Monday, 15 December 2008

What would socialism look like?

12 comments
I was originally going to respond to db0's post with the same name in a comment, but ironically, since we have been corresponding over alternative comment systems, I cannot make a comment on his blog, so I am making this post instead. (Now please bear in mind that I am a liberal not a socialist, communist or a conservative and I am a utilitarian not an egoist, altruist or an egalitarian, just to show where I stand in all this).

Db0 provided a link to a company in Brazil with supposedly innovative business practices that, according to db0, looks like socialism, hence the title of his post. There is a video on youtube which has been reset to prevent embedding in blog posts, so I can only give the link. It is an interesting video and worth taking a look at.

Anyway I also note that Db0 has been having problems with Marxists who advocate violent revolution, which I beleive db0 rejects - at least I hope so. (Note that it is my view Marx, along with Freud, is so 20th century, but lets leave that for now). Now let me quote from a wonderful piece (although I do not whole heartedly endorse it) by J. L Mackie, to show that this company is contradictory evidence to the
the traditional Marxist thesis that capitalism cannot be reformed by the moral conversion of individual capitalists: as long as the 'relations of production' are unchanged an individual capitalist who attempts to give up exploitation is merely replaced by someone else who plays his social role more efficiently.
I hope db0 can use this point to bash those unreformed violent revolutionary Marxists over the head with. That is all I wanted to say in my comment that I could not make on his blog.

Finally I ain't interested in Marxist ideas but I do need a position on them and am willing, at the right time, to debate with db0 and barefoot bum on them - since I can see that constructive debate could ensue, even if we remain in disagreement. Please note that now is not that time.

12 comments:

Db0 said...

I will check the link when I can. I wanted to mention that I do not advocate violence, but I do advocate revolution. This is mainly because Capitalist has proven impervious to reformation. It simply ends up reforming the socialist instead of the other way around.

I do advocate companies and systems like these as a way to promote socialist thinking and subvert capitalism but once the base of capitalism has been eroded, it will need a revolutionary push to topple it.

martino said...

The link is not relevant to the point at hand although it is a good read. Still is this point I made here not valid in your debates against unreformed violent revolutionary Marxists?

As for the point in your second paragraph - milder non-violent revolution (however that is meant to work) I fail to see that if these alternate quasi-socialist systems begin to dominate the market place then what then would be the need for a revolution, why topple what enables this to occur, if it did? Surely this would be a point against revolution (violent or not)?

Divided By Zer0 said...

Well, once these systems dominate the market we may have the case where the whole company starts exploiting another whole company. I really can't say what will happen at a point where everyone is working in this style but I also don't know if it's possible to ever have that. It might very well be the case that an ruthless capitalist (and this system is still exploitative but of course, much better then the norm) has a bigger competitive advantage and these companies get outcompeted. The coming crisis will show their viability I believe.

If we reach the stage where every company is working like this then we will see what we will see.


Still is this point I made here not valid in your debates against unreformed violent revolutionary Marxists?

Most marxists don't advocate violence but expect it to come from the state when the revolution begins. At this point they will have to defend themselves.
There are marxists I disagree with of course, such as Stalinists, Maoists and any other authoritatian types. But theoretically, no-one advocates violence

The Barefoot Bum said...

One swallow does not a summer make.

SEMCO might have enlightened business practices but they must still raise capital, and pay for it. The workers at SEMCO may be treated humanely, but the shareholders are still extracting surplus value from them in the form of profit.

The fundamental problem is not that capitalism requires that workers be treated poorly, it's that it rewards extracting as much surplus value from workers as is physically possible.

The workers at SEMCO are well-treated because presumably they're relatively highly skilled. They have economic power by virtue of their relative scarcity. In an endeavor that requires unskilled labor, anything but the the most regimented, demeaning working conditions will cut into the all-too-narrow profit margins, and humane companies will in fact (and are in fact) replaced by assholy companies.

martino said...

Barefoot

Two of the top five supermarket chains in the UK are employee owned (The Co-op and Waitrose -by the John Lewis Partnership). How do you explain that? Many internet start-ups are employee owned e.g. Look at the latest VC-type firms such as Paul Graham's Y-Combinator - his whole model works against your assumptions.

As for rewarding shareholders who do not run the company remember it was Adam Smith who first identified that problem. He was against common stock companies. So was he the founder of "capitalism" or just modern economics?

Of course you could come up with many examples that support your thesis to some degree e.g Macdonalds (but I still find your claim of "anything but the the most regimented, demeaning working conditions" dubious) and fact is that these are not the only way and liberal democratic environments enable alternatives to be successfully developed.

As for MacDonalds type companies we could all boycott them, no need for a revolution.

martino said...

Db0

So what is your justification for the necessity of revolution and how could it be non-violent? Since Marx's predictions have been notoriously mistaken in the past, what new argument can be made to restore or update them - (without creating an unfalsifiable argument)?

Db0 said...

Martino, do not compare the opportunities we have in the developed world for starting initiatives like those (co-ops etc). The sheer wealth on average that everyone who happens to live in the 1st world nations enjoys is very far from the reality the other 5/6ths of the world face. We are the bourgeois nations

The really exploited people do not have the capability to save nor the time to start a co-op most of the time.

As to why a revolution is necessary, well, first of all because political moves cannot reform Capitalism. The wealthy and powerful will simply withdraw their wealth and bankrupt the system and then turn around and blame the "socialist policies" and the people will believe them.

Revolution is necessary because eventually the vast majority will want socialism but the small minority will not agree to it. They will not agree to allow the workers to own the means of production and the previous system's laws will back them up. The politicians will not be able to change the laws due to the constitution and thus you will be hitting a wall.
The only option at this point is a revolution, where the people reject the current system and simply start living in the new one, rejecting private property.

Such a move will make the possesing classes, the bourgeoisie use the state to enforce the status quo, thus violence.


PS: Which of Marx's predictions were notoriously wrong? AFAIK his prediction of Capitalism always having booms and slumps because of Overproduction was dead-on accurate. His prediction that the exploitation will make people socialist was and is dead-on.

martino said...

His prediction was that the most advanced capitalist nations would make people socialist and that was wrong. Look at the countries that actually were, at least initially, motivated by socialist ideals. They were not the advanced capitalist nations. If it is an issue of exploitation then it looks like pre-enlightenment kingdoms were the ones that encouraged socialism not capitalism.

For sure, I agree we are the elite, as Jared Diamond ably analysed far better than Marx IMHO. I certianly do not agree or support the policies of the IMF and World bank. Anyway look at the new initiatives for new types of banks in India providing funds to villagers and the elite driven "fair trade" initiatives. Starbucks - the main reason for the instigation of fair trade in coffee now only sells fair trade coffee in the UK. (I still would not use them as they have a shop in Gauntanamo Bay!!, their coffee tastes like shit anyway and for many other reasons)

As an economist his key analysis of booms and slumps was the conclusion of the growth of companies that reduced competition and created inefficient markets by buying up less robust companies in the slumps. That is his main economic contribution accepted by economists not put off by mentioning Marx.

And when it comes to revolution, given what you have said, you are really talking about an international scenario where the poor nations revolt against the rich? This is not the state versus the "workers" is it?

Anyway maybe I misread your complaints against unreformed Marxists - or got you confused with Barefoot Bum in my browsing - as it appears that you do support violent revolution?

Db0 said...

His prediction was that the most advanced capitalist nations would make people socialist and that was wrong.

No, it's exploitation that makes people socialist. Marx did foresee that the more advanced capitalism got, the more exploited the workers became, and this is true. What he did not foresee was the developed nations outsourcing the exploitation to the 3rd world and then backing it up with force of arms.

As an economist his key analysis of booms and slumps was the conclusion of the growth of companies that reduced competition and created inefficient markets by buying up less robust companies in the slumps.


Marx did not attribute booms and busts to inefficient markets, he attributed it to the core working of Capitalism. He accurately explained how it is speculation that causes the booms and overproduction that causes the slumps.

And when it comes to revolution, given what you have said, you are really talking about an international scenario where the poor nations revolt against the rich? This is not the state versus the "workers" is it?

The majority of the very exploited workers are in the third world nations and thus they are the most likely to revolt first. That does not mean that the workers in the developed nations cannot do the same in solidarity.
Their opponent in both cases will either be the state, or the foreign armies of developed nations coming in to protect their "investments".

as it appears that you do support violent revolution?

Again. I support revolution from the workers. The violence will come from the state when they stop playing by the capitalist rules (specifically when they stop accepting the notion of private property). There is no way to avoid this outcome. The possesing classes will not allow their possesions to be taken from them.

martino said...

OK I will have to write a post on this sooner rather than later and will address your points there.

peterm said...

You know, reading all this about revolution leaves me with an unreal sensation. Sort of like when I hear NASA talk about their plans to send people back to the moon or mars... maybe in an alternate universe, but not in this world.

I'm sure a revolution is coming but it won't be people initiated. The revolution that is coming is going to hit us from our Biosphere. And when it hits all intellectualizing bets will be off.

On the good side, the morning after will see humanity back to dealing on a local level. This will allow all sorts of ad hoc systems to flourish.

martino said...

Hi Peter

I think we are also talking at the CFI forums?

I am concerned about human originated revolutions - communist or otherwise - and really there should be no excuse for such talk in liberal democracies, we can work from within to make them better, removing double standards - norms of partiality and replacing them with single standards - norms of impartiality - and so, apart from anything else, be neutral as to anyone's belief in whatever god they believe in or not. This would also entail a more honest and accurate appraisal and a better capacity to respond to what we are doing to our biosphere.