Updates: Currently slacking off

Friday, 27 May 2016

WTF is Socialism. (a ramble)

That most controversial of subjects.... in the US.
Outside of the US and ex-Soviet nations (which at least is understandable) socialism is perfectly ordinary.
People still disagree, criticise and object. Some of it is ignorant, some of it is sensible, but at the VERY least there is not the knee jerk response of suggesting socialism is an extremist position.
It saddens me that a nation that calls itself the land of the free has essentially attempted an embargo on ideas for nearly 5 decades. A suppression of a valid political philosophy that has resulted in an alternative reliance on identity politics and the dominance of regressive, hypocritical and often nonsensical positions by "progressives"
I for one believe in political pluralism. All ideas MUST be represented, MUST be heard. Any other option is intellectually dishonest.
This means hearing from nationalists, isolationists, abolitionists, republicans, conservatives, libertarians. And yes, it also means hearing from liberals and socialists and even, shock horror, communists.
Only by shining a light on ideas can we demonstrate which are good and which are bad. Which work, and which are reliant on a monopoly to function.

But with all this said, what is socialism?
The answer is both very simple and ridiculously complicated.

Socialism arose with the Industrial Revolution.
As agrarian lifestyles were uprooted by modernisation and workers moved into cities to find work, employers were able to leverage a captive workforce. This is the irrefutable nature of capitalism and I do not know how modern conservatives cant admit as much as they desperately try to unshackle business and openly praise this market force.
Workers were mistreated, underpaid, overworked and yes even oppressed. They were paid precisely what the market allowed for, which was a wage depressed by desperation, population and lack of (but growing) demand.
And so socialists objected. They saw this degradation and could not justify it morally.
Many early socialists were committed Christians and driven by their faith, by the sure belief in the nobility of man, especially the working man.

People must always bear in mind historical context.
These socialists were not protesting against modern capitalism with its convenience, its service industry, its worker compensation.
They lived in a world without these things.
A world without an upper limit on work hours (Sunday was reserved for church, but otherwise work days were long with no holidays, even unpaid) the wages were low, subsistence. Some would even pay in vouchers only redeemable from the company store.
There was no welfare, no pension (or retirement), hazardous child labour, no health and safety. Unions were unheard of and collective bargaining ruthlessly suppressed.
The population also could not vote, in many nations men were subject to conscription and there was little legal protection for the general public.
It was a time before telecommunications (of any kind), no commercial cars, no aeroplanes. Even electrical lighting was a fanciful new invention and didn't see widespread use until the late 1800s.
Can you imagine this world?
If you cant, why are you judging the writing of men from this time by contemporary standards.
If you can the same question applies...

So, socialism was a response to that world. A world that no longer exists.
If we focus on Marx (the most famous socialist thinker) we see that he certainly acknowledged and admired the transformative potential of capitalism.
He was not, unfortunately, clairvoyant.
His conclusions were faulty, and some of his suggestions. His criticisms though remain valid to this day.
He however could not envision that those in power would ever compromise with those they govern. It was unimaginable from his perspective. History could suggest no alternative. Those in power would attempt to hold it, wield it and eventually be overthrown. A pattern repeating through time immemorial.
He could not have foreseen the success of socialism in moderating the emerging liberal elite, nor could he envision a state of universal suffrage.
And so, he assumed the only end to capitalist excess would be revolution.
If we have seen anything from the attempts at socialist revolution it is that they are disastrous.
Populists seize power, suppress "the proletariat" they claim to champion and become the humans they deposed (to allude to Orwell's Animal Farm)

The socialist response to this?
The democratic socialism we see today.
Tame and shackle the beast of capitalism to limit its power to exploit and damage the public, but allow it to serve the functions it serves so efficiently. A compromise that has seen success time and again when either extreme (state capitalism or deregulated capitalism) leads only to disaster.
But how can socialists justify abandoning their proposed solution?
Because the core tenet of socialism does not refer to ownership, does not allude to state authority.
It is limited to one principle, a core tenet that serves as the root of the movement.
The workers that produce the value should have a share in the fruit of their labour.
Hardly a dystopian concept, and one that really does have absolutely nothing to do with capitalism, despite protestations. It's not that it has no place in capitalism. The whole point, and this comes from the economists that BUILT the capitalism model, is that morality and direction needs to be asserted from OUTSIDE of the capitalist system. Morality isn't a market force. Capitalism is exclusively about ownership and wealth, not about work.
Anything which rewards a worker equitably for their efforts is conducive with socialism. Anything that exploits workers or suppresses their freedom is not. No matter what justification is used.
If you own and operate a small business, working hard and employ others in your community that you reward according to their contribution? You're practising socialism. The word doesn't matter, and it is not exclusive to socialism, but a rose by any other name is still as sweet.

Many have trouble with this because of widespread socialist opposition to "private property"
The problem being that definitions have become jargon and people talk past each other.
To a socialist, the acquisition of property without expending effort is just... bad. You didn't work for it, didn't build it and don't maintain it. You just own it. When this results in obscene wealth, it is a problem. This is what socialists are criticising. The proposal to end private property is a solution, but it's not universally shared.
The criticism of such hoarding of wealth is not unique to socialism either. Notable economists, liberals and capitalists recognised the flaw too. Smith talked of government being required to preserve property (to my great amusement, considering the amount of "hate the state" libertarians) and also of Christian values being needed to limit the influence of the profit motive over business. Locke considered the waste of resources to be deeply immoral, mostly in explaining the superiority of capitalist systems to reduce such waste through trade and currency, but he acknowledged the growth of wealth as a potential concern.

But with wealth distribution a factor in all sensible economic thinking I must admit, I have always been rather enamoured with a Marx quote many find very scary.
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"
Many see this as taking from the rich and giving to the lazy.
An intolerably uncharitable interpretation, devoid of context or understanding.
The proposal in this quote is that we will reach a point when resources are abundant and competition becomes counter productive (in many areas, this is already true, with competition manufactured through false scarcity)
At such a time (and even on principle at all times) people should be afforded the opportunity to contribute to the best of their abilities.
This is not a demand nor oppressive.
It is an ideal. People do not generally like feeling useless and with perfect freedom most enjoy finding ways to contribute.
In order to contribute their best, people must receive what they need. Needs are individual and vary based on circumstance but also on activity.
It is not against this quote to suggest that those contributing the most require more in return. To motivate them, to reward them or even just to ensure they remain capable.
It is a thing called pragmatism and many could do with adopting and assuming in rational thinkers.

Perhaps my interpretation is generous, but it is what I believe the intent to be.
Remember the core tenet.
A worker should be entitled to an equitable share of the value they produce.
That is not referring to the welfare recipient that requires help. It refers to those that contribute.
I find it ironic that those constantly talking about hard work defend so fiercely a form of modern aristocracy enabled by inheritance.
If the state provides in a time of need, you are an evil parasite and should work, because work is moral.
If your only virtue and the only work you have accomplished is being propelled out of the correct vagina, you are an upstanding citizen that EARNED that money with the sweat of your daddy's nutsack. Your "work" is managing your capital!
Hypocrisy. (hypocrisy which I don't share, as I don't oppose inheritance, only practices that preserve obscene wealth at the expense of workers)

But onwards my thoughts flee, until we rest on a common concern I have today.
We have arrived at a situation where the right wing will dismiss the existence of the moderate socialists of Europe. The socialists that have compromised on policy for generations, attempting but sometimes failing to stay true to the core tenets of their ideology.
They dismiss this sensible, popular political philosophy in order to render the conversation into rhetorical sparring. A dogmatic clusterfuck of half truths, obfuscation and outright lie.

Socialism (and the broader left wing, including liberalism to many) is lumped in with Stalin, Mao and even Hitler. The right suggests that the exclusive and only accurate definition for socialism is a game of Chinese whispers played over the course of more than 100 years. From Marx theories and conclusions, to Lenin's adaptation of Marxism, to Stalin's adaptation of Lenin. From his works describing social and economic class, to modern applications of his theories to areas increasingly insane and inappropriate.
None of the plurality of socialism reached through hundreds of years of argument, debate and compromise. The only socialism that exists is from failed states that demonstrably refused to apply socialist philosophy. Regimes that justified the actions as the means to an end that never arrived, as many in power justify their abuses with a convenient ideology.

Marx is held accountable for the actions and beliefs of men that came to power decades after his death, in the irony of ironies from a political dogma that accuses others of collectivist guilt by association.
Marx becomes the only valid socialist, and to blame for all the world's ills. Despite being an impoverished academic, journalist and critic of capitalism that they constantly accuse of incompetence. Despite being a toddler when the socialist movement was also in its infancy. Despite not being the only socialist philosopher of his time period, let alone over the course of the ideology, and despite his many critics from WITHIN socialism.
Yup, this one man is responsible for everything done in his name and with his works, and making that accusation is nothing like the insanity from fundamentalists and regressives.

Hell, in the case of Hitler being socialist the insinuation is even an outright lie. To believe otherwise is to suggest that North Korea really is a democratic republic. It said it was, right?

I write this in full knowledge few will read it. Fewer still with an open mind.
I write it understanding that people prefer to live in ignorance, comforted by an echo chamber. Politically illiterate, wilfully ignorant and convinced of their own moral high ground.
Perhaps I'll revisit this piece to rewrite it, as the subject is important and complicated enough that I have written thousands of words on the subject in comments all over the internet, for years.
It is a worthy subject that I cant hope to do justice with one rant made during a sleepless night.