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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Makes Socialists Like Me Mad

What makes many of us Socialists mad is one word, Russia--that is the old Soviet Union Russia. Why? Though Russia never modeled the type of government and society that Socialists like me espouse, it has destroyed our credibility. Russia is our historical straw man. It existed and it failed. But it never represented what many of us believe in though other Socialists still look to it as an example.

So when a Socialist like me suggests that we need an alternative to our current system, the standard reply that comes back is that Socialism has always failed. Really? That really depends on one's definition of Socialism. But before we get into that, we should look at the horse our nation is betting on.

The performance of our nation's horse has been win, place, and show for centuries. So why change? We should change because it is a myth that we have done so well. For example, how did we do when the America's indigenous people were being ethnically cleansed from the land? And how did we do when Blacks were enslaved  for centuries by America's aristocracy? And how did we do when Blacks suffered under the first Jim Crow? And how are we doing as America is suffering under its second Jim Crow? And how did we do when we could not marry the person of our choice because of their gender?

Or how did we do when we sent our sons and daughters to fight in the 50-plus wars and interventions that followed WWII? And how did we do when our troops fought in the wars and interventions before WWII? And how are we doing as millions of homes were foreclosed on since 2007? And how are we doing while many jobs have been outsourced overseas or workers have been replaced by technology? And how are we doing as the global supply for workers has increased causing the pay for many workers to decrease? And how are we doing with our food and air being poisoned and with our environment being changing for the worse? 

Or how will we do now that the proliferation of WMDs is inevitable? And how will we do as we continue to have serious conflicts after proliferation has become fact? And how will we do as we incite new conflicts by always trying to extend our economic and political control? And how will we do when the seas rise and the climate displays more extreme weather because we were not willing to change?

See, if we answered all of the "how did we do" and "how are we doing" questions with fine, realize that that is because of the group we were in. It went fine for us, but for a growing number of people, including an ever increasing number of neighbors, things either did or are not going well.  And time has prevented us from knowing how to answer the "how will we do"questions. So the claim that our current system has not only taken into account our intellectual and moral frailties, but has also taken full advantage of them depends on which group we belong to and what time it is. 

A world driven by self-interest and relying on competition to advance is not a world that is either self-sustaining or survivable. And if we let history be our guide, we will realize that our group, the one whose provision has moved us to think that our current system is working, will not be king of the world forever. What goes up, must come down. And so it won't be long until we are in a group whose suffering will lead us to say that the current system is not working.

It's simply insane to believe that anyone can create a system that can accommodate the naked self-interest by every participant and make everybody a winner. That is especially true when we have the weapons that could annihilate human life on this earth and when our waste is gradually but inevitably and drastically choking our environment.

And so I believe that some kind of flexible Socialism is the system that offers us the best chance at living a decent life now and a manageable life in the future. It does so because Socialism extends democracy and as democracy is extended, then power is distributed. As power is distributed, the sinfulness of gifted people can be better restrained. And as we rely more on sharing rather than hoarding, we can reduce, but not eliminate, our conflicts and make life better for more people by exemplifying values to live by. For just as an economy that relies on self-interest changes the values of its participants, so can a system that disperses political power and an economy that distributes wealth more evenly, not necessarily equally, change the values of its participants.

Some who read this will mistakenly believe that I am picturing a utopia. They are wrong because all I am seeing is an improved world, not a perfect world. For as long as we build upon an economic system that is driven by self-interest, we will eventually become self-destructive. So we need to change. But even if we can modify our economic system so that it does not rely solely on self-interest, there will still be more self-interest around than we will know what to do with. As Socialism distributes power, it can limit the effects of self-interest so that fewer people are hurt by those who are ruled by greed.

So why does Russia make us mad? It is because as we describe how we can change things and make life better, our antagonists will point to Russia and say that what we are proposing has already been tried. Such a charge is based on ignorance as those making the charge look at Russia as the definition of Socialism. Socialists, like Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemberg, protested against the centralized control of the country exercised by Lenin. Kautsky criticized it because as certain Socialists exercised more control, others were silenced (click here). Luxemberg called Lenin's and Trotsky's model of Socialism a bourgeois dictatorship. We should also note that she called Kautsky's model a bourgeois democracy (click here). But regardless, they knew that what Lenin wanted to do was wrong. 

We need a Socialism that demands democracy and that it starts at the workplace. That means that businesses must be governed by democratic practices rather than in an authoritarian way as exercised by managers.  Then we also need to elect government officials who will represent people rather than big business. To elect such people, we will have to abandon all candidates from our two major parties. Then we watch our new government as it works to represent us in controlling the runaway power of certain elites from the private sector. It is only under such representatives that government should exercise control over business.

The above paragraph shows how Socialism can start here. But if it does, we cannot just sit back and expect things to fall into place. We have to monitor and keep watch so that the new political parties with power do not imitate the old parties. We will have to be forever vigilant. That is because such a Socialism rests on the self-rule of a society. And such must always be on the lookout for those who would hijack it, like what Lenin and those who followed him did to the Russian Revolution.




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