vineri, 13 iulie 2012

Noam Chomsky interviewed by IASR

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics. and a major figure of analytic philosophy. His work has influenced fields such as computer science, mathematics, and psychology.
Ideologically identifying with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism, Chomsky is known for his critiques of U.S. foreign policy and contemporary capitalism and he has been described as a prominent cultural figure. His media criticism has included Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), co-written with Edward S. Herman, an analysis articulating the propaganda model theory for examining the media.
IASR (Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative from Romania) had the chance to be granted a short interview.

IASR: Prof. Chomsky, thank you for according us this interview. In countries such as Romania, there is a certain difficulty to be a leftist, or especially to hold a libertarian socialist point of view. Can you briefly describe what you think is libertarian socialism and how can we reproach the term socialism in such a country?

CHOMSKY: Libertarian socialism, as I understand it, is a child of the Enlightenment.  Its primary goal is to replace social fetters with social bonds, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, one of the founders of classical liberalism.  In some respects libertarian socialism is the inheritor of classical liberalism, a matter discussed by Rudolf Rocker, one of the leading advocates of anarchosyndicalism, an array of similar notions.   It is not a fixed doctrine, and there is room within it for considerable debate and disagreement, but there are some basic ideas: the dismantling of authoritarian and hierarchic structures unless they can demonstrate their legitimacy (which is rare) and establishment of a society based on free association, popular control of institutions and decision-making, federalist arrangements of broader scope, and similar conceptions over the entire range of human life and social existence.

IASR: Even if it’s a favorable climate for social unrest, can you pinpoint a few reasons to the apparent stagnation of the movement?

CHOMSKY: I do not think this is a period of stagnation.  On the contrary, there is a revival of such notions in many forms: the “horizontalism” of the Occupy movements and others like them, the substantial growth of cooperative movements and worker-owned enterprises, and much else.

IASR: There is a general worry within the radical left, that the Ocuppy movement is trying to be coopted by the liberal establishment. Is there any truth in this? And could Occupy eventually transcend and become a more revolutionary force?

CHOMSKY: We can take for granted that if a genuine popular movement develops that challenges power and privilege, it will face efforts to destroy or co-opt it, or both.  That’s entirely predictable.  Whether Occupy can resist these efforts, we can’t predict, and needn’t try.  What’s important is to resist them.  I don’t think that circumstances are ripe for a truly revolutionary movement in the industrial societies.  One prerequisite would be broad recognition that issues of real concern cannot be addressed within the framework of existing institutions, and that is far from being the case.

IASR: Lastly, as a long time libertarian socialist, how can one hold to such independent views in a world based on partisanship?

CHOMSKY: If partisanship is disagreement, it can be a perfectly healthy phenomenon, the source of discovery, innovation, new insight, and more effective action.  If it descends into rigid dogmatism, then it is a harmful force that should be overcome.  But there are plenty of opportunities open for holding independent views, and acting on them.

miercuri, 23 mai 2012

What is nationalism?

I. Origin of the nationalist doctrine.
"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." - Albert Einstein 

Nationalism is a doctrine which appeared as a reaction against anarchist ideas in the nineteenth-century, along with statism. Both statism and nationalism have formed in time the core of authoritarian political orientations: Bolshevism, fascism, national socialism. These have led to the largest known catastrophes in human history.

The arguments of nationalist ideology represent the philosophical reflections inspired by German idealists and romantics. Hegel argued that the state is more superior than the individual and it is the highest form of consciousness. Such a consideration leads automatically to the condemnation of freedom, the denial of civil rights and the arbitrary and unjust rulings over peoples lives. Hegel's speculative philosophy inspired a century later, Nazi ideology.
II. Similarities between Bolshevism and fascism or between national-communism and National Socialism.

"Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism" - Benito Mussolini

Therefore, nationalism can be identified as both common in fascist ideology and in the forms communism took over the twentieth century. Socialism in its roots was internationalist, but the statist form it took was bound towards nationalism and authoritarianism: thus the name of national-communism.

Both fascism and Bolshevism (or national-communism) constitute the opposite authoritarian direction of the democratic and libertarian movements. The revolutions realized under the fascists, Nazis or Bolsheviks inherently contain coercion, lack of pluralism, strengthening state authority and intolerance.

III. The inherent implications of nationalism.

"Nationalism is our form of incest, it is our idolatry, our insanity" - Erich Fromm

Strengthening state authority would be a first consequence. Nationalists base their arguments about strengthening state authority on the identification of enemies from within ( Jews, homosexuals, Roma, national minorities, etc.). Against these enemies nationalists want to strengthen the means of state coercion, ranging (as we find in the history of the twentieth century) even towards genocide. The enemy from within is never the same with real oppressor, his identification diverts the citizens attention from the real oppressor (the state, ruling class, etc).
Another consequence would be the limitation of individual freedom. Since the masses can revolt against the injustice and abuse of the state, the nationalists will seek to have control over them. How will this control be exercised? Through the abolition of trade unions or other forms of free association, by strict control of education, using media and literary/artistic creations as means of propaganda to support the nationalist regime and by a mass culture characterized by a wooden language. Moreover - the ruling class of such a regime will seek to ensure not only that citizens are exposed but will maintain a state of terror in society, aimed to discourage any form of protest. In this regard the known criminal activity of the state police services, such as the German Gestapo, Soviet Cheka or the Iron Guard imposed terror in Romania in the period in which they held power. Thus, all authoritarian regimes in history have used an almost total restriction of rights and civil liberties, using the official police and the paramilitary groups, or bullies who were in the service of the party (the German SA, the legionary police in Romania). Identifying an external enemy is also a characteristic of nationalism. Instead of proper coexistence, cooperation and keeping the peace, the nationalists identify, in general among the neighboring countries, an enemy. Antipathies towards neighbors are cultivated, based on the criterion of an alleged superiority towards them. In this way national history is mystified to accommodate their chauvinistic arguments.

IV. Characteristics of fascist nationalism.
" like cheap alcohol. First you get drunk, and then it blinds, then it kills you " - Dan Fried

The Romanian fascists (the Legionnaires or the neo-Legionnaires of the New Right) used or are using religion as a way of manipulating the masses.

Other features of fascism (not only Romanian) are:

- militarized organization. It aims to not allow free individual development but to equalize both those who serve in the fascist organization and the rest of the citizens;
- harsh discourses against minorities (Jews, Romani, Hungarians, homosexuals, etc.)
- patriotism. It is promoted to induce a sense of duty towards the state or the fascist organization and thus resulting in the willingness to commit atrocities. The idea of patriotism is placed above their own consciousness, so under the pretext of love of country, many end up committing heinous acts that would otherwise not be able to commit;
- restricting rights and civil liberties. This is necessary to overcome all opposition, because a nationalist regime is opposed to one in which pluralism and the divergence of ideas are accepted and tolerated;
- elitism. Restriction of power in the hands of a group seen as most competent to make decisions. A direct consequence of elitism is discrimination and moral corruption, and lack of democratic participation and public debate.

V. The relationship between people and education in terms of nationalism.

"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons" - Bertrand Russell

In terms of relationships between people and education, the nationalists share a traditionalist vision. Initiatives such as the emancipation of women are not seen with good eyes by nationalists, even mistaking them with immorality. The woman in a society subjected to a nationalist regime will always be limited to the  traditional role.

Throughout history, the nationalists have encouraged denouncement and animosity between people in order to form an amorphous mass of them. This is common to fascism and Bolshevism.
Education, in the nationalist vision should serve - not individual and personal development and the obtaining of autonomy but its indoctrination according to the rigid dogma of nationalism. Patriotism is encouraged to divert attention from real issues, promoting the cult of heroes in order to inoculate people with a false idea of national superiority.

marți, 21 februarie 2012

Misconceptions About Political & Economic Terms

The following are actual quotes that I have found on various online chat boards which I have modified to prove a specific point. They also reflect a common thought process I find when speaking with people about politics in the real world:

"Democracy (generally with a paternal figurehead at the helm) is no more or less than a means to render a populace into a bunch of ineffectual teenagers."

"Without a doubt democracy is evil, maybe not as much as the theoretical democracy everyone raves about, but it is purely evil."

"Finally someone else is showing an interest in the fact that there are no free Americans and we are turning into a fascist democratic country."

Beyond a handful of right-wing extremists who worship Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises, most people would consider these statements to be absurd, and for good reason. But if you replace the words "democracy" and "democratic" from each of these statements with the words "communism" or "socialism" these statements become justified, right?

Not exactly.

It is not my intention to compare democracy with either socialism or communism, but rather to show that these terms are commonly thrown about in conversation on a daily basis in a very irresponsible fashion to attack political ideologies and practices that we disagree with. We are, in effect, taking meaningful economic terms and relegating them to the status of pejoratives equivalent in their meanings to George Carlin's seven dirty words. Doing this makes political discourse extremely difficult and horrendously inefficient. Not only does it prevent those who actually understand these terms from effectively communicating with those who do not, but it also clouds discussion between likeminded individuals who lack any proper understanding of these terms. By dissecting these three quotes above we find that in the first, communism/socialism is equated to a welfare state, in the second it is vaguely categorized as evil, and in the third it is held, in conjunction with fascism, as antithetical to freedom. Not only are all three of these definitions very vague, but they are also largely contradictory. If two parties with a common goal cannot come to an agreement as to the nature of the enemy with which they are at war, how do they expect to win the battle against it? In order to have truly meaningful political discourse we need to educate ourselves and those around us of what these terms and others we use regularly and do not fully understand mean from both a theoretical and practical assessment of these ideologies and their histories.

Unfortunately, as with most political terms, traditional dictionary definitions of each are inadequate. The dictionary at defines socialism as "a theory or system of social organization  that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole" and communism as "a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state." [1][2] While these do reflect a narrow perspective of what these terms mean, there are a broad variety of socialist and communist ideologies, many of which have existed for close to or in excess of 200 years, that do not fit into these definitions. Mutualism, for example, was an economic theory created by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a self-described socialist whose writings predate those of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, which seeks "a society in which the economy is organized around free market exchange between producers, and production is carried out mainly by self-employed artisans and farmers, small producers' cooperatives, worker-controlled large enterprises, and consumers' cooperatives." [3]

So if the dictionary definitions of socialism and communism are incorrect, what are the correct definitions of these terms? Though most official definitions of socialism point to some form of common ownership, the most concise definition i have found that encompasses all of its various forms is "workers' control over the means of production". This means that whether the capital is controlled by one individual who owns his business and does his own labor, or by a large group of people such as a community who control labor directly and equally, it is socialism. Of the various socialist ideologies, communism is the most well known. It is defined as a form of socialism that includes remuneration based on the guiding principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

By these definitions, equating them with fascism and a welfare state are laughable. But again, here is a term being used as a pejorative with little understanding of what the term means. The following quote from Benito Mussolini may give us a sufficient definition:

"The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.

State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management." [4]

So as per Mussolini's definition, fascism is a system in which private entities control the means of production in a market system with limited government interference in the economy. Upon researching the definition of capitalism we find that fascism is strikingly similar. In the case of capitalism we find that, for once, the dictionary definition actually suffices:

"an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth." [5]

So, in essence, the above definition could equate to private ownership of the means of production. As such, one could argue that fascism is a form of capitalism in which there is minimal state involvement. Additionally, one could extrapolate that the U.S. economy could be accurately described as fascist, and therefore capitalist. However, when one evaluates whether or not the U.S. economy is socialist or communist, we see that it is as far from either of these as possible. The U.S. economy is marked by high levels of privatization and very little workers' control.

Even more interestingly, if we look at the common examples that are brought up when people discuss socialism and communism, none of them resemble workers' control either. Here's an in depth analysis of Communism in the U.S.S.R. by Emma Goldman:

"Industrial planning and all the processes of production and distribution are in the hands of the central government. Supreme Economic Council is subject only to the authority of the Communist Party. It is entirely independent of the will or wishes of the people comprising the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Its work is directed by the pollicies and decisions of the Kremlin. This explains why Soviet Russia exported vast amounts of wheat and other grain while wide regions in the south and southeast of Russia were stricken with famine, so that more than two million of its people died of starvation (1932-1933)." [6]

So it seems this leaves us with no existing examples of socialism and communism existing in reality and only theoretical incantations as well as the assumption that, in practice, it automatically leads to tyranny and despotism. But this assumption, too, is false. though they are less known, there have been examples of both large and small scale socialism existing in the world, some of which continue to exist to this day. The most glaring example is the Spanish Revolution. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936, when Francisco Franco was focusing all of his efforts on militarily fending off the State Communists, the people of Spain, as well as immigrants from elsewhere in the world, took over approximately 70-80% of the country on a completely egalitarian platform. In rural areas money was abolished and production and consumption was handled on the basis of mutual aid. in more urban areas, such as Barcelona, various types of currency were created and used in that specific region. Here, George Orwell discusses the collectivization (workplace democritization) of industry throughout Spain:

"The country was in a transitional state that was capable either of developing in the direction of Socialism or of reverting to an ordinary capitalist republic. The peasants had most of the land, and they were likely to keep it, unless Franco won; all large industries had been collectivized, but whether they remained collectivized, or whether capitalism was reintroduced, would depend finally upon which group gained control." [7]

Some other important examples, both past and present, include the Ukrainian Free Territory, the Israeli Kibbutzim, and Freetown Christiania (which still exists, in its present form, as a socialist community).

But nonetheless, it is not my goal with this article to persuade people to any particular line of economic or political thought. It is merely my goal to convince others to choose their wording more wisely when partaking in political discussion as it will make their conversations more fruitful. If in writing this I convince just one person to be a bit more conscientious about their choice of words, then I will be content.


1. "socialism." The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 19 Feb. 2012.

2. "communism." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 19 Feb. 2012.

3. Kevin Carson. Introduction. Mutualist. Web. 3 Jan. 2003.

4. Benito Mussolini. 1935. Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions. Rome: 'Ardita' Publishers. 135-136. Web. 2010

5. "capitalism." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 19 Feb. 2012.

6. Emma Goldman. Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, third edition. Alix Kates Shulman. American Mercury, volume XXXIV. April 1935. Web.

7. George Orwell. Homage to Catalonia. 1938. Web. 2003.

vineri, 10 februarie 2012

Libertarian Marxism?

2 essays by Daniel Guerin, written in 1969.


Marx's famous address 'The Civil War in France', written in the name of the General Council of the International Working Mens Association two days after the crushing of the Paris Commune, is an inspiring text for Libertarians. Writing in the name of the International in which Bakunin had extensive influence, in it Marx revises some passages of the Communist Manifesto of 1848. In the Manifesto Marx and Engels had developed the notion of a proletarian evolution by stages. The first stage would be the conquest of political power, thanks to which the instruments of production, means of transport and credit system, would 'by degrees', be centralised in the hands of the State. Only after a long evolution, at a time when class antagonisms have disappeared and State power has lost its political nature, only then would all production be centered in the hands of 'associated individuals' instead of in the hands of the State. In this later libertarian type of association the free development of each would be the condition for the free development of all.
Bakunin, unlike French socialists, had been familiar with the Communist Manifesto in its original German since 1848 and didn't miss a chance to criticise the way in which the revolution had been split into two stages - the first of which would be very strongly State controlled. He put it like this: "Once the State has installed itself as the only landowner... it will also be the only capitalist, banker, moneylender, organisor and director of all the nations work and distributor of its products. THIS is the ideal, the fundamental principle of modern communism." What's more: "This revolution will consist of the expropriation, either by stages or by violence, of the currant landowners and capitalists, and of the appropriation of all land and capital by the State, which, so as to fulfil its great mission in both economic and political spheres, will necessarily have to be very powerful and highly centralised. With its hired engineers, and with disciplined armies of rural workers at its command, the State will administer and direct the cultivation of the land. At the same time it will set up in the ruins of all the existing banks, one single bank to oversee all production and every aspect of the nation's commerce." And again "We are told that in Marx's people's State there will be no privileged class. Everyone will be equal, not just legally end politically, but from the economic point of view. At least that's the promise, although I doubt very much, considering the way they go about it and their proposed method, whether it's a promise that can ever be kept. Apparently there will no longer be a privileged class, but there will be a government, and, note this well, an excedingly complicated government, which would not simply govern and administer the masses in a political sense, as all present governments do, but which would also administer the economy, by concentrating in its own hands production, the fair distribution of wealth, the farming of the land, the establishment and development of trades, the organisation and control of commerce, and lastly the application of capital to production through the only banker, the State."
Goaded by Bakunin's criticisms, Marx and Engels felt the need to correct the overly statist ideas they had held in 1848. In a preface to a new edition of the Manifesto, dated 24 June 1872, they agreed that 'in many respects' they would give a 'different wording' to the passage in question of the 1848 text. They claimed support for this revision in (among others) "the practical experience gained first in the February Revolution (1848), and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months." They concluded that "This programme has in some details become antiquated." One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes." And the 1871 Address proclaimes that the Commune is "the final discovery of the political form by which the economic emancipation of labour may be created."
In his biography of Karl Marx, Franz Mehring also stresses that on this point 'The Civil War in France', to a certain extent, revises the Manifesto in which the dissolution of the State was certainly forseen, but only as a long-term process. But later, after the death of Marx, Lehning assures us that Engles, struggling with Anarchist currents, had to drop this corrective and go back to the old ideas of the Manifesto.
The slightly over-rapid volte-face of the writer of the 1871 Address was always bound to arouse Bakunin's scepticism; He wrote of the Commune: "It had such a great effect everywhere that even the Marxists, whose ideas had been proven wrong by the insurrection, found that they had to lift their hats respectfully to it. They did more; contrary to the simplest logic and to their own true feelings, they proclaimed that its programme and aim were theirs too. This was a farcical misrepresentation, but it was necessary. They had to do it - otherwise they would have been completely overwhelmed and abandoned, so powerful was the passion this revolution had stirred in everyone."
Bakunin also observed: "It would appear that Engels, at the Hague Congress (Sept. 1872) was afraid of the terrible impression created by some pages of the Manifesto, and eagerly declared that this was an outdated document, whose ideas they (Marx & Engels) had personally abandoned. If he did say this, then he was lying, for just before the Congress the Marxists had been doing their best to spread this document into every country."
James Guillaume, Bakunin's disciple in the Jura Federation, reacted to reading the 1871 Address in similar terms: "This is an astonishing declaration of principle, in which Marx seems to have thrown over his own programme in favour of Federalist ideas. Has their been a genuine conversion of the author of _Capital_, or has he at any rate succumbed to a momentary enthusiasm under the force of events? Or was it a ploy, aimed at using apparent adherence to the programme of the Commune to gain the benefit of the prestige inseperable from that name?"
In our own day, Arthur Lehning, to whom we owe the learned edition of the Bakunin Archives - which are still being published - has also emphasised the contradiction between the ideas in the Address and those of all Marx's other writings: "It is an irony of history that at the very moment when the struggle between the authoritarian and anti-authoritarian factions in the 1st International had reached its height, Marx, influenced by the enormous effect of the Parisian proletariats revolutionary uprising, had given voice to the ideas of that revolution, (which were the very opposite of those he represented) in such a way that one might call them the programme of the anti-authoritarian faction which (in the International) he was fighting by all means possible. ...There can be no doubt that the brilliant Address of the General Council... can find no place in the system of "scientific socialism". The Civil War is extremely un-marxist...The Paris Commune had nothing in common with Marx's State Socialism, but was much closer to Proudhon's ideas and Bakunin's federalist theories...According to Marx, the basic principle of the Commune was that the political centralism of the State had to be replaced with the workers governing themselves, and by the devolution of initiative onto a federation of small autonomous units, until such time as it was possible to put trust in the State... The Paris Commune did not aim at letting the State "wither away", but at doing away with it immediately.... The abolition of the State was no longer to be the final, inevitable, outcome of a dialectical process of history, of a superior phase of social development, itself conditioned by a superior form of production."
"The Paris Commune", Lehning continues, "abolished the State without effecting a single one of the conditions previously laid clown by Marx as a prelude to its abolition ... The defeat of the bourgeois State by the Commune was not with the aim of installing another State in its
place ... Its objective was not the founding of a new State machine, but the replacement of the State by social organisation on federalist economic bases... In 'The Civil War' it's not a question of a 'withering away', but of an immediate and total abolition of the State."
Likewise the marxologist Maximilien Rubel has admitted that: "It is undeniable that Marx's idea of the proletariat's conquest and suppression of the State found its definitive form in his Address on the Paris Commune, and that as such it differs from the idea given by the Communist Manifesto."
Nevertheless there is disagreement between the two scholars: Lehning, who, for right or wrong, sees in Marx an 'authoritarian', asserts that the Address is a "foreign body in Marxist socialism, whereas Rubel, on the other hand, would like to see a 'libertarian' in Marx, and holds that Marxian thought found its 'definitive form' in the Address.
For all this the 1871 Address still has to be seen as a point of departure in the effort today to find a synthesis between anarchism and marxism, and as a first demonstration that it is possible to find a fertile conciliation of the two streams of thought. The Address is libertarian marxist.

(This is the concluding essay appended to the book from which both the essays in this pamphlet have been taken, "Pour un Marxism Libertaire", published by Robert Laffont, 1969. Translations by D.R.)

To conclude this book I shill dare to sketch the rudiments of a programme - at the risk of being accused of drifting into 'metapolitics'.
Today it is stupid to procede to some sort of patching up of the ramshackle edifice of socialist doctrine, throwing together relevant fragments of traditional marxism and anorchism, making a show of marxist or bakuninist erudition, trying to trace, simply on paper, ingenious
synthesis and tortuous reconciliations...

Modern libertarian marxism, which flowered in May 1968, transcends marxism and anarchism.
To call oneself a libertarian marxist today is not to look backwards but to be committed to the future. The libertarian marxist is not an academic but a militant. He is well aware that it is up to him to change the world - no more, no less. History throws him on the brink. Everywhere the hour of the socialist revolution has sounded. Revolution - like landing on the moon - has entered the realm of the immedidte and possible. Precise definition of the forms of a socialist society is no longer a utopian scheme. The only utopians are those who close their eyes to these realities.
If this revolution is to be a success, and, as Gracchus Babeuf would say, the last, what guidelines are there for making it?
Firstly, before going into action, the libertarian marxist makes a careful assessment of the objective conditions, trying to sum up quickly and accurately the relations between the forces operating in each situation. For this the method Marx developed is not at all archaic - historical and dialectical materialism is still the safest guide, and an inexhaustable mine of models and points of reference. Provided, however, it is treated in the way Marx did: that is, without doctrinal rigidity or mechanical inflexibility. Provided too that the shelter of Marx's wing does not lead to the endless invention of bad pretexts ond pseudo-objective reasons for botching, missing and repeatedly failing to drive home the chance of revolution.
Libertarian marxism rejects determinism and fatalism, giving the greator place to individual will, intuition, imagination, reflex speeds, and to the deep instincts of the masses, which are more far-seeing in hours of crisis than the reasonings of the 'elites'; libertarian marxism thinks of tho effects of surprise, provocation and boldness, refuses to be cluttered and paralysed by a heavy 'scientific' apparatus, doesn't equivocate or bluff, and guards itself from adventurism as much as from fear of the unknown.

miercuri, 21 decembrie 2011

Social Democracy: The Last Bastion of Capitalism

Back in 1911, Churchill had argued that welfare provision would deter workers from turning to “revolutionary socialism” and, by the 1930s, his prediction had proved correct. This still echoes today and sums the premise in a nutshell. Social Democracy is both the graveyard, and the gravedigger of every social movement.  Under the mantle of “progressivism”, it sucked every chance the masses had at liberation. At various stages of social and economic development they compromised, but when something was won, small or big, they jumped to monopolize it. This policy of compromise, ultimately transformed them into the cornerstone of modern capitalism, it became the last bastion of capitalism. The result of this transformation can be ironically described as “capitalism with a human face”, in comparison with the capitalism of the late 19th century and early 20th century, which is characterized as “wild” capitalism. The “humanization” of capitalism; or better said the salvation of it, is the tragedy and irony of the old social democrats within the “First International”.
It is actually a tragedy, when Marx, through his followers of course, prolonged the survival and perpetuation of the very capitalism which they vigorously fought against. And to dramatize the situation even more, from this social democracy the heretic son “Leninism” was born. While the former perpetuated capitalism, the later tried to escape its reformist shackles but ultimately succumbed to the same temptations; statism and most importantly compromise.  Unfortunately, “Leninism” naturally became in its turn, the graveyard and the gravedigger of social movements, instituting the “worst of all despotic governments” as Bakunin truly “prophesied” some two hundred years ago. That said a pattern seems to be seen, the seeds are bad if the fruits are always rotted inside. While the heretic son was dismantling the free soviets and the factory committees after getting power in 1918 in Russia, in the same time the father was clapping down a revolution in Germany in the name of capitalism. Disillusioned by both, some Marxists tried to escape this tragic conundrum, even more questioning the very “socialist” nature of Leninism, and more importantly, trying to show the capitalist aspects of the order they institute in Russia. These aspects were no doubt the inheritance of social democracy, because whilst social democracy is on the center-left of capital; Leninism is on the left of capital neither of them breaking away from it.     
This marriage, between social democracy and capitalism is in reality the old marriage between the state and capitalism. Social Democracy is the “progressive” face of the modern state apparatus; this apparatus was and still is the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie” as Marx noted. Let’s put aside the “power corrupts” concept (which is absolutely true in our case) and look at the historical meaning of the state in relation to the bourgeoisie. The modern “nation state” is the product of class antagonisms within the old feudal order; the mercantilist class representing itself in the “nation state” versus the multinational aristocratic class, representing itself in the multinational empires.  The “National Awakenings” that occurred in the early part of the 19th century, were the products of these class antagonisms within various multinational empires. Such events were primarily led by the former local mercantilists, which now became the national bourgeoisie; their interests conflicting with the primitive aristocratic privileges.  This historical process was called “revolutionary” by Marx himself, which pointed how the bourgeoisie destroyed the old feudal order; consolidated its power by creating the modern “nation state” i.e. the state; and through this providing a legal framework for capitalism itself. Or in simpler terms, the modern state was the one that firstly “legalized” capitalism.  
Considering the history detailed above, social democracy is the last defense of capitalism. Social democracy is embodied in the state. This is also the “sin” passed down to Leninism; trying to obscure the very concept of  the “state” itself, the Leninists try to create certain variations of it, a “workers state”, “socialist republic” and so on. But how can one build on a structure which is foreign to the working class? The state in itself as a concept and structure is the product of the bourgeoisie.  One cannot live without the other.
Not drag this even more, the most important conclusion I think is this; social democracy is the compromise capitalism offered us under the form of the “welfare state”. Winston Churchill was indeed a heavy drinker and smoker, but that doesn’t mean he was dumb.   

duminică, 21 august 2011

On Labor Exploitation

It remains evident to both a professed State Capitalist or a Stalinist that exploitation exist in the world. The central difference between the two would be their perception of what constitutes exploitation and who they think does the exploitation. The factor that also makes them similar is their historical justification of exploitation in the name of what they consider a greater future. Which I'll explain in this essay.

The Capitalist history of advocating or apologizing for exploitation:

It is not exactly specified as to when State Capitalism in object began to exist. Although, the end of what is known as the Feudal economic system, the Cottage economy and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is generally described as the beginning of "State Capitalism". Which is arguably a misnomer, but I will conviniently leave that topic for another essay.

The Feudal system, even though it ensured that the general population remained close to enslaved, was justified by a belief in a naturally designed order of society. Prominently described by Thomas Aquinas in his "The Argument from Design" which was often used to argue that any system other than Feudalism was against "Human Nature". Which rather ironically sounds like the argument of the many people who argue for "Intelligent Design". But in many ways this is not ironic; there has always been those who advocate what is known by later generations as exploitation. There are also a myriad of people who have advocated what is known by later generations as Pseudo-Science. Each generation of individuals mirroring past generations in character, each time attracting some following amongst intellectuals and the general populace.

One thing which was justified by Capitalist and Theocrats alike was the existence of slavery. The various argument for its existence included a belief that the abolition of slavery would lead to massive unemployment, economic depression,  assimulation problems and the claim that the Black slaves were somehow better off than the freed slaves. As well as the Black people who were living in Africa, claiming that there were significant increases in slave life expectancy over the course of decades. There were also a myriad of arguments which claimed that Black people were racially inferior, such as the arguments of John Campbell. The fact that somewhere near 3%-5% of Black people who lived in the South were free and living successfully was of course a figurative "Thorn in the Side" to John Campbell's argument and those like his. Thankfully, legal slavery in the United States came to an end. Slowly the apologist and the advocates for it began to dissappear as well. The abolitionist went from being recognized as "unrealistic radicals" to being seen as the "Good People" who fought to end an unjustifiable evil.

Another thing which the Capitalist once attempted to justify was Imperialism. In today's world the phrase "Imperialist" is largely a buzzword or an insult. You will probably seldom find a politician who claims to have an "empire" or who terms their war an "Imperial expansion". You will probably not find a "respectable" individual like Winston Churchill who argues for the use poisonous gas on "Recalcitrant Arabs" (i.e People who fought for independence from the UK's empire). You will also no longer find individuals who claim that Imperialism is philanthropic and benevolent, but these sort of arguments existed at one point. The rather familiar argument that "X" is bringing opportunity and economic progress to "X" poor place. Such individuals like King Baydouin of Belgium, who was King until as recent as 1993, had praised the developments for the Congo under the bloody rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. Patrice Lumumba criticized Baydouin, even going as far to say "We are no longer your monkeys!". Remarkably, Lumumba was harshly scorned in both the European and Western European media for criticizing a mass murderer like King Leopold. Lumumba was also later killed by the military coup of Colonel Joseph Mobutu, which had the complicity of the Belgian government and the Central Intelligence Agency. The U.S government even admitted in 2006 that it had planned on assassinating Lumumba who was a democratically elected Prime Minister. Of course, King Baydouin's apology for what was imperialism glossed over the significant death toll and human rights abuses of it. Yet, pointed out the small momentary gains of it. One could point out the fact that the UK created a railroad system for India as well as various other infastructural things, but gloss over how Winston Churchill and alike were involved in creating the Bengalese famine which caused millions of deaths. Which brings me to a related subject; the phonomenon of people in the more affluent countries apologizing for their leader's actions in the less affluent parts of the world. A phonomenon which is not solely limited to racial supremacist nor people with pernicious intentions. One which tends to exist in the form of modern day sweat shop apologist who as I will demonstrate; can be juxtaposed to an apologist for Stalinism.

In case you aren't familiar, the prominent economist Nicholas Christoff published an essay entitled Two Cheers for Sweatshops. Him, like many economist have made praise for exploitative work conditions in the belief that they will lead to eventual progress. As well as provide opportunity. In what they euphemistically entitle "Comparative Advantage". This is rather perversely a realistic term. Say that there is a man who is being physically held down by a man who represents a figurative corrupt government. This man holds down a weaker man while another man, the figurative multi-national corporation, kicks the held down man in the face. Eventually, the man kicking the held down man begins to kick the man more lightly than he did before. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sachs or some other "Neo-Liberal" economist proclaims that "He's not kicking him as hardly as he was before. Therefore, it's only logical that we provide financial support to the man kicking and ask that he doesn't just stop abusing and exploiting the held down man altogether". If you're critical of this logic, you're just someone who "thinks more with their heart, not with their mind" or someone who is utopian, unrealistic and the many other ad hominems generally reserved for the left.

Another claim is that these sweatshops improve living standards over time. There may actually be some objective proof for this claim. Although, these claims seem to conviniently overlook the role of labor activist and unions in creating better conditions. The massive general strikes in South Korea during the nineteen ninetees. The role of unions in creating what is now known as a "weekend", the eight our workday and many other things for which the magical "profit motive" doesn't grant. It also ignores the role of "structural adjustment programmes" of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization in creating poverty. These are programs which require that third world governments taking loans must stop subsidizing agricultural sectors and accept in cheap grain from the first world. Thus, destroying opportunities for local farmers to sell locally grown crops as well as create a need for farmers to migrate to urban centers. Basically, creating a need and introducing a solution that best fits the person creating the need.

Despite what the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom. Capitalist are often not the promoters of freedom. Nike corporation has negotiated with Indonesia's military dictatorship in order to suppress unionization. Any prominent free market economist would of course agree that the Suharto dictatorship doesn't exactly help economic growth. According to a study by the University of Michigan:

"FAQ #3. Do Nike jobs raise living standards in the long run?
Foreign investment sometimes does this, but only when coupled with support for labor organizing and democratization, with decent pay and conditions, and with commitment to the local economy when things get better. Nike runs in reverse. In Indonesia, "Nike has created 115,000 jobs that pay near-subsistence wages, but even [military] government officials grouse that such operations generate little self-sustaining economic development" [LAW]."

Another claim by the Lassiez-Faire crowd refers to the polarized reforms under Augusto Pinochet's Chile. Pinochet, who took power in a CIA supported coup d'etat. It is estimated that Pinochet's forces "are conservatively estimated to have killed over 11 000 people in his first year in power." [P. Gunson, A. Thompson, G. Chamberlain, The Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of South America, Routledge, 1989, p. 228]. The market reforms that were claimed to be a "miracle" by Milton Friedman. Although despite his claims, The initial effects of introducing free market policies in 1975 was a shock-induced depression which resulted in national output falling buy 15 percent, wages sliding to one-third below their 1970 level and unemployment rising to 20 percent. [Elton Rayack, Not so Free to Choose, p. 57].

In all fairness, the Pinochet regime actually did decrease inflation though. The Pinochet regime reduced inflation, from around 500% at the time of the CIA-backed coup, to 10% by 1982. From 1983 to 87, it fluctuated between 20 and 31%. The advent of the "free market" led to reduced barriers to imports "on the ground the quotas and tariffs protected inefficient industries and kept prices artificially high. The result was that many local firms lost out to multinational corporations. The Chilean business community, which strongly supported the coup in 1973, was badly affected." [Skidmore and Smith, Op. Cit.].  

Wealth also didn't "trickle down" as so praised. For example, in the last years of Pinochet's dictatorship, the richest 10 percent of the rural population saw their income rise by 90 per cent between 1987 and 1990. The share of the poorest 25 per cent fell from 11 per cent to 7 per cent. [Duncan Green, Op. Cit., p. 108] The legacy of Pinochet's social inequality could still be found in 1993, with a two-tier health care system within which infant mortality is 7 per 1000 births for the richest fifth of the population and 40 per 1000 for the poorest 20 per cent. [Ibid., p. 101].

Basically, this new era of "Neo-Liberalization" is not as great as supposed. At least not for much of the world. You could easily apologize or advocate it by making vague appeals to the increases in life expectancy in the third world as proof that globalization "works". But, using this to apologize for it's legacy is in many ways like apologizing for the legacy of individuals like Iosif Stalin. Considering that under Stalin life expectancies increased from 32 in 1913 to 63 in 1956 according to Patrick McNally. Similar increases in life expectancy occured under Mao Tse-Tung and Enver Hoxha. Of course, if a mainstream economist were to to publish an article entitled "Two Cheers for Stalin" or "Two Cheers For Slavery" or even "Two Cheers For Imperialism" they would rightfully not be taken seriously in the modern US. Considering the 2.5 million or so people who died under Stalin's purges. As well as Stalin's removal of democracy in favor of centralism, his signing of the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact and his imperialistic invasion of Finland. One would have to ignore many of these negatives to view Stalin as existentially positive like many in today's Russia do. The same should go for Sweatshops, as it does with things like slavery and Imperialism.

Overall, all exploitation should be viewed in the same light. One form being easily juxtaposed to another. If a politician is to rightfully denounce the abuses under Stalinism, then they should also be denouncing the abuses under the system of sweatshops. Not making an attempt to apologize for one of them out of political or economic convinience, while glossing over the abuses of the other in the name of "necessity" or anticipated future gain. I think that unless one wishes to subscribe to double standards then this point should remain pertinent. Thus, I think I've gotten across the point that I was trying to get across. Therefore, I rather awkwardly conclude this essay here.

marți, 15 februarie 2011

What is socialism ?

Ask an average Joe what is socialism and he will point out to China, the former Soviet Union, Cuba or other state capitalist or totalitarian dungeon. Of course, it's not his fault, after a cold war based upon indirect intervention and massive propaganda the truth lies underneath, to quote Noam Chomsky: "When the world's two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it requires some intellectual effort to escape its shackles. One such doctrine is that the society created by Lenin and Trotsky and molded further by Stalin and his successors has some relation to socialism in some meaningful or historically accurate sense of this concept. In fact, if there is a relation, it is the relation of contradiction." So it's not much about education here, as it is about misinformation. Socialism in the classical/libertarian sense does not imply state ownership of the means of production, if we involve the state in distributing wealth and owning all means of production, than we defeat the very purpose of socialism. Socialism meant, until the rise of Leninism, democratic workers control over the means of production and distribution. In the infamous Russian Revolution for example, we saw a revolutionary factory committee movement throughout the Russian working class as factories and plants were seized and run under workers self management. Lenin's idea was vastly different than the libertarian socialist tendency of the organized Russian masses, for Lenin "socialism" ran through the terrain of state capitalism and, in fact, simply built upon its institutionalized means of allocating recourses and structuring industry. As Lenin put it, "the modern state possesses an apparatus which has extremely close connections with the banks and syndicates, an apparatus which performs an enormous amount of accounting and registration work . . . This apparatus must not, and should not, be smashed. It must be wrestled from the control of the capitalists," it "must be subordinated to the proletarian Soviets" and "it must be expanded, made more comprehensive, and nation-wide." This meant that the Bolsheviks would "not invent the organizational form of work, but take it ready-made from capitalism" and "borrow the best models furnished by the advanced countries." Although I intentionally omit "social democracy", knowingly it is older than Leninism and was considered the "mainstream" form of socialism until the rise of Leninism, maybe I can be accused of intellectual dishonesty, but social democracy for me is the same state monopolistic system, albeit minus the "revolutionary" vanguardism of the Leninist. This statist vision of socialism, coupled with Lenin’s vanguardist interpretation of Marx's "Communist Manifesto"(although Marx's own writings alluded to centralization of economic and social power into the state) paved the way for modern totalitarianism and the disasters that followed it. This form of socialism based upon democratic workers control and anti-Leninism, was known in the time of Lenin, as “left communism”, this tendency along with anarcho-syndicalism, anarchist communism and other forms of social anarchism, come from the same philosophical and political tradition called “libertarian socialism”.  Libertarian socialism unites all these varied tendencies under one umbrella term, although with many differences between them, the main characteristics of these tendencies, such as workers control, anti-vanguardism, anti-centralism etc. puts them under one overall tradition, which is constantly evolving.  For example, new tendencies occurred inside the libertarian socialist tradition at the end of the 20th century, tendencies such as “Participatory Economics”, “Inclusive Democracy”, “Libertarian municipalism” etc.  All of these tendencies drew inspiration from the later libertarian socialist trends, building upon the already vast theories that came before them. So overall, the term socialism cannot be monopolized by the Leninists and its derivates, because socialism in this tradition is vastly different and unique.