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Introduction to Socialism july 25 2003, 11:34 am
submitted by: noodles

Here at arfmagazine.com, thereís an astonishing amount of conversation about socialism; unfortunately, much of that conversation is severely uninformed and/or tainted by the remnants of McCarthyism and his present day allies. And no, Iím not just talking about the Voice. We have all experienced the half-assed explanations of communism as kids in elementary school, textbooks that equate Stalinism or Castroís Cuba with communism. The fact is, folks, weíve been lied to. Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro are no more communist than McCarthy himself. They have both severely perverted the teachings of Marx, Trotsky, and Lenin to serve in their own interests, and in their own interests alone. Not in the working classís interests or for the liberation of the working class, which is the foundation of socialism or communism (Iíll refer to the two as synonyms from here on out). So, if you will, put what you think you know about socialism aside and Iíll try to explain some of the basics.

Letís start with understanding what capitalism is. The most important aspect of capitalism is that profit is always the bottom line. Itís always the most important outcome in any business interaction. What does this mean? It means that under capitalism, we donít grow food to feed people. What, then, do we grow food for? For profit. And when we only grow food to make money, we end up with millions of starving people around the world ó people starving because sometimes ó like in times of surplus ó it is cheaper for farmers to let vegetables rot in a field than to hire people to pick them. While this food rots, people starve to death. The fact is that right now in our world, we have enough resources to feed everyone. We donít suffer from scarcity, only from lack of logical organization.

And, so, a central tenet of socialism is the idea that we use the resources of our world to meet the needs of the people. Doesnít sound crazy, does it? In fact itís logical that we would do so. Whatís illogical is the endless cycle of overproduction and waste that is at the heart of capitalism. Now you have a very basic sense of what socialism strives to do, economically speaking. Governmentally speaking, socialism is rooted in democracy ó but a much broader sort of democracy than we participate in now. Right now our democracy is controlled by those who have money ó the owners of corporations. In the 1998 election, corporate donations accounted for 63% of all campaign donations, and that number continues to grow. Because of this, elected officials have a much higher accountability to the corporations than they do to their constituency, the people who voted for them. This is precisely why politicians canít keep the promises they make to us ó because they have made a whole other set of promises to the people who they rely on to get into office. This is true for democrats and republicans alike. Donít believe me? Then believe former president Woodrow Wilson, who said:

Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You willalways find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the big stake ó the big bankers, the big manufacturers and the big masters of commerceÖ The masters of government of the United States arethe combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States.
When politicians are not accountable to the people, we no longer have a democracy or a republic. But socialismís democracy isnít just the democracy of the annual, biannual, etc. trip to the election booth; itís a democracy of everyday life. Think about all the aspects of your life that you have little to no say in ó what you do at work and how you do it, how you spend the bulk of your time. Think about all the people who have tremendous amounts of power over your life who you never voted for ó the police (at Shea stadium), the federal judges who decide so many peopleís fate, and corporate executives who lay people off by the thousands. In a socialist society workers would have control over the means of production ó you know better than your boss how your job should be done anyway, right? Socialism is about giving people more choices in their lives, not about taking them away, as your history teacher would tell you. This is what socialists mean when they talk about the liberation of the working class.

If we lived in a society where peopleís basic needs were met, where education was free and open to all, think about the tremendous gains we could make in overall quality of life. In the world that we live in now, so many doors are closed to so many people. Think of all the minds that, under capitalism, are occupied with having enough to eat, having a place to sleep; these minds will never be able to work on a cure for cancer, or write incredible novels, or design a safer hydrogen car. Why continue to limit human possibility so much? Why give in to the cynicism that says this is the best we can do, that these atrocities are inevitable? When the number one killer of children is dehydration while we live on a planet that is two thirds water, I know we can do better. And I think socialism gives us the blueprints that show us how.




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kid dexterity
kid dexterity 1186 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 1

In middle school, as an example of Communism, we were given the scenario of, "In Communism, one factory produces shirts, while another factory produces buttons. If the factory that produces buttons doesn't make enough, there may be shirts without buttons. Isn't that terrible?"

And that's why Communism was bad, at least in the '80s. Shirts without buttons? Quel horreur!


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 2

Socialism is, in fact, a great concept. Human nature (read: greed) will keep such a system from ever functioning properly.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 3

in socialism, we have too many shirts, while under capitalism, we have too many shirts and thousands of shirt workers out of a job.


normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 4

Welcome back noodles.

Um, yeah, the sooner we start worrying about basic needs of all people, the better off we will be. We can all agree there, right? Actually no - the system is set up for us to covet what our neighbors have, to keep up with the Jones' if you will, at that often comes at the expense of others. Did I need to buy those 'Peanuts' action figures that will soon show up in my cube this afternoon? No, I could have helped feed or clothe a Malaysian child or something. But Grrrlwonder has fabulous 'Simpson' dolls at her cube and damn it, I need to keep up! Don't even get me started on cubicle politics, whoring for my corporate master...

Think of it this way, the $15 I spent on cigarettes and coffee this morning would have been better spent if I had donated it, right? I mean smoking will eventually kill me, the second hand smoke will help to kill others, the butts I toss out the window will pollute - but someone is profitting, that's the terrible part. The money that goes to Big Tobacco will be used to hook other people into smoking, making the rich richer.

I don't know if any of that had to do with socialism, but I felt like calling Grrrlwonder out and blaming her for my shop-a-holic mentality when it comes to toys. Another grand American past-time - blaming others for your inability to be responsible.


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 5

Once again... soda out the nose!!


kid dexterity
kid dexterity 1186 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 6

I'm in agreement with tanner; I've thought for a long time that socialism/communism looks good on paper, but it's in its practical application that it falls apart because of the whole "human nature" thing. I just don't think a global altruistic society is, at this point in our evolution, realistic.

But who likes realsim? Of course, it can also be argued that attitudes like tanner's and mine merely contribute to the very human nature that causes movements like socialism to fail in the first place. That sort of "let the wookie win" mentality pretty much stops efforts towards reformation before they even begin. We're all too busy looking out for ourselves. It's the Eeyore philosophy: "When trying to rescue friends from a tree, make sure the plan doesn't involve having everybody stand on your back."


normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 7

Dex, yours and Tanner's attitude regarding realism, I think, doesn't help contribute to Socialism's failure. I think lack of information on the idea is the big culprit here, and the willingness of those who think they understand to front like they are really part of 'the movement'. There is nothing worse than an uninformed protester/armchair social engineer... which runs opposite of Noodles' knowledge of the situation.

I am loving the 'let the wookie win' mentality line, BTW.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 8

tanner--i once had a landlord who told me that i couldn't paint my bathroom any other color than eggshell because i wouldn't paint it back to eggshell when i left, claiming that to do so would be against "human nature," or, more accurately "yuman nachuh." this statement is obviously ridiculous because there are no absolutes of human nature. he would have had a better argument if he had said that i wouldn't get around to painting the bathroom back to eggshell because i would be too busy moving to another place. this would have been a better argument because our actions are determined by the material conditions surrounding us. the way we act in that world is a direct result of what's going on in the world, a result of the real pressures we're under. the point is that it makes sense under capitalism that everybody seems greedy. under capitalism, we almost have to be greedy! our lives are so volitile that we may discover we are laid off tomorrow; under those conditions, it makes sense for people to hoard their wealth and possessions because they just can't be sure what's going to happen economically. it's a survival tool. this isn't to say that there aren't acts of profound kindness all the time under capitalism--people sharing what little they have with others. the fact that this goes on in some of the worst of conditions seems to be a remarkable testament to the potential for humans to actively care for each other. it makes people feel good to do nice things for others, so why not make that more possible? why not put the millions of people struggling to survive in the position to be able to do more than just survive? my landlord was wrong--i did paint the bathroom green and i did paint it back before i left. so much for human nature.


norm--aside from the parts where you came very close to highjacking this thread, you bring up some interesting points about socialism and consumer politics. i think that will be the topic of another article i'll write soon.




noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 9

kid dex--there's a big difference between a "global altruistic society" and socialism. socialism guarantees basic human rights to everyone and gives everyone a vote in the decisions that really matter in their lives. this in itself vastly improves people's lives. people don't have to be altruistic to respect the votes of others. in fact, they can even be motivated for "selfish" reasons: they would just have to recognize that denying basic freedoms to others in the end only destabilizes the freedoms they enjoy because they very act of taking others' freedoms away make freedom itself unstable.


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 10

Yes, my generalization does not hold true for all of the 6.4 billion people on the planet. But as much as you and I would be willing to try a completely new system, we would probably only be able to drum up a handful of supporters.

In theory, socialism seems to have some really great things going for it. But look at the world as it is, do you really think we could change it? How would you convince the rich to give up their money? How would you motivate the doctors and surgeons into going through 10+ years of grueling study and residencies just for the benefit of society as a whole? How would you reorganize the entire country, let alone the entire planet, for this to work? Impossible? No. Improbable? (Shakes magic 8-ball) "Signs point to yes".

Too many people have too much to lose. As immoral as it may be, it just doesn't seem feasible. And you're right, it doesn't do a damn thing for the starving children around the world. It is horrible to see the discrepancies between the rich actors and the poor teachers, and it is only getting worse. I've said for a long time now that capitalism has gotten out of control. As much as I want to believe that the money you earn should be yours to keep, I think there is a limit to how much a person really needs to survive. If I can live fairly comfortably on my miniscule salary, I don't see why anyone would really need to make more than, say, $200,000 a year. How about a salary cap for US citizens? Of course that wouldn't do much, the rich would find ways to set up corporations in their behalf to hide their money and incomes in. But I digress.

I guess my question is this: How would we ever switch from a capitalist to a socialist society? Would we really be able to accomplish it?


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 11

they would just have to recognize that denying basic freedoms to others in the end only destabilizes the freedoms they enjoy because they very act of taking others' freedoms away make freedom itself unstable.

Seriously, who are you kidding? Who would really buy-in to this? I'm not trying to downplay the benefits of socialism, rather, I have a hard time believing that people today would accept this.

Your above statement makes sense, and is a good argument to me. I'm convinced, I think it would be wonderful if we could pull something like this off. But just look at the power strcutures set up throughout the world. Not only that, but if we can't convince people in my state (Georgia) that our state flag shouldn't have an image of the confederate flag on it, how are we going to convince the "educated rich" to give up their capitalist ways and switch to an entirely new system?

Better yet, try explaining this concept to a southerner who drives around with the confederate flag flying from the back of his truck with a bumper sticker that shows the picture of the White House flying a confederate flag with a caption that says "I have a dream..." Why would they buy in to this system?


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 12

what an incredibly important question...and one not without historical answers.

first of all we've got to remember that we live in a country--a young country--that has already had two revolutions, at least. one, the obvious one, the revolutionary war in which we liberated ourself from Britain's colonial rule. and two, i would argue that the civil war was a sort of revolution in which we abolished slavery. i think plenty of people would have never guessed those would be successful--the civil war, especially. neither of those were a socialist revolution. however, we can also turn to struggles other places in the world--the russian revolution, for example, which was, for a time, a successful socialist revolution. socialist revolutions depend on workers coming to realize how much power they in fact have--not power as consumers or power as voters under capitalism, but power as workers. workers, through strikes, can shut down production and force everything to a halt. the russian revolution succeeded with a working class that was only a minority among the millions of peasants. we live in a country where the workers are a majority. if all the workers in the world got together and spit on the capitalists, we could drown them. we have the power. so we need to reclaim that power and learn about and learn from the successful struggles we've been through in the past--all of which seemed hopeless at one point or another as well. abolition, women's suffrage, the 8-hour work day, social security, etc. socialists were a part of all of these fights. our collective power and history has been taken from us--most educated people can't tell you much at all about these important struggles. frederick douglass said "if there is no struggle, there is no progress." are we a ways off from the revolution? yes. but it'll take even longer if we don't start struggling now. i'm a member of the ISO--the organization linked above. we meet every week, have day classes where we discuss readings, we get on the picket lines with workers, we protest capitalist, imperialist wars, and we have political conversations with people to start raising consciousness.


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 13

I'm not sure the "second revolution" was a success. Have you ever lived in the South? I lived in Virginia for eight years and now reside in Savannah, Georgia. A very interesting and enligtening fact is that the Civil War is a much, much bigger deal down here than it was growing up in suburban Connecticut, and for obvious reasons.

However, there are a significant number of people in this area of the country who don't believe that the Civil War was a success. Many still believe that "the South shall rise again", and that the Civil War wasn't a fair war because it was "brothers fighting brothers". A change to the institution the size of abolition, which took place almost 140 years ago, is still being felt here today. If we can't agree down here that people with different color skin are inherently equal, well, I don't see how the socialist argument would fly.

Its sad, truly sad.

It actually makes me wonder what teaching for a district in an area like this will actually be like. I guess I'll know in three weeks!


kid dexterity
kid dexterity 1186 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 14

Man, this just brings out the video game geek in me who, after reading that, just wants to play some Civilization. You can choose whatever government you want there since, well, you're the only human involved. I guess that makes decision-making easier.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 15

tanner--in response to question two:
the bottom line is that it's not an easy fight. and it will take work to show poor white people of the south who have been fed racist ideas that they, in fact, have much more in common with poor black people of the south than they do with ruling class whites. it's served in the interests of capitalism, and in fact it is a tool of capitalism, to divide and conquer the working class. they divide us along lines of race, sex, sexual orientation, education, nationality, etc. so that we are so blinded by these differences that we can't see what the ruling class is doing to fuck all of us over at once. but when we struggle together, work for workers' power, we have historically seen many of these divisive barriers vanish. so i think we have to identify to poor white racists what they have to gain in a world of working class solidarity, involve them in that struggle, and let them draw conclusions from the experience of working alongside of black people, hispanics, asians, etc.


dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 16

Maybe you guys should buy time for commercials during Nascar races :) All joking aside, those are some really good points. I long for the day that people of multiple ethnicities can work together for a united cause.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 17

you're right, tanner. racism is still a big problem. the civil war was successful insofar as it made slavery illegal (though some corportations are still pretty much getting away with it). but of course, attitudes don't change just because a law is passed. it takes real material change for attitudes to change--material change of the sort we would see in a socialist society, where there's no need to scapegoat people of a different race for the economic problems you're enduring, which is a big part of poor, southern racism.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.25.2003
comment no. 18

yeah, we really need someone to get on finding those corporate sponsors. :)

a lot of people are longing for these changes. the work lies in convincing those people that there are steps we can all be taking to get them. we don't have a branch in georgia, or else i would invite you to check out a meeting. i think the closest branch is in chapel hill, NC.


normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
07.26.2003
comment no. 19

Nice clothes, a nice house and car, the latest gadgetry, money - rewards for those who either work hard or know how to play the system correctly? I know it isn't that cut and dry, but echoing Tanner's points, you cannot realistically expect someone who may be 'more productive' to give up something for the benefit of those not contributing as much.

What's wrong with a little greed?


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.26.2003
comment no. 20

norm--lots of people think that socialism means drab clothes, hovels for houses, a joyless life. sillyness. socialists believe that nothing is too good for the working class. so if people want luxury cars, which makes sense because we spend a lot of time in cars, then people will have luxury cars. of course the luxury of the car will also be balanced by its effect on the environment--in a socialist society we can take things like the environment into consideration when producing because profit is no longer the bottom line.

as you said, it's not so cut and dried that those who work hardest or are the smartest get the most under capitalism. we are not living in a meritocracy. that's why we have something called the working poor. and that's why we have george bush in the whitehouse. under capitalism, shit floats (as long as shit has money).

we don't expect the ruling class to simply give up what they have now. that's why this whole process is a struggle. and that's why socialists are not pacifists. but the fact is that there are a lot more of us than there are of them. and i do think we can "realistically expect someone who may be 'more productive' to give up something for the benefit of those not contributing as much"--you have social security taken out of your paycheck, don't you?
but the only people who would really need to give up what they have are the capitalists--the c.e.o.'s who make 500 times that of their workers. they would have to give up outrageously exhorbitant lifestyles in the interests of millions--the logic of that argument doesn't seem hard to win, but reality of it will take fighting. as i have said, we don't suffer from scaricty. there is enough to go around for everyone, and not just barely enough either. the u.n. has done studies that show that everyone, worldwide, could be living an american-middle-class-equivalent lifestyle. that's a big step up economically for the vast majority of people.

i think it's easy to imagine that the only thing that motivates us or is capable of motivating us is money. under capitalism, that's most often the case. but i do think there are a lot of people who would be willing to put the hours into learning any occupation for a whole set of other reasons as well. i know that there are doctors who do what they do because they like knowing how to heal people. i know there are professors who spend over a decade getting their degrees because they love what they study. and while we may think of these groups of people as members of the upper class, they are still workers. they still have very little control over their working conditions. and they still would have just as much to gain from struggling to have more say in the choices that define their lives.




normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
07.31.2003
comment no. 21

I can count on two hands the number of people I know who aren't motivated by money at all.


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.31.2003
comment no. 22

and that number would multiply exponentially (until you run out of people you know) if our needs were met regardless of the kind of job we held.

are those 6-10 people motivated by other material concerns, i.e. putting food on the table, paying rent/mortgage, being able to go out, or buying clothes?




dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
07.31.2003
comment no. 23

and that number would multiply exponentially (until you run out of people you know) if our needs were met regardless of the kind of job we held.

Out of curiosity, what proof do you have of this expected outcome?


kid dexterity
kid dexterity 1186 posts
07.31.2003
comment no. 24

I thought part of the point was that the reason we are so motivated by money is because, under capitalism, we have to be, or else we won't survive.

"Sorry, Pete, I know we're kin, but they got this dee-pression on... I got to do for me and mine!"


noodles
noodles 148 posts
07.31.2003
comment no. 25

tanner--if profit and making money were no longer a part of society it stands to reason that people would be motivated by other things. for example, you could teach because you enjoy it and teachers who don't enjoy it would have an easier time doing something else. also, people who would really like to teach but don't currently have the resources to get the education and certification that is necessary would be able to pursue that goal. which means we would have fewer teachers who hate their jobs and more who enjoy them.

you're right kid dex, under capitalism people have to make decisions based on what the financial effects will be. excellent example.







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