The Problem with Socialism May 22, 2005 by RedStar2000
The people who remain attached to the idea of socialism as a "epoch of transition" between capitalism and communism...have a problem.
The socialist societies of the 20th century never accomplished that transition...and, in fact, never even tried.
Moreover, they were, on the whole, rather unpleasant places to live. Perhaps not as truly awful as the capitalist media portrayed them...but considerably worse than the advanced capitalist countries.
Leading to a situation where, mistakenly, the people in those socialist countries actually welcomed the return of capitalism. Thinking they were going to get something like Western Europe or North America now, they instead have received the "gangster capitalism" of, say, 1900.
Meanwhile, what are the transitional socialists to do? They can try to claim that things were "actually pretty good" under the old socialist regimes...which generally provokes mirth or even scorn.
Or, they can make large promises that they will "do better next time"...raising mountains of skepticism.
What either approach really reveals is their deep lack of confidence in the capabilities of ordinary working people to govern themselves.
I read this as ideological backwardness...the reluctance to part with old and familiar ideas even after they've been shown to be without utility.
That's a shame.
We cannot simply force greed out of people in a few years...
Agreed...but if "greed" is wide-spread even in the revolutionary period, then why shouldn't whoever comes out on top move quickly to consolidate that position and begin enriching themselves?
The "socialism" argument is really based on the proposition that people may overthrow a capitalist ruling class...and yet "not" be "ready" to live in a communist society.
How can this be known now? And what purpose is served by simply assuming that such will be the case?
But the existence of a bureaucracy in no way constitutes a ruling class distinct from the workers...any more then bureaucracies that exist in capitalist states constitute a ruling class distinct from the capitalists. This is because ultimate and lasting power in society doesn't rest in the people running the civilian government but in the people they're accountable to, those who control the capital in society, especially those who control the means of production. It would be impossible for the bureaucrats to stay in power without the ruling class's support because the ruling class is where they draw their power from, because they finance the government; the same way that executives are accountable to their share holders.
So any possible arrangement where workers control the government, they'll control it via a bureaucratic class and soldiers and police who they effectively employ, the same way that capitalists do. It would be absurd to think that the police or the government offices all the way to the head of state could govern a capitalist nation while violating the interests of the capitalists, it would leave them with no support base because the capitalists control the money and therefore the political power in capitalist states...the same with workers in worker's states.
That's a neat summary of the argument for a transitional "worker's state". Now, let's take it apart.
1. The "bureaucratic class" is "not" distinct from the workers.
Well, yes, they are distinct. Why? Because they stand in a different relationship to the means of production than the workers do.
Just like now, the workers under socialism go to work, carry out the orders of their superiors, get a paycheck, and go home.
The bureaucrats are the ones who give those orders and get a much larger paycheck (and many other privileges) in the process.
This material difference affects how the bureaucrats think of themselves...it generates a class consciousness of its own -- one that is distinctly different from that of ordinary workers.
Time passes...and the bureaucrat, whose job is to act like an owner, begins to think that he ought to be an owner.
Guess what happens next.
2. Bureaucrats are not a "distinct class" under capitalism, but rule "at the pleasure" of the capitalist ruling class.
That is true. But capitalist bureaucrats have a real incentive to serve their masters faithfully; when they leave or retire from government, they can count on many "consultant" positions that involve a great deal of pay for very little work. Some of them are even promoted into the ruling class itself.
This would not apply in a socialist society; for a bureaucrat to become an ordinary worker again would be a demotion...something to avoid by any means possible.
The "socialist bureaucrat" has a powerful material incentive to eliminate any accountability to the working class as quickly as he can.
3. The workers will "rule" through a bureaucratic class and soldiers and police.
Not for long they won't. In Russia, that particular combination of forces eliminated workers' power in a matter of months. By the spring of 1918, the soviets had become ceremonial bodies with no power to decide anything.
So the real question is not do the workers rule directly or is it a 'real' democracy but, is the economy composed of private property or collective property, or a mix and if it's a mix, which holds greater assets.
History shows that this is not a "real" test at all. When a "socialist bureaucracy" transforms itself into a new ruling class, all that "collective property" ends up in the private hands of that new ruling class.
If workers actually were "the ruling class" in socialist societies, that "shouldn't happen". But it has happened...repeatedly.
I would agree with you in a comprehensive sense; that is, socialism is a necessary step towards communism. I think that's a basic tenet of Marxist philosophy that many try to skim over. I think that is foolish.
The reason that some "foolish" folks (like me) try to "skim over" that "basic tenet of Marxist philosophy" is that it didn't work.
As far as I know, the ideas of Marx were not based on revelation but on the examination of material reality.
He did indeed think that a transitional society was necessary between capitalism and communism (though he did not use the word "socialism" to describe it). He seemed to think that the Paris Commune was a good illustration of what he had in mind when he used the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" -- ultra-democracy for the proletariat and ruthless repression for the old bourgeoisie.
My position is that the "Paris Commune state" is now the minimum acceptable form...and that we ought to be able to do even better than that.
Perhaps that is "foolish"...we shall see when the time comes.
But the sort of bureaucratized hyper-state (with soldiers and police!) that others advocate is just suicidal.
Even if you "win", you still lose!
First posted at RevLeft on May 10, 2005
It would be impossible for workers to run the government directly because if they were doing that, they'd not be producing capital and therefore would not be workers.
Replacing class with caste, eh?
No, that's not acceptable. Any sort of reasonable worker's "government" would rotate administrative posts on a frequent basis.
Your conception would lead only to a permanent bureaucracy...that would, in time, become a proto-ruling class.
And then a ruling class, period.
I never advocated giving bureaucrats larger paychecks, and the reality is that they are typically payed less then workers not more. For instance in the DPRK a blue collar manual laborer receives 6,000 won a month whereas a government bureaucrat receives only 2,000 won a month. The situation is similar in Cuba.
Are you serious?
Hell, I'll work for a paycheck of $0.00 -- as long as my employer will generously supply any damn thing I want. Fancy house, fancy car, imported luxuries...well, shit, who cares what the paycheck says?
They are not managers in the capitalist sense because they do not have the ability to hire and fire people, as employment is guaranteed by the state, so the notion that socialist civil servants are 'giving orders' the same way that managers do is incorrect.
This I will concede...but, a boss can make your life pretty damn unpleasant without actually firing you.
If you are really a nuisance, he'll get your sorry ass transfered to shoveling pig turds.
They'll call it "socialist re-education".
The simple fact is that running a government or a factory or basically anything complicated requires people to perform administrative tasks.
Indeed...but where is it written that they "must be" a permanent and privileged elite? Max Weber? *laughs*
Bureaucrats *are* different from ordinary workers in that they work at desks, but in socialist societies the only material difference is that they have less access to material goods than working class people.
No, they do not have "less access to material goods" than workers.
I'm amazed that you repeat this absurd myth in light of the well-documented discrepancies between workers and bureaucrats in all the "socialist states"...to the disadvantage of the working class.
Owners *invest* capital, that's what makes them a distinct class. Bureaucrats don't.
Semantics. To the extent the "socialist bureaucrat" makes the decisions that an owner would make, he will inevitably develop a "class" consciousness parallel to that of an owner.
And since the working class has no power to stop him (the police and soldiers obey him, not the workers), he will "advance himself" -- along with his counterparts -- into the position of a new ruling class.
A secretary, for instance, could be a sort of bureaucrat in that they often perform administrative tasks and I doubt they start to think of themselves as owners.
We're not really speaking of that level of the bureaucracy...as I think you very well know. Although, my experience has been that secretaries develop a strong psychological attachment to their bosses...and when given the chance to act "independently", often do what they think their boss would do.
We are talking about workplace managers, central planners, police and military elites, and, highest of all, the ruling circles in the party.
The guys who say "shit!" and everybody squats.
An unexplained, silent, mysterious counter revolution that magically transforms people into capitalists despite having no capital, so that anarchist dogma can hold that socialist states aren't *really* socialist?
Counter-revolution has nothing to do with "anarchist dogma" (whatever that is) and is not in the least "mysterious".
If your social role is "boss", then you will, sooner or later, think like a boss.
No mystery; material reality prevails.
Only the highest level capitalist bureaucrats can count on valuable consultant jobs...
Well, who the hell are we talking about here...the mailman?
Why do you think Cuban doctors drive taxis, wait tables, work as miners?
I doubt very much that any Cuban doctors work as miners. They do drive taxis and wait tables to gain access to foreign currency.
The ordinary Cubans who work in tourist-related business for hard currency can live pretty decently. A bureaucrat who gets a hard-currency allowance (or can tap a hard currency account) lives even better.
The ordinary Cuban with no access to hard currency is "in the shit".
And what do doctors have to do with this question anyway?
That's like saying middle managers have a powerful material incentive to overthrow the executives and capitalists.
They do. But their consciousness is "individual", not collective. The ambitious "middle manager" wants his boss's job...and then his boss's boss's job.
The question of how "socialist bureaucracies" develop a collective interest in becoming a new ruling class is a good one -- my initial hypothesis is that the party serves as a kind of scaffold to build this consciousness on.
Everyone above the rank of basic party member must be dimly conscious of the party as the fundamental defender of their privileges...and the higher up they move, the sharper that consciousness must be.
The workers' state became more centralized and effective. There is nothing magical about soviets that makes them the one and only way that workers can exercise power, they are just one administrative unit.
I don't know how you dare to use the word "magical" in this context.
To be sure, the USSR became more centralized and "effective"...despotisms often are more effective than other forms of decision-making.
The nagging problem is that despotisms almost always make decisions that favor the despots and crap on their subjects.
A "benevolent despotism" is an oxymoron.
Revolutions that do not lead to effective states are crushed, because non-state entities cannot defend themselves from external state level organizations.
Time to play dogma, is it?
Ok, here's my move.
Revolutions that do not immediately and permanently incorporate effective organs of proletarian democracy rot from within and restore capitalism.
So, which way would you prefer to lose?
No, your interpretation of history which is based on bad theory doesn't consider it a "real" test because if it was it would run counter to Anarchist/Left Communist dogma.
The historical record is plain enough...and has nothing to do with dogma.
Tell me how does a socialist bureaucracy, or for that matter, any individual or class, "transform" itself into a new ruling class? They just wave their hands and say "I'm in charge now, give me your factories!".
There are several techniques...which we've actually observed in Russia and China.
In Russia, the rationale was that "the revolution is in danger" -- so the party was granted "extraordinary powers" (or just grabbed them). And, no surprise, they kept them.
In China, the rationale was "the urgent need to economically develop"...or "to get rich is glorious".
The process takes time, of course. But it really works.
One thing that I've always found funny about left-communism/anarchy is that they tend to believe that workers power can only come from revolution, not from reform within the system...but seem to think that when it comes to capitalists, the social reality of power dynamics are somehow suspended, sort of a sociological equivalent to the law of gravity no longer applying, and capitalists are able to assume power by reform within the socialist system. You can't have it both ways...
No, it's a very different situation.
In capitalist societies, capitalists have state power...that must be overthrown by the working class.
In "socialist societies", state power is already in the hands of the party bureaucracy...they can easily "reform" themselves into capitalists without the need for any sort of revolution.
...why would capitalists violently resist being deprived of their power and capital and investment, but workers would just hand it over without a fight?
In prior "socialist revolutions", it is at least questionable whether the working class as a whole really thought it was "fit to rule"...had the self-confidence required to become a new ruling class.
That was the case, you know, for a long time with the rising bourgeoisie. They still thought in terms of a "pro-business" king, aristocrat, despot, etc. It really wasn't until the second half of the 19th century that capitalists realized that if they wanted the job done right, they had to do it themselves. Modern capitalist societies are increasingly administered by people who've grown up as part of the ruling class...a trend I expect to see continue and expand.
In this century, I expect to see proletarian revolutions where the working class does have the self-confidence to rule directly...and dispense with despot-wannabes, "enlightened" or otherwise.
Speaking of what history shows, has there ever been a revolution in the history of humanity from the dawn of civilization to present day that's led to a non-state society, which hasn't been crushed from the outside or inside within a few years or less?
Nevertheless, I think it's better to fight for what you want and fail than to fight for what you don't won't...and still fail.
Whether it has or hasn't happens depends on how much American propaganda you believe.
Really getting desperate, aren't you?
Everyone on this board knows that I mindlessly repeat "American propaganda" at every opportunity.
Karl Marx told Wilhelm Liebknecht in a letter you can find on the internet that it was the Parisian revolutionaries own fault that their revolution failed because they wasted time by holding elections and organizing the Commune, that they should have rather attacked Versailles and finished off the essentially unarmed remainder of the defeated (by the Prussians) French government. Instead they gave Versailles time to raise an army.
Marx and Engels wrote lots of letters that said lots of things.
Letters were the "internet chat" of the 19th century.
I think it's better to rely on what they actually saw fit to publish in their lifetimes as the product of their most serious thinking...and not whatever casual notion that may have occurred to them.
The Paris Commune demonstrated exactly why decentralized organization fails. Each quarter and neighborhood of the city attempted to defend itself independently with no central organization to mount an effective resistance...so the Versailles little army was able to retake the city piece by piece; If the whole city had met the Versailles army together (which would have required centralization) they would have had a larger force and would have won, but since each segment of the city was individually smaller then the Versailles army they were able to retake all of them separately.
Well, maybe you're right...I wasn't there when the tactics of defending Paris were decided on and neither were you. There may have been good military arguments for the decisions of the Commune...and maybe not.
But it does not "demonstrate why decentralized organization fails". It was one battle...not the whole history of all military encounters.
Your mention of the Iraqi resistance in Fallujah is interesting. My understanding of the Iraqi resistance is that it is decentralized...and continues no matter who the Americans intern (some 17,000 at last count).
Decentralization appears to be their strength.
Hyper-state? All states have soldiers, police, and bureaucrats, thats how a "state" is defined.
Ah, that such innocence still exists in our cynical world. *wink*
Unfortunately, whenever one encounters it, one knows that it's fake..
Tell me, which role appeals to you?
Soldier, cop, or bureaucrat?
First posted at RevLeft on May 10, 2005
Like it or not, the masses need to be controlled, in order to protect the interests of the community.
Since any capitalist or bureaucrat would enthusiastically agree with you, I have to ask: why are you at this board?
And, just out of curiosity, who do you imagine will be in charge of "controlling the masses"?
Engels clearly stated that a democratic government should be used in a communist society.
Um...no, he didn't say that, at least to the best of my knowledge.
Communist society has no government at all in the sense the word is now used -- a professional bureaucracy supported by a professional police force and a professional army.
No doubt there would be a wide variety of social organs for decision-making and they'd certainly be "hyper-democratic"...but, in communist society, there'd be nothing that you could point to and say "there's the state" or "there's the government".
First posted at RevLeft on May 12, 2005
Well, let's get this misunderstanding about Engels out of the way first.
The "principles of communism" was not a published work; it was a draft manuscript for what became The Communist Manifesto.
At the time those documents were composed, both Engels and Marx thought that bourgeois revolutions leading to democratic governments would indeed "secure the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat".
That turned out not to be true.
But, more importantly, it also turned out to be irrelevant to communism after the Paris Commune. From that event, Marx and Engels drew the conclusion that the old bourgeois "democracy" must be smashed and its army, police, bureaucracy, etc. dispersed.
Nor did they suggest that the proletariat set up a "fresh version" of all those institutions; if anything, the implication of their comments about the Paris Commune was that the role of any proletarian "state apparatus" should be steadily reduced until it no longer existed at all.
Police are necessary, as is a court system. "Police," in the most developed form of communism, will be a job like any other....Judges will be a job like any other. There will be a written set of laws.
The Revolt of the Masses surmised that the masses need leadership, in order to protect against a gradual decline into decadence, and that man will become but a creature of routine and empty motion. Such laxity allows corruption and an easement to persuasion, halts original thought, and creates an almost blind acceptance.
Ortega y Gasset was a wealthy aristocratic "philosopher" who despised the masses as "uncultured" and "barbaric".
He was a respected professor in Madrid after 1948...under Franco.
The masses do need positive leadership, in order to maintain a moral code that will uphold the ideals of the society and guard against the decadence that could destroy any revolutionary work.
It's interesting that "decadence" and the "masses" are always coupled in reactionary paradigms.
Historically speaking, it is precisely the leading elites of various societies who have been infamously decadent...they are the ones, after all, who have the material resources to engage in large-scale decadent activities.
"Decadence", of course, is from the word "decay" and usually refers to "morals" and "art"...entirely subjective phenomena.
No one actually knows what "decadence" really is...because no one knows what "morality" or "art" really is.
But the masses always "take the rap" for "decadence".
In my view, the whole concept of "decadence" is utterly without meaning.
However a leadership is necessary, if only for administration, but also to ensure the "rights" of all the people are protected.
Note that you correctly set the word "rights" within quotation marks...because they also have no objective definition.
The argument you appear to be making runs...
1. The masses will impose a "tyranny of the majority" if they are permitted to govern themselves;
2. That tyranny is likely to be "decadent" or "barbaric";
3. Therefore, a government (or, more abstractly, "leadership") is needed to control the masses and keep them from mis-behaving.
All the weight is on No. 2...is that true?
The communist position is that it is not true. Whatever the masses decide will be less decadent and less barbaric than any possible leadership.
You are free to argue otherwise, of course. But you will not have an easy time of it.
First posted at RevLeft on May 13, 2005
As stated before, hopefully such sentiments will be destroyed by a socialist/communist revolution, but just in case a leadership is needed to guard against such things and ensure all of the people are protected.
But why do you assume that bad ideas "come from the masses"?
It seems to me much more historically accurate to say that bad ideas have their origins in traditional elites -- or old ruling classes, to use the Marxist terminology.
Take the wide-spread anti-semitism that was a factor in the rise of the Nazis. That wasn't an invention of the German masses; it was invented by proto-Byzantine Catholic hierarchs back in the fourth and fifth centuries and brought to Germany after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west. It was elaborated by Martin Luther and the northern German princes in the 16th century. It was made "scientific" by elite German intellectuals in the second half of the 19th century and adopted by many leading German conservatives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Nazis themselves, when the whole party would have fit in a phone booth, were actively (and financially) encouraged by Bavarian and Prussian elitists.
The German masses were not "spontaneously barbaric" (as someone like Ortega would have it)...they were taught to be anti-semitic throughout their history by their "social betters".
I suspect that if you looked closely at any reactionary mass movement, you'd find at least portions of the traditional social elites directly involved in its creation and financing and publicizing.
Barbaric ideas come from the leaders.
If the masses were free to choose their own course, I'm sure they'd fuck up too...perhaps even barbarously.
But less so than what they turn out to be willing to do when their leaders command them.
Only after the years of social conditioning has been destroyed and new man built, than maybe the masses will be able to govern themselves.
I don't see why we need a "new man" especially constructed for this purpose. Ordinary men (and women) when free to implement their own preferences are usually pretty damn decent -- it's when they follow a "great leader" that they discover what may be the real appeal of "followership".
I am no longer responsible for what I do.
I can loot, rape, murder indiscriminately because it's the will of the leader that I do those things...and the responsibility is his!
However I contend such a destruction of conditioning would be next to impossible, and the masses themselves would fight against it.
Well, some would...certainly. But I contend that it will be the masses themselves who will fight to liberate themselves from all the old social conditioning.
Leaders would, at best, just get in the way.
How does communist thought propose to destroy the social and cultural conditioning of the people? I believe the Marxist answer is the material reality [will] be such that they will begin the destruction themselves, but is that really possible?
It's happening even as we speak. For example, in my own lifetime I've actually seen the sharp decline of sexism among working class men.
Not that the process is anywhere close to completion...but it's steadily taking place. The use of physical violence against women or children is no longer considered a "manly" thing to do...it's considered disgusting and barbaric.
Did that happen because the American elite decided to do that and to "enforce" that "new outlook" on working class men whether they liked it or not?
Or was it large numbers of ordinary young women who fought tenaciously for that change in social attitudes...dragging a very reluctant elite in their wake?
In fact, is it not the most reactionary part of that elite -- the Christian fascists, the professional military, etc. -- who continue to work vigorously to force women "back in their place"?
Why couldn't there be a government in a communist society?
Because it would serve no purpose and lack any useful function.
It would be like saying "why can't we have a King under communism"?
First posted at RevLeft on May 13, 2005
Socialism will be an entire epoch in the history of mankind.
You know it wouldn't be so bad if the folks who agreed with that sentiment would just stop calling themselves communists.
In their eyes, communism is like "the return of Jesus"...something that takes place on the day after never.
First posted at RevLeft on May 13, 2005
This is simply not how it works in Cuba. Working for the government does not afford any special privileges. If you think otherwise, show some evidence of it (more credible then 'someone in Miami said so').
How would direct and incontrovertible evidence of privilege be acquired...especially by someone in another country who doesn't speak the language?
We know that privilege existed in Russia (1917-1992) and China (1949-1976) because later governments admitted it.
Now you suggest that Cuba is "different"...and while I have no direct evidence to dispute that assertion, I don't see any reason why it should be.
Indeed, since socialism is a class society, it would be simply mind-boggling if privilege "did not exist".
There aren't "bosses" in the capitalist sense, stop projecting the social dynamics created in capitalism to socialist situations.
Why? And how can you be so confident of this? Have you personally been employed in, for example, Cuba? Have you first-hand knowledge of the dynamics of Cuban workplaces? Did you see with your own eyes Cuban managers cringing from the wrath of the workers?
Cuban workers get up in the morning, just like here. They go to work, just like here. They carry out what they are told to do by their bosses, just like here. They get a paycheck, just like here. They go home, just like here.
Do they elect their bosses? No. Do they have any voice in what they are told to do? No. Can they get rid of a boss who's an asshole? No.
Just like here!
Administrators in socialist states shouldn't be an 'elite'...and though I don't object to them being virtually permanent if accountable to the workers. By that I mean, Fidel Castro is in a 'virtually' permanent leadership position in Cuba in that he is very unlikely to ever lose a national assembly election or a referendum on his office, nor is his constituency, Santiago de Cuba, ever likely not to appoint him to the National Assembly, but if he were ever to have a change of heart and do something against the people, he would lose the next referendum on his presidency and/or his assembly seat.
And how, pray tell, would this happen? Some guy would get up in a meeting and say "It's time to retire Fidel" and everyone would spontaneously raise their hands? And that would be it...all that would remain would be to decide on the size of his pension. (!)
If you really think that this is how politics works in a class society, I don't know how much we really have to discuss.
On occasion, a party in power may decide that this or that bureaucrat is so incompetent as to be a liability -- and may stage a public recall of such a klutz. But even that is rare.
Recalling a "maximum leader"?
When pigs learn to fly!
But since Cuba is a highly consolidated socialist state, there are no other political forces to appease besides the people so he would have no motivation to do so...
So his recent love affair with the Catholic Church is motivated by a desire to "appease the people"?
And his recent commercial agreement with China to exploit Cuban nickel deposits (and Cuban miners) was likewise motivated by a desire to "appease the people"? (It is a strictly commercial agreement; China intends to make a profit that will be repatriated to China.)
Also any laws of any significance in Cuba are always put to popular referendum, which is really unusual, and gives the Cuban people an effective direct veto over basically any significant government action.
Indeed? Those referendums must be conducted in great secrecy.
What was the popular vote on internet restrictions? On removing the dollar from circulation? On closing some of the hard-currency stores? On any of the big foreign investment deals?
According to your hypothesis here, you would think that stock brokers would inevitably develop a "class" consciousness parallel to the capitalists they work for, and then I guess, steal their money?
Have you been living in a cave for the last decade or two?
The answer is yes...stockbrokers steal from their own bosses, from their customers, and are probably not above a little recreational purse-snatching on the weekends.
Even if socialist bureaucrats charged with planning development...were to "develop a 'class' consciousness parallel to that of an owner"...that class consciousness doesn't mean they're going to be able to become owners.
It doesn't? Who do you imagine ended up owning the "public property" in the formerly socialist countries?
A bunch of "risk-taking entrepreneurs" that crawled out from under a rock...or the guys who were in charge of that public property under socialism?
In Cuba for instance, soldiers/police have never been used to suppress a demonstration, have never fired on a crowd or protest, have never acted against organized workers.
Authority that would warrant analogies like that hasn't existed since feudalism. Power is not so concentrated in capitalist states let alone socialist ones.
I have the distinct impression that you've never read any detailed accounts of "authority in action" -- much less actually confronted it personally.
Thinking like a boss doesn't make you turn into a boss anymore then clicking your heals and thinking about home will make you wind up in Kansas.
Cute...but obviously irrelevant.
What I am arguing is that if your social function is to act like a boss, then you will begin to think like a boss.
If, for that matter, you discover that thinking about your geographical destination and clicking your heels actually turns out to be an effective mode of instant transportation to where you want to go, you'll use that method.
Administrators and bosses are distinct functions...
That's as it may be...but I don't see any relevance to this discussion.
We are speaking of people who have authority over others and who are effectively unaccountable to those over whom they have that authority.
Don't think I share your preoccupation with authority positions. I was using 'bureaucrat' because what 'bureaucrats' are are people who carry out administrative procedures, not strictly people who make policy who would rarely be called bureaucrats.
Well, you should share my preoccupation with "authority positions"...because that is what's really at stake in considering socialism as a post-revolutionary option.
A socialist elite or the working class?
Foreign currency is no longer in circulation in Cuba as of November 2004.
I think you are mistaken here; as I recall, it was U.S. dollars that were taken out of circulation. Euros, Canadian dollars, and "hard" pesos still circulate freely.
No bureaucrats have hard-currency allowances, they have always been paid in pesos, they don't have accounts for personal use, what you're describing is a pure fantasy.
And I would say the same of your assertions...I can't imagine that the higher levels of the bureaucracy (at least!) do not receive some kind of hard currency compensation.
The ordinary Cuban has the highest standard of living in the third world by all quality of life measures...
I don't dispute that...but a high standard of living by "third world standards" is still crap.
Tourist websites that discuss Cuba advise travelers to bring some extra bottles of aspirin and tubes of toothpaste as gifts for Cubans...because those basic things (and many like them) are so difficult to come by.
How would you go about acquiring an air conditioner, a personal computer, an internet connection in Cuba? If they broke, how would you get them repaired?
Check the UN statistics...
A curiosity, that. Doesn't the UN simply compile the official statistics released by each of its member governments? How would they go about verifying any of those statistics? Do they even bother?
That might be true if there were political parties for bureaucrats, but ruling Communist parties are parties for workers, whose membership is overwhelmingly workers.
Are you suggesting that the membership controls those parties?
Or that they ever have?
Any status or social esteem that people get from high office depends on continuing to please the people who put them there, in the case of a communist party that would be the workers, so you would think they'd be more loyal not less.
That's only true if there are effective mechanisms of accountability in place. Leninist parties lack such mechanisms; once a leadership is in place, it is secure from any challenge by ordinary members.
That's especially true where the Leninist party holds state power; they can call upon the repressive tools of the state itself if they need them.
If you're saying revolutions that do lead to states restore capitalism, which is also an empirical claim, I would dispute it, so you do have something to prove. I'd use Cuba as an example not because there aren't other socialist states but simply because I'm most familiar with it.
Well, you can defend Cuba until it formally restores capitalism if you wish...I think it is moving in the direction of restoring capitalism.
Why? Because of the growing weight of foreign direct investment in the Cuban economy.
If you make any claims to a materialist outlook, then you realize that such investment must lead to political changes that favor the re-establishment of capitalism.
And that's entirely independent, of course, of the mind-set of the Cuban bureaucracy itself which, I think it is safe to say, probably doesn't regard capitalism with quite the same hostility as it did 40 years ago.
And to answer your rhetorical question, if living in a country like Cuba or Brezhnev era Soviet Union or the former DDR, is one way to 'lose' and dying in a society like the Paris Commune is another way to lose, I think anyone would prefer to 'lose' the prior way.
Nope, not "anyone". That's your choice.
Kept them? What are you talking about, security powers that Stalin took in WWII were revoked by the Khrushchev administration.
Wrong era. I'm talking about the powers that the Bolsheviks grabbed for themselves in order to fight the civil war...powers that were never "revoked".
Like what? Like the power to appoint members of the soviets to make sure they remained politically "reliable"...ceremonial.
Limited capitalism in China for the purpose of urgent economic development (which, let's face it, with a unipoler world with only one super power and no strategically effective socialist camp, doesn't sound like an irrelevant concern to me) though doesn't help government administrators or communist party officials, though, the capitalists are neither, so this example does not support your socialist administrators turning themselves into capitalists theory at all.
I'm afraid when it comes to fantasy, I am simply not in your league.
"Limited capitalism"? What limits?
You imagine that there are no capitalists who are also government officials or party officials (or, for that matter, officers in the armed forces)???
Whether or not China's plan will work and they'll be able to control the capitalists and later eliminate them after they gain economic advantage over the United States, is something that will become apparent in twenty years but not now, because it's part of a long term strategy.
The only way to "eliminate" capitalists in China now or in the future is through proletarian revolution.
It was what happened in China, that's why it's called "Socialism with Chinese characteristics." It didn't happen in Cuba, it didn't happen in the DPRK.
"Socialism with Chinese characteristics" is just a "nice" way of saying capitalism. And it is beginning to "happen" in the DPRK, by the way; they've already begun to set up "special economic zones" just as China did back in the 80s.
The tourist industry is Cuba's version of a "special economic zone".
You mistake the mechanical operation of state power for the origin of that power.
Once state power has been established, its "origins" are of dubious relevance.
For example, state power in the U.S. began as a coalition between northern merchants and southern landed aristocrats/slaveholders...with the latter being the dominant partners.
After the civil war, the mechanisms of state power were completely taken over by the new capitalist class...which made surprisingly few alterations to what had turned out to be such a useful instrument of class rule.
The Russian soviets originated as organs of direct working class rule; the Bolsheviks kept them around in name...but converted them into ceremonial bodies.
The Cuban National Assembly is also such a ceremonial body; it does not debate or discuss national policy, it exists only to approve whatever the government has decided to do.
The Chinese parliament is losing its traditional ceremonial role...debates actually take place there now.
Why? Because the return of China to capitalism has generated conflicts between capitalists that need to be resolved.
The interests of workers or peasants are not represented at all, of course...just like here.
The type of analysis you're using is not Marxist or otherwise materialist. You look at history and social change as things that happen by acts of will, where people can simply take power as an act of will, where classes that become conscious of their interests simply achieve them. In reality, people are not stupid and they generally pursue their individual and class interests when they have the opportunity to do so, so the limiting factor is in the balance of power not in the degree of consciousness.
Your analysis ignores the factor of time.
To be sure, there is beneath class consciousness an objective "balance of power" that shifts with changes in the means of production. But it takes time for that shift to be reflected in people's consciousness...and sometimes quite a bit of time. It certainly doesn't happen "instantly".
For a rising class, the shift is "realized" on the conscious level when it becomes aware of the fact that it is "fit to rule"...more fit, in fact, than the old ruling class.
"Objectively" it could have taken power earlier...even much earlier. But it had not yet learned its own strength or capabilities...or even developed an ideological critique of the old order.
You have to do that stuff before taking power...otherwise you just end up giving it back.
As we have seen.
When you try to make abstract claims like, about a class being 'confident to rule' (as if that makes more sense then saying 'the working class is amused', 'the working class is sad' etc.) it's no wonder that reality never lives up to it.
As you wish. Presently, the working class in the United States is demoralized.
To be sure, only individuals can actually experience these feelings...but when most individuals in a class have those feelings, then why is it unjustifiable to use those words to describe the attitude of that class?
...and isn't it so much easier to argue for abstract utopias than to defend an earthly, achievable reality as an example of something that's good enough to be happy with?
Well, you see, what you have on offer is not "good enough" to make me "happy".
All it is is class society with a fresh coat of red paint. That's not what I want.
Naturally, like any good businessman, you will do your best to convince me that what I do want is "not available" and "will never be available"...so I had better buy what you're selling while I still have the chance.
-- emphasis added.
Maybe though if those things are important to you, you would decide that real life and real practical conditions that people and society face are important enough to compromise your preference for practicality. Being uncompromising to the extent that it prevents you from getting, not only all of what you want, but any part of what you want, is a decision that it's not really that important to you and that you'd rather support an ideology than support people.
Damn, I knew that was coming!
The eternal reproach of the reformist to the genuine revolutionary -- you don't care about people...because if you did, you'd abandon your utopian fantasies and concentrate on real improvements that we can actually achieve right now.
But this does illustrate an important point: at its roots, Leninism is reformist...as is the entire concept of a "transitional socialist state".
The people who support it are not interested in a classless society -- they think that's "utopian fantasy". What they really want is a "more humane" version of what exists now...they think that is "all that's realistically possible".
They also claim that they will be "much better" bosses than the ones we have now...because they really care about people.
Believe it or not, folks, but I also "care about people"...just in a different way.
Reformists want people to be more comfortable in class society than they are now.
I want them to be free.
You hate authority so much, even if it's just and democratic authority, that you think the only possible reason why anyone might think that such roles could be useful to making a functional society is if they wanted to occupy the role themselves?
That's been my experience.
First posted at RevLeft on May 14, 2005
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Demarchy and a New Revolutionary Communist Movement November 13, 2003
A New Type of Communist Organization October 5, 2003
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Marxism Without the Crap July 3, 2003
What is Socialism? An Attempt at a Brief Definition June 19, 2003
What is Communism? A Brief Definition June 19, 2003
A New Communist Paradigm for the 21st Century May 8, 2003
On "Dialectics" -- The Heresy Posts May 8, 2003
|The Chinese Revolution was not a communist revolution at all (except rhetorically)...it was a peasant revolution that gave China a new "modernizing" emperor [Mao]. His "modern" version of oriental despotism simply created a state-monopoly capitalist society which, after the emperors death, simply dropped the mask and became openly capitalist.
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