Friday, January 1, 2021

What Is Socialism

Recently I've been watching commentary from Caleb Maupin that has me questioning some of my assumptions about what socialism means or what it should strive to be.  I got interested in Maupin after discovering that he's saying some things that I've come to realize over the last couple of years.  The first is that socialism works.  Really well.  It's absolutely bizarre that libertarians and others say things like "Socialism never works."  It flies in the face of reality, almost like you couldn't be more wrong.  Here's a commentary from Maupin discussing some of this.  If you are one of those people that says socialism never works, watch from the time stamp until about 32 minutes and see if you can avoid slipping into a state of cognitive dissonance.  Because if you can you might just be cured of this lie.

In any case Maupin has also shared some texts from Marx and Engels that suggest they do not have the same vision for the path forward that those who call themselves socialists in America have, and I just want to share those texts here.  Below is an excerpt from the Communist Manifesto.  The caps are mine for emphasis.  It's a statement about how we transition from a capitalist world to the world that Marx envisions, one of complete abundance and freedom.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, BY DEGREE, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to CENTRALISE all instruments of production in the hands OF THE STATE, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces AS RAPIDLY AS POSSIBLE.

Now, who in the world does this sound like today?  Which nation has SOME power in the hands of the state, a centralized plan, and rapid increase in productive capacity?  That's China.  China, who pays massive homage to Marx all the time, who is lead by the Chinese Communist Party, who has 5 year economic plans and what it considers a dictatorship of the proletariat.  And yet on the left so many act like China isn't socialist, or act like the Soviet Union wasn't socialist.

Let's go further, here's some discussion from Engels.  First I'll set a little context. He is talking about how in former times there were no classes of people because the productive forces were primitive. All people must work to provide the minimum requirements for survival. Imagine a hunter gatherer society barely scraping by.  With time there are advances in efficiency so that it is not necessary to require all people to work in order to meet essential needs.  This leads to the emergence of classes. Some must continue to perform the work functions and stay as working class and some enter the bourgeoisie class that manages the affairs of society, direction of labor, state, law, science. As the efficiency of production advances further we reach the critical point where class divisions are actually a hindrance to continued growth.

This point is now reached. Their political and intellectual bankruptcy is scarcely any longer a secret to the bourgeoisie themselves. Their economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every 10 years. In every crisis, society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless, face-to-face with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume, because consumers are wanting. The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an UNBROKEN, CONSTANTLY-ACCELERATED DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES, and therewith for a practically UNLIMITED INCREASE OF PRODUCTION ITSELF. Nor is this all. The socialized appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today, and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, AND BECOMING DAY-BY-DAY MORE FULL, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here.

So we get this contradiction in capitalism of what might be called the glut. The absurd state where there is no consumption because there is too much stuff. Society is suffering under the weight of it's own productive forces. Like during the housing crash. People lose jobs because there are too many homes. And for this reason they can't afford a home. It would be like if I lost my job because there are too many cars produced.  We have such an abundance of cars that I lose my job, which is in automotive design. Now I can't buy a car because there are too many cars.  It's an insane contradiction, and when you burst the bonds of a system for profit that creates conditions where people can't buy cars because there are too many cars, now you can REALLY accelerate the productive forces.  Why should we let the need for a profit hold us back from making more and more things that could be beneficial to humanity? Breaking these bonds creates a constant acceleration of productive forces, leading to a life that materially is more full each day, ushers in that final stage of human development, a state of complete freedom for all, where now you only work because you feel like it, but the productive forces are so efficient you don't even need to work at all if you don't want to.

For Marx the goal is to increase the productive capacity of humanity so much that ultimately you exit socialism and enter communism (I'm using modern terminology here, not necessarily Marx's terminology, but this is the idea he is describing), which is a stage of maximum freedom. Do whatever you want, all your needs and wants are provided, you can work if you want, or not, and in the end there is no need for a state or for money even because there is no reason for fighting since everyone has everything they would need and more. China's goal is to increase the productive capacity of humanity so much, including neighboring countries, that conflict between them becomes less likely, and ultimately we reach a stage of hyper-abundance where class status and coercion are no longer a thing. Socialism is that transitional stage from capitalism/feudalism to communism where you might have some profits, you might have some billionaires, you will have some inequality for a period, but then ultimately that goes away and everyone has everything they want.

But as I say, many on the left don't see it that way, especially the left in the US.  They talk shit about places like China or the Soviet Union.  And this annoys the hell out of leftists in other countries.  Here's a great commentary from a Vietnamese woman.  You know what Americans?  You haven't achieved shit.  We can't even get a floor vote on Medicare for All, and even if we did and won Biden would veto it.  We can't even bring health care to our country in the middle of a pandemic.  We are living in a country that is rampaging to maintain imperialism throughout the world.  We can't even contain Covid.  Where China is bringing critical medical equipment to poor parts of the world we are bombing and starving them.  Where China sends it's military out to plant trees to address the climate crisis and has planted tens of billions, the US is tearing up climate agreements.  China is leading the world in solar, wind, and hydraulic energy development.  China is working on carbon free fusion energy.  China has just completed the most dramatic poverty reduction campaign in world history.

I've come to believe I have been misled by American leftists to think that socialism is about living in a shack, wearing rags, walking everywhere, maybe riding a bike.  Historically it appears it has more been about hyper-abundance, the exact opposite of what so many of the American left preach.  In fact it is capitalism that is holding back the advancements in economic growth, it is socialism that will set them free and cause the rapid growth, like we saw in the Soviet Union, like we see in China today.  Here's how Lenin put it.

This expropriation will make it possible for the productive forces to develop to a tremendous extent. And when we see how incredibly capitalism is already retarding this development, when we see how much progress could be achieved on the basis of the level of technique already attained, we are entitled to say with the fullest confidence that the expropriation of the capitalists will inevitably result in an enormous development of the productive forces of human society. But how rapidly this development will proceed, how soon it will reach the point of breaking away from the division of labor, of doing away with the antithesis between mental and physical labor, of transforming labor into "life's prime want"--we do not and cannot know.

This is the historical understanding of the transitional period after capitalism but preceding the period of the stateless, moneyless, classless society that Marx and Engels envision.  It's not running around in the woods in a loin cloth.  It's more like space ships and robots.  This vision of socialism is what drives places like China, Vietnam, Libya (before Qaddafi was murdered), Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela.  These are poor countries that have had stunning success making the lives of their people better, and they are driving to make them better still.  This is a more hopeful and optimistic view of the world that I think western leftists need to consider.  The fact that we have achieved so little for such a long period of time in comparison should give us pause.

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