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Legitimate political theory or a case of "some animals are more equal than others?"
July 18, 2012 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Is there a form of socialism that agrees with me or have I simply been brainwashed into accepting capitalist structures as natural?

More and more, I am starting to feel like socialism is the most sensible political philosophy/system. I suspect that Marx may have had things right (more or less), but I'm also quite fond of a number of things that have come out of capitalism: consumer electronics, private property ownership, etc.

Is there a form of socialism that "fits" with my attachment to these things, or am I simply a lukewarm socialist who isn't really ready to give up some of the comforts that come with being middle class in a capitalist, neoliberal state? If the former is true, please help me find resources that I can read to see if there is something that works for me. If the latter is the case, point me to some readings that might help me to take "the next steps."

Possibly relevant data points: I am a middle-class white male living in Canada; I am also a homeowner (well, technically, my name isn't on the mortgage yet, but my wife owns a home and I live in it (and my name will eventually be added)).
posted by asnider to Law & Government (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably Third Way.
posted by Talez at 5:20 PM on July 18, 2012


Social democracy.
posted by Jehan at 5:30 PM on July 18, 2012


Social Democrat?

This is the dominant form of "socialism" in all those nice Western European countries which manage to both invent new cell phone models and give everyone really generous paid parental leave, all at the same time.
posted by Sara C. at 5:32 PM on July 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


I am a middle-class white male living in Canada

You come from the country of Tommy Douglas: that's a start. Though communitarianism as explored in the work of Amitai Etzioni might be worth a look, in the context of Anglosphere politics.
posted by holgate at 5:38 PM on July 18, 2012


I used to be an active member of the American ISO, which in Canada is the IS. I can assure you that by no means are you required to give up consumer electronics, home ownership, etc. to get involved. What makes you a socialist is a question of politics (i.e., do you believe that there can be more humane ways of organizing production and distribution than what we have under capitalism?), not a question of lifestyle (i.e, how do you happen to sell your labor and spend your money under capitalism?).

Here is the "Where We Stand" document for the Canadian IS and a much lengthier version for the American ISO to give you an idea of their politics. This is not a specific endorsement for you to get involved in the IS (like I said, I'm no longer active, though am still friendly with the organization; if you have questions about the tendency you can ask me privately and I can try to answer them) but rather to suggest that there's no reason to feel like your home audio system should be the obstacle to getting involved as an anti-capitalist activist, whatever the approach you ultimately decide on.
posted by scody at 5:44 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and being a socialist isn't about identity politics, either. Being a white, middle-class male doesn't disqualify you from fighting against racism, sexism, economic injustice, etc.
posted by scody at 5:46 PM on July 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth Marx's version of history is one is which the productive powers of mankind increase in each stage. Marx believed communism would be more complex and more productive than capitalism, not less, precisely because he believed the requirement for profit for a non-productive class of bosses was a drag on the system's general efficiency.
posted by gerryblog at 5:53 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


To follow up on my own comment, we associate socialism/communism with material deprivation because the places it took root (Soviet Union, China, etc) were all underdeveloped compared to the industrial, capitalist west, and in fact were mostly agrarian economies using what would better be described as "state capitalism" in an effort to catch up to everybody else. Marx's version of socialism was supposed to happen in a fully developed capitalist economy; he thought it would happen in England or Germany, the most developed nations of his day.

For right-wingers, this is the famous "communism has never been tried" dodge.
posted by gerryblog at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, do you think it would be better if everything were socialized, if some aspects of society were socialized, or should it merely be the case that socializing a given area of private enterprise be an available option for a nation? Maybe you're more in favor of a mixed economy that tilts more or less heavily towards socialism?
posted by furiousthought at 6:06 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe you are what is known as a "Canadian."
posted by escabeche at 6:22 PM on July 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


One way to look at it is that socialism is politics, where capitalism is an economic system.

Because despite all the ills that get blamed on capitalism, at its root all it means is that:

1- People are free to trade their work for money.
2- People with stuff can sell it for money.
3- If you have money, you can buy stuff. Including companies that make stuff.
4- Property rights. Once you own something, it remains yours.

In other words, you don't get to own the means of production just because you belong to a certain class or have some kind of social/cultural rank. The only means of production that someone is guaranteed is their own labor, whether manual or intellectual.

The whole socialism is deprivation thing is mostly a canard, or comes from older types of socialism where the people in charge would take assets, rather than merely skimming earnings. Like wealth taxes instead of income taxes. Or where the people in charge were just doing whatever they wanted and calling it socialism in name only.
posted by gjc at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


You might be interested in libertarian socialism, which overlaps considerably with ideological currents like social anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, left communism, etc.

Much of Marx's critique (e.g. the labor theory of value) was anticipated by Proudhon. Proudhon and many other socialists before and after advocated worker self management. This was part of a larger vision he called Mutualism, which isn't taken very seriously anymore, but is historically interesting. For examples of attempts at worker control see: The Paris Commune, the revolution that took place during the Spanish Civil War, and the "recovered factories" movement in Argentina. For an example closer to home check out the IWW.

The October Revolution in Russia started off with widespread deamsn for such worker control, which were briefly realized through the creation of workers councils ("soviets"). These were subsequently dissolved by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, who was (to paraphrase Noam Chomsky) a right wing deviation from of the mainstream of the socialist movement at that time. In much of the world today socialism/communism is associated with the regime the Bolsheviks started, which libertarian socialists typically see as having been a form of state capitalism. The other major examples of "actually existing socialism" are, as other posters have noted, countries with in which social democratic parties have significant parliamentary power. Very few of these parties are in favor of nationalization of industry (to say nothing of work control) today.

I can't see why consumer electronics couldn't be made in a non-capitalist economy. As to private property, socialists/communists are generally concerned with property rights that allow one person to exploit others: e.g. a factory owner "owning" a factory, calling all the shots within it, despite hundreds of others working there. It's such "productive property" that's the focus of socialists' interests - no one wants to socialize your personal possessions or domicile actually lived in.
posted by phrontist at 7:12 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is the dominant form of "socialism" in all those nice Western European countries which manage to both invent new cell phone models and give everyone really generous paid parental leave, all at the same time.

What unites all ideologies labeled "socialist" is their stance on control of the means of production. Socialists generally support social safety nets and increased leisure time, but this is not what makes them socialists and conversely, plenty of non-socialist ideologies support a social safety net (see: liberalism/progressivism as those terms are understood in the U.S.).
posted by phrontist at 7:19 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a form of socialism that "fits" with my attachment to these things

No. Everyone talking about European social democracy is missing what socialism is: public ownership of the means of production. Despite the screeching of the American right-wing, our friends in France, Germany, et al. do not practice socialism. They are capitalists (and some of them quite good at it.) Taxing the wealth generated by the public sector is not socialism, it's simply governance.

Marx was talking about something far more radical, and (in my view) terrible. The "social democracies" of Europe are just capitalists with their priorities straight.
posted by spaltavian at 7:26 PM on July 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


One way to look at it is that socialism is politics, where capitalism is an economic system.

Socialism is also an economic system.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


phrontist: "What unites all ideologies labeled "socialist" is their stance on control of the means of production."

So is it strictly incorrect to call "democratic socialism" -- insofar as it makes room for capitalism -- socialism? According to the Wiki article, the objective of democratic socialism is the non-authoritarian or non-revolutionary evolution of socialism and public control of the means of production, but I don't think most people who currently refer to themselves as democratic socialists envision such an evolution. They'd prefer regulated free enterprise and a strong welfare state, but there doesn't seem to be a label for that.

---

Some of you might be interested in the Mondragon Corporation which is Spain's seventh largest company (83,000 employees) and a worker-run collective. If I could afford an Orbea bicycle, I might consider buying one!
posted by klanawa at 8:02 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone talking about European social democracy is missing what socialism is: public ownership of the means of production. Despite the screeching of the American right-wing, our friends in France, Germany, et al. do not practice socialism.

Except when they do? Privatisation can only become fashionable after things have been nationalised.

List of state-owned enterprises in the EU. Most of them aren't really the 'means of production', but there are a good few forestry and mining concerns. (The Hungarian state seems to have a particular interest in forestry. I have no knowledge of Hungarian and can't figure out if they're logging companies or companies that just own forest.)
posted by hoyland at 8:02 PM on July 18, 2012


y is missing what socialism is: public ownership of the means of production

No, it means public ownership or regulation of at least some aspects of a nation's production. There are many choices within this; some parts of the economy can be fully owned or planned by the state, such as a healthcare system, while others are relatively unregulated by the state, such as a private enterprise sector. Capitalism as an ideology is opposed to socialism, but much about the flow of money, enterprise, investment, profit, etc can continue to exist under a socialist economic system.
posted by Miko at 8:20 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Distributism (link goes to the "tech" section of the Distributist Review).

This is a "system" with some real-world precedent; they would count companies like Mondragon (HT Klanawa)and regions like Emilia-Romagna as living examples.

Since Distributism claims to be simply the way economics naturally plays out when most people have a minimum of freedom, it's harder to point out striking examples since even distortions of normality must be largely based in... normality.

Capitalism and socialism are, in this view, easier to spot because both are some kind of pathology.
posted by KMH at 5:44 AM on July 19, 2012


No, it means public ownership or regulation

This is fantastically wrong. All forms of government are regulation. OP, you want a more regulated capitalism. Socialism is, and only is, public ownership of the means of production. The references to nationalized industries above represents a small sliver of the economy; if any "nationalization" meant a society was socialist, then the United States would be socialist.
posted by spaltavian at 5:54 AM on July 19, 2012


You live in Canada, not the US, so I doubt you've been brainwashed into the capitalist norm (although I haven't closely followed Harper's most recent escapades.)

Socialism and capitalism are the two extremes in a democratic system. Most progressive countries, like Canada, fall somewhere in the middle, with regional variation. The two party system in the US skews center right (Democratic) or extreme right (Republican). The most liberal members of Congress are basically centrist under this paradigm; Bernie Sanders and the Green Party are somewhat, but not very far, to the left of center.

Redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation is social democracy, not socialism.
posted by moammargaret at 6:10 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Socialism is not compatible with a fondness for consumer electronics (ie. all the mod cons.)

Capitalism’s ability to supply you with the latest iPhone requires that Apple only consider its own singular interest, which is to make money. Every decision that Apple makes is dependent on that goal and every other producer of consumer electronics makes their decisions based on making money for themselves.

The single goal of making money for all the participants in the consumer electronics market establishes the rules by which all of the participants must operate. Variations from the single goal of making money change the rules so that participants are required to play under their individual rules. Decisions are made under the individual unknown rules by which the other participants are playing, and therefore the wrong decisions are made by all participants.

More succinctly, Apple and Rim must have the same goal in order to supply you (as an individual, with your own singular goal, which only you can know, but is essentially the same as Apple, which is to derive as much value from your labor as possible) with the best and cheapest cell phone possible.

Apples decision to design and produce model X is partially dependent on Rims model A and subsequent models B and C. In a capitalist system, Apple knows A,B and C will only be produced if Rim can make a profit. Knowing this, Apple will optimize its design of model X.

In another system, Apple does not know that Rim’s B phone is being produced so that an obsolete factory in Saskatoon can be kept open, or that a supplier with a lot of union employees is not forced to make layoffs. Apple does not know that Rim’s B phone is only being produced in a particular way because the government has determined that a futures broker that is long a certain amount of rare-earth metals used in the phone will cause a run at a bank where the broker took out a large loan, if Rim produced B another way.

The variability of the goals under another system besides capitalism produce, a phone that has a value that is not reflected in its price. Therefore, Apple can not produce a phone that has a value accurately reflected in its price. You don’t get the best phone (as judged by only you) that money can buy.
posted by otto42 at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2012


Capitalism’s ability to supply you with the latest iPhone requires that Apple only consider its own singular interest, which is to make money.

You don’t get the best phone (as judged by only you) that money can buy.

otto42 does good job sketching about the typical rhetoric for markets. Needless to say, many disagree. This recent LRB review touches on some of the debate: "The case for the market rests on two major claims: it’s not judgmental about values, and it’s efficient. ".
posted by phrontist at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is fantastically wrong.

It's really not. To assert that is to accept either a shallow cartoon or an extreme purist version of the term.

I'm actually kind of gobsmacked at the relatively illiterate imaginings of "what socialism is" that appear in this thread. Socialism asserts that all or part of a nation's economy should be controlled by the state. That control can take the form of the state operating that economy or part of the economy directly; or it can take the form of setting up entities responsible to the state, such as cooperatives or collectives; or it can take the form of regulating and taxing industry tightly enough to manage it for public benefit via a state-directed economy that nevertheless relies on enterprise. The hallmark is that the regulation is aimed to benefit the population, and the economy is managed to benefit the population as well, not those who own the private industries.

if any "nationalization" meant a society was socialist, then the United States would be socialist.

The United States has many socialist programs; not only some obvious social-welfare programs like the homeowner's tax credit and the others that typically leap to mind, but critical industries as well. In the past it even had many more nationalized or publicly owned industries - it's not a concept that's somehow foreign to or incompatible with American democracy. Natural gas, water, rail, steam, and telecommunications systems have often been, or are now, owned by American governments.
posted by Miko at 9:57 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Socialism asserts that all or part of a nation's economy should be controlled by the state. "

Again, large segments of the socialist milieu, at all times, have been against state control. Many of those in favor of state control saw it as a temporary expedient, and would not have defined their views in such a state-centric way.
posted by phrontist at 12:55 PM on July 19, 2012


OK then - but do you disagree with the point that the state makes requirements on the economy towards ends that benefit the people of the state? Even if direct control, as in state ownership, is not an aspect of those efforts?
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on July 19, 2012


I am a Marxist. I am absolutely 100% certain that Marx, were he alive, would envisage all sorts of consumer electronics in mankind's communist future. He loved technological advances; in fact, he thought the revolution would come in many ways because of technological advances and the tensions inherent in them. He would have been really interested in the way that the internet is forcing people to confront their ideas about property. He would have found iPhones exciting even though the conditions in which they are manufactured would have depressed him; in this regard, he wouldn't have been all that different to the rest of us. A communist utopia would probably have ecological concerns when it came to electronic goods, but the goal wouldn't be returning to some kind of agrarian past, it would be reconciling the desire for exciting novel technologies with the interests of everyone who might be affected, including future generations.

Marx also wasn't against private property in quite the way you might imagine. The 'property is theft' line is an anarchist one, really. He was against property rights when they were used to seize things which should be common - equipment people share, land they live off, etc - but Marxism or socialism don't imply that you can't have your own shoes or toys. There are things about the focus on individual property which from a socialist point of view might not make sense, such as the American system of investing in thousands of individual cars rather than a functional public transport system; but this is really just about the application of common sense. Having, as in London, hundreds of profiteering buy-to-let landlords is idiotic, but that doesn't mean you have to live in some sort of communal dormitory.
posted by Acheman at 7:43 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and being a socialist isn't about identity politics, either. Being a white, middle-class male doesn't disqualify you from fighting against racism, sexism, economic injustice, etc.

I realize that. Adding those identity notes was more about pointing out that I am coming from a place of privilege which might affect my perspective on these matters.

[Marx] would have found iPhones exciting even though the conditions in which they are manufactured would have depressed him; in this regard, he wouldn't have been all that different to the rest of us. A communist utopia would probably have ecological concerns when it came to electronic goods, but the goal wouldn't be returning to some kind of agrarian past, it would be reconciling the desire for exciting novel technologies with the interests of everyone who might be affected, including future generations.

Perhaps mentioning the consumer electronics thing was a bit of a red herring. I was thinking more about that fact that I've got these cool gadgets at the expense of others: cheap/exploitative labour, uneven distribution of wealth, etc. It's not that I think my smartphone-ownership is incompatible with socialism/Marxism; it's that the system which produces and allows me to afford such devices is incompatible with socialism (or at least appears to be).
posted by asnider at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2012


Well, this system of producing them is exploitive, but another system of producing them might not have to be.
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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