In this paper, I’ll be discussing multiple socio-economic concepts and talking points, such as class, minimum wage, taxes on the rich, and individual responsibility vs public responsibility from different perspectives along the political spectrum. Along the way, I’ll also be discussing economic systems and the basics behind how they work.
To start off with, the concept of communism, as we now have it, was formulated by Karl Marx in his book “The Communist Manefesto” published in 1848. Class struggle is a primary topic in communism, and one we’ll start off with. I explained a bit about class struggle in a post I made with the same name. From the post:
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During medieval times, the world operated on an understood system of “classes” to which you were assigned and could almost never escape. A loose model might look like:
— — knights
— — — Peasants
You see, if you’re a knight, you can take anything you want from the peasant at any time. The peasant cannot stop being a peasant, unless by some rare turn of events. As such, working and toiling in the field is about all the career opportunities he’ll ever encounter. He’s happy, because the knights allows him a place to stay on his land, allows him to keep some of the food he grows, and doesn’t torture him to death.
The knight has a few more privileges, but will forever be forced to exploit the peasant to make his lord happy, and the same goes for the lord with the king.
Now eventually, the peasants came together and decide they had taken enough. They beheaded the king and declared themselves in control of the country, but what they ended up doing was replacing the old class system with a new one. The minds of the time noted that the industrial revolution simply replaced guild workers with factory workers, and lords with landowners. Instead of toiling in the fields, you toiled in a factory. Being a worker meant you were always a worker (except by a rare turn of events), and being rich meant you were always rich. Things hadn’t really changed. In the west, the “New World” exercised democratic power to establish a level of fairness that allowed free market capitalism to take root. In the east, centuries old kingdoms and class systems had to be uprooted first, and arguments over which kind of social uprising should happen first ensued.
I mentioned “a rare turn of events” twice now. By that I meant something we’re all familiar with these days: connections. A peasant who was well liked by the nobility might receive some courtly favors that could elevate him to a higher status. Skill, ability, and experience are ignored. In neither feudalistic nor aristocratic Europe was your fate entirely sealed; it just wasn’t changed based on merit, and equal opportunity did not exist.
For centuries, America enjoyed the benefits brought by the free market system, which relied very little on connections. When it came to work, you either could, or you couldn’t, and you were hired or fired because of it. In 1950, the top 8 cities in America collectively produced 36% of the world’s GDP. With 7% of the world’s population, we drove 70% of the world’s automobiles. We enjoyed a higher standard of living than ever before seen on the planet, and this continued until only years ago, when our country began slipping back to the economic dark ages of aristocracy; where advancement was contingent upon whether or not you were buddies with the nobility. “I know how to repair an engine” has been replaced by “I know someone down at the repair shop”. Knowing how to monitor a mainframe computer means nothing compared to knowing the hiring manager at the computer company.
Ironically, the internet, heralded as the invention that will one day connect us all, has only cemented this situation further. Social media sites are a good place for a hiring manager to collect and organize all their favorite connections, which only solidifies class boundaries.
Of course there’s still always the off chance of somehow getting in good with the group; in the same way the peasant manages to get in good with the knights, or the workers get in good with the landowners. In fact there’s now dozens of guides and e-books available suggesting ways of using social media as a way of creating a “personal brand image” – a fancy way of saying that you’ll look attractive enough to hopefully get in good with the social class above yours.
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So to be clear, in Marx’s day, factory owners could all collectively decide that a work day should consist of 14 hours and earn you 5 dollars a day (in today’s money); they paid you barely enough to keep you alive, and made you work non-stop. If you stopped working, you lost your pay, and starved – plus someone else who was desperately starving would take the job you didn’t want because, well, they were starving. In the meantime, the factory owners never needed to worry about starvation or about doing a whole lot of work.
This painting from the 1920s says it all:
As mentioned, in Europe, centuries old traditions of feudalism would have to be overturned because the factory owners weren’t about to kindly decrease work hours and increase pay, and violent revolution – according to Marx (and later Lenin) – was the only possible solution.
In America, the revolutionaries who fought for independence against Britain set in place a system of government where people could simply vote for what they wanted within certain preset constraints (called a “constitution”). As time went on, factory workers eventually did start increasing hours and reducing pay – which lead to the creation of labour laws, including federal minimum wage.
Libertarians argue that if all minimum wage was abolished (along with most other regulations), then the business owners that paid the most money with the fewest hours would attract the most workers. This is admittedly intuitive, but we’ve actually tried this several times, and it never, ever works out like that.
Lets say I have a small fortune saved up. I want to work at a company so I can start building connections and finally get myself to a level that pays relatively well. I can start off accepting the 1 dollar-per-hour wage offered by the company in the absence of any minimum wage. A homeless person sleeping under a bridge who hasn’t eaten in 3 days cannot do this. Because I’m taking the job at that rate of pay, he basically starves to death.
In short, as a thought experiment, it may sound rational that businesses will automatically pay everyone a living wage totally on their own, but this just does not ever happen. Companies are already forced to pay a minimum wage that is a long way off from a living wage, and they don’t even want to pay that.
Another argument associated with this topic is that of taxation on the rich; by reducing taxes on them, the rich will create jobs. So we tried that. We reduced taxes on super rich mega corporations, and waited. Didn’t happen. So we tried it again, and then again, and then again, and we’re still trying it now. Definition of insanity, anyone?
http://www.prwatch.org/news/2010/12/9828/will-cutting-taxes-rich-really-create-jobs (says it best: “To take a simple example, a Subway franchise owner hires more employees when her shop sells more sandwiches. She does not hire another employee simply because her personal income has increased (unless she has no business sense). The same applies to manufacturing: the widget mill owner hires employees when the business gets more orders for widgets, not when there are profits on the balance sheet; to expect otherwise assumes naive altruism on the part of the business owner. A worker is hired to produce something that people are buying, not to idly absorb excess business profits or executive income.”)
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/12/do-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy-create-jobs/67723/ (A bit complex, but basically, tax-cuts on the rich don’t help even in purely mathematical terms)
http://www.agjohnson.us/essays/jobs/ (Best quote here: “People invest in business for many reasons – to make money, to produce a product, to satisfy customers – but not to create jobs. A business creates jobs only because it needs workers as a means to an end, and whenever it finds a way to become more “efficient” by getting rid of workers, then that is what it will do.”)
The typical counter argument to this is perfectly presented here:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/johntamny/2013/12/11/sorry-henry-blodget-but-the-rich-do-create-nearly-every-job/ – In summary, the rebuttal states:
Companies can’t exist without investment, and companies create jobs –> Money is investment –> Taxes take money away –> Therefore taxes stop companies from creating jobs.
This sounds like the Young Earth Creationist of economics. The argument is so poorly presented, I’m guessing the real power of the article comes from just the title, which rebuts the basic premise that the rich don’t create jobs with “OH YES THEY DO!” to comfort anyone who already thinks this way.
Anyway back to Marxism. Another very key concept here is “exploitation“, which Marx wanted to get rid of. This is important because it differs very heavily from the problems modern socialism wants to address, which I’ll touch on later.
In Marx’s version of this, lets say you make a chair. It takes you 4 hours to put that chair together. You should be paid based on how much labour it took to prepare you for work, and how much work you put into building that chair. If the number of hours and resources that went into this was a total of 8 dollars, then thats how much you should earn, because that’s what you produced, and value belongs to the workers who created it.
So when your company sells the chair at 55 dollars at the store, Marx called this 51 dollars “surplus value”. He said it just magically comes from nowhere, and was like “WTF PEOPLE??!!! COME ON!!!” Because really, why the hell is the company getting paid money for absolutely no reason? And why isn’t that money going to you, since you’re the one who made the chair?
Modern economic theory has since completely debunked this, and has identified numerous sources of surplus value – the most immediate and obvious being that of subjective value. You see the chair, think “OMG that’s so cute!” and want to pay 55 dollars for it. It’s worth that much to you, so you willingly pay that much. The profits go to the company (according to modern economic theory) because they created the supply-chain distribution and invested other non-labour factors, such as time, innovation, tools, equipment, and risks, all of which must be incentivized.
But yea this might be less obvious when you live in 1848 and you’re surrounded by masses of people in sweat shops who are being worked to death.
There were no exact systems laid out in the Communist Manifesto on how to establish – and then govern – a free and just society based on equality, especially as it pertains to labour and industry, as this was meant to be open-ended… countries were supposed to just “figure out” how best to do this, which is why we see multiple different methods at trying to get it to work. However, several short term steps were laid out in the Manifesto that were meant to get countries pointed in the right direction.
– A central bank
– Public funded education
– Government controlled labor
– Government ownership of transportation
– Government ownership of farms and factories
– Abolishment of private property
– Heavy income tax on everyone
– Elimination of rights of inheritance
– Regional planning
Whats more, Marx stated this needed to be done in 3 “Phases”.
Phase 1 – since the rich aren’t gonna just happily let all this happen, we shoot them, take their stuff, and spread it around evenly (revolution).
Phase 2 – We gotta stay on course once we get everything moving, so somebody’s gotta be a temporary dictator to represent the people’s interests and keep us moving in the direction of a society where everyone owns a part of everything, and we all help each other with peace love and harmony (dictatorship).
Phase 3 – Once we got lots of work set up, and everybody’s working, then dictatorship can peacefully step down and fade away (a phase also known as “HAHAHAHHAHAHA – No.”) Now, with class struggle – like the factory owner vs factory worker – out of the way, everyone will simply work and do what needs to be done. Marx believed that if we weren’t forced into factory like conditions, that we would be free to be creative, and create new things (Utopia).
Kind of like how I’m creating this guide to help spread understanding of how these systems work. No one’s paying me to do it. I’m not doing it because I want to be paid either – I have money for food, and I’m housed. That’s it. I have an interests in social theory, so I will naturally participate and do work related to this field because it’s something I simply like doing (even if it means doing tons of research to make sure I’ve got all the details straight, as it’s been years since I’ve studied them). Imagine if everyone could live like this (reallyyyyyyyyyy important idea right there, so hang on to it for a bit. We’re gonna close with that later.)
There is a difference between the old use of the terms socialism and communism, by the way – even though these two terms were used interchangeably at around the time they were first being discussed as serious economic models. The difference is that “Socialism” is merely the broad concept that we get rid of privately owned property and all work together for the good of each other. Communism – since that’s the word Marx commandeered for the title of his book – became associated with violent revolution and strict government control thereafter (as per his 3 phase plan).
So, in summary:
Socialism – the idea that we stop relying on money as the primary mode of doing things, and at most, use it merely as a place holder for the measure of resource value. Each of us works for the good of society without private property or class boundaries.
Communism – the idea that the only way we’re going to create a socialist society is to shoot the bastards stopping us, take their belongings, and spread it around equally – then stick around for a while to make sure everything STAYS equal!
Before we move on, lets address a very common question. How do we decide who gets what, and who does what, under socialism? Capitalist, or anyone in support of that side of the spectrum, will cite the lack of a commonly agreed upon and coherent written-in-stone method as the ultimate reason why communism will never work. They say without the profit motive, incentives simply don’t exist, and people won’t be willing to produce more, or innovate new things.
This ignores the fact that communist countries *DID* manage to produce and create plenty of things. Whether or not they ultimately won the cold war is irrelevant. The Soviet Union was not only the first to put a man in space, they were the first to put all sorts of living things in space. How did they do that without the price system? China is still a communist country, as it has been since 1949, but is routinely cited for its economic growth and possible overtake of the US in the near future. After the Vietnam war ended, and the communist took over Vietnam, and the country saw rapid economic development and progress.
Again this isn’t a debate about which system is better – it simply reveals that other mechanisms for incentivizing and motivating do exist, and perhaps there are yet other ways which we have not yet harnessed into an economic system. We’ll never know if we don’t at least question the possibilities, or if we give in to political hyperbole that equates the absolute worst possible results of Stalinism as being the only imaginable outcome of any other alternative. The question of how to organize labour and resources has been around since socialist thinking took root in the early 1800s, and is still around today.
Now lets shift over and talk a little about capitalism.
As I’ve said in other writings, capitalism, at it’s core, is nothing more than the reinvestment of “capital” towards the means of production, so more goods and services are produced, leading to greater capital, leading to greater reinvestment, leading to more and more being produced. That cycle is really all there is to it.
Free Market capitalism is used largely to describe capitalism in action – in involves businesses and business activity. So here we would include things like supply-chain distribution, advertising, cash flow analysis, promotions, products, all that. The idea of the “Free Market” is that it’s free – you or I, at any point, can decide to participate as freely as we wish. If I start making headphones, I can start selling them on the street corner. I can also stop anytime I want, or run my business anyway I want.
Laissez-faire capitalism is almost the same thing, but refers mostly to government non-interference. In the late 1600s, the French government asked a group of powerful French businessmen how the state could be of help to them. The businessmen said something like “How bout you f*** off?” – or, more politely, “Let us be”. And in French, that translates to “Laissez-faire”.
The government responded by saying “Eat a sack of dicks and die!” But that didn’t work as a catch phrase for an economic system. Also, the French Revolution happened a bit later and everyone got their heads chopped off. The end.
Venture capitalism is the completely harmless idea that someone with lots of money gives you some of that money so you can use it to run a really awesome new company with a business idea that everyone is sure will work out. This can also be called “investment capitalism”. When your business succeeds, your profits pay back the Venture Capitalist what he invested, plus interests. A super complicated system of investing investors investing in investments, interested in increasing interests, called the “stock market”, gets involved here. Studying how it works is a great way to make your head explode. It’s also a great way for new companies to get the capital they otherwise wouldn’t have to make their dreams come true. However, this practice very quickly leads us to another term that some people think is inherently evil and sinister as soon as they see it…
Corporatism is a broad, vague term, referring simply to “a body of people”. A corporation, in capitalist parlance, is a group of investors that generally work towards their own common interests. When this term is used outside of capitalism, and depending on what system the group is a part of, the members representing a common interest can be given different names, such as syndicate, a union, or even a “soviet”.
A capitalist in the free market must compete to serve his customers. However, corporations take on emergent properties that aren’t found in traditional capitalist theory, and can begin serving themselves rather than their customers. This can get pretty damn complicated, but here’s a shining example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU – listen carefully at the 4:00 mark. This is a prime example of how corporations can – and will – not only serve themselves, but will do so at their customers expense!
Another famous example is the housing market collapse. Big banks deliberately and intentionally provided loans to people they knew for a fact could not possibly pay them back, then seized the assets of everyone who failed to pay, and then demanded bailouts to make up the difference. That’s pretty f*’ed up, and lead to the rise of the 1 Percent. Which lead to the We Are The 99 Percent movement. Which in turn, did absolutely nothing.
This does not mean “corporations are evil”. Corporations are arguably a natural consequence of the later emergent properties of capitalism. They bring with them plenty of benefits, but plenty of detriments as well. There are multiple ideas on what can be done to curtail the bad while keeping what’s good.
Corporatism is also the basic system employed under….
Fascism – This is the exact opposite of communism, which opposes all class and private property; fascism promotes distinct class boundaries, and considers mobility between each class to be based on merit. The idea here is related to social Darwinism – you are on the bottom of the food chain because you are weak, just like you’re on the bottom of the social class system because you’re uneducated and don’t work hard enough. By working harder, smarter, and making yourself better, you can improve and will rise up to middle class. If you continue to push yourself and improve, you will rise to the upper class (sounds republican, don’t it?).
Much the way communism has never succeeded, neither has fascism; in the real world, opportunity simply does not exist for everyone equally, and advancement is rarely based solely on commendable effort and merit.
BUT! Doesn’t at least some of your circumstance come from you? Isn’t at least some of your success or failure on your shoulders? The answer is yes – which is why the debate between the right and left is forever ongoing. Where does your responsibility begin and end? Where should the individual pick up the slack, and when does a person’s problem become everyone’s problem?
I clearly remember a discussion I had with someone a while back, concerning college loans. Their position was that the individual needs to be responsible for paying back money they borrowed, because fiscal responsibility falls upon that person’s shoulders, and that’s that. Now their answer changed sharply when we had this same talk concerning women’s issues. In both discussions, the dichotomy is the same; where does the individual responsibility begin to blend with public responsibility? Is there a fine line, or is it shades of grey?
In either case, I think the best way to have such discussions is to understand the systems at work, acknowledge as many influencing factors as there are, and try to stay the hell away from ideology. Ideology never leads to an accurate view on anything, but yet is so enticing, with its group-think, peer-acceptance, and membership-mindset, that it’s hard to say no to. Even I occasionally look at a marvelous symbol, understand what it represents, and imagine that my beliefs help make me a part of something greater than myself.
Fascism can sometimes be called “State Capitalism”. From the Two Cows joke, “The government takes your cows, then hires you to milk them”: this is a somewhat accurate reference to how it worked. In Nazi Germany, car corporations were required to produce X number of vehicles for the army. Once each company had produced what the state needed each month, they could turn the rest of their attention towards competing on the free market. In Hitler’s view, corporate capitalism was the way to go, as long as it was moderated by, and answerable to, the state.
Ironically, at this point, something mind-bending happens.
Like in a Pac-Man maze, it’s possible to keep going right until you end up on the left! One of the tools for resource distribution and labour in Socialism (since we’re not using the price system) is Syndicalism – the idea that we’ll divide industries into “guilds” (or, you guessed it, “corporations”) where each industry elects a leader to represent the needs of that industry before a central committee (this is a commonly used part of Fascism, a proposed method of Socialism, and a central tenant of Technocracy).
Technocracy, by the way, is a method of government that is run by scientists, engineers, and specialist, with an economy that is power-and-automated based (machines make all basic necessities, so everyone is fed and housed). I’m actually not sure where on the political spectrum it would lay, but it’s been said that the Politburo of the Soviet Union was similar in structure to what a technocratic model would look like. The Venus Project is a proposed form of Technocracy.
You’re familiar with the symbols of communism – the hammer and cycle, one representing industry, the other representing agriculture, with both of them being “equal” and working together. The red flag represents the blood of the workers shot by the Czarist armies during the October revolution.
The fascist symbol is not the swastika, but rather: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism#mediaviewer/File:Fascist_symbol.svg – called the “fasces”. A single rod is broken, but all rods together remain strong.
I don’t know… after reviewing the philosophy of fascism, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a single axe-and-rod breaking all the others behind it? Because it’s “stronger” and they’re “weaker”, so by merit of its superiority, it breaks them?… yea I bet the makers of the symbol will read this and be all like “D’OH!”
Ok now back towards communism. I know we’re jumping around, but hang in there!
The different flavors of Communism / Socialism!
From left to right: Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong. So from now on when you see this line up, you’ll know who they are!
Leninism is pretty straight forward. Make Marxism work in Russia. The unique elements are: First, we need the creation of a party that consistently seeks out and recruits new people into the party, called a “vanguard party”. Second, we need the establishment of a system of government, wherein representatives of labour gather together in a corporate body called a “soviet” to vote on things – with their decisions and votes being passed on to a central corporate soviet that governs the country (and hence, “Soviet Union”). Third, we need some of that government controlled education to help make everyone understand the one, true history, of how feudalism and capitalism oppress everyone.
And finally, instituting the “Red Terror” – which means killing anyone who doesn’t agree.
It’s also important to note that Marx and Lenin honestly believed that they were building all this upon a scientific, unbiased view of history. Just like what everyone thinks of their own view of history.
Maoism – This type of communism emphasizes pure, total, and complete equality through involvement of the peasantry. Not every country has “peasants”, so you know we’re talking about China here (Although czarist Russia had peasants too, but the name of this model is “Maoism”. So yea, China.)
I’ve touched a little on how Marx’s views were shaped by the environment of his day. For Mao, imagine being the head of government, yet living secluded in the jungles of China, fighting side-by-side with the peasants you’re trying to protect and lead. It’s the cooperation you get from them, and their trust in you, that allows you to succeed against the odds. This is quite a bit different than the systematic undoing of class systems and factory-ownership Marx talked about. This is literally living in the dirt, shoulder to shoulder, sharing ammunition and rations with the people you will one day lead. And then, ironically, kill.
Mao believed all the people could come together, work and cooperate as one, forming an agrarian society that could win equality for all, and just skip straight passed the Second Phase proposed by Marx (where a dictator-representative of the people’s interests holds onto power while everything gets normalized). Coincidentally, this would lead to an exchange of “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!” between the Soviet Union and China, and lead to their break up. They both then secretly dated the US – who was all too happy to be the rebound person and ensure these two never got back together again. Sound like some high school drama. On the next, “If Countries Were People!”
Also, I put “If Countries Were People” into google just to see what would happened. Found this. And this. Lulz.
Anyway, to this end, Mao didn’t like cities. Because cities were places where those rich yuppie intellectuals lived. They worked in factories and specialized in things and… the guy with a masters in molecular engineering just didn’t fit with his idea of a perfect society, where everyone was working in the fields, happy and smiling, producing enough grain for everyone. As such, he was fond of “recruiting” young people and sending them out to the countryside, to help make them into ‘real communist’.
Poll Pot didn’t quite understand this, and thought if people shouldn’t live in cities, then killing them was the best way to make them not live there anymore.
Poll Pot wasn’t exactly the coldest beer in the fridge.
The “Cultural Revolution” happened because of Mao’s idea that capitalism isn’t just a system of resource distribution… it’s a state of mind, man! We gotta be fighting the capitalist… within ourselves! Hence, we need to radically change the culture, and get everyone to leave behind the old, ancient ideas that are related to feudalism. This ain’t your grandpas revolution! And as with most things ideological, this means also throwing away *all* the old ideas. Even the ones that might have been really good and worked just fine.
This totally failed. Millions of people died as a result, and it nearly collapsed China before it even got going.
The “Great Leap Forward” happened because of Mao’s idea that the people could come together and do anything, if they just worked as one. Farmer’s were told to plant crops closer together, to grow more. Each family was told to keep a furnace / foundary in their front yard, and produce 10 pounds of steel each month. Because if each person is growing something, and each person is making something, then of course! In 5 years we should have more steel and food than we know what to do with!
This totally failed. Millions of people died as a result, and it nearly collapsed China before it even got going.
And then thankfully, Mao died before he got any more ideas. I can only imagine what the Great Backflip Sideways would have entailed, but I can just see millions of Chinese rolling their eyes and shooting themselves just so they don’t have to put up with anymore bullshit. The rest of his ideas were written in a Little Red Book. Each Chinese person was required by law to carry a copy of the little red book with them. Companies were required to break at least once each day and spend time discussing the ideas in the little red book. The time lost in productivity was thought to be made up for by the knowledge and insight gleamed form Mao’s teaching.
This totally failed. Millions of people were irritated and annoyed, but at least no one died this time.
Maoism was challenged and thrown out of practice soon after Mao was gone. The failures of Maoism were blamed on his ministers and his wife (yea right – blame the woman), to keep Mao’s image from being tarnished. It’s been re-envisioned, as you would expect with something so heroically associated with the beginnings of Red China, to have been from a ‘a man who was great – but fallible’ and ‘relevant for the time in which it was conceived, but no longer adequate to face modern challenges’, thereby keeping the mythos of Mao alive, while getting rid of it in practice.
Maoism was replaced with a policy called “Marxism, with Chinese characteristics”. This later gave way to China’s modern communist policy, roughly translated as “truth through facts” – or in other words, literally, “lets find what seems to work, then keep doing it”.
Stalinism – This refers largely to Stalin’s own particular style of governing, more than it does a special form of communism. But since Stalin was a devout communist, his style of governing has been mixed with the concept, and hence, Stalinism.
Perhaps the greatest defining feature of Stalin’s belief was that efforts should be focused on developing communism in the Soviet Union first, and allowing its success and greatness to completely outshine capitalist nations completely, showing the world that communism was better. He called this policy “Socialism In One Country”. This is in part because several communist revolution attempts in Europe had failed, so Russia was kind of on its own as a socialist state. Continued efforts on trying to get European revolutions to happen, in Stalin’s mind, could be better spent getting socialism to work better in Russia (although his initial ideas were the exact opposite).
From here, Stalin reached another conclusion.
Since communism must succeed in Russia first, Russia “winning the game” against the capitalist is all that matters. So basically just forget communism – anything that needs to be done to beat the capitalist is now the focus. This defined his style of governing. Ironically, in the rush to make communism succeed, he abandoned certain parts of it to lighten the load, which drew severe criticism from other communist.
And criticizing Stalin was only a good idea if you were tired of living.
In other words (if you were to sum this whole thing up in one easy-to-understand statement), the bureaucratic elite within the Soviet Union began serving what they believed to be their own interests (as corporations can do that), rather than facilitate the interests of the workers, arguably due to outside international pressures. And this deviation from the goals of Marxism that caused a stampede of drama-llamas to run wild through the communist world.
Also, whereas Mao maintained that the urge to be a capitalist was within us all, Stalin’s focus was on certain individuals who were capitalist sympathizers within his party. He believed that to completely purge the country of all capitalists, the state had to become overwhelmingly strong first, before it could step down and fade away, a phase which in later circles became known as “HAHAHAHAHA – No.” Purging meant sending dozens of people suspected of disloyalty towards the communist ideals to prison camps. And by dozens I mean millions.
Stalin was also quite the joker. “Want to see a magic trick? I’m gonna make this person beside me… DISAPPEAR!”
To explain Trotskyism – lets go back to Marxism for a minute, because the details here are so damn technical that it’s surprising it caused as much drama as it did. You know how in the original narrative, for socialism to succeed, you go FROM feudalism TO a capitalism, where lords become factory owners, and peasants become employees? And FROM THERE, you start a revolution by taking down the factory owners and redistributing resources?
Well, Russia was still a feudalist society at around this time. So how are we going to get the country to go from feudalism to capitalism really quick, so we can start the revolution Marx described?
Trotsky’s idea was to just skip that part – go straight from the peasants we have now, and right into a revolt. Skip the whole capitalism-exploiting-workers thing, and go straight into labour equality. He called this a “permanent revolution”, since the workers would accomplish this, then modernize the country, then inspire workers in surrounding countries to do the same thing, and on and on and on!
Okay, apparently skipping that whole capitalism-exploiting-workers thing was SO DAMN HORRIBLE that Stalin had him hunted down and killed. I kid you not. I mean seriously, HOW DARE YOU DEVIATE EVEN SLIGHTLY FROM THE ORIGINAL PLAN, when there actually was no original plan, and all this was left open and vague on multiple issues on purpose with the understanding that we would just figure this stuff out eventually?
This wasn’t just a disagreement. This was a bitter, bleeding heart, fist-in-the-air, flag-waving, foot-stomping technicality that was so abstract that you probably have to read the last 3 paragraphs again just to figure out what the hell it was even about. But apparently, small, itsy bitsy discrepancies like this lead not only to state executions, massive purges, and millions of people starving, it also helped inflame issues like the Sino-soviet split, where Communist China and Soviet Russia had a screaming fight out in the driveway with all the neighbors looking. (Next time, on “If Countries Were People.”)
I sometimes wonder if there wasn’t more to it than just a disagreement in political philosophy… like, maybe Trotsky was just “that guy”. Like Chad Hitler.
At this point, you should be familiar enough with the subject of socialism / communism from a historical point of view. Now I’ll discuss what socialism means to many of us in a modern context.
Modern Socialist Ideals
As many of my close friends know, I’ve been homeless most of my adult life, even though I’ve worked constantly over the years. My situation cannot be blamed on social ills; I’ve never drank, have no idea what beer tastes like, have never smoked, have no criminal record, and the only drugs I’ve ever done came from my doctor. There were times when I held 3 jobs at once, but still had to choose between either having food, or having a place to stay. I’ve worked myself to the point of collapse multiple times, yet no matter how hard I worked, or how many risks I took, the only thing that changed was the setting; I might have ended up in a different place, but I was still working 16 hours a day, still choosing the absolute cheapest foods I could find by calculating how many calories I could get on the dollar, and still, even then, having to choose between food and shelter.
Mine is not a unique story by any stretch. Some 80% of Americans are now struggling to survive, and there is no reason for this. We no longer live in a time where the contribution of everyone is essential for survival. Less than 2% of our population now feeds the other 98%, and that’s only at our current level of infrastructure. There are proposed methods that would drastically increase the number of people we could feed, which will never be met through the price system. Why do I say that? Because right now, farmers are being paid *NOT* to grow crops, in a country where 46 million people need help getting food each month.
For every homeless person now on the streets, there are more than 6 empty houses – not empty rooms in a house, empty houses!! We have more resources now than ever before in history, yet nearly 150 million of our people struggle to survive and need assistance of some sort. It is our system of determining resource distribution – NOT a lack of resources – that accounts for this.
The US government brings in twice as much money than the next richest nation, and yet somehow can’t afford to keep the lights turned on, can’t maintain emergency service coverage, like fire, police, and ambulance to multiple areas across the country, and has to unpave roads because they can’t cover the cost of upkeep. That’s happened so far in North Dekota, South Dekota, 38 different counties in Michigan, Ohio, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.
Since 2010, bankruptcy has been declared by 36 different cities, including Detroit Michigan, Boise Idaho, Jefferson Alabama, Stockton California, San Bernandino California, Mammoth Lakes California, Central Falls Rhode Island, Harrisburg Pennsylvania. This means the people living in those cities will struggle even more to maintain access to a basic standard of living, in a time when we have the industrial capacity to produce more cars than we have people, produce more food than anyone could ever eat, and already have enough housing for everyone to have their own house!
If this kind of thing happened in China, we’d all be lauding about how communism doesn’t work.
Speaking of Detroit, they shut off the water to 17,000 people because they couldn’t pay the outrageous bills being charged by the water company, despite fresh water being something that falls from the f***ing sky that we put in bottles and ship everywhere across the world. This is seriously a failure I would expect to read about happening in Soviet Russia, as I’ve read multiple such failures that happened across the communist world in the course of writing this paper. Water is not something in such incredible short supply that we have to cherish it. Again, resource distribution is the problem, not a lack of resources.
The state of Maine issued a statement on the overflowing tide of illegal immigrant children coming into the state that they could not support, and issued a call for a crackdown to stem the overwhelming number of immigrant children that now needed services. The total number of children? 8. No, not 8 thousand, not 8 hundred – just 8. Providing 1,500 calories of nutrition, a fixed structure to keep the rain off them, and basic first aid you can get in Indonesia for free, for 8 children, is just too much for the state to handle. Never mind that Maine takes in 48 billion dollars, in a country that takes in 16 trillion dollars, each year.
Maybe insisting that all resources always be distributed according to what the price system dictates is the problem. Maine can support more than 8 kids. Hell, *a single person* can support 8 kids!!
We do not live in a time where we NEED you out in the fields tilling the soil and milking the cows because please oh please – we just don’t have enough food to go around, and we need everyone, everywhere, pitching in, and if you don’t then you’re just “freeloading”. The people who promote this freeloader notion like to relate themselves to a romanticized idea of a time long since passed, where work was meaningful perhaps because it was related to survival – and if you aren’t contributing, then you didn’t deserve basic necessities. Such people also enjoy the idea of being able to decide what another person deserves, while imagining that the status and abundance that serendipitous opportunity provided them is somehow completely a result their own work.
A person should not be forced to work upon the threat of homelessness. Holding a full time job no longer guarantees any promise of securing basic living standards; many homeless people currently work full time anyway, and just cannot and will not ever afford their own living space, no matter how long and hard they push themselves to work, because the free market forces no longer provide that as an option. In fact, if you don’t want to work – FINE, don’t work at all! Because if you’re putting in over 200 job applications and hearing nothing back, then maybe there is no work to do!
We live in a country where some 50 million people are out of work, and cannot find work, and on top of that we are fast approaching a globalized push-button society. Why is it impossible to consider that perhaps the unemployed, are unemployed, because there is simply no work available? The work that once required a thousand people is now done by 10 people, who often supervise machines through a computer system. The claim that the displaced workers need to find new skills for new kinds of work can only be used so many times. When they do learn new skills, and those new jobs are made obsolete for the same reasons, then learn new skills again, and THOSE jobs are are obsolete for the same reasons – how long can this keep up? If every industry everywhere needs fewer and fewer people, and the number of people we have in the country keeps increasing, then maybe we just don’t need everyone to constantly to justify existence through work. Maybe this idea that we HAVE to always constantly work is something deep rooted in our cultural awareness because it used to be true, although it no longer is.
Why don’t rich and powerful CEO’s need the constant threat of starvation to keep them “working”? What keeps the wealthy motivated? Do kids really grow up to be doctors just so they wont starve one day? I thought it was because they have a strong interest in medicine and helping others.
That work is disappearing is reflected partly in the skills and education hierarchy, as it relates to employment.
In 1900, anyone could find work and earn a reasonable living, with or without an education.
In 1950, you needed to have a high school diploma to earn a reasonable living.
In 1980, you needed to have a bachelors degree to earn a reasonable living.
In 2000, you needed to have a masters degree to earn a reasonable living.
Today, the 50% of college grads will look for work more than a year. Of those that find work, more than half wont find it in the field they studied for. 80% will have to move back in with their parents, and a failure to pay off college debts has been called “the next big bubble”. Work has disappeared to such an extent that having high-level skills and a 30,000 dollar college degree is still not enough for a person to find it.
In fact, finding work is such a rarity that employers can now pick and choose their favorite like-minded people who like the same sports teams as they do from LinkedIn as employees. Being employed is now like being part of an exclusive club.
The old price system and job-market ideas are no longer sufficient for correcting any of our current problems. If you have enough of something that everyone can have one, yet they’re priced so expensively that no one can have one, then a different system of managing resources is needed. Related to this, VSauce actually made a very informative video about why humans have wheels and no other animals do. Simply put – for wheels to be useful, they require roads. Roads are things you build with the knowledge that YOU wont directly own them. You produce them, but it’s everyone else that will use them. This “socialist type thinking” is what lead to the invention of the wheel, and spurred the growth of human civilization. So I’m tempted at times to imagine that perhaps people who are so opposed to socialist programs simply lack the mindset that is needed to get human civilization to flourish.
Now, imagine for a moment if none of this were an issue. Imagine if people were simply given basic necessities, without this age old notion that they have to somehow validate their existence through work – even if it’s meaningless work – even if it’s completely redundant, unnecessary, do-nothing work, so long as it’s work of some kind, since that’s the only metric available to justify whether someone is allowed to have food or a place to stay. Imagine if we could get over this mindset that we don’t have enough, and that our world will be in peril if we don’t keep 300 million hands in perpetual motion, working all the time, despite the frustratingly obvious fact that there simply isn’t enough work for everyone to do, and yet enough of everything for everyone to have.
Imagine if people were simply given shelter, power, food, and access to resources, like education. Instead of turning education into big business, consequently turning it into a throw-back to the ancient days were only the nobility could afford to go to school, imagine letting everyone who wanted to go, just go. Remember there are no shortages here, and there’s honestly no logical reason apart from adherence to tradition and ideology to not do this. In a few decades, our country would be overrun with scientists, engineers, and specialist of every kind – because that’s what happens when people are allowed to actually pursue what interests them, without 99% of them struggling to have enough food each week.
And this is why the systems that govern this distribution are now, once again, being called into question, though it’s difficult to hear any reasonable discussion in a public forum where blind-and-deaf ideologues scream their rhetoric over one another, and promote their party’s interests above all else. After all, nothing I’ve said here suggests that *ALL* free-market forces and competition must stop. It may indeed be a fallacy that we must ditch all privately held property, or abandon the price system completely. The point is that not everything must necessarily be decided this way. Basic necessities shouldn’t. If a person wants to live in a mansion and drive a Mercedes, then they can look for an opening in what’s left of the free market, considering that there is any work available that someone else is willing to pay for. If they can find such an arrangement, good for them! But if they can’t, then that’s okay too, because their basic needs are distributed based on resources so that they don’t starve or have to sleep in the rain.
Now, given everything I’ve just said…
Looking back at Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism, and every other such attempt in communist governing, it is clear that the problems I’m describing here, and the proposed solutions, are simply *not the same* as those previously tried systems heralded under the name of “socialism”. In fact, you’ll notice I never once mentioned “class struggle” in all that – which is a key aspect of socialist thought! As such, I wish there were another word we could use to describe this set of solutions based on a departure from the price system that would focus on an alternative method of resource distribution. Perhaps we can keep the word “socialism”, and simply change the meaning, as words do sometimes change in meaning over time. But then it may be unwise to present this idea to a public who are routinely trained to think (or rather, to not think at all, and simply believe without question) that “Sociaism = bad”. On the other hand, I’m unable to think of any other term that comes close to describing it accurately.
So until we can come to a decision on how to package these ideas and present them to a larger audience for discussion, I’ve decided to stick with the word “socialist” for now.
And that is why I call myself a socialist.