If conservative Republicans dislike socialism, then why are so many still in favor of Social Security and Medicare?

First off, it’s much worse than this question supposes. Majority Republican states in the U.S. are by far the largest beneficiaries of ALL government programs. There are some exceptions to this pattern, like New Mexico (which is more of a swing state), but in general it is Republican-majority “red” states who rely the most heavily on socialized support systems. Some detailed recent data on this can be found here: Most & Least Federally Dependent States. There are many simple comparisons you can find around the web, and here’s an example:



Essentially, the higher taxes paid by “blue” states subsidize the populations of “red” states that pay lower taxes (discussion of that here: AP FACT CHECK: Blue high-tax states fund red low-tax states).

Now, many of the posts in this thread quibble over what “socialism” actually is. In short, it is widely acknowledged by everyone who studies political and economic systems and history that there are many different forms of socialism, and the strict and narrow “dictionary definition” of socialism (or capitalism, for that matter) that folks like to use in their arguments simply isn’t sufficient. The fact is that the U.S. and most other affluent, developed countries in the world are “mixed economies” of both socialism and capitalism. I’ve broken things out into a bit more detail here: What are the different forms of socialism?

So the reality is that, yes, Republicans who claim to be opposed to “socialism” regularly depend on socialism to survive and thrive.

BUT — and this is a pretty major caveat — those same Republicans are also constantly working to dismantle and/or privatize any and all forms of socialist institution in the U.S.A. Whether it’s Obamacare, Medicaid, Social Security, or the U.S. Postal Service, Republicans have been trying to obliterate many manifestations of socialism in the U.S. as a central plank of a conservative political agenda. But why are they doing this, if the vast majority of the Republican rank-and-file voters rely on these programs…? Well because what Republican leadership (and think tanks, and wealthy campaign donors, and right-wing propaganda media outlets) really want to do is eliminate what they call “the halo effect” of any successful government programs, a positive perception among voters which — horror of horrors — threatens to make “socialism” look attractive! You can read about this here: Opinion | Covid-19 Brings Out All the Usual Zombies

This does seem a bit contradictory, to be sure, but it gets even more interesting when we look at the kinds of “socialism” that Republicans actually promote — and rarely oppose. These are things like subsidies to big corporations, huge government bailouts of entire industries, tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and lucrative no-bid military contracts. You can read about the GOP’s affinity for corporate welfare here: Corporate welfare state: GOP tax plan showers millionaires with $17 billion tax break and here: How Scott Walker and the GOP Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Corporate Welfare | Michael Rieger

So we’re left scratching our heads…Is all of this a sort of disjointed, self-contradictory hypocrisy without any guiding principles at all? Or does U.S. conservatism have an ideological anchor? Some core values that steer its ship? Well…there really is only one central theme that aligns with all Republican praxis, and that is a devotion to socializing risks and costs, and privatizing benefits and profits. That is, distributing costs and risks across all of society (i.e. all taxpayers), while concentrating profits and benefits in a select few (i.e. wealthy owner-shareholders), with horrific consequences for civil society. You can view videos of Noam Chomsky interviewed about this here: Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges discuss the history of neoliberalism and Chomsky's new book "Requiem for the American Dream" And also read more about this here: How to Prepare for the Next Pandemic.

There is, of course, another way to describe this behavior, and that was a phrase Adam Smith coined in his Wealth of Nations: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

So, in essence, conservatives love and support socialism when it benefits them, and vehemently dislike socialism when it benefits anyone who doesn’t vote Republican.

My 2 cents.

What books are good starting points for studying leftist libertarianism, socialist libertarianism and libertarian Marxism?

Thanks for the question. There are many excellent ones. Here are a few I would recommend as starters, listed in the order I think would be helpful:

An Anarchist FAQ

Demanding the Impossible - Peter Marshall

An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice - William Godwin

The Ecology of Freedom - Murray Bookchin

The Conquest of Bread - Peter Kropotkin

David Graeber - Debt: The First 5,000 Years

What is Property - Pierre Proudhon

My 2 cents.

Why is socialism so misunderstood by anti-socialists?

First of all: sigh.

Here are some of the reasons socialism is poorly understood — especially in the United States.

1) First, there is a lot of anti-socialist propaganda. The Red Scares after WWI and WWI, and then McCarthyism, generated some profound misinformation about socialism that has persisted to this day. Mainly, this propaganda was invented to protect wealthy owner-shareholders who were (and still are) terrified of losing control over the exploitative, extractive wealth creation that they benefit from. It’s why there is also anti-science propaganda, anti-education propaganda, anti-intellectualism propaganda, anti-expert propaganda, anti-government propaganda…it’s pretty endless. The idea is simple: maintain the status quo that funnels capital to the rich at the expense of everyone else. It’s a pretty strong motivation to dissuade people from looking at other ways to do things.

2) General ignorance about history and the positive models and impacts of socialism is another reason. There are many socialist countries that were never authoritarian communist like the U.S.S.R. or China. But folks don’t learn much about those in U.S. schools or from corporate controlled media. Some of those countries still exist. If an “anti-socialist” attempts to argue that socialism has never succeeded, I simply ask them to name some of the thriving examples of municipalism, anarcho-syndicalism, social democracy, and anarcho-communism that have existed and still exist, and explain why they think those countries are failures. But of course they never can, because all of the “anti-socialist” propagandists I have engaged (really without exception) are completely ignorant of those countries.

3) Ideological fervor and blindness. This is a pretty common problem among vocal anti-socialists who are deeply committed to capitalism. The discussion rarely centers around facts or evidence, and anti-socialist arguments quickly devolve into logical fallacies (straw man arguments, red herrings, false equivalence, confirmation bias, whataboutism, etc.). Just look at many of the posts in this thread, where the level of vitriolic frothing-at-the-mouth is fairly extreme. It’s hard to help such folks understand where they are mistaken. Generally, when I share corrective facts and narratives about socialism with “true believer” market fundamentalists (neoliberals, laissez-faire, Randian objectivists, Austrian School fans, Chicago School fans, etc.) the anti-socialists usually fall silent, dwindle into passive-aggressive sarcasm, or morph into sociopathic ranters.

4) Here there be trolls. Social media provides ideal hunting grounds for folks who just want to provoke and engage in rhetorical combat.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of the survey that found socialism is now the favorable majority view with Democrats under the age of 30?

The right-wing propaganda machine has finally lost some of its momentum and, as embodied in the idiocy of Trump, is being abandoned as a farce. The echoes of that propaganda still persist in the fear-mongering around a Sanders nomination — from media on the Left and the Right — but folks are beginning to see through the supposed “moderate” critique to what it really is: the decades-long disinformation campaign of right-wing think tanks, ideological politics, and thought leaders that strives to reject all socialist ideas. This started all the way back with the Red Scare of WWI, was amplified by the neoliberalism of Hayek, Mises and Friedman, came to a head in the era of McCarthyism, resurged in the 1970s after the panicked Lewis Powell Memo (a reaction to the populist revolts of the 1960s), resurged again in the “trickle down” economics of Thatcher and Reagan, was championed even more when the Tea Party movement was coopted by crony capitalists like the Koch brothers, and has now come to a ludicrous climax in the election of an impulsive, megalomaniacal fool as POTUS.

To understand why this conservative “anti-socialist” movement has persisted for so long, just follow the money. The U.S. has had a mixed economy — with elements of both socialism and capitalism — for over a century, but wealthy owner-shareholders always want more. And that means they strive for weaker government and “less interference” from pesky regulations, human rights, environmental protections, etc. This has always been about the rich wanting to get richer, and the only answer to Adam Smith’s “vile maxim” (i.e. “all for ourselves, and nothing for other people”) has been the stronger, more democratic civil society championed by socialism (see How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself). To appreciate just how hard neoliberal conservatives have fought to control and consolidate wealth, I recommend perusing this web page, and then following some of its links: L7 Neoliberalism

Along the same lines, folks are beginning to realize that democratic socialism (as exemplified by much of Northern Europe) is NOT the same thing as authoritarian communism (i.e. Soviet-Style communism) — despite the ongoing right-wing propaganda to the contrary. (For more on this see http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/democratic-socialist-countries/)

In essence…young folks are becoming better educated about what democratic socialism really is. However…stay tuned for the right-wing propaganda machine to begin spouting lies about how socialism “always fails,” etc.

My 2 cents.

What have you contributed to society that makes you believe that you have the right to expect your neighbors to be obligated to pay for your education, healthcare, childcare, vacations, etc?

What a delightfully inane question. Thank you for the opportunity to entertain.

Some questions that we might ponder to burrow down to the heart of this matter, run along these lines:

What have you contributed to society that makes you believe you have the right to expect your neighbors to be obligated to pay for…

1. Firefighters to save you from a burning building while you sleep?
2. Roads for you to drive to work on?
3. A standing army to defend your community from foreign invaders?
4. Police officers to answer a 911 call when someone breaks into your home, threatens your family, or mugs you in the street?
5. Government funded research into vaccines for deadly diseases that would otherwise never be developed?
6. Emergency disaster assistance when a tornado, flood or fire wipes out your entire town?
7. Medical facilities to treat you if you are “out of network,” don’t have adequate insurance coverage, and don’t have enough money to pay out-of-pocket?

And so on…

There are so many things we take for granted as a “right,” when really they are the privileges that societal organization affords us because we have all agreed to cooperate in that society and abide by its rules. In reality, we are all just entitled “freeloaders” when we expect civil society to function at all on our behalf. After all, what have we, personally, done to contribute to the structures, agreements, benefits, protections, and rights of that society? What have we, individually, done to build up or maintain any of privileges society grants us? Usually absolutely nothing…except pay taxes, and conform to the rule of law, both of which many people only do grudgingly.

Really, there are just a few central questions that we need to answer for ourselves:

1. Which civic institutions do we wish to prioritize as the most important, and which members of society do we want to primarily benefit from them? (These are really two sides of the same coin IMO)
2. In whom do we wish to vest the power to make decisions about the prioritization of civic institutions and who benefits from them? In other words, do we want a democratic process, an autocratic process, an oligarchic process….?
3. How do we wish to pay for these civic institutions, manage them, and maintain them?

To say that rule of law that prevents people from randomly murdering each other without consequence is somehow different from young children having unfettered access to healthcare is really an arbitrary distinction — as human beings will die if either consideration is neglected. Until most of society substantively agrees on answers to the three questions above, the rejection of one benefit over another is equally arbitrary, and often based on selfish advantage or consideration. For example: “Why should I pay school bonds when I don’t have any kids?” If everyone thought this way, societal cohesion would quickly disintegrate (and perhaps that is what we see happening in the world right now…).

That said, I am a libertarian socialist, so I’m not really a big fan of large central government. I like diffused, distributed solutions. You can read about my ideas here: L e v e l - 7 Overview

My 2 cents.

Was it really socialism that "destroyed" Venezuela?

Venezuela’s decline gets discussed quite a bit, and there are wide ranging opinions about it — many of which seem to contain both kernels of truth, and evidence of bias. It’s difficult to find a balanced assessment.

That said, I’ll offer what I believe to be the chief elements of Venezuela’s destabilization and decline, in their rough order of impact and importance:

1. Decades of pervasive and severe corruption — in both government and business independently…and as a “crony capitalist” combination of the two.

2. The predictable course of “the resource curse,” as a consequence of huge oil reserves, the country’s over-dependence on that single source of wealth, and the unreliability and decline in profitability of those reserves.

3. Authoritarian mismanagement and incompetence — Chávez, and then Maduro, could have ruined any form of political economy with their heavy-handed incompetence, but in this particularly case it was clearly a megalomaniacal, utterly failed implementation of a socialistic state-directed economy. (see T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?)

4. Amplification of problems by sanctions — although there is substantive debate around both the extent of this amplification, and the efficacy of sanctions in achieving intended aims, the sanctions certainly aren’t helping the people of Venezuela in the short run.

I have included some links below to support each of this assertions.

But why is Venezuela’s form of political economy such a “hot topic” right now? Mainly, it is because of right-wing propaganda that has sought to demonize anything that opposes or constrains free market capitalism, or in any way disrupts the gravy train of corporate wealth generation and accumulation that pro-capitalist policy provides. Calling anything that fails “socialism,” and anything that succeeds “capitalism,” has been a favorite conservative tactic since the first “Red Scare” after WWI. In reality, most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have both socialist and capitalist elements.

I hope this was helpful.

Corruption in Venezuela - Wikipedia

Venezuela Corruption Report

Cronyism Damaged Venezuela before Chavez

How Hugo Chávez Blew Up Venezuela’s Oil Patch

Venezuela and the “resource curse”

International sanctions during the Venezuelan crisis - Wikipedia

Mixed economy - Economics Help

Is the United States at a point in its existence where the people are just going to have to give socialism a try to demonstrate that it does or does not work?

The U.S., along with most of the rest of the developed world, has already proven that “mixed economies” (mixing socialism with capitalism) can be very productive, as long as corporate power and wealth can be moderated by civil society (civic institutions, democracy, the rule of law, regulatory enforcement, etc.). Most other experiments (including those with socialism) have succeeded most when democracy and actual diffusion of power and wealth were strong. So really, what the U.S. needs to “try” is a return to this sensible balance. Right now, big money and big corporations pretty much own the U.S. outright — the voice of the people, and any real distribution of power and wealth, has been defeated by relentless neoliberal policies, leaders and politics…since about the time of Reagan. But if we can take a clear, propaganda-free look at the negative externalities of capitalism (like climate change), and work hard to rein in the influence of the owner-shareholder class, then the U.S. just might be able to regain a healthy trajectory. Does this mean “more socialism?” From the perspective of conservative, free market fundamentalists — it sure does seem like a bit more public ownership and control over things the plutocrats would rather keep for themselves. In terms of enacting Soviet-style Communism, absolutely not. Fear of that outcome is pure propaganda. But those wealthy owner-shareholders just don’t want to let go of the control and influence they have right now…and that could in fact bring the U.S.A. to its knees.

We shall see….

Does socialism mean rejecting the idea that it's acceptable to make self-interest your primary concern?

An interesting question but an odd one, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. But I’ll give it my best shot….

1. Socialism is really about moral maturity. A mature person can have self-interest, while also caring about others. They can promote their own position and advantage, while also desiring to lift others up at the same time. Their “primary concern” can be “the good of All,” without necessarily sacrificing their own well-being.

2. Socialism is also about sharing both responsibility and benefits with everyone. It recognizes that there is no “individual right” without the agreement of the collective to support that right. “Self-interest” without civil society is just thuggery, but self-interest in the context of civic responsibilities and privileges that everyone shares becomes collective self-interest. In other words, “self-interest” becomes less individualistic/atomistic.

3. Socialism aspires to pure democracy. The most successful socialist experiments are those with the most vigorous democracy — because the more distributed power becomes, the more inherently equitable society (and wealth distribution, etc.) becomes.

Socialism is often misunderstood for two simple reasons: First, because of pro-capitalist propaganda that attacks straw men that socialism isn’t; and second, because socialist implementations occur across a spectrum — including intersections and combinations with capitalism.

My 2 cents.

How would you describe socialism to a teenager?

It depends on the form of socialism. For libertarian socialism, it’s pretty simple, really: Democracy runs everything. Democracy governs the workplace. Democracy governs how the economy is structured and run. Democracy determines what is most important to society — at the community level, for the priorities of research and development, regarding whether or not to build national infrastructure, etc. And so on. And this is all done via consensus, direct democracy, nested elected councils, or a similar diffused form of democratic decision-making.

Of course, that is only one form of socialism. Here are some of the others, for which the answer would be different:

T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?

My 2 cents.

Is it true that a "far left" political position is necessary to counter an existential threat to humanity?

Unfortunately, many discussions around this topic reflect a profound, heart-stopping, mind-boggling ignorance about a) the nature of the current existential threats to humanity, and b) the nature of what “far left” represents. This ignorance goes a long way toward enabling the worst human habits and systems of our status quo to continue its dazzling downward spiral. In part, this appears to be ignorance stemming from right-wing misinformation (or disinformation/propaganda, as the case may be), and in part this ignorance seems just a reflection of poorly educated people trying to grapple with problems they don’t understand — and don’t have the discipline to learn about or carefully consider. The rest of the mix just appears to reflect a sort of native abject stupidity, and we can’t do much about that. But for those who are open to learning and self-improvement — or who are willing see through the propaganda — I’ll try to offer some clarity.

Nearly all of the “existential threats” to humanity — and planet Earth for that matter — are a consequence of a snowballing nexus of these global factors:

1. A style of extractive capitalism that is rapidly exhausting natural resources, while grossly polluting and destroying ecosystems necessary for the survival of life at the same time, in order to prop up a modern first-world lifestyle of overconsumption and excessive waste. The industrial and technological revolutions of the past two centuries have made this extractive capitalist engine so powerful (and the overconsumptive lifestyle so entrenched) that it has become extremely efficient in its destructive capacities — and very difficult to stop.

2. Rapid population growth coupled with equally rapid and expanding economic growth that has amplified these negative impacts in exponential ways…with no obvious end in sight, outside of eventual chaotic collapse.

3. Pro-capitalist sentiments and political forces (i.e. market fundamentalists, plutocrats, neoliberals, right-Libertarians, traditional conservatives, corporate investors, etc.) that have tirelessly sought to protect the extractive capitalist engine that generates their wealth, even while seeking to destroy or cripple countervailing influences that could moderate their self-serving greed or mitigate wantonly destructive consequences of that greed. Part of that self-protective strategy, it should be noted, is the advocacy of unproven or disproven economic theories (Austrian School, etc.), conspiracy theories, weakening of government oversight, “science skepticism” bolstered by fake research, and social and systemic approaches that have not been proven or are not evidence-based.

The “far Left” is comprised mainly of the following groups — who consistently attempt to support their positions with actual science and evidence-based approaches:

1. Left anarchists/libertarian socialists

2. Social progressives

3. Social democrats

4. Democratic socialists

5. Neo-Marxists

6. Environmentalists

It should be noted that these groups do not support Soviet-Style Communism — the bogeyman that many posts in this thread stand up as their straw man to tear down. In fact, most groups mainly aim to gentle the toxic strain of capitalism that dominates the global economy today, reining it in with democratic controls, worker empowerment, a strong bulwark of regulatory oversight, and a shifting of ownership away from wealthy owner-shareholders who have been such poor stewards of corporate power, and into the hands of public control. Essentially, the “far Left” is all about increasing economic, political and environmental democracy — a strengthening of civil society — and eliminating plutocratic corruption of civic institutions.

As such, the “far Left” is almost certainly the best bet — as a starting point at least — for reversing our current descent into self-destruction.

However, there is one small problem with the “far Left” as so defined being the savior of humanity and planet Earth: none of its constituent groups have addressed the issue of population very vocally or aggressively. Some environmentalists will meekly raise the issue…but that’s about it. Most other groups equivocate, downplay concerns, or hold a false optimism about global populations leveling themselves out over time. So although the “far Left” gaining more influence could soften the toxic impact of extractive capitalism, and perhaps delay the “existential threats” we face for a time, unless and until the population crisis is actively engaged as well, the far Left’s salvation will be tenuous at best.

My 2 cents.

How would a non-capitalist society promote self-motivation and personal drive?

This question reveals the destructive tendency of capitalism to condition folks to falsely believe they require “external” motivations to do things. It really is a profound disconnect from how humans actually operate, which is mainly from intrinsic motivation — at least until that spark is repeatedly discouraged, snuffed out, and replaced with external drivers and addictions. Capitalism’s primary self-perpetuating mechanism is persuading and coercing consumers to consume, and that means creating dependency on such consumption — a process I call infantilization or toddlerization — and annihilating all self-sufficiency and self-directedness in the process. Ironically, this is often “sold” as freedom of choice…a sort of appeal to individualistic gratification. But it’s actually quite the opposite, because it removes the only substantive choice available to liberate oneself from addictive cycles of craving and buying.

So, to the contrary, people don’t need “society” to promote self-motivation and personal drive. It pre-exists and is hard-wired into most people. All any “non-capitalist” society would really need to do is to is resist interfering with this intrinsic capacity. Humans are quite ingenious about inventing things to do, as well as the reasons to do them — think of every folk tradition that predated capitalism, every creative act (symphony, painting, sculpture, poem) that wasn’t done for profit, every idea that was written down and shared because its author thought it was compelling, every invention and scientific discovery that occurred from the the pure joy of researching and experimenting. Really…human existence is mostly about such natural inspiration. Capitalism just commoditizes this output for a buck…and then perpetuates the myth that the only reason we do anything is for personal gain. It’s quite laughable.

Of course, capitalism isn’t the only system that exploits people or aims to interfere with self-sufficiency and create habitual dependence — that’s a longstanding goal of many systems of social enslavement, from dogmatic and controlling religious institutions, to political tribalism and purity testing, to authoritarian and plutocratic governance, to fear-mongering disinformation campaigns. It’s all basically about the same thing: an attempt to control masses of people for the benefit of a few ruling or affluent elite.

Which means that simply removing capitalism is not sufficient…we must also remain vigilant toward the many other faces of oppression.

I hope this was helpful.

Is communism fundamentally incompatible with democracy?

Here are some democratic (or, better yet, consensus-driven) communist mass societies:

1. Free Territory of Ukraine
(1918 - 1921)

2. Rojava (in Northern Syria)
(2012 - Present)

3. Revolutionary Catalonia
(1936–1939)

4. Korean People's Association in Manchuria
(1929–1931)

5. Morelos Commune
(1913 - 1917)

You will find other examples here: List of anarchist communities

Now one could nit-pick that these aren’t nation states…but they are certainly self-contained autonomous regions, some of which being quite large. One could also argue that many didn’t endure for very long — but that wasn’t a consequence of any inherent lack of viability, but instead most often the result of violent, authoritarian rulers who didn’t want them to exist. So either argument would be splitting hairs IMO.

In any case, these and many other examples throughout history (such as the Paris Commune, which Marx himself admired) demonstrate that communism (and socialist anarchism) are not incompatible with democracy…at all.

My 2 cents.

What are the implications of trying to achieve socialism through revolutionary means?

Thank you for the question John.

We have learned an important lesson from history: whatever characterizes a revolution will tend to manifest in the new system at some point. So violent revolutions almost always result in an oppressive system, and nonviolent revolutions almost always result in a peaceful, more egalitarian one. We even see this reflected in political campaigns and leadership: the strategies and rhetoric that a given politician uses to “win” are often reflected in their leadership style. Basically, then, the ends never justify the means…instead, the means inhabit the ends. Many have spoken to this idea in politics specifically in “prefigurative politics.” I have expanded the principle into something I call Revolutionary Integrity.

If this principle is true, then it is very important to carefully think through what characteristics will dominate a given social movement or “revolutionary” change. In the link above I have provided several links that outline varieties of nonviolent activism. My own proposals regarding activism and revolutionary methods that avoid overtly harming human beings, and attempt to conform (for the most part, at least) to the principle of revolutionary integrity, can be found here: L e v e l - 7 Action

My 2 cents.

What are the different types of socialism?

Thanks for the question.

Historically, there have been many variations of proposed and realized socialism – so many, in fact, that you could write a lengthy book about them and still likely not be able to include them all. In addition, socialist philosophies have evolved considerably over time. What holds all of them together is, I think, a fundamental belief that capitalism must either be reigned in or eliminated in order for inequality to be reduced, and for individual and collective freedoms and well-being to be ensured.

That said, I would probably break down socialism in its current forms into these categories:

1. Authoritarian State Socialism – such as Marxism-Leninism as widely implemented, with strict central planning of the economy, all productive enterprise owned by the State, and the State controlled by the select few of a single party.

2. Democratic Socialism – a democratic and decentralized version of socialism that opposes authoritarian forms like Marxism-Leninism, and where more open democratic controls manage the means of production and economic planning, with worker self-management as a key feature. This form of socialism has traditionally relied on representative democracy to further socialist reforms.

3. Market Socialism – is socialistic in that all free enterprise is publicly owned and managed, and workers and society benefit from all productivity; is market-based in that competition exists between free enterprise, and the economy tends to be less centrally planned.

4. Mixed Economies/New Deal Socialism/Social Democracy – free enterprise co-exists with central regulation of the economy, some socialized production, and welfare programs, with markets ultimately subject to representative democratic controls.

5. Libertarian Socialism – a broad umbrella in itself, this includes many proposals for non-State-centric (minarchist or anarchist) socialist political economies that emphasize highly distributed collective and egalitarian solutions, worker self-management, attenuation or elimination of private property, and governance via direct democracy, nested councils, etc. (rather than representative democracy). An example of libertarian socialism that has gained popularity and real-world examples in recents years is municipalism (see Which municipalism? Let's be choosy).

6. Anarcho-Communism – a form of Libertarian Socialism that has been implemented at various scales throughout history, and differentiates itself mainly in that it seeks a more complete, Stateless anarchy and facilitates individual agency above collective or communal concerns.

There are actually many other forms of socialism as well. The chart below plots what some of these look like in relation to more capitalist or "proprietarian" traditions of political economy.

I hope this was helpful.


Some thoughts about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


After reading through a number of articles and news about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, four things have become very clear to me:

1) Ocasio-Cortez has a vision – and it’s a vision that is not only a direct threat to a plutocratic “old guard” of Republican crony capitalists, but also antagonizes more mainstream elements of the Democratic Party as well. The key components of that vision are captured in the Green New Deal, which you can read about here: https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal (see item 6 on that page for an overview of objectives). In essence, by simply promoting the views that she holds, Ocasio-Cortez has created a plethora of instant enemies in Washington DC, among neoliberal think tanks and conservative news outlets, and in the Red Scare reflexes of countless right-leaning Americans.

2) Ocasio-Cortez is young – she was 28 when she began running for office – and has made the same sort of mistakes that both seasoned politicians and rookies make when speaking to the press. However, she is held to a much different standard than most other politicians: she is certainly more relentlessly demeaned, derided and rebuked in condescending ways than…wait for it…any male candidates and politicians who make similar gaffs have been. Certainly the right-wing voices that most boisterously attack her remain noticeably silent regarding our current POTUS, who perpetrates much more grievous, malicious and destructive misstatements with zero accountability.

3) However, some of Ocasio-Cortez’s mistakes are similar in flavor to things Sarah Palin said in her initial interviews: they reveal substantive gaps in learning and understanding about some fundamental issues of public policy. Some of these gaps are surprising, given the fact that Ocasio-Cortez graduated cum laude with a BA in international relations (with a minor in economics). A striking difference, though, is that Ocasio-Cortez can admit she doesn’t know something, or has made a mistake, and that she needs to learn more about a given topic. In fact, she has said this a lot. Another striking difference is that Ocasio-Cortez, at age 29, has never held any public office…unlike Palin, who made arguably worse blunders at age 44 after serving in public office for 16 years (most notably Governor of Alaska for two of those).

4) Ocasio-Cortez is actually pretty bright (Boston University’s Associate Provost and Dean of students Kenneth Elmore said Ocasio-Cortez was “brilliant — she is boldly curious and always present. She makes me think and could always see multiple sides of any issue.”) and she certainly has some compelling perspectives to share. I’ve listed some of her quotes below. Again, though, what I think we can glean from those perspectives is a direct challenge to the old-white-male-plutocracy; that is, the neoliberal elite that have comfortably captured U.S. government for some time now. And THAT is why right-leaning folks are so riled up about her. So the attacks will keep coming, this is certain. In the meantime, I’m hoping Ocasio-Cortez will grow into her elected position, become a bit more media savvy, and polish her public policy chops a bit before doing any more interviews.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Quotes:

“I can't name a single issue with roots in race that doesn't have economic implications, and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn't have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

“When we talk about the word 'socialism,' I think what it really means is just democratic participation in our economic dignity and our economic, social, and racial dignity. It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day.”

“At Standing Rock, we experienced, first-hand, people coming together in their communities and trying to use the levers of representative democracy to try and say, 'We don't want this in our community; we don't want this in our backyard,' and corporations using their monetary influence to completely erode that process.”

“The thing that’s hard is that you’re supposed to be perfect all the time on every issue and every thing. What people forget is that if we want everyday working-class Americans to run for office and not, these, like, robots, then we have to acknowledge and accept imperfection and growth and humanity in our government.”

“I do think that sometimes, especially coming into this going straight from activism to being a candidate or to being a person who potentially, you know, looks like will be holding political office soon, I think we expect our politicians to be perfect and fully formed and on point on every single issue.”

“I think there's a weapon of cynicism to say, 'Protest doesn't work. Organizing doesn't work. Y'all are a bunch of hippies. You know, it doesn't do anything,' because, frankly, it's said out of fear, because it is a potent force for political change.”

“Democrats are a big tent party, you know, I'm not trying to impose an ideology on all several hundred members of Congress. But I do think that, once again, it's not about selling an - ism, or an ideology, or a label or a color. This is about selling our values.”

“The biggest hurdle that our communities have is cynicism - saying it's a done deal, who cares; there's no point to voting. If we can get somebody to care, it's a huge victory for the movement and the causes we're trying to advance.”

“In the wealthiest nation in the world, working families shouldn’t have to struggle. It’s time for a New York that’s good for the many. I am an educator, organizer, Democratic Socialist, and born-and-raised New Yorker running to champion working families in Congress. It is well past time that we in NY-14 had a true, lobbyist-free representative who lives in our community and fights on behalf of Bronx and Queens families. This movement for Congress is about education and healthcare; it’s about housing, jobs, justice, and civil rights. It’s is about preparing for the future of our environment, energy, and infrastructure. It’s about championing the dignity of our neighbors. And it’s about getting money out of politics.”

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”
“We’re looking at our phones until we literally lose consciousness. If our leaders don’t learn to communicate in an engaging manner, our entertainers will become politicians. That’s what we have now.”

“It’s about conversation, not combativeness. Doesn’t mean everyone agrees always, but it does mean we bring folks together and focus on finding solutions.”

"Your attempt to strip me of my family, my story, my home, and my identity is exemplary of how scared you are of the power of all four of those things."

“We may be devastated. We may be disappointed. But we will not be deterred.”

“We are all capable of awakening and commitment. And because of that, we can all be great.”

Why are more people calling for a Socialist society?

Thank you for the question Rachel. Some possibilities:

1) Because capitalism has been failing most people for a really long time.

2) Because nearly ALL of the social safety nets, worker protections, consumer protections and other benefits for the non-wealthy in the U.S. are a consequence of policies championed by socialists or inspired by socialism. Child labor laws, worker unions, socialized medicine (Medicare) and so on are all a consequence of socialistic values and ideology.

3) Because the lies and deceptions of neoliberal propaganda (i.e. “trickle-down economics always works”, “all forms of socialism have always failed,” etc.) are becoming more and more obvious, and people just aren’t being deceived as easily.

4) Because people see how socialized systems and socialistic values in other countries have been quite successful.
Because, despite concerted efforts from neoiberals and right-libertarians to deny or distort the reality, a “mixed economy” like that of the U.S. is a mixture of socialism and capitalism…and has been for a very long time.

In other words, people are calling for a more socialistic society because they are waking up from the spectacle that has kept them from seeing how rational, compassionate and commonsensical such a society really is.

My 2 cents.

Marx and Engels advocate the abolition of private property. What are the justifications? Why this advocacy was considered so revolutionary?

What is an object? It’s a thing, right? Just a thing…basically only valuable in terms of its utility or commodification. Its function or someone’s desire for it determines its purpose and worth. But is that what a human being is? Just a thing…? A thing that it only valuable because of its utility or someone’s desire for it, and without any other essence or purpose? Is our only function to…ultimately…be objectified by others? To be used? Meditate on this for a bit. “Private property” is, in its most essential characteristic, the “thingification” of the world; that is, the forceful categorization and boundarizing of everything as “stuff.” That is, as objects that are used, and only valuable because of their utility and desirability, and not because they have any intrinsic value or purpose that transcends material exchanges or the capricious whims of humans. Ownership is enslavement to the will of the owner. This is a pretty profound observation, don’t you think? And yet it escapes most people that everything they do — and everything they are — in a capitalist system distances them from their own intrinsic, non-material value, and turns them into an object…a slave. Thus private property, as the primary building block of a capitalist system, ultimately results in the commodification of the human spirit…and in a society that is mired in cultural poverty and alienation.

This is what Marx is getting at with his theory of alienation and “self-estrangement.” And IMO it is incredibly important to understand this component of Marx’s thinking, because everything else in his philosophy flows out from this central observation. Thus the capture and imprisonment of all natural things into a state of “private property” destroys their inherent value — strips them of their essence — and replaces that inherent value with commodification. In the same way, the “commodified” human being relinquishes their will, their choice, their imagination, their self-determination, their creativity, their social relations and fundamental purpose…purely in order to serve the will of profit. To be a slave. To be a thing. When understood in this way, it is no surprise at all that Marx was so opposed to private property. As comprehensive definitions of “evil” in humanistic terms, private property’s annihilation of our humanity presents a fairly compelling case. It does require some thoughtful effort to awaken to this perspective…but once we wake up, it’s pretty hard not to see why Marx was so passionate about moving beyond the capitalist status quo as quickly as possible, and to return all “property” to the commons.

For my own take on the problems with private property, please consider reading this essay: IntegralLiberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.

A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.

Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.

My 2 cents.

What's the speech that converted you to socialism?

What an interesting assumption! I think I’ve always been a socialist at heart, so various socialist proposals have resonated with my native sensibilities whenever I encountered them. So at first I didn’t really think any particular speech had ‘lured me into the fold’ as it were. But as I thought back, I then remembered listening to Ronald Reagan once, when I was about fourteen and living in West Germany, and realizing even at that age what an incredible idiot he was, and this, in turn, sparked me into deeper thinking about much of what Reagan seemed to be trying to do with his policies and rhetoric. At that time, I also recalled that a representative from an Oil and Gas company who had given a lecture at a local High School near me (this was back in the States, before I left for Germany) sounded strangely similar in both tone and nonsensical language. There was a similar easygoing, deceptive slipperiness in them both. And so something “clicked” for me at the time — something came together about being lied to by public figures who were trying to get people to support a given outcome. And what was that outcome? What were these liars and cajoling buffoons trying to persuade people to do…? It was answering that question, I think, that somehow watered the seeds of socialism deep within, and recalled to my mind the songs of Pete Seeger that I had listened to as a youngster, and indeed learned to sing myself. Songs like John Henry, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and many others; songs that instilled a sense of pride and rightness around a love of justice, a shared sense of place and purpose with folks from all walks of life, and a mistrust of rigid rules, institutions and authoritative systems.

What began to emerge was a realization that those who craved power and wealth — and deceived others into supporting their efforts — were the same folks who liked to impose rigid rules and perpetuate authoritative and destructive systems that benefitted themselves. And these folks were, by self-identification, nearly always devoted capitalists and corporatists. And I think that, within this ripening context, when I was introduced to the New Testament, I found it particularly striking that Jesus and his followers so pointedly amplified freedom, generosity, justice and kindness for the common and oppressed person, while ridiculing and reviling those wealthy, authoritative power-brokers of their time who were perpetrating most of the oppression. It was all coming together nicely, you see? And so, many years later, what was probably a timely anointing of this gestation process was encountering the work of Noam Chomsky, whose clear and unapologetic voice indicted the very same oppressive systems and institutions, while lauding the benefits of socialistic and anti-capitalist sentiments and practices — in his case leaning towards left-anarchism. Taken altogether, it was quite a tapestry of influences that all ultimately converged on libertarian socialism. But, really…when it comes right down to it…it was that one absurd speech from Ronald Reagan that nudged me most forcefully away from everything crony capitalism has come to represent, and indeed what it still perpetuates in our modern political economy.

My 2 cents.

Where is Marx's ‘capital’ error?

So I think there are a number of different things to consider here, and that they often get conflated into a single, overarching criticism of Marx. They include:

1. The issue of Marx’s LTV itself, and of what constitutes surplus value.

2. The issue of Marx’s definition of (and solution to ) “the transformation problem” of how commodity LTV-based values convert into exchange values.

3. The conclusions that Marx draws, in part from these first two issues, about the inevitability of workers rebelling against the capitalist system, and the form that will take.

Now IMO there is a lot of incoherent blathering focused around these subjects — particularly from the Austrian School folks. It is easy to become mightily distracted by the irrational, ideologically fervent dog-barking of the Austrian School and other free-market fundamentalists (Randian objectivists, neoliberals, right-libertarians, etc.), so I would advise against any engagement with those folks around this topic; their reasoning is simply too clouded with bias and incomplete information. There are also plenty of Marxists who have sought to refine, clarify or resolve some of the perceived problems with the above issues as well. Here again, there is fervent ideological bias (including an inability to admit that Marx made any kind of mistake) that can occlude some of the simpler approaches to understanding and resolving Marx’s “errors.” However, in this case, much of the thinking is still considerably more coherent than the Austrian School perspectives. Lastly, there are other, non-ideologically-based discussions of Marx that are probably worth exploring…especially if you enjoy diving into some fairly intricate math.

Okay…with all of this said, I’ll offer what I believe is a contrasting approach that attempts to “cut through the noise:” in this case just ignoring Marx’s mathematical models, ignoring the ideology that motivates his critics, and ignoring attempts to “post-rationalize” Marx’s claims by other Marxists. Instead, we can just look at the actual course of capitalism over time, then compare its practices, problems and trajectories to what Marx predicted (in terms of intermediate consequences). That is…examine the evolution of markets, monopolies, global trade, the impact of automation, the continued antagonisms of poor working conditions and low wages, the societal impact of consumerism and commodification, and so on, through a Marxian lens. And if we do so…when we examine the fundamental spirit of Marx’s critiques of capitalism…what do we find?

We find that Marx was absolutely correct in both his observation of how fundamental problems of capitalism manifest in political economy, and his anticipation of future negative evolutions that have resulted from capitalism. Is the math he used to justify his conclusions sound? IMO the math often falls short. Are his conclusions sound? IMO absolutely yes, on the whole, they are quite sound. So the challenge is really avoiding getting lost in the weeds of particular arguments or mathematical proofs — a focus which is often what both Marx’s loudest critics and most passionate proponents prefer to focus upon. But if we can resist that impulse…if we can observe the massive forest that Marx paints for us in very broad brush strokes, instead of obsessing over the pattern of bark on a particular tree…there are some very valuable insights and lessons we can learn from good old Karl.

Now…about point #3, Marx’s “inevitable conclusions.” This is where I personally disagree with Marx the most. I don’t think violent revolution is necessary — and I feel it was a fatal mistake for Marx to predict (and thus promote) this flavor of expropriation, as it led to some of the darkest — and unnecessary, IMO — moments in socialism’s history. There are other reasons why I believe this was and is a general error in thinking about change, which I discuss here: Revolutionary Integrity. However, once again this shouldn’t be conflated with his other conclusions and reasoning. Marx is complex enough that, if we are willing to take the time and effort, we can tease out the many different and fascinating threads in his writing and thought.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Matias Gimenez: "Marx proposes that eventually, capital owners would absorb everything, creating a ever shrinking pool of rich people, or bourgeois, and a ever growing mass of poor people, growing poorer generation after generation. Capitalism proved Marx wrong. Poverty descenced worldwide and wealth is at its highest for all humans, all of this without taking into account that the amount of rich people is actually growing."


Thanks for the feedback, Matias. I have heard this objection before, and think it fails to take something rather important into account: the impact that civil society (comprised of many socialist institutions and policies) has had on capitalism in terms of wealth production and distribution. When you remove the institutions and policies that strengthen civil society — and we have plenty of examples of places in the world and times in history where this was the case — Marx completely nails the outcome. When you factor those variables back in, they have indeed softened the outcomes Marx predicted, even though there is significant statistical support for growing wealth concentrations and disparities despite that softening. But the point is that without the mitigation of all sorts of structures that contain, restrict, regulate and “egalitarianize” capitalism, it would follow (and has followed) the trajectory Marx predicts. Socialism has manifested in many forms to ensure the slowing of the capitalist self-destructive spiral, in the form of unions and collective bargaining, wage laws, worker protections, child labor laws, etc. Add to these things consumer protections, environmental regulations, and the general rule of law in commerce…then add central controls (monetary policy, economic policy, financial regulations, etc.), and that completes the slowing down of many negative externalities as well as skyrocketing wealth disparity…and indeed encourages a broader platform of economic mobility. But make no mistake, the laissez-faire folks have always fought tooth-and-nail against these “socialist” intrusions into markets. This is the irony of modern neoliberalism: capturing the government and reversing socialistic reforms is what indeed improves short-term profits and wealth retainment for the owner-shareholder class…but it devastates the economic mobility and stable civil society that ensures a thriving, growing economy over the long-run. It’s why trickle-down supply-side economics never works, and why it always has to be rescued from itself (again, via socialistic reforms and stronger civil society). So again…Marx was actually correct about capitalism, but socialism has helped address the worst offenses. That is why “mixed” economies around the globe are the only ones that have consistently thrived over time.

Comment by Ian Rae: "Neither did Marx think violent revolution was necessary as he said in those countries which were developed enough it wasn’t necessary, England for one."


Ian I think you are splitting hairs. Yes, England is cited as a singular European example where “social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means” (Engels re: Marx. Vol.1). This implies, in contrast with Marx’s frequent use of more violent language throughout all three volumes regarding both recurring crises and inevitable disruptions, catastrophes, attacks, rebellions, revolutions, etc. that England would be among very few exceptions. The historical and predictive picture Marx paints is otherwise pretty grim (in terms of revolution, counterrevolution, the degradation of the working class, inevitable conflict, etc.). But, more specifically, Marx’s violent-conflict-centric language here is striking: Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 136 November 1848. And of course the Communist Manifesto itself states plainly:

“Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.” And, later in the Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”


Of course, later on Marx softened his tone, seeming to appreciate the potential role of democratic reforms more acutely. Frankly, I think he recognized his error. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make that error earlier on…though it was an understandable one in the context of his times.

Admittedly, Lenin entirely abandoned any reformist mechanisms or tone in favor of wholesale slaughter of all bourgeoisie resistance. This was an unfortunate evolution in Marxist-Leninism. But we cannot say that the seeds for this more egregious mistake weren’t sewn earlier by the language and attitudes of both Marx and Engels.

Follow up from Ian Rae: "At the time Marx wrote about violent revolution , the working class didn’t have the vote , so how else could they achieved power and even then Marx and Engels realised an overwhelming majority would need to understand the concept of socialism and want to organise for its inception."


That is simply not true, Ian. Aside from what was occurring in Great Britain, see: Corsican Constitution, Polish-Lithuanian Constitution, French Revolution & National Convention (male suffrage, etc.), and of course the U.S. Constitution…all of which occurred prior to first publications of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, etc. You could argue that Marx “awoke” to the power of democratic agency by observing the Paris Commune…sure. But lots of stuff was going on throughout Europe and all around the globe in terms of “revolutionary” democratic changes prior to that. Marx just wasn’t paying attention…or didn’t think those changes would be sufficient (at first). Hence Marx made a mistake. That’s all it was. Just a simple, human mistake. Which is why I find it a little bit silly that anyone would try to defend Marx’s choices as anything but that.

How do you explain the difference between Marxism, socialism, and communism in brief to a child?

Thanks for the question. “Brief” isn’t going to cut it. Despite popular myths and misconceptions, you can’t impart real wisdom, history or quality information in a tweet…and even clever parables have their limitations. So discussing socialism in any meaningful way will take some time. The age of the child, and how much they already know about the world, will also require different approaches. But here’s one simplified version you could try:

First gather together a hammer, some of the child’s favorite toys, a pile of clothing, and a bag of unbuttered popcorn.

1) A long time ago, before your parents were even born, there were no factories. People often made things themselves at home (like this clothing, for example, or these toys, or this popcorn). Or, if they had enough money or a skill of equal value to trade with someone, they could have other people make these things for them. Other folks actually had servants or slaves to make things for them. But at that time, not everyone could have everything they wanted! Imagine that. Some people could have lots of toys and clothes and popcorn…but most people could only have very little. And some people — the very poor and the slaves — might not have any at all. As a result, there were some very rich folks who had all of the money and freedom, and who controlled most of society — but all of the poor people (which was most of the people!) had very little say in things.

2) Then the “capitalist” factories arrived. How this happened is another story in itself…but it changed everything. Suddenly people didn’t make things at home anymore, or rely on a few skilled people to make them, or have slaves do the work. Instead, huge buildings full of workers made things…and made LOTS of them. Imagine a steady supply of toys, clothing and popcorn now available for everyone. And one very promising hope was that the workers in the factories got paid money so they could (in theory, at least) buy some of the things they made! The basic idea here was that, because of factories, more and more people could have more and more stuff. Now, even the very poor people could get a job at a factory with the hope of buying some toys and clothes and popcorn!

3) This seems like a pretty good deal, right? But then people started noticing some not-so-good things about these factories — and the cities that grew around them. For example, the factories would hire anyone — including little kids not much older than you — and work them really hard. Children, mothers and fathers all had really long work-days, too…sometimes ten hours or more…and without any breaks! Often the factories would keep people working all week long. No days off! And the working conditions were also often horrible and unsafe. Workers would get injured, or sick, from their jobs in the factories. Sometimes they even died or were maimed for life because conditions were so bad. And the worst thing was, the folks who ran the factories didn’t do anything to help the workers who were injured or sick — they would just hire new ones to replace them instead. In addition to this, the wages paid to work at the factories were very low. So low, in fact, that many factory workers often couldn’t even afford the things the factory made. And, lastly, the cities around these factories were becoming unbearably toxic with pollution from the factories. The air became unbreathable, lakes and streams became so polluted that all of the fish died and no one could drink the water, and even the soil itself became so spoiled that nothing would grow in it.

4) So where did the promise of spreading prosperity go…? Who was getting rich while everyone else was getting sicker and poorer, and the land, water and air was becoming poisoned? And who was actually buying what the factories made? It was the “capitalist” owners and managers of factories who were getting rich, and who could always afford to buy factory-made goods, and make the time to enjoy them if they wanted to. Isn’t that interesting? So it ended up that the factory workers, who were risking their health and lives, gave up most of their time and well-being to make things for the factory owners and managers, who were enjoying most of the fruits of the workers’ labor. And those owners and managers got richer and richer, and bought more and more toys and clothes and popcorn, and had more and more time to enjoy life…while the factory workers just kept…well, slaving away at their jobs. So this would be like me keeping all of your clothes, your toys, and this popcorn for myself…and not letting you have any, even though you yourself made the clothes, toys and popcorn! Do you think that is very nice?

5) Well, “socialists” didn’t think that this situation was very nice. “Socialists” believed that everyone should benefit from the goods the factories made. These socialists also thought the factory owners had too much power, were being too greedy, and weren’t treating workers in a kind or humane way. So socialist movements tried to protect workers from harm, give them better wages, and offer them a better life that was less like a slave’s. Many socialists thought the best way to do this was to have governments — which would be elected by a majority of workers — oversee how the factories were run. Some socialists thought that factories should be taken away from their original owners altogether! Other socialists believed that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, but instead that small cooperatives of people should control how things were made and distributed in their community…and between their community and other communities. But the idea was that, if the public — all of society — had a say in how toys and clothes and popcorn were produced and distributed, then there wouldn’t be so many poor people, or terrible working conditions, and a lot more folks could enjoy these things together. Wouldn’t you like some popcorn? Well, lots of people agreed with this, but the question for socialists then became: how could society bring this new arrangement into being?

6) Now two of these socialists were named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and they came up with a version of socialism called “Marxism.” Marx believed that, in order to make the capitalist factory owners kinder and more fair, there had to be a revolution led by the workers. That is, he thought the only way to make socialism happen was through a big fight, where the working class rose up against the factory owners, and took the factories away from them by force. Eventually, Marx thought, this revolution would lead to an end result — many years in the future — where all people would live in more harmony with each other, and their wouldn’t be differences in class, or wealth, or political power, and everyone would be involved in making decisions together (including about how clothing was made, how toys and popcorn were shared, and so forth). This eventual conclusion of the revolution would be called “communism,” and Marx famously described the communist ideal this way: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” So folks in a communist society would make toys and clothes and popcorn together, according to their ability, and then give those toys and clothes and popcorn to the folks who needed them.

7) Unfortunately, there was a big problem, and that was that many of the people who tried to carry out Marx’s violent revolution (and much of this happened after Marx passed away) didn’t really follow through on the rest of his ideas. Instead of giving the power and authority in society to the workers, as other socialists (and Marx himself) had planned to do, they kept the power for themselves. They did take the factories away from the rich owners, along with all the rich folks’ money, and used the workers to fight this violent and bloody takeover…again, using workers kind of like slave soldiers. But then the rulers of the revolution kept all of the money and power for themselves — and they ended up with all the best popcorn, all the best toys, and all the best clothes. So the basic situation — suffering workers slaving away for wealthy leaders who had all the control — really didn’t change. So the “revolution” never led to the “communist” ideal that Marx and Engels envisioned…even though it was still called “Communism” by many people!

8-) Now in other places around the world, “socialism” was put into practice without a violent revolution. This is where our worker’s labor unions came from, and worker’s rights and protections at factories — so they could be safe and work a reasonable number of hours in a day, a reasonable number of days in a week, had time off for recreation, and so on. Socialists are why we have weekends and vacations! You’ve probably also noticed that children like you aren’t working in very many factories anymore either, and that was because socialists advocated for laws making child labor illegal. And there are now also certain factories and services that are run by the government as well, so that everyone can have equal access to their products and service. This is called “socializing” something. So socialized medicine, socialized transportation, socialized retirement, and so forth…these are all a result of socialism, and help all of society have more freedom and feel safe, with everyone sharing the costs and benefits together. There are also companies that have “socialized” themselves — that is, given ownership of the factory to the workers, so the workers manage themselves. But the key to all of this…and this is important…is that these “socialized” societies always have open and fair elections — they have a strong democracy, where everyone can vote. Because if the workers can’t vote, well then there won’t really be freedom and equality, will there? What if, whenever you asked for popcorn, or new clothes, or a new toy, I always said “No, you can’t have that?” That’s what a dictator or authoritarian does. In this way, socialism is really part of almost every capitalist, democratic country in the world today, and socialist ideas are used whenever their needs to be more freedom and equality in a society…as long as there is also democracy.

9) Finally, you have probably been wondering what this hammer is for, right? This hammer is the threat of fascism and totalitarianism. I won’t go into what causes people to become fascists and totalitarians…that is a story for another time, but let’s just say it is a kind of mental illness that spreads through a mob. Fascists and totalitarians have no respect for equality, freedom or fairness…no respect for anyone but themselves, really. All they are really good at is destroying democracy and civil society — that is, taking away people’s freedoms and equality. Imagine if I smashed all of your toys with this hammer! That wouldn’t be very nice, would it? But that is what fascists will do if you don’t give them whatever they want. They are big bullies. And that is why, when you are old enough to vote, you want to be very careful about who you vote for. Now, after we have put these clothes away, maybe you and I can have some popcorn together, and play with your toys. What do you think…?

My 2 cents.

What do civilians of former communist countries in Eastern Europe think about communism?

Well it appears that neoliberal propagandists are still up to their old tricks — trying to remake communism into an all-bad Boogeyman that must be feared and loathed. If the anti-Communist answers so far in this thread really are from folks who lived under communism in the former Eastern Bloc, then they are not representative of the majority. For example, according to a number of studies from a couple of years ago (see links at Polls show: Eastern Europeans miss Communism):

- 72% of Hungarians polled said their country is worse off economically than it was under communism. Only 8% believed things were better.

- 63% of Romanians said life was better under communism, while 23% claimed their lives were worse. 68% said communism was a good idea that had been poorly implemented.

- 81% of Serbians said living was better under communism, and 45% trusted civic institutions under communism more than they did at the time of the poll.

- Residents from 7 out of 11 member countries said their countries were harmed more than benefited by the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

It also depends who is being asked — see:
Have living standards in Eastern Europe decreased after Communism? - Debating Europe and The Post-Communist Generation in the Former Eastern Bloc. Even among those more successful countries, sentiments are still divided — mainly with younger generations believing their lives are better off without the communism they never experienced, while older generations maintain quite a bit of nostalgia for those times. You would think that East Germany would be prominent exception, but even there more than half of the population either thinks things were better before capitalism, or were about the same (see: Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism)

Also, young people who weren’t alive when the U.S.S.R. collapsed will not recall that older people and the poor all across Eastern Europe were protesting their loss of pensions, healthcare, social services, etc. when it happened. And in the U.S., the neoliberal propagandists like to talk about all the terrible things that were going on in the former U.S.S.R., and are loath to admit any positive accomplishments. And of course this is reinforced by Hollywood depictions and the very real history of horrific problems during the Soviet era. But the fact is that those populations did have pensions and healthcare, and that the poor in many cases had a higher and more secure standard of living than the poor in those countries do today under capitalism.

Pro-capitalist pundits love to tout the wonders of the profit motive, but remain blind to what collectivist or nonprofit approaches can achieve. Frankly I think they are terrified by the prospect of socialist success stories, including recognizing America’s success as the result of a mixed economy (i.e. with both socialist and profit-centric elements). Such successes, after all, mean that capitalist owner-shareholders could lose some of their control over worker-consumers and other resources, and not be able to continue manipulating and exploiting them to enlarge their own personal wealth. Perhaps that is why neoliberals are still trying so hard to tear down successful socialist institutions in the U.S.A….?

My 2 cents.

Why do Americans hate the idea of a socialist government? Socialism and communism are not the same thing.

Thanks for the question. In the U.S. we can draw a fairly straight line between anti-socialist sentiments and decades of neoliberal propaganda. For example the Red Scares that were invented after each World War planted the rhetoric and polemics that later became more widespread, “mainstream assumptions.” With Americans, many falsehoods that were propagated in this way have to be carefully confronted in order to relieve a prejudicial ignorance. For example, I often find myself defending these factual positions against the steady stream of misinformation flowing out of conservative think tanks, media, political candidates and pundits:

1) The most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have combined socialist and capitalist principles and practices (this includes the U.S.A.).

2) Socializing certain sectors of an economy has almost universally solved many long-term problems that the profit motive could not regarding public goods, providing much better outcomes for the citizenry. For example, in healthcare, public infrastructure, education, basic utilities, land management, and so on. The insistence by market fundamentalists that the profit motive can solve all complex problems is simply mistaken…and indeed quite harmful in terms of public policy over the long run.

3) Authoritative Marxism-Leninism was a grossly corrupted form of communism that completely negates the fundamental tenet of nearly all forms of socialism (including Marx’s original ideas): that democracy is central to the foundations of a socialistic civil society.

4) Libertarian Socialism (left-libertarianism) has actually been the dominant leaning of libertarianism throughout most of its history, and is actually the only form of libertarianism that has been successfully implemented on various scales.

For more on why this propaganda has been so integral to U.S. politics, I encourage reading this: L7 Neoliberalism

My 2 cents.

Why do many people refuse to consider social democracy a form of socialism?

A couple of thoughts on this…

1) Be careful using Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_socialism#Social_democracy). It is Open Source, which is good thing generally IMO, but unfortunately there are folks who have specific agendas, and who edit Wikipedia pages to distort reality in favor of their own ideology. This is precisely what has happened with the definitions and discussions of social democracy on Wikipedia. In my experience, the most extreme distortions will eventually get edited out…but again, just a word of caution. Here is a more nuanced definition that supports the reality that social democracy is, in fact, a form of socialism: Social democracy.

A lot of people really dislike the term “socialism,” because it is so antagonistic to the forms of capitalism they believe in. In particular, laissez-faire capitalists have traditionally attacked ALL forms of socialism from a position of fear and loathing — this is primarily what generated the two “Red Scares” in U.S. history, for example. So when you see folks rabidly defending the falsehood that “social democracy isn’t socialism!” or that “a mixed economy isn’t socialism!” this is frequently issuing from a strong tradition of neoliberal propaganda. For those folks who want to funnel the most profit to owner-shareholders — and away from worker-consumers — any reference to a Socialist Boogeyman in any form must be met with the frantic, frothing rhetoric and hyperbolic polemics (like the ones I myself have just employed).

Now in the U.S. in particular, there is real confusion about what a mixed economy is (i.e. that it is, in fact, a combination of socialism and capitalism), and that social democracy is a very different form of mixed economy (i.e. a much more socialist version) than other forms. A good article that covers the difference between a U.S. Liberalism that “trusts” markets and promotes capitalism, and European social democracies that did NOT trust capitalism and saught to constrain it, can be found here: The Economics Of Social Democracy. In particular, you will note that one of the main features of social democracy to “tame capitalism” is not just regulation, but moving entire industries into the public sector. This is “public ownership of the means of production” in a very clear sense. Again, though, neoliberals and other market fundamentalists will squirm and shiver into condemnatory hysterics whenever this obvious truth is clearly articulated. But alas, they are simply maintaining an unfortunate zeal for denial.

I hope this was helpful.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” To what extent do you agree with this Karl Marx quote?


This is one of a few areas where I think Marx oversimplifies things - mainly because he restricts the definition of “class” to an individual or group’s relationship to the means of capitalist production, and consequent self-identification and collective affinities as a consequence of that specific relationship. Because of this narrow focus, Marx then centered his ideas about class conflict around the bourgeoisie (those who control production, and benefited most from it) and the proletariat (those who don’t control production, and are exploited by it). And I think this was an overly reductive error.

As to why…well let’s start with some factors - in addition to, or aside from, control of production - that contribute to power differentials, freedoms, agency and so forth in civil society:

1. Economic status and mobility - from abject poverty to rentier, there are plenty of conditions and privileges that have nothing to do with control over production.

2. Race/ethnicity - this has a tremendous impact on freedoms, agency, opportunity, institutional bias, justice, etc. and also have nothing to do with control over production.

3. Gender & sexual orientation - ibid.

4. Native intelligence and levels of education or language ability - ibid.

5. Physical disability - ibid.

6. **Religious beliefs** - ibid (though more so in some societies or periods of history than in others…)

There are other variables, but this provides a general idea about how different “classes” of people can percolate up out of any given population, and how these class variables can potentially overlap or countervail each other. From thirty-thousand feet, Marx may have wanted to sort all of these different characteristics into his two major class distinctions, but that can result in a pretty inaccurate snapshot.

Let’s examine just one potent example to illustrate this point. A rentier does not - unless they are an activist investor - exert much control over production…if any at all. They are often purely beneficiaries of abstracted instruments of investment, having very little idea or concern about how their investments accrue, or how they impact society. So how, according to Marx’s definition of class, are they participating in class struggle? Through indulgent consumption of certain goods and services? Through supporting certain political causes? Through supporting certain types of capitalist? Okay…but what does that have to do with control over the means of production…?

Now what I do think Marx got right was that human history is very often energized by the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed - within a given society, or between different societies. But this oppressive relationship can exist outside of the confines of control over the means of production (or exploitation by the means of production): to wit, women’s rights, or the cultural scapegoating of certain ethnic minorities, or prejudices around someone’s age or physical appearance, and so on. So while economic status certainly has a huge impact on oppressive relationships, so does the color of one’s skin (i.e. “white privilege”), or one’s gender, or whom one falls in love with, etc. Thus “class conflict” is IMO trumped by “the struggle between oppressors and the oppressed;” they may intersect, but they are not always the same.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/%E2%80%9CThe-history-of-all-hitherto-existing-society-is-the-history-of-class-struggles-%E2%80%9D-To-what-extent-do-you-agree-with-this-Karl-Marx-quote

What do socialists think of impossibilism, the view that capitalist reform is counterproductive to the achievement of socialism?


I think there are several issues in play, all interacting with each other to create “the perfect storm:”

1. The Spectacle - Consumers become infantilized dependents of a capitalist system, always looking for something to buy to cure their woes. Reforms are often just another “commodity” peddled by plutocrats to pacify the exploited.

2. Superficiality - Many reforms are just wolves in sheep’s clothing. Consider B-Corps or “benefit corporations:” the objective may be noble, but many companies simply jump through the requisite hoops to differentiate themselves from competitors for the sake of profit - without any real commitment to the values they say they promote.

3. Unintended Outcomes via Values Inversion - Without changing the fundamental orientation of society to prioritize civil society and collective well-being above rent seeking, all reforms in capitalism will ultimately replicate the unhealthy priority of profit over people. It is inescapable; to rephrase a well-known adage: the arc of capitalism is long, and it always bends towards greed. For more on this topic, consider reading Reframing Profit.

4. Pernicious Corrosion - Capitalism is toxic to human being and planet Earth. Why try to perpetuate it at all…? For more on this, see The Case Against Capitalism.

However, even though I feel strongly about all of these issues, I believe there is an important demarcation between highly destructive chaos and a moderately destructive status quo. In other words: complete breakdown of our current system is not likely to result in an anarchist paradise, but something much worse (and much less facilitative of socialist ideals) than building on the democratic civic foundations that have already been laid. So the goal is to foment revolutionary transformations that can use at least some of our civic institutions and systems as a launching point. For more on why I think this, consider reading: Revolutionary Integrity.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-do-socialists-think-of-impossibilism-the-view-that-capitalist-reform-is-counterproductive-to-the-achievement-of-socialism

Socialists: How would you deal with the "incentive" problem?


I'm asking in the context of current reality, not in a post-scarcity society. In a world of “from each according his ability, and to each according to his needs”, how would you induce people to work, rather than mooch? How do you avoid having high performers create black markets or leave?


So first I had a good chuckle over the ideological distortions among many pro-capitalist answers. Wake up folks. The data is in. This very old question has been thoroughly answered by real-world successes. For example:

1. **Open Source.** Many years ago I implemented Linux across hundreds of enterprise servers. It worked better (was more scalable, reliable and faster) than every other commercially available server environment. And all of the software running on those boxes was also Open Source. Some of it was authored by coders with pseudonyms, and supported by the faceless, nameless geeks in discussion groups. None of this software production cost anything. No one was rewarded. No one got an “attaboy” or ego boost from my implementations. All of the Linux-based environments were a product of passionate devotion to intelligent, flexible, open design. And because nearly all of the initial implementations were on old, retired hardware destined for the trash heap, there wasn’t even any capital outlay for that (it was like giving Moore’s Law a kick in the nads).

2. **Publicly Funded Research & Innovation.** Again returning to the tech industry, you know who created most of the innovations we rely upon today in our most beloved computing gadgets? Publicly funded academic and government research. Yup. And these students and researchers weren’t incentivized by the profit motive either. They were curious, or competing with their peers, or stubborn problem solvers…not folks working on commission or hoping for juicy patent windfalls.

3. **For Fun, Passion or Compassion.** There are clubs, societies, non-profit NGOs, government agencies, charities and a host of other organizations around the globe that engage the world with innovation, highly professional services, excellent products and high levels of productivity because they care. And the more they care, the harder they work, the more they innovate, the more they create…and so on.

The only reason that these obvious examples seem to be persistently overlooked by market fundamentalists is that they don’t want to see or acknowledge the obvious contradictions to their most cherished beliefs. Classic confirmation bias. In other words, the answer to “Where is John Galt” seems to be “He has no idea, because he can’t see the glaring truths in front of his face.”

My 2 cents.

Comment from Pieter Rossouw: "Great valid point. But, it’s hard to eat or drink Linux and if I wore it to town to see a movie I would be arrested. All 3 your points were made possible by wealth created by free markets affording the creators a good basic standard of living."


Ah that is the fantastical narrative that neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists, Randian objectivists and the like would have us believe. But it is false. What created the conditions for the activities, pursuits and values I’ve described was not “free markets,” but civil society. Without civil society - the rule of law, the willing sense of political obligation, the mutual generosity and support, the active engagement in society’s betterment, protections for the marginalized and exploited, the elevation of prosocial behaviors, etc. - there would be no “good basic standard of living.” There would be no social good at all…just thuggery. All of the wealth would simply concentrate in a few lucky thieves and cunning opportunists. That is the true nature of unrestrained capitalism and laissez-faire “free markets” - at least as demonstrated throughout history and into modern times. It is a lovely fantasy, to be sure, for us to believe that natural monopolies do not occur, that slavery does not occur, that oppression and exploitation do not occur, and that capitalism left unchecked does not simply result in a brutal resurgence of feudalism. But this fantasy is a distortion (and/or a nefarious hoodwink) that we need to leave behind - IMO as soon as possible, so that we can focus on what really matters.


From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Socialists-How-would-you-deal-with-the-incentive-problem/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What do you think about Karl Marx's Fragment on Machines?


see: http://thenewobjectivity.com/pdf/marx.pdf
http://thenewobjectivity.com/pdf/marx.pdf

Well I think we have waded into the “deeper waters” of Marx’s complex thought here.

To appreciate what Marx seems to be saying, we need to go back to his fundamental assertion that what makes human labor unique is the creative and knowledge value that human beings add to their work. This is a critical consideration in understanding how capitalism then corrupts, distorts and negates this value - through subsuming labor, objectifying it, abstracting it, appropriating it, alienating it, commodifying it - in this case via mechanical automation. Machines help turn people into predictable, usable, but essentially valueless and non-living variations of fixed capital. At the same time (and here Marx contradicts himself a bit - or at least provides contradictory arguments for similar ends) machinery both reduces the time that human labor is involved in a given measure of productivity, while at the same time prolonging a worker’s capacity to work. In one way or another, Marx sees this as working against capital’s own definition of how wage slaves can enrich themselves, even as surplus value (profit) is expanded for the capitalist. Thus Marx is arguing that both the qualitative and quantitative value of labor is being eliminated in service to capital, and that this is - intuitively, if not obviously - unsustainable and self-defeating.

The second part of Marx’s argument, concerning disposable time, is a bit more subtle. What I think he is getting at is that the increase in worker free time because of automation will result in greater self-development of the individual. And this development, in turn, will inherently set itself against the non-agency of automatic, mindless, lifeless labor - because “real wealth” will then be measured in disposable time, rather than wage income. The irony he points to is that the objective of capitalism is to maximize surplus labor, while a consequence of that very effort is an increase in disposable time, which is antithetical to surplus labor. Further, all of these trajectories - an increase in disposable time, an increase in soulless labor, and a desire for greater profit from surplus labor - are all fundamentally contradictory. And this is what Marx hints to be an inevitable transformative current in society. At least I think this is what he is getting at here. If someone can find the original German for these passages and post it here, I might be able to provide some better insight. Translation is an art…and not always accurate if the person translating doesn’t understand the concepts being discussed.

As to what I think of all this…I think Marx is basically correct, and that history has already proven much his assessment to be valid. I also think that he was essentially inventing language for concepts and dynamics which themselves were relatively new, which is why his wording and reasoning can sometimes be so abstruse.

My 2 cents.

P.S. As I was describing this post to my wife, I ended up summarizing it this way: “Basically if Marx watched Office Space, he would nod knowingly and say ‘Yes, yes, I saw this coming….’”

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-think-about-Karl-Marxs-Fragment-on-Machines/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Why should a young person be a Socialist?

Simply put: because democracy should not - and in fact cannot - exist only in the political sphere. It must also be part of the economic sphere. At its core, this is what various forms of socialism are all about. That said, economic democracy in socialist proposals has often been coopted the same way democracy has been coopted in capitalist societies: by concentrations of wealth. Well, to be truly “democratic,” a society can’t have a small number of folks who a) make all the decisions, or b) control all the wealth. Wealth and power concentrations are how oligarchy and plutocracy are created and maintained - there is no “freedom of choice” in markets where corporate monopolies dominate, for example. This is such a fundamental historical fact, but it often gets overlooked in mainstream discourse on both the right and left halves of the spectrum. Socialism (and I think most specifically libertarian socialism…but that is my bias) acknowledges this reality and seeks to remedy it - so this would be a great starting point for any young person. The challenge, of course, is how to evolve such notions into a new, functional paradigm that replaces the tyranny of private ownership.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Why-should-a-young-person-be-a-Socialist/answer/T-Collins-Logan)

What exactly does "social ownership of the means of production" mean?

Thanks for the A2A.

Generally it means one of the following scenarios - which may or may not be combined into elements of a given political economy (predominantly, this tends to be a Mixed economy):

1. Workers control and own the means of production. See Mondragon Corporation as one example.

2. The community controls the means of production. See Elinor Ostrom's 8 Principles for Managing A Commmons as one avenue of research.

3. The State owns and controls the means of production. See State-owned enterprises.

4. Consumer-members are both the primary stakeholders and primary beneficiaries of the means of production. See Canadian Credit Union Association as one example.

Therefore “social ownership of the means of production” exists nearly everywhere around the globe in one form or another. The main differentiation from “private ownership of the means of production” is simple: it’s democracy. In some way, democracy guides these enterprises in a bottom-up way - via the electorate in State enterprises or CPRMs, or consumer-workers in the case worker/member-ownership. Contrastingly, in privately owned and managed enterprises, a few owner-shareholders make decisions in a top-down manner, and democracy (and the interests of anyone but the owner-shareholders) is not in play. Interestingly, the performance of socially owned and managed enterprises exceeds that of private ownership in nearly every metric (worker productivity, efficiency, innovation, customer satisfaction, worker satisfaction, etc.) except the profitability that benefits those private owner-shareholders. One has to wonder, then, what the point of private, for-profit institutions really is, since they are only benefiting already wealthy owner-shareholders who do not, in turn, pay taxes, give to charity, or stimulate the economy in a proportionate manner (that is, dollar-for-dollar in comparison to worker-consumers). In other words, they just pocket the profit or start another money-making enterprise with the cheapest labor and resources they can find - usually in the developing world where exploitation, pollution and eventual resource exhaustion are overlooked. So what’s the point of having private ownership of the means of production at all, other than concentrating wealth in the hands of a few…?

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-exactly-does-social-ownership-of-the-means-of-production-mean/answer/T-Collins-Logan)

What kind of world do socialists envision?

Answering the question: "What kind of world do socialists envision?"

Thanks to Daphne for the A2A.

First off it is important to differentiate between State socialism and other forms of socialism that are non-Statist, such as libertarian socialism, collectivist anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc. It is often assumed that “socialism” equates State control and centralized empowerments, but that is an error.

Second it is important to understand the basic philosophical ideas behind socialism, which do not subscribe to the belief that a “fundamental objective” of all people is “self-enrichment.” The belief in “economic realities imposed on us by human nature” is a product of individualism and materialism, which are very recent developments in human civilization, and don’t actually describe how society has been organized or how it has functioned throughout most of human history. Neoliberal economists and folks like Ayn Rand have popularized (and propagandized) individualist and materialist beliefs so that they have entered into mainstream thinking, but it is important to realize that these authors have never provided a scientific basis for their ideas; they are invented fictions. Going all the way back to Locke’s conception of “labor appropriation,” there have been fundamental mistakes in evaluating human preferences and motivations that are simply not grounded in reality. In fact, most scientific research points in the opposite direction, toward what are called “prosocial” behaviors in humans and animals that contradict pro-capitalist assumptions about what motivates reflexes like generosity, kindness, compassion, sharing and altruism. To read up on this, do a search on “evolution of prosocial behavior” or “genetic predisposition for prosocial behavior.” Historically and biologically, humans are simply more geared toward collectivism than individualism.

What “hard core socialists actually want to happen” is freedom from tyranny. This is one of the basic building blocks of socialist thought. To achieve this freedom, one of the greatest oppressive forces of modern civilization needs to be recognized and disrupted: namely capitalist enterprises that enrich themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else. In your own language, it is these corporate monopolies that are “holding us for ransom,” and governments often complicit in service to corporations. If you are unfamiliar with the tyranny of capitalist corporatocracy, I recommend reading Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Yanis Varoufakis or Greg Palast on that topic. If you want to explore a more traditional critique of capitalism - you would also do well to read Marx’s Capital.

Socialists believe that, in order to create a more egalitarian civil society where relative equality, democracy and community are facilitated in the most effective ways, “the means of production” of all services and goods needs to be returned to the control of the people instead of the capitalist oligarchs. However, there is much debate around how best to do that - and that is why you see so many variations of socialist thought over time, from Marxism to democratic socialism to anarcho-syndicalism to Participism. If you were to try to understand all of these variations of socialism - and the sometimes subtle and nuanced differences between them - you would likely need to dedicate a few years to serious study. Alternatively, you could read books that cover a lot of historical ground in a more summarizing way, or offer proposals grounded in historical realities. There are probably two books I would recommend in this regard: Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited, and Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible.

As a libertarian socialist, I am also a fan of Noam Chomsky, and you can find many of his lectures on YouTube that elaborate on socialism, capitalism, anarchism, democracy and so forth (just do a search on those terms). It’s well worth your time to watch a few hours of these IMO. From the libertarian socialist perspective, the same concerns over the tyranny of capitalist oligarchy applies to the State itself, as the State so often becomes the focus of plutocotratic manipulation. This is what we call “crony capitalism,” “regulatory capture,” “State capitalism,” etc. and it is the system under which most of the world currently operates. At the core of the socialist ideology is a well-proven observation that concentrations of human wealth - and/or concentrations of human power - are disastrous to our overall well-being and indeed the well-being of everything else on Earth. You could say it is simply an extension of the observation that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The natural end-state of our current form of corporatocracy will inevitably be the enslavement of most of humanity and the destruction or exhaustion of our planet’s resources - it is already happening via sweat shops, wage slavery, debt burdens and excessive and rapid environmental destruction. This is why socialists want to move beyond capitalism as quickly as possible to create a more compassionate, sustainable and egalitarian political economy.

My 2 cents.

What exactly is Libertarian Socialism?

Answering the question: "What exactly is Libertarian Socialism?"

Thanks for the A2A Binyemîn Alpaydin.

I like Tom Wetzel’s answer, but I understand that you are looking for a simplification. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if a complex idea like libertarian socialism can be easily reduced. However, I will give it a try….

Some elements common to many libertarian socialist proposals:

1) As little centralized State authority as possible - where power is distributed to the people as locally as possible (this is sometimes called “susidiarity”) through various methods of direct democracy, consensus democracy or citizens councils.

2) Greater democracy in the economy - for example, where workers own their own factories, bank customers own their banks, the community has a say in how local resources are used, etc.

3) Greater social equality and wealth distribution - where everyone in society has similar access to opportunities, productivity and civic participation.

4) Non-aggression - force is only used in self-defense.

5) There is less private property, and more common property shared by all - in some cases private property is completely eliminated.

6) Access to a basic level of income, infrastructure, and essential services (education, healthcare, etc.) is provided to everyone through voluntary agreement of all.

7) An emphasis on collectivism rather than individualism.

My 2 cents.

Comment by Jacob Hood: "So… Decentralized communism?"


Interesting that you should mention that: there is something called “anarcho-communism” that does fall roughly within the boundaries of libertarian socialism (IMO). However, communism from a Marxist perspective generally has had a heavier reliance on centralized controls (i.e. a strong central State), and that doesn’t mesh well with the libertarian perspective. However, many self-described libertarian socialist proposals have been heavily influenced by Marxism (Participism, for example).

What is the effect of fully commodifying labor?

Answering the question: "What is the effect of fully commodifying labor?"

Question details: Yanis Varoufakis said in his article “How I became an erratic Marxist"

"If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish."

What does he mean by that?



Thanks for the A2A. First off, that’s a great article that I hope more people will read. Second, I think Justin Schwartz hit on some key considerations. Third, I’ll offer some additional thoughts….

We might assume that Varoufakis is referring to the vast historical arc of Marx’s historical materialism, as outlined in Das Kapital, that ultimately results in the collapse of capitalism. But there are some specific themes in Marx’s thought that Varoufakis touches upon, and which in and of themselves might account for Varoufakis’s statement.

For example, one theme Marx offers is that capitalism tends to convert all that is, in reality, about human relationships and interactions into some sort of monetary exchange value, and that this is an inherently bad thing, especially when it ignores (or devalues) the inherent, qualitative importance of those relationships and interactions in more human terms. If I say “I love you” to my wife, and in her mind that equates an expectation of material demonstration in the form of payment, goods, services, etc., then such expectation tends to undermine the intrinsic value of love and its importance in our non-material bond. In the same way, a trusting friendship can be replaced with money, in that I will only have expectations of you if I pay you, and you will only feel obligations to me if your are paid. So these are examples of commodification that are inherently destructive to human social relations (a conclusion which is obvious to anyone with emotional intelligence, but less so to someone who lacks it).

So what Varoufakis may be alluding to is that one of the most important “non-material” contributions of labor is what we might call creativity: the ability to add value (be it aesthetically or in terms of utility) to some raw material, which is a pretty amazing quality of human behavior. And in the same sense that we can’t quantify or commodify love or trust, we really can’t quantify or commodify that natural, unpredictable, inspirational creativity either. This isn’t entirely ignored in capitalism, where someone might pay millions for a Vermeer; there is an element of what Marx called “fetishism” involved here, to be sure, but there is also a very reasonable awe invoked by Vermeer’s profound and rare talent, and a consequent attempt to quantify what simply cannot be captured. Thus there is really no upper limit to such capture efforts, which is why such creations are effectively “priceless.” Sometimes this valuation is tied mainly to scarcity…but that’s simply not the whole picture (or painting in this case).

So if all labor (that is, all potential qualitative contributions that labor enables) were completely commodified by employers and employees in the sense described, then the very qualities that add value to goods and services will be completely excised. Take love out of a marriage, and what do you have? Take trust out of a friendship, and what do you have? Take creativity out of the means of production, and what do you have? This could be what Varoufakis means when he says “capitalism will perish.” That special human ingredient that fuels the capitalist enterprise and generates value (and ultimately profit) will be extinguished through the commoditization of all labor…so how could capitalism continue?

But this is just one take. Varoufakis could also just be alluding to the complete alienation of labor through its treatment as mechanized, tedious, robotically monotonous production by capitalists…another important theme in Marx. Or he could be referring to Marx’s predictions about the consequences of monopolies and an increasingly centralized means of production (and concentration of capital), which in turn prod the steadily impoverished masses into open revolt. Or he could be referring to all of these things….

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Dmytri Kleiner's 'The Telekommunist Manifesto'?

In answer to Quora question "What do you think of Dmytri Kleiner's 'The Telekommunist Manifesto'?"

Thanks for the A2A. I hadn't encountered the Telekommunist Manifesto until you asked this question, and have just finished spending some time with it. I think Kleiner offers good ideas, many of which I've encountered before in other socialist musings, and many of which clearly arise out of the Open Source movement - and most of them resonate with my own thinking about highly distributed, rhizomatic approaches. As a tool to help demonstrate viable alternatives to capitalism, I think his proposal of commons-based production ("Venture Communism") could be a useful model. At the same time - and this is an issue that Kleiner seems concerned with as well - it reminds me of the many past and present efforts to create such alternatives (communes, planned communities, Open Source construction sets, etc.), which remain fully embedded in capitalist systems, and in fact continue to remain reliant on them. In other words, they tend to invest in a "mimesis" replication to help escape the orbit of the dominant political economy. I don't think this is a bad thing, or entirely untenable...it's just not a particularly strong meme to counter individualistic materialism. As with many Marxist approaches, Kleiner's critique of capitalism is well-articulated, but it takes on structural oppression and exploitation without necessarily addressing the self-medicated, escapist, indulgent and infantilized state in which modern consumer society finds itself. In other words, it presumes that people (workers, etc.) are already itching to self-liberate, without accounting for the moral altitude necessary to move beyond I/Me/Mine.

So, as a possible piece of the bigger puzzle, I think Venture Communism offers some interesting ideas, and could be attractive to some people. At the same time, I find that I also have trouble with the adversarial nature I encounter in a lot of Marxist thinking. Class struggle is so central to Marx's ideas, and there always seems to be an In Group/Out Group dynamic in play. And of course I too find myself shaking an ideological fist at the oppressive machinations of huge corporations and the commoditization of every aspect of life. But I tend to shy away from the fetishism of the Proletariat in Marx, or focusing so emphatically on the means of production as a panacea for societal ills. Yes, I think worker-owned collectives are a great idea; and yes, I think a return to a commons-based model of self-organized resource management is absolutely necessary. In fact I discuss these ideas at length in much of my work. For me, though, there are many other important considerations. For example, community-centrism is also a critical piece; the idea that geographic communities (rather than the virtual communities that Kleiner describes) should be a basic unit of organization, that civic engagement and economic activity should occur first and foremost at the geographic community level, and that these communities should have a pronounced influence over local production activities, are all more critical to me than worker-empowerment per se.

Why? There are a number of reasons. For one, virtual relationships are limited; they are not truly multidimensional, and not fully interdependent. In fact, they tend to reinforce both a false sense of atomistic self and the "okayness" of incomplete sociality. In contrast, what occurs between people who see, touch, smell and hear each other in-the-flesh - and live together in cooperative ways - adds exponential depth to human interaction, increases a sense of belonging, enhances collective investment and communal accountability, and consequently enlivens and expands interdependence. In this way, the prosociality that strong community elicits helps erode the fundamental destructive features of capitalism. And this speaks to an even deeper issue for me: that individualism and materialism (and the moral immaturity they represent) are more substantive barriers to horizontally collective liberty than the Bourgeoisie; the real "boogeyman" is within us - it is the self-absorbed ego that craves easy gratification to animalistic impulses, and cronyist, clientist State capitalism is merely a byproduct of that underdevelopment. Thus community isn't the whole solution to this challenge either - but it is a critical piece.

This is probably why I'm not the biggest fan of anarcho-syndicalism as a standalone solution, and why Kleiner's proposal isn't a complete solution for me either: these simply don't address this more fundamental, inner challenge of requisite moral development. In fact I think that many libertarian socialist proposals (Participism, for example) also fall short of addressing this issue, and even though they have influenced my own framework, they are just a piece of the puzzle. What I feel add essential value to the moral development discussion are the ecology-centric ideas in Permaculture, Deep Ecology, Ecosophy and the like. This is where we begin to see the requisite enlarging of individual identity beyond individual ego, tribe, class affinity, or indeed even community. Again, though, even here the expectation is that participants will have already realized the importance of the ecosystem on which we all rely; they are preaching to the choir as it were. So moral development is still a separate issue that needs to be addressed, and that is what much of my own work has sought to engage. That is, in part, what Integral Lifework is about.

My 2 cents.

What do socialists think of Takis Fotopoulos' model of 'Inclusive Democracy'?

In answer to Quora question: "What do socialists think of Takis Fotopoulos' model of 'Inclusive Democracy'?"

Okay so I'm biased because I identify as a Libertarian Socialist, and ID falls squarely and neatly into that frame of political economy. Of course there are many, many other proposals that also fall within that frame. Personally, I think we should look at all of them (see Libertarian socialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Socialism)) and be very flexible and dynamic in any application. I'm a firm believer in the pilot principle and subsidiarity; for example you could have agreement about standards at the boundaries of various community-based systems, but each system could operate relatively autonomously within its own boundaries. But the smallest "boundarized" unit will probably need to be what Foutopolos estimates for his "demotic assembly." I also like his idea of democratic economy, but again I think we should look at Parecon and other proposals too, and I suspect that direct democracy can't quite replace the need for economic experts at the macro level. Along these same lines regarding governance, I think ID is insufficient. In my own proposals I discuss the need for technocrats who are either elected or appointed from a qualified pool via civic lottery. The idea is that, as the systems, services and infrastructure of society become more complex (both in terms of technology, scope and interdependence), there will need to be folks who are experts in various fields that help manage those systems, services and infrastructure. And this would apply equally to macroeconomic issues. What resonates the most strongly for me is Foutopolos's inclusion of paideia in his vision - this is very similar to my own inclusion of Integral Lifework as a building block for a more compassionate and holistically intelligent citizenry where, just as in ID, political responsibility and engagement are not just a facilitation of self-protective or egoic desires, but an expression of one's own moral convictions about love-in-action.

My 2 cents.