Capitalism, the absurd system

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N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
Capitalism, the absurd system

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Capitalism, as an economic, political, and social system based on private ownership, directed to the greatest possible profits for particular individuals and corporations, is, in our day, entirely absurd. It has no rational or orderly relationship to human life or to the future of humanity. Socialism, as its heir apparent, stands for the chance that still exists to create a just, egalitarian, and sustainable world directed at human needs, in which the people themselves are sovereign-once the fetters of private profit are burst asunder.

Is this possible? Who knows? What we do know is that, as long as we breathe air, we have no real choice but to rebel, because under capitalism humanity has no future.

The authors go on to address a number of interesting points: social democracy, the Swedish model, etc.

Capitalism, the Absurd System: A View from the United States

A few supplementary ideas are worth repeating ...

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When we state that capitalism is off-limits to critical review and analysis, what we really mean is that socialism, as the only rational successor to capitalism, is off-limits. If there is no credible alternative to capitalism, then there is no more reason to discuss transcending capitalism than there would be to debate the means of preventing lightning storms and earthquakes, as Steinbeck's farmer observed. But in fact we are talking about relations and things made by human beings, and these can be changed, and have been changed enormously over the course of human history.

The above point is developed very well in the article. And one of the interesting conclusions the authors come to is the following ...

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The underlying principle, therefore, is clear: progressives need a fundamental critique of capitalism and an open discussion about the possible advantages of socialism-even to attempt major reforms within capitalism. And when they begin that critique, we believe, most progressives and most Americans will come to the conclusion that C.B. Macpherson, in his The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, reached some four decades ago: It is increasingly difficult to reconcile liberal democratic values (much less anything remotely resembling genuine democracy) with today's monopoly-finance capital. Something has to go. And that is exactly why capitalism is off-limits to honest discussion, and why the constraints placed on public debate in our political culture prevent any real, permanent forward movement.

If opposition to capitalism is like opposition to lightening, what's the point? But, in fact, this points to the necessity of discussing the possible advantages of socialism even for reforms within capitalism.The authors point out that right wing populists in the US, eg, appropriate the political terrain that belongs to advocates of an alternative to capitalism with their bogey man stories about the harmfulness of "big guvvmt".

It puts the lie to the Liberal and/or Social Democratic propaganda that socialism "can't" sell. In fact, their failure to do so shows an utter political bankrupcy on their part.

 

Fidel

I'm glad I read this. There are a number of interesting things pointed out in the essay.

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...Because business as usual is capitalism, which has made the world prey to its own self-expansion. As Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath: “The bank—the monster has to have profits all the time. It can’t wait. It’ll die….When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size.”

US economist Michael Hudson wrote in 2003 that Wall Street banks had become parasitic of the productive labour economy. And today he says that the parasites have now managed to takeover the brain of its host(government) and convinced its host that providing constant nourishment to the parasite is vital to the host's well being. Hudson says that the host is no longer capable of thinking for itself or acting in the interest of the people who, or at least in theory, government is elected by and supposedly exists to serve.

The sad part is this. Very many Americans now think that the big bank heists of taxpayer's money is how socialism works. They think that socialists are taking over America! They don't remember FDR's social liberalism of the 30's and social democratic reforms through to the 1960s. And those who do remember believe that was socialism. In fact, America was made strong by certain socialist policies now and again. They have resorted to nationalisations for brief periods before in US history in order to save US capitalism from itself. And what's happened in this decade is partial nationalisations of banks and US car companies.  Otoh, right-rightists have been able to convince enough Americans, and wrongly again, that Obama's health care reforms represents socialism. But they are now between a rock and a hard place with trying in earnest to convince Americans that "socialism" for banksters is a good thing. Many Americans are confused today as a result. But I really don't think that Americans can made to believe in socialism for fat-cat Wall Street bankers. For us on the left it's a terrible oxymoron. For Americans, though, the fake nationalism could lead to a nationalised nervous breakdown. American oligarchs are now waiting to see whether and by how much a European financier oligarchy can extract from workers over there before deciding how much of the rug to pull out from under Americans over the next decade.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

I'm not convinced that the parasite metaphor is a good one. Maybe for SF fans who want their political economy spoon fed to them and can only understand such things in reference to their favourite Star Trek episodes. lol. 

The authors outline how, in their view, the whole thing/system works. It's meant to enrich the financial elite. This is not a parasite on a healthy body. It's a "monster" that is, itself, the problem. The "tyrant" needs to be replaced by ... genuine democracy in social life. The problems with the Soviet model showed that socialism cannot simply be state versions of the capitalist corporation or firm. And so on.

Capitalism has a certain logic to it. That logic has to be replaced by a superior logic. The logic of production for need. The logic of a balanced metabolic relationship between humanity and nature. The logic of what is necessary to save the planet, the biosphere, and so on. It you want to use biological metaphors, then try a Mother Earth metaphor, complete with a spiritual dimension that makes the Planet itself a sacred value.

And stop watching so many back episodes of ST:TNG. lol.

500_Apples

I've sen a great many suggestions of how to run a different style of capitalism, for example, by changing the labour code or the cost of post-secondary education. I have never seen a concrete plan to replace capitalism with socialism, so I relate to the befuddled students referenced at the start of the article.

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This prohibition on critically assessing capitalism begins in the economics departments and business schools of our universities where, with but a few exceptions, it is easier to find an advocate of the immediate colonization of Mars than it is to find a scholar engaged in genuine radical criticism of capitalism.

 

Laughing

500_Apples

N.Beltov wrote:

I'm not convinced that the parasite metaphor is a good one. Maybe for SF fans who want their political economy spoon fed to them and can only understand such things in reference to their favourite Star Trek episodes. lol. 

The authors outline how, in their view, the whole thing/system works. It's meant to enrich the financial elite. This is not a parasite on a healthy body. It's a "monster" that is, itself, the problem. The "tyrant" needs to be replaced by ... genuine democracy in social life. The problems with the Soviet model showed that socialism cannot simply be state versions of the capitalist corporation or firm. And so on.

Capitalism has a certain logic to it. That logic has to be replaced by a superior logic. The logic of production for need. The logic of a balanced metabolic relationship between humanity and nature. The logic of what is necessary to save the planet, the biosphere, and so on. It you want to use biological metaphors, then try a Mother Earth metaphor, complete with a spiritual dimension that makes the Planet itself a sacred value.

And stop watching so many back episodes of ST:TNG. lol.

I don't quite know which star trek episode addressed capitalism, but your complaint is a bit off. On the one hand you post an article criticizing our intellectual creativity, and on the other hand you're now criticizing science fiction, pretty much the only forum left where big ideas are openly and agressively tackled. Creativity in literature is most likely a leading indicator of broader creativity.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

No, it's just Fidel's parasite metaphor. I'm a SF fan myself.

500_Apples

N.Beltov wrote:

No, it's just Fidel's parasite metaphor. I'm a SF fan myself.

All right.

I hadn't even thought of parasite as a metaphor, just as a noune (element that takes more than it receives), but I guess it is also a metaphor. Your criticism seems to be that the metaphor is bad as it is incomplete, the notion being that the system necessarily has parasites, it "wants" to have parasites.

*************************

Anyhow, this was a great article. It's well written, but it suffers from the same mistake that it criticizes. It makes the case for socialism without outlining a clear road to and at socialism harbor. We need to have a socialist movement that the elites "fear", ok, easier said than done. We need to have a popular movement of continually engaged broader civic participation, otherwise we just end up with the soviet union. Ok, still easier said than done. They finally say that progressives need an open critique of capitalism. OK... why didn't they do it? The reason for that is that they're also trapped in the same ideological paradigm.

They're aware they're locked inside the box. They believe it's important to try and look outside the box. However, they're still stuck in the box and don't really have any idea what to do.

At the end, they give credit to Michael Moore for his movie. They don't say that the movie was a flop watched by very few, and that Moore has since mused that he will not bother with documentaries anymore.

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As an aside, before reading this text, I only knew of Olof Palme as the Swedish Prime Minister who was assasinated, I must have picked it up at some point as some trivia. I had no idea that he was also the socialist prime minister of sweden. What an odd coincidence. I looked it up and I was expecting to find that some patsy was charged for his death. I was half-right... some patsy was charged, but the evidence was weak and they let him go. What an extremely odd coincidence.

This is of course another challenge to the left. I am suspecting that the above coincidence was in fact a non-coincidence.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:

No, it's just Fidel's parasite metaphor. I'm a SF fan myself.

It's not my metaphor. It's Hudson's who has observed financial capitalism up close from a unique insider's point of view since the 70's. Action Jackson over at progressive econ noted that Hudson was one of the first economists of this era to have identified the initial sabotage of the banking system by a neoliberal financial regime.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:
It puts the lie to the Liberal and/or Social Democratic propaganda that socialism "can't" sell. In fact, their failure to do so shows an utter political bankrupcy on their part.

I don't think it's so much a matter that socialism can't sell than it is a combination of factors working in favour of the illusion that there are no alternatives.  In order to sell socialism we need pulpits. And since neoliberalism took hold of global economies, the means of controlling the pulpits is increasingly in the hands of those who control the means and powers of money creation. And US politics is a good example of where dollar democracy rules. A billionaire oligarchy first controls who the two most likely to be elected presidential candidates will be. US senators are pretty much all millionaires today and favouring big business and money. And then the hired lobbyists coerce pre-selected puppets once the thing gets rolling. Money has become more than just a means of exchange, trade and commerce. Marx believed that capitalist banking and finance would eventually become subjugeted to industrial capitalism.

But today the reverse has happened. A financier oligarchy has usurped industrial capitalism and productive labour economy. Money and credit and the power to issue it are the new levers of global capitalism since the 1980s and 90s, and similar to the way it was before the world wars and democratic achievements of our grandparents and their parents. Financial capitalists and a handful of supranational conglomerates are running the world today not our elected leaders. Elected governments are feigning powerlessness to effect national economies today. It's not so much an illusion as it would be a real challenge for any socialist government to have to deal with once elected to federal power. Any democratically elected federal government would have to be prepared to challenge the power of international capital in a way that British Labour, for example, decided to avoid doing in the late 1970s. I think there must be a little more decline occur in western world economies before people are ready to back a socialist government challenge to international capital. But if such a challenge were to happen soon, then I think Jack Layton would be as good as any to lead the way in Ottawa having done a doctoral thesis on international capital flows.

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

In Canada we benefit from imperialism. If social democrats want to actually make changes here (not just get elected) they would do well to try to message everything around the injustice of empire and the immorality of deep integration.  

If the NDP is not going to actively campaign on rolling back our integration into the empire then what is the point?  Without making it a central issue that frames all the debates there will be no chance of extricating ourselves from the web even if the NDP was to win government.  Breaking with the empire will require a strong grass roots backdrop to any parliamentary measures.  After being elected is no time to try to explain the basics to enough people to make it a mass movement not just a protest movement. 

500_Apples

Kropotkin, that's a very tall order, the fraction of Canadians who know we benefit from imperialism is probably lower than the fraction of Canadians who support the NDP.

Fidel

kropotkin1951 wrote:
In Canada we benefit from imperialism.

? That's highly debatable on a number of levels.

kropotkin1951 wrote:
If the NDP is not going to actively campaign on rolling back our integration into the empire then what is the point?

Some of us might argue that Soviet socialism could have been democratized. The people of Russia and East Germany indicated that this was the case. But oligarchs in that country, and with the help of outside forces, destroyed the Soviets and any hope of democratization.

The NDP does not have the means to wage an election campaign against what has been done to our country with CUSFTA and NAFTA. We fought two election campaigns against crooked trade deals with the US. And the Liberal Party managed to convince enough Canadians that they were the most anti-FTA party with the best hope of defeating the pro-American conservative government at the time. They lied. The sad thing is that today, too many Canadians believe Canada has benefited overall by the trade deals according to opinion polls. And this is true all the while many free trade advocates in the two old line parties have decided that those trade deals have harmed Canada's economic sovereignty and ability to regulate, preserve the environment etc more than we have benefited by mere increases in GDP. The NDP does not have the resources alone to fight that battle again. It's up to Canadians and it's up to grass roots and civil society groups though to get behind the true anti-NAFTA party this time and help the NDP to force a renegotiation of the lop-sided trade deals in favour of labour and in favour of Canada's obligation to the rest of the world to help curb America of its voracious appetite for cheap Canadian fossil fuels.

 Ralph Nader once said that Canadians do have a real third political option. But if we continue electing the same two tired and worn out parties representing Bay Street interests and the interests of marauding international capital, we WILL get more of the same. That's guaranteed.

George Victor

N.B.: "The underlying principle, therefore, is clear: progressives need a fundamental critique of capitalism and an open discussion about the possible advantages of socialism-even to attempt major reforms within capitalism. And when they begin that critique, we believe, most progressives and most Americans will come to the conclusion that C.B. Macpherson, in his The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, reached some four decades ago: It is increasingly difficult to reconcile liberal democratic values (much less anything remotely resembling genuine democracy) with today's monopoly-finance capital. Something has to go. And that is exactly why capitalism is off-limits to honest discussion, and why the constraints placed on public debate in our political culture prevent any real, permanent forward movement."

 

Indeed, "something had to go", NB. But I'm afraid old C.B. did not realize the capacity of capitalism to grow (taking planet Earth down with it) and the inability of Homo sapiens to understand this danger. Macpherson's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (1962) led to an invitation for him to deliver the fourth of the Massey Lectures on CBC, The REal World of Democracy (1965...the CBC was more progressive then).

In the concluding sixth chapter, "The Near Future of Democracy and Human Rights", C.B. predicted: "...we have to expect, as a result of automation and the discovery and control of new sources of non-human energy,increases in productivity in the next few decades far exceeding the increases of the past, both in amount and in speed. But since these increases can now be expected not only in the most advanced capitalism countries but also in the most advanced socialist countries, the increases will not be attributable to capitalism and capitalist society. On the contrary, such future increases in productivity will heighten two effects that are already apparent as a result of recent increases.

"First, the liberal, capitalist ethos will have to meet increasingly stiff ideological competition from the Soviet, socialist ethos. And second, the level of expectation of the underdeveloped peopples will increase, thus increasing their present sense of injustice at the unequal distribution of human opportunity between the rich countries (which are mostly capitalist) and the poor countries. This sense of injustice is already pressing somewhat on the conscience of the West, and the moral feedbackis likely to get stronger."

Not so much stronger, though, and we know what happened to the competion. C.B.was a fine old fellow (his course was already filled by the time I applied), but, like his theory of agrarian socialism, we see he depended on a human nature that just isn't there, push come to shove. Nope, people are going to have to be convinced that change is in their best interest, and I think we are reduced to offering survival as a reason for leaving the market-driven S.S.Capitalism.

 

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

So Fidel what are you fighting for? You have already conceded that even if elected the NDP can do nothing without the people understanding the issues.  And in the meantime there is no use trying to educate the population it is better to read the polls and try to get in front of what ever parade seems to be forming?  I believe that a party that refuses to talk about capitalism will do anything to replace capitalism as much as I believed the withering away of the state was going to happen in the USSR.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Fidel wrote:
It's not my metaphor. It's Hudson's who has observed financial capitalism up close from a unique insider's point of view since the 70's. Action Jackson over at progressive econ noted that Hudson was one of the first economists of this era to have identified the initial sabotage of the banking system by a neoliberal financial regime.

The banking system wasn't "sabotaged". It was deregulated, etc.,  in the period leading out of the LAST business downturn in ~ 2000 (around the dot com collapse) in order to get it out of the crisis. The political economists at Monthly Review have convered this very extensively over the last 5-10 years. This liberal or social democratic fairy tale of just having the "right" regulations and all will be well in the social democratic - but still capitalist - Disneyland is precisely what I'm talking about.

It is this private capitalist system with its own drivers and logic that is the problem. We'd just come around - we just HAVE come around - to the same shit all over again. What are the remedies to the current financial crisis? More money to the super rich. Gee ... didn't that just happen last time?

Is this really all that hard to understand?

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

George, the gist of the argument about the critical importance of defending the necessity of a socialist alternative as a precondition for even simple reforms under (monopoly) capitalism flows from, in part, what the authors had to say about what is being said and what is going on, politically, in the vacuum created by the failure to defend that socialist alternative. The pitch about "big govmt" and so on takes the place of genuine debate about workable remedies to current capitalist problems.

I will repeat the thesis because the obtuse supporters of liberalism and social democracy don't seem to get it. Talk about a socialist alternative is a prerequisite to the success of more modest reforms. Paradoxical? You bet. However, the lingering pathological anti-communism blocks such talk. They shoot their own nose to spite their face. Idiots.

Anyway, this is the thesis of the authors.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

The fundamental hurdle facing any discussion of socialism within the context of consumer capitalism is answering the question "Why socialism?" What is it socialism offers the cultural majority in North America that consumer capitalism does not already provide?

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Actually, it's more fundamental that that, say the authors. TINA has penetrated so deeply into the consciousness of so many - including liberal and social democratic reformers (who, after all, constitute the bulk of the politically conscious workers) - that thinking gets short circuited BEFORE that question is considered.

The first premise, they say, is that people must accept the possibility of an alternative. For the present, anyway, the most coherent alternative is some sort of socialism. The possibility of this alternative, in people's minds, opens the door to contemplating reforms. And with reforms we have the possibility ... of deeper reforms and ... socialist alternatives.

Having said that, the mass unemployment, poverty, racism, war, and just plain loss of hope should draw people's attention to the necessity of solving some of these egregious problems. Consumer capitalism is spiritually vacuous. It is also rapidly wasting the resources of the planet and accelerating the species towards the precipice of environmental and ecological catastrophe.

I thought all that stuff was obvious to you, FM? The parts of the argument are all there. Depending on the perspective of the audience, sometimes the order has to change.

Webgear

 

Just of out of curiosity, what other systems are there?

Would a barter and trade system be more productive at the local area level?

pragmaticidealist

Fidel wrote:

kropotkin1951 wrote:
In Canada we benefit from imperialism.

? That's highly debatable on a number of levels.

 

Please tell me what about this claim is "highly debatable".

George Victor

The more comples the system - of thought or mechanical function - the more Murphy's law applies.

The least complex, and most likely determinant of change will be fear. Of course, without ideas to shape it, that can go anywhere.  And this is not giving up on the average masses' ability to decide. I've  long thought that that was too chimerical an idea anyway.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

Actually, it's more fundamental that that, say the authors. TINA has penetrated so deeply into the consciousness of so many - including liberal and social democratic reformers (who, after all, constitute the bulk of the politically conscious workers) - that thinking gets short circuited BEFORE that question is considered.

The first premise, they say, is that people must accept the possibility of an alternative. For the present, anyway, the most coherent alternative is some sort of socialism. The possibility of this alternative, in people's minds, opens the door to contemplating reforms. And with reforms we have the possibility ... of deeper reforms and ... socialist alternatives.

Having said that, the mass unemployment, poverty, racism, war, and just plain loss of hope should draw people's attention to the necessity of solving some of these egregious problems. Consumer capitalism is spiritually vacuous. It is also rapidly wasting the resources of the planet and accelerating the species towards the precipice of environmental and ecological catastrophe.

I thought all that stuff was obvious to you, FM? The parts of the argument are all there. Depending on the perspective of the audience, sometimes the order has to change.

Yes but, there must be a reason for an alternative. To use a poor metaphor, you're not shopping around for a lawnmower when the one you have does everything you expect of it, i.e. cut the grass.

As to what ought to draw peoples attention, I would have though an illegal war that killed one million and displaced another four million ought to be adequate. It isn't. An oil spill threatening to do serious harm to one of the world's most critical eco-systems and that threatens Cuba's unspolied reefs has engendered no mass protest. In fact, to the contrary, "Sales of Ford's F-Series truck, America's best-selling truck for 33 years in a row and America's best-selling vehicle, car or truck, for 28 years in a row, rose 49.4% to 49,858 units in May from 33,381 units in the same month last year" (Link). As you can see, while North Americans may express the emotional equivalent of "ain't it awful" over the tragedy befalling all of us in the Gulf, that doesn't translate into any sort of measurable personal political or consumer action.

In other words, culturally, we (our society) are oblivious to the harm we do directly to others, and indirectly to ourselves, so long as the consumer capitalist model keeps us occupied with the three Gs: gadgets, gossip, and gladiators.

So, the point I'm trying to make is that before you can introduce an alternative into the conversation, you first need to establish a requirement for an alternative, i.e. you must demonstrate that the lawnmower either isn't cutting the grass, is doing a very poor job of cutting the grass, or is due to fail at any moment. And this must be accomplished over the cacophony of a steady and unceasing stream of marketing and messaging that reinforce the established political and social consensus--the lawnmower is working just fine--while distracting with liberal application of the three Gs. 

It is possible to impart such a message, but it would require a discipline quite uncommon among disparate left and progressive organizations.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:
The banking system wasn't "sabotaged". It was deregulated, etc.,  in the period leading out of the LAST business downturn in ~ 2000 (around the dot com collapse) in order to get it out of the crisis.

Okay, not sabotaged but dregulated. Neoliberal Globalization = (deregulation + privatization). I'm with you thus far. Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, although the financial industry lobby had been pushing for it since the late 1980s. Milton Friedman talked about pure free market theory, and he said that only a socialist government could enforce market purism by a police state or some such. In a way I agree with Friedman in that banksters and financial industry crooks should understand the consequences for robbing the public the way they have is a line up against a cement wall at dawn. Or bail themselves out, one or the other. Really though, I think what's needed is a kind of GOSBANK setup where money creation is controlled by democratically elected governments not a bunch of private banks deemed too big to fail.

N.Beltov wrote:
The political economists at Monthly Review have convered this very extensively over the last 5-10 years. This liberal or social democratic fairy tale of just having the "right" regulations and all will be well in the social democratic - but still capitalist - Disneyland is precisely what I'm talking about.

Absolutely, But I must say that I don't believe in sitting in a corner with my left arm around Marx and sucking my right-hand thumb while waiting for bloody revolution. It would be a good thing to have happen, but Marx also said that we must fight to win the battle of democracy wherever and whenever. And I believe that this obsolete electoral system will be more easily conquered if we reproduce something like the coalition in 1930s Spain. We understand that democracy is the right's most hated institution, but I think that it must be demonstrated to a true majority coalition of voters striving toward populist democracy. And then the decision as to whether democracy will be upheld is on the right. At that point, it can be blood in the streets or dictatorship by true majority. But we have to begin to believe that change is possible in Ottawa. The right fears that even a social democratic government will create soul in government and hope for the masses. Hope is a dangerous thing for the right and so is the idea of true democracy. They've been murdering this idea in its cradle for the last 60 years.

Fidel

kropotkin1951 wrote:
So Fidel what are you fighting for? You have already conceded that even if elected the NDP can do nothing without the people understanding the issues.

If I did say that, then I don't agree with it. What I'm saying is that we need a record in power at the federal level. Perhaps a second term would be an opportune time to go for sweeping changes in the way Ottawa does public finance - energy nationalism after NAFTA is renegotiated - and so on.

kropotkin1951 wrote:
And in the meantime there is no use trying to educate the population it is better to read the polls and try to get in front of what ever parade seems to be forming?  

I didn't mean to say this. I meant to say that fighting the free trade debates for a third time around would require most of the NDP's resources, and all of what grassroots and civil society groups on the left have left in the tank. Why? From a first-past-the-ghost perspective, it makes little sense. We are handcuffed into fighting on their draconian terms in order to win a phony-baloney electoral majority. We need a 1930s Spanish style coalition of the left to fight Bay Street and stand a chance of winning. And we'll need to peel all of those left Liberal voters away from that party, and instill hope for democratic change for the better in as many of the jaded non-voters across Canada as possible. Iow's, we have to win the battle of democracy(Marx).

kropotkin1951 wrote:
I believe that a party that refuses to talk about capitalism will do anything to replace capitalism as much as I believed the withering away of the state was going to happen in the USSR.

Socialism doesn't work so well when having to allocate so many resources to war capitalism through a cold war, and especially not when lack of manpower post-WW II represent significant constraints on the economy. Dirty wars and socialism are incompatible.

Before the state can wither away, there first has to be a state. As Linda McQuaig describes it, our state is run by the cult of impotence - mere colonial administrators collecting taxes and who redistribute revenues to those who don't need them. Social democracy first, then dictatorship of the proles is possible. The whole world wants social democracy. And I think the cold war era lies that promised middle class capitalism based on consumption is withering away. Before long, people in the richest countries will be demanding bread and education and roofs over their families' heads. Socialism is better at providing the basics to all than market ideology. Desperately poor people throughout Latin America to Pakistan and Afghanistan want these things not mini-mansions and two cars in ever garage, nor plastic widgets or baubles. They want the basics, and basics are doable for socialism. We don't have to lie in order to win a colder war. Lying is for kapitalists, and their credibility is waning.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Webgear wrote:

 

Just of out of curiosity, what other systems are there?

Would a barter and trade system be more productive at the local area level?

 

The model that I use is one that characterizes a society based on the dominant relations between people in their productive activity or work. So, we have primitive communism (shared misery), slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Communism would be something that does not yet exist. Anarchists might outline a stateless society but the point is moot, for the time being; powerful states exist that would not "give up" without a similar power replacing them.Of course we can have smaller units of political economy that defy such characterizations but they do not dominate economic life like slavery, feudalism, capitalism dominate in their own ways.

But I'm getting off topic. We live in a complex world, involving billions of people, with interlocking economic relations spanning the globe. So called globalization - what I would call simply normal capitalist development, frankly - continues to progress. Barter and trade would be a kind of voluntary stepping backwards and there is no reason to suppose that we would not simply return to "the present" sooner or later.

Barter and trade would lead to the develpment of a money economy. With money, and private property and people without such property (workers) we would then have incipient capitalism. And we're bakc where we started.

I hope this is helpful. If not, we can further address your question.

Fidel

I believe that the Soviet Comecon block of nations did barter and trade. It worked for decades under strain of cold war embargoes. People in the USSR didn't have many things, but they had food and shelter, health care and education etc. But millions were lied to by propaganda broadcasts of Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti etc. Generations of people are now accustomed to a way of life that is basically a lie.

If we compare what's been said in other threads about sustainable economy and lowering society's ecological foot print to something compatible with nature, then I believe that the green movement along with publicly funded science is helping to educate tens of millions toward realization that consumption based economies(currently existing capitalism) represent a threat to living things and health of the planet in general. We would need several more planets' worth of resources in order to sustain globalizing capitalism. What cannot go on forever will stop. After that it's a competition to provide what socialism is already proven to do best.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Frustrated Mess wrote:
Yes but, there must be a reason for an alternative. To use a poor metaphor, you're not shopping around for a lawnmower when the one you have does everything you expect of it, i.e. cut the grass.

People have to recognize the current problems of capitalism. With so many losing their homes, discussions about lawnmowers are rather beside the point, don't you think? There is similar data in this country. Homelessness and the inability of so many people to cover rent and food, or rent and utilities, for example, demonstrates how serious the problems are.

What the authors claimed is that BEYOND recognizing that problems exist there is a necessity to accept the possibility of some sort of alternative. Otherwise, people simply abandon hope. They can't see their way out.

I think it's a good point and a good argument.

Your lengthy argument makes some good points most of which can be summarized in terms of capitalism winning the ideological battle. The fact that they are winning shouldn't blind anyone to the requirements of defeating them in that battle.

Stop being so willing to surrender in the battle of ideas.

DaveW

George Victor wrote:

 

In the concluding sixth chapter, "The Near Future of Democracy and Human Rights", C.B. predicted: "...we have to expect, as a result of automation and the discovery and control of new sources of non-human energy,increases in productivity in the next few decades far exceeding the increases of the past, both in amount and in speed. But since these increases can now be expected not only in the most advanced capitalism countries but also in the most advanced socialist countries, the increases will not be attributable to capitalism and capitalist society. On the contrary, such future increases in productivity will heighten two effects that are already apparent as a result of recent increases.

"First, the liberal, capitalist ethos will have to meet increasingly stiff ideological competition from the Soviet, socialist ethos.  ...

ol' C.B. said some goofy things -- I had a course with him mid-70s --  but the above is surely tops; for the record, the rival to Western capitalism instead stagnated, collapsed and disappeared

Ryan1812 Ryan1812's picture

kropotkin1951 wrote:

If the NDP is not going to actively campaign on rolling back our integration into the empire then what is the point? 

I'm a leftist through and through but I'm also a realist. What I don't understand is the utter anathema that integration is to some leftists. The world is evolving into blocks where nation states, thank goodness, are finally dissapearing somewhat. Say what you like about Europe, it will pull through the current crisis. The EU experiment is very very new. The US had problems to when they first got the country going. In Canada, our left needs to readjust it's thinking towards a more integrated market economy. Even Ed Broadbent has said this. Integration is the only way that Canada can get away from it's semi-mercantilistic economy and diversify. I live in China and the movment to integrate is so strong here. It will not be long before the Asian tigers are a power to be reconned with. Canada CANNOT go it alone.

Fidel

Perhaps some of us believe the NDP want to physically sever Canada from North America and set us adrift so that the country eventually acretes onto Europe or Asia. At which point we'll have to trim some main sail and steer by rudder if we want to avoid floating north into a berg and sinking, or something.

siamdave

I don't think 'absurd' is an accurate adjective at all. 'absurd' has overtones of something being somewhat ridiculous, but no serious damage being done (the belief of many people the earth is only 6000 years old is absurd) - but capitalism is one of the most destructive forces ever unleashed on this planet, and has caused more damage to average people all around the globe than probably any other single force ever, natural or man-made. It's a bit like calling Hitler and the 3rd Reich 'absurd' - doesn't accurately reflect the situation. IMO.
But not that important. Otherwise a quite good article.
It is a very important topic. Until 'the masses' start to wake up and see what a not only false but highly destructive god they have been worshipping for these many years, the destruction of people and planet is going to continue. I don't think 'socialism' would necessarily be a hard sell, if we had any kind of equal platform to sell it from - but when we are reduced to trying to sell it through the capitalist-dominated media and education system, it becomes a bit like Richard Dawkins trying to sell atheism through the Vatican press - not an endeavor I'd want to bet a lot of money on. Our potential market is, of course, as has been noted, quite strongly prejudiced before we even begin against us after 30-100 years (depending on how you want to count) of serious indoctrination by a pretty one-voiced media-government-education system (somewhat of an evil axis, really), but given that we have the Truth on our side, and a lot of people are getting pretty pissed off at what is going on in the modern world, which is pretty obviously capitalist-dominated no matter how much they point fingers everywhere else, that we could well meet with some success if an intelligent, concerted effort were made.
I would just mention my book Green Island briefly - I wrote this in part to try to reach a wider audience than 'academic treatises' reach, or alternative websites, and try to explain the idea of 'social democracy' to audiences that get no information (or only misleading negative nonsense) about such things from the mainstream capitalist media. Green Island takes time to not only posit a much more fair society for 'we the people' under a truly democratic government, and also to explain many things about the problems with capitalism such as the money-as-debt system that capitalism is really based on and some history that again is rarely talked about, it does it within the framework of what I think is a fairly interesting and topical story - the attempted regime change of Green Island by the American military as the bankers et al try to regain their fiefdom - and the trial of humanity by a Universal Consciousness for millennia of crimes against Truth, Beauty and Justice. In Green Island, fantasy that it is, the regime changers get their asses kicked back home - but it makes for, I think, a good read. And obviously the capitalist press is giving it no reviews. I'm a bit puzzled I am having such trouble interesting 'progressives' in the book, but I keep trying.
More about Green Island here if anyone is interested - http://www.rudemacedon.ca/greenisland.html .

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

Frustrated Mess wrote:
Yes but, there must be a reason for an alternative. To use a poor metaphor, you're not shopping around for a lawnmower when the one you have does everything you expect of it, i.e. cut the grass.

People have to recognize the current problems of capitalism. With so many losing their homes, discussions about lawnmowers are rather beside the point, don't you think? There is similar data in this country. Homelessness and the inability of so many people to cover rent and food, or rent and utilities, for example, demonstrates how serious the problems are.

What the authors claimed is that BEYOND recognizing that problems exist there is a necessity to accept the possibility of some sort of alternative. Otherwise, people simply abandon hope. They can't see their way out.

I think it's a good point and a good argument.

Your lengthy argument makes some good points most of which can be summarized in terms of capitalism winning the ideological battle. The fact that they are winning shouldn't blind anyone to the requirements of defeating them in that battle.

Stop being so willing to surrender in the battle of ideas.

Let's try not to personalize it, okay?

I appreciate what the authors are saying as to BEYOND recognizing the problem with capitalism exists. My point is that to get BEYOND you must first have a recognition of the failure.

But to return to my lawn mower analogy, if the lawn mower is sputtering, perhaps all it needs is a tune-up? And the response to that in establishment politics is regulatory and financial reform (or at least the appearance of). In other words, consumer capitalism isn't broken, it just needs a tune-up.

So, you say people must recognize the current failures of capitalism, but I would argue they do not. They recognize their own problems but don't necessarily place them in a wider context especially when the media to which they're subjected seldom if ever presents current events in the context of a capitalistic critique. The jobless and homeless do not view their predicament vis-a-vis a global struggle over resource allocation and the means of production, but their inability to secure employment.In other words, their problem is personal, in their perspective.

I would argue that capitalism isn't so much winning the ideological battle as there is no such battle being waged. I think that is about to change with developments in Latin America and especially Bolivia.

I think here, we need to begin to attack the logical fallacies presented by capitalism to demonstrate not only why capitalism is failing but why it must fail.

 

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

"must fail" ? That's Marx from 1848 (the Manifesto). I don't share your view. Further, it's rather easy to demonstrate the endless ideological warfare that goes on on a daily basis. When it's not a capitalist military dictatorship then, in fact, that's the key form of struggle.

RosaL

I think we also need to talk more about "alienation" than we do. 

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

It might be useful to recapitulate the thesis of the authors of the article in a different way. In order for liberals and social democrats to have MORE political succes, the "debate" about a socialist alternative needs to be part of the public debate (in a bigger way). Perhaps, think of this idea as a kind of left wing "wedge" approach. In any case, this would mean liberals and social democrats having an approach different from their current one in which their antipathy to the left and socialist ideas is much greater than their antipathy to the right and THEIR ideas (market idolatry, deregulation, privatization, cuts to social programs, yadda yadda).

I'm not a liberal or a social democrat, btw. But it's an interesting argument.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
RosaL

Right! Smile 

It's something almost everyone knows. They just don't analyze it. They don't have words for it. And they don't see an alternative. There's room for some good propaganda here! 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

It's noteworthy that Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, is a big fan of Meszaros' work.

RosaL

N.Beltov wrote:

It's noteworthy that Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, is a big fan of Meszaros' work.

 

Interesting, indeed. 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Rosa, maybe you could flesh out that idea a little more. I mean the idea of the usefulness of discussing "alienation", why it's important, and so on.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:
Perhaps, think of this idea as a kind of left wing "wedge" approach. In any case, this would mean liberals and social democrats having an approach different from their current one in which their antipathy to the left and socialist ideas is much greater than their antipathy to the right and THEIR ideas (market idolatry, deregulation, privatization, cuts to social programs, yadda yadda).

When have the NDP taken a shine to deregulation, privatization, or cuts to social programs? Jesus Christ, am I voting for the wrong party?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

"must fail" ? That's Marx from 1848 (the Manifesto). I don't share your view. Further, it's rather easy to demonstrate the endless ideological warfare that goes on on a daily basis. When it's not a capitalist military dictatorship then, in fact, that's the key form of struggle.

Yes, "must fail".

You tell me why you disagree with that and I'll tell you why it is true.

It's rather easy to demonstrate the endless ideological warfare from what perspective? Where are the frontlines? Who is leading the forces of socialism? From the perspective of a mom buying diapers at the Wal-Mart, what is her awareness of this war?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

It might be useful to recapitulate the thesis of the authors of the article in a different way. In order for liberals and social democrats to have MORE political succes, the "debate" about a socialist alternative needs to be part of the public debate (in a bigger way). Perhaps, think of this idea as a kind of left wing "wedge" approach. In any case, this would mean liberals and social democrats having an approach different from their current one in which their antipathy to the left and socialist ideas is much greater than their antipathy to the right and THEIR ideas (market idolatry, deregulation, privatization, cuts to social programs, yadda yadda).

 

That kind of goes without saying, but what is the alternative and what is the argument being advanced in the debate? Look, here is what is missing from almost all and every discussion involving the socialist alternative: In the current system, I have a job. With that job and access to credit, I can own my own home, furnish it with the latest gadgets, heat it, cool it, provide myself and my family with inexpensive transportation over subsidized roads upon which I can travel to stores that will meet all of my needs and most of my wants. All of this is provided through the consumer capitalist model. So why should I give that up for socialism? What are you offering that is better?

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

John Dos Passos, when asked by an interviewer if American capitalism was doomed to failure and collapse answered, "Sure, but the question is when? We've got the failure, at least from my point of view. What I don't see is the collapse."

500_Apples

Frustrated Mess wrote:

From the perspective of a mom buying diapers at the Wal-Mart, what is her awareness of this war?

Her awareness is that socialists have raided the taxpayer to give money to the banks as bailouts, to the third world countries as foreign aid. If the government got out of foreign aid, and stayed out of medicare, and so on, they could go back to the economy and family values of the Reagan years.

Fidel

In JBF's essay , he mentions that the barbarism alternative of Rosa Luxemburg's, "socialism or barbarism" is no longer a threat dire enough to cause wide spread revolt. It's come down to socialism or annihilation.

Fidel

@500_Apples: I'm afraid he's right. Socialists are wrecking America. That's what many believe. And I think Liberal democrats in power are helping them to believe it.

500_Apples

Catchfire wrote:

John Dos Passos, when asked by an interviewer if American capitalism was doomed to failure and collapse answered, "Sure, but the question is when? We've got the failure, at least from my point of view. What I don't see is the collapse."

Marx's description of history, the dominant one on this forum, is that once you have a collapse a new system emerges. Admittedly I have not finished Capital, but I always thought that was dubious. When I survey what I know about history, it seems to me that collapse usually just leads to more collapse rather than renewal.

Humanity has almost never moved forward by decaying societies transforming themselves into vibrant societies. It's moved forward by decaying societies being replaced by other, vibrant societies. When I emailed this article around, someone responded:

The weakness in most of the left critiques of capitalism as well as their pathetic or wholly absent strategic and tactical programmes is rooted in their restricting their diagnostic/prescriptive framework to looking for majority support in rich countries instead of assessing a global division of labor with various locations at differing stages of development. There are other weaknesses as well which include their statist and static visions of what socialism was, is, will be.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Well, Marx's conception of history is rooted in Hegel's dialectics, which doesn't actually call for "collapse" but rather the clash of a dominant idea and its antithesis, or reaction. It's a much more active and dynamic view of history than "collapse" denotes.

As for your friend's criticism, he's absolutely right that socialism needs to act and think globally--but I don't understand why he thinks it doesn't already do this; indeed, socialist thinkers are best at tracing political movements across the globe, and seeing how a political race in Calgary is connected to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and India.

One of the key things to remember about Socialism is Raymond Williams's contention that it will be more complex, not simpler, than capitalism. Not to mention that capitalism was itself a revolution, and consequently contains revolutionary energy. The problem is, of course, is that energy is spent, and it has become a parody of itself--that's why it needs renewal by an international socialist revolution.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

500_Apples wrote:

Frustrated Mess wrote:

From the perspective of a mom buying diapers at the Wal-Mart, what is her awareness of this war?

Her awareness is that socialists have raided the taxpayer to give money to the banks as bailouts, to the third world countries as foreign aid. If the government got out of foreign aid, and stayed out of medicare, and so on, they could go back to the economy and family values of the Reagan years.

I don't think that's true. I don't think the Tea Bagger narrative is dominant. I think her awareness is zilch.  The point I'm trying to make is to dispute any ideological warfare. Yes, the establishment parties engage in a constant information barrage to maintain and support the status quo. But there is no effective opposition. There is no Wobblies or communist or socialist parties of another era with mass appeal. 

Part of that is because of what you say here:

Quote:

The weakness in most of the left critiques of capitalism as well as their pathetic or wholly absent strategic and tactical programmes is rooted in their restricting their diagnostic/prescriptive framework to looking for majority support in rich countries instead of assessing a global division of labor with various locations at differing stages of development. There are other weaknesses as well which include their statist and static visions of what socialism was, is, will be.

I suggest part of the reason for that goes to my question as to what socialism will offer differently. A good part of the material wealth we enjoy in rich nations is wealth originating in, but deprived to, poorer nations.

Fidel

@Frustrated Mess: He's right, there is no effective political opposition in America except for a few democratic voices sidelined by dollar democracy owned by a billionaire oligarchy. They've done it in Afghanistan, too, with propping up both sides of the same fundamentalist coin and eliminating secular socialist opposition to their theocratic feudals since 1992.

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