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Default Let's talk about socialism!

October 19th, 2008, 13:58
The presidential campaign appears to have reached the stage where accusations of socialism are flying left and right, so I figured it'd be useful to dispel some of the fog that's being thrown around about it.

All flavors of socialism share one fundamental idea: a general preference for collective ownership of goods.

First, a spot of history.

Socialism started as a religious revival movement in Christianity. It's rooted in the Digger movement in 17th century England, and was later structured as the Christian Socialist movement. These movements modeled themselves on their idea of how Christ and the Disciples arranged their lives. The rationale was ethical, spiritual, and scriptural; not unrelated to older versions of Christian asceticism.

In the mid-19th century, a fellow called Karl Marx came along, and proceeded to write a description and critique of industrial society, and systematic philosophy of economy, history and society, known as dialectical materialism. He reached similar conclusions as the Christian Socialists, but from a radically different direction: his philosophy claimed to be scientific and universally valid in the same sense as chemistry or physics were scientific and universally valid. He did not simply advance a political program; he claimed to have deciphered the course of history and charted out its ultimate destination. Marxism as a political movement was simply the quickest way to get there.

Christian Socialism fairly quickly drifted into political irrelevance. Most of their social experiments failed; other Christian Socialists attempted to reconcile their philosophy with Marxist Socialism and were subsumed into the Marxist movements, and yet others rejected socialism largely due to the aggressive atheism and anti-clericalism propounded by most Marxist movements (and Marx himself, for that matter). The most politically important descendants of Christian Socialism lie in South American "liberation theology" — and, perhaps, it echoes in the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fiery sermons.

In the early to mid 20th century, first large-scale attempts were made to put Marxist policies into practice. The people making these attempts immediately ran into a raft of practical problems. This caused the Marxist movement to fragment. It also sparked a whole raft of movements among non-Marxist, non-Socialist political movements to address the problems that led to the political success of Marxist parties.

Among these movements the most significant ones are:

Marxism-Leninism. This is the scary revolutionary Socialism that the USA spent most of the last century fighting. It espouses subversion, violent revolution, forced nationalization of the means of production, and a "dictatorship of the proletariat" as necessary intermediate steps in taking the world from the exploitation of raw capitalism into the Communist paradise. It had some initial successes as it transformed Russia from a near-medieval agrarian country into a military-industrial giant capable of defeating the Wehrmacht and facing off the USA for fifty years (albeit at terrible human cost), but it just about disappeared as mainstream political movement in the West after the collapse of the USSR. The closest living descendants of Marxism-Leninism are the "Arab Socialist" countries of Syria and Egypt; they're organized on Bolshevik lines and practice something like Lenin's New Economic Policy.

Maoism. This is another scary revolutionary socialist movement; it is in many ways similar to Marxism-Leninism, but the crucial difference is that it emerged in a third-world country. Maoists organize downtrodden peasants into a guerrilla movement, with the goal of seizing power. Once in power, the Maoist program is similar to Stalinism — forced-march industrialization rigidly directed by central power. Maoism is, for all practical purposes, dead in China, but it's highly attractive in many third-world countries with oppressed peasant majorities. Nepal just got a Maoist government, and India is grappling with Maoist insurgencies. The West never saw Maoism as much of an ideological threat, simply because it's not applicable to an industrialized country.

Revisionism, also known as "reformism." This movement appeared in Germany in the 1920's, when it became clear that a socialist revolution just wasn't on the cards. Revisionists retained the Marxist philosophy of history and the goal of Communism, but forswore revolutionary means in reaching it — indeed, the doyen of the movement, Eduard Bernstein, said that the journey is more important than the destination. Revisionists opted for constant, gradual pressure to improve the lot of the proletariat immediately, rather than making sacrifices now for some utopian future. Most mainstream continental European Social Democratic (and, indeed, Communist) parties around today have their roots in Bernsteinian revisionism. The Eurocommunists still hold on to the Communist dream, whereas the mainstream Social Democratic parties have, by and large, quietly dropped it.

OK, so much for Marxism. What of the counter-movements?

National Socialism, aka Nazism of Fascism. This was an extreme right-wing reaction to Marxism. It's philosophically rather murky. The main differences between fascism and Marxism-Leninism are that fascism is nationalist, or in many cases racist, whereas Marxism is (theoretically anyway) internationalist, and rather than seizing the means of production from capitalists, fascism wants to absorb capitalists into the state through "corporatism." Mussolini started out as a revolutionary socialist; all it took to get from that to fascism was to inject a healthy dose of nationalism and militarism and decide to co-opt rather than overthrow Big Capital. While fascism is dead as a mainstream political movement, it is possible to see disturbing parallels between it and certain political directions in the USA over the past decade or three.

"Keynesianism." This is in quotes, because it's actually the unspoken underpinning for most mainstream European parties from left to right, and the Democratic party in the USA. Keynesianism emerged during the Great Depression and after World War 2. Keynesians did not set out to destroy capitalism, but to reform it. They were acutely aware of the social problems of the era, but believed that the system had "alternator trouble" — that you could fix it by tinkering it rather than by throwing it out wholesale, as the Socialists (and Fascists) wanted. Keynesianism sees markets as imperfect and sees the state as a counterbalance and mechanic for them: its role is to prevent it from getting out of whack (e.g. by allowing wealth disparities to get too big, credit to balloon too much, or monopolies to abuse their market power), and fix it when it breaks (e.g. by rescuing banks and fiscal stimulus in recessions and tight monetary policy during booms).

The critical point here is that there are no socialists in the USA, and precious few in the rest of the developed world.

Not in the mainstream anyway.

The leftist parties we're dealing with today are Keynesian leftists, not socialist leftists.
  • Socialists see collective ownership as good, private ownership as a sometimes necessary evil. For example, Lenin's NEP and Arab Socialism permit private enterprise in small businesses, but nationalize everything above that level (finance, heavy industry, import/export, etc.)
  • Keynesian leftists see private ownership as good, and collective ownership a sometimes necessary evil. For example, the USA has collectively owned roads, defense, and courts; most of the rest of the industrialized world add health care on top of that.
  • Socialists want to achieve equality of outcomes. Keynesian leftists want to achieve equality of opportunity.
  • Socialists want to abolish the markets. Keynesians want to make them work better.
  • Keynesian leftism emerged as a response to Marxist socialism, not as an offshoot of it.
  • Marxist socialism is based on Marx's philosophy of dialectical materialism. Keynesianism is based on John Maynard Keynes's General Theory, which underlies all of today's mainstream economics, from Milton Friedman to Joseph Stiglitz.

So, for example, progressive taxation is a typically Keynesian-leftist approach to an economic problem: they have observed that, left to themselves, markets tend to concentrate wealth, which is unsustainable in the long run and carries a large social cost. The solution is a technical one — redistribute wealth from the higher-earning parts of the population to the lower-earning ones through progressive taxation and by providing services that benefit everyone equally (and, therefore, the poor proportionately more).

Similarly, market regulation is a typically Keynesian tool. For example, Keynesians recognize that markets do not price in negative externalities: if a factory produces toxic waste, the cheapest solution is just to dump it in the ocean, which will eventually hurt everybody. Therefore, the Keynesian solution is to legislate against this, and require factories to clean up the messes they make.

Keynesian leftism is not socialism. The goals are different, the means are different, and the historical origins are different. And attempting to conflate the two is either ignorant or dishonest — not to mention politically pernicious.
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October 19th, 2008, 14:30
It's worth pointing out that Karl Marx himself was both a revolutionist and a theorist. While the revolution part is gone, he still had a few very important things to say about labour. Getting rid of all his ideas for the wrong reason is the same as giving up a large part of humanity.

Adam Smith said something like "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages."

Ask any American employee what their dreams are and many will reply that they would like to start their own business. Not to earn more money, but because we want to have control of what we do and feel that what they do matter. Being just another face at the assembly line will make you alienated no matter the paycheck. Karl Marx pointed out that the idea of work purely for gain was wrong. We do not look exclusively to our self-interest. We want to feel a sense of purpose. What others think about us matters to us. Having a job in which one feels a purpose might even be more important than having a large paycheck. The mere appreciation of giving a customer what they want is as important as getting payed. If we have no touch with the customers, if we do not even see what it is that we produce, we feel no purpose. If we feel forced to work and feel that our job has no purpose, we feel alienated.

But alienation was as true in communist russia as it was to workers at Fords assembly line. Communist russia lost touch with Karl Marx theories.
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October 19th, 2008, 15:59
I always smile when I witness an example of an American considering "socialism" a filthy, dirty word and "socialist" a venomous insult.

I've always liked Dom Helder Camara's famous quote, he put it very succinctly:
"When I give the poor food, they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist."
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October 19th, 2008, 17:27
Now, PJ, if only you started singing. That would totally sell your propaganda.
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October 19th, 2008, 17:34
I prefer this one: [ http://download.sovmusic.ru/m32/varshav.mp3 ]
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October 19th, 2008, 17:40
Come on. If we are singing about a socialist revolution there's only one song worth mentioning.

The problem with this kind of activism though is that it's antidemocratic. That's why most sensible European socialists today are revistionists who dropped the revolutionary ideas and accepted a democratic state and take several liberal ideas for granted such as freedom of expression etc.
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October 19th, 2008, 21:25
Thanks very much for the treatise on socialism in all it's manifest incarnations, Professor Junta. Perfect Sunday morning editorial reading. I particularly enjoyed the deft interweaving of economics and politics,( in your trademark 'digestible by the masses' style, for which additional thanks) as it certainly appears to be more of an economic movement than I ever realized.

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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October 20th, 2008, 10:08
That's an extensive and thoughtful discussion of socialism as most of the world sees it however I think the actual Republican newspeak definition is 'any policy that doesn't conform to GOP orthodoxy', similarly a socialist is 'anyone who disagrees with the party line'. Compare with rest of world/Republican definitions of liberal, fascist, communist, terrorist, foreign, French, un-American, freedom, intellectual, educated, elite, torture, due process, legal and cooperation for further examples.
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October 20th, 2008, 10:23
Which is precisely why I think such a discussion is in order. It's easy to deligitimize anything simply by conflating it with something that's already illegitimate. If that conflation becomes a part of the accepted discourse, it's very hard to turn it around.

For example, as my discussion with DTE in another thread here has shown, progressive taxation has been successfully conflated with socialism in the minds of many Americans — despite the facts that it stems all the way from Adam Smith, America between the end of WW2 and the rise of Reagan had tax progression that put European "third way" countries to shame, and its current applications arose as a reaction to Marxist socialism rather than an offshoot from it.

Yet now we're in a situation where any discussion of it has to start by an argument about whether it constitutes socialism or not, and once that argument is over, there isn't any energy left over for discussing it calmly.

Ever since Reagan, many perfectly mundane leftist policies got tainted the same way. Rightist discourse dominated to the point that it became difficult to even ask questions like "Do the markets always work well? If not, under what conditions do markets work well? What should the role of the state be in creating those conditions? What kinds of examples of market failures can we think of? What do they have in common?"

Simply asking these questions would get a hostile reaction. DTE assumed as a matter of course that Obama's advocacy of progressive taxation meant that his ultimate aim is equalization of all wealth; it didn't even occur to him that he might have some other ultimate aims. That's not because he's stupid or intellectually incurious or any of these other things; it just means that the conceptual apparatus he's working with — the very words used to describe these things — contain these unspoken assumptions. If there's no way to ask if society can have an optimal income distribution, it's hardly surprising that nobody asks the question.

I really hate it when this sort of thing happens to discourse. I hate it just as much when having to deal with its equivalent on the left — "political correctness." In university, I went absolutely nuts trying to deal with the dominant discourse there — a rather crunchy trail mix of post-modernism and constructivism.
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October 20th, 2008, 11:15
And here's the Swedish perspective.

The confused right/left of Sweden
In Sweden the two main parties are the Moderates and the Social Democrats. Politically today they are both Social Liberals, but the poorly educated known them as Socialists and Liberals because most Swedes do not know what those labels means. To them, Socialists are people who are for helping the poor and the sick and Liberals are people who want to support rich and healthy people only. Well, the only thing that makes them different to me is how they distribute money. The moderates want free labour and the social democrats wants more wellfare.

We still have a bunch of socialists with a romantic view on socialism but it's traditionally due to lack of education and a yesterday perspective in a modern world. We used to live in a society of tyrants. Workers didn't even have the right to vote until the 20th century, but the socialist movement was sucessful, the classes was abolished.

Anyone who wish to demolish classes in Sweden today is a person who I consider crazy and everyone who want more rights for "workers" are crazy as well. The job market is completely different from what it was 80 years ago because the physical jobs are almost gone, classes are abolished, everyone can go to school and everyone can become whatever they want, at least legally. The radical left-wing rebels a fighting a battle against windmills; "crush the elite", "demolish the classes", "fight the power", just like their extreme rightwing counterpart "get rid of the parasites", "fight zionism" etc.

When my schoolbook and my teacher described Liberalism he said that the front figure of Liberalism was John Stuart Mill, but then he went on explaining Adam Smith's economic liberalism which is the kind of society which Mill rejected against and we never even discussed Libertarianism. "Too difficult" claimed my teacher, but what's the point with public education in a democracy if it cannot teach children what ideas are popular in politics?

Tell ye your children… about communism?
The worst thing I learned when I begun to educate myself was how Swedish schools avoided to teach about communism. Up to recently most Swedes in general had a false view on what Communism was and what Communism did. Communism was seen as solidarity, as a good community, people working together, supporting eachother, sharing stuff etc. So historybooks and historylessons have changed recently to give a more honest view on Communism. We have a book called "Tell ye your children…" which tell the rise of nazi germany and the holocaust. When the Moderates recently won the election they decided to push for a communist version of the same book, which became a loud debate. On one hand politicans shouldn't dictate what to be taught in schools, on the other hand it seemed that's what the Social Democrats did when they had made sure people do not know about Communism! But now the people who released the "Tell ye your children" book is working on a communist version and they are helping historyteachers to be able to give an honest version of the Communist crimes against humanity.

My views
A well oiled state in service to the people living in a geographical area makes sense to me. As I studied psychology I have no other choice but to support political freedom, a good police force and a well equipped social system. Because of this i reject to both Libertarianism, Communism and Anarchists. All you will get from abolishing the state is a new chieftain eventually and then you are back to the monarchy which liberalism rejected and then you have "power to the rich" that later socialism rejected.

Without a strong educational system and a public unbiased schoolsystem, you can as well shove democracy in the bin. It will break down society eventually since people simply doesn't know history and what consequences certain ideas lead to.
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October 20th, 2008, 11:51
PJ sums up the economics pretty well. I believe the "keynesian" mix of social liberals and social democrats though do have factions that actually want equality of outcome as well. Social democrats still see equality of outcome as an end in itself, while social liberals sees equalising policies as a means to more utopian ends of personal liberty (or equality of opportunity). In practice the groups end up with very similar policies, but one can often see cracks in the alliance when looking at non-economic issues. We for instance have a conflict regarding the existance of a constitutional court and checks and balances ultimately protecting the individual from the state where the social democrats simply dont see the need for such

Contrast to "market liberals" (a term that I guess doesnt make sense to Americans, they'd probably call them libertarians) who see economic liberty as the primary means to achieve the same personal liberty end as the social liberals, and conservatives (a term that IMHO makes sense mainly in the social sense) who are more interestered in non-economic values issues and are all over the board economically.
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October 20th, 2008, 22:09
@Zaleukos: yep, there are people in the Social Democratic movements who do want to see equality of outcomes. I've met a few, and they scare the willies out of me. I believe that's sort of a holdover from their Communist days — while these parties have officially abandoned the goal of Socialism, they do harbor the occasional genuine Socialist. But at least in my neck of the woods, by far the majority are more concerned about equality of opportunity — and even the ones who would ultimately like to see equality of outcomes see equality of opportunity as a necessary intermediate step, so I for one have no problem working with them up to that point.

@JemyM: I get the impression that the Finnish political field is a good bit more fluid than the Swedish one. We have three big parties and two smaller but still fairly important ones, and many fringe movements.
  • National Coalition. These are your right-of-center Conservatives. Politically they're not unlike the Democrats in the USA, both when it comest to economic and social policy.
  • Social Democrats. These are more or less like yours — originally a Socialist party that gradually shed its socialism over the years. In practice, the difference between the SDP and the National Coalition is about 2%: the National Coalition would like to lower the capital gains tax by that much, and the SDP would like to raise it by the same amount.
  • The Center Party. Socially conservative, based in small towns and the countryside, but perhaps a bit left-of-center economically — they're more protectionist than either the SDP or the NC, and are very much into entitlement programs. They're like an ultra-ultra-diluted version of the American Taliban. You'd have to stick bamboo splinters under my fingernails before I voted for them… but I have to admit that our boring-as-hell Centrist PM has done a very competent job of managing the country.
  • Greens. These aren't as big as the big three nationally, but they're quite big in my town. They have a somewhat overly flaky tree-hugger wing, but most of them have their heads screwed on pretty straight — they're for sustainable development, public transportation, dense urban construction, and all kinds of nice things. I usually vote for them in municipal elections, and sometimes in national ones — although often I go for the SDP in national elections simply because they're able to put their policies into practice better. I have a feeling I'll go with the NC in the next national elections; this economic mess is liable to take the country too far left, and I want to do my little bit to counterbalance that.
  • Left Alliance. These are the inheritors of the Communist party. There are a few people there whom I respect a great deal, but a great many more whom I despise. They're more of a left-populist party than even a respectable Eurocommunist one.
  • A variety of splinter, fringe, and special interest parties both at the left and right. We have our right-wing populists and a variety of left-wing crackpots, and quite a few special-interest parties to boot. The most respectable of these is the Swedish People's Party, which has people across the entire political spectrum with nothing much in common other than a desire to further the interests of the Swedish-speaking minority. I've voted for them occasionally, since they have any number of very capable people.
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October 21st, 2008, 09:20
But now the people who released the "Tell ye your children" book is working on a communist version and they are helping historyteachers to be able to give an honest version of the Communist crimes against humanity.
I think we have to be careful here Jemy. Just as it's important not to confuse socialism with higher taxes or public health care as PJ illustrated, it's also important to draw a distinction between communism (or socialism) as an ideology and totalitarian police states such as the Soviet Union. If you read through any of the websites of the main contemporary communist or socialist organizations (not including Stalinists and Soviet apologists) they will tell you that Soviet Russia was not communist at all, but a form of state capitalism which was explicitly anti-communist. Rather than the means of production being collectively owned and democratically controlled by the workers, they were appropriated by an elite group of bureaucrats who ruthlessly controlled and exploited the workers. Anyone who didn't conform to the party line was persecuted. This was neither communism, nor socialism. Socialism and communism have not yet been tried (not on a large scale anyway).

Leaders such as Stalin and Mao called themselves communists in order to lend legitimacy to their regimes, whereas their opponents in the west were also happy to brand them communists in order to demonize them and link them with left wing movements in their own countries. Unfortunately, the semantics regarding these terms have become so muddied that for most people they seem to have lost their original meanings.
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October 21st, 2008, 09:52
Except, Geist, that Stalin and Mao also thought of themselves as Communists. They saw the world through the lens of dialectical materialism; they considered themselves the vanguard of the proletariat in the class struggle against global capitalism, and they wanted to lead their respective countries into the earthly paradise of Communism.

The danger is precisely that the Communist dream is so beautiful, so persuasive; the injustices that sparked it so blatant and so horrible. And Marx — don't forget that he was and remains one of the unquestionable greats of Western philosophy; someone you could mention in the same sentence with Plato and Aristotle without sounding like a fool — showed the way; made it seem like that dream is just within reach.

For that kind of dream, what sacrifices aren't you ready to make, or to demand of others? If your goal is paradise — on Earth or elsewhere —, what if it takes a few, or a few thousand, or even a few million dead to get there?

They were Communists. They never made it there, but they tried. And, as Bernstein said, the journey proved more important than the destination they never reached.

It's the very beauty of the Communist dream is what made it so terrible.
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October 21st, 2008, 10:54
I sign what PJ just said. Socialism is a very attractive idea, almost religious in nature. You need to know what that idea does when mixed with human nature.

I recommend PBS excellent documentary "Communism: The Promise and Reality" if you have the time to spare;

01: The Red Flag
02: Fallout
03: Brave New World
04: Great Leap Forward
05: Guerilla Wars
06: People Power
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October 21st, 2008, 11:22
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Except, Geist, that Stalin and Mao also thought of themselves as Communists. They saw the world through the lens of dialectical materialism; they considered themselves the vanguard of the proletariat in the class struggle against global capitalism, and they wanted to lead their respective countries into the earthly paradise of Communism.

The danger is precisely that the Communist dream is so beautiful, so persuasive; the injustices that sparked it so blatant and so horrible. And Marx — don't forget that he was and remains one of the unquestionable greats of Western philosophy; someone you could mention in the same sentence with Plato and Aristotle without sounding like a fool — showed the way; made it seem like that dream is just within reach.

For that kind of dream, what sacrifices aren't you ready to make, or to demand of others? If your goal is paradise — on Earth or elsewhere —, what if it takes a few, or a few thousand, or even a few million dead to get there?

They were Communists. They never made it there, but they tried. And, as Bernstein said, the journey proved more important than the destination they never reached.

It's the very beauty of the Communist dream is what made it so terrible.
Well said. The main point I was trying to make was that, as you pointed out, they never reached their destination (communism), nor did they make any attempt to reach it after they had committed their atrocities and consolidated their power. Also, it seems highly dubious to me that genuine communism was even their goal (for Trotzky and Lenin perhaps, but for Stalin it was just a means to attain power) - of course, most communists assert that the revolution has to be global and that if it is confined to just one state, it will inevitably lead to totalitarianism. But, that's another discussion.
I do find it rather frustrating (though not surprising) that here in North America for instance, if you were to ask people if Stalinist Russia or Maoist China were communist states, at least 90% would say yes.

And just to be clear, in general I don't espouse violence as a means of changing society. This is not as easy a position to take as it may seem, though. If a state uses brutal and oppressive means against it's people, do people have the right to use violence to defend themselves against the state? It's a very difficult question to answer and in my opinion it's best not to generalize, but to evaluate each situation individually. As Nietzsche said, "Those who fight against monsters, must take care that they don't become monsters themselves, and if you look long enough into an abyss, the abyss will look back into you".
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October 21st, 2008, 11:55
There are many ideas that speaks so strongly to the human spirit that they always need to have a warningsticker. We have a couple of such ideas in our history; the idea of ones own superiority, the dream about afterlife, freedom, equality etc. These words can rally a whole nation into it's own demise unless we question what one means with the word.

For a democracy to work and for good values to be preserved, people in general need to know the danger of what happens when one particular dream takes over completely. Take "freedom". To many, it's enough to say "freedom" to make their eyes dreamy. There are many perspectives on what the word in itself means but when enough can agree we need "freedom", one of those perspectives can take over while the others are demolished.
"Every tyrant who has lived has believed in freedom—for himself" - Elbert Hubbard

The problem with complete freedom was expressed in the british industrial era. An ultra-capitalist environment where everyone looked to themselves first and never their neighbor, became a natural selection among humans. Street children was almost feral in nature because they lacked education, people pretty much died off in the streets. The mentality was that if people failed to stand up in horrible conditions, it was their fault. Nature got rid of the weak.

Social liberalism, socialism and a couple of other groups rejected that environment. It's simply not human to get rid of your neighbor. But it also gave in for jealousy. Once it got rid of the real oppressors and the upper class it started to see opressors everywhere. The behavior is very similar to the result of the french revolution.

One great problem with socialism is that you must make a whole culture agree to it. It's tempting to do this with rampart propaganda, which also creates a very strong sense of paranoia. Socialism just like every religion, has it's scapegoats, people who you should look after. People in your midst that is against the great values of your community. People even started to attack teachers in schools for being an authority, with the result that even the school system failed.

But an equally expressed fear for equality is expressed when Americans falsely apply the label "socialist" on everyone who even touch any human emotion/dream/wish that was absorbed in socialism. Liberalism, conservatism and socialism is based on human needs and emotions. You cannot give up those emotions, but you can learn about them so you take them with care.

I am a conservative in the regard that I believe in a well established structure for kids to grow up in. They will need to be educated and learn about our experiences. Our democracy depends on it. Democracy is what I believe in, it's my utopian idea, the one I strive for. I believe that the idea of democracy have been tried over time and proved itself to be the best way to lead things.
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October 21st, 2008, 12:05
Originally Posted by JemyM View Post
I sign what PJ just said. Socialism is a very attractive idea, almost religious in nature. You need to know what that idea does when mixed with human nature.

I recommend PBS excellent documentary "Communism: The Promise and Reality" if you have the time to spare;
Thanks for the link Jemy. I agree that human nature is one of the strongest arguments against communism. A communist will say that war, aggression, exploitation etc. are a product of our environment and that once humans become accustomed to living in an environment that promotes cooperation over competition, where wealth is evenly distributed and scarcity is eliminated, these negative tendencies will largely disappear. While I agree that poverty, inequality and competition undoubtedly plays a large role in promoting these negative behaviors, I don't agree with the communist claim that human wickedness can be eliminated by changing the economic structure of society. Our observations of chimpanzees and other animal show that even when food is plentiful, hierarchy and domination still exist. And indeed, in virtually every human society these elements have been present, and I'm convinced they would be present in a communist society as well.
That said, as long as there are gross injustices, suffering, environmental destruction etc., present in this world, I still think it's important to work toward achieving a more just, equitable, and sustainable society, rather than simply accepting the status quo. For me, that includes looking at alternate economic and political systems. Yes, that involves taking risks, and there's no guarantee that the new system won't end up even worse than the current one, but if we don't try new things, we'll never know what we might be capable of.
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October 21st, 2008, 12:14
Have you guys read science fiction by Iain M. Banks? His "Culture" is a Communist utopia — a society that technology has made so insanely productive that the very concept of property loses its meaning. If anyone can have anything they want with little more effort than wishing for it, there will be no need for money, nor for the enormously complex social and political mechanisms we have in place for managing it.

Banks's utopia is, to me, psychologically entirely credible. I would love to live in the Culture, and I believe that under such conditions Communism would not only work, but be pretty much inevitable.

The trouble is that we don't live in a universe of unlimited resources, or a society with unlimited productive capacity. Until we do, we'll have to make do with less.
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October 21st, 2008, 12:22
I think china is a good example, they are still lead by the "communist party" but the country is full of capitalism. Everything is ruled by capitalism when you choose a husband you should choose one with a good job who can earn much. You should get the education which could give you the best job and make you earn much! and you should join the communist party since they'll help you find a job that earns much.

I guess this shows something about human nature just like you said geist! But the chinese are also very proud of their nation and to be chinese and can co-operate and work very hard to promote their state and gouverment, as huge amounts of volunteers could show as soon as the gouverment needs something done.

If you protest against the will of the masses ( well that is the gouverment which is acctually very far from the masses ), you will be punished seriously by the gouverment. But for somethings the punishment is to pay a fine to the gouverment, so if you are rich it is fine to break some of the rules like 1 child policy!

As a contrast in sweden a lot of people want to pay more taxes! To make sure the health care and retirement homes are good for everyone and help the less fortunate, so I don't really think all humans strive for capitalism! In china I think it is more a problem that the people have been poor for a long time and they don't want to starve, and they want to feel secure and have a stable private economy.
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