Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.

by Eric on December 10, 2013

The Guardian carries David Simon’s remarks on the “horror show” that is modern America. These were, evidently, impromptu comments, so no fair, I guess, critiquing them too closely. But it’s hard not to note that Simon has lumped in “I’m not a Marxist but” with the other unpersuasive disclaimers, “I’m not a feminist but” and “I’m not a racist but”.

The political landmarks are implicit in his dates – 1980 was when things began to go seriously wrong, after having taken a turn for the better in 1932.

We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?

And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.

And yet, Simon notes, we are not pure profiteers. We understand socialism. It’s just, we only understand socialism for a small group of people very like us.

And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”

What do you think group health insurance is? You know you ask these guys, “Do you have group health insurance where you …?” “Oh yeah, I get …” you know, “my law firm …” So when you get sick you’re able to afford the treatment.

The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you’re able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you’re relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go “Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”

He goes on a nice riff about how the real end of history is the mixed economy. It’s not something we can all rally around, exactly, but it works; its provisional and limited triumphs are what make life just about bearable.

It reminds me a little of another impromptu set of remarks about a divided America.

{ 183 comments }

1

bianca steele 12.10.13 at 7:21 pm

Um, so when people hand over all kinds of rights in IP to their employer and so on, corporations are socialist polities? Wow, I’ve never heard that idea before.

2

Anarcissie 12.10.13 at 7:57 pm

‘He goes on a nice riff about how the real end of history is the mixed economy. It’s not something we can all rally around, exactly, but it works; its provisional and limited triumphs are what make life just about bearable.’

It’s social democracy, and it doesn’t work, because Capital retain the power, and when Capital doesn’t think Welfare and regulation serve its interests any more, they are rescinded.

3

Wonks Anonymous 12.10.13 at 8:12 pm

“corporations are socialist polities? Wow, I’ve never heard that idea before.”
The phrase “islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism” gets bandied about a bit, although in a high-level nature-of-the-firm kind of way rather than specifically with reference to I.P.

Does corporate group insurance have community rating? I’ve just declined to participate without delving into the specifics.

4

bianca steele 12.10.13 at 8:22 pm

Yeah, I just meant IP as an example. Group insurance isn’t quite the same thing as working together in a private firm, but if banding together as a group is “socialism” regardless of what the group is and how it’s connected into larger wholes, . . . you’re in “how many legs does a dog have?” territory.

5

Steve LaBonne 12.10.13 at 8:25 pm

It’s social democracy, and it doesn’t work, because Capital retain the power, and when Capital doesn’t think Welfare and regulation serve its interests any more, they are rescinded.

Sweden, to take one example, has admittedly backslid considerably but is still among the most equal countries and appears to have stopped its trend toward greater inequality. I am not persuaded that a straight Marxist analysis of political power is realistic and so I am not ready to give up on social democracy.

6

Carlos Ave 12.10.13 at 8:31 pm

It’s amazing how smart and crafty you people are! Low life people like me can never figure out which side of your face you are speaking from. Do you think this guy has any point at all and if not why not, but to jump on a minor point to make your hay is falling into snidedom.

7

Barry 12.10.13 at 8:39 pm

Carlos, perhaps you could please restate that, but in such a way as to have meaning?

8

bianca steele 12.10.13 at 8:49 pm

Barry, if it helps, I’d guess shorter Carlos is more or less, “You CT commenters are snarky.”

9

Gabriel 12.10.13 at 9:12 pm

David Simon, to me, represents the disconnect between the American left and is previous intellectual base: namely, Marxism and socialism. Simon is always, and very quickly, left descending into liberal fantasies about The Good Old America, when Journalism was the Champion of the Common Man and We Were All In It Together and When The Government Was an Agent of the Common Man. He chides Marx for grandiloquence regarding solutions, but then engages in the worst kind of tepid generalization, lamenting that ‘we’ used to be better but then ‘they’ someone turned everything rotten. It’s all bullshit, and I suspect he knows it’s all bullshit, but it’s what he’s left with when he refuses to give up childish notions about what America is and has been and what capitalism is and has been. See also: his defense of illegal surveillance in America.

Doesn’t make ‘The Wire’ or ‘Treme’ any less brilliant, however.

10

Mao Cheng Ji 12.10.13 at 9:16 pm

I love The Wire, but this piece isn’t very good, IMO. Marxism – and social compact? C’mon, brother.

11

bob mcmanus 12.10.13 at 9:21 pm

I am not persuaded that a straight Marxist analysis of political power

Marxian theories of the state are a multitude! And variegated and contentious!

Hard to compete with the finalized complete and perfected practice of the political science of social democratic systems.

12

Chris 12.10.13 at 9:54 pm

Most companies aren’t socialist because they don’t answer to the people (either in general, or the people of the company, ie employees, in particular). They answer to the owners. That’s not at all the same thing as socialism or democracy.

13

Main Street Muse 12.10.13 at 10:16 pm

RFK’s impromptu remarks were outstanding – thanks for the reminder. Indy was one of the few cities that did not go up in flames that night, like Chicago did. Some of those neighborhoods never recovered.

I liked Simon’s impromptu remarks as well.

But has capitalism ever had a social contract? Hasn’t social responsibility always been forced on capitalists by government intervention?

Polluters would continue to pollute as long as the government caters to the capitalists (witness Communist China, as an example.) In NC today, the government wants “forced fracking” – if you live above a natural gas vein, you could be forced to see it to a private company. Bankers today still manipulate markets and clients in the hopes of getting ever-increasing bonuses. What happened when those banks failed? What happened when AIG – whose business was to understand risk and demand collateral on loans – went belly up? Their losses were socialized by the government – but their profits remained private.

Simon’s right – America is a house divided. And the schism has grown immeasurably in the last 30 years.

14

aussie sunshine 12.10.13 at 10:24 pm

A great read from Mr Wire – I enthusiastically agree with about 98% of it . I would add that once basic needs are met money is almost unrelated at all to happiness levels, and, that (for you Americans) if the sh*t hits the fan I am more worried about the amount of bullets, not bricks, that will end up flying about.

15

adam.smith 12.10.13 at 10:46 pm

I’m going to be snarky and say that someone who has read Das Kapital or a good cliff note version thereof (hey, he implies that he has, so this is very much fair game) should know that the withering away of the state isn’t something that Marx wrote about. It’s Engel’s Phrase. Kapital has no theory of the communist state at all.

16

Bruce Wilder 12.10.13 at 11:22 pm

The New Deal social compact is colored significantly by the high degree of political solidarity achieved in WWII and continued under the Cold War threat. The elites of the immediate post-WWII period felt their interests coincided with the interests of the mass middle-class, and they had an interest in seeing that institutions performed well as positive-sum games.

Now, the historical reality is that the New Deal of the Great Depression was fashioned with a high degree of class hostility and suspicion of the motivations of the wealthy and powerful. But, that well-founded suspicion was quieted by the often selfless efforts of prominent and highly competent executives in the war effort, as well as by the marked reduction in income and wealth inequality that the war brought about, and kept in motion, with the GI Bill and the highly progressive rates of taxation put into place to pay down war debt.

Now, it seems to me, that political solidarity is at a low ebb. There’s very little mass-membership organization in American society. We are propagandized into a culture of the self, which Simon alludes to. And, the globalized elite feel detached from nationality and have lost a sense of dependence on the masses.

The Left is not going to get anywhere in these circumstances without accepting class warfare as a fact, and without accepting the necessity of destroying individuals and institutions on the Right. Conflict is costly, but without a credible threat to their lives and fortunes, the elite will continue on their self-serving sociopathic path. As things stand, there’s not even a threat of serious prosecution for crimes, nor is there much threat of labor strike, let alone an effective liberal vote in a Democratic primary.

17

otpup 12.11.13 at 1:35 am

@ Anarcissie,
I think the lesson of the 70’s through the Great Recession is, as you suggest, that social democratic mixed economy is not a stable point. I hope that would be the conclusion of any person of good will who gets out much. The real issue is what comes next, and especially, is there a form of reformist democratic politics that can lead to a soft landing in the post-capitalist future.

The big problem, as I see it, with social democratic politics is that is has been true to its Marxist roots in embracing a deterministic notion of historical progress and so, almost a century after Bernstein called it into question, just haven’t given the problem of the parliamentary road to democratic socialism any serious attention. Part of that laziness of vision might be because of a ambivalence to the more decentralized strategies favored the cooperative movement, the unfavored sibling to the institutions of Big Labor and the Welfare State (almost everywhere except for Sweden interestingly). But whatever the cause, it is a problem that needs attention.

18

Bruce Wilder 12.11.13 at 2:13 am

The lesson of all human history is that there’s no such thing as a stable point.

19

Belle Waring 12.11.13 at 2:36 am

Bruce Wilder, your hay is falling into sindedom.

20

David 12.11.13 at 2:39 am

Social Democracy and Stalinism are both dead ends, but, frankly, something along the lines of Anarchist Catalonia or the Parisian Commune has not been tried for a sustained period of time without being crushed by hostile armies. It might still be worth a sustained experiment.

21

Bruce Wilder 12.11.13 at 2:54 am

and, “the crushed by hostile armies” thing doesn’t suggest “failure” because . . . ?

22

David 12.11.13 at 2:55 am

Well, I hardly think you would call “democracy” a failed system because of what happened to France early in World War 2.

23

Bruce Wilder 12.11.13 at 2:58 am

I wouldn’t deny that the Third Republic failed.

24

otpup 12.11.13 at 5:02 am

The prevalence of nearby hostile armies might properly occasion the designation “historically premature”.

I actually don’t think Social Democracy is a dead end and that it is the most likely starting point for a successful evolution in the post-capitalist direction (I just don’t know any other plausible scenarios). The social democratic tradition is really the only tradition on the left with real experience governing, developing policy, etc. Not that the contemporary parties are much of an inspiration these days.

25

Zamfir 12.11.13 at 6:52 am

I am somewhat surprised by these dismissals of social democracy in this thread. As far as I can tell, countries with powerful social democratic parties do typically better on these issues than those without, with the US as sharpest example.

Those parties are themselves deeply flawed and limited in their effect. But do they people honestly believe that any real-world versions of (say) revolutionary socialism or Catalonian anarchism will be more resistant to such flaws?

26

Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 8:20 am

What does “social democratic” mean, exactly. My understanding is that it denotes the concept of centrist ‘Third Way’. As opposed to “democratic socialism” that actually postulates some principles, regardless of where ‘the center’ might shift tomorrow. My feeling is that the Third Way is a really bad, self-defeating idea, especially when it gets identified as ‘the left’, with nothing to the left of it.

27

Zamfir 12.11.13 at 9:07 am

At least where I am from, ‘democratic socialism’ is not used as a term. Social democrats were historically the people who chose to pursue socialism through democracy. At the time, that included people who considered revolution an option, just not the first option. Later on, it got more restricted to people who rejected violent revolution.

More later on, it became basically the label for the supporters of the major social democratic party. Many countries in Europe have a clear major ‘social democratic party’, even when they also have other parties that fit in the historic definition of social democrats.

Third Way-ism (either under that name, or similar trends under other names) is definitely not the same as social democracy in any of those meanings above. It’s mostly a direction within the major social democratic parties, and from time to time the dominant direction within the party. But I don’t think it’s been anywhere the undisputed direction, let alone the defining characteristic.

28

Martin Bento 12.11.13 at 9:52 am

It seems a little odd to me to declare social democracy a failure because it is currently being rolled back. This is a system that provided a good life for the bulk of the people under it for decades and did so without police states or atrocities. And it hasn’t collapsed in failure or been overthrown by the angry masses. It was betrayed by its own elites. Why? In part, perhaps, because it was getting harder to maintain in a neoliberal global system, but primarily because those elites were more concerned with overcoming tribalism and were willing to trade social democracy for it, though not to say so out loud. Therefore, they bought into a neoliberal Europe for the sake of a unified Europe. For those who think the results of this have not been good, the logical response would be to rethink anti-tribalism, at least at this extreme, which has created the problem, rather than social democracy, the loss of which is the problem. The technocratic elitism of Europe was also a factor. If the elites had not felt they had the right to overrule the ignorant masses – if they had been more committed to democracy – the Euro would never have happened, or never on the same terms, which would have very much for the better. However, the victory of Maastricht was a closely-fought thing, and relied on Europe’s aversion to its nationalist past among other things. It is hard to see as an unavoidable consequence of social democracy itself.

Yet on that basis we are to conclude that social democracy is an “inevitable” failure? And Marxism? Also defeated, and much more decisively, with a vastly-worse track record. But here we hear about how “contingent” history is, and therefore it could have been different. But if Stalin (and Mao, and Pot, and Hoxha, and the rest) are not baked into the Marxist pie just because that is what happened, how are Maastricht and the other sellouts baked into the social democratic pie?

29

Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 10:19 am

Zamfir, some quotes from wikipedia:

Under his [Tony Blair] leadership, the party used the phrase “New Labour” to distance it from previous Labour policies. Blair declared opposition to the traditional conception of socialism, and declared support for a new conception that he referred to as “social-ism”

Third Way social democratic theorist Anthony Giddens has said that the Third Way rejects the traditional conception of socialism, and instead accepts the conception of socialism as conceived of by Anthony Crosland as an ethical doctrine that views social democratic governments as having achieved a viable ethical socialism by removing the unjust elements of capitalism by providing social welfare and other policies, and that contemporary socialism has outgrown the Marxian claim for the need of the abolition of capitalism.[5] Blair in 2009 publicly declared support for a “new capitalism”.[6]

I have impression that this was a fundamental shift during the 80s and 90s, and that is what “social-democratic” means today. YMMV, and I could be wrong, no question about that.

30

Salem 12.11.13 at 10:54 am

“Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”

Brother, that’s not socialism, and you know it isn’t. That is just voluntary co-operation – within the scope of a contractual relationship, no less! – and I’m amazed to see this quoted approvingly in the OP.

If that is socialism, what’s the difference between socialism and libertarianism?

31

actio 12.11.13 at 11:06 am

Mao Cheng Ji: two readings on the nordic model of social democratic welfare state
http://www.iffs.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/EngFramtiderAug08TP.pdf
http://www.palgrave.com/PDFs/9781137013262_sample.pdf

Denmark, Norway and Sweden are prime examples of social democratic societies. There are of course problems like rightwards drift but to call social democracy a failure, as someone else above did, is gross overreach. This is not failure:
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/09/business/earth-institute-world-happiness-rankings/
“Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world’s happiest countries, according to the survey of 156 countries.”

32

Shatterface 12.11.13 at 11:16 am

Social Democracy and Stalinism are both dead ends, but, frankly, something along the lines of Anarchist Catalonia or the Parisian Commune has not been tried for a sustained period of time without being crushed by hostile armies. It might still be worth a sustained experiment.

Quite – and where anarchism was tried it was strangled at birth by Marxist-Leninists as much as by capitalists and fascists.

Marxism is a barrier to socialism.

33

bob mcmanus 12.11.13 at 1:10 pm

The problems of social democracy are foundational

1) Naivete: That people are basically good, and given freedom and security will sacrifice their own and their group interests to the needs of all. The kicker here is security, and the over-optimistic enlightenment teleology.

2) Hayekian neo-classical: That the marketplace of ideas, freed from authoritarian interference, will naturally and automatically balance competing interests in a way such that an optimally just society will result. Some interests will have or accumulate private wealth and power enough to constrain free competition.

3) Authoritarian: That the creation of a Leviathan, an anti-democratic regulatory scaffolding protecting basic rights and efficient processes is necessary and sufficient.
This is the most dangerous, because it can be captured, and because the worship of antidemocratic restrictions of process can lead to a legitimated tyranny. I think social democracies inevitably become corporatist and/or fascist. In this I agree with the anarchists.

The solution, the necessary pre-condition for democracy, is the creation of a large commons, not ideological or philosophical like a Constitution or an abhorrence of the State, but a material and concrete Commons that limits the resources available to private or corporate actors. The ideology you need is that the Commons belongs and always should belong to everybody, unavailable for private exploitation or profit, be it the National Park system or the healthcare or education infrastructure.

This is where Marxians, or at least this one, differ from anarchists or libertarians or social democrats. Expropriation must precede, logically and historically, the creation of democratic processes.

34

William Timberman 12.11.13 at 1:25 pm

bob mcmanus @ 32

The solution, the necessary pre-condition for democracy, is the creation of a large commons, not ideological or philosophical like a Constitution or an abhorrence of the State, but a material and concrete Commons that limits the resources available to private or corporate actors.

Aye, there’s the rub…. (Nicely put, by the way, the whole précis. 1, 2, 3 and most of what passes for economic analysis these days is seen for the blather it is.)

35

Zamfir 12.11.13 at 2:15 pm

Mao, I don’t think we’re in disagreement here, unless you consider Tony Blair and New Labour as the definition or only remaining representatives of social democracy. That would be, I think, exactly conceding to them what they desire and we don’t.

I think you’re right that the large social democratic parties as a wholemoved to the right in the 80s and 90s (perhaps gradually for much longer). I don’t think people like Blair and Schroeder represent the median of that move, they were the people pulling. Within these parties you find people who roughly agree with them, and people who want to pull back to the left, but not that much people strongly to their right.

There are options here: work to pull the existing parties back to a more working class base. Or build the younger leftier parties so they can take the powerful place that the mainstreamers used to have. I would consider both those options ‘social democracy’ without constraining the concept any bit.

I do think that it’s vital in both to aim for power, in government, even if that takes significant compromises.

36

William Berry 12.11.13 at 2:19 pm

Martin Bento @38:

Precisely.

37

William Berry 12.11.13 at 2:23 pm

Also, too, what bob mcmanus said about the commons and expropriation coming first.

Citizens! One more step if you want to be SDs! [to paraphrase the Marquis]

38

Wonks Anonymous 12.11.13 at 3:47 pm

aussie sunshine, more money does actually still result in more happiness at higher levels, there’s just diminishing returns.

39

MPAVictoria 12.11.13 at 4:09 pm

“I am somewhat surprised by these dismissals of social democracy in this thread. As far as I can tell, countries with powerful social democratic parties do typically better on these issues than those without, with the US as sharpest example.”

Pretty much this. Social democracy seems to be pretty effective at reducing suffering. Why all the negativity?

40

Lawrence Stuart 12.11.13 at 4:12 pm

@ 37: “Citizens! One more step if you want to be SDs! [to paraphrase the Marquis]“

Bingo. Only this time, it’ll be different. Really.

41

MPAVictoria 12.11.13 at 4:19 pm

“I think social democracies inevitably become corporatist and/or fascist. “

Inevitably?

“Expropriation must precede, logically and historically, the creation of democratic processes.”

By what right do you expropriate anything without democratic legitimacy? You must have the support of the people otherwise you are nothing but another Authoritarian and it will all end it tears.

42

Jesús Couto Fandiño 12.11.13 at 4:32 pm

I find all those cries about how Social Democracy doesnt work very tiresome.

By the same logic, Socialism doesnt work. Because when you try to do your Socialist thing the reactionaries make a counterrevolution and voila, you dont have it anymore. See, cant work.

Nothing can work if you assume it will be destroyed, replaced, ignored, etc. Nothing gets you to a final state of eternal bliss where history has ended and the perfect system works, forever. Everything can be destroyed, subverted, changed, betrayed, etc.

So far what we have is that when it has been in place, Social Democracy delivered a lot of good for a lot of people. Better track record than Socialist/Communist systems, in fact. So yes, the people that didnt like it did not like it and worked hard to have it undone. That doesnt mean it doesnt work. It means we failed at defending it, and need to work as hard as “Capital” did to undo it, but in the other direction.

Or you can try and convince me the solution is more to the left – but in any case, at this juncture, nothing “worked” if your definition is “for ever and without any need to protect it from its enemies”.

43

hix 12.11.13 at 4:33 pm

Social democracies usually are corporatist, they dont become it and thats a good thing. Pluralism is far less democratic, favouring huge companies over small ones, specialist labour unions over representative ones, lobying experts over good entrepreneurs.

44

Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 4:48 pm

It might be a good thing that has run its course. Like an old antibiotic neutralized by new resistant bacteria.

45

Jesús Couto Fandiño 12.11.13 at 5:10 pm

It may be. But I really dont think thats a good metaphor.

I think is much simpler. This is politics. We got a system (Social Democracy) that was based on the negotiation between power blocks. When the correlation of forces changed, it could not be sustained, because doh, the block that won that change of forces changed the system to the one they wanted.

So, back to the fight again, to get those counterweight blocks back into the negotiating table. It is no surprise that if you dont have unions, you dont get to negotiate working conditions – you have to take what the company give. Same with the rest, nobody in power is going to give anything to anybody out of the goodness of their hearts – you have to be in a position to demand a negotiation.

The problem with Social Democracy, at least in Europe, is that you dont see anybody willing to make those demands. The Social Democratic parties have transformed themselves into the Neoliberals but With Nicer Social Causes parties. So you have to choose between Neoliberal but Gay Friendly and Not Racist vs Neoliberal Homophobe Racist. Sometimes they remember they were about something else, but cant quite figure out what it was, or if they say something, they say it so low and are more than willing to drop it the moment they get a call from the guys that give them money and nice jobs after their mandate.

Solution – throw them out. Labour, PSOE, Parti Socialiste, etc, if you really want Social Democracy, you need to get it from somebody else, not those guys.

46

David 12.11.13 at 5:48 pm

Social Democracy is not something that can be merely willed into existence. History seems to show that the existence of an extreme left threat was a major catalyst for the creation of Welfare states. You probably can’t have your Sweden without your USSR, at least not for any real length of time.

47

Steve LaBonne 12.11.13 at 6:08 pm

And yet Sweden is still there, a somewhat tarnished yet still viable example of a working social democracy.

48

William Berry 12.11.13 at 6:18 pm

MPA Victoria @41: “By what right do you expropriate anything without democratic legitimacy?”

Speaking only for myself here: You must, indeed, have democratic legitimacy, and you expropriate without expropriating (“appropriate” [verb] might be the more appropriate term).

Unlike the really hard-core, lefty, anarcho-marxist types (is that you, bob m?) I don’t think you have to be all that ideological about this – It’s about politics, and that’s about doing things, not philosophizing. As (ahem) someone said: “What is to be done?”

The process I envision could operate somewhere on a spectrum that covers the territory between a left-liberal like Elizabeth Warren and pro-democracy, “soft” anarchists, like Chomsky and Albert. A democratic, non-authoritarian socialism sounds good to me, but that is an ideal end-point, not about to happen overnight, if ever, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves about that. (We can close our eyes and dream, but we shouldn’t waste too much time doing that.) Social Democracy, like the dictatorship of the proletariat, is an advanced way-station on the route.

How do we begin to get there?

As Chomsky, Occupy, et al, never tire of pointing out, democratization is a necessary pre-condition of any successful program (this esp. involves the dismantling of the “manufacturing consent” machine of the capitalist-controlled SCLMSM).

I would start with the government assuming control (ownership, quasi-public non-profit entity, as e.g. the USPS, whatever works, with reasonable compensation of the original share-holders) of all utility distribution nets. Literally any would-be producer could join these nets. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Private citizens and small operators of all kinds could put their own surplus electricity, for example, into the power grid, selling it back at the same, or nearly the same, rate as the purchase price. Public fiber-optic networks would have to carry any provider with something to sell. You’d still have capitalism, but it would be entrepreneurial, free-enterprise capitalism, with real competition, and not a privately owned, “public” monopoly in sight. Needless to say, other public services would, by law, be publicly owned and operated; there would be no private prisons, public sanitation, water and sewer, ambulance services, fire protection and the like, whatsoever.

My favorite kooky little gem would be having governments (at any level, but especially the national level) going into business as competitors of private business. Key areas of re-industrialization (consumer electronics, clothing and textiles, etc.) would be targeted by chartering, and initially capitalizing, co-operative, employee/ government-owned, manufacturing entities of various kinds, with an eye to moving gradually toward worker-ownership and operation of virtually all industry – possibly something along the lines of Michael Albert’s PARECON.

Stronger anti-trust laws, vigorously enforced. Would love to see the giant chains that have destroyed small business taken down. How to do that realistically (i.e., without sending prices through the roof, or ruining quality)? Partly by banning exclusive producer contracts and exclusive pricing agreements. Producers can sell to anyone, but at the same price for every buyer, and buyers can buy from any producer so long as they have the legal tender.

Free government banking.

Sixteen years of free, public education.

A free University of the United States: all online course-work, but no course-work required to qualify for degrees. A system of exams and/ or writing assignments, similar to the old NYS Regent’s Degrees program (how I earned much of my own college credit some decades ago) but harder, and hence more competitively prestigious.

Massive tax and fee reform: wealth tax, a serious financial transactions tax, capital gains = income, top rate of at least 50%, all public fees and fines at all levels of government graduated according to income level.

Increase taxable base for SSI to 500g and means test.

Single-payer health based on medicare.

As a labor activist, my own list for Santa: ban on at-will employment with guaranteed right of 3rd party representation all the way up to arbitration, work-place access and guaranteed equal time for union organizers, card check organizing, no forced overtime except for contracted schedule (rotating shift) overtime, ban on contract labor, etc., etc.

Lots and lots more! I mean, it is Xmas, innit?

Yeah, I know, some of those might exclude each other, but it’s a process, and maybe a pipe-dream, but a good start.

49

Peter K. 12.11.13 at 6:23 pm

I really liked The Wire so it’s nice to see Simon making these kind of observations (rather than him being controversial like the Ender’s Game author.) In fact it’s become sort of joke how well-regarded The Wire has become, like it’s a status symbol for how “in-the-know” you are. Obama said his favorite character was Omar Little.

Regarding Social Democracy, I was led to believe that Capitalism would really bare its teeth after the Cold War ended. It’s been more of a mixed story so far, with the bubble-bust economy making a comeback.

50

Zamfir 12.11.13 at 6:30 pm

@Mao, the big social democratic parties might have been more ambitious in the past, more willing to see the current state as flawed and in need of improvement. In particular with respect to the power of the wealthy. I think this was good. But were they then really on a straight path to achieve much more?

My impression is that social democracy is about as strong as it has been over the last half century. Just still not strong enough, not unified enough, not supported enough, not clear enough for much more. Like it never was, nor were its alternatives.

So I think we need a better and stronger social democracy like there never was, not to return it to a golden age, nor abandon it for alternatives without track records.

51

MPAVictoria 12.11.13 at 6:36 pm

William sign me the fuck up for your news letter.

52

Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 6:53 pm

Zamfir, I’m still not sure what we’re talking about here. Is ‘social democracy’ a path to socialism (collective ownership of the industries), or is it a way to mitigate the excesses, or is it a way to keep capitalism from destroying itself (which is kind of the opposite of a path to socialism)? It’s hard to tell.

I agree with the point above about finlandization of Scandinavia and the current rollback/deterioration there. I understand the union density has been going down in Sweden for a while. Or take the New Deal: wasn’t it really a way to avert a collapse, rather than a deliberate step towards socialism? I know, he announced the “economic bill of rights” later, but that was probably just to keep the soldiers and factory workers happy in the wartime.

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David 12.11.13 at 7:03 pm

“Is ‘social democracy’ a path to socialism (collective ownership of the industries), or is it a way to mitigate the excesses, or is it a way to keep capitalism from destroying itself (which is kind of the opposite of a path to socialism)?”

It is a tactic of capital to maintain dominance by making concessions at strategically vulnerable points in time. It is not and will not be a stable state form of the liberal polity.

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I.G.I. 12.11.13 at 7:03 pm

JCF @42 ” … the people that didnt like it did not like it and worked hard to have it undone. That doesnt mean it doesnt work. It means we failed at defending it, and need to work as hard as “Capital” did to undo it, but in the other direction.”

Nicely put together, but the same could be said for the State Socialist system that got dismantled in the early 1990s; it was not allowed to evolve, it just got replaced with restoration of the old regime.

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bob mcmanus 12.11.13 at 7:06 pm

45: Neoliberal but Gay Friendly and Not Racist vs Neoliberal Homophobe Racist

The latter, in my analysis, is not neo-liberalism at all

New Formations latest issue, “Neoliberal Culture”

From Jeremy Gilbert’s Intro, “What is This Thing Called Neoliberalism,” one of the free articles:

“In the light of these complementary observations, we could argue that what defines
the regularity of neoliberalism as a discursive formation is precisely the persistence of an individualistic conception of human selfhood and of the idea of the individual both as the ideal locus of sovereignty and the site of governmental intervention.

Almost all of the contributions to this collection can be drawn on to support an account
according to which neoliberalism is understood in terms of its persistent promotion and
reproduction of an ideology of competitive individualism, itself a contemporary manifestation of what C.B. Macpherson famously called ‘possessive individualism’: a model of human nature and human society according to which acquisitive individualism is both an inherent feature of the human personality and the only logical basis for human civilisation.

such, professional women (at least those sufficiently affluent or motivated not to require state or community support to raise children), gay professionals and entrepreneurs and non-white professionals and entrepreneurs have all benefitted considerably from the cultural ascendancy of this neoliberal elite and its values, as McRobbie, Maddison and Gilroy all explain in their contributions.

However, it is clear enough that such gains – both socially and materially – have been
enjoyed almost precisely to the extent that the groups and individuals in question have been able to participate in and facilitate the wider project of neoliberalisation, and that the hard economic benefits of that process have accrued to them only and exactly to the extent that they have been able to draw close to and access the real concentrations of wealth in the financial institutions: be it via salaries, pensions, bonuses, options or royalties. “

As I said, there is a political problem in the new elites being protected by and benefiting from a discourse of individual rights and a managerial state.

48:Unlike the really hard-core, lefty, anarcho-marxist types (is that you, bob m?)

Hell, I’d get enthused by higher marginal taxes and Medicaid expansion. I don’t want to go too long here, but:

A:There’s been a flood, and half the farmers will starve. Let’s pool our rice, and share it out.
B: All very nice, and I am sad for the starvers, but I had a great crop, and I planned to build a new addition. Since this is all voluntary, charitable, and generous and stuff. I think I’ll pass on the pooling.
A: Umm, no. You won’t.
B: Wait a minute. My crop is my property, and I have the law on my side. You try to take my rice, I’ll go to the cops.
A: Umm. No. You won’t.

Expropriation is an attitude, a recognition that there is no private property or personal rights.

Communities, as opposed to collections of individuals are formed, I believe, at the moment and in the act of public open (at least to themselves) expropriation.

Communities, polities, solidarities are formed by complicity in a crime, in breaking the law. As small a law as failure to disperse, as big a law as aggressive war. Sometimes the hungry get fed, and sometimes, well, Sudetenland.

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Igor Belanov 12.11.13 at 7:10 pm

I think some people are getting a bit confused with the ideology and practice of social democracy. The ideology sounds great, social equality achieved relatively painlessly through the bourgeois liberal democratic system, just by taxing the wealthy a bit more, running budget deficits and surpluses when the time is right, and setting up national welfare systems.
It is forgotten that, even at its height, social democracy in practice had the downsides of extensive paternalism, bureaucratic elitism, and excessive respect for many traditional institutions of the capitalist state. Yet the main problem was that social democracy was established country-by-country and tied to the nation state. When the global economy began to change in ways that left national governments with less power to cope, social democracy was left managing decline in the absence of any ability to mount a political or social counter-mobilisation or establish social democratic methods on an international scale. Where political culture has been favourable (Scandinavia) social democracy has managed to slow its decline, which has been dramatic in other countries (the UK). Ultimately it no longer represents a solution, merely an amelioration.

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Substance McGravitas 12.11.13 at 7:16 pm

It is forgotten that, even at its height, social democracy in practice had the downsides of extensive paternalism, bureaucratic elitism, and excessive respect for many traditional institutions of the capitalist state.

I would like to see these downsides quantified in units of derailed trolleys.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 7:21 pm

“From Jeremy Gilbert’s Intro, “What is This Thing Called Neoliberalism,” “

Yeah, something like this (in a more polemical form) I heard last week on Doug Henwood’s show. Here it is: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299

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William Berry 12.11.13 at 7:36 pm

I hear you, bob, and am generally sympathetic to your conception of desired ends. I am just not sure that dekulakization would be the right means.

There are some bad precedents.

I’m a peaceful fellow, myself.

@MPA V: thnx for that. I am going to retire in a few months and I plan on putting up a new incarnation of my old early aughts labor site (I had to take it down when the pressure of my duties as president of USW Amalgamated 7686 left me unable to post).

Health allowing, I hope to become a nearly full-time activist in “retirement”.

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Schadenboner 12.11.13 at 8:13 pm

@William Berry, mark me down for the news letter too. Fucking hell. And thanks for that PARECON thing.

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Ronan(rf) 12.11.13 at 8:20 pm

I’d say ‘neo liberalism’ with stronger unions, a functioning accessible healthcare system and generous welfare would be fine.
Also I second Igor.
Also, Sweden is fine, but it’s boring as hell and you’re priced out of everything enjoyable.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.11.13 at 8:56 pm

What Igor said is the theory, but it doesn’t resemble reality much, unfortunately. There is a significant layer of underclass pretty much everywhere; if not officially then undocumented workers anyway. The wealthy are hardly taxed at all. In the States a hedge fund manager makes a billion in a year and he is taxed 15%, if that. Swedish IKEA founder moves to Switzerland and negotiates his own personal tax rate. The entire distribution takes place below, among the middle class. The top layer is is beyond the reach. Maybe it’s all fine, the best of what’s possible, I don’t know. Every system has an overhead. But it’s not surprising that some are not happy with this overhead: it’s large and kind of ugly.

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A H 12.11.13 at 11:05 pm

The current problems with social democracy can pretty much all be solved with a healthy dose of Keynesianism, which is to say “left neoliberalism”. If you understand what Keynes said about the great depression, you will know how to fix the problems in the US. All you have to do is add what he said about the Bretton-Woods system, to know who to fix Europe.

I feel like the left has built up neoliberalism into this imposing monolith of capitalistic oppression, when instead it is really just a confused mix of old fashioned laissez-faire, neo-classical economics and reactionary politics. If you want to make peoples lives better, it is best to attack these confusions directly instead of tearing down some straw man monster.

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shah8 12.12.13 at 12:08 am

As far as the neoliberalism thing goes…

I think there needs to be some understanding that at core, governing neoliberalism is a pro-urban, anti-rural phenomenon. It’s based on raping the countryside, making small transfers to urban areas (for the residing petite bourgeois, of course, like those of Caracas), and extracting big profits to those that see themselves as masters. I think this understanding is important because I think the limits of the policies are being reached, hence a wave of real anti-neoliberalism has a pretty good chance of happening. Think about what is happening in Thailand, with the Yellows and the Reds. Compare with slow, groaning, gradual, rural-based push left in Columbia. The instability in Peoria-type areas in Argentina, or the grinding pace of the TPP negotiation… Doesn’t mean that these processes would lead to a good thing, but…things are definitely happening, and I truly believe that the next slump, if it happens too soon, will be blowing the current nature of geopolitics.

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Chaz 12.12.13 at 12:21 am

A H, listening to Keynes would end the depression but that’s not at all the same thing as fixing social democracy. It is true that the depression would not have occurred in a Marxist-Leninist system (no business cycle) but people aren’t talking about that issue in this thread. This thread is all about the distribution of income and power even before the depression.

Speaking of Keynesian stimulus, every “social democratic” European party I’m aware of opposes it, and that’s reason #1 why they’re all a festering pile of shit. Gotta stick to that 3% deficit rule or Axel Weber will yell at us! I really don’t see how the European social democratic parties are any better than the US Democrats, like, at all. Not anymore. Obama and Summers have at least sometimes pushed for stimulus, while even “socialist” Hollande won’t touch it.

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mclaren 12.12.13 at 3:12 am

Bruce Wilder remarks:

The Left is not going to get anywhere in these circumstances without accepting class warfare as a fact, and without accepting the necessity of destroying individuals and institutions on the Right.

According to current laws in America, such a leftist is know identified as an Enemy Combatant and subject to indefinite detention according to the NDAA.

After 9/11, union organizers = terrorists. Game over.

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Anarcissie 12.12.13 at 4:21 am

William Berry 12.11.13 at 6:18 pm:
… How do we begin to get there?….

By my lights, the basis of socialism is the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers. To me that would mean either: personal ownership of one’s means of production; egalitarian group ownership of the groups means of production; in the case of large industries, quasi-state or large-scale democratic ownership. These things are called ‘cooperatives’ or sometimes ‘communes’. Inherent in the idea of cooperation, to me, are the ideas of nonviolence and noncoercion.

In order to achieve a social order composed of a significant proportion of noncoercive relations and institutions, one of the first things we would have to do is get people interested in cooperative ownership and control of their means of production. As an activist, I find it difficult to get people interested even in relatively mild forms of cooperation, like unions. Many people would prefer to be taken care of, which makes sense when one can absolutely trust the people doing the caretaking, which is about never unless you’re a small child with sane, benevolent, well-off parents. Most of us are condemned to minding our own tedious business or having it minded for us by people who may well not be very nice or mind it very well. We can, however, considerably lighten our burdens in this regard through cooperation, mutual aid, or whatever you want to call it.

There might be enough political space in capitalism as we know it to make a transition to socialism possible from the ground up. I don’t see how it will be possible from the top down, because in liberalism the top is Capital, and they are not going to see any reason to put themselves out of business. But the Masters of the World are not interested much it what happens among us small-timers and interstitialists. One could get away with something.

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Martin Bento 12.12.13 at 7:53 am

Bob

So the revolution must begin with a crime, and the members of the new community will be those complicit in the crime. And if the crime is to create revolution, to overthrow the existing order, it will have to be something more serious than failure to disperse. So then there is a community defined by this crime. But it is not everyone – how could it be? – it is not even most people. It is a self-selected group acting putatively on behalf of the majority – the vanguard if you will. So now this vanguard has to create a society. What about those not part of the crime? Are they part of the revolution or against it? To be part of the new society, they must be part of the transgression that defined it. And so there must be more crimes, so that all can be complicit. All must commit revolutionary acts to be part of the revolution. And expropriation has to be against someone, so, if the regime has no obvious opponents it can access (i.e., domestic opponents), it will manufacture them. Without a utopian vision, it is the revolutionary act that defines the society, so this act must be prolonged. It can be and has been prolonged for decades.

We have seen this movie. It ends in atrocity.

Anarcissie, largely software is eating the world. Means of production? If you work at Google, your means of production are a computer, a desk, a chair, and Internet access. And you have those things at home. In the industries that are shaping the world, the workers already have the means of production and it makes little difference. With 3D printing, even manufacturing will be largely decentralized, and the products that are sold will be abstract plans from which concrete goods are spewed – those plans will be drawn on computer. This does or at least can logically lead to a sort of socialism, but not a Marxian sort and not for Marxian reasons. The market is highly effective at dealing with scarcity, but without scarcity, it cannot function. Therefore, scarcity must be imposed (through IP primarily), which is inefficient. If the question of what to fund can be answered well, there is no net benefit to selling the information as opposed to giving it away.

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Martin Bento 12.12.13 at 8:05 am

I.G.I, an important difference is that one can say that social democracy was good while it lasted, but state socialism was not. And that system was not evolving, it was stagnating. When Gorbachev tried to introduce some evolution from above, the whole thing broke. It was too brittle to evolve.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.12.13 at 8:56 am

“one can say that social democracy was good while it lasted, but state socialism was not”

One could also say that perhaps social democracy was a response to state socialism in the cold war against it, in which case state socialism should, in a sense, get credit for it. Dialectics.

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bob mcmanus 12.12.13 at 8:59 am

68.1: I actually did as I was writing that have in mind things like Occupy, urban squatters, Tahrir Square, Gezi Park in Turkey, anonymous, Snowden as acts of expropriation and civil disobedience. Japan recently severely limited what can be reported about Fukushima. I assume hackers in China have established underground networks to get past the gov’t constraints on net freedom. I picked up Rebecca MacKinnon’s book, which should go to your 2nd paragraph and I will see if she hints at actions that will inevitably lead to the Killing Fields and the Gulag.

I do understand that liberal statists will project their internalized violence on all acts of civil disobedience.

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Peter T 12.12.13 at 9:40 am

it doesn’t seem to me that any existing current of political thought captures enough of our real situation to offer much guidance. In brief, we have three major problems: a crisis of ecological sustainability that largely demands careful local limitation and remediation; the problem that our most productive material technologies (manufacture of most kinds) have enormous economies of scale; and the problem that our technologies of communication and transport make demands for standardisation, universal access and central management that are at odds with our current political frameworks. Contra Martin Bento, 3D printing is not going to replace a car plant any time soon. Contra the economic policy wonks, a set of prices and taxes is not going to restore our battered environment, and contra the neo-liberals, the market is not going to run the internet (and does not do a good job of running ports, airlines, electricity grids and much else of our infrastructure). I expect, as resource shortages, system overloads and local failures sharpen the contradictions over the next few decades, a new politics will emerge. What it will look like I have not the fainest idea.

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mattski 12.12.13 at 11:56 am

I find all those cries about how Social Democracy doesnt work very tiresome. By the same logic, Socialism doesnt work.

Yes.

Our common delusion is to believe we can think our way to a better world. On the left the word ‘neo-liberal’ is a totem, a magic explanation of why society fails to meet our expectations. Except it isn’t an explanation at all.

Progress comes from persuasion, and persuasion is greatly facilitated by the flow of information. So, thank goodness for the internet. But progress is slow coming too and if we’re not patient there’s a danger we’ll end up ill-tempered, anti-social “revolutionaries” like some people I know…

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john c. halasz 12.12.13 at 1:20 pm

Yes, let’s not think! Let’s just blandly attitudinize.

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William Timberman 12.12.13 at 2:16 pm

If you drop bob macmanus’ 1, 2, 3, mattski’s ill-tempered, anti-social revolutionaries, and from a long-ago thread, Bruce Wilder’s I am an institutionalist in a bag and shake it, what do you get? It seems to me that what you get is an acknowledgment that whatever scheme (or institutional arrangement, if you follow Bruce’s logic) we have in mind for securing what Rawls called justice-as-fairness, what inevitably stumps us is the problem of power.

Power, unfortunately, is perfectly self-aggregating, and, as a consequence, almost as perfectly self-aggrandizing. No matter what social, political, and economic agreements we put in place to distribute power more equitably, none are likely to last long without being subverted.

If we’re truly bent on a more equitable social contract, I think that Bruce Wilder is right to maintain that it’ll have to be embodied in institutions, and actively defended in perpetuity. In a post-industrial society utterly dependent on a complex set of technologies, we have to manage things as we never had to manage them in pre-industrial times. Someone has to decide on the ends, select and deploy the means intended to achieve those ends, and weigh the consequences of deploying them. Administrative convenience, a force more formidable than we’ve yet fully acknowledged, tends to define those consequences as narrowly as possible, and to defend them, if necessary with force, against attempts by the excluded or disadvantaged to re-define them. It’s hard to see how democracy, or the art of persuasion, for that matter, fits into this scheme at all.

Ill-tempered or not, anti-social or not, revolutionaries do have one truth to offer us: while a genuine dialectic requires the use of persuasion, persuasion alone can’t provide an antithesis strong enough to crack a system-wide preference for control, and for what are believed to be predictable outcomes. If you want to renegotiate means and ends, you have demonstrate that the status quo is unstable. That takes more than mere argument. What else it will take is precisely what’s at issue here.

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William Berry 12.12.13 at 2:21 pm

Martin Bento @68:

That first paragraph is an excellent summation of the Camus argument (The Rebel) against the totalitarian revolutionary state.

The real revolution has no choice but “to assemble, one by one, throughout the years, the solitary [persons] who fight their way toward unity.”

Real rebellion begins and ends in acts of renunciation. It begins with the renunciation of the master by the slave (Camus’s example), the individual rebel. It culminates in the renunciation, by a community, of the primal urge for vengeance, of that “dark victory in which heaven and earth are annihilated”.

Bob is right, though, to a point. There will and must be crime, even if it is nothing more than illegal strikes and mass demonstrations and occupations of property and public spaces (and who can question, really, the legitimacy of the outbursts of spontaneous rage that can seize whole communities?). The question is always: How much crime, and how much, if any, violence? That is the nut, and it’s a hard one.

Meetings (steward and safety) and grievances today, as well as some actual work— “America needs aluminum!”— so I’m out.

Carry on.

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Jesús Couto Fandiño 12.12.13 at 2:29 pm

#76

“(and who can question, really, the legitimacy of the outbursts of spontaneous rage that can seize whole communities?).”

Well… so far here, the Goverment. Who is about to unleash a new “Law for Citizen Safety” that makes almost all demonstrations that are not preapproved by the government subject to fines for the organizers up to hundred of thousands of euros.

The fact that none of the previous round of demonstrations from 15M to “escraches” have been found illegal by the judges, and in fact the judges insist they are part of the right for free speech? Who cares, now it is the right to pay or be thrown in jail if you dont.

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mattski 12.12.13 at 4:01 pm

74

I didn’t say “let’s not think.” I am saying, let’s not over-think. Let’s not fall in love with systems of thought at the expense of developing our social skills, political knowledge (awareness of how things actually work in practice) and compassion for people in general.

WT @ 75

Power, unfortunately, is perfectly self-aggregating, and, as a consequence, almost as perfectly self-aggrandizing.

Yes, but power is a mere abstraction. Let’s look closer and watch how laws get made, etc. You know who does yeoman work here? David Cay Johnston provides a wonderful example. Krugman linked him yesterday.

I think that Bruce Wilder is right to maintain that it’ll have to be embodied in institutions, and actively defended in perpetuity.

Yes. But the institutions are effects more than causes. Bruce is quite right that nothing in history is stable and every gain must be defended. I take some comfort in the fact that we are at the dawn of the internet age. Information flow is only going to get better.

persuasion alone can’t provide an antithesis strong enough to crack a system-wide preference for control

I think I disagree here. Persuasion is at the root of the best kinds of progress. Sometimes violence precedes the persuasion, unfortunately, but when gains become consolidated it is usually because interested parties have become persuaded. As for the “preference for control,” this is human nature you’re talking about.

“Of the gods we believe, and of man we know, that by a fundamental law of their nature they rule whenever they can.”

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Anarcissie 12.12.13 at 4:02 pm

Martin Bento 12.12.13 at 7:53 am (68):
… Anarcissie, largely software is eating the world. Means of production? If you work at Google, your means of production are a computer, a desk, a chair, and Internet access. And you have those things at home. In the industries that are shaping the world, the workers already have the means of production and it makes little difference. With 3D printing… etc.

Capitalism is a dynamic, unstable system which depends on a paradox: on the one hand, capitalists depend on scarcity to maintain their ruling-class positions, as the captains of industry in the struggle for more stuff (and more scarcity). On the other hand, doing this job requires ‘constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.’ If the second part of the role should outrun the first, that is, if there comes to be enough stuff, people will stop working and buying and the capitalists will no longer have a dominant role in the social order. (Probably, they will get depressed and shut their machines down, and we will have a ‘depression’ — but I digress.) Hence the importance of producing scarcity by means of consumerism, imperialism, war, and waste. So far Capital has been able to do this, so that the increased efficiencies of production have actually led to a declining standard of living and the threats of yet sharper declines due to severe systemic malfunctions, like global warming. But if those organs of the capitalist system tasked with the production of scarcity should definitively fail, yes, we might suddenly find ourselves jumping directly from capitalism to communism. It seems like a long shot, though. The most likely outcome of the struggle for power intrinsic to the capitalist state in a context of ever-increasing industrial and technological power is obviously massive destruction, maybe even self-annihilation. Socialism of the sort I describe might be an alternative, at least until we all get miracle machines in our basements that produce everything we want. The problem there is the lack of desire on the part of most of the population to own and control the means of production.

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William Timberman 12.12.13 at 4:37 pm

mattski @ 78

I think you’re waffling. Sorry, but look around you and ask yourself cui bono. I give you full marks for your admirably civilized behavior, but in truth, your drawing room is shrinking. The slouching of rough beasts may be deplorable, but sooner or later their hour will come round at last. History suggests that what you call human nature is in fact mutable. Deny that at your peril.

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geo 12.12.13 at 5:20 pm

mattski @78: Of the gods we believe, and of man we know, that by a fundamental law of their nature they rule whenever they can

Remember, this was said by the Athenians to rationalize their genocidal aggression against the Melians. Only two and a half millennia later, we have laws (often ignored, but still) against aggression and genocide. Maybe in another two and a half millennia, we’ll be living in a global cooperative commonwealth. Don’t lose heart!

Information flow is only going to get better.

Great. More advertising, surveillance, propaganda, background noise.

Yes indeed, David Cay Johnston is a truly great man.

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Barry 12.12.13 at 5:21 pm

“Means of production? If you work at Google, your means of production are a computer, a desk, a chair, and Internet access. “

This is amazing – looking at an incredibly complex world and seeing only what it physicially in front of one’s eyes.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.12.13 at 5:33 pm

@82, good point. Google has an amazing, huge infrastructure spread around the globe. Good luck running a competing business on your laptop.

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bob mcmanus 12.12.13 at 9:39 pm

Yanis Varoufakis “Confessions of an Erratic Marxist”

YV’s economic reputation is in game theory, and he explains why in a very long confessional calling for subsidence of the current European system with all it’s faults, IOW, taking a Menshevik position.

“If my prognosis is correct, and the European crisis is not just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome as the rate of profit picks up following the inevitable wage squeeze, the question that arises for radicals is this: Should we welcome this wholesale subsidence of European capitalism, as an opportunity to replace capitalism with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism? My answer has been unequivocal over the past three year and its nature is betrayed by the above-mentioned list of diverse audiences that I sought to influence. Europe’s crisis is, as I see it, pregnant not with a progressive alternative but with radically regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

For these views I have been accused, by well meaning radical voices, as ‘defeatist’; as a latter-day Menshevik who tirelessly strives in favour of schemas the purpose of which is to save the current indefensible European socio-economic system. A system representing everything a radical should admonish and struggle against: an anti-democratic, irreversibly neoliberal, highly irrational, transnational European Union that has next to no capacity to evolve into a genuinely humanist community within which Europe’s nations can breathe, live and develop. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.”

Smart, and kinda beautiful, I love this guy.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.12.13 at 10:03 pm

@72 mattski “Our common delusion is to believe we can think our way to a better world. On the left the word ‘neo-liberal’ is a totem, a magic explanation of why society fails to meet our expectations. Except it isn’t an explanation at all.

Progress comes from persuasion, and persuasion is greatly facilitated by the flow of information. So, thank goodness for the internet. But progress is slow coming too and if we’re not patient there’s a danger we’ll end up ill-tempered, anti-social “revolutionaries” like some people I know…”

I enjoyed reading your post.

If the Truth could set us free, the flow of (somehow value free?) information would be A Good Thing. Or maybe even The Good Thing. Illusions flushed away by a flood of facts … but even Christ spoke in parables.

So as you say, it’s not just about thinking. In a world of mutable nature, facts are a function of teleology, i.e., values. In a truly pluralistic world (of competing teleologies) most facts will have counter facts.

Let’s say I have a real fear of state intervention in my life. Like all fear it’s rooted in a seedbed of complex feelings: in this case passionate beliefs about the value of my individuality. The seedbed contains ideas, but it’s certainly more than just ideas — which I’d say are the (more or less) self conscious narratives drawn from the gestalt. I think it’s a cheat to simply write my ideas (never mind the underlying gestalt) down to a function of class consciousness, or ‘interest.’ It’s particularly cheating if you make this claim from some claim of truth, or a class interest made morally superior by History.

“Property is theft” is as true as “property is mine.” But both are true only in opposition to each other, they are moments of a dynamic conflict between the claims. There is no synthesis, only tension. Moreover, the ability to make this judgement on the dynamic nature of truth is possible only with the renunciation of a position of moral authority from which to assign primacy to one position over the other.

Hence the importance of persuasion, of telling compelling stories. If there is no position (‘Truth,’ ‘Nature,’ ‘History’) from which to compel agreement, or obedience, we are stuck with negotiations that never end. Power, so long as this dialectic remains open, is always questionable. The Emperor is always naked. It is ‘only’ the our belief in stories that prevent us from laughing out loud.

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john c. halasz 12.12.13 at 10:32 pm

@73:

“Our common delusion is to believe we can think our way to a better world. On the left the word ‘neo-liberal’ is a totem, a magic explanation of why society fails to meet our expectations. Except it isn’t an explanation at all.”

That’s a weirdly inverted account of where the “magical thinking” lies. Do you even know what the term “neo-liberalism” means? DOoyou know who first invented the term and put it into general circulation?

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 1:36 am

Peter, 3D printed cars and car parts already exist with plans in place for commercial deployment. They may well succeed, too, because they already have advantages over conventional versions. There are Chinese factories that will make you small batches (in the hundreds) of your designs at only a slightly higher unit cost than large ones. That is because the machines can be reconfigured to manufacture new things in software; nothing need be retooled. It just reads a different file. There are still economies of scale, but they operate quite differently now. Software is becoming key to manufacturing, just as it is key to personal computers, even though computers are physical, manufactured objects.

Barry and Mao, a couple of guys with their personal computer equipment directly competing with established corporations was exactly how Google started, and it was only a bit over a decade ago. The big players in search at that time were Yahoo, DEC (Alta Vista) Lycos, I think a couple of others. But the Marxist claim is that workers cannot access *their own* means of production, and a typical Google worker can easily own everything they need to do their own work. The Marxist argument is that the factory worker cannot be productive without access to machines he cannot afford. The capitalist provides these machines, but the capitalist did not create them; they were created by some other group of workers. So the capitalist is not actually contributing anything to the production, but is nonetheless essential to it under the existing mode of social organization, because of the necessity of “means of production” – basically, the machines, plus floor space, energy, and what not – that workers cannot provide themselves. This does not apply to the average software developer. She can be perfectly productive on equipment she easily can and probably does own. So is the essential “means of production” here, the abstract corporation itself, the system of organization? If so, this means was not produced by some other group of workers like factory equipment is. To some degree, it is hierarchical and imposed from above, and to some degree it is emergent from the interactions of the workers. But for the latter, the workers should not need the bosses, and for the former, the bosses deserve the credit. Their orders were given by no one else – to the extent the hierarchy itself is generating value, then the value is created by the labor of the bosses in giving orders.

Furthermore, the physical infrastructure of Google largely reflects its ambitions beyond software, not the nature of the industry. Oracle doesn’t have infrastructure like this, but is a major software player just the same. It has some infrastructure, of course, but on a per-employee basis, it is not actually that much, and a lot of it is perks, not essentials (onsite employee gym, etc). Oracle does run on larger systems that most employees could not directly afford (though also on affordable ones, which are now the core of the business), but those could be accessed on a timeshare basis if needed.

Nonetheless, Google needed VC money to make it, and so have all of the other SV major players (there have been successful bootstraps, but they are not major). Capital is involved here, and the current situation is far from optimal. And hugely disproportionate gains are going to those at the top (and early workers). I’m not saying this is all just peachy, but you’re not going to reach an understanding with a Marxist model. That model fails. And owning the means of production does not solve the problem.

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 1:36 am

Bob you wrote:

“A:There’s been a flood, and half the farmers will starve. Let’s pool our rice, and share it out.
B: All very nice, and I am sad for the starvers, but I had a great crop, and I planned to build a new addition. Since this is all voluntary, charitable, and generous and stuff. I think I’ll pass on the pooling.
A: Umm, no. You won’t.
B: Wait a minute. My crop is my property, and I have the law on my side. You try to take my rice, I’ll go to the cops.
A: Umm. No. You won’t.
Expropriation is an attitude, a recognition that there is no private property or personal rights.

1. This is advocacy of violence. Forcibly taking people’s possessions and forcibly denying them access to law enforcement, essentially becoming your own law and your own enforcement. In the situation you have stipulated, this would be justified (in my view), but it is still advocacy of violence and to speak of me projecting my internal violence is a howler. You have already placed yourself at the head of a mob announcing to a farmer that his goods will be taken, and the police can’t do anything to help him.
2. This has little to do with anything Snowden, anonymous, the Tahrir square protesters etc. did or advocated. It is what Stalin and Mao did. That is the company you put yourself in with your own example.
3. Most of all of the movements or people you are claiming to align yourself with are founded explicitly on the notion of personal rights: privacy for Snowden and for anonymous, freedom from arbitrary police power for the Tahrir square protesters. The denial of personal rights puts you in very dark company.
4. In situations like you describe, people do typically spontaneously share. But of course the rhetoric of the emergency is routinely used by revolutionaries to justify actions they take at will. In the midst of class struggle, and especially in the revolution, it is always an emergency.

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Hermenauta 12.13.13 at 1:41 am

90

Collin Street 12.13.13 at 2:03 am

You have already placed yourself at the head of a mob announcing to a farmer that his goods will be taken, and the police can’t do anything to help him.

What sort of assistance do you think the police might offer?

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 2:04 am

Anarcissie,

OK, you’ve responded with bog-standard Marxist analysis, but don’t seem to have noticed the sense in which I was using the word “scarcity”. One can have scarcity relative to some standard of need or desire, but I am talking about absolute scarcity, which is not a creation of capitalism nor something socialism can alleviate because it is based in the laws of physics. There can be many apples or cars about or few. More than we need or less. But if I have an apple, you do not have that particular apple. If we share, both our possession is diminished. At any given time, the supply of apples or cars, be it high or low, is finite and cannot be increased without expenditure of resources (at a minimum, time, for waiting for apples to grow). That is “scarcity” in the sense is which markets require scarcity. Markets require exclusivity of possession.

This does not apply to information; if I sell it to you, I still have it. There is no natural scarcity once the information is generated. With modern infrastructure, it can be replicated endlessly at trivial cost, (and software, as I pointed out above, is taking over traditional physical manufacturing). This changes the game. But the Marxist analysis does not capture this. How many worker-hours went into creating my copy of Microsoft Word? A whole bunch went into the first copy. Essentially zero into the second and all subsequent. The calculation does not work. But the flaw is not in who owns the means of production, it is in having to treat the product as one would material property, which is must less efficient than a system that would let it be distributed freely, provided the latter can make wise choices on production. I think there is cause for optimism there.

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 2:07 am

Collin, the police would stop the farmer from having his crops taken. Or that’s what they’re supposed to do; Bob is stipulating an extreme situation. Whether you think it is a good thing or bad, taking someone’s possessions by force and telling them you will not let them call the police is an act of violence.

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Collin Street 12.13.13 at 2:13 am

Collin, the police would stop the farmer from having his crops taken.

How would the police achieve this?

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 2:27 am

With violence. It’s called “the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence”, and, if you accept the state, you accept it. If you don’t accept the state – in principle or this particular one – then you don’t accept it, but the fact that the state would be using violence to stop you doesn’t change the fact that you are being violent. If it did, there would be no such thing as violent crime – since crime is something the state can, legitimately for those who recognize the legitimacy of the state, combat with violence.

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bob mcmanus 12.13.13 at 3:09 am

94 see 33.3

The argumentative leap from the small village to Stalin and Mao is one I could never make but one that comes very easily to liberals and social democrats because a) they identify with the state, b) they outsource and project their personal violence onto the state, and are not personally force-feeding prisoners in Gitmo, some part of their state that is not them is doing that and c) because they live in a shadow world or reifications and fetishism, of principles and theories, of abstractions and principles that cleanse them of their complicity.

Liberalism and neoliberalism are sources of power and privilege that simultaneously escape responsibility.

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Anarcissie 12.13.13 at 3:31 am

‘Bog-standard’? Is that a reference to my Irish ancestry?

I thought I alluded (lightly) to the fork where capitalist production runs away with itself. I’d like to be optimistic about this. Knowledge is power, and enough knowledge might be able to produce apples in your basement, or whatever else you want. However, I am pretty sure that the cap lords are going to try to stay in power by whatever means appear necessary, so things might get pretty rough before basement-apple paradise breaks out.

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Martin Bento 12.13.13 at 4:07 am

Actually, you never said “small village”, but there is no leap. Stalin’s and Mao’s violence took place largely in small villages, and Mao and Pot especially glorified the rural world. Do you think if you keep the scale small that it changes the nature of the thing? You said it was an attitude, and attitudes scale anyway.

But what you said is that expropriation must precede democratization. That is where you explicitly divided yourself from the social democrats, anarchists, and liberals. Well, this is not a new idea in human history. It has been tried repeatedly by people who, like you, were followers of Marx. And it ended in breathtaking atrocity multiple times, and dreary police states otherwise. These are the people who believed as you do – expropriation must precede democratization. This is what that meant in practice. You accuse your opponents of hiding in principles and theories, but you refuse to acknowledge the concrete results of the theories you espouse. You dismiss as naïve the social democratic belief that people will sacrifice their self-interest to the common good, and yet hold that your elected by no one but themselves revolutionary cadres will. And the fact that when given the chance, such cadres engaged in destruction so massive it was actually much worse than mere pursuit of self-interest would have been – this is something you look away from, saying you just cannot make that intellectual leap.

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mattski 12.13.13 at 4:44 am

William,

I give you full marks for your admirably civilized behavior

I give YOU full marks!

History suggests that what you call human nature is in fact mutable. Deny that at your peril.

I wouldn’t deny it for a second! Indeed, it is another reason for my (moments of) optimism. But, I was taking issue with your choice of words. “A system wide preference for control.” Because I don’t think it is helpful to view basic human impulses as manifestations of external ‘systems’ or ‘institutions.’

geo,

Wait. When I make a happy you make a sad, and when I make a sad you make a happy? But really, as I said to William, I wasn’t quoting Thucydides in despair. Human nature is where I pin my hopes, because it does change, and it is changing. It is as beautiful as it is horrible, but we’re improving it when we cultivate our own behavior, when we practice patience with people we consider difficult, when we practice listening to people we don’t necessarily trust.

I don’t think human nature is improved when we adopt an attitude that we know best and those who disagree should be steamrolled. (Though I readily admit I am prepared to say “tough shit” to rich people squealing about having their taxes raised.) But, you know, when Joe Conservative says, “I have a problem with the government taking my money and giving it to some lazy slob,” we should be prepared to grant at least some degree of merit to that pov. There is no way around shades of gray here.

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mattski 12.13.13 at 5:03 am

Lawrence,

In a world of mutable nature, facts are a function of teleology, i.e., values.

I’m not sure about this. I think it is preferable to organize one’s thinking on the premise that external events are mostly distinct from our values, i.e., our desires. Things happen, and we have feelings about what happens. But different people feel differently about the same events. Still, there is reasonable hope of agreeing on just what the event consisted of!

I appreciate your response, although I confess I’m not clear on all of it. I would say more but my immediate problem is =====> BED.

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Bruce Wilder 12.13.13 at 5:47 am

There was a bitter joke that made the rounds in 2008 about neoliberal policy privatizing the gains and socializing the losses.

Martin Bento makes some useful points, but seems curiously reluctant to confront that one.

To mattski, I would suggest progress is a product of the times power finds reason and factual evidence to be useful as a means to its ends. I fear we have entered upon an era, where power doesn’t want to open the door to persuasion, and reason becomes a potential threat. Power will not converse.

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bob mcmanus 12.13.13 at 6:29 am

Martin Bento makes some useful points, but seems curiously reluctant to confront that one.

Disappointed in you, Bruce, that you don’t recognize Locke and Nozick when you see it. Or Hirschman’s Rhetoric of Reaction, No 1, Perversity. This is old stuff. It doesn’t go to the killing fields, but to theories of politics. Classical Liberal and libertarian, what the ill-informed call conservative. I also recommend Joseph Femia, Against the Masses.

Bento is just demanding that existing property, privilege, and personal rights be locked in before the rules and structures start being discussed, and that they not be the subject of discussion.

This is why we have a Constitution, and why it took the particular form it has, Protecting for instance slavery and small states.

The “Constitutional Republic” is probably the most efficient anti-democratic system, creating as I said a Leviathan to limit democracy and implant authoritarianism in the minds of the citizens. Elitist and propertarian.

Everything is on the table in a democracy. Everything is theoretically expropriated and pooled, communised, before the meeting starts. Otherwise it isn’t democracy.

102

Mao Cheng Ji 12.13.13 at 8:16 am

“Oracle doesn’t have infrastructure like this”

Martin, I’m not nearly as optimistic as you are. Yes, there was a wild-west period in the 1990s when a craftsman could play the game. But it’s gone. Oracle certainly does have plenty of infrastructure (servers, labs, hosting centers, etc), and more importantly: patents.

One can still roll his own cigarets in his living room, and perhaps even sell them, but that doesn’t make Philip Morris a paper tiger.

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hix 12.13.13 at 9:50 am

The google worker has capital in his brain. A lot of it. As things work at the Universities google recruits from, that capital comes with lots of personal debt. Even Marx already did consider that i think – education as capital. Google didnt start in a garage. They first had Stanford servers, then at least 50 million venture capital. Im sorry, i dont see at all how technological change could make the economic system better. Quite the contrary. We get ever more monopolies. Google run as a partnership, like big law firms are today or Goldman Sachs used to just makes the partners a privileged class profiting from a natural monopoly. Its never going to be some free acess for everyone, open source community that drives that technology.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.13.13 at 10:14 am

“The google worker has capital in his brain.”

I don’t know. A google worker is trained, like a Henry Ford’s worker was trained. It’s not a start-up anymore, and I’m pretty sure very few are creative ‘evangelists’. I imagine most just get the specs and type lines of code that are about as meaningful to them as an assembly-line worker pulling the lever (or whatever). Division of labor is the source of all this, the blessing and the curse.

105

Zamfir 12.13.13 at 11:31 am

A lot of capital doesn’t even go to physical kit or other idenitifiable assets like IP rights, it goes to paying the people in your organization while the organization is not yet profitable. Which results you being organized while many potential competitors are not. Probably a more important ‘means of production’ than kit or patents (even if those matter as well).

106

MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 1:40 pm

“Disappointed in you, Bruce, that you don’t recognize Locke and Nozick when you see it”

Why do all the male commenters think they have the privilege of using Wilder’s first name? Are they all close personal friends or family? Are the rest of us more distant or excluded?

Maybe my head’s been in Japan too long.

107

bob mcmanus 12.13.13 at 1:58 pm

1) The argument for benevolence in social democracy is exactly the one used to dismantle the welfare state in favor of state support of private charity

2) I found at the first encounter the lexical ordering of Rawls Two Principles to be outrageous and offensive

3) I certainly don’t expect the liberals and social democratics here to entertain the point, and it is not the level at which the discussion should be held, but if socialists are to be held responsible by our enemies for the excesses of Stalin and Mao, which were of course importantly state actions, I do sincerely hold liberals and social democrats responsible for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Aggressive acquisitive imperialism is what capitalism does, and however restrained tempered or controlled it might be at one point, if you keep expansionist capitalism around, it is guaranteed that you will lose control of the beasts, and you don’t get a pass by saying you thought the tiger’s cage was securely locked. I explained why the tiger’s escape is built in to liberalism in 33.3..

Of course from the financial catastrophe of 2008 to the various environmental disasters (Gulf, Fukushima) that may kill the world the disastrous consequences of social democrats claiming they can regulate and control capitalism, or restrain their opposition party while demanding it be allowed occasional or partial access to power, are obvious for us all to see.

4) That I categorically refuse to accept the state’s monopoly on violence or renounce communisation are non-negotiable first principles that seem to me simple empirical facts. The state does not have a monopoly on violence until we give it one,
and all property rights are created socially after a society is formed. These two, and the rest, are social constructions not transcendental inalienable natural laws.

106: Thank you. Although I explained that my habit was gendered based on a historical infantilization of women, I do try to use one rule. It was probably some thoughtless emotional appeal.

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bob mcmanus 12.13.13 at 2:05 pm

4 appended

I honestly don’t even understand, and never have, what “state monopoly on violence” or ” natural or transcendental (property) rights” can possibly mean. They are simple nonsense to me.

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mattski 12.13.13 at 2:30 pm

They are simple nonsense to me.

Who knew.

110

William Timberman 12.13.13 at 2:32 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 100

Power will not converse.>/i>

I remember a cartoon from 45 years ago. My self-congratulatory memory tells me that it appeared in the Berkeley Barb, or the Daily Cal, but the New Yorker is probably more likely.

Anyway, the scene is a university administrator’s office, identified by his title in reverse on the glass window of the door. A delegation of student protestors is standing in front of his desk, the young men in suits, the young women in skirts below the knee. The administrator is looking up over the top of his glasses from a sheaf of papers. The caption reads something like: I want to congratulate you on your respectful behavior, and on the reasonableness of your petition. Now get the hell out of my office.

This doesn’t just sound like Nozick. It also sounds like pretty much anyone you can think of in a modern administrative position, from corporate Human Resources flacks to that great Democrat, Rahm Emanuel. Our police are armed by with the best that the military-industrial complex has to offer. We dare you to pursue this beyond our refusal to negotiate.

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Anarcissie 12.13.13 at 2:36 pm

bob mcmanus 12.13.13 at 6:29 am (101):
‘Martin Bento makes some useful points, but seems curiously reluctant to confront that one.’

Disappointed in you, Bruce, that you don’t recognize Locke and Nozick when you see it. Or Hirschman’s Rhetoric of Reaction, No 1, Perversity. This is old stuff. It doesn’t go to the killing fields, but to theories of politics. Classical Liberal and libertarian, what the ill-informed call conservative. I also recommend Joseph Femia, Against the Masses.

Bento is just demanding that existing property, privilege, and personal rights be locked in before the rules and structures start being discussed, and that they not be the subject of discussion. …

Nascent and imperial liberal governments (and revolutionary parties) have been willing to use extreme forms of expropriation and other forms of violence to establish themselves, for example total war, genocide, land theft, and slavery in the Americas (and elsewhere). This practical behavior casts a certain light on Locke, etc. The complaint is not that Marxists are not peaceful and humane, but that they are not liberals.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.13.13 at 2:50 pm

I have property. Even though I don’t believe in natural or transcendental property rights, I would strongly prefer my records in the county registry of deeds and the state RMV to remain the social construct that it is. Many people in the industrialized world have property. Most people. For this violent liberation to materialize, first, most people would have to be turned into proletarians. Perhaps it’ll happen some day, but perhaps ‘social democracy’ (whatever the hell it is) will manage to prevent it. In which case, most likely nothing interesting will ever happen here, in the first world. You need to look in other places, where people sweat in mines and factories for $3/day.

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Bruce Wilder 12.13.13 at 3:20 pm

I’m told that the Bolsheviks were surprised in their first few months in power to find themselves re-inventing money. Monsieur mcmanus’ communitarians would be re-inventing private property. There’s no use blaming “capitalism” for the faults of human nature; people are social strategists: they plot and plan, form alliances, conspiracies and betrayals, and no matter what rules govern the playing of the game, the rules change under the pressure of that strategic play. Political anacyclosis was noticed by the ancients; it is not a peculiar property of modern capitalism. Crooked Timber, the man said.

I would agree with mister mcmanus, though, that naïveté and wilful optimism are particular and acute hazards of the liberalism, social democracy and technophilia of our times. Also, lying. It’s the last that bugs me the most, I think: the smarmy insistence that follows the naïveté to the effect that we should accept and respect the lies and liars.

I liked what David Simon said about the real end of history being the mixed economy, not something we can all rally around, exactly, but having its provisional and limited triumphs, nevertheless, in making life more bearable at least sometimes. I think we are learning that the civility of the liberal consensus is our enemy in achieving or maintaining this non-utopia of the second-best.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.13.13 at 5:24 pm

@ 113 ” I think we are learning that the civility of the liberal consensus is our enemy in achieving or maintaining this non-utopia of the second-best.”

I’d buy that. My concern is with what the alternative to ‘civility’ actually is.

I’d challenge the notion that ‘power won’t negotiate.’ It negotiates all the time. What it tries to do is set the agenda, to define the limits of ‘reasonable’ public discourse. If being ‘uncivil’ means forcing that agenda to open, i.e., being ‘unreasonable,’ that makes sense to me. Maybe meeting ‘reason’ with ‘soul power’ is not naïfish at all. Gandhi accomplished much with non violent public action.

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William Timberman 12.13.13 at 5:45 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 113

I think we are learning that the civility of the liberal consensus is our enemy…

Learning concedes too much to the present. This is where I came in as a kid. YNSA (yet another sad anecdote):

University administrator: Sorry, but you have to take them down. Pointing — This image (of the naked, napalmed little girl running down a road in South Vietnam, displayed on a wooden stick in a series of many others from the war alongside a sidewalk leading to the administration building) is in bad taste.

Unnamed student, in a spontaneous rejoinder: The war is in bad taste!

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Barry 12.13.13 at 5:46 pm

Lawrence Stuart 12.13.13 at 5:24 pm

“I’d challenge the notion that ‘power won’t negotiate.’ It negotiates all the time. What it tries to do is set the agenda, to define the limits of ‘reasonable’ public discourse. If being ‘uncivil’ means forcing that agenda to open, i.e., being ‘unreasonable,’ that makes sense to me. Maybe meeting ‘reason’ with ‘soul power’ is not naïfish at all. Gandhi accomplished much with non violent public action.”

I like that.

.

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William Timberman 12.13.13 at 5:49 pm

YASA, YASA (blushing). One can’t even count on one’s mastery of the alphabet anymore.

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mattski 12.13.13 at 8:54 pm

116

I like that.

Me too.

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Ed Herdman 12.13.13 at 10:24 pm

Martin Bento has made a lot of interesting comments, but I can’t see the Google story as reflecting knowledge of the actual history of that company (in particular) and the tech world in general – but that’s been addressed.

Instead I wanted to make a more general claim, which I think is obvious but might need to be rolled out anyway: Despite the feeling in many corners that the Oughts and the Teens have been a time of great opportunity for startups, we have no reason to look at the future as being anything other than one of smaller opportunities for new markets, with smaller rewards hanging in the balance, at the same time that we can expect an increasing about of these opportunities and rewards to be sucked up by existing players.

Personally, I don’t mind that big businesses can influence the system – it’s just that they do it from the perspective of attempting to crush new markets underfoot, if they will not be tamed or absorbed (Microsoft and FUD; the “Halloween memos”); the tendency to miss the next big new thing, but miss it in a way that poisons things for everybody else (Apple got the iPhone, but at the very least Microsoft can be charged with setting back that market five years as it squandered its own work, again in large part due to the jealous perspective of corporate interests); and the structure of a system that demands going to the negotiating table with everything of interest (IP law was mentioned already; that’s definitely an important area to look at if we want to get more efficiency out of the system) stipulated as non-negotiable. Gee, I guess there’s not much that’s likeable about that kind of structure.

At the same time, stability is important, and the view of myriad “disruptive” players making and losing fortunes in quick order isn’t very compelling either.

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Martin Bento 12.15.13 at 12:51 pm

Finally, a chance to get back to this thread:

Bob,

History will never give you a blank slate to work with. Any society in which you come to power will have existing relationships of power, prestige, and property (since ownership is socially-constructed, property is a social relationship), These will be largely unequal and unjust because they are so in every society of non-trivial complexity (the caveat is just to leave aside the tangent of whether, e.g., small tribes in the rain forest are egalitarian and just). They will however be very deeply entwined both with how the society functions practically and the emotional relationships that exist among people. To destroy them utterly, you will have to destroy the society.

Which, I gather, is fine with you. The revolutionary act defines a new society that will create wholly new relationships based on true egalitarianism and on collective decisions regarding the whole, or at least the bulk, of the resources available. But everything that ties them to their old unequal relationships will have to be destroyed or those will reproduce themselves. How can you equally allocate a city? Some housing is squalid; some splendorous. Everything exists in complicated relationship to everything else, both physically and in social terms. The USSR itself ran into serious problems with rural/urban conflict in the early days, did it not? Take the people from the cities; from their private farms too, since those too presuppose existing relationships of “private property”, place them all in agricultural cooperatives, randomly, so their existing unequal power relationships are disrupted and they can form new ones on a equal basis. Now true democracy will be possible.

Welcome to Democratic Kampuchea.

The demand for a blank slate is a great deal of what led the previous Marxist societies to ruin. It had to. Such a project demanded the ruination of existing society, but the Marxists proved much worse at creating better societies from the ashes than they imagined. You can’t hold this definition of democracy and claim these precedents are none of yours.

That is not to say existing arrangements are sacred. They never are. They are always being renegotiated. They are being renegotiated now. They can be renegotiated to further benefit the many or the few, lately, mostly the few. But the status quo has its inertia, and without that inertia, there is bloody chaos. Social democracy is about renegotiating social arrangements without demanding an impossible blank slate. And the premise is that if the majority are in control, the majority interest will generally be served; that is the direction things will move over time. The track record of this approach is quite good. The track record of the blank slate approach is horrendous.

And, no, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were not democracies, nor liberal, nor social democratic. They shared with you a contempt for personal rights, and, in the case of the Nazis, for established arrangements. After all, the status quo ante was that Jews could live among others pretty much, own property, have “rights” recognized in court, etc. Now they all had to be utterly dispossessed and herded onto reservations. The Party was committing a crime that created a new society that did not need to respect the commitments of the old. And that’s before we even get to the Holocaust per se; that’s just sticking to what was officially happening. To send Jews and others who previously had been part of society to camps required thorough contempt for the existing arrangements of society and for any notion of personal rights. And, yes, the Nazis were happy to preserve the wealth of wealthy “Aryans”, but retaining the wealth only of your friends is not respecting existing arrangements, it is helping your friends. But you have characterized excessive deference to existing arrangements as the fatal flaw in the liberal and social democratic regimes you despise and have also expressed contempt for personal rights. On both those points, the Nazis are right with you. They are your people, not mine.

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Martin Bento 12.15.13 at 12:52 pm

Ed, Twitter is a major player and they are 7 years old. If Twitter had never been created, couldn’t it be created now? Why not? What has changed between the bygone era of 2006 and now? The financial crisis? Twitter started a bit before it and weathered the whole cycle – and at least for its industry the recession seems well over – growing at every point. Is it that some behemoth like Microsoft or Google will inevitably crush it? Those behemoths and others were around in 2006. Why did we not see a remake of Bambi vs. Godzilla back then?

People on the Left have been proclaiming the age of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship over or close to over since it started in the mid-80s. There is a cliché of capitalism that it must end in highly alienated and brutally exploited labor and any other state is a short-lived way-station. The mature state must be something from Metropolis. The computer industry was closest to this back in the 60s. People punched holes in cards to write programs in COBOL and RPG. I never used it professionally, but I did have cause to learn those languages once. RPG in particular is all about punch a hole in column 34 to format totals thus: absolutely brain-dead. Lot of that in COBOL too. The evolution of the industry has been away from this, not towards it. In the original C, you had to sit there allocating and deallocating memory by hand, a major source of bugs. Descendants like Java do this for you. The workplace? IBM in their heydey imposed a lot of regimentation and conformity. Then, back in the 80s, the old school business community originally cheered the ouster of Jobs from Apple in part because he did things like have onsite chair massage for employees – ordinary ones, not just top management. God, how hippy-dippy can you get? Google now goes way beyond this. And yes, I was flip commenting on Google (although I did say they were VC funded, just not that they used the computers at school). The comment I was responding to was flip. The point stands.

If you look at Silicon Valley in isolation, it might seem a decent case for libertarianism, and this gets in the Left’s craw. The workforce is generally quite well-treated and well-paid. Every decade a few people get rich, and a very few people get very rich. And this happened in the age of neoliberalism. However, in evaluating neoliberalism, this is a footnote, simply because we’re not talking about that many people, relative to the world, or even the American, population. What happens to these people does not matter much (within reason. No Luddite death camps please) compared to what happens to people in general. This is not to say Silicon Valley isn’t important. It is enormously important, but for its impact on the world, not for its impact on the people who work there.

By the way, hix, it is worth noting that there was a serious threat at one time that the computer industry would be completely monopolized by IBM, and later one that it would be so monopolized by Microsoft. Both were stopped by government intervention (even though, in the Microsoft case, no penalty was ultimately imposed, the threat alone made them change their behavior). There is no evident such threat now. The main threat from Google is to privacy, not a threat of monopoly. So it is odd to speak of now as the age of monopoly in this industry as opposed to the heydeys of those companies. Just as it is odd to hear Mao speak of the 90s, when Microsoft was at its height, as the wild west days contrasted with the present.

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Martin Bento 12.15.13 at 12:52 pm

Bruce, first of all, I haven’t criticized neoliberalism because I haven’t been discussing it in this thread. I’ve been discussing social democracy and the like, communism (or state socialism or whatever you want to call it), and the ways in technology is changing the game and should change our understanding of it. The last, I contend, is primarily because of the nature of the technology itself – at least the aspects I’ve been discussing – not because of the neoliberal context in which it has emerged.

When civility is appropriate is a matter of context, but, in general, decorum will favor the weak. Take it away completely, and what is left is violence, and the virtuous will not win in that field. The state will, usually, or the gun nuts, or the mafias. I think the Left is still thinking in this mold that there is an elite that wants to maintain the status quo and grassroots forces that seek to disrupt it. The insight of Naomi Klein is very important: it is often the powerful who seek to upset the apple cart, because they are the best positioned to exploit the chaos.

Do Democrats defer to Wall Street out of politeness? I don’t think so. It is venal or it is ideological (or both), but it is not just manners.

As you pointed out, for several decades, in Western countries, the elite seemed to behave in a manner that was not totally selfish, and this was one of the factors that enable social democracy, New Deal liberalism, and such to move the bulk of the population into the middle class and give them decent and secure lives. There was resistance from the elite to be sure, but it was not unlimited.

Mao suggested that this compromise was due to pressure from communism. I have been sympathetic to this view, and still think there is a bit to it – the communists were horrible in power, but could be constructive in opposition. Even if true, primary credit for social democracy would have to go to those who created it, not to second order causes. But the fatal flaw in this theory is that the dramatic turn away from the postwar consensus did not follow the fall of communism; it preceded it. The seeds were laid in the 60s with Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and Ayn Rand’s salon, then comes the Powell memo, then the building of an actual political organization and alliances with other types of conservatives in the 70s, at the end of which Thatcher and Reagan are elected, changing the game. The fall of the communist world did not seem at all in the cards at this time. Their economies were stagnant, but apparently in a stable state, and it was difficult to see how the major powers would fall, or how the minor ones would if they did not. There have been retrospective attempts to pretend brilliant Ronnie was pulling the strings to make this happen all along, but they lack credibility. The whole thing hinged too crucially on Gorbachev, and it would have been very easy for the next Soviet leader to be another Brezhnev.

So what did make the difference? Well, that’s another long and complicated discussion, but I’m out of time right now, so I’ll just stop here. I’ll try to respond to a couple of other comments later.

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Barry 12.15.13 at 1:16 pm

Martin: “The workforce is generally quite well-treated and well-paid. “

No, *some* people are well-treated and *some* are well-paid. Those are the ones whom the press flatters.

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mattski 12.15.13 at 6:54 pm

Martin @ 120

I am impressed with your patience (and much more.) I do not mean this casually or disrespectfully but do you think it is possible to have a productive discussion with bob mcmanus?

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bob mcmanus 12.15.13 at 7:24 pm

But the fatal flaw in this theory is that the dramatic turn away from the postwar consensus did not follow the fall of communism; it preceded it. The seeds were laid in the 60s with Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and Ayn Rand’s salon

I would agree, but always find it more useful to look at a) the bottom, grass roots, masses, and b) the Left/Center-Left intellectuals for how hegemony is gained or lost.

Judt, Scheslinger, Hofstadter and probably Hirschman and Furet oh EP Thompson Stuart Hall and the gyres of the Party in France are more interesting to me than Mount Pelerin.

And I don’t know how to push hard enough by asking for a little bigger better reform a little sooner. The loss of the myth of social revolution is a terminal limiting of the imaginary for the left.

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bob mcmanus 12.15.13 at 7:39 pm

I mean, I am new to this stuff but it seems to me the larger problem going back at least to the murder of Rosa and Karl is the the social democrats apparently tend to think the communists and socialists are their deadly enemies and the right is the loyal opposition. This is inherent to the accommodation with capitalism.

As in the title of Judt’s Last book:Oh My God Is It Too Late What Have I Done With My Life’s Work

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bob mcmanus 12.15.13 at 8:10 pm

I mean, of course Mount Pelerin, Hayek, Friedman, Thatcher, Reagan, Gingrich, Boehner, Ryan, Cameron whatever. They wanted what they wanted, they have gotten partway there by pretending to gradualist reformism and so being a negotiating partner for social democrats and New Keynesians. Not so interesting at all, unless this is the path you want to follow, and think you can change by repeating 100 years of the same actions. Or unless you think you can use their tactics and strategy better than them under horrible conditions and disadvantages.

What is interesting is:”What happened to the resistance?” Especially in the 50s.

Why are Hungary and the Show Trials and Cultural Revolution intrinsic and inevitable under communism but Vietnam and McCarthy and Iraq and Neoliberalism not inevitable under capitalism but mere aberrations that constructive competition with the right can escape or reverse?

I stopped giving y’all a break around 2000-2002. Jesus you couldn’t even resist a stolen election and war of aggression?

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john c. halasz 12.16.13 at 12:01 am

So what we get from Martin Bento is a Burkean Whiggishness. Yes, extant societies are based on injustice and violence, even with the dim recognition that “property” is always a collective institutionalization of rules, not a pre-given reality, (though undifferentiated property is still somehow the foundation of “rights”), but order must be maintained, else that injustice and violence might be unleashed, since the lower orders lack the intelligence, discipline and sensitivity to form adequate ruling judgments, having long since become attached and conditioned by their subaltern status, (though, of course, they are still fully deserving of our condescension and (self-)pity). No recognition here that societies might enter into crisis and structural disintegration, (which isn’t to be brought about by some sort of revolutionary voluntarism), and that it is rather a matter of reconstructing a new institutional order rather than simply abolishing the old and starting from a “blank slate”. And then there is the “ideas have consequences”, slippery slope argument, as if ideas had autonomous “force”, entirely separate from material conditions and institutional constraints, (since, from the POV of such rank idealism, the only alternative would be a reductionist-determinist materialism), therefore historical catastrophes must be traced to the ideas that allegedly given rise to them. (The idea that what happened in Kampuchea might have more to do with a military coup and an American invasion and carpet-bombing than anything to due with Marxism, is strangely forgotten). But certainly Marxian LTV must be bad, because it can’t account for technology, QED. (When the point is that if capital were ever to fully replace labor, automating it entirely, then what would become of the “value” of capital? The issue of the selection, development and implementation of technology, “the forces of production”, is never “value-neutral”, nor pre-given, but always bound up in the prevailing “relations of production”, in the contemporary instance, highly financialized corporate oligopolies).

Ho hum.

And then the internet/IT sector is the source of new economic dynamism, when, in fact, what is most notable is the extent to which it has rapidly developed such a high degree of monopolistic concentration. (What took Carnegie, Rockefeller, Sloan and the like a generation to achieve has fallen to a few geeks who imagine themselves world-bestriding geniuses, often less than a decade). Such is apparently the power of network effects, but still, is such a utility-like technical infrastructure to be entirely supported by advertizing revenues, data-mining, and price-gouging in its subsequent development forever?

And then the question, actually relevant in current terms, is not to be the failure of social democracy, but really its temporary success, (rather than the process of its self-betrayal). True, it wasn’t simply the fall of the Soviet bloc that began that process, but rather the dissolution of the Bretton Woods arrangement leading to the stagflationary crisis of the 1970’s, (by which time, the Soviet Union, after ’56 and ’68, was widely recognized to be a stagnant, static, status quo power, not the expansionary revolutionary power bent on world domination it never was, except in in the projective imagination of Cold War ideology.) Hence the rising threat of working-class expectations and militancy became more of a threat, for which the stagflation was to be blamed, rather than the declining profitability and increasing competition of increasingly concentrated global capitalism. And the social democratic projects and tendencies, which never could quite deal with the realities of power and governance, once they have forsworn interfering with the power and prerogatives of capital, began their slide into self-betrayal and irrelevancy, culminating abjectly in the surrender of PM Jr. to the Troika in Greece, because it was the only “responsible” thing to do. (If you want to date the point of failure of the peaceful social democratic project, it would be with the complete rejection of the Meidner plan in the mid ’70’s). But rather than facing the contemporary facts, we get pious moralizing and nostaglia on the part of Cold War liberals.

So I personally don’t mind it when Bob Mc. goes all Badiou on your bad asses, and think it much more “productive” than the contributions of some. At least it brings to light the tired, lame and non-committal presuppositions of self-satisfied centrist liberals around here. Besides which he’s more well-read than most.

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mattski 12.16.13 at 4:25 am

Besides which he’s more well-read than most.

Well, if people aren’t your thing then books will have to do.

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john c. halasz 12.16.13 at 4:42 am

@129:

“Well, if people aren’t your thing then books will have to do.”

Spoken like a true philistine!

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William Timberman 12.16.13 at 5:11 am

…all Badiou on your bad asses…

Now that was definitely worth the price of admission. The center left has never been able to tell tragedy from farce, except maybe in the case of Judt, who does seem to me to have gone all the way upriver with Kurtz. Not the river under discussion here, but all the same….

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geo 12.16.13 at 5:21 am

Bob McM: Judt, Scheslinger, Hofstadter and probably Hirschman and Furet oh EP Thompson Stuart Hall and the gyres of the Party in France

What is Thompson doing in that list?

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john c. halasz 12.16.13 at 7:22 am

@132:

It’s an associative melange, (with respect to the various tergiversations on the broadly “left” end of the spectrum), but I think that “oh” is meant to have syntactical function.

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mattski 12.16.13 at 1:35 pm

130

I guess lack of culture accounts for my failure to appreciate refinements like the guillotine. You’re right, mcmanus has me there.

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geo 12.16.13 at 2:36 pm

mattski: refinements like the guillotine

It was actually a great step forward in humane execution techniques.

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mattski 12.16.13 at 7:36 pm

geo,

Smartypants.

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Chaz 12.17.13 at 2:41 am

I’d like to address a few of Martin’s suggestions:

“How can you equally allocate a city? Some housing is squalid; some splendorous.”

This is really not hard at all. Take the super-grand estates and subdivide or repurpose them. For the rest just nationalize the housing and charge people rent. After the glorious revolution everyone gets paid the same wage or at least vaguely close to the same wage. That means that people who want to live in the fancy houses will have to bid against each other for the privilege and pay a very large share of their income in rent. People who accept the tenements get super-low rents so they’ve got lots of spare cash for T-bones and Cadillacs. Or some other scheme. Whatever. No Kampucheaness necessary.

On Nazi Germany: As you well know before Nazi Germany their was this thing called Weimar Germany aka the German Empire which was actually the same place. The Social Democrats won a working class revolution and instituted glorious social democracy. The leftist faction said okay now let’s establish glorious socialism, but the sensible moderate leadership said no way let’s share power with the monarchist generals and the Catholic conservative party. So that worked for five seconds, but unfortunately the voters were kind of lukewarm on social democracy; they really wanted to have a monarchist general for president and ultranationalists in the Reichstag. Then some ultra-ultranationalists showed up and the nice Catholic conservatives and the monarchist president said, “Finally! We don’t have to share power with those dirty hippies anymore!” So I think it’s very very fair to count that as a failure of social democracy.

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Martin Bento 12.17.13 at 10:34 am

Mao,

Patents! Now we are getting somewhere. Strictly speaking, patents are not a means of production. They are a claim on rent. But the knowledge they gatekeep is a means of production. Now that Marxist argument is that the means of production too are products of abstract labor power. That does not just mean someone worked on them. The premise is that the diverse forms of human labor used to make things for market are all commensurate in value – not necessarily equal in value, there can be differences in productivity – but commensurate, meaning the values are all equal in some ratio (not necessarily one to one), and that this value is determined by the average time socially-necessary to perform the labor. This is what enables one to say that all the people performing these diverse sorts of labor are unified as a class; fundamentally, they are all generating abstract labor power, and this what what is creating all the value in the commodity – it is not only contributing the direct labor, but it is contributing the labor that went into the means of production themselves, and all are ultimately forms of the same things – human labor power, whose value varies directly with the time it is applied.

This does not apply to patentable ideas. The value of an idea is not even approximately a function of the time needed to generate it. Even for a specific person, this can vary greatly. The latter is not even necessarily a well-defined entity. The material that goes into an idea can germinate over a lifetime, and ideas can come instantly. Or not. Of course, the software patent game has become enormously silly, and a lot of patented ideas are actually fairly trivial – but even for trivial ideas, the time necessary to germinate them is undefined, and the value of the idea is in no sense a function of it. And different people have different ideas; the labor of various workers in this domain is not interchangeable, at any ratio, even with others in the domain, much less with human labor in some generic sense. This is why, even in the Marxist sense, the value canotn be reduced to the average time socially-necessary to produce it.

And much of Marxist analysis hinges of this. The notion of the proletariat as a class unified in interest relies on the notion that all, despite the fact that the types of work they do vary and their immediate interests may not coincide, are engaged in a single project – the creation of value through the provision of abstract labor power. The notion of the proletariat as exploited by definition relies on the notion that abstract labor power is producing all of the value, which would include the means of production.

Now, I’m not saying Marx ever thought intellectual labor ever was reducible to some common denominator of general labor like this. He seemed to assume knowledge would propagate efficiently, and therefore not provide lasting advantage. Obviously, IP deliberately impedes this. But so does the rate at which knowledge now advances. All the current patents will expire, but by that time, there will be many new patents in place, partly because of the extent of contemporary knowledge and partly because of the corrupt stupidity of the patent system. Therefore, the advantage of owning a body of patents does not expire, even as particular patents are developed and age out, although the complexity of knowing which patents to own makes it an unstable advantage.

So I’m not saying everything is just peachy, that there is no danger of monopoly, that Silicon Valley is an unambiguously benign force in the world. But we need to understand it differently.

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Martin Bento 12.17.13 at 10:42 am

Zamfir wrote:

“A lot of capital doesn’t even go to physical kit or other idenitifiable assets like IP rights, it goes to paying the people in your organization while the organization is not yet profitable. Which results you being organized while many potential competitors are not. Probably a more important ‘means of production’ than kit or patents (even if those matter as well). ”

So are worker’s wages themselves a means of production that workers cannot acquire? Aside from the tricky semantics of that, you are describing a real issue, and it is worth taking one step further: one of the biggest reasons startups need VC money is that they have to compete with other startups that have it. The VC’s are impelling a Red Queen’s race. In fact, I think there are 3 big reasons:

1) The Red Queens Race. Notable about this, though, is that it is a big part of why so much functionality on the Internet is free. Giving away services is a good way to kill competitors, and ends with the expectation that email and blogs, for example, will be free.
2) Related to this is risk. Startups almost always fail. VC’s invest in many, so the occasional success can pay off all the failures. If employees try to bootstrap (start with their own funds), they could be putting all their credit and life savings (or maybe family’s savings) into a venture that will almost certainly fail. Not necessarily a good idea.
3) Lawyers. You need lawyers and they take cash.

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Martin Bento 12.17.13 at 10:48 am

John,

“though undifferentiated property is still somehow the foundation of “rights” ” Nope. I never said property was the foundation of rights in any sense.

”since the lower orders lack the intelligence, discipline and sensitivity to form adequate ruling judgments, having long since become attached and conditioned by their subaltern status, (though, of course, they are still fully deserving of our condescension and (self-)pity) ” Strike 2. I never attributed any qualities specifically to the “lower orders”.

“No recognition here that societies might enter into crisis and structural disintegration, (which isn’t to be brought about by some sort of revolutionary voluntarism), and that it is rather a matter of reconstructing a new institutional order rather than simply abolishing the old and starting from a “blank slate”. ”

Well, if you think society is going to fall apart to the extent that one can say the old institutional order is already entirely abolished, and you are just going to pick up the pieces, then you are suggesting history will pretty much hand you a blank slate (although you are giving yourself a lot of wiggle room by speaking of “reconstructing” a “new” institutional order. If it is new, I would say it is being constructed for the first time). I recognized that, but I ruled it out, as I don’t think it is really going to happen.

“The idea that what happened in Kampuchea might have more to do with a military coup and an American invasion and carpet-bombing than anything to due with Marxism, is strangely forgotten ”

Because it makes little sense. True, the US bombing destabilized the country, giving the KR their opening. But does it make sense to move everyone to agricultural communes, and break everyone’s existing social networks because the US bombed us? No, but it does if you want to remake society. Does it make sense to empty the cities because the US bombed you? It might if the cities were the major targets, but the US was primarily trying to ashtray jungle areas used by the Vietnamese. Does it make sense to kill intellectuals and suppress technology because the US bombed you? No, but it makes a sort of sense if part of your analysis of the failure of the USSR is that it let intellectuals become an elite class, and your entire purpose is to eradicate class distinctions. Then there is the fact that the US in fact militarily and diplomatically supported the KR in their conflict with Vietnam.

“When the point is that if capital were ever to fully replace labor, automating it entirely, then what would become of the “value” of capital? ” That’s begging the question, as this is only an issue if one buys the LTV.

“And then the internet/IT sector is the source of new economic dynamism, when, in fact, what is most notable is the extent to which it has rapidly developed such a high degree of monopolistic concentration. (What took Carnegie, Rockefeller, Sloan and the like a generation to achieve has fallen to a few geeks who imagine themselves world-bestriding geniuses, often less than a decade). ”

Actually, I’ve emphasized its technology, rather than its economic dynamism, but I think people who are going to effectively claim that there can never be another Twitter should have some argument why not. Monopoly is a serious danger in this industry, and I’ve already discussed it. None of that changes the fact that IT is changing the game – the industrial game, the political game, the social game – in ways the old paradigms do not enable us to understand.

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Mao Cheng Ji 12.17.13 at 11:09 am

@138 Martin, it’s been ages since I read and (I think – but not too certain) understood that stuff. But I seem to remember something there about rents: differential rent I, differential rent II, some shit like that. Same surplus value, just in a different form. Landowners. Capital owns land, labor works it, capital collects the loot. I reckon patents might be a similar sort of thing, if not exactly the same.

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Martin Bento 12.17.13 at 12:16 pm

Chaz, just quickly, I don’t have much more time. You are measuring Marxism by setting aside what actually happened, and looking at what you think may be possible, and social democracy by actual messy history. Two very different yardsticks. Pick one.

Although you left aside the next sentence of my “suggestion” – the complex interrelationships of everything in the city. It is also interesting that your solution is a market.

As for the Nazi’s – the election where they gained their plurality was very dirty. They had a private army of thugs attacking voting places. But if your quarrel really is with the voters as such – well, now we’re in elect a new people territory.

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Igor Belanov 12.17.13 at 12:36 pm

The problem with Martin Bento’s argument is that essentially, to paraphrase Herbert Morrison, he is saying ‘Social Democracy is what nice governments do’.

144

Tim Wilkinson 12.17.13 at 3:13 pm

Martin B: I never said property was the foundation of rights in any sense.

Well, maybe not, but you did accept at face value bob mcm’s assertion @55 that Expropriation is an attitude, a recognition that there is no private property or personal rights. That is not the case – expropriation of capital such as a farm is not a matter of personal rights, but of economic property rights. But you seem inclined to conflate the two, e.g. @88: This is advocacy of violence. Forcibly taking people’s possessions and forcibly denying them access to law enforcement…

Admittedly b.m.’s choice of what can be construed as a typically Nozickian folksy example – if we suppose the farmer to be a homesteader whose farm is is home – tends to blur the distinction between capitalist property and personal possssions, but if you don’t think that personal rights are at least continuous with property, you should be able to spot and resist this conflation, rather than asserting – as you seem to – that taking property is tantamount to violence (i.e. violence against the person). It isn’t. If my farm (or factory, etc) is occupied and overrun by expropriators, there need be no violence unless I – or, as you recommend, the police – initiate it.

Even if my home is overrun, this might still be the case – criticism of the expropriators must then be based on their depriving me of the enjoyment of my personal possessions, rather than on supposed violence. However, the smaller and more personally cherished the possession in question, the more likely it is that I can and will literally take possession of it and stand my ground, in such a way that it can only be confiscated by actual violence of some kind. But that is not at all what happens when a factory owner calls in the police to defend their economic property rights.

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mattski 12.17.13 at 4:12 pm

143

The problem with Martin Bento’s argument is that essentially, to paraphrase Herbert Morrison, he is saying ‘Social Democracy is what nice governments do’.

Can you explain why this is a problem?

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bob mcmanus 12.17.13 at 5:24 pm

144 see 55 quoted material and/or follow link. Another quote:

“Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize’ by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generation of de-individualization.” Michel Foucault, Preface to Anti-Oedipus.

I am not eager to expouse or commit here to a meta-ethical position on personal or individual rights, but in a crowd like this one that would already get me trouble. Let us say I am working on it.

One easy example is closed-shops and right-to-work laws. Another is the right to bear arms. Another more questionable which relates to the above thread on vehicular manslaughter is the Korean and Japanese quasi-legal practices of compensation, atonement, and the ostracism of perpetrators’ families in an ethos of collective responsibility and guilt.

Let’s just say for now that I am open to understandings of a social construction of identity and a social negotiation of roles and possibilities, and am slower to impose abstract principles on existing or future communities.

So I don’t stop at “Capital”

There remain material realities like a hungry child, and I won’t twist myself in knots worrying about whether it is better to hand the kid a fishing pole or if society will collapse if I grab some dinner rolls off the banquet table.

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William Timberman 12.17.13 at 5:44 pm

bob mcmanus @ 146

A quandary I’ve been chewing on for decades: the collective, and the forces which define it, determine the individual. Fine. No doubt. The individual, however, is one of those forces. Depriving, or better, attempting to deprive the individual of his/her part in the process of defining the collective has consequences — very unpleasant consequences, if history is any guide.

Not so very long ago, someone too young to have been there published a breezy recapitulation of the errors of the New Left, contending that they — we, as it happens, since I was a small part of that New Left — had read too much Marx, while neglecting Locke and Mill. Made me furious, that did, but what can one say to John C. Halasz’s determined philistines that would deflect them from their certainties? Fuck all, I suspect.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.17.13 at 5:55 pm

I’m open to a reframing of personal rights, and don’t necessarily stop at “Capital” – nor other commercial property such as ‘inventory” – either. But I’m not expecting to see, in the near future, a situation in which people don’t need some form of protection against, e.g., violence to the person. That, and not banqueting rights, was the main ‘personal right’ I was alluding to, and the usual Libertarian-style conflation of which with property rights I was complaining about. But I do also see a need for some kind of safeguard against, e.g., arbitrary incarceration, or even people taking one’s basic personal possessions.

In extremis, yes, take the rolls from the banqueting table, even the ordinary dining table or the plate. But that kind of ad hoc single-case redistribution is obviously not a useful paradigm for organising society. For one thing, in the absence of usable criteria to decide when it’s permissible (rather than excusable) to grab the food off someone else’s plate, things are likely to get pretty uncomfortable for most of us. The dissolution of personality as we know it and broadly have done throughout recorded history would change things, no doubt – but in the mean time, some transitional provisions would seem to be required.

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Igor Belanov 12.17.13 at 6:35 pm

“143

The problem with Martin Bento’s argument is that essentially, to paraphrase Herbert Morrison, he is saying ‘Social Democracy is what nice governments do’.”

Can you explain why this is a problem?”

Yes. It is basically completely meaningless, and avoids all the problems of analysis by merely picking the features that are most suitable to the argument and discarding the rest. Unfortunately, while it has long given up Marxist ideas, Social Democracy has continued with many of the determinist positions of Vulgar Marxism, which helps to explain its immobility and indeed often conservatism when conditions are difficult and not ‘ripe’ for reform. Compromise in certain circumstances might be the most politically practical or morally humane thing to do, but at other times in the history of Social Democracy it has been down to weakness or, at worst, complicity.

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john c. halasz 12.17.13 at 8:03 pm

Martin Bento:

I was only slightly caricaturing your expressed views. As I said, your argument is basically Burkean. Old hat.

Marx was, of course, writing 150 years ago, and the sort of economy he was innovatively analyzing and criticizing is much different than what prevails today, not least in the level of technical development that would have boggled his imagination. Nonetheless the sort of knowledge, skill, and technical know-how that you insist on, (as deriving from “ideas”, somehow free-floating and unaccountable), as if disproving LTV, (which is an account of economic *value*), was well known to him. He referred to it as “the general intellect” and assumed, perhaps too simply, that it was the common “property” of humankind, born from the practical experience of human engagement with the world, especially of the laboring kind. (And, of course, the “class struggle” didn’t just concern the distribution of output/income, but control over the production process itself and the social and natural ends it should serve). Why it should then take the form of “intellectual property” and “human capital” is the question not to be begged. And, indeed, historians of science and technology have shown that cases of simultaneous independent discovery, (such as famously, Newton/Leibniz, Darwin/Wallace, or Keynes/Kalecki), are widespread, not the exception, but more the rule. But why you would want to cite Twitter as a genuine technical advance and proof of the openness and innovative potential of the capitalist system is beyond me.

And again, your “ideas have consequences”, -(actually that should be implications),- argument is feeble, ridiculously overblown, ungrounded in its application and highly selective in its “evidence”. As the intellectual historian of pragmatism, Louis Menand, put it, ideas have contexts, and their implications based on some sort of “logical” deduction don’t necessarily extend all that far. What’s more, ideas have sources and they are always more than just ideas, being embedded in the practical experiences and pressures that they respond to, (something Marx and many other thinkers have emphasized). Nor can thinkers be held entirely responsible for the future effective history of their ideas and the (ab)uses that others might have made of them. By that criterion, you might as well blame Darwin for Nazi racial theory. The notion that Marx or Marxism could credibly be blamed for the Khmer Rouge is utterly stupid and belongs to Cold War propaganda. (What on earth does Marx have to do with restoring the ancient Cambodian kingdom)?

Now one can examine the inadequacy of ideas with respect to their vulnerability for abuse. Personally, I think Marx slightly misread Hegel and underplays the role of the state and the political, which leaves certain gaps in his thinking, and failures to anticipate future developments. World wars, Leninist vanguardism, the rise of fascism and even the Keynesian/welfare state compromise were not quite dreamed of in his philosophy, which remained still too wedded to an Enlightenment outlook. And there is no use denying that the Archimedean lever he sought to devise failed about 100 years ago, not least because he retained a certain residue of Hegelian quasi-metaphysical “identities”. But that is also precisely why he remains immune to your “blank slate” charge. The new order was to be built out of the very ruins of the old order, the death-throes of the one being the birth-pangs of the other, because through successive crises, the working-class would undergo a process of self-organization, a kind of collective Bildung, by which it would become capable of assuming control in the “final” crisis. It’s not a matter of wiping out capitalism, but of its Umfunktionierung. You might disagree with such a prospect and certainly history has proven less that cooperative. But then I think you’re just denying the extent and severity of the current collapse and its contradictions, even if they are occurring at a much more high tech level than Marx would have projected. Nostalgia for social democracy, (which scarcely existed in the U.S.), or even a restoration of Keynesian demand management simply won’t do.

As to the limits of individuation and the inevitably collective “nature” of human existence, I would prefer to start out and address those issue from Wittgenstein, rather than the sort of neo-Nietzschean parodic critique that Bob Mc. favors. But no one here is really suggesting the collectivization of toothbrushes, (except perhaps under the sort of circumstance which would render toothbrushes irrelevant)!

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William Timberman 12.17.13 at 9:12 pm

john c. halasz @ 150

On Bildung and the self-assurance of the usual suspects, be they neo-liberals, social democrats, or Keynesians: Einbildung is auch eine Bildung.

152

mattski 12.17.13 at 10:13 pm

149

It is basically completely meaningless,

I read what Martin Bento wrote. I didn’t think it was at all meaningless. Quite the contrary. OTOH, if you have a forgone conclusion in your mind about what a just society must look like then perhaps you see anything that does not ratify your prejudices as ‘meaningless.’

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Igor Belanov 12.18.13 at 10:18 am

Of course it is meaningless. Very few people are going to come up with a utopia that they consider to be nasty and unjust. When taken out of any socio-economic context social democratic ideology is just as utopian as any other.

154

Chaz 12.18.13 at 10:46 am

Martin at 142:

“It is also interesting that your solution is a market.”

Socialism does not preclude markets. Cuba has markets.

“As for the Nazi’s – the election where they gained their plurality was very dirty. They had a private army of thugs attacking voting places. But if your quarrel really is with the voters as such – well, now we’re in elect a new people territory.”

Yes. In actually existing social democracies dirty elections are very common. Mexico’s last election had a lot of vote-buying for example. As for the mob violence at voting places, I’m pretty certain that one of the duties of the social democratic state is to protect its citizens from mob violence. They failed at this because they accepted the conservative establishment as loyal opposition–as Bob observed above–and the conservative establishment (courts, police) saw the Nazis as ideological allies and refused to crack down on them. Greece is now suffering an uncannily similar repeat of this.

By the way, I do not make these comments to say that social democracy is awful and we should all switch to socialism. I am simply standing up for Bob’s declaration that if one wishes to condemn the failed attempts at socialism he must also acknowledge the failures of social democracy. These include the Nazi atrocities, genocide against native Americans, slavery, US colonial atrocities in the Philippines, French atrocities in Indochina and Algeria, British colonial atrocities almost everywhere, the various American wars, coups, death squads, and miscellaneous intimidation of the Cold War (bonus: these were done to protect the lucky victims from evil socialism!), Israeli subjugation of Palestine, and so on. I’ll spot you Imperial Japan; they were capitalist but I’m not sure why Bob feels they were social democratic.

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bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 1:03 pm

I’ll spot you Imperial Japan; they were capitalist but I’m not sure why Bob feels they were social democratic.

As far as the democracy part, Japan had a constitution, parliament, political parties, broad franchise by mid-20s, and elections from roughly 1890-1938 or so. Prime ministers and bureaucrats did get assassinated a bunch, but part of the point of the 1936 assassinations (answered by a very rare semipublic outrage by the Emperor) was that a party of some degree of opposition to the military was in power. Yes, the Privy Council had some power, and the military had a veto, but the shifting positions of the oligarchy played out to a large degree in elections. There were moderate members of Parliament, one from Kanazawa in particular, that served for 60 years.

As far as the social part, well, Japan had the example of Bismarckian Germany which it did not want to replicate, especially the socialist party. So from the beginning, to whatever extent it had a social welfare state, it chose to channel it through subsidies to private corporations and municipal programs. But Japan was in import substitution/development/production economy/exports all the way through WW II anyway.

The Japanese social model, for example, providing subsidies and tax breaks for corporations to provide cheap housing for their employees, is one I am suspicious of but not ready to write off completely yet.

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bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 1:14 pm

As far as the political repression goes, and God knows Meiji-Taisho-Showa Japan was brutal, well, Louis Napoleon’s France was both politically repressive and a functional democracy, a point British opponents to suffrage expansion enjoyed pointing out.

The Left, as we know it, never had much of a shot in Japan, but there were several alternate forms of conservatism or corporatism. Marx was studied a lot for instance, for the purpose of finding ways to mute or manage the class struggle and labor unions.

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Random Lurker 12.18.13 at 3:11 pm

I feel more on the Mcmanus side of this argument, however I think that a big part of the problem is that the term “social democracy” is used in a very ambiguous way, so that it is not clear what we are speaking about.

Here is wikipedia[*] on social democracy:

Social democracy is a political ideology that officially has as its goal the establishment of democratic socialism through reformist and gradualist methods.[1] Alternatively, social democracy is defined as a policy regime involving a universal welfare state and collective bargaining schemes within the framework of a capitalist economy. It is often used in this manner to refer to the social models and economic policies prominent in Western and Northern Europe during the later half of the 20th century.[2][3]
Following the split between reformists and revolutionary socialists in the Second International, Social democrats have advocated for a peaceful and evolutionary transition of the economy to socialism through progressive social reform of capitalism.[4][5]

[...]

Social democracy originated in 19th-century Germany from the influence of both the internationalist revolutionary socialism and doctrine of communism advanced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; and the reformist socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle.[10] The Marxists and Lassallians were in rivalry over political influence in the movement until 1868–1869 when Marxism became the official basis of Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany.[11] In the Hague Congress of 1872, Marx modified his stance on revolution by declaring that there were countries with democratic institutions where reformist measures could be advanced, saying that “workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means, But this is not true of all countries.”

On this account, “social democrats” means “non-revolutionary marxists”. Hence, the idea that social democracy beats marxism is quite weird (the correct sentence would be that nonrevolutionary marxists beat leninists).

But I doubt that this is what Martin Bento means. But then, who are exactly these “social democrats”? Bob Mcmanus says that imperial Japan was a social democracy; I don’t think it was, but then I don’t know exactly what a “social democracy” is supposed to be, so depending on the definition of social democracy he may be right or wrong.

In my opinion, “social democracies” were those governments of the post WW2 years (plus new deal USA) that, while mantaining a capitalist system, employed proactive policies of income equalization, which means that we are no more living in social democracies since the ’80. Those governments, while not marxists, in many cases had big socialist and marxist components. In fact Palmiro Togliatti, boss of the italian communist party at the time of the postwar reconstruction, was in my opinion one of the “founding fathers” of italian social democracy, and contemporaneously was pal with Stalin.

The core point of social democracies, in my opinion, is that they embrace an economic system that tendentially increases social differences, while actively trying to contrast it through policy, thus pointing to some form of soft socialism as their political project.

________________________________________
[*] Maybe you think that wikipedia’s opinion on what constitutes social democracy shouldn’t be taken as thruth. However, any sociologist who is worth his business card will tell you that “thruth” is a social construct; wikipedia is a social constrict, hence wikipedia is the Truth.

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bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 3:53 pm

See, I have a pretty tough time moving late Victorian/Edwardian England, Bismarck’s Germany, or Progressive-era United States out of the “social democracy” category. They weren’t military dictatorships although militaristic and imperialist. Frankly I think too many people take too much “credit” away from capitalism, which requires a high level and complicating forms of social reproduction (education, social protection) in order to thrive and deter crisis.

We can also contrast “social democracy” with Democratic Socialism

For example, Peter Hain classifies democratic socialism, along with libertarian socialism, as a form of anti-authoritarian “socialism from below” (using the term popularised by Hal Draper), in contrast to Stalinism and social democracy, variants of authoritarian state socialism. For Hain, this democratic/authoritarian divide is more important than the revolutionary/reformist divide.[7] In this definition, it is the active participation of the population as a whole, and workers in particular, in the management of economy that characterises democratic socialism, while nationalisation and economic planning (whether controlled by an elected government or not) are characteristic of state socialism. A similar, but more complex, argument is made by Nicos Poulantzas

“… Stalinism and social democracy, variants of authoritarian state socialism…”

159

Martin Bento 12.18.13 at 4:06 pm

Tim, Bob wrote:

“. there is no private property or personal rights. ”

“Or” is a disjunction, so I took Bob to mean he had objections to the notion of personal rights that were separate from those to private property. I think his subsequent comments show I read him correctly, although he is being coy on this. Therefore, in defending personal rights, I was not implicitly defending private property, much less claiming personal rights derive from private property, as John imputed to me.

As for why I did not challenge the linkage, Bob said it was an attitude, so I don’t think the details of the example can be taken too definitively. The attitude in the example is: I have right on my side, so I don’t have to follow established rules or respect your rights. I am supplanting the authority of the state (that’s what denying access to the police is). Since expropriation must precede democratization, my authority to do this does not come from a verifiable free choice of the people, so it must come from the fact that I with whatever allies I may have are able to impose our will, and, of course, the fact that I am morally right in my own estimation. This is why I call it advocacy of violence. It is advocacy of taking the right to decide when violence should be administered from the state because you can, and also because you believe you morally should, but “can” is a necessary condition. Which must mean that you can muster sufficient violence (regardless of whether you actually do) to defy or thwart the established authorities. If you gain the power to do something because of your potential for violence, it is still a violent act. If I point a gun at you and demand your wallet, it is a violent act even if I do not shoot you and even if picking your pocket would not be a violent act.

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Martin Bento 12.18.13 at 4:11 pm

John, Regardless of whether ideas “should” be the common property of humankind, in the system we have, they are not. To start your analysis with the way things are is not begging a normative question; it is simply acknowledging that your subject is the world before you. To analyze a modern economy “assuming” that ideas are the common property of all is like analyzing one “assuming” that land is the common property of all. The notion that the Earth should belong to all in common is defensible, but any analysis of modern Western economies based on the premise would be seriously distorted because the economies are not based on that premise. And intellectual property existed in Marx’s day.

And I didn’t cite Twitter as an example of technical advance or as a general proof of the openness of the capitalist system. Ed’s claim was that it was “obvious” that there was no reason to see the future of IT as “anything other than one of smaller opportunities for new markets, with smaller rewards hanging in the balance, at the same time that we can expect an increasing about (sic) of these opportunities and rewards to be sucked up by existing players. “. Clearly, this was not true 7 years ago when Twitter launched, unless all he means by smaller is “smaller than Google” (in which case, it is actually too soon to say, though I personally don’t see Twitter as having the potential to outgrow Google). So what has changed? It doesn’t mean Twitter is brilliant. It doesn’t mean much conclusion can be drawn from this outside the world of IT. It does mean new major players in IT can emerge as of 7 years ago, and it is difficult to see the difference between then and now.

“And again, your “ideas have consequences”, -(actually that should be implications),- argument ”

Again, you’re hearing voices in your head. I never said “ideas have consequences” – you did. It was your hostile paraphrase of my position, but now you are nitpicking your own words and pretending it’s an objection to something I said. That’s pretty desperate.

“What on Earth does Marx have to do with restoring the ancient Cambodian kingdom?”

Nothing, but the KR’s rhetorical use of their national past is hardly the most objectionable thing about them. I pointed out some of the more objectionable ones, which were deeply rooted, as they themselves said, in their understanding of Marxist theory.

“You might disagree with such a prospect and certainly history has proven less that cooperative. But then I think you’re just denying the extent and severity of the current collapse and its contradictions “

This is a non-sequitur because, even if I granted for argument your estimation of the extent and severity of the current collapse, this doesn’t commit me to a belief that a “Bildung” of the sort you describe is occurring or will occur. I see no evidence of it at all. Therefore my disagreeing with such a prospect does not imply a denial of such severity.

And perhaps the fact that history has proven uncooperative should give you pause. After all, you hold that ideas have no motive force aside from context, which viewed broadly is history. But the particular idea you are espousing is not what has occurred, nor apparently what is occurring. So how do you expect this to happen? History is not cooperating, and the idea isn’t going to make anything happen.

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Martin Bento 12.18.13 at 4:11 pm

Chaz,

“genocide against native Americans, slavery, US colonial atrocities in the Philippines, ”

WTF?

Claiming the US was ever a social democracy is really pushing it, but there is not even an argument that it was prior to the New Deal. The same is true of Britain and France during the height of their empires, though the tail end of empire and the beginning of social democracy overlapped some, especially in France. You’re really having to pad to try to reach an equivalence.

As for Hitler, if Hitler had been one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party from the time they took power on, if there had been a power struggle within that leadership that Hitler won, resulting in his having power, if the majority of social democrats and social democratic intellectuals around the world endorsed Hitler and said (at the time, regardless of whether they recanted later) his version of social democracy was legitimate and that social democrats should support him, then Hitler would have the same relationship to social democracy that Stalin has to socialism. What actually happened is nothing like that. So trying to count Hitler against the social democrats in the same way as Stalin is counted against the socialists is ridiculous.

162

bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 4:30 pm

Bento, we have been over this. I think you contract your violence to the state, and then claim your hands are clean. Somebody you are not at all responsible for droned that wedding caravan in Yemen last week.

I do seriously connect your sorts of arguments, worshiping state violence and attempting to smother individual autonomy, to fierce, profound, and intense authoritarian and hierarchical feelings and inclinations justified by transcendental or mystical ontologies.

163

bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 4:39 pm

Weber, from Wiki:“human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

And apparently Weber claimed it was only descriptive, not prescriptive, IOW, not necessarily a wonderful condition.

All those big words, like community, claim, and legitimate

Can we move on to Carl Schmitt?

164

mattski 12.18.13 at 4:49 pm

153

Very few people are going to come up with a utopia that they consider to be nasty and unjust. When taken out of any socio-economic context social democratic ideology is just as utopian as any other.

I don’t understand what you are trying to say, Igor. As near as I can tell you are suggesting that only utopian ideas have meaning, whereas looking at the world as it is and trying to build upon what is good while minimizing what is not so good is not a worthwhile endeavor.

165

Martin Bento 12.18.13 at 4:50 pm

PS. I’ve said this in other threads here, but for the record, I think we need to move to a socialization of intellectual property. Knowing what to fund is not a trivial problem, but I think it is a solvable one.

166

mattski 12.18.13 at 4:58 pm

bob mcmanus,

I do seriously connect your sorts of arguments, worshiping state violence and attempting to smother individual autonomy, to fierce, profound, and intense authoritarian and hierarchical feelings and inclinations justified by transcendental or mystical ontologies.

Reductio. QED.

Everything you put forth has as its premise: If I were a dictator, then…

But even if you were a dictator, your results would not obtain. Because you reject facts–the way the world actually works–in favor of your personal, faith based fantasies.

167

bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 5:13 pm

166: Projection

Reread the thread. I am thinking like a Black Bloccer on the street breaking a window and you and Bento are the ones thinking like a state because you identify with the state.

I didn’t, don’t, and can’t scale up from the farmers and the rice to the Ukraine and Cultural Revolution for several reasons: a) I don’t think like or identify with the state, and b) because the revolution I want by necessity moves upwards from the individual on the street…who I want to break a window.

Who I want to stop thinking like a state, stop identifying with the state.

But this is a really weird conversation.

168

bob mcmanus 12.18.13 at 5:15 pm

166: How the hell do I imagine myself as dictator…

…while simultaneously arguing against my monopoly on violence?

Do you guys even listen to yourselves?

169

Mao Cheng Ji 12.18.13 at 5:19 pm

I get the impression that the post-dot-com software business works like this: you choose an extremely narrow area, become an expert, open a company. Your goal is to develop something, and then sell out to one of the mega-businesses. You go to Microsoft, you make presentations, you try to sell out. They might buy you (and your patents) for a few million, if only to prevent their competitors from getting ahead, and then they’ll probably shut you down. I don’t think this is too different (conceptually) from land speculations, buying land in a desert to sell to the railroad, or buying agricultural land to sell, when time comes, to a large condo developer.

170

Anarcissie 12.18.13 at 5:34 pm

‘The unreal struggles with the real to come into existence; thus is becomes and is part of the real.’

171

Chaz 12.18.13 at 9:41 pm

I agree that we are struggling with inconcrete definitions of social democracy. I basically thought the term meant capitalism + democracy + welfare state. But obviously in a democracy (or an authoritarian system like China, I guess anywhere) the welfare state part of that only lasts after it’s passed and until it’s repealed, so even though that’s where the “social” comes from I see that as a lesser component of social democracy.

I like the Wikipedia definition, making the social actually mean socialism (and socialism mean Marxism). Makes the term grounded, so it can’t shift meanings ever rightward. It also makes the word a simple combination of “socialist” and “democratic” without attaching a lot of nonobvious stuff to it (like capitalism); by that standard it should mean exactly the same thing as “democratic socialism”. But in reality the words have different and complicated meanings, and the meaning has shifted mightily, so that the SPD and Labour became neoliberal and committed to capitalism. There are basically no parties which call themselves social democratic and advocate moving to actual socialism. The rightward slide exists for socialist parties too of course. France has a “socialist” government but they haven’t renationalized any companies or anything like that. In Portugal the rightwing party is the social democrats, the leftwing party is the socialists, and neither one actually is socialist. So I think that the Wikipedia definition is obsolete. All socialist means in politics these days is leftist or center-leftist. Social democratic means center-left and specifically less leftist than the local socialists. Capitalist and accomodationist.

In most of the important ways I see the Democratic Party, SPD, and Labour all as basically the same, and the Republicans, CDU, and Conservatives all as basically the same, and our systems of government broadly equivalent. So if any of the UK, Germany, and the US are social democracies then they all must be. If none of them are social democracies, then do any social democracies actually exist? Is social democracy just a transitory state that you enjoy for a few years until the conservatives with an election? Or until the social democratic party shifts rightward of its own accord?

If you accept social democracy as, at its essence, just democracy + capitalism, then pre-New Deal USA fits the bill. If you insist on the social part, does it actually change much. Hypothetically, if the US had had gov’t pensions (it did, Civil War pensions) and free healthcare, would that actually change any of the examples above? Would Social Security have stopped white settlers from moving into Indian lands? Would free healthcare cause us to be kind to the Filipinos? To treat blacks as human beings with equal rights? Israel has healthcare and pensions and even a basic income (if you study the Torah) but they still take Palestinian lands, rule Palestinians through terror and oppression, and view Palestinians as having lesser rights and, for some Israelis, even as being subhuman.

And one last thing on Germany. Germany had a revolution. The Social Democrats won. They wrote the constitution, they held elections, they even won the elections, partially and at first. Then the system that they put in place very rapidly fell apart and transformed into fascism. It just doesn’t matter whether they liked having brownshirts murder them, whether they endorsed it, whether foreign social democratic parties endorsed it. They made the system. You make your bed and then you have to lie in it.

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Chaz 12.18.13 at 10:00 pm

State monopoly on violence is a funny thing. You wouldn’t want to give Hitler a monopoly on violence. So the monopoly only holds when the state is legitimate, and when its actions are just. But no state is perfectly legitimate and just.

I don’t view state monopoly on violence as a moral principle. It’s more like an agreement we make. As long as I view the state as mostly legitimate and just, I will mostly refrain from violence. And I will support the state in using violence against you, as long as I view the state as more legitimate and just than you. But when I think the state is unjust, and I feel that I can make things more just through violence (or just disobedience), then I reserve the right to deploy that violence. Provided, of course, that I am strong enough and brave enough to actually do so; I suspect I am not.

Unfortunately we all have different ideas about justice and even just different factual knowledge, which means that you may go on a very just (in your eyes) violent crusade even as I support the state in justly (in my eyes and the king’s eyes) destroying you. Morality is a matter of perspective, but I nevertheless hold firmly to my moral perspective and demand that you embrace my perspective as well.

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mattski 12.19.13 at 12:46 am

167, 168

But this is a really weird conversation.

Of course it is, and I’m glad we agree on some things. Cheers!

1) So, bob, in your revolutionary world there is no state. Do I understand you correctly? In this new world of bob mcmanus’s creation how are disputes adjudicated?

2) In your new world how is the use of violence regulated?

3) Is breaking a window an act of violence?

4) Why do you want people to break windows?

How the hell do I imagine myself as dictator … while simultaneously arguing against my monopoly on violence?

I don’t think I ever accused you of making a coherent argument.

174

David 12.19.13 at 1:22 am

The liberalism runs deeper here than any of us dared to believe.

175

bob mcmanus 12.19.13 at 1:32 am

173: 1) Of course there is a state. Can’t have a revolution without a state. b) therefore I am not creating a world. Nor do I create the revolution.

1c, 2) I do not think like a state

3) Sure, although I suppose it depends on the window. Or maybe not. If I am arguing, yelling at my spouse, and grab a chair and throw it through my own picture window…you get the picture. (Note again the scale I like to work with.)

I have a very broad, perhaps radical even psychoanalytic conception of violence, aggression, coercion, intimidation, domination. “Invading another’s sphere of influence” and “unwanted and displeasing attention” come to mind.

I include wolf whistles and looking at women’s asses. Or creating a hostile environment.

Violence has degrees of damage.

4) So they stop thinking like a state, stop seeing themselves as metonymy or synecdoche for a very large collective.

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mattski 12.19.13 at 1:56 am

175

Of course there is a state.

So you are not opposed to states. You agree that states are necessary?

To repeat: 1) In your revolutionary state how are disputes adjudicated?

2) In your revolutionary state how is the use of violence regulated?

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bob mcmanus 12.19.13 at 2:10 am

176: I’m through. This is repetitive.

There is a state because there is a revolution.There is even a sense in which the revolution, or threat or possibility of revolution, creates the state.

But I am not the state nor am I the revolution.

How are disputes adjudicated? Who the hell put me in charge?

Rawls really developed a pernicious model, in which everyone enters the meeting room with a fully developed political science and model/theory of the state but without history, interests, or needs.

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mattski 12.19.13 at 2:39 am

How are disputes adjudicated? Who the hell put me in charge?

So, there could be courts? There could be police? You don’t know because,

You have no idea what you are talking about.

179

David 12.19.13 at 3:05 am

How ’bout instead of pursuing your own personal agenda, mattski, you simply take McManus at his word. Frankly your contribution to this thread has been overwhelmingly conservative and uninteresting, whereas McManus is the only one who is saying anything that isn’t bog standard Liberal-ese.

180

john c. halasz 12.19.13 at 3:44 am

Actually, mattski hasn’t been contributing much, if anything, here, other than his own implicit argument from incredulity, which bob is only too pleased to feed.

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mattski 12.19.13 at 3:49 am

179

What do you mean by “take [someone] at [their] word?” Because that is exactly what I am trying to do. If you pay serious attention to bob mcmanus, in my experience you will conclude that he is utterly incoherent.

If your standard for an interesting discussion is that it be characterized by gibberish… then I guess I don’t find that very encouraging.

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William Berry 12.19.13 at 7:30 am

Far out!

Unkillable zombie thread!

What was the OP about, again?

I know something that is pure, and true, and real: i.e., none of us really know what we’re talking about.

Jaquewould back me up on that (just don’t tell Holbo that I mentioned Jacques!).

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mattski 12.19.13 at 11:45 am

I know something that is pure, and true, and real: i.e., none of us really know what we’re talking about.

Speaking of the OP, I think David Simon does know what he is talking about. His statements make sense, and I agree with him.

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