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Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Truth in (Leftist) Advertising July 21, 2003 by RedStar2000

These three posts resulted from some questions raised by an anarchist.



I disagree. The goal of socialism is a classless society, like Communism.

That may be (according to some) its stated goal; but its reality is definitely class-based.


Proudhon, Tucker, Spooner, and Stirner all advocated private ownership of the means of production, but their theories are certainly worthy of the name socialism.

Not if the word is to retain any coherent meaning at all. The private ownership of the means of production (and the exploitation of wage-labor that goes with it) is called capitalism.


Socialism does not necessarily imply a wage system.

Well, it has thus far. I did suggest the possibility that a socialist order that was intent on the transition to communism would begin substituting free access to goods and services for wages as "quickly" as would be practical...but that only happened in a piece-meal way in the old 20th century socialist countries.


I can't think of one anarchist theorist who hasn't described himself as a socialist.

Point taken. I was generalizing from my acquaintances who are anarchists and who I had never heard use the word "socialism" in a positive sense...regarding it as just another form of hierarchy and exploitation. They either called themselves anarchists or, if they wanted to make their opposition to capitalism particularly clear, anarcho-communists.

19th century anarchist thinkers evidently used the word socialism to distinguish themselves from what they called "German communism" (that is, Marxism)--while at the same time, the German Social Democratic Party and its smaller counterparts in other European countries were beginning to use the word "socialism" as a "less inflammatory" and more "appealing" substitute for the word "communism"...and that's the definition that won out.

An "anarchist" who would be "in favor" of a centralized state that owned and managed the means of production--even if that state were "ultra-democratic"--wouldn't be an anarchist.


Anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, sure. But you're forgetting individualist anarchism in all its forms.

Not so much forgetting as ignoring...I don't think "individualist anarchism" is of anything but minor historical interest, if that.


Socialism existed before communism in the works of Fourier and the intentional communities of Owen.

Yes, the word itself goes back well before Marx. But I was trying to escape the incoherence of combining archaic and modern definitions.

In the real world, it has turned out that "socialism" "means" a centralized state--which may or may not be "democratic" to a greater or lesser extent--that "owns" and manages the means of production, utilizes some form of centralized economic planning, hires labor-power, markets its goods and services to a "captive" consumer base, etc.

The Leninist version was openly dictatorial. The hypothetical "democratic" version has never existed (possibly because its advocates have always insisted on coming to power through the mechanism of bourgeois elections).

Any other definitions, it seems to me, would only be confusing.


I would call Titoism a form of Communism since it's based on Marxism-Leninism.

In no way did Tito's Yugoslavia even remotely resemble a classless society (communism)...consequently, it was a form of socialism--though not by much. The use of market mechanisms in Yugoslavia rather quickly resulted in the re-emergence of capitalist features in that country; by the 1960s, you already had groups of workers exploiting other groups of workers. Think of it as their version of "management training".

At the risk of meddling in things that "are not any of my business", I very much wish that more revolutionary anarchists would strive for clarity of definition within their own ranks. It seems to me that it's still all too easy for any nutball who says he's "against the state" to not only claim the title of anarchist but be accepted as legitimate by other anarchists. This not only generates endless theoretical confusion but could someday have grave political consequences.

And that would be a shame.
First posted at RedGreenLeft on July 16, 2003


I think maybe we need to determine what defines one's class.

Well, that's a thread in itself, to say the least. But if the "political elite" (for want of a better phrase) controls the means of production and appropriates the surplus to its own ends (however nominally benevolent), then it seems to me that they are a ruling class in fact and will shortly begin to think and behave like one. They may not (yet) have a certificate of ownership but that is only a formality.


Usury and rent also define capitalism. If just one of these three things is missing, then it's not capitalism.

Usury (interest on loaned money) and rent have existed since the very beginnings of class society; they are not exclusive to capitalism at all.

It seems to me that the defining economic feature of capitalism is the exploitation of wage labor; the other two features are, in fact, quite prominent but their (temporary) absence doesn't mean all that much.

And, in any event, we're speaking of socialism here...which does exploit wage labor but may do without rents or interest if it wishes.

The point is that socialism is a form of class society which is apparently unstable and exhibits a marked propensity to decay back into capitalism. And what makes it unstable is precisely what it shares with capitalism...the exploitation of wage labor.


I think that if we're going to define socialism, it would be confusing to people, who have an understanding of socialist history, [to] ignore its roots, and misleading to those who don't.

Well, are we simply linquistic historians or are we trying to make sense of modern political reality? The more archaic and obsolete trends you cram under the rubric of a single word, the more confusion you generate. If you say that Mao was a socialist (modern definition) and Robert Owen was a socialist (obsolete definition), then how is anyone supposed to figure out what you mean when you use the word "socialist"?

It makes things difficult enough when people use words to mislead people deliberately (Mao called himself a "communist" but never expressed any particular interest in communism as a social order and, in fact, was apparently instrumental in the dismantling of the Shanghai Commune--a "proto-communist" formation that appeared shortly before Mao's death). Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. were all, in practice, socialists and the systems they all created were socialist systems.

There is also a non-Leninist but clearly socialist tradition that still drags out a rather moribund existence...that wishes to use the capitalist state to introduce a democratic version of socialism. There are not many of them around any more (their "glory days" were prior to World War I)...but I include them because their version would be essentially the same as the Leninist version...only democratic instead of dictatorial.


The reason you may not have realised this is because anarchists of one strain are usually very accepting towards anarchists of another.

That's what worries me.
First posted at RedGreenLeft on July 17, 2003


But isn't the idea of socialism that the government represents everyone, therefore everyone owns the means of production? Whether that's true or not is a different story, but that is the theory.

Yes, that is indeed the theory. But what I tried to do in my "attempted definition" was express the class reality of modern socialism. I recognized, for example, that the "strong-state socialists" (Leninists) "want" to manage a transition to communism; but I don't think history has shown us that they can do that...rather the reverse.


My complaint is that this definition means that individualist anarchism is unsocialistic. It simply seems wrong to me to exclude individualists.

I don't see how it could be "socialistic". The opposition to the state by an "anarcho-individualist" (new word?) might be perfectly sincere...yet he might otherwise be perfectly content with capitalism and might well actually prefer it to any form of non-market economic order.

Not being a "socialist" in any sense, he "excludes himself".


But socialism is a very broad term. If you called Mao a Maoist and Owen a Utopian Socialist, no one would disagree. So, in broader terms, why not call them both socialists?

Well, what I'm striving for is precision, not inclusiveness. Marx referred to Owen as a "utopian socialist" and that was not a bad choice of words at that time.

But, if memory serves me correctly, Owen was, in modern terms, likewise not any kind of socialist. He never proposed (unless I am mistaken) that power be taken away from the existing ruling class and either transferred to the working class or to some political group "acting on behalf" of the working class. There were certainly communal features to his proposals...but I think what he was really after was changing the "moral outlook" of the existing ruling class, making it more "humane" and showing how that could also be profitable.

But it wasn't socialism, in modern terms. (By the way, I didn't mean to imply that Owen "misled" anyone by his use of the word; in his time, all sorts of people used it with all kinds of was a fuzzy "feel good" word.)


While anarchists only seem disorganized, it is really just solidarity.

Actually, I think that the characterization of anarchists as "disorganized" is a Leninist myth; my observation is that anarchists can organize things just as well as anyone can.

No, the problem with anarchism (and why thus far, I don't even dream of starting a "A Definition of Anarchism" thread), is lack of theoretical clarity about what a revolutionary anarchist really is. There has just been posted a sticky thread at the Che-Lives board called "Making Sense of Anarchism" (in Theory) which goes on for considerable length just to outline the major trends.

It "looks" to me as an outsider that anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism are/is the "real thing"...that's what revolutionary anarchism is really "about", and the rest of it is pretty irrelevant and should probably be called something else.

Just as I, for example, refuse to let Leninists and reformists appropriate the label "communist" or "Marxist" for schemes that have nothing to do with either.

Think of it as political "truth in advertising"--we want people who come into the "left" to understand what's behind the "brand name" and what's really "inside the package". If they wander over to the "Trotskyism" section, I'll leave it to the merchants of those dubious products to sort out their differences and labels...but I won't permit them to call themselves Marxists or communists--that's false advertising. (I'd also remark, if I was in a bad mood that day, that all their products are long past their "sell-by" date.)

There doesn't seem to be anyone in the anarchist spectrum that looks after "consumer protection"...clear theoretical concepts and definitions that give people the necessary understanding to make informed choices.

I hope someday there will be.
First posted at RedGreenLeft on July 18, 2003
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