. If it goes below that, then the least efficient competitor finds he loses money faster if he makes product than if he doesn’t, and he quits. Then the price falls toward the variable cost of the next least efficient competitor, until it reaches the point that the remaining competitors could not produce enough at a lower cost. The price stays there until somebody runs out of money.

    When you buy automated equipment, your fixed costs go up and your variable costs go down. This horrible situation gets worse and it happens more often. Not to mention, OEMs who buy computer chips absolutely refuse to buy proprietary products. It isn’t just that a monopolist can set the price as high as he wants. Also there can be accidents and catastrophes. If a judge decides to shut down the single manufacturer until a court case is settled, they would be left swinging.

    When there are two competing companies the price drops to the variable cost unless they collude. So of course they do collude. They agree on a price and mostly don’t compete on price, and everybody’s OK with that. Because if they did it the “right” way they would go broke and the product would not be available.

    Modern business is a vast edifice of fixed prices and crony capitalism, because that’s as close as they can get to something that works. The noble ideals of free trade with perfect competition is a fantasy that basicly has no relationship to reality.

    Meanwhile we are heading toward JIT production. Instead of keeping warehouses full of products that might be needed, we keep very small stockpiles and make tiny production runs that make more just as fast as it’s needed. This is more efficient, but it plays hell with human schedules. Ideally workers would be on call any time of the day or night, they would come in to work when they are needed and sit at home by the phone when they are not. It doesn’t meet human needs at all, except that when you can’t get better work and you desperately need a job…. People had to make giant adjustments to work on assembly lines. This will be more adjustments.

    “pharma research isn’t much done in countries with socialized medicine”

    There’s an obvious place for them. See, it takes billions of dollars to create, test, and market a new drug. A few countries do so much of that, that no one else can keep up. But somebody needs to track the effects of the new drug in practice. Very often, over a period of years, MDs notice that a new drug does not live up to its claims and they tend to discard it in favor of a newer drug. Countries with socialized medicine are the obvious ones to actually track how well a new drug works compared to the older drugs it’s displacing, and announce if in their experience it doesn’t really work. The capitalist model doesn’t include anybody who really has that job. For awhile the government did it, but testing is expensive and more and more they have been reduced to just tracking the paperwork the capitalists create reporting on their own testing. If you wouldn’t ask your barber whether you need a haircut, would you ask your capitalist whether his drug is better than his competitors’ drugs?

  11. J Thomas, Classical Capitalist theory assumes free and fair competition as the determinator of prices. We have nothing like free and fair competition in this country. All major manufacturers have some form of price collusion or monopoly situation.

    That is why prices continue to rise exponentially while salaries are stagnant at best. This is, of course, an unstable equilibrium. Either salaries must go up or the economy will collapse.

    I dabble in the stock market. Right now, it is a bubble, just like the Chinese stock market was. Companies are using their profits to buy back stock, inflating the price on purpose. Investors are guilty of too much money chasing a fixed number of stock shares, again inflating the price.

    So throw standard economic models out the window, those are fairy tales, or at least they are incapable of predicting economic behavior reliably.

    As for companies competing on research, that is a good thing up to a point as it spurs innovation and diversification. The problem is that research in some areas is very expensive (such as drugs). Obviously, a company will not share research data with it’s competitors as this gives them an unfair advantage. Government control of research would eliminate a lot of innovation.

    A lot of research in cars has been to add software and gee-wiz gadgets (which the buyer largely ignores) as sales gimmicks. So blame the cost on upper management and marketing for wanting these things in the first place. Besides, I’d rather not have a back door into my drive-by-wire car where somebody can take control and crash me head on into a Mack truck.

  12. “Classical Capitalist theory assumes free and fair competition as the determinator of prices. We have nothing like free and fair competition in this country.”

    Yes! Exactly! We have a theory built up that does not fit reality. We don’t have much of a theory to describe what’s actually going on. Or to the extent that it has been developed, it is not getting a lot of attention yet.

    These theorists tell the public about the “Problem of Production” or the “Problem of Planning” which says that no method to decide how much of everything to produce can work adequately, except for free markets. They say that because of this, no form of central planning can work. But today’s economy largely does not use free markets, and there’s strong theoretical reason to think that for big segments of it, free markets would not work at all well.

    We do not have any widely-known theory that describes what actually goes on. Marxist theory does not. Austrian theory does not. Mainstream theory does not.

    When you have a fragile system that kind of works, and nobody knows how it works, it’s only obvious common sense that you shouldn’t mess with it. Anything you do is liable to break it.

    Better to wait until after it breaks, and then try to build something that you hope will be better. Or build a better alternative that runs alongside the fragile misunderstood system, and hope that when the rickety old one crashes that the new one might keep going.

  13. Yup. Exactly.

  14. I’ll give it a go. although not the book reading along with you. Should be interesting. I’ve read it before at least once and have read many references to this seminal work in the Trotskyist press including wsws. I’ve been a convinced Trotskyist since 1957. I was a member of the Shactmanite YSL then and came into the minority, sympathetic to the SWP in a bitter fight against the leadership’s plan to liquidate the nominally Trotskyist organization by merging with the Socialist Party to create a “broad Debsian party”, supposedly aiming to bring together disparate socialist tendencies. In the course of this, I read The Revolution Betrayed as well as Shactman’s “The Struggle for the New Course” ( I think that was the title) which argued that the Soviet Union was a “Bureaucratic Collectivist” state ruled despotically by a “new class”. The bureaucratic class was related to the idea put forth by (forgot his name–I’m getting old) in his book “The Managerial Revolution”. In any case, the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) rejected this concept ,seeing it as stating that a new era had come onto the historical acene and that capitalism with its essential conflict of the working class and capitalist class (“bourgeoisie) was no longer at the center of history and in fact was irrelevant. I decided that Shactman was wrong and that the Soviet Union had to be understood in the context of historical development, and best describing the Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers state”. Of course, it was understood by Trotsky that this designation was simply a summary designation based on a complex historical development.

    Dannyfree

  15. Dannyfree, thank you for posting.

    The map is not the territory, and IMO the actual territory is much more important than the map. On the other hand, if we need to navigate it helps to have a map, and if we try to discuss our route we’ll be discussing the map more than the territory.

    The kind of map you need depends on how you’ll use it. A subway map distorts directions and distances, but makes it clear how to arrive at the subway exit you want. A topo map gives lots of detail about elevation, which you may or may not need. Etc.

    “Of course, it was understood by Trotsky that this designation was simply a summary designation based on a complex historical development.”

    That is, it’s part of one of the maps.

    People do form new functional groups and act in their groups’ interest. It makes some sense to think about a managerial class and a bureaucratic class. But in which contexts does it make sense? Ideally we would proceed with science. We would study the world and perhaps perform experiments, and change our ideas as the older ones get disproven. There’s evidence that scientists don’t exactly do that. Important scientists in positions of power don’t want to change their thinking, and official approval for newer science has to wait for them to die off. But if it was a collection of scientific socialists, with no real power centers, that wouldn’t apply. Right?

    If it proceeded like a science, there would be disagreement because different specialities would have their own approaches that worked in their contexts, and when two or more of them spread into the same new area, their maps would be different. That may present an opportunity to find a new better map that shares the advantages of both the old ones.

    “…a member of the Shactmanite YSL then and came into the minority, sympathetic to the SWP in a bitter fight against the leadership’s plan to liquidate the nominally Trotskyist organization by merging with the Socialist Party to create a “broad Debsian party”, supposedly aiming to bring together disparate socialist tendencies.”

    I think it would be better if you could somehow create bigger ad hoc organizations that work together for whatever goals they agree about, while smaller organizations that agree about more could still function. It’s useless to have bitter fights about this stuff, except as it consolidates group identity. But maybe consolidated group identity — each little group against the others — is not what’s needed.

    http://www.puritanboard.com/showthread.php/67314-Funny-Joke-about-Christian-Unity

    This joke could probably be told just as well about socialists. It probably has, but a quick google search didn’t find it for me.

  16. @ OP: I disagree that the first assumption you mentioned is mystical. It is, perhaps, a generalization formed from repeated examples from history–though I would say the statement should more accurately be phrased as “It is usually a given that those in power will seek to maximize the benefit/minimize the threat posed by that circumstance, by remaining in power, and eventually, expanding that power.”

    As support for my point, there is a neurophysiology-based model on how our brains/minds work (within a very broad, but still limited range of criteria) called the SCARF model. Briefly, it stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness as the key motivators for human behaviour when presented with a stimulus. Each person labels each stimulus as either a threat or an opportunity, and reacts to it according to a number of patterns which reflect what key motivator the stimulus activates a neurological response about, with those reactions being categorized generally as “avoid or attract” within those contexts.

    As a result, I disagree with your calling it an assumption. It may *sound* mystical, perhaps, but its roots are anything but.

    On another note, I think it’s generally an unfair rap that socialism has earned–first off, communism =/= socialism, but many people don’t realize that. Furthermore, even given that misunderstanding, there have not been a great many truly socialist or even communist governments in history. It’s unfair therefore to tar all (future) attempts at either/both with the same brush.

  17. @ J Thomas: a very interesting point re: the chinese stock market being rigged to fail as a means of furthering the propaganda of the communist state. That’s deceitful, underhanded and totally brilliant if that’s what they did!

  18. They could rig their stock market to fail. Or they could just tell the market creators “Do whatever you want! Let a thousand flowers bloom!” and then watch it fail. US stock markets require a whole lot of regulation to keep people from making oodles of money by making markets fail. It’s predictable that a free stock market would fail even if the chinese government did nothing to make that happen.

    The chinese government (or any government) could set up a retiree stock market. Make it hard to arbitrage — say a year delay if you want to take stocks out of the system to gamble in private markets. Make it hard to manipulate — say, if you sell a stock within a year of the last time you bought, they confiscate all profits. Don’t encourage a lot of trading, it is not really a virtue that you can sell a stock the same minute you decide to. Investors could get a nice tax advantage for actually investing their retirement money and leaving it for a long time, and they would be strongly encouraged to guess how the companies will do in the long run, and not the next few days.

    It would lack the excitement of the existing gambling dens, but it might give people a sense that their future was reasonably secure.

  19. skzb

    John Carey The concept of “human nature” as something unknowable and without a concrete, scientific origin leaves it the results of the action of God, hence, mysticism.

  20. Steven, certainly there *is* a mystical concept of immutable human nature that some people use to convince themselves that no progress is possible.

    But there are also superficially similar ideas that are less mystical.

    Like, say my job is to solve a certain problem. But then they want to say I can only solve it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my budget is cut in half, and before I do anything that looks effective I have to get it approved by a committee of people who might benefit if the problem remains unsolved….

    Of course I prefer to have more resources, and more authority, just to get the job done. The fewer obstacles put in the way of doing my work, the better.

    So I would expect attempts to grab more power to be pretty common. Not because of anything sinister or creepy. It’s enough that people want to be effective and accomplish the challenges they’ve accepted. It doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. It tends more to the reverse.

    We just have to be careful how we allocate resources and responsibility.

    Which of course we already knew.

  21. I think J Thomas’s joke is appropriate. I personally don’t understand why many people want exclusion vs inclusion. But it happens a lot. Maybe insecurities and fear of “the other,” and straight on control of groups by the leaders of that group (political power grab). The GOP seems to have made a career out of milking these tendencies.

    skzb, I understand your deep interest in the history of socialism/communism. I don’t criticize that. But I don’t see a greater purpose in reviewing the fine details of historical socialist politics and infighting, except as propaganda as you said.

    One benefit would be to understand human behavior patterns (but you insist human nature doesn’t exist), to try and predict and control future behavior and prevent repeating the mistakes of the past.

    From afar, it feels like some old guys arguing over detailed scripture in the Bible or Torah. Not a bad thing in itself. But I wonder if it is just a way to pass time.

    To me, a better approach to improving the worker’s condition is to actually improve the worker’s condition – rather than arguing about the “correct” ideological approach and trying to take personal control the movement. The latter is just politics as usual.

  22. skzb

    ” But I don’t see a greater purpose in reviewing the fine details of historical socialist politics and infighting, except as propaganda as you said.”

    Um. If you can say that, I don’t think you understand what “propaganda” means. It is like telling an astrophysicist, “I don’t see the point in studying astrophysics except to understand it.” Well, yeah.

    “From afar, it feels like some old guys arguing over detailed scripture in the Bible or Torah.”

    Which would be an entirely reasonable thing to do if, in fact, the Bible or Torah represented objective reality and understanding it were necessary for salvation.

    “To me, a better approach to improving the worker’s condition is to actually improve the worker’s condition – rather than arguing about the “correct” ideological approach and trying to take personal control the movement.”

    You aren’t alone. Be comforted that many agree with you. Every time the working class has been crushed, demoralized, and massacred, it has been because of decisions made by those who reject the fight for theoretical understanding and think good intentions are enough.

  23. “To me, a better approach to improving the worker’s condition is to actually improve the worker’s condition – rather than arguing about the “correct” ideological approach and trying to take personal control the movement.”

    I suspect it would not be hard to find a similar sentiment expressed in the 1850s by a supporter of slavery. Yes, it’s better to be treated well than badly when we’re exploited, but this does not mean we should stop trying to be free.

  24. While I can’t *really* disagree… there seem to be mechanisms for fixing most of the abuses of capitalism (e.g. Social Democracy) that have been demonstrated to actually work while at the same time *not* killing 100 million people.

    Those seem worth investigating more.

  25. If we’re going to focus solely on the few situations where someone with theoretically good intentions does something wrong, there’s still those inconvenient couple hundred million dead people to consider.

    At the same time, Social Democracies have made a *lot* of progress on actually restraining the excesses of capital, and trying to create a society where people get along and live their lives productively and in peace with each other.

    Modern discussions about Basic Income as a solution to labor becoming non-scarce are being taken very seriously and gaining traction, and they are fundamentally socialist in their intent (effectively, income from capital investment must flow back to the people in such a scheme… making everyone a kind of “owner” of the means of production).

    In my opinion, we have a huge amount of evidence for the hypothesis that revolutions, putsches, juntas, and other radical takeovers never actually change culture, they only repress it until something strains to the breaking point. The Chinese, if not a downright capitalist society now, have *certainly* at least returned to a barely modified version of Mandarinism. The Russians have returned to what amounts to a very religious corrupt kleptocracy nearly indistinguishable from the era of the Romanovs. I could make similar observations about the Nazi takeover of Germany.

    The only examples we actually have evidence for of cultures changing in progressive ways have happened through evolution, not revolution. And they kill a hell of a lot fewer people in the process.

  26. skzb

    “If we’re going to focus solely on the few situations where someone with theoretically good intentions does something wrong, there’s still those inconvenient couple hundred million dead people to consider.”

    Pfui. I’ve given several examples of the Social Democracy betraying the working class. Find me one ONE counter example. One revolutionary crisis where the Social Democracy did NOT betray the working class. One.

    “The only examples we actually have evidence for of cultures changing in progressive ways have happened through evolution, not revolution. And they kill a hell of a lot fewer people in the process.”

    I simply cannot manage to be polite in the face of an enormity like this. Have you ever read any history at all?

  27. “From afar, it feels like some old guys arguing over detailed scripture in the Bible or Torah.”

    ‘Which would be an entirely reasonable thing to do if, in fact, the Bible or Torah represented objective reality and understanding it were necessary for salvation.’

    Imagine we lived in a science fiction universe, and we had the records from tens of thousands of revolutionary movements on pre-spaceflight planets. We might get a sense of what tended to go wrong, and what happened when things went right.

    We might then find revolutionary movements on other pre-spaceflight planets and secretly coach them, and see what worked in prospective studies.

    But we don’t have that. We have solid information on a few dozen. Lots of them were anticolonial movements, which is somewhat different.

    Say there are a dozen important factors. We will see something about the most common of them, we might have obvious examples for the top eight or ten. We can’t hope to really find out enough.

    On the other hand it’s all the experience we have available. Even though it’s inadequate and likely to be misleading, what’s the alternative to studying it? Ignore it?

    Perhaps we can also get useful experience from other situations that look superficially different.

  28. I agree with Ray. Evolution is better than revolution (and the subsequent deaths).

    skzb, you keep talking about one faction or another betraying the “working class.” All without defining what the working class is. The proletariat is a concept from 100 years ago. Primarily peasants, sharecroppers, low level laborers. We have poor people in this country, but no peasants. You and I don’t fit into the prole category, nor do many of the people who work for a living. They own property, have cars and an education. Still they are part of the American working class. A revolution would likely not benefit these people any.

    The poorest people, the day laborers, the part time workers, the welfare recipients, those unable to work; need their conditions improved a lot. For discussion, these could be called America’s proles. But I wouldn’t expect them to be enthusiastic about an armed revolution. They operate in survival mode most of the time. I would be interested to know what their response is to a call for a socialist revolution.

    Socialist revolutions have historically been started by intellectuals, not the proles. It is the proletariat that suffer the costs of a revolution.

  29. I’m not necessarily opposed to revolution if the conditions truly justify it. It do wish that people considering radical ideologies would ask themselves “How many people would, I, personally, consider being responsible for killing in order to effect this radical change? And can I morally justify that?”. Because that’s ultimately what revolutions end up doing, intentions to the contrary notwithstanding.

    That said, I don’t think any current conditions in the western world justify killing anyone. They could get there, sure. Revolution always must be in your back pocket.

  30. “there seem to be mechanisms for fixing most of the abuses of capitalism (e.g. Social Democracy) that have been demonstrated to actually work while at the same time *not* killing 100 million people.”

    Can you name any that a 19th century robber baron or a 21st century conservative Republican would not denounce as socialism?

  31. skzb

    “The proletariat is a concept from 100 years ago. Primarily peasants, sharecroppers, low level laborers”

    Um. I guess you could call peasants “working class” if you used a sufficiently loose and unscientific definition of the term, but calling them, specifically “proletarians” as you do displays a profound lack of knowledge. Peasants are peasants, and, as such, not part of the Proletariat, as the term was first used in ancient Rome and has continued with pretty much the same meaning. Sharecroppers are an interesting one; to me, they seem more like peasants as well (and sometimes serfs in all but name!), but I haven’t studied the issue. So, ah, no.

    The proletariat is that group that has nothing to sell except their ability to work. Peasants do not qualify because they both work and sell the products of their labor.

    “Socialist revolutions have historically been started by intellectuals”

    Once again, I beg, BEG you to study a little. “Socialist revolutions” (all one of them!) was started by the working class–see the July Days of 1917. The role of the Bolsheviks, at that point, was to try to hold BACK the working class, as the revolution was premature. If you are going to use attempted revolutions as an example, then you’re mostly talking about the Paris Commune where the workers revolted with no leaders until after the fact, or, Germany–where the working class took power AGAINST THE WILL OF THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC LEADERS and Spain, where the working class revolted against the will of their Stalinist leaders.

    But Ray didn’t speak of “socialist revolution” he spoke of “revolution.” In other words, he just wiped out of history the English Civil War that brought capitalism to power there, the French revolution that brought capitalism to power THERE, the the United States, which took TWO revolutions to establish capitalism, and, well, most of the rest of history.

    I mean, for real?

    If you want to talk about this stuff, you at least have to take it seriously enough to do a minimal amount of research, or why bother?

  32. Ray, you may also be interested in this post of mine: http://shetterly.blogspot.com/2015/08/for-people-who-cite-black-book-of.html

    I share a link there to this: http://www.petersaysstuff.com/2014/05/attempting-the-impossible-calculating-capitalisms-death-toll/ I won’t claim it’s the best attempt to address casual claims like yours about communism, but it was good enough that I didn’t look for more.

  33. “Can you name any that a 19th century robber baron or a 21st century conservative Republican would not denounce as socialism?”

    Seeing as how they call Obama a socialist, I’m not sure there’s *anything* that someone on the wacko fringe that represents so-called “conservatism” today wouldn’t “denounce as socialism”.

    That’s not a great metric for… well… much of anything, really.

    The question of whether revolutions justify the inevitable deaths is getting pretty off-topic at this point, though… so I’ll stop raising it. I really didn’t mean to go there… it was just shiny.

    My original point was really about whether the problems of the Russian Revolution were actually a more important question for socialists to ask than “What the heck happened to China?”. Counterrevolutions by reactionaries seem rather more… for lack of a better word… “obvious” than how something akin to socialism can evolve into capitalism/Mandarinism.

  34. I don’t advocate ignoring history or to not try to learn something from it. Just the opposite. But there are limits to the usefulness of studying soviet infighting in trying to start a political revolution here. While there is pent up pressure to improve worker’s conditions (and salaries), this doesn’t translate directly into a desire for armed revolution.

    People have spent their lives studying the history of kings. To understand the politics and intrigues that go on. That can be very interesting, but of limited usefulness here. It does teach you things about human nature (which doesn’t exist), which can serve as lessons as to how to avoid getting killed if you should become king, maybe.

    Yes, J Thomas, we do not have sufficient knowledge to be able to design a successful and optimum revolution. I certainly do not want to repeat the experience of the Soviet revolutions. Perhaps skzd’s studies can highlight what NOT to do. That would be useful. But to simply advocate an armed revolution and hope it turns out better, probably won’t work.

    Ultimately, it appears as if skzd’s goal is to have an armed revolution (overthrow the establishment), not to just improve worker’s lives. skzb would say that simply improving workers lives is not possible and a betrayal of the revolution. Meaning that revolution is the primary goal.

  35. Ray, do you think the American Revolution was justified? Or the American Civil War?

    I trust Steve will speak up if I’m wrong when I say that so far as I can tell, everyone here would much prefer a peaceful transition to socialism, because no one is ruling out the possibility of getting there democratically. We’re just aware that the forces against us are huge.

  36. skzb

    David: *sigh* I will say it again, although I’m about to become convinced that you are deliberately ignoring it so you can just go barreling on with your own opinions. But, sure, one more time.

    In my judgment, armed revolution or not armed revolution is not a question. Armed revolution is inevitable. What is not inevitable is whether the working class will take power, or whether the ruling class will crush the revolution. In this question, I am in favor of the working class taking power.

    Now, you are welcome to disagree with this prognosis. But PLEASE do not advance claims that I am in favor of somehow “creating” a revolution. No individual or group has, ever has had, or can ever have the power to do this. This is exactly the difference between a revolution and a coup, and I am opposed to coups or any other form of adventurism. Only the society itself can create revolution and when it does, it’s because it can’t help it.

  37. skzb

    Will: I would a million times prefer a peaceful road to socialism. The questions are:

    1) How likely is it that the ruling class will give up everything they own without using violence against the people?

    2) How do we prepare for the possibility (probability? certainty?) that they will use violence?

  38. Steve, I’ll add:

    3) If revolution comes, which side will you choose?

  39. skzb

    Yeah, that’s the big one.

    Interesting note, by the way: There was a brief point in, I believe, September of 1917 where Trotsky said the revolution could have been accomplished peacefully if the Provisional Government had done things only slightly differently, but they didn’t, and the moment passed. So, you know, things could fall out that way. It’s just that it is criminal light-mindedness to fail to prepare the working class for the alternative.

  40. skzb, by your definition, the CEO of Monsanto is part of the proletariat. All he sells is his labor. That is all the vast majority of us do. I think you need a better definition.

    Are you excluding people with property? People who direct the work of others? People who are salaried vs hourly? Hourly labor in factories?

    If you are just talking about hourly workers in factories, what about all the other workers not in factories, including the “peasants”? You don’t have much of a base left to work with. I think you need to redirect your thoughts from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

    You can say that I am unread (ad hominem), but I see that you never seem to answer the questions.

  41. “I’ve given several examples of the Social Democracy betraying the working class. Find me one ONE counter example. One revolutionary crisis where the Social Democracy did NOT betray the working class.”

    Why would you expect anything different?

    One group wants to represent the proletariat and they have extremely definite ideas what has to happen.

    Another group shares some goals but their priorities are very different. If they agreed on everything they probably wouldn’t have different names. If they were Bolsheviks and not Social Democrats, they would be called Bolsheviks.

    Of *course* the alliance will at some point break up. It will break up when the disagreements become more important than the agreements. If nothing else, they will split when the people who want to end class warfare insist that they have to become proles with none of the privileges they started with.

    You can consider it a betrayal. But they only took your side when they thought the goals were parallel. Or possibly they did some stuff for you out of pity? That doesn’t seem completely plausible but I bet it does happen. Sometimes people try to do nice things for other people just because they think it’s right. But they won’t usually do a *whole lot* of that. They won’t sacrifice their own interests in favor of somebody else’s interests.

  42. “3) If revolution comes, which side will you choose?”

    An excellent (and very shiny 🙂 question.

    I think my answer is the same as that of more or less any sane person: “The side that doesn’t want to kill me for who I am, or for living my life peaceably.”

    Honestly, the way the U.S. is going, I can’t say which side that is more likely to be.

    I think a theocratic revolution is a hell of a lot more likely than a socialist one in the U.S. during the time I’ll be alive (which is to say… not very likely)… so probably against the revolution.

  43. skzb

    “the CEO of Monsanto is part of the proletariat. All he sells is his labor.”

    That may be all he *sells* (though that is highly unlikely). But he does not *need* to sell his labor-power to live; he has immense stock holdings and profit sharing. When those sorts of things reach the point where they are sufficient to live on, it takes you out of the laboring class, even if you still happen to collect a salary. Is that clear enough?

    “Are you excluding people with property? People who direct the work of others? People who are salaried vs hourly? Hourly labor in factories?”

    No, no, no, and no.

    “If you are just talking about hourly workers in factories…” I am not.

    The peasantry, where it still exists, is a class that by it’s spread-out nature (I’ve just been reading about peasant wars) is unable to play an independent role in the State, but it can gain great benefits by following and supporting the proletariat.

    “You can say that I am unread (ad hominem), but I see that you never seem to answer the questions.”

    No. It would be “ad hominem” if I asserted, “You are unread, therefore I need not answer your arguments.” I am asserting, “the fact that you can say these things that are at such variance with history proves you are unread.” It is a conclusion, not a premise, and, hence, not ad hominem.

    Exactly which question did I fail to answer?

    And, while we’re discussing failure to answer, you still said nothing about my statement that I am not in favor of “making a revolution,” but, rather, in favor of winning a revolution that I consider inevitable. I’ve said it repeatedly, yet you ignore it and keep making the same erroneous statement about my position. Why?

  44. “In my judgment, armed revolution or not armed revolution is not a question. Armed revolution is inevitable.”

    It looks to me like revolution comes when most of the public has grievances that they cannot get resolved peacefully.

    Many revolutions are more-or-less bloodless. The Philippines when they threw out Marcos. Cuba when they threw out Batista. South Korea when they threw out Syngman Rhee. There are lots of examples and many of them get ignored as revolutions probably because they were not so violent.

    Often what happens post-WWII is that the government has trappings of democracy. It looks superficially democratic. When people want change they try to make the democratic process work. And when a challenger comes for the election that before had not needed to be rigged much, and they can’t rig it without it showing to everybody that it’s rigged, they arrest or kill the challenger, and maybe kill some prominent group of protesters, and then everything falls apart.

    Possibly if the dictator was completely openly dictatorial, they would put up with it. But when he pretends to be elected but it’s obvious he isn’t, they don’t put up with it.

    “But PLEASE do not advance claims that I am in favor of somehow “creating” a revolution. No individual or group has, ever has had, or can ever have the power to do this.”

    Yes. It happens when a whole lot of people get outraged, and it doesn’t happen at anybody’s command. Possibly it could. Something like 9/11 that was turned against the government instead of foreigners. Likely not.

    Imagine it happened in the USA. The government unwisely chooses to enforce strict gun control. They try to disarm some particularly obstreperous neighborhood, thjey have to kill a bunch of people, they take casualties, they come back with tanks and flamethrowers, and half the nation revolts.

    “3) If revolution comes, which side will you choose?”

    Would you support the federal government, or the armed libertarians who want a libertarian revolution? A surprising number of them are proles.

    You don’t get to choose when it happens or what the issues will be. When it happens, you have to take sides or refuse to take sides.

    “How likely is it that the ruling class will give up everything they own without using violence against the people?”

    Offer them a sop. They’re used to taking over from each other, and they don’t lose everything when that happens. If they did they’d fight harder. Some nations that gave up monarchic governments kept a showcase monarchy that doesn’t have much power. You can do things like that.

    Of course it’s more satisfying to take everything they own, and maybe kill them. Let’s don’t go there. The job is to make a new world, not so much to punish the people who perpetuated the old world.

  45. pro·le·tar·i·at
    ˌprōləˈterēət/
    noun
    noun: proletariat; plural noun: proletariats; noun: proletariate; plural noun: proletariates

    workers or working-class people, regarded collectively (often used with reference to Marxism).
    “the growth of the industrial proletariat”
    synonyms: the workers, working-class people, wage earners, the working classes, the common people, the lower classes, the masses, the rank and file, the third estate, the plebeians; the lumpen, the lumpenproletariat;
    derogatory the hoi polloi, the plebs, the proles, the great unwashed, the mob, the rabble;
    humoroussheeple
    “the voice of the proletariat”
    antonyms: aristocracy
    the lowest class of citizens in ancient Rome.

  46. skzb

    This is instead of answering my question? I’m completely missing the point. If you’re getting your definitions from a thesaurus you’re in very bad shape. I mean, no one has ever confused the lumpenproletariat, for example, with the proletariat. I am at a complete loss about what your point is.

    I asked what question I had failed to answer; I’m still waiting for a reply.

    I am at an utter loss for what you’re trying to accomplish, except that I’m fairly sure it has nothing to do with the objective needs of the working class, or a scientific understanding of society.

    All I know for certain is that you still have not responded to why you continually misrepresent my opinion on revolution.

  47. skzb, I will take the hit for not being a scholar of the socialist revolutions. Nor do I want to be. That time has past. Time for a new and better approach.

    “No. It would be “ad hominem” if I asserted, “You are unread, therefore I need not answer your arguments.” I am asserting, “the fact that you can say these things that are at such variance with history proves you are unread.” It is a conclusion, not a premise, and, hence, not ad hominem.” Cute.

    I’ve learned over the years that if I cannot explain something without resorting to begging authority, I don’t really understand that thing. So rather than argue over who betrayed who after the October 1917 revolution, it would be more profitable (of your time) to analyze the situation here and now and what can be done to improve things. I presume that is the ultimate goal?

    My question that goes unanswered is how any of the OP discussion applies to the here and now?

    You say I am miss-characterizing your position on armed revolution. Yet you consistently say things like, “In my judgment, armed revolution or not armed revolution is not a question. Armed revolution is inevitable.” You can call this a conclusion, but you allow not other options.

    I do disagree with that statement and wonder if you have seriously considered other possibilities. “If all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.” If all you have is armed revolution in mind, revolution looks inevitable.

    So having investments or income that does not require one to work, is what removes one from the proletariat? I live on SS primarily. Does that exclude me? I have retirement income, ditto?

  48. skzb

    “My question that goes unanswered is how any of the OP discussion applies to the here and now?”

    If I am correct, and armed revolution is inevitable, and its success or failure is a question of the how deeply and well the working class understands the theoretical questions, that, by itself, explains the importance of this issue. In addition, as the working class looks for a way out of the trap of capitalism, the question, “is socialism a viable answer” is huge, and, as I explained in the OP, there is no way to answer that question without confronting the nature of the Soviet Union.

    “You say I am miss-characterizing your position on armed revolution. Yet you consistently say things like, “In my judgment, armed revolution or not armed revolution is not a question. Armed revolution is inevitable.” You can call this a conclusion, but you allow not other options.”

    This is quite remarkable. You do not, in fact, see a difference between, “In my judgement…armed revolution is inevitable.” and “Ultimately, it appears as if skzd’s goal is to have an armed revolution “? You see no difference between a prognosis and a goal? If my doctor were to say, “You are likely to develop diabetes” could I claim his goal is for me to become a diabetic?

    “I do disagree with that statement and wonder if you have seriously considered other possibilities. “If all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.” If all you have is armed revolution in mind, revolution looks inevitable.”

    That is perfectly legitimate. I believe you are wrong, and that my conviction on this matter is based on study and has been verified by the experience of the working class. It may be that this subject will come up in the course of discussing the book; otherwise, we can take it up another time. Nevertheless, I could be wrong. This seems like something it is reasonable to disagree about. For now, I ask that you accept my premise as a thought experiment while we discuss the book (or, you know, not, if you aren’t interested in discussing the book). In other words, *IF* my prognosis is correct, THAN understanding the degeneration of the workers state becomes vital.

    Someone who lives on social security—something that was fought for and won by the working class, with no shortage of blood spilled—is certainly a member of the working class. If it is augmented by a pension, earned by years of work, I see no reason why that would cause a person from move to a different class—certainly, one’s class interests haven’t changed. Indeed, retirees are among the first to be ruined by capitalist crises. If the “retirement fund” is an inheritance that puts one in the category of clipping coupons to buy a new private jet, of course, that is a different matter; at that time, one’s objective interests are significantly different.

  49. “So rather than argue over who betrayed who after the October 1917 revolution, it would be more profitable (of your time) to analyze the situation here and now and what can be done to improve things.”

    Let’s answer a quote with a quote: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ —George Santayana

  50. Will, I think nowhere in this discussion (except for nay-sayers like myself, and others) has the subject of learning from the mistakes of “the revolution” come up. So that is a strange thing to accuse me of, since I mentioned it several times. “I don’t advocate ignoring history or to not try to learn something from it. Just the opposite.” I’m always for learning from mistakes, from others mistakes as well as my own.

    My point is that, interesting as it might be to you and skzb, it is not clear to me how the details of Trotsky’s betrayal have usefulness today. It is a fairly unique instance. Much like the personal history of some kings, as I said. At this point, you should give me specific examples of things we might learn that are useful. I am too lazy and short of time to go through the whole Trotsky betrayal thing to try to find some gems of wisdom. If you have those gems, I would appreciate hearing them. It might convince me it is worth the effort. If the OP is just about reading socialist history, that is fine too. Just not my cup of tea.

    Accuse me of being a dilettante, I will take the hit.

  51. David, apologies if I’m sounding harsh. Nothing wrong with being a dilettante. I’m one. The problem is with being a strongly-opinionated dilettante, and when you blithely talk about killing 100 million people, you either need to defend your position or accept you’re just repeating things you’ve heard. We agree that the Russian revolution went wrong. Steve’s rereading Trotsky to write about why. We can continue this in a further installment to see whether that past is relevant.

  52. skzb: “The role of the Bolsheviks, at that point, was to try to hold BACK the working class, as the revolution was premature.”

    During the spring of 1917, the Bolsheviks were busy trying to position themselves as champions of the workers and the Provisional Government as worthy of nothing but hatred, a fitting target for their attacks. I literally picked this file at random from Lenin’s pre-July writings in 1917. It shows how they were trying to manipulate the workers:

    “One quite insignificant post, that of Minister of Justice, has gone to the glib-tongued Trudovik Kerensky, whom the capitalists need – to pacify the people with empty promises, fool them with high-sounding phrases, … The workers could not, of course, trust such a government….” (http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/mar/12b.htm)

    Even though this was just a draft, it’s clear that Lenin, and one can safely assume his whole party, was trying to stir up popular hatred against the government. It’s quite plausible the workers were being riled up so their anger could be used by the Bolsheviks to intimidate the Provisional Government; the idea that the Bolsheviks were trying to hold back the angry workers can easily be interpreted as fairly typical propaganda.

    “Interesting note, by the way: There was a brief point in, I believe, September of 1917 where Trotsky said the revolution could have been accomplished peacefully if the Provisional Government had done things only slightly differently, but they didn’t, and the moment passed.”

    He meant, if only the Provisional Government had rolled over and let the Bolsheviks take charge. They never felt Kerensky needed just a little nudge to be set right; they wanted to destroy him.

  53. Indeed, examining the book seems like an interesting exercise. It’s not one that I’ve read before, and I look forward to it.

    To express my perspective, going in to the exercise:

    I think is that it’s a mistake to think that the “reason” for the failure of the Soviet (or Chinese) communist revolution had anything to do with “mistakes” people made, or “betrayals” that occurred.

    Revolutions change political structures, at best. If the new political structure is compatible with the culture, it has a chance of success. Successful political structures also have many checks and balances between politics and culture, and minimize the havoc corrupt/incompetent people create.

    The reason revolutions can’t change culture is that they move too fast. Culture simply doesn’t change overnight… indeed it rarely changes in a single generation, or even 10 generations.

    My perception of excesses of the communist revolutions (and the French Revolution) are that they came primarily from attempts to forcibly change the culture.

    Their “failure” was largely due to a mismatch between their political structures and culture… the latter ultimately resurfacing as the dominant force after only a few generations.

    The American Revolution was a lucky accident in a lot of ways, with an individualist culture matched to revolutionaries with a similar political goal and a genius for checks and balances. It’s had a pretty good run, all things considered… until globalism and technology inevitably ran capitalism smack into non-scarce labor.

    I brought up social democracies because they’re an interesting exercise in *evolving* culture towards socialism. Ultimately, I believe cultural *evolution* is the only way to ensure the success of any socialist (or other) *revolution*.

    Needless to say, IMNSHO, a socialist revolution in the U.S. *as it is today* can’t possibly end well.

    We’ll see what I think coming out the other side :-).

  54. Will, That was Ray that mentioned a “couple hundred million” people. I have no way to estimate how many might be killed in a shooting revolution. Just “a lot”. There is nothing “blithe” about killing people. I take the concept very seriously. I also do not accept the rationalization of “collateral damage” as being justified.

  55. Ray, add to that the fact that every social level / group has a somewhat (or very) different culture. Yup. Things get complicated in a hurry.

  56. skzb

    Lenin was telling the truth about the provisional government, warning the workers not to trust it, that it was a government of capitalists, and that it wouldn’t end the war or give the peasants the land. This is not the same as actually organizing an insurrection, which is the claim I was objecting too. See the “July Days.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Days

    “He meant, if only the Provisional Government had rolled over and let the Bolsheviks take charge.” Actually, it was after the Bolsheviks had won a majority in the Soviets. I refer to a passage in The History of the Russian Revolution that I’m too lazy to look up now, but it had to do with a particular correlation of forces that lasted for a brief period. As for wanting to destroy Kerensky, well, yeah; that is what revolutions do–they destroy the oppressors.

  57. “I’ve learned over the years that if I cannot explain something without resorting to begging authority, I don’t really understand that thing.”

    That fits my experience. On the other hand, say I understand a whole lot about evolution, and I meet my 50th Creation Science dupe who asks me again how you could possibly get a functional organism by blind chance, when it’s so much more logical that there was a designer, and I may not want to explain it again. Steve must be even more weary of people who quote him the same old capitalist propaganda like they believe it, and ask him how he can possibly counter it.

    “So rather than argue over who betrayed who after the October 1917 revolution, it would be more profitable (of your time) to analyze the situation here and now and what can be done to improve things.”

    I started to use a metaphor of a software development project, and then I realized that not only was it complicated, but it might not resonate.

    Starting over, imagine you’ve got a big complicated system, and you can help make small incremental changes to make it better. But while you do that, others are making incremental changes to make it easier for them to loot the system. That makes it better for *them*. And the result of all these incremental changes is that it keeps getting more complicated and harder to understand, so that weird things happen that nobody predicted.

    At some point it gets worse faster than you can make it better. And when it gets bad enough, for enough people, they’ll tear it all down.

    It might or might not be inevitable that they’ll tear it down. At this point I don’t think anybody can predict when it will get that bad. I’m pretty sure that it won’t be for at least three years, but I could be wrong. That is, I’m pretty sure it won’t be until way past the time we can make accurate predictions.

    I admit I haven’t thought out what to do if the system fails. Say the local power plant stops working. I ought to have enough solar power to at least run a laptop, and I don’t. But if my ISP isn’t running, I’m still offline. I might be getting my news by radio.

    If the local water works gets shut down, I’ll have to carry drinking water from the stream and try to decontaminate it. Also I’ll have to build an outhouse in the back yard. My back yard is not very large, I don’t know how many times I can move the outhouse before I’m moving it back to a place it’s been before. And with all my neighbors doing the same….

    I have a zip ztove to cook the rice and beans I have stockpiled. I’ve found that rice keeps for 7 years or more OK, but the beans are pretty much inedible after 4. I need to replace them every 4 years but it’s hard to remember to. I could save money by eating 3-year-old dried beans every day….

    If I just can’t live here while things are broken, I can fill a backpack with dried rice and beans, and walk off with my family. We can be refugees, looking for a place where somebody will take care of us. When we get there I can tell them about my job skills. I can do statistics, computer programming, microbiology, computer modelling, and I know how to dig latrines. And I can teach. Once things get organized I should do OK.

    I would far prefer that essential services not fall apart when the things I don’t like do fall apart. But I don’t get to choose.

    Meanwhile, the bigger picture. People decide they just won’t take it any more, and the system falls apart. Anything they try to build, has to get public approval. Even if the army (an army) survives, anything new has to meet their approval and they will tend to mirror the public.

    What with one thing and another, communists have done very very badly at getting public approval. The ideology which has gotten the most support is libertarianism. So chances are it’s going to be some kind of libertarian revolution. I doubt I’d like that, but I don’t get to choose.

  58. In re: the definition of “working class” in contemporary America–it seems like this would largely be composed of people in service industries now, rather than the industrial employment of a century ago. Is that correct?

  59. “it seems like this would largely be composed of people in service industries now”

    Depends on what you mean. The table here http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_101.htm would seem to indicate that by far the biggest employment categories are office/admin and sales, but it’s pretty spread out.

  60. Britannica article on the definitions of “proletariat” in ancient Rome and in Marx’s writings:

    http://www.britannica.com/topic/proletariat

    It also gives a Marxist definition of “working class”, which is bigger–in the modern U.S., much bigger. It includes white-collar workers, who I’d thought typified the middle class.

    Are those definitions accurate?

  61. David, my very bad. I’ve been reading and commenting too quickly; I’ll try to do better next time. I also hate the idea of, to avoid the euphemism, civilian death and injury.

    Ray, “needless to say, IMNSHO, a socialist revolution in the U.S. *as it is today* can’t possibly end well.” Agreed. This is on the list of reasons I’m a democratic socialist.

  62. skzb

    Evergreen: Yes. Like Ireland in Engels’ time, though then it was domestic servants.

    Jerry: Yes.

  63. skzb, we are copacetic.

    J Thomas, as you point out, if there is an armed revolution or catastrophic social break-down, the distribution of food will pretty much stop. Malnutrition and starvation will be a large problem. Money may be useless. Still, it might be better to stay at home, where your resources are rather than join the desperate masses.

    Also there will be a power vacuum once the present government collapses. Countries like China and Russia might see this as an opportunity to “help” us by aligning with one faction. And to help themselves to parts of the US in the process.

    As Ray said, it won’t end well.

  64. “if there is an armed revolution or catastrophic social break-down, the distribution of food will pretty much stop. Malnutrition and starvation will be a large problem. Money may be useless.”

    It might not get that bad. But if it does, people will go along with anybody who can restore order. I think that might have something to do with why the Russians put up with Stalin. He didn’t do anything particularly well, but he gave the definite impression that he would put down any revolt so ruthlessly that it wouldn’t grow into another revolution. China too. Egypt of the pharoahs. Once there’s been a really bad famine, and a government comes in that promises to keep it from happening again, there won’t be another revolution for a generation or two unless there’s an even worse famine under that government’s rule.

    “Still, it might be better to stay at home, where your resources are rather than join the desperate masses.”

    It depends on local conditions. Where I live, there are more than a million people within 10 miles. If things seriously broke down, maybe 90% of them would be dead within a month. 99% within 6 months. That’s probably conservative, maybe it should be weeks. It might be better to be somewhere else.

    I think rice and beans (and vitamins) are better than MREs because until things get bad it isn’t as valuable. People who take stuff at gunpoint might at first not bother with it. (Though they would presumably rape my wife and daughters, and maybe me. And might kill us on a whim.) But when it reaches the point that any survivor must have stored food, and any food is valuable, if you stay in one place they will be back to torture it out of you. And if you walk, you have it on you. You could carry a gun, but those are trouble-magnets.

    Probably better to hope it won’t get that bad, and stay put, and then try to sneak away if you find out it’s that bad after all.

    Eventually things would get organized again. This might be the best chance to organize them better. So doesn’t it make sense to think about how to do that? In case you survive and wind up in a position to influence how things go.

  65. SKZB: Thanks.

    Ray Trent: Thanks for posting that table. If I understand this correctly, about 6% of American employed people are proletarians in the Marxist sense. As a fraction of the working class, the number is higher, since some of the wealthier employed people (such as the CEO of Monsanto) could survive without working and don’t count as part of the working class.

  66. David: saying you want the gems of wisdom without the study is like saying you want the degree without the coursework. Why accept the assertions if you haven’t examined their logical scaffolding? How will you use the wisdom, and will it *be* wisdom, without understanding its context and ramifications? Whether I agree with the conclusions of this book or not, I’m not yet sure, but asking for the benefit of study without the labor of it seems as misguided as being content with an A grade when you cribbed on the test. What good will it do?

  67. Jerry, I think you’re seriously underestimating the number.

    If proletariat = working class, then I think it’s closer to 50%. Excluding service workers is very strange. It’s not like a retail clerk isn’t in the working class even if they aren’t actually involved in the production of goods. They are responsible for distribution anyway. Or for that matter a landscaper or a house-cleaner or a masseur who isn’t in the production chain at all. They are all certainly workers.

  68. Miramon, the word has a variety of different meanings for different people. In the USA, “proletariat” seems to require being an employee. Independent proprietors like landscapers and masseurs would not count.

    And it requires that you have a reasonably low income. Somebody high in management for AT&T who makes a whole lot of money each year, isn’t a prole even though he’s an employee. Etc.

    Marxists have a special definition. They want it to be inclusive. The proletariat and their families should be the majority of the population, better a large majority, because otherwise they are just another minority trying to impose their will on everybody else.

    The proletariat is officially the people who depend on wages (or salary) to get by. People who don’t own the means of production. Steven says that if you own a lot of corporate stock that you bought out of your earnings, that’s still OK. Presumably retired people and people whose pension plans own a lot of stock are still proletariat. Blue-collar workers whose wages are very high are still OK. Government workers are probably OK. Enlisted men in the military are probably OK.

    A workman who owns his own tools is still proletarian, even though those tools are partly the means of production. A locksmith who owns his own locksmithing shop and has no employees can be proletarian, I think. Even if he owns a thousand shares of GM.

    I think maybe it’s partly identity politics. You can be proletarian by being on the side of the proletariat. And you can be proletarian if your circumstances show that you *ought* to be on the side of the proletariat, even if you aren’t yet on that side. But if the rise of the proletariat would be bad for you, and you oppose them, both, then you are clearly not proletarian.

    I think it will all make sense if you think of “proletarian” as “our side” and bourgeois as “the main enemy”. If I’m wrong, if the discussion turns in ways that this approach does not make sense, I’ll be interested to see what’s going on then.

  69. skzb

    In the United States, and in many other countries, it is a minority of the workforce that is directly involved in commodity production. It is, however, the majority who have no means of living without selling their labor-power.

  70. skzb: “Lenin was telling the truth about the provisional government, warning the workers not to trust it, that it was a government of capitalists, and that it wouldn’t end the war or give the peasants the land. This is not the same as actually organizing an insurrection, which is the claim I was objecting too”

    If you’ve read his reports to various congresses and his speeches given before the party, you know Lenin could be dry as dust in delivering his opinions. When addressing workers directly, he generally, if not invariably, elected to use inflamtory rhetoric and emotional appeals. He wasn’t trying to touch their intellects, but to stir their emotions and in this case specifically to arouse their anger at Kerensky. That’s textbook demogoguery.

    There is nothing passive about a demogogue’s intent; the whole point is to whip up emotions and move the audience to action. So while he may not have been organizing an insurrection in the sense of appointing leaders, choosing targets, plotting methods of destruction etc., he was certainly trying to cause an uprising that his party would then step in to control or, as I posited above, a potential uprising they could use to threaten the government. And I stress the “may”; there is no reason not to believe Bolshevik agitators weren’t working the streets and factories to guarantee the proper response when the time came.

  71. skzb

    “elected to use inflamtory rhetoric and emotional appeals. He wasn’t trying to touch their intellects, but to stir their emotions and in this case specifically to arouse their anger at Kerensky. That’s textbook demogoguery.”

    Only if the argument wasn’t based on rationality. There is no requirement to pretend an issue isn’t important when it is–and if you fail to illicit emotion when the emotion is appropriate, you’re being dishonest. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=demagogue%20definition

    All of which is beside the point: Lenin almost never spoke to the working class before the October Revolution. From April to June, he was concentrating on internal discussions– turning the Bolshevik party away from Stalin and Kamenev’s rapprochement with the Mensheviks; after July he was in hiding. HIs speeches directly to the workers were few and far between; the only one I’m certain of is the one he gave when he first arrived in Petrograd, in which he correctly warned the workers to have no confidence in the Provisional Government.

    And all of THAT is beside the point, because, it sounds like you’re accusing a revolutionist of wanting to prepare the revolutionary class for revolution. Well, yeah. Duh. The question is, what was the alternative to revolution. Kerensky? He was done whatever happened. It was Lenin or Kornilov. Telling the workers that, and preparing them for what to be done, is what I call honesty.

  72. J. Thomas in what world do you think landscapers and masseurs are independent proprietors? They’re low-wage employees. I’m not talking about the owners of landscaping companies or massage studios, for pity’s sake but the actual workers.

  73. MIramon, I was going by my own experience. I do not buy massages, and the therapeutic masseurs I have known personally ran their own small businesses, with no employees. The landscapers I have known ran small operations, with one person or a partnership with no employees.

    I agree, a masseur who works for a massage parlor chain would be different, and also somebody who gets day-work from a landscaping company.

  74. Matt, I asked for the gems to see if I have a motivation to read the book (as I said). To read the book and get to the end and decide that there was nothing I could learn from it, would be disappointing, especially because I should be doing other stuff. Though I admit, it might explain a lot of the thinking going on at the time.

    So, to your analogy, it is: give me a synopsis of the course before I register. I think that is a fair request.

  75. Isn’t this *post* a synopsis of the course?

  76. skzb

    Matt: Well, that’s kind of what I was hoping.

  77. Miramon, I agree completely. The category and types of workers today is very different than the distribution 100 years ago. Today, somebody selling goods at a store is just a worker. 100 years ago, it was probably the shop owner. Which is why I questioned the usefulness in today’s world based on old definitions. It gets awkward to fit the square peg in the round hole.

    The majority of worker strife is caused by depressed salaries. Raise the minimum wage to 15 or 20 dollars and hour and suddenly life becomes much better for the low end workers. Suddenly, they can afford to buy some things and the economy improves. I personally think the very rich like having a “peasant” class that they can feel vastly superior to.

    Will, no problem, I wasn’t offended.

    Matt, no. This discussion is interesting and perhaps useful, but this discussion has deviated considerably from reading about the betrayal of Trotsky, which is the “textbook”.

  78. skzb, I do think this discussion string is making progress.

  79. David Hajicek:
    “My point is that, interesting as it might be to you and skzb, it is not clear to me how the details of Trotsky’s betrayal have usefulness today. It is a fairly unique instance.”

    I would disagree with its being unique. Mr. Brust said there hasn’t been a single revolutionary situation “in all of history” in which the revolution wasn’t betrayed by Social Democracy (I’m not informed enough to agree with or argue the point). If you yourself are in fact interested in fomenting this sort of revolution, knowing why this betrayal is inevitable would be of paramount importance so you could head it off.

    “At this point, you should give me specific examples of things we might learn that are useful. I am too lazy and short of time to go through the whole Trotsky betrayal thing to try to find some gems of wisdom. If you have those gems, I would appreciate hearing them.”

    To me, the most interesting thing is how those who wish for a workers’ revolution dismiss agrarian revolutions as deviations from proper Marxism and not worth study, despite the fact they’ve been remarkably successful in seizing power. If you’re looking for the blueprint for a successful revolution, to compare those that fail due to having been invariably betrayed to those that succeed in overthrowing the existing government should be your first step.

    Note: I accidently posted this under the “On Democratic Socialists” thread earlier today, so if you see that one at 12:37, please ignore it.

  80. skzb

    L. Raymond: Want me to delete that one?

  81. Re: peasant revolts: are you reading Avrich or about non-Russian uprisings?

  82. There is a claim on the table that Trotsky has a method to examine social situations which identifies the intractable issues that will be the most important factors. The “contradictions” which must somehow be resolved and which will probably not be resolved by people respond blindly.

    If this works, and it can be taught, it is vitally important. Far more than an analysis of what happened once, it would be a tool which can be applied again and again to new problems.

    That could potentially be the most important development of the 20th century. Or if it was developed earlier but mostly ignored, the most important development of the 19th century.

    Claims this big are usually not true. After all, “the most important development of the 20th century” will probably be true only once. But the possible value is immense.

  83. What it sounds like from the book introduction, is that Trotsky came up with a form of systems analysis (which you and I understand how to do) but applied to social / political systems. So he was ahead of his time. No reason we cannot do that also. All it takes is some work.

    One aspect of systems analysis is that you NEVER force the analysis to fit the desired goal (Trotsky seemed to understand this), just like the scientific process. Politics almost inevitably does it the other way around, which is why politics often gives bad answers. You need to be willing to adjust the goal and your theories as needed. Or as in writing, to change the story ending when what you had in mind doesn’t work.

    And, like in engineering, you need to be able to tell when what you have is “good enough” even if 100% of your goals are not met. In engineering they have a saying, “the first 95% of the goals takes 95% of the money, the last 5% takes the other 95% of the money.” So if you can live without that last 5%, you are ahead of the game.

  84. skzb

    I am continually astounded by those who believe it would be possible to overthrow the most thoroughly entrenched, politically sophisticated, and militarily powerful ruling class that history has yet known without a deep and thorough scientific understanding of history in general and this society in particular. The contempt these people show for theory can only be seen as a yardstick for the degree to which imperialism, with the help of Stalinism, has succeeded in permeating culture with a hostility to serious study of social issues, all of it coated with a fine overlay of despair.

  85. It’s ridiculously easy to overthrow the most thoroughly entrenched etc ruling class when the time comes that it’s ripe for that. You mostly just have to be there. You can sit back and watch them self-destruct, and then you say “Hurray! I overthrew them!”

    While they still have a whole lot of people who support their dream, it’s very very hard. You can do a lot of analysis and it will show you why you can’t overthrow them.

    The big problem is what comes after.

    Like, if the money is no good, how do people trade? I can imagine ways it could work. Like, the local electric company could pay its employees in tokens that are good for kilowatt-hours of electricity. The local water works could pay in tokens good for hundreds of gallons of water. It would be inconvenient to trade multiple kinds of tokens, but everybody would accept those currencies as long as they could deliver. But would they think to make and distribute those tokens?

    Of course, if you already have a revolutionary army, and revolutionary police, then you can get a revolutionary printing press and great plates and make your own money that people will have to accept. It will be backed by your army and your police. When you take things from people beyond legitimate taxes, you can pay them in your money and they will try to spend it, and things will work out from there.

  86. J Thomas, good points. Looking at the American West expansion gives examples of local currency. Wooden nickles as it were. The Confederates traded paper notes that became worthless when they lost – but it worked for a while.

    skzb, I can’t tell if you agree or disagree with my comment. I do think that trying to use the same tools (other than logical analysis) as the Russian Revolution may not be a good approach to figuring out what to do here and now. I agree that used properly, one could gain insights by reading the OP text. But it would be wrong to try to shoe-horn today’s worker situation to fit that of the Russian revolution.

    You need a charismatic figure to lead a socialist movement. Bernie Sanders is the best at this time. People like him and he speaks truth. But you see him as a traitor to socialism because he supports evolution vs revolution. You don’t support him because he’s not good enough (for you) and he might relieve some of the pressure for revolution.

    I see the latter as a good thing.

  87. I don’t dislike Sanders as much as most other national-level American politicians. I’d say he is one of those rare and almost mythical liberals you read about — he and Warren are among the very few left in the political scene — but I wouldn’t call him a socialist. Similar to Corbyn in the UK in that they both can legitimately sit on the left side of the aisle (unlike most of the rest of the Democrats and Labour party who have swung center and center-right and are only relatively to the left of their opposition).

    But on a scale of 1-10 with 1-2 being what the mainstream Democrats used to be in the late 20th century, 3-4 being liberals, 5-6 being “social democrats” or whatever you want to call them and 7+ being actual socialists, I’d say Sanders is a 4 and Corbyn is a 5. So in terms of the rest of their parties, that puts them far out to the left, but compared to actual leftists, not so much.

  88. “You need a charismatic figure to lead a socialist movement.”

    I hope not.

    If you depend on a charismatic figure, what happens if he gets killed, or suborned?

    Consider Ross Perot, who was charismatic though not socialist. In an election year when people were strongly against both parties, he did well at first but then dropped out when (he claimed) he got a threat that photoshopped images of his daughter in compromising positions would be revealed to disrupt her wedding. He came back after the wedding but never regained his momentum and in the final election won only 20% of the popular vote.

    Much better if you can proceed without personal quirks getting too much in the way.

  89. skzb: “And all of THAT is beside the point, because, it sounds like you’re accusing a revolutionist of wanting to prepare the revolutionary class for revolution….Telling the workers that, and preparing them for what to be done, is what I call honesty”

    Basically, it’s useful to keep in mind the duplicity of the Bolsheviks while reading about their work.

    The Bolsheviks like to stress the problems they faced when seizing power, often using those issues as excuses for their actions. One of their excuses is to say they were forced to take control the way they did because the workers were moving too fast, but they themselves were working to drive the workers that quickly. Whether this demonstrates the arrogance of a party that thought incorrectly it could control a large segment of the population, or lying through their teeth in order to make themselves appear heroic in the eyes of their followers, it is not in any way, shape or form an example of “honesty”.

    It is vitally important to remember that the Bolshevik revolution did lead directly to a totalitarian state, and the seeds are found in these little, everyday manipulations they employed.

    This is a good article about the small steps that lead to such a state; the section headed “Americans Are Getting Too Comfortable With Thought Control” was in my mind when reading your original point.

    http://thefederalist.com/2015/07/06/the-new-totalitarians-are-here/

    And that’s why I think the truth matters, even in little things like this.

    (PS – I submitted this about 30 mins ago; the form switched to “Submitting Comment”, then froze. Since it hasn’t appeared, I’m sending it again. Apologies if this gets duplicated.)

  90. On the point about the definition of proletariat/working class, surely everyone agrees that anyone who owns their own home is not propertyless?

    Which by wikipedia takes 67% of the population out of consideration for membership of that class. Welfare would presumably add another largely non-overlapping chunk as lumpenproletariats, although the figures seem to be more politicized and so vary widely from different sources.

    The idea that retirees still count as proletarian if they previously worked for a living is deeply dubious; if you get your income from the stock market and not wages, you get more when profits go up. And profits go up when wages go down. That is more or less the perfect core example of what a class economic interest _is_. If you think that changes nothing, then you should probably consider Marxism, or perhaps economic materialism in general, as being a thing you fundamentally disagree with…

    And there was always something dubious about Marx not counting non-working spouses (historically, housewives) as a distinct social class…

    Net result is that makes winning an election on a purely proletarian position clearly impossible. And winning a revolution when you can’t win an election is doubly impossible. If you somehow did, governing afterwards would be triply so.

  91. skzb

    “Basically, it’s useful to keep in mind the duplicity of the Bolsheviks while reading about their work.” In order to find duplicity in the actions of the Bolsheviks, it is necessary to invent it. The thing that guided Lenin’s work at all times and under circumstances was: complete honesty to the working class, even if the truth was unpopular at a given moment.

    “One of their excuses is to say they were forced to take control the way they did because the workers were moving too fast, ”

    I’m not sure where you got that, but it is an utter fabrication.

  92. skzb

    1soru1: “On the point about the definition of proletariat/working class, surely everyone agrees that anyone who owns their own home is not propertyless?”

    I don’t think I know anyone who owns his or her home. I do know several (though not as many as a few years ago) who owe more or less brutal mortgages. However, even if someone has managed to pay off a home, I don’t see how that changes his or her fundamental class position. As I’ve said repeatedly, those who must sell their labor-power to live are working class.

    “And there was always something dubious about Marx not counting non-working spouses (historically, housewives) as a distinct social class.”

    I think it’s really weird that you think someone who does so much work for so little reward–whether for and as part of a family unit, or as a paid domestic servants–is not part of the working class.

  93. ““Basically, it’s useful to keep in mind the duplicity of the Bolsheviks while reading about their work.” In order to find duplicity in the actions of the Bolsheviks, it is necessary to invent it. The thing that guided Lenin’s work at all times and under circumstances was: complete honesty to the working class, even if the truth was unpopular at a given moment.”

    Yeah… I’ll sheepishly admit to reading ahead in the assignment :-)… but from the first couple of chapters it’s pretty clear that Hanlon’s Razor should be applied here.

    They weren’t deeply duplicitous, they were deeply incompetent (at running an economy, at least).

  94. “As I’ve said repeatedly, those who must sell their labor-power to live are working class.”

    “I think it’s really weird that you think someone who does so much work for so little reward–whether for and as part of a family unit, or as a paid domestic servants–is not part of the working class.”

    I think the question is, to what part of the capitalist class are they “selling their labor”, and are their interests similar to those of the people who are?

    In general, I tend to think of married couples as single organisms… so if part of the unit has to sell their labor, the whole unit is part of the working class. Housewives of capitalists aren’t, really, by any measure useful to a revolution, part of the working class.

    But it’s not a *completely* idiot question…

  95. What is the purpose of using Hanlon’s Razor?

    If we never decide somebody is malicious because they could have been stupid instead, OK, why should we never decide that?

    “Your Honor, I know I was found in Billy-Bob’s hen-house holding a chicken. But you see, somebody told me that fresh chickenshit collected at midnight cures warts, and I wanted to try it, and I figured Billy-Bob wouldn’t mind. I didn’t want to bother him about it so I went quietly, and I had no idea he would think I wanted to steal chickens.”

    Some ways it’s more *charitable* to decide people are being stupid instead of malicious. But do we always want to be charitable in that way? Is there some other reason to minimize our thoughts that other people might be malicious?

  96. “What is the purpose of using Hanlon’s Razor?”

    First, like Ockham’s Razor, this is a decision heuristic for 2 hypotheses that fit the evidence equally, not a rule that should always be applied even if the evidence is against it.

    That said: two reasons (I’ll tie this into the topic eventually, really):

    1) It’s more likely to be true. Incompetence is far more common than maliciousness. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find *anyone* that wasn’t incompetent at something. Furthermore, the Dunning-Kruger Effect tells us that incompetent people are poor judges of their competence.

    2) It’s less likely to result in unnecessary conflict. Maliciousness provokes/requires a different, and more confrontational, response than incompetence. If it turns out to be wrong, it’s very hard to go back from such accusations without it turning into (in this case, literally) World War III. A judgement of incompetence is much less likely to lead to a destructively defensive reaction.

    In this case, a judgement of maliciousness is not very helpful in terms of deciding what went “wrong” with the Russian experiment in socialism. It’s very easy to dismiss that is a historical fluke that would have little to say about the most effective strategy for a new revolution… Just don’t be malicious… easy…. particularly because the people arguing about it doubtlessly think that they are not being malicious, because people rarely do.

    However, a judgement of incompetence shows up some potentially *very* important lessons: a) the need to have checks and balances on incompetence at all levels, especially the higher ones, and b) the impossibility of anyone being competent to centrally plan an economy, and the consequent inadvisability of doing so.

    Note: either of these could be incorrect hypotheses, and need validation to verify them. But they are not easily dismissed.

    One of the strengths (and, in some ways weaknesses) of free market capitalism is that it ends up running countless experiments in various forms of governance of productive activities, and its incentive structure leads to filtering them out (an inherent check & balance).

    We have seen, historically, are very strong advantages to monopolizing an industry for the monopolizer (another one of the weaknesses of free market capitalism), but oddly we see a pretty strict limit on the size of companies (which are for all intents and purposes small command economies).

    This leads to a conclusion based on evidence that it’s almost impossible to have a command economy larger than about 250,000 people, and that this disadvantage is big enough to counteract the advantages of companies that size from merging.

    We do see a few seemingly stable counter-examples around 10 times larger. All of them are authoritarian organizations based on absolute obedience, like the U.S. Army. So it might be possible to extend that limit by about an order of magnitude if you’re willing to have a completely authoritarian government.

    Two orders of magnitude would be completely unprecedented, though, much less an economy of hundreds of millions of people.

  97. Hacksoncode, thank you for a very well-written and clear response. I disagree with so much of it that I don’t know where to begin, but you said it so well that I can easily see what I’m disagreeing with.

    “Incompetence is far more common than maliciousness.”

    How would you measure that, when in general we don’t have a good measure of either one and need an arbitrary heuristic to tell them apart?

    “Furthermore, the Dunning-Kruger Effect tells us that incompetent people are poor judges of their competence.”

    How do we find experts to judge how incompetent people really are, and how competent people need to be?

    People generally decide they need to be competent enough to get by. So, like, I feel like I’m OK at the card game Hearts. I win well over a quarter of games. But when I played some online, every now and then I got into a game with experts. Sometimes they would get irate at me because I didn’t know how to play. I’d do something so stupid that everybody assumed I wouldn’t do such a stupid thing and they acted on that assumption and then I won. They’d tell me I was playing all wrong. Especially the one with the worst score, sometimes he would get steaming mad that I played so badly. I didn’t argue with him, but sometimes after he quit the game I’d remark that I knew I wasn’t a very good player but he was telling me how I should have played and he had the worst score of all….

    Of course, when I won against better players, pretty often it was because I wasn’t worth playing against. They were busier trying to keep each other from winning, assuming I would be easy to beat.

    Anyway, in some circumstances somebody who admits he’s worse than average at doing something opens himself up to potential lawsuit. It just isn’t in the culture to say that.

    I’m afraid the Dunning-Kreuger effect is likely to be an example of itself. The original researchers may not have been competent to get the conclusions they drew. And most of the people who quote it fail to understand why it’s worthless.

  98. “It’s less likely to result in unnecessary conflict. Maliciousness provokes/requires a different, and more confrontational, response than incompetence. …. A judgement of incompetence is much less likely to lead to a destructively defensive reaction.”

    This assumes the conclusion. Is it worse to forgive malice on the assumption they didn’t mean it, or is it worse to be paranoid? Doesn’t that depend on circumstance? If it’s true that the vast majority of times that it could be either are due to incompetence, then you do better to forgive because people will let you down by bumbling many thousands of times but you will only be literally stabbed in the back once.

    On the other hand, if you make enemies of the occasional incompetent along with recognizing your real enemies, that may not be a big loss.

    “In this case, a judgement of maliciousness is not very helpful in terms of deciding what went “wrong” with the Russian experiment in socialism.”

    Doesn’t that depend too? Imagine that there were a small minority of Bolsheviks who knew what they were doing, who had the responsibility to manipulate everybody else into actions that would generate the right outcome. Their “malice” would be “competence”. Doing whatever worked. If it’s necessary to do something more-or-less precisely, can you possibly get that result by letting a bunch of ignorant people vote on it? A small minority of competent people would *have* to take over and run things, because anything else would surely turn out badly.

    Of course you would need a secret police, to scare people into not causing trouble. And if people were used to there being one, it would be one of the props of government. A king has his crown and his throne and his scepter. A government has its mint and its voting booths and its secret police.

    And then when one faction turns the secret police on the other competent plotters, who will complain except those who get caught?

    Assuming that everything was done by bumblers who had no idea why they did things, is kind of implausible. These were after all the ones who killed off all the other revolutionary groups. They did something that worked.

  99. “important lessons: a) the need to have checks and balances on incompetence at all levels, especially the higher ones,”

    And who will bell the cat? If you have the power to get Stalin removed from office, that proves he was incompetent. Then if you replace him and you can stop the people who would get you removed from office, that doesn’t make you competent at anything except holding onto power.

    If we have the geniuses who can truly see who is competent and who is incompetent to run the government, they should be running the government. But how do we verify whether their judgement is actually sound?

    If we had a surefire way to prove competence, life would be a lot different.

    “and b) the impossibility of anyone being competent to centrally plan an economy, and the consequent inadvisability of doing so.”

    For a long time it appeared to work well for the USSR. Their planned economy worked a whole lot better than anybody else’s random ones. They went from a nation that the germans beat like cheap whore, to one that could fight a two-front war and win on both fronts. (A three-front war if you count both Caucasus and China.)

    You can argue that the numbers were systematically falsified the whole time, but still a whole lot of stuff worked. Maybe they were only pretending to do central planning. But whatever it was they did, worked.

    And then it gradually stopped working. I think it might be partly that people start out doing something great and they know that nobody will stop them. And later on they’re going through the motions, and they know if they actually produce something unexpected they’ll be punished for it. NASA. EPA. Railroads. The USSR economy.

    “One of the strengths (and, in some ways weaknesses) of free market capitalism is that it ends up running countless experiments in various forms of governance of productive activities, and its incentive structure leads to filtering them out (an inherent check & balance).”

    That makes sense for free market capitalism. But how long has it been since we’ve seen that in operation?

    “We have seen, historically, are very strong advantages to monopolizing an industry for the monopolizer (another one of the weaknesses of free market capitalism), but oddly we see a pretty strict limit on the size of companies (which are for all intents and purposes small command economies).”

    They were growing nicely until they developed the fad of downsizing. Find ways to get the same work done with fewer employees. Surprise! They stopped growing.

    “This leads to a conclusion based on evidence that it’s almost impossible to have a command economy larger than about 250,000 people, and that this disadvantage is big enough to counteract the advantages of companies that size from merging.”

    When companies that size merge, it gets a lot of attention. They don’t like that.

    There are around fifty companies that big, including Walmart (2.2 million) and Foxconn(1.2 million). The analogy with a farm pond may be appropriate. The biggest fish eat medium-size fish, and you can’t have more big fish than the medium-size fish can support.

    Anyway, an economy needs feedback loops. If your central planners decide what everybody ought to get, they’re likely not to satisfy people all that much. If they collect info about what people want, and work out a way to make that stuff, it doesn’t matter how much centrality there is in the organization that does that. The No Free Lunch theorem implies that no approach will work consistently across problems.

  100. skzb:

    “In order to find duplicity in the actions of the Bolsheviks, it is necessary to invent it. ”

    Nonsense. Their propaganda was as riddled with half-truths, misrepresentations and out and out lies as all propaganda tends to be. So many people want to take them at face value that I think it’s important to remind folks they weren’t saints. They wanted to be politicians, with all that that entails.

    I personally think they also lied in many of their writings (they = various Bolsheviks, not any one in particular) because I prefer not to believe they were as ignorant of so much of history and other matters as they seemed, but I admit I wouldn’t be able to prove duplicity there.

    I’m not going to touch your comment about Lenin, because that’s an involved subject, and not for a few posts.

  101. skzb

    “Their propaganda was as riddled with half-truths, misrepresentations and out and out lies . . . .”

    Such as?

  102. I had to look up the Dunning Kruger effect. Not being familiar with the title. I had seen the charts, however. I can attest from personal experience that the least knowledgeable people seem to think they know the most. It explains an awful lot of American politics. Especially on the right. Also American management.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

  103. Re Hanlon’s Razor: I have been thinking about this along with the Dunning-Kruger effect. I think it is very possible that somebody can be both malevolent and incompetent. That their incompetence (or inexperience) allows them to be confident in doing things that they would know are bad if they had more competence.

    So they do not think that the things they are doing are malevolent, they have justified things in their own mind as being good and necessary. So you can say that they are not willfully malevolent because of their incompetence. But still their actions are malevolent even when the goal is not to do bad things. Subjecting someone to torture might fit this case. Or killing a bunch of innocent people in the hopes of getting one bad guy that might be there.

  104. “I can attest from personal experience that the least knowledgeable people seem to think they know the most.”

    “Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.”

    A lot of people sober up when they imagine actually being in charge. But some are sure they’d do just fine — those are scary.

    “I think it is very possible that somebody can be both malevolent and incompetent.”

    Definitely. They can have evil goals, and trying to carry them out they may instead do evil things almost at random.

    “So they do not think that the things they are doing are malevolent, they have justified things in their own mind as being good and necessary.”

    Anybody can do that. For example, they can choose in favor of a violent revolution, and work toward creating one.

    Or they can do terrible things trying to prevent one. Sometimes it’s obvious that it’s far more important to kill one important bad guy than to save a handful of others. And a whole lot of americans agree that it’s far better to torture somebody when there may be a ticking bomb. The possibility of a ticking bomb excuses a multitude of sins.

    Anyway, isn’t it kind of academic whether they’re malevolent or incompetent? The point is, we know they’re about to do something bad. So we have to stop them. We are competent to stop them, and anyway we know that what they’re about to do is so bad that it justifies extreme measures. We must do the best we can to stop them, because even if we fail it won’t be as bad as what they would do.

    So why do their intentions even matter? After they are dead the kibitzers can argue about why they were doing it.

  105. “So why do their intentions even matter? After they are dead the kibitzers can argue about why they were doing it.” Because Hanlon’s Razor and the definition of “malevolent” both get back to the intention of doing evil. But as I said, very few people who are intentionally doing evil, consider it to be evil. I agree that their intentions and incompetence are not important. The goal is to not allow evil actions.

  106. “I agree that their intentions and incompetence are not important. The goal is to not allow evil actions.”

    Yes! And because our hearts are pure and we are competent — we know the evil actions when we see them, and we know how to stop them — we cannot fail!

    History is on our side. Our results will inevitably be for the good.

    It doesn’t matter whether the bad guys feel the same way. Because we are right and they are wrong.

  107. “In order to find duplicity in the actions of the Bolsheviks, it is necessary to invent it. The thing that guided Lenin’s work at all times and under circumstances was: complete honesty to the working class, even if the truth was unpopular at a given moment.”

    Okay, how about Lenin’s famous letter to the Politburo of March 19, 1922, on using the famine as an opportunity to destroy the reactionary clergy and confiscate religious organizations’ valuables? It seems the truth–Lenin thought that the more reactionary clergy were shot the better, and Trotsky, a Jew, was heavily involved in the confiscation campaign–would have been very unpopular, and Lenin was quite explicit about keeping it secret. And imagine if he had revealed the truth that he said the wealth that could be confiscated was necessary for government work, particularly economic development, and for strengthening Russia’s position at the upcoming conference in Genoa, but he forgot to say that some of it could be used for famine relief!

    The Russian text of the letter is at https://ru.wikisource.org/wiki/%D0%9F%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%8C%D0%BC%D0%BE_%D1%87%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BC_%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B1%D1%8E%D1%80%D0%BE_%D0%BE%D1%82_19_%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0_1922_%28%D0%9B%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD%29

    http://bit.ly/1IPhWzY

    I’m going by secondary sources and Google Translate.

    Are you going to say the letter is forged?

    It would be interesting to know what Pravda and Izvestiia were saying about the confiscation campaign.

  108. > I think it’s really weird that you think someone who does so much work for so little reward–whether for and as part of a family unit, or as a paid domestic servants–is not part of the working class.

    This is weak. Peasants, slaves, shopkeepers and many CEOs also work hard. None of them do that work in return for a money wage that they need to buy essentials.

    You are really not going to understand much of class politics post-WWII if you don’t look at the actual classes in play. If you group things that should be split, and split things that should be grouped, you’ll probably end up dismissing the whole of feminism as some kind of identity politics…

  109. skzb

    I guess you can consider the economic position of the housewife in two ways: As part of a family unit, or as an individual. As an individual, she survives by performing certain tasks in exchange for being the necessities of life–and doing so from a drastically undercompensated position, and a position of double oppression. As a member of family, she is working class if the family unit is working class.

    If this is not a pointless nitpick, I don’t see the value of it.

    “If you group things that should be split, and split things that should be grouped, you’ll probably end up dismissing the whole of feminism as some kind of identity politics.”

    No, only from when it divided itself from the struggle of the working class and began following a petty bourgeois program. Say, the mid-60s.

  110. “If this is not a pointless nitpick, I don’t see the value of it.” I like that. My wife is good at pointless nitpicking, does that mean that what she says has value?

  111. “If you group things that should be split, and split things that should be grouped, you’ll probably end up dismissing the whole of feminism as some kind of identity politics…”

    Feminism is one of the things that should be split. Some of it is doing vital good work today, and other parts have turned into identity politics that are useless even to the perpetrators except as a source of identity. And there’s some in between.

    It isn’t all one thing, it’s a bunch of stuff mixed together.

    Of course some of the bad guys will try to keep you confused. “I am the very personification of Feminism. Unless you bow down and worship me, all women everywhere will hate you forever.” Nice work if you can get it.

    On the other hand, I am male and some people say that means I am unqualified to say anything about feminism. That nobody is qualified to talk about gender oppression except women who are feminists.

    Or rather, women who are feminists who agree with them. “Everybody I know who’s right always agrees with me.”

  112. skzb:

    ” ‘Their propaganda was as riddled with half-truths, misrepresentations and out and out lies . . . .’

    Such as?”

    You left out the bit “… as all propaganda tends to be”, which I felt was important to add.

    The nature of propaganda is to tell people what you want them to think, regardless of what you intend. For good specific examples, I would have to sort through the 19000+ files I saved while reading up on marxists, and most of those are currently sorted for values other than propaganda. However, as a brief example consider how the Bolsheviks presented themselves as the party of the working class without reservation. That is, they never said we only support people of background X or with quality Y, we support all workers. Compare that to this from one of Lenin’s letters to Molotov:

    “If we agree to a six months’ period [of probation on joining the Party] for workers, we must without fail, in order not to deceive ourselves and others, define the term ‘worker’ in such a way as to include only those who have acquired a proletarian mentality from their very conditions of life.” (marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/mar/24.htm)

    They’re already defining class membership as a matter ideology rather than material conditions, even though none of their circulars, posters or articles warn workers they’ll be rejected by the Party if they’re not workerish enough. I’m pretty sure you won’t find this sort of misrepresentation to be persuasive, but I hope you’ll grant that Lenin and the Bolsheviks weren’t totally open about their aims.

  113. skzb

    “You left out the bit “… as all propaganda tends to be”, which I felt was important to add.”

    Because it is incorrect. I’ll quote from this: http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/propaganda

    “The word propaganda is often used in a negative sense, especially for politicians who make false claims to get elected or spread rumors to get their way. In fact, any campaign that is used to persuade can be called propaganda.”

    In other words, your comment, to which I am responding, is propaganda. It is an attempt to convince. My reply, of course, is also propaganda. Other definitions further refine it as an attempt to convince “in service to a cause.” By that definition, your comment, and my reply, are *still* both propaganda—yours in service to the cause of slandering the Bolsheviks in order to justify capitalism; mine in the cause of the defense of Bolshevism in order to show a way out of capitalism.

    Of course, propaganda *can* be disingenuous. For example:

    ““If we agree to a six months’ period [of probation on joining the Party] for workers, we must without fail, in order not to deceive ourselves and others, define the term ‘worker’ in such a way as to include only those who have acquired a proletarian mentality from their very conditions of life.” They’re already defining class membership as a matter ideology rather than material conditions, even though none of their circulars, posters or articles warn workers they’ll be rejected by the Party if they’re not workerish enough.”

    We were speaking of the period between April (Lenin’s arrival) and October of 1917, and you claimed the Bolsheviks statements to the working class were filled with “half-truths, misrepresentations and out and out lies” and I challenged you for a single example, and you come up with something from 1922! I beg to submit this is not only unconvincing, but rather appears to be a tacit admission you couldn’t find any examples.

    Nevertheless, I’ll respond: This statement of yours ignores entirely the context—which is, that this was a period (we will be discussing this at great length in further chapters) where the party, now that the revolution and the Civil Wars were safely over—were being flooded by non-proletarian elements, hoping to skim the cream of a society unable to provide plenty for everyone. To bring it up without that understanding is misleading. Why? Because there was no need to tell the proletarians that, because so long as Lenin had any say in the matter, NOT ONE PROLETARIAN WAS OR WOULD EVER HAVE BEEN REFUSED MEMBERSHIP ON THAT GROUND. It was not “hidden” from the working class–it was told to them by every effort of the Lenninists to *recruit* them! The entire point was to fill the party with genuine workers, and not with middle class apparatchiks. Indeed, this note was part of the beginning of Lenin’s fight against Stalinism. Whether you knew that and chose to distort the truth—which I don’t think is the case—or whether, as I suspect, you were speaking out of ignorance, it is exactly that sort of thing that gives propaganda a bad name.

  114. Really? A dictionary rebuttal? I disagree a dictionary is at all an acceptable retort, but I’ll help out by pointing out that you can check Webster if you need another source for that (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/propaganda).

    “2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
    3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect”

    “In other words, your comment, to which I am responding, is propaganda. It is an attempt to convince. My reply, of course, is also propaganda.”

    No, you are misusing the word “propaganda”. You know best if you’re propagandizing with each post on Trotsky as you say, but when you engage in an exchange with others, it’s an argument when you’re trying to make a point, or a conversation if you’re just discussing something. We’re arguing.

    “By that definition, your comment, and my reply, are *still* both propaganda—yours in service to the cause of slandering the Bolsheviks in order to justify capitalism; mine in the cause of the defense of Bolshevism in order to show a way out of capitalism.”

    I’ve not tried to justify anything. I’ve not used the word “capital” in any form in this exchange, nor have I libeled anyone. I’ve been very careful to point out the Bolsheviks have only done what plenty of other political parties have done in attempting to manipulate people. I’ve even left it open that they may not have been acting of bad intent. And here you are, conflating “argument” with “propaganda” in order to paint my response as unworthy of attention.

    I don’t need to libel Bolsheviks, because libel requires using lies to harm a reputation, and I wouldn’t have to resort to falsehoods. For the past several years I’ve been reading up on their history and on Marxists in general in order to answer just one question, whether or not Stalin was inevitable. Not Josef Stalin the individual per se, but rather a strongman like him, coming in behind the ideologues of the Bolshevik party. The bits pertaining to propaganda were just a sideshow, things I came across while working on the more interesting question, hence my not having them immediately to hand.

    But since you ask, or even though you did not ask, I find Marxism to be dehumanizing and anti-intellectual, just as I find Objectivism to be dehumanizing and anti-intellectual. I’ll take the word of economists that Marx had something useful to say about labor and value but then, it’s the social application of it with which I find fault. But fortunately just as Objectivism isn’t the only form of capitalism, Marxism isn’t the only form of socialism.

    “Whether you knew that and chose to distort the truth—which I don’t think is the case—or whether, as I suspect, you were speaking out of ignorance, it is exactly that sort of thing that gives propaganda a bad name.”

    So here I’m not distorting the truth, but above I’m libeling the Party? In any case, the main significance to me of the letter I quoted is the shift in the definition of “working class” from material conditions towards requiring the proper ideology. Your interpretation, that some millions of workers knew they’d have to display ideological purity before being permitted to join the Bolsheviks or to avoid being purged, is perhaps valid. I do know the Kronstadt soviet never knew they’d be forced on pain of purging to toe the line, but maybe they missed that notice.

    (This is serendipitous. I wanted to remind myself of the exact dates of the Kronstadt uprising and found a report I hadn’t read yet, “Kronstadt 1921: An Analysis of Bolshevik Propaganda”. I’ve added it to my local library; you may find it an interesting read, too.
    https://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/events/kronstadt/analysis.htm)

    I want to point out that your personal remark is out of line. You are welcome to assume we’re speaking at cross-purposes or maybe that I’ve left out a step or two in my progression from A to Z while typing out my ideas or even that perhaps you don’t understand something, but to say the only options are that I’m lying or ignorant is uncalled for.

  115. “… we must without fail, …, define the term ‘worker’ in such a way as to include only those who have acquired a proletarian mentality from their very conditions of life.”

    Giving this a sympathetic reading, it makes sense to me that they would want Party members who agreed with them, and not members who disagreed. And choosing people whose *background* would encourage them to agree would surely make sense. The party had been having lots of problems with factions, and people getting into positions of responsibility by giving false impressions of their sympathies. Lenin himself had done that. And Lenin had never been a prole, he was born to a minor aristocratic family and was a professional lawyer. By his rules he perhaps should not have been allowed to join the Party if he was not already a member, but he had proven himself by repeated arrest and exile etc.

    “… the party, now that the revolution and the Civil Wars were safely over—were being flooded by non-proletarian elements, hoping to skim the cream of a society unable to provide plenty for everyone.”

    I’m not sure what to say. Of course people would see Party membership as the road to riches, so of course it was necessary to try to select only those who truly believed and deny the riches to opportunists. When there was not enough to go around, somebody had to starve and others to be malnourished and of course it made sense to select people who were already class enemies for those roles. And yet it set a terrible precedent. Important people who could destroy your future unless you did whatever it took to ingratiate yourself with them…. Very hard to approach a classless society starting from those roots! It’s only natural that within a generation there were people claiming the best of everything because their *parents* were proletarian.

    It’s a dilemma. Given the circumstances I don’t see how they could have done different. But that made it almost impossible to approach their goals.

    Perhaps if Party membership did not result in riches, people would only join because they believed in it? But no, anybody who gets to make important decisions can get inconspicuous wealth by taking bribes.

    I don’t see how to do it.

  116. skzb

    L. Raymond: The enormities here simply increase. To begin: I don’t see where your definitions conflict with mine–even though they come from Webster’s, the least reliable source in the dictionary world.

    To say, “, but when you engage in an exchange with others, it’s an argument when you’re trying to make a point, or a conversation if you’re just discussing something. We’re arguing.” Oh, if it’s an argument, it isn’t propaganda? That’s like saying, “If it’s liquid, it isn’t water.” Of course it’s an argument; and simultaneously propaganda: the effort to convince, particularly in service to a cause.

    ” And here you are, conflating “argument” with “propaganda” in order to paint my response as unworthy of attention.”

    Goodness me. I hardly know where to begin. So, if ‘propaganda’ means it is unworthy of attention, does that mean I am saying my own posts, which I’ve identified as propaganda, are unworthy of attention? And I certainly gave your argument a great deal of attention for someone supposedly claiming it was unworthy of attention!

    “I’ve not tried to justify anything. I’ve not used the word “capital” in any form in this exchange, nor have I libeled anyone.”

    I will accept that you may believe the first sentence. To claim the second sentence is a sequitur rather astonishes me. In order to justify capital you must use the word? So, then, when I say, “organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits” I am not defending evolution, because I have not used the word? Every comment you make is an attack on any organized resistance to capitalism; but somehow this does not mean you’re arguing in the service of capitalism? This is simply astonishing.

    I did not say libel; I said slander, but in context that is only a nitpick that I include for the sake of completion.

    Yes, Kronstadt is an interesting case, and may well be worth a post sometime as an example of the failure of formal logic–most of the attacks on it are saying, in essence, Kronstadt is Krondtadt–in other words, Kronsdat in 1917, when it was the most revolutionary, active, self-disciplined, and determined force in Petrograd, is the equivelent of Kronstadt in 1921, when all the bravest and most self-sacrificing sailors had died in the Civil War, and when it was dominated by Social Revolutionaries–the party of Kerensky, and the group that had attempted to assassinate Lenin. However, I’ve argued about Kronstadt before; a very complex, tragic, difficult subject, not to be lightly thrown about to score points. These days, Kronstadt only comes up in the context of those trying to point fingers and say, “Bolsheviks = bad!” with exactly zero effort to understand what happened.

    Sorry about the personal remark: I was trying to come up with find some way in which you could say what you’ve been saying without being deliberately dishonest. So, instead, I’ll come back to this: What set this off is your comment that, between Lenin’s arrival in April of 1917 and the October revolution, the Bolshevik propaganda was ” as riddled with half-truths, misrepresentations and out and out lies as all propaganda tends to be.”

    I am STILL waiting for an example of a half-truth, a misrepresentation, a lie, or even an exaggeration. I claim your remark slanders the Bolshevik party because there is no such example. Prove me wrong.

  117. > …Webster’s, the least reliable source in the dictionary world…

    I must take issue. Webster’s 1913 edition is one of the best dictionaries in the world. For words that existed in 1913 and haven’t changed all that much since then, anyway. I think it’s better than the OED for usage that’s not specific to Britain, though the OED does give some nice original-use citations.

    Now Merriam-Webster’s… well, yeah, that’s utter crap. As skzb says, utterly unreliable, poorly edited, a POS foisted on students by parents and teachers who don’t know any better.

    Anyway, the W1913 definition is interesting because it not only confirms skzb’s opinion but also gives the interesting origin of the word, which otherwise is Latin for “propagation”.


    Prop`a*gan”da (?), n. [Abbrev. fr. L. de propaganda fide: cf. F. propagande. See Propagate.]

    1. (R. C. Ch.) (a) A congregation of cardinals, established in 1622, charged with the management of missions. (b) The college of the Propaganda, instituted by Urban VIII. (1623-1644) to educate priests for missions in all parts of the world.

    2. Hence, any organization or plan for spreading a particular doctrine or a system of principles.

  118. skzb

    Miramon: Okay, valid point. Early Websters were quite good.

  119. “Of course it’s an argument; and simultaneously propaganda: the effort to convince, particularly in service to a cause.”

    I just want to point out that mostly I am not arguing or propagandizing, but exploring. While there are some ideas I’m pretty sure are true that I want people to believe, they don’t particularly lead in interesting directions. I don’t know what to do. I like the idea of a society where everybody gets what they need, and there is some good way to choose among giving people what they want versus creating the power to create more, rebuild the environment, etc. I don’t at all know how to achieve that, or even how to measure how well it’s being done.

    I tend to distrust people who are sure they have the answers. They might lie, or lie to themselves to gloss over the parts they don’t in fact understand, etc. But it’s worth exploring what they say. After all, if we restrict our sharing to those who know they don’t have the answers, who knows what we’ll miss?

    “These days, Kronstadt only comes up in the context of those trying to point fingers and say, “Bolsheviks = bad!” with exactly zero effort to understand what happened.”

    L. Raymond may well be wrong, but this is not an argument. Of *course* it only comes up when people argue agaist Bolsheviks. Why else would it come up? Bolsheviks won’t bring it up, and why would anyone else?

    It’s like, in 1979 an armed group took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. They wanted to overthrow the Saudis. Apparently they were mostly theology students. It took awhile for the Saudis to arrange a force to exterminate them in the mosque and the extensive tunnels under the mosque, using gas and bullets but no artillery or flamethrowers. What did it all mean? Mostly it gets discussed by people who support or oppose the monarchy, and people who support or oppose fundamentalist muslim religion. Nobody else is that interested in the details.

    When you argue that L. Raymond wouldn’t bring it up unless he was trying to discredit the Bolsheviks, well, of course! You challenged him to do that. It isn’t fair to dismiss his evidence on the grounds that he’s trying to use it to do that.

    As to the merits of it, I haven’t gotten past the he-said/he-said, but it seems to me that people usually tell lies about people the’re in a shooting war against, and expecting them not to in this case is setting an unusually high standard.

    “However, I’ve argued about Kronstadt before; I very complex, tragic, difficult subject, not to be lightly thrown about to score points.”

    This sounds like what people say when they can’t really defend their side.

    “in other words, Kronsdat in 1917, when it was the most revolutionary, active, self-disciplined, and determined force in Petrograd, is the equivelent of Kronstadt in 1921, when all the bravest and most self-sacrificing sailors had died in the Civil War”

    This sort of argument is eerily familiar. “John Kerry was no war hero. His purple hearts were for wounds that did not leave him disabled. He only served one term in combat. He came back and protested the war. If he had been a hero he would have died in Vietnam, and he is a disgrace to the soldiers who did die. His military credentials are totally worthless and bogus.” I guess maybe it’s true that the sailors who survived proved they were worthless by surviving, but I’d feel slimy if I was the one saying so.

    To me, the bigger problem is that they all had gotten sucked into the logic of war. They had to beat the enemy who was trying to kill them. And then they were stuck trying to kill each other when they disagreed about some of the details. Good competent people died fighting other good competent people, and it was Stalin who picked up the pieces afterward.

    There should have been a better way. But it would have taken something special.

    “When the tool you’re most used to using is a hammer….”

  120. “To begin: I don’t see where your definitions conflict with mine–even though they come from Webster’s, the least reliable source in the dictionary world.”

    I thought it was obvious I found your use of a dictionary as an authority to be ridiculous and wasn’t seriously suggesting Websters as an alternative, rather as a way to make that point.

    I admit I didn’t read past this point because honestly, we are coming at this from different directions, and have such different standards of evidence and different interest in studying the era that it’s pointless. There is a reason students of history don’t try to argue with ideologues – you guys cannot enter into a discussion about an event without seeing it as us v. them, like someone who cannot hear a person praise the generalship of Stonewall Jackson without assuming the praiser supported the CSA. The Bolsheviks, in terms of competence, skill, ability etc., were no different from any other political party. I figured that statement would cause a problem, but I sorely misgauged how great that problem would be.

    So until this book review is over, I’ll just say I’m glad little Bucky is good. The kitten I mentioned this past spring died the day he turned one month old. He wouldn’t eat, but that turned out to be the least of his problems. I’m genuinely pleased your guy had a happy ending.

  121. “There is a reason students of history don’t try to argue with ideologues – you guys cannot enter into a discussion about an event without seeing it as us v. them, like someone who cannot hear a person praise the generalship of Stonewall Jackson without assuming the praiser supported the CSA.”

    Isn’t it more the other way round? If you praise Sherman, neoconfederates will accuse you of being a doctrinaire yankee. But actual yankees tend not to feel so strongly about it because they won.

    This is a problem for me. I like to explore the various ideas and see where they’ll take me. Like science fiction worlds except it’s more real. But that’s likely to grate on people that it *is* real for.

    You say “ideologue” kind of like it’s a term of opprobrium. But it’s people who know who they are, who have taken sides and joined a tribe. People who have not taken sides are not necessarily better. Maybe not morally or ethically better. Maybe not even closer to the truth. It depends.

    When I think about it, it seems like SKZB is sharing his faith (that’s not the right word, it sounds like religious faith that people believe without evidence, maybe “his truth” would be better?) with people who might be inclined to accept it. He’s proselytizing. When I come in and treat it as interesting ideas to play with, that’s likely to — grate.

    And yet that’s what I want to do. Steve, I want to ask your indulgence about this. But if I get too much in your way, let me know and I’ll back off — either temporarily or completely. Email me if you don’t want it public. I find the material fascinating, but I’ll consider my goals on your blog to be secondary to your goals on your blog.

  122. skzb

    J. Thomas: I have not found you to be “too much in the way” so far..

  123. Thank you, Steve.

    I think we agree about the important goal — long-run benefit for all of humanity, including humans who occasionally misbehave. We might not completely agree about methods to further that.

    Sometimes when I get impassioned about ideas, I forget that it can be ideas that other people hold sacred. And sometimes I feel superior to “ideologues” or whoever, and feel like their beliefs don’t matter, even though at any time I might see that they’re right and join them. I’m committed to getting past that, but sometimes I forget and need a reminder.

  124. J Thomas, I have no idea what you are apologizing for. We are all adults and big people here. Steven doesn’t seem as sensitive as you seem to think he is. It’s not like he can have you shot – yet. ;>)

  125. David, of course Steve can take care of himself. I want to remember to be more sensitive, and sometimes I get excited about ideas and I forget. Also sometimes I deride other people’s cherished beliefs when in my opinion they don’t have enough evidence for them. It’s a couple of moral failures on my part.

  126. I didn’t think you were being at all insensitive.

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