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21st Century Socialism – by LOUIS PROYECT.

2 Feb

Fifty years ago, Peter Camejo ran for Senator from Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. He didn’t win but did manage to recruit many young people to socialism through a stump speech filled with jokes. One of them had to do with life under socialism. There would be such an abundance of goods that money would no longer be necessary. He’d say something like this: “You go to a grocery store and there is filet mignon. Nothing would prevent you from sticking a dozen under your jacket and sneaking out. But instead of being arrested for shoplifting, you’d be referred to a psychotherapist for doing something so crazy. All you can eat is one, right?”

Today, it would be difficult to make such a speech since we are far too aware of the costs to the planet from cattle ranching. Most socialists are speaking about the need to prevent the Amazon rainforest from being leveled to the ground. Do we accelerate global warming to supply beef to fast-food restaurants? If Peter were alive today, he’d be among the loudest voices against Bolsonaro.

In his 1970 campaign, Peter was trying to popularize the ideas found in Leon Trotsky’s 1934 article “If American Goes Communist.”  Trotsky’s words sound somewhat crass as if he were making a sales pitch to men in the admittedly backward but wealthy country: “The average man doesn’t like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.”

 

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Since Trotskyists were not in power anywhere, they were under no obligation to cope with the brutal realities of economic development like the Sandinistas put up during the 1980s. They were content to criticize them from afar, their stock in trade.

They explained the Soviet failure to match American productivity in the 1950s and 60s as a function of bureaucratic rule. If the USSR returned to its democratic roots, the workers would forge ahead and produce all the food, cigars and amusements that Stalinism could not. But history played a trick on the Trotskyists. Instead of a socialist utopia, the Russians ended up with a capitalist dystopia under Yeltsin. While Russia recovered from Jeffrey Sachs’s shock therapy, it still staggers along economically because of oil market vicissitudes and imperialist sanctions. Discontent, however, hardly produces anything resembling a Trotskyist new wave. Instead, opposition to Putin remains within time-dishonored liberal economic parameters.

In debates over whether socialism was feasible or not, Trotskyism had little to offer except formulaic assurances that workers democracy would set things right. The big debates happened elsewhere and were over whether a planned economy, democratic or undemocratic, could work as efficiently as the capitalist marketplace. Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises wrote numerous books and articles arguing that planning in and of itself necessarily leads to an irrational and inefficient allocation of resources. Following in their path, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan reinforced libertarian orthodoxy. It was only the 2008 financial crisis that shook the confidence of the Republican Party establishment with Greenspan confessing: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

 

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Jeffrey Sachs had a similar epiphany after seeing how his version of market-driven economics failed to produce miracles in Bolivia, Poland or Russia. Now writing articles defending Bernie Sanders against charges that he is a “radical,” Sachs sounds like he has imbibed Trotskyist literature: “The ruling class—dominated by billionaires like Donald Trump and the vested interests that prop him up—have played the same name-calling game for decades.”

Despite the fiery rhetoric targeting billionaires, neither Sanders nor Sachs has given up on the capitalist system. Like Hayek, they regard markets as a sine qua non for rational economic behavior. When Elizabeth Warren described the difference between her and Sanders as “He’s a socialist, and I believe in markets,” she was inaccurate. They are both marketeers. You’ll never hear Sanders making a pitch for public ownership of the means of production and a planned economy. Briefly put, he is for Norway, not Cuba. He is too smart to sound like Peter Camejo’s 1970 stump speech since that will shut the doors to MSNBC and lucrative book contracts.

Almost everybody has a good word for markets today. NYU sociology professor Vivek Chibber, who Bhaskar Sunkara regards as a major influence, sounds positively Hayekian in an article he wrote for Jacobin’s special issue on the Russian Revolution.

“What is more challenging is the issue of economic planning. We have to start with the observation that the expectation of a centrally planned economy simply replacing the market has no empirical foundation. We can want planning to work, but we have no evidence that it can. Every attempt to put it in place for more than short duration’s has met with failure.”

 

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Sam Gindin, who is far more revolutionary-minded than Chibber, also conceded the need for markets to Jacobin readers:

The power of capitalism, Hayek claimed, is that it brings such otherwise internalized, hidden knowledge to the surface while socialism, no matter how much it hopes to plan, cannot effectively access or develop the knowledge on which successful planning would rest.

For all its inherent ideological and class biases, this critique can’t be ignored. Hayek cannot be countered by arguing that capitalists themselves plan. Aside from the fact that the scale of organizing a total society in a nonmarket way is of a different order of magnitude than addressing a single, even vast, corporation, internal corporate calculations under capitalism have an advantage that centralized socialist planning would not have: they have external market prices and market-driven standards by which to measure themselves.

Much of this is reminiscent of the arguments I heard for Market Socialism 30 years ago when I discovered Internet mailing lists (this was prior to the Web, blogs and social media.) Throughout the 1980s, economists in the Soviet bloc blamed the lack of market mechanisms for all their problems. Alec Nove, a Scottish economist, identified with their grievances and called for a mixture of planning and markets. In his 1983 “The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited,” Nove hoped to debunk Lenin’s claim in “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?” that “Capitalism has simplified the work of accounting and control, has reduced it to a comparatively simple system of bookkeeping, that any literate person can do.”

 

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Striking the same note as Sam Gindin, Nove maintains that Lenin was naïve:

A large factory, for instance, making cars or chemical machinery, is an assembly plant of parts and components which can be made in literally thousands of different factories, each of which, in turn, may depend on supplies of materials, fuel and machines, made by hundreds or more other production units. Introduce the further dimension of time (things need to be provided punctually and in sequence), add the importance of provision for repair, maintenance, replacement, investment in future productive capacity, the training and deployment of the labor force, its needs for housing, amenities, hairdressers, dry-cleaners, fuel, furniture…’Simple’, indeed!

Markets, however, are not just about figuring out which drill-press to buy when you are investing a new factory that makes furniture. Nor, it is about figuring out how much to charge for a rocking chair that comes off the assembly line. It is about the price of labor. When a market can’t bear the price of a unionized worker in an American plant, capital will take wings and fly to places where labor is more affordable.

We are now well into the 21st century. Should we continue to see economic efficiency as a litmus test for a healthy socialist system? Why should we see like a state, as anarchist scholar James C. Scott put it? For Scott, men with few apparent similarities all adhered to a “high modernist” vision. High modernism’s goal was to expand production in agriculture and industry as the best way to meet human needs. For him, this included both Robert McNamara and Leon Trotsky. Such men believed that scientific knowledge was key to governing and producing according to a plan. That, at least, was Scott’s conclusion even though it is hard to see any kind of science or planning at work when McNamara was Secretary of Defense and bombing the hell out of Vietnam. A Hells Angel on methamphetamine would have likely made the same decisions based on the Cold War psychoses that made such a war possible.

 

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The underlying but unstated assumption for the “high modernists” is that the nation-state must achieve economic growth on its own, like pulling itself up by its bootstraps. As long as capitalism has existed, politicians and political theorists shared this understanding. The 17th-century treaties of Westphalia established the bootstrap basis for nation-state economic development in Europe. Afterward, gunboats went forth and imposed this model on the rest of the world at the point of a bayonet. The model was well-suited to dividing and conquering Africa and the Middle East.

In the pre-modern world made up primarily of city-states funded by tributes extracted from peasants, there was little market-driven competition as we know it today. The Ottoman Empire was typical. It became “the sick man of Europe” because it failed to adopt the labor-saving machinery that capitalism was producing in the West. Like the USSR in the 20th century, it collapsed because it failed to compete in global markets. As long as the nation-state exists and as long as money is the basis for commodity exchange, a country like Cuba or the former Soviet Union has to play by the rules of global capitalism. Unless you can export commodities at a cheaper price than a competing nation-state, your economy will suffer, and the citizenry will grow restive.

A recent N.Y. Times article reminded me how restive Americans can become when the economy loses its competitive edge in the global marketplace. Titled “In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them,” it cited the state’s lieutenant-general John Fetterman, who proudly called his state “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Fracking was not only critical to the state’s economy, but to the “union way of life.” He worried that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s call for an immediate end to fracking would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. If given a choice between Donald Trump and environmental health, Pennsylvania’s workers would choose Trump even if it meant a higher cancer rate. The article quotes Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania: “At the end of the day, if I don’t have a job, if I don’t have health care, if I can’t take care of my family, it doesn’t matter if we have global peace and gun control and everything else.”

In Australia, climate change has already led to disastrous consequences. Will the death of billions of animals convince voters to follow a different path than Pennsylvanians? Perhaps not. Keep in mind that coal is Australia’s second-largest export behind iron ore. In 2016-17, it exported 202 million tons of thermal coal and 177 million tons of metallurgical coal with a combined value of $54 billion. The coal industry provided around 47,000 direct jobs and a further 120,000 indirect jobs across Australia.

In countries not endowed by plentiful reserves of oil, gas and coal, manufacturing provides the most reliable path to economic progress. Indeed, fossil fuels are subject to the chaotic speculation of global markets and that economists identify as the “resource curse” that keeps Venezuela dependent. (Of course, imperialist sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran are just as much to blame.) With China looming as a major competitor to the USA as the 21st century lurches forward, competitive pressures will likely force both countries to forsake environmental regulations and impose labor discipline to compete on the world market. Other nations will follow suit, as long as the profit motive remains sacrosanct.

 

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In 1961, a musical titled “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off” opened first in England and then on Broadway. There are few revivals nowadays, but the title lives on as an apt description of how some people feel about late capitalism, especially when I read through the N.Y. Times in the morning. Unlike Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, I have neither the means nor the motivation to go live on Mars.

The 20th century was all about the competition between capitalism and socialism. Which system could best help prepare a nation-state for success in the next century? It was like trying to figure out whether a Harvard or a Yale degree would land you a better job. It turns out that both systems appear to be incapable of resolving the global contradictions that neither Hayek nor Trotsky anticipated. We know that capitalism doesn’t work except for the capitalist class. Why would I say the same thing about socialism? The answer: as long as we understand socialism to be co-equal with the nation-state, it will never succeed.

The Bolivarian revolution in Latin America faced insurmountable odds. While some on the left find it easy to fault Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales for not carrying out a genuine socialist revolution, they forget that classical Marxism ruled out building socialism in a single country. In 1847, Frederick Engels wrote a short work titled “The Principles of Communism” that took the form of a catechism. He posed questions that would be of interest to socialist-minded workers and then provided the answers. One of them was, “Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?” He replied:

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.

 

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If that was true in 1847, it is a hundred times truer today. Electronic communications, the spread of capitalist property relations to every corner of the world, jet travel, multinational corporations, interlocking financial institutions, television and radio, and global trade agreements such as the WTO compel the socialist movement to adjust to new realities. The ruling classes have dozens of institutions that help sharpen their struggles against the working class. The World Economic Forum is just one of them. Meanwhile, workers try to solve their most pressing problems within national borders. We are not even where we were in the early 2000s when the World Social Forum met regularly in places like Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Engels counted on England, America, France, and Germany as the liberated territory that could help transform the rest of the world. The 20th century left pinned its hopes on Russia for most of the 20th century. More recently, clusters of nations in the global south have stepped into the breach. In my over half-century of Marxist advocacy and activism, I have seen the terrain shift. First, it was in Indochina, where Eisenhower warned about a “domino effect.” It turned out that he had little to worry about since the surrounding nations had little support from China, despite Mao’s phony revolutionism. Next, it shifted to Central America, where this time Soviet Russia pulled the plug. Nicaragua might have been the shining example that would have inspired other revolutions, but perestroika meant that it became a pawn the Kremlin was ready to sacrifice. The last and most promising development was the Bolivarian revolution that had the potential of transforming Latin America from top to bottom. Once again, this regional bloc of radical governments failed to meet expectations. Perhaps, the best explanation for their failure was to remain within the nation-state context. They might have taken their namesake Simon Bolivar’s advice to heart: “In the unity of our nations rests the glorious future of our peoples.”

If and when a new revolutionary bloc of nations emerges, its most urgent task will be to begin implementing a planned economy across borderlines. Whether planning is second-best to Hayekian markets is immaterial. The most pressing need is to share resources, technical expertise, and environmental preservation within the liberated territory as a demonstration that socialism can work. In a small way, Cuba’s ability to withstand the human costs of hurricanes, to feed and educate its people, and provide medical care on the island as well as around the world is more important than its ability to compete with other sugar-producing nations.

 

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One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

 

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One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

 

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No War but Class War! None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free. New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia https://www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

 

 

 

NO NUKES – US deploys “usable” nuclear weapon amid continuing war threats against Iran.

1 Feb

The Pentagon deployed a new, smaller nuclear warhead aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee as it sailed into the Atlantic last month in the midst of the spiraling crisis with Iran. The weapon, known as the W76-2 warhead, has an explosive yield of roughly five kilotons, a third of the destructive power of the “Little Boy” bomb that claimed the lives of some 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) revealed the deployment this week, citing unnamed civilian and military figures. It stated that two of the 20 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles onboard the USS Tennessee and other subs will be armed with the W76-2 warheads. Each missile can be loaded with as many as eight such warheads, capable of striking multiple targets.

 

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The new weapon has been rolled out with remarkable speed. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for the development of “a low-yield SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] warhead to ensure a prompt response option that is able to penetrate adversary defenses” and close “an exploitable ‘gap’ in US regional deterrence capabilities.”

The pretext for the warhead’s deployment was the unsubstantiated claim that Russia is developing similar weapons and has adopted a doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate” or “escalate to win” by utilizing low-yield nuclear weapons, with the expectation that Washington would not retaliate with strategic warheads for fear of initiating an all out thermonuclear war. The Pentagon’s argument has been that a low-yield and rapid reaction ballistic missile is needed to “restore deterrence.”

The report by the FAS strongly suggests, however, that this alleged Russian doctrine is a pretext and that “it is much more likely that the new low-yield weapon is intended to facilitate first-use of nuclear weapons against North Korea or Iran.”

It points out that both the US National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) envision the use of nuclear weapons in response to “non-nuclear attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression,” and that the NPR explicitly stated that the W76-2 warhead was designed to “expand the range of credible US options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack.” Washington does not rule out a nuclear strike, including against non-nuclear armed countries like Iran.

 

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The deployment of the USS Tennessee with its new “usable” nuclear warheads came at roughly the same time as President Donald Trump huddled with his top aides on December 29 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, ordering the criminal drone missile assassination of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, one of Iran’s top officials. The drone killing was carried out at Baghdad’s international airport five days later.

In a report Thursday, NBC News, citing unnamed senior US officials, established that at the same meeting in Florida, “Trump also authorized the bombing of Iranian ships, missile launchers and air defense systems… Technically, the military can now hit those targets without further presidential authorization, though in practice, it would consult with the White House before any such action.”

The report warned that “the two sides remain in a dangerous boxer’s clench, in which the smallest miscalculation, some officials believe, could lead to disaster.”

In other words, for all the talk of war having been averted following the act of war and war crime carried out by Washington in the murder of Suleimani, the reality is that the world remains on the knife’s edge of a catastrophic military confrontation, which could rapidly escalate into the first use of nuclear weapons in three-quarters of a century.

The threat against Iran is part of far broader buildup to global war through which US imperialism is seeking to offset the erosion of its previously hegemonic domination of the global economy by resorting to the criminal use of overwhelming military force.

 

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After securing a $738 billion military budget for 2020 with the support of an overwhelming majority—Democratic and Republican alike—in the US Congress, the Trump administration is now preparing to push through a 20 percent increase in the budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency overseeing the buildup of the US nuclear arsenal. This $20 billion budget proposal, made public this week, represents only a fraction of the more than $1 trillion the US is projected to spend on “modernizing” the arsenal over the next three decades—plans that were set into motion under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, before Trump took office.

Trump is a war criminal. His threats to carry out the “obliteration” of Iran and to rain “fire and fury” upon North Korea are not merely hyperbole. The “usable” nuclear weapons to commit such atrocities have already been placed in his hands.

As the Senate impeachment trial of the US president limps to an ignominious close, it is striking that Trump’s greatest crimes, including acts of war and his threat to drag the world into a nuclear war, feature in no way in the charges against him. On the contrary, the articles of impeachment center on allegations that he withheld lethal military aid to Ukraine and has been insufficiently aggressive in confronting Russia.

This charge is made, as Newsweek pointed out this week, after the Pentagon staged an unprecedented 93 separate military exercises between May and the end of September of last year, all of them simulating or preparing for war against Russia. This includes practice bombing runs less than 500 miles from the Russian border and the steady build-up of ground forces in the three Baltic states and Poland, together with escalating US air deployments described as “bomber assurance” and “theater security” programs.

The drive to war has its source not in the diseased mind of Donald Trump, but rather in the insoluble crisis of global capitalism. There exists no antiwar faction within the US ruling class, including its Democratic representatives, only tactical differences over how US imperialist interests should best be pursued on the global arena.

The struggle against a new imperialist world war and the threat it poses to the survival of humanity can be based only upon the struggles of the working class, which is engaged in a wave of strikes and social upheavals across the planet. These emerging mass struggles must be armed with a socialist and internationalist program to unify workers in the common fight to put an end to the source of war and social inequality, the capitalist system. BY Bill Van Auken

 

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

 

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No War but Class War! None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free. New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia https://www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

 

Here are 10 things you should know about socialism!

31 Jan

 

What do we mean when we talk about “socialism”? Here are ten things about its theory, practice, and potential that you need to know.

Over the last 200 years, socialism has spread across the world. In every country, it carries the lessons and scars of its particular history there. Conversely, each country’s socialism is shaped by the global history, rich tradition, and diverse interpretations of a movement that has been the world’s major critical response to capitalism as a system.

 

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1. Socialism is a yearning for something better than capitalism

Socialism represents the awareness of employees that their sufferings and limitations come less from their employers than from the capitalist system. That system prescribes incentives and options for both sides, and rewards and punishments for their behavioral “choices.” It generates their endless struggles and the employees’ realization that system change is the way out.

In Capital, Volume 1, Karl Marx defined a fundamental injustice—exploitation—located in capitalism’s core relationship between employer and employee. Exploitation, in Marx’s terms, describes the situation in which employees produce more value for employers than the value of wages paid to them. Capitalist exploitation shapes everything in capitalist societies. Yearning for a better society, socialists increasingly demand the end of exploitation and an alternative in which employees function as their own employer. Socialists want to be able to explore and develop their full potentials as individuals and members of society while contributing to its welfare and growth.

Karl Marx, date unknown. Photo from Bettmann/Getty Images.

Socialism is an economic system very different from capitalism, feudalism, and slavery. Each of the latter divided society into a dominant minority class (masters, lords, and employers) and a dominated majority (slaves, serfs, employees). When the majority recognized slavery and feudal systems as injustices, they eventually fell.

The majorities of the past fought hard to build a better system. Capitalism replaced slaves and serfs with employees, masters and lords with employers. It is no historical surprise that employees would end up yearning and fighting for something better. That something better is socialism, a system that doesn’t divide people, but rather makes work a democratic process where all employees have an equal say and together are their own employer.

 

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2. Socialism is not a single, unified theory

People spread socialism across the world, interpreting and implementing it in many different ways based on context. Socialists found capitalism to be a system that produced ever-deepening inequalities, recurring cycles of unemployment and depression, and the undermining of human efforts to build democratic politics and inclusive cultures. Socialists developed and debated solutions that varied from government regulations of capitalist economies to government itself owning and operating enterprises, to a transformation of enterprises (both private and government) from top-down hierarchies to democratic cooperatives.

Sometimes those debates produced splits among socialists. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, socialists supporting the post-revolutionary Soviet Union underscored their commitment to socialism that entailed the government owning and operating industries by adopting the new name “communist.” Those skeptical of Soviet-style socialism tended increasingly to favor state regulation of private capitalists. They kept the name “socialist” and often called themselves social democrats or democratic socialists. For the last century, the two groups debated the merits and flaws of the two alternative notions of socialism as embodied in examples of each (e.g. Soviet versus Scandinavian socialisms).

Early in the 21st century, an old strain of socialism resurfaced and surged. It focuses on transforming the inside of enterprises: from top-down hierarchies, where a capitalist or a state board of directors makes all the key enterprise decisions, to a worker cooperative, where all employees have equal, democratic rights to make those decisions, thereby becoming—collectively—their own employer.

 

3. The Soviet Union and China achieved state capitalism, not socialism

As leader of the Soviet Union, Lenin once said that socialism was a goal, not yet an achieved reality. The Soviet had, instead, achieved “state capitalism.” A socialist party had state power, and the state had become the industrial capitalist displacing the former private capitalists. The Soviet revolution had changed who the employer was; it had not ended the employer/employee relationship. Thus, it was—to a certain extent—capitalist.

Lenin’s successor, Stalin, declared that the Soviet Union had achieved socialism. In effect, he offered Soviet state capitalism as if it were the model for socialism worldwide. Socialism’s enemies have used this identification ever since to equate socialism with political dictatorship. Of course, this required obscuring or denying that (1) dictatorships have often existed in capitalist societies and (2) socialisms have often existed without dictatorships.

After initially copying the Soviet model, China changed its development strategy to embrace instead a state-supervised mix of state and private capitalism focused on exports. China’s powerful government would organize a basic deal with global capitalists, providing cheap labor, government support, and a growing domestic market. In exchange, foreign capitalists would partner with Chinese state or private capitalists, share technology, and integrate Chinese output into global wholesale and retail trade systems. China’s brand of socialism—a hybrid state capitalism that included both communist and social-democratic streams—proved it could grow faster over more years than any capitalist economy had ever done.

 

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4. The U.S., Soviet Union, and China have more in common than you think 

As capitalism emerged from feudalism in Europe in the 19th century, it advocated liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy. When those promises failed to materialize, many became anti-capitalist and found their way to socialism.

Experiments in constructing post-capitalist, socialist systems in the 20th century (especially in the Soviet Union and China) eventually incurred similar criticisms. Those systems, critics held, had more in common with capitalism than partisans of either system understood.

Self-critical socialists produced a different narrative based on the failures common to both systems. The U.S. and Soviet Union, such socialists argue, represented private and state capitalisms. Their Cold War enmity was misconstrued on both sides as part of the century’s great struggle between capitalism and socialism. Thus, what collapsed in 1989 was Soviet State capitalism, not socialism. Moreover, what soared after 1989 was another kind of state capitalism in China.

 

5. Thank American socialists, communists, and unionists for the 1930s New Deal

FDR’s government raised the revenue necessary for Washington to fund massive, expensive increases in public services during the Depression of the 1930s. These included the Social Security system, the first federal unemployment compensation system, the first federal minimum wage, and a mass federal jobs program. FDR’s revenues came from taxing corporations and the rich more than ever before.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, center, and his New Deal administration team on September 12, 1935. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images.

In response to this radical program, FDR was reelected three times. His radical programs were conceived and pushed politically from below by a coalition of communists, socialists, and labor unionists. He had not been a radical Democrat before his election.

Socialists obtained a new degree of social acceptance, stature, and support from FDR’s government. The wartime alliance of the U.S. with the Soviet Union strengthened that social acceptance and socialist influences.

 

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6. If 5 was news to you, that’s due to the massive U.S.-led global purge of socialists and communists after WWII

After its 1929 economic crash, capitalism was badly discredited. The unprecedented political power of a surging U.S. left enabled government intervention to redistribute wealth from corporations and the rich to average citizens. Private capitalists and the Republican Party responded with a commitment to undo the New Deal. The end of World War II and FDR’s death in 1945 provided the opportunity to destroy the New Deal coalition.

The strategy hinged on demonizing the coalition’s component groups, above all the communists and socialists. Anti-communism quickly became the strategic battering ram. Overnight, the Soviet Union went from wartime ally to an enemy whose agents aimed “to control the world.” That threat had to be contained, repelled, and eliminated.

U.S. domestic policy focused on anti-communism, reaching hysterical dimensions and the public campaigns of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Communist Party leaders were arrested, imprisoned, and deported in a wave of anti-communism that quickly spread to socialist parties and to socialism in general. Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and more were blacklisted and barred from working in the industry. McCarthy’s witch hunt ruined thousands of careers while ensuring that mass media, politicians, and academics would be unsympathetic, at least publicly, to socialism.

U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a campaign to put prominent government officials and others on trial for alleged “subversive activities” and Communist Party membership during the height of the Cold War. Photo by Corbis/Getty Images.

In other countries revolts from peasants and/or workers against oligarchs in business and/or politics often led the latter to seek U.S. assistance by labeling their challengers as “socialists” or “communists.” Examples include U.S. actions in Guatemala and Iran (1954), Cuba (1959-1961), Vietnam (1954-1975), South Africa (1945-1994), and Venezuela (since 1999). Sometimes the global anti-communism project took the form of regime change. In 1965-6 the mass killings of Indonesian communists cost the lives of between 500,000 to 3 million people.

Once the U.S.—as the world’s largest economy, most dominant political power, and most powerful military—committed itself to total anti-communism, its allies and most of the rest of the world followed suit.

 

7. Since socialism was capitalism’s critical shadow, it spread to those subjected by and opposed to capitalist colonialism 

In the first half of the 20th century, socialism spread through the rise of local movements against European colonialism in Asia and Africa, and the United States’ informal colonialism in Latin America. Colonized people seeking independence were inspired by and saw the possibility of alliances with workers fighting exploitation in the colonizing countries. These latter workers glimpsed similar possibilities from their side.

This helped create a global socialist tradition. The multiple interpretations of socialism that had evolved in capitalism’s centers thus spawned yet more and further-differentiated interpretations. Diverse streams within the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist tradition interacted with and enriched socialism.

 

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8. Fascism is a capitalist response to socialism

A fascist economic system is capitalist, but with a mixture of very heavy government influence. In fascism, the government reinforces, supports, and sustains private capitalist workplaces. It rigidly enforces the employer/employee dichotomy central to capitalist enterprises. Private capitalists support fascism when they fear losing their position as capitalist employers, especially during social upheavals.

Under fascism, there is a kind of mutually supportive merging of government and private workplaces. Fascist governments tend to “deregulate,” gutting worker protections won earlier by unions or socialist governments. They help private capitalists by destroying trade unions or replacing them with their own organizations which support, rather than challenge, private capitalists.

Frequently, fascism embraces nationalism to rally people to fascist economic objectives, often by using enhanced military expenditures and hostility toward immigrants or foreigners. Fascist governments influence foreign trade to help domestic capitalists sell goods abroad and block imports to help them sell their goods inside national boundaries.

Blackshirts, supporters of Benito Mussolini who founded the National Fascist Party, are about to set fire to portraits of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin in Italy in May 1921. Photo by Mondadori/Getty Images.

Usually, fascists repress socialism. In Europe’s major fascist systems—Spain under Franco, Germany under Hitler, and Italy under Mussolini—socialists and communists were arrested, imprisoned, and often tortured and killed.

A similarity between fascism and socialism seems to arise because both seek to strengthen government and its interventions in society. However, they do so in different ways and toward very different ends. Fascism seeks to use government to secure capitalism and national unity, defined often in terms of ethnic or religious purity. Socialism seeks to use government to end capitalism and substitute an alternative socialist economic system, defined traditionally in terms of state-owned and -operated workplaces, state economic planning, employment of dispossessed capitalists, workers’ political control, and internationalism.

 

9. Socialism has been, and still is, evolving

During the second half of the 20th century, socialism’s diversity of interpretations and proposals for change shrank to two alternative notions: 1.) moving from private to state-owned-and -operated workplaces and from market to centrally planned distributions of resources and products like the Soviet Union, or 2.) “welfare-state” governments regulating markets still comprised mostly of private capitalist firms, as in Scandinavia, and providing tax-funded socialized health care, higher education, and so on. As socialism returns to public discussion in the wake of capitalism’s crash in 2008, the first kind of socialism to gain mass attention has been that defined in terms of government-led social programs and wealth redistributions benefitting middle and lower income social groups.

The evolution and diversity of socialism were obscured. Socialists themselves struggled with the mixed results of the experiments in constructing socialist societies (in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). To be sure, these socialist experiments achieved extraordinary economic growth. In the Global South, socialism arose virtually everywhere as the alternative development model to a capitalism weighed down by its colonialist history and its contemporary inequality, instability, relatively slower economic growth, and injustice.

Socialists also struggled with the emergence of central governments that used excessively concentrated economic power to achieve political dominance in undemocratic ways. They were affected by criticisms from other, emerging left-wing social movements, such as anti-racism, feminism, and environmentalism, and began to rethink how a socialist position should integrate the demands of such movements and make alliances.

 

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10. Worker co-ops are a key to socialism’s future

The focus of the capitalism-versus-socialism debate is now challenged by the changes within socialism. Who the employers are (private citizens or state officials) now matters less than what kind of relationship exists between employers and employees in the workplace. The role of the state is no longer the central issue in dispute.

A growing number of socialists stress that previous socialist experiments inadequately recognized and institutionalized democracy. These self-critical socialists focus on worker cooperatives as a means to institutionalize economic democracy within workplaces as the basis for political democracy. They reject master/slave, lord/serf, and employer/employee relationships because these all preclude real democracy and equality.

Homesteaders, relocated by the U.S. Resettlement Administration, a federal agency under the New Deal, working at a cooperative garment factory in Hightstown, New Jersey, in 1936. The U.S. Resettlement Administration relocated struggling families to provide work relief. Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.

For the most part, 19th and 20th century socialisms downplayed democratized workplaces. But an emerging, 21st century socialism advocates for a change in the internal structure and organization of workplaces. The microeconomic transformation from the employer/employee organization to worker co-ops can ground a bottom-up economic democracy.

The new socialism’s difference from capitalism becomes less a matter of state versus private workplaces, or state planning versus private markets, and more a matter of democratic versus autocratic workplace organization. A new economy based on worker co-ops will find its own democratic way of structuring relationships among co-ops and society as a whole.

Worker co-ops are key to a new socialism’s goals. They criticize socialisms inherited from the past and add a concrete vision of what a more just and humane society would look like. With the new focus on workplace democratization, socialists are in a good position to contest the 21st century’s struggle of economic systems.

 

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Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, NYC. He taught economics at Yale University, the City University of New York, and the University of Paris. Over the last 25 years, in collaboration with Stephen Resnick, he has developed a new approach to political economy that appears in several books co-authored by Resnick and Wolff and numerous articles by them separately and together. Professor Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated on over 90 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV and other networks.

 

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