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Nederlog

September 21, 2015
Crisis: On Socialism

 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

0. Socialism as defined in Edwards' Enc. of Philosophy
1.
What It Means to Be a Socialist
2. Orwell on socialism - 2



This is a Nederlog of Monday, September 21, 2015.

This is a crisis blog, but it is not a normal one, for I am discussing socialism in four forms: (i) as defined in Paul Edward's Ed. "Encyclopedia of Philosophy"; (ii) as defined by Chris Hedges; (iii) as defined by George Orwell; and (iv) as defined by me.

Originally, I had more sections planned, with the latest on the crisis, but I do not have enough time available to properly finish these, so I removed them.

Therefore, the present Nederlog is only about socialism: Item 0 is about a definition of "socialism" in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ed. P. Edwards; item 1 is a definition or characterization of socialism by Chris Hedges; and item 2 contains both Orwell's definition of socialism, my definition of socialism; and seven remarks on both.

0.
Socialism as defined in Edwards' Enc. of Philosophy

I bought Paul Edwards' (Ed.) "Encyclopedia of Philosophy" in 1978, 11 years after its initial publication. According to me - and I have read plenty of the more recent "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy" - it still is the best encyclopedia of philosophy (except perhaps if you are a student of one of the many academic philosophers who wrote the latter), for it is both better written and better edited than the Stanford Encyclopedia, which exists 20 years now, and still has no lemma "Socialism". [1]

Anyway... here is socialism as defined circa 1967:

From the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ed. P. Edwards, lemma Socialism:
1. The first of the fundamental beliefs of socialists is that the
    existing system of
society and its institutions should be  
    condemned as unjust, as morally unsound.

2. The second fundamental of socialism is the belief that there can
    be created a
different form of society with different  
    institutions, based on moral values,
which will tend to improve
    mankind instead of, as now, to corrupt it.

3. Whatever form of institution the several schools of socialism
    envisaged for the
future, all agreed that what was required was
    a fundamental transformation of
society amounting to a
    revolution, a program of action to effect such a tran
sformation,
    and a revolutionary will so to transform it existing in the
    members
of present-day society.
(All quoted, except for the numbers.) I think this is minimalistic but adequate:

Socialists reject the existing capitalist society on moral grounds; they hold there is a better socialist society possible, which will be better for most of mankind; and they believe the transformation of capitalism requires a revolution (in some sense) and a revolutionary will.

Note this really is minimalistic: The reasons for rejecting capitalism may take many forms; the outlines of socialism may take many forms; and the revolution also may take many forms, and one important distinction is whether it needs to be violent or is possible by mostly peaceful means.

Having seen Margaret Cole's (<- Wikipedia) definition of socialism, let's now turn to Chris Hedges' recent attempt at defining or circumscribing it:

1. What It Means to Be a Socialist

The first article today is by Chris Hedges (<- Wikipedia) on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

We live in a revolutionary moment. The disastrous economic and political experiment that attempted to organize human behavior around the dictates of the global marketplace has failed. The promised prosperity that was to have raised the living standards of workers through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie. A tiny global oligarchy has amassed obscene wealth, while the engine of unfettered corporate capitalism plunders resources, exploits cheap, unorganized labor and creates pliable, corrupt governments that abandon the common good to serve corporate profit. The relentless drive by the fossil fuel industry for profits is destroying the ecosystem, threatening the viability of the human species. And no mechanisms to institute genuine reform or halt the corporate assault are left within the structures of power, which have surrendered to corporate control. The citizen has become irrelevant. He or she can participate in heavily choreographed elections, but the demands of corporations and banks are paramount.
I agree with most of that, though not with the thesis that we are living "in a revolutionary moment": That seems to me mostly given by wishful thinking.
There can be no accommodation with global capitalism. We will overthrow this system or be crushed by it. And at this moment of crisis we need to remind ourselves what being a socialist means and what it does not mean.
That is a good idea, but since Chris Hedges takes 5 pages, I have to select my quotations. First, there is this:
First and foremost, all socialists are unequivocal anti-militarists and anti-imperialists.
I like anti-militarism and anti-imperialism (I think, though I am not sure whether Hedges and I agree on the meaning of "imperialism"), but it seems not necessary to socialism as it existed in the 20th century, when there was the Soviet Union, that claimed to be socialistic, and was heavily militarized and had imperialistic - I'd say - designs.

It also happens to be the case that I never agreed (from age 14 onwards) that the Soviet Union is socialist but then quite a few communists (of which there were many more in the 20th century than today) insisted it was socialistic, though not ideally so. (My communist parents thought so, for example.)

Next, there is this, which does clarify things somewhat (and see Sep 14, 2015):
You cannot be a socialist and an imperialist. You cannot, as Bernie Sanders has done, support the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and be a socialist. You cannot, as Sanders has done, vote for every military appropriations bill, including every bill and resolution that empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people, and be a socialist.
This is considerably clearer than Chris Hedges' article last week. Indeed, last week my argument was that (i) Bernie Sanders is "a real leftist", as is Jeremy Corbyn, which I think is quite refreshing, but (ii) I also said I disagree on some points with both of them.

Here Hedges' denies that Sanders is a socialist, though Sanders (and quite a lot of his admirers) say he is.

There is a reason no establishment politician, including Sanders, dares say a word against the war industry. If you do, you end up like Ralph Nader, tossed into the political wilderness. Nader was not afraid to speak this truth. And it is in the wilderness, I am afraid, that real socialists must for the moment reside.
I think this is a little exaggerated, but this does mark a difference, though it may not be the difference Chris Hedges sees: If you are considerably more radical than Bernie Sanders, you are "tossed into the political wilderness", at least in the USA. I agree that is a pity and I like Nader, but that seems to be a fact.

The following point is important and true (in my eyes):
The capitalist class and its doppelgängers in the military establishment have carried out what John Ralston Saul calls a coup d’état in slow motion.
Yes - for one of the things I did learn in the 7 years I am writing on the crisis series is that there has been a neoconservative takeover that has been going on since the late seventies, and that has mostly succeeded.

Then there is this:

Surplus labor, desperate for work and unwilling to challenge the bosses to retain a job, is the bulwark of capitalism.
I doubt this, simply because the position of the workers is - as yet - not by far as bad as it was in the 19th century, and even then there were workers who were socialists, revolutionaries etc.

Then there is this, which I agree more with than not:

We will regain this militancy, this uncompromising commitment to socialism, or the system the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism” will establish the most efficient security and surveillance state in human history and a species of neofeudalism.
The part I agree with is the second part:

I think the US and England and Europe are very seriously threatened by their governments' secret services, who try to get everything on anyone, which they claim to do "to prevent terrorism", but which in fact will give them all the powers to terrorize ("control") anybody with deviant ideas or values.

But I think not merely socialists (however defined) should oppose this, but also all liberals and most real conservatives: it is anti-socialist, anti-liberal, anti- democratic extreme authoritarianism that is implemented by professional military types in the deepest secrecy, that also is continuously maintained by their governments.

Then there is this:
As a socialist I am not concerned with what is expedient or what is popular. I am concerned with what is right.
No, not really, and not because I might not, on some interpretations, agree with this, but because the meanings of "expedient" and "right", at least, are up for grabs, and different kinds of socialists think quite differently about them.

Another reason why I disagree is that I have seen far too much infighting between nominal Marxist, or between nominal socialist groups, nearly always on minor points of doctrine. For me, this is strong support for the notion that many Marxists and many socialists are less driven by doctrines than they are driven by totalitarianism, which insists no one is right except themselves.

Here is another exaggeration:
Socialists understand that you stand with all the oppressed or none of the oppressed, that this is a global fight for life against global corporate tyranny.
It is not a choice of standing with "all the oppressed or none" - and I doubt anyone can stand for "all the oppressed" (and even if they do, there will be many different priorities).

Besides, it seems to me Chris Hedges has not yet defined a socialism that accords with my intuitions or with Orwell's intuitions: In fact he has merely affirmed that he is anti-militarist, anti-imperialist, and would like to see a revolution.

But there is on page 5 of the article a long list of at least 20 characterizations that, according to Chris Hedges, say what it means not to be a socialist. Since he formulates it mostly in the form of if-then statements, one can transform these logically to what Chris Hedges would say his kind of socialism implies, and this covers statements like this, which (when contra-posited) do remind me of Orwell:
If you will not nationalize public utilities, including the railroads, energy companies and banks, you are not a socialist.
Unfortunately, while I agree with many of the ifs, I doubt being a socialist implies them, and I also think that it makes more sense to try to be neither a puritan nor a totalitarian, and to welcome many as leftists simply because they agree with some of the ifs, and not to insist too much on the letter of doctrine.

Here is part of Chris Hedges' motivation:
I cannot promise you we will win. I cannot promise you we will even survive as a species. But I can promise you that an open and sustained defiance of global capitalism and the merchants of death, along with the building of a socialist movement, is our only hope. I am a parent, as are many of you. We have betrayed our children. We have squandered their future.
No, not quite. I don't think that "the building of a socialist movement" is our only hope, and also I don't see what Chris Hedges or my (communist and socialist) parents did to accuse them of "betraying" their children or squandering "their future".

But in the end this was a good article, except that it sounded to me considerably too doctrinary.

2. Orwell on socialism - 2

The final article today is by myself and from September 10, last:

If you did not read this yet, it is well to do it now, for I will not repeat much of it but will presuppose most of it.

Also, I start with noting that there are in the present Nederlog no less than four definitions or characterizations of socialism: Margaret Cole's, Chris Hedges', and now George Orwell's, which was as follows (in 1941):

  1. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
  2. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.
  3. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.
And here is my own, in answer to Orwell's:
Repropriation: [2] All mines, railways, banks and industries are the property of those who work in them; all land up to a maximum is the property of whoever farms it, if it is farmland; all of the rest of nature is the property of everyone under the responsibility of a parliament, that is the highest power in the country.

Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than twenty to one.

Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

Public law: The laws are retained, apart from the necessary changes that follow from the three previous measures, and remain public and applicable to every citizen in the same way.

Parliamentary supremacy: The laws are maintained by parliament, and are changed by ordinary majorities. Every adult has a right to vote for parliament, and everyone's vote counts as one. The parliament is the supreme power in the state, and should work to maintain a socialist constitution.
I have the following remarks on these definitions or characterizations.

First, none of the definitions (or characterizations) is provably correct or incorrect, at least for those (that include myself) who insist that there are no (genuine) socialist states, and there have not been ones either, for a very long time (and disregarding a few small experiments).

If one does disagree - one might instantiate Cuba or North Korea as "socialist states", for example, or indeed Stalin's Soviet Union or the present-day China - I think your standards are too low or simply mistaken, but that is all I say on this (fairly remote) possibility now.

Second, I think the first definition of socialism (by Margaret Cole), while being correct in principle, is too broad and too vague, whlle the second definition of socialism (by Chris Hedges) is in part too vague and in part too specific.

In either case, I want a sufficiently general definition to identify what socialism is or might be, but without making it necessary to agree on twenty or more things that are necessary to be a socialist.

Third, Orwell's definition of socialism seems more correct (and note that his insistence on the limitation of all incomes and the importance of education seem to have been missed by Cole, and in part by Hedges), though it is also vague.

Fourth, Orwell's definition seems to me to be mistaken, and principially so: A real socialist revolution - it seems - involves expropriating the few who own most, but not by making the few who lead the state command everything, and effectively, through having the power, make even fewer than before own everything.

This is where my repropriation [2] enters: I do not want the state (or the party) to control, own or command everything, I merely want the few rich to stop owing the corporations and the land, and to hand the ownership of them to the people working in them, who also are not allowed to earn more than twenty times of what the least able earn.

In fact, I do not know how socialistic that is. I suppose it is socialism according to some, and not according to others.

Fifth, I do not care either for - having seen how Soviet "socialism" worked in practice - Soviet style "socialism", for I know I am a strong opponent of state socialism, in which the very few who command the state, thereby command and - effectively, if perhaps not quite legally - own everything.

Sixth, I want to insist that all of this is speculative, fantastical, and has not been practised apart from small experiments and state socialism (that failed within 72 years).

Then again, at least as far as my definition is concerned, I'd say that there is a simple majority in Western societies for the last three points; and that limitation of incomes to within 20 times as much as the least able receive (which must be more than enough to have a decent life) would not loose 97% of the current population anything.

In fact, I'd be willing to try just that: A system like the present one, but one which is considerably more fair, and where all incomes (and all ownership of things) are limited to be within (in Euro's) between 15,000 and 300,000 (within 1 to 20 times as much).

Is that socialism? Probably not, for socialism seems to involve considerable expropriation of the rich, on Orwell's line or my repropriation-lines. Then again, the proposed system amounts to little more than fixing the maximum amount that anyone can own or earn at 20 times of what the poorest can own or earn, which means that 99% of the people will not loose a cent (and may gain considerably).

Finally, will this system be adopted? Not as long as the media are in the hands of the few who get a lot more than 300,000 euros or dollars a year. But at any rate it is a system were only the very rich loose money; everyone else retains what he or she had or receives more; where things can be arranged much more fairly; and that differs little from the existing system, except that there is a cap on incomes and on ownership.

--------------------------------------
P.S. 24 oct 2015: Replaced "owe" by "own": I must have been quite tired.
Notes
[1] It really doesn't - and it really does exist since 1995. Why there is - in all these 20 years - no article about socialism is a riddle to me, but it may have to do with the fact that most contributors are American academic philosophers, who may be afraid to use a satanic term like "socialism".

Similarly, there is no item "communism", and no item "Marxisn" (though a brief lemma on "Karl Marx"). There also is no item "fascism", nor "nazism", which means that none of the philosophies of the major social systems that comprised more than 2 billion people in the 20th Century has any lemma. "Capitalism" also does not exist in the Stanford Encyclopedia, while there are currently a mere 37 items on various aspects of "feminism"....

Sorry, but for an Encyclopedia of Philosophy that seems very strange.

[2] By "repropriation" (it seems the word is new) I mean "changing of owners": From the few rich to the many poor, specifically (in part on the ground that the few rich have made a major mess of society and of nature).

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