Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Burning the strawman socialist in the Devil's Kitchen

On the blog A Very British Dude, "Jackart" attempts to disect the idea that "socialism's never been tried." His argument, such as it is, runs like this;
If you're in the habit of debating the rights and wrongs of socialism with the true believers, you will often hear that "socialism has never been tried". Thus the faithful will try to negate the fact that Socialism as implemented through history has been the ideology espoused by the most savagely repressive and murderous regimes, suggesting that the horrors of the soviet Gulag, Pol-pot's Cambodia or even Hitler's Germany (National SOCIALISTS) are something other than a necessary feature of regimes who subjugate the well being of the individual to the convenience of the state.
Before I go any further, I would like to reflect on a quite common error made by the "libertarian" right on this subject. (Charlotte Gore has turned her version of the error into an essay.) Yes, the Nazis were "National Socialists," but they were not socialists. They were fascists. As I have detailed elsewhere, fascism is an ideology created by the ruling classes to crush the threat of "Bolshevism." Mussolini ascended to power with the support of the business class. Winston Churchill praised General Franco as “defending Europe against the Communist danger.” The Friekorps, who became Hitler's stormtroopers, rose to notoriety in 1924 for crushing the spartacist uprising at the behest of the Social Democratic Party. Fascism, as a movement, was created to destroy worker organisation, not be a part of it. It is corporatist, not communist, and diametrically opposed to the revolutionary trends within the working class.

Returning to socialism, Jackart makes the point that "the state is amoral" as an argument against socialism. Thus, "socialism simply cannot function in a democratic society" because "there will be people who just cannot accept the drudgery that the state may have decreed is his lot."

This is echoed by the Devil's Kitchen, who tells us that "the real difference between (right-)libertarianism and socialism is choice." He (rightly) asserts that "in philosophy, the two actually have quite a lot in common," and that "libertarianism has a strong tradition of collectivism." But he falls down with the statement that "unlike socialism, however, that collectivism is voluntary."

I will happily say that socialism has been tried. In fact, contrary to Jackart, you'll be hard pressed to find a genuine, knowledgeable socialist who asserts otherwise. The point they might make is that Lenin, Stalin, and Pol-Pot weren't socialists, but on that point they would be right. As evidenced by their definition of socialism / communism as a "forced collectivist society" built around "the state," the right (and particularly the "libertarian" right, can argue only with a strawman version of communism.

Communism is not state ownership of anything. It is collective and worker ownership of the means of production, in a stateless society. In Russia, we witnessed the beginnings of this with the February revolution, as Piotr Archinov wrote in 1927;
The February Revolution caught the different revolutionary parties in complete disarray and without any doubt they were considerably surprised by the profound social character of the dawning revolution. At first, no one except the anarchists wanted to believe it. The Bolshevik Party, which made out it always expressed the most radical aspirations of the working-class, could not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois revolution in its aims. It was only at the April conference that they asked themselves what was really happening in Russia. Was it only the overthrow of Tsarism. or was the revolution going further – as far as the. overthrow of capitalism? This last eventually posed to the Bolsheviks the question of what tactics to employ. Lenin became conscious before the other Bolsheviks of the social character of the revolution, and emphasised the necessity of seizing power. He saw a decisive advance in the workers’ and peasants’ movement which was undermining the industrial and rural bourgeoisie foundations more and more. A unanimous agreement on these questions could not be reached even up to the October days. The Party manoeuvred all this time in between the social slogans of the masses and the conception of a social-democratic revolution, from where they were created and developed. Not opposing the slogan of petit- and grand-bourgeoisie for a Constituent Assembly, the Party did its best to control the masses, striving to keep up with their ever-increasing pace.

During this time, the workers marched impetuously forward, relentlessly running their enemies of left and right into the ground. The big rural landowners began everywhere to evacuate the countryside, fleeing from the insurgent peasantry and seeking protection for their possessions and their persons in the towns. Meanwhile, the peasantry proceeded to a direct re-distribution of land, and did not want to hear of peaceful co-existence with the landlords. In the towns as well a sudden change took place between the workers and the owners of enterprises. Thanks to the efforts of the collective genius of the masses, workers’ committees sprang up in every industry, intervening directly in production, putting aside the admonishments of the owners and concentrating on eliminating them from production. Thus in different parts of the country, the workers got down to the socialisation of industry.

Simultaneously, all of revolutionary Russia was covered with a vast network of workers’ and peasant soviets, which began to function as organs of self management. They developed, prolonged, and defended the Revolution. Capitalist rule and order still existed nominally in the country, but a vast system of social and economic workers’ self-management was being created alongside it. This regime of soviets and factory committees, by the very fact of its appearance, menaced the state system with death . It must be made clear that the birth and development of the soviets and factory committees had nothing do with authoritarian principles. On the contrary, they were in the full sense of the term organs of social and economic self-management of the masses, and in no case the organs of state power. They were opposed to the state machine which sought to direct the masses, and they prepared for a decisive battle against it. “The factories to the workers, the land to the peasants” – these were the slogans by which the revolutionary masses of town and country participated in the defeat of the State machine of the possessing classes in the name of a new social system which was founded on the basic cells of the factory committees and the economic and social soviets. These catch-words circulated from one end of workers’ Russia to the other, deeply affecting the direct action against the socialist-bourgeois coalition government.

As was explained above, the workers and peasants had already worked towards the entire reconstruction of the industrial and agrarian system of Russia before October 1917. The agrarian question was virtually solved by the poor peasants as early as June – September 1917. The urban workers, for their part, put into operation organs of social and economic Self-management, having seized from the State and the owners the organisational functions of production. The October Revolution of the workers overthrew the last and the greatest obstacle to their revolution the state power of the owning classes, already defeated and disorganised. This last evolution opened a vast horizon for the achievement of the social revolution putting it onto the creative road to socialist reconstruction of society, already pointed at by the workers in the preceding months. That is the October of the workers and the peasants. It meant a powerful attempt by the exploited manual workers to destroy totally the foundations of capitalist society, and to build a workers’ society based on the principles of equality, independence, and self-management by the proletariat of the towns and the countryside.
Of course, "this October did not reach its natural conclusion. It was violently interrupted by the October of the Bolsheviks, who progressively extended their dictatorship throughout the country." But this returns us to the core point. No doubt "the conquest of power by the party of the revolutionary intelligentsia, the installation of its ‘State Socialism’ and of its ’socialist’ methods of governing the masses" is what the right mean when they speak of socialism, but the counter-revolutionary current of Marxist-Leninism is not socialist. It is state-capitalist.

Both Jackart and DK go on to contrast socialism with libertarianism, but it is worth noting that there is no "contrast." Only socialism is truly libertarian, as I argue in depth here and here. These "libertarians" may be arguing for liberty when they write on political and social issues, but with regards to the economy they are only as pro-liberty as a supporter of absolute monarchy arguing for the "freedom" of kings to be despots.

Indeed, that was precisely the point "anarcho"-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe made when defending "free" market capitalism in Democracy: the god that failed;
In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one's own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance towards democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They — the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism — will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.
Jackart and DK may not advocate the nightmare world of Hoppe's anarcho-capitalism, a world which would very quickly implode, but both attest that in a capitalist society "more money [means] more freedom." They espouse this as freedom, but in the words of Mikhail Bakunin, "liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice." Just as "socialism without liberty is brutality and slavery."