This is why

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There are those who ask how I could be a communist.

My gut response is always, how could you not?


The recent outrageous slaughter of miners in South Africa is just one more reason why. I am usually the first to use the end of apartheid as an example of how things can change for the better if we intervene and show real solidarity with people fighting oppression. But the slaughter of miners is an important reminder that even an end to something as inhuman as racial apartheid is no where enough. People mowed down for demanding fair pay raises, 270 miners charged with ‘provoking’ the police to murder their colleagues and labelled greedy for wanting living wages when they “at least” have jobs!

And you don’t need to live in South Africa or even Iran to understand whose interests matter, particularly when push comes to shove. Everything is stacked up against you; it’s all one big fraud with not a minute of a day passing by when you aren’t being screwed.

So of course I am a communist and it’s not because of the books and wonderful theories but because I cannot stand to live in a world that is so unfair and I want, I demand, something different.

As Mansoor Hekmat says in the video below in Persian (which I have translated a summary of):

I want to speak about communism without the usual formulations of class struggle, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and so on and instead speak about the heartbeat of communism.

I and many of us present here are not politically active because of books, Marx’s formulations or Lenin’s actions. This is not our career. We are not doing this because we have nothing else to do.

This relationship is much deeper – beyond the books, slogans, scientific discussions, politics, history of 200 plus years, etc. There is something much deeper and more direct that gives meaning to our political lives and the establishment of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.

Just look at the UN’s statistics whereby millions of children die per year from preventable diseases. Not war, or accident, or murder but preventable diseases.

 

Written By: Maryam Namazie
continue to source article at freethoughtblogs.com

148 COMMENTS

  1. I’d be interested to hear what exactly Ms. Namazie’s personal interpretation of communism is. The term can refer to a lot of things that have very little to do with each other except for a vaguely common origin. There is a world of difference between the martial ideologies of people like Stalin and the highly humane approach of someone like Bakunin (at least toward the end of his life).

  2. “Communism = fairness”? If only life were that simple. It’s ironic that Namazie’s attitude to communism seems as naive as a believer’s attitude to God -as (1) something big and powerful that will take all the unfairness away and (2) something that can be defined and redefined when early versions disappoint. Soviet, North Korean and Chinese communism were and are appalling – presumably they are the ‘no true Scotsmen’ of those who just can’t face that this system is almost always a disaster. 

    • In reply to #2 by Mrkimbo:

      “Communism = fairness”? If only life were that simple. It’s ironic that Namazie’s attitude to communism seems as naive as a believer’s attitude to God -as (1) something big and powerful that will take all the unfairness away and (2) something that can be defined and redefined when early versions disappoint. Soviet, North Korean and Chinese communism were and are appalling – presumably they are the ‘no true Scotsmen’ of those who just can’t face that this system is almost always a disaster. 

      I agree.

  3. This writer has flushed away any credibility she might have had in this article! These miners weren’t shot because they were demanding higher pay, they were shot because they were in a heated confrontation with armed police. They were only there because a disputes between two trade unions anyway. 

    Communist regimes have done far worse to their people! 

    I can’t believe this article is even on this site. 

  4. Communism failed in practice because of a number of reasons. 1) Lack of business experience. 2) Lack of ideological motivation. 3) Lack of public support which forced the government (which obviously wanted to stay in power) to exert brute force in order  to quell the masses. 4) stupid, ignorant idiots with near absolute power. 5) A large bureaucracy who only served their own interests as opposed to the people’s. 6)…  . There may be some flaws in the ideology but the main reasons why people dismiss communism (or Marxism, which has never even been put to the test) as an actual viable political system are the atrocities and the poverty. Both of which have nothing or very little to do with the actual ideology (add underscore). I just wanted to say this because I, too, am a social-democrat with a small, blood red m/ Marxist heart :).

  5. No, communism failed because it has no viable easy to provide economic organization. When communist stop using emotional pleas and focusing on political unfairness, and instead start to focus on the underlying economic holes in their theory, I’ll be more inclined to listen. Tell me how communism can be reconciled with subjective value, how you have solved the socialist information problem, how it can provide for marginal utility, and I’ll listen. In other words, instead how telling me how you wished the world worked, give me a system that can work in the one we actually inhabit, using arguments based on facts, logic, and science, not emotions and wishes. Give me a reason to believe that communism won’t cause famine like it had every single time it has been tried. Until then, communism should be relegated to the same category of ideas as homeopathy and Christ, ideas that seem nice on the surface, ideas that provide comfort, but ideas that ultimately provide suffering, death and the extension of ignorance.

  6. Confounded by Maryam’s naiveté! The police overreacted, sure- but the armed mob rushing them with machetes, clubs and at least one handgun were hardly interested in peaceful protest! 
    I have every sympathy with the miners who are being exploited by the “job creators” but Ms Nazamie, this AIN’T the way to get a pay rise. She must realise that Africa is largely a ‘basket case’ of tribal beliefs, violence and little regard for civilized behaviour. No wonder the fall of apartheid has had so little benefit in black Africa- and communism is even worse. Surely a reasonable socialist government is the answer but what chance? The ANC seems wedded to stupid ideals- witness some of Zuma’s ridiculous statements on AIDS and the use of the crazy law implying miners’ guilt for police killings… 
    Communism is very hard to get rid of, once adopted; see its success in Cuba, N Korea, Soviet Union.

  7. To Ms. Namazie: Where the “people” own all the means of production in the name of “The State” and that
    means of production is inevitably administered by representatives of “The State”, private incentive is eliminated, and
    massive amounts of goods are inevitably produced that are not needed. This is clearly what broke the back
    of the former Soviet Union, and spurred China to commence privatizing major areas  of its economy.
    (NOT RONALD REAGAN!!!)

    Also, very few bright, industrious people wish to put up for very long with being in hierarchical administrations that put a total damper on the fruits of individual incentive. That explains the migration of Israeli workers to the cities
    from the Kibbutzim (collective farms) over the past decades.
     
    Money, as a means of exchange for goods and services, currently serves as the global population’s best “feedback barometer” as to the relative need to have to afford supply of a given good, versus the need to have to afford demand for that good.

    To be a “communist” (with a small “c”) is to be tripping backwards to economically, collectively, failed  times. I’m certain you would not wish to be a communist with a capital “C”, for then you add all the coercive political elements which constitute the “Hitchens-Orwellian Dilemma” to the collective economic failed times.

    Ms. Namazie, with all the understanding of the human tragic consequences of this particular action in South Africa,  I nevertheless urge you to think harder and deeper about our collective human future than you obviously have.

     

  8. Nice to see the site publishing something like this, something outside of the mainstream. In spite of my dog’s hat I could never be a communist. Actually, I don’t think I can ever be any kind of an “ist” I’m too contrarian. I do believe in atheism but I disagree with people here on basic issues all the time.

    IMO there are two fundamental problems with communism 1) Its followers think they are doing science when in reality it is pseudoscience and 2) it substitutes one imperfect form of government with another that is even worse. No tyranny is a viable form of government, even if its supposedly a tyranny of the common people (proletariat). 

    The American founding fathers had plenty of faults but one amazing thing they did was to realize that power of any kind can be corrupting and that its essential to develop a system of governments with built in checks against absolute power and the ability to make peaceful changes in government. 

  9. I agree with many of the posters here, and just add on a personal note that my father escaped from a eastern european communist country at the close of WWII, leaving his younger sister and father/mother behind. I never got the chance to meet either of my grandparents on my father’s side because they were in a prison called a ‘communist country’, and did not get to meet my aunt until after the iron curtain came down in ’90. By then she and my father had not seen each other in about 45 years. 

    So, among the many characteristics you can attach to communism, the one that sticks most in my mind is that communists love to seperate family members for their entire lives. That, at least. is the result.

    And yes, communism has never solved the price calculation problem, resulting in their rather predictable collapse in the last century. My only amazement is that they lasted as long as they did. One of the main geopolitical lessons of the 20th century is that centrally planned economies do not work.

    So I do not understand how anyone can be a communist. There may have been some excuse before the great experiment of the 20th century, but no longer. Now it can only be the result of willful ignorance or worse.

  10. “Even in Sweden if you lose your job, your child loses his/her childcare. Your child is only human depending on your work. ”  Umm, we’re not talking about schooling here but childcare, right?  And, presumably, free childcare?  Surely if you are not working, the upside is that you are able to look after your children yourself?  Why would you need childcare?

  11. you could substitute “communist” for “christian”, “muslim”or “hardcore nationalist” if you like. to me it simply reads look at the bad things that happen. my ideology states bad things wouldn’t happen if everyone was good; ergo only my narrow understanding is correct

    four legs good, two legs bad

  12. Ms. Namazie should really get every side of the story before writing something.

    I am an officer in the South African Police Service and let me tell you what really happened.

    The miners were not slaughtered, they were killed by police officers legitimately defending themselves. The miners were also taking part in an illegal and extremely violent strike. Two days before the shootings, 2 police officers were attacked and overwhelmed by a large mob of striking miners armed with machetes and spears and hacked to death. The strikers of course also took possession of the slain officers’ R5 assault rifles, pistols and ammunition. Understandably my colleagues at the mine were not going to take chances after this.

    On the day of the killings, the miners decided to aggressively confront the (armed to the teeth) police officers trying to keep order. They were made even more brazen by the fact that they had been given muti (magic potion) by a sangoma (witch doctor) that they believed made them impervious to bullets. It was also reported that several miners were seen to be armed with AK-47′s. They decided the charge the line of officers and naturally the officers, not willing to be chopped to pieces like their friends, decided to defend themselves with extreme prejudice.

    Now I assume there are still some bleeding hearts who think the officers should have used strong language to fend off the attackers, but I don’t care what insulated little hippies think.

    • In reply to #14 by Negasta:

      Ms. Namazie should really get every side of the story before writing something.

      I am an officer in the South African Police Service and let me tell you what really happened.

      I find it incredibly hard to believe that out of all the things to read on line, all the hundreds of thousands of news sites, etc., an “officer in the South African Police Service” just happened to be reading this article about himself…how convenient. And how convenient that the story of “what actually happened” in this situation benefited the people in power in the long run, further screwing the little people.

  13. Me too! A commie and not ashamed of it.

    There are those who ask how I could be a communist.
    My gut response is always, how could you not?

    Truer words were never spoken! I was born in a privileged, upper caste Hindu family. Became an atheist by 10 and a communist by 18. When you see the kind of exploitation and indifference to human suffering that goes unnoticed in the third world, there cannot be any other rational approach. For those of you who claim that there are no working examples of communism, how about Kerela, an Indian state that predominantly elects communist MPs & MLAs. This state has better literacy, better human developement index, lower infant mortality than the rest in India. This does not prove that communism works, but atleast not having working examples of communist isnt true.

    And people who claim, communists have the same delusions as the religious, are simply misinformed. I am a militant atheist and a communist. I have no problem in defending communism and I have no problem is accepting any other form of society that can, at least in theory promise an egalitarian society. Of course modern day Britain or America or Europe are more egalitarian than China or Russia. But that is because, these states can afford to, after 3 centuries of slavery, imperialism and war mongering. If China is allowed to enslave a whole continent and drive the native human population to near extinction, of course the Chinese would have the same level of freedom & wealth as Anglo-Americans. But then there arent any more Australia or America left for the Chinese to enslave, rape & plunder other human beings.

  14. I cannot be the first commenter here to think an advocate, or critic, of Communism ought to define it in an article such as this, because the world has been used by so many with so little shared meaning. Comments prior to this one have both defended and critiqued communism, and the term has in general gone as undefined therein as in the OP. Of all the ways to run an economy, a government or a society which may be called Communist by their critics and/or praisers, we can ask of each in turn its pros and cons, and we can hopefully make sure such a discussion is empirical, not just theoretical. It is especially important for those calling for a particular kind of system to do this, since our acceding to them must happen only after we have heard them out. Therefore, it would be helpful for those with a particular “Communist” system in mind which they advocate to explain how it would work and why it would be good. And if we don’t all agree such a system even counts as Communist, no matter; such a semantic discussion is less important than evaluating which policies are open to us here.

  15. A cliche but this is still what communism means to me.

    A communist state is one that is built around this idea,
    Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!
     (Translation: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need)

    Antithesis of the widely accepted carrot & stick approach.

  16. I cannot think of a communist state that is or was fair.  Moreover the communist states we have seen have been run by political systems which are practially indistinguishable from religious systems save that they do not offer any ponzi routes to salvation.

    I can’t see either that disputes over wages and living standards are the real reason for a massacre. 

  17. Some people go on about all-out communism. Some, all out capitalism. But really, every society has had elements of each and the most succesful ones appear to be the ones that strike the balance.

    And for those who start screaming in protest every time communism is mentioned: Communism in its purest, ideological form, all models, analogies and slogans stripped aside, is essentially everyone working together and then taking their cut of what they worked for. Equal input, equal gains. So when people point to the poverty and failure of communist states such as Soviet Russia or North Korea, just think about this:

    Did Stalin put an equal amount of labour into the fields, or factories as his people? Did he take his fair share? Was his lifestyle and crucially, for this ideology, his wealth equal to the rest of the population? What about Kim Jong-Il? Pol Pot?

    Of course not. These people put no work in whatsoever yet took obscenely more than their share of the fruits. This is not communism, it is the complete anti-thesis. It is essentially what every out-and-out free-marketeer aspires to – rising to the top of his (using male terms arbitraily) business, having many people doing the work for him, yet feeling completely justified in raking in the profits rather than sharing them out because, hey! It’s HIS company! And furthermore, being unanswerable to anyone who might call foul.

    These countries may be referred to as communist states in their ideology, but in practice they were any thing but representative of the communist ideology.

  18. “Of course modern day Britain or America or Europe are more egalitarian than China or Russia.”

    That is true.

    “But that is because, these states can afford to, after 3 centuries of slavery, imperialism and war mongering.”

    That is completely untrue. Britain never had slaves. The US didn’t have colonies. British colonies always ended up costing it money.What made these countries wealthy and improved the lot of the common man beyond anything in the history of mankind was (largely) unregulated capitalism.

  19. You can’t make a government out of just a slogan. Anyone can have slogans that appeals to people, look at the Republicans in the US who talk about freedom and liberty, two things I really love, in practice it turns out quite a bit different and if you look at communist states such as China or the former Soviet Union there was still a powerful elite that gobbled up most of the resources at least as bad as any of the oligarchies in capitalist states. 

  20. The greatest contribution to mankind made by the founding fathers was limiting government’s role to that which was absolutely necessary. Its a pity modern Americans aren’t aware of the greatness of what occurred in their country 200 years ago.

  21. Yes, I’m for workers rights too but I’m against one party rule, a government that attempts to control what you think, no freedom of press, no freedom of movement, a command economy, no freedom of religion and no right to vote.  This is demonstrably what happens when you have a communist government.  That’s why I’m not for communism.

  22. You can’t make a government out of just a slogan. 

    True. May be I need to explain a bit more. In my view, with everything else being the same, freedom of expression, democracy, pursuit of happiness & equal opportunities, the major difference between a capitalist utopia and a communist utopia is this single fundamental issue – is it a society built around “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” 

  23. “I want to speak about communism without the usual formulations of class
    struggle, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and so on and instead speak
    about the heartbeat of communism.”

    Then you don’t want to speak about communism.

  24. Communists/ Marxists- Fascists are two sides of the same coin. I used to respect the One law for all organisation, but I will not be lectured to about justice, by the self confessed follower of a political ideology responsible for torturing, beating and starving to death 100 million people. Have some of the posters on this board not heard of the KGB/ NKVD and gulags? Perhaps Namazie can tell us in simple terms what she will do if faced by a howling mob of machete wielding thugs?

  25. “…yet feeling completely justified in raking in the profits rather than sharing them out because, hey! It’s HIS company! And furthermore, being unanswerable to anyone who might call foul.”

    The free marketeer is anything but unanswerable. In a free market, the owner only makes profit by offering goods and services that people want, and supplying them at a cost and with a quality that is attractive to consumers. The minute he stops doing this, someone else will step in and take his business and profit. No one serves the interest of the common man more than the free marketeer does, even if this benefit only comes about indirectly, by his serving his own self- interest, namely, making money.
    That’s why US consumers love foreign cars so much; and if it weren’t for successive US presidents sticking their noses in and messing with the markets, the consumers would have even more choice at less cost.

  26.  I’ve often found the “one or the other” argument a bit daft, both have shown their failures. Social Capitalism could be a system of profit that is governed to maintain a controlled growth under much stricter guidelines. I would like to see stock holders held accountable for the stock they hold. When the banking crash happened, it should have been the stock holders of those banks paying the bailout, by law, or you lose the stock in a forced government buyout. Don’t own something you can’t afford to have.

  27. Communism = collectivism and goes against everything that freethinkers have been fighting for. It makes the development of benevolent morality impossible. 
    Is this a joke? It’s even hosted on freethoughtblogs. com. The irony.

    Maybe it’s on this site because collectivism fuses so well with religion. It has the same totalitarian mindset. A point not often made in reply to the “atheism = nazism and communism” attack. Hitchens, of course, did make the point a couple of times.

  28.  What a horrible system. I am able to do many things. I expect in a communist country I would not be doing what I choose to make me happy, I would be told what to do based on the ability the government feels best serves the greater population. And I would leave because you can’t tell me what to do. A lot of people like me would be getting killed in a communist society. I’d last a day. Shit, I’d get killed in modern day Russia.

  29.  There are some companies here in the States that are owned by the employees instead of by outside speculators. That’s Marxist by definition. The free market is unaffected and the companies benefit by not needing to funnel money to those I consider parasites. What happened with state socialism is an important lesson: don’t mess with the free market. Don’t confuse ideology and economics.

    As for the bloody showdown, it’s a tragedy that it had to go that far. One can obviously see the inequity between an international consortium and local labor. However, the cynic in me observes that Africa has not been without tribal wars at any time in modern history, and speculates that such a confrontation is the norm rather than the exception.

  30. “There are some companies here in the States that are owned by the employees instead of by outside speculators. That’s Marxist by definition.”
    How? The capital is still in private hands (rather than hand), isn’t it? The owners are free to dispose of their interests how they see fit, no?

  31. “The free marketeer is anything but unanswerable. In a free market, the owner only makes profit by offering goods and services that people want, and supplying them at a cost and with a quality that is attractive to consumers. The minute he stops doing this, someone else will step in and take his business and profit”

    In theory yes. What actually tends to happen when companies (I’m talking big companies here btw, not single shops etc) start losing money is either, a) The owner(s) lay off employees to cover the deficit rather than take a hit in their own pockets which could quite easily cover the deficit with minimal changes to their private lives (e.g. British Airways). Or b) the owners jump ship, taking their money and running, leaving the flailing business to someone else to sort out whilst enjoying a comfortable retirement themselves (e.g. Fred Goodwin).

  32. Of course; but what happens when there is no free market? The person/agency involved charges consumers more to cover costs, raises taxes to cover provide subsides, or reduces the quality of the goods or services on offer.

  33. I could not be a communist because I grew up in East Germany. You know, the country that was so desirable to the common people that the Party had every one walled in.

    It is laughable to see the selective outrage over a strike escalated by bunch of thugs. Let’s remember how the communists responded to situations like these:

    1953 East Germany, construction workers strike against their work quota being raised without compensation by the Central Committee of the Party, the response is Soviet tanks to crush the uprising that developed.

    1956 Hungary, the people want civil liberties such as the right to stike, to assemble, to free speech and so on. Again this is crushed by Soviet tanks.

    1968 Czechoslovakia, among civil rights, independent unions are demanded in the Prague Spring. No surprise here either, Soviet tanks crush this attempt as well.

    1980 Poland, Solidarność forms as an independent union. Since the usual oppression is insufficient, martial law is declared. The Soviet tanks are busy exporting the revolution to Afghanistan at that time.

    That, in a nutshell, is what workers rights are like in communism. If you think this has stopped, look at how workers are treated in China and North Korea.

  34. Yes, I agree with you;  The self-interest of all involved in such an organisation is served by adapting to changes in the market and becoming more productive. If I were to start a business tomorrow, I would definitely involve staff as much as possible. 

    However, I think that’s quite different from the state’s imposing its wishes on individuals and its deciding which businesses are to be supported and which are to be excluded from competing for a piece of the action. I think the author of the OP is suggesting that control of capital should be in the hands of the state or in the hands of a (undefined) collective, and that the market and the principle of voluntary cooperation should be ignored.  

  35.  I’m with you on that. I see the command economy as imposed by the Soviet system as a serious mistake. Had the free market prevailed under Leninism, I would have been willing to bet on a brighter outcome for them.

  36. What’s the reasoning behind this? Namazie is a brave ex-muslim (she is brave to be an outspoken ex-muslim) and a personal hero of RD, ergo she gets to promote the quasi-religion of marxism on an anti-religious website? How does that make sense? There are other ex-muslims out there to associate yourself with, professor; people who aren’t just brave but also apply reason to their political views. Communism doesn’t work. It’s proven.

    This was doubly disappointing, because when seeing Namazie’s name I expected an opportunity to write something derogatory about the religion of peace and paste a link to this very informative  youtube-video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    … which I did anyway. Oh, well. Slightly off-topic, I guess, but at least it actually belongs on a site which promotes reason and science: Scientifically measured footprints of religion up through history. Have fun watching and don’t get “islamophobic”.

  37. I think your error there is in the word “Utopia”. Attempts to bring about Utopia always fail and often end up getting us closer to Dystopia. Thinking only in abstracts is dangerous in politics. The question for me isn’t “which perfect state should we be working toward” but “given where we are now how can we make things better?” The answer to that second question always involves more democracy not less. In the case of the US we need more democracy in the sense of educating people to think beyond slogans and to get beyond our two Tweedledum and Tweedldee parties. In the case of places like Egypt, even a very flawed democracy with too much Islamic influence is better than having a totalitarian dictator who tortures his political enemies.

  38.  One word for ya’- idealistic

    Living in the USA, there are three forms of rampant idealism (IMO)-
    Conservatism/Libertarianism- meritocracy idealism
    Post modern Liberalism- pacifism idealism
    Religious idealism- a universal intelligence knows all idealism

    I’m glad the idealism of communism is not so rampant here as the three I listed above.

     

  39. One more thing, I don’t think that “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”  is a viable philosophy even if we said  it in the context of democracy. I am all for having more safety nets and having the government do more to help those that need it.  For example, in the US if I could I would implement free universal healthcare for all, anyone that had the demonstrated ability would be able to at least get a bachelors degree at virtually no cost, I would make sure everyone had the basics for living, no more homeless everyone deserves to have at least basic housing and food. 

    But going the next step of just saying “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”  I don’t think so. I’ve spent a lot of time living and working in Silicon Valley. I’ve seen how money is a great motivator for innovation. People take all kinds of risks and try things that more established companies would never try in order to strike it rich. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the technologies we take for granted from them are all examples. I think there is more to it than that, at least some people are in love with the notion of starting something new and building something that has never been built but I think the money is an incentive for all of us and that is OK. 

    In the distant future when we have transporters and warp drives maybe that philosophy will work but I don’t think its practical now. 

  40. Indeed. It’s funny….I was watching a documentary about N. Korea recently, and it occurred to me that if a Westerner showed up at its border and asked to be allowed enter and join their paradise of the workers, they would almost certainly considered a spy or an escaped patient from a hospital for the insane.

    I’m sure the author and other sympathizers will say, “oh, that’s not what communism is about; those states’ systems are travesties of true communist communities”. But what they don’t seem to consider is that the founders of all repressive regimes, e.g. USSR, China, or N.Korea, had, I’m sure, the best of intentions and felt that the control by the state of people’s lives would improve the lot of citizens.

  41. The “greatness of what occurred in their country 200 years ago” was just that.

    More greatness is needed and things are very different than they were in the latter half of the 18th century.

    What I think is a pity is that the average educational level of politicians today seems woefully low compared to the founding father’s (and women!) of that era.

  42. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” roughly translates to ” the more effort you put in the more we will take away from you to give to people who didn’t bother putting any effort in”
    I think that it is right that we have a welfare system in the UK to help people who do fall ill or on hard times through no fault of their own but unfortuneatly this doesn’t allow for human nature and thus you end up with three generations of people who decided that claiming benefits is the family business.
    The other problem with your slogan is that it also amounts to a disincentive to go the extra mile or really try your hardest because you won’t see any benefit from your effort and to see people getting exactly what you do for doing didily squat is eventually going to encourage you to do the same.
    Apologies to Red Dog, you covered most of my points more elegantly than I but I was still typing when you posted.

  43. “Then you don’t want to speak about communism.”- exactly!

    it’s a bit like gilding the lily

    Maryam Namazie is trying to switch the blame by using the “citizens are always right and law enforcement is always wrong” philosophy.

    That’s like renaming abortion opponents “pro-life” and naming abortion proponents “pro choice” (a little closer, but still misleading).

    And now we have to consider not using the word illegal when referring to illegal immigrants because it makes them seem like….like, um….like they actually did something illegal!

  44. The poor workers killed their 11th victim today. He was hacked to death with pangas (machetes). Yesterday a man had to run for his life (to the police!) to be rescued from a panga wielding mob of “workers” who wanted to chop him up into little pieces as well for daring to go to work.

    Poor, poor workers, forming an impi (war party) to protest wages. Tsk, tsk.

    When you down tools only to pick up a panga, and take muti in preparation to kill yourself a policeman, you lose my sympathy.

    Ms Namazie has not the faintest idea what she is talking about.

  45. “Attempts to bring about Utopia always fail and often end up getting us closer to Dystopia.”

    “In
    the case of places like Egypt, even a very flawed democracy with too
    much Islamic influence is better than having a totalitarian dictator who
    tortures his political enemies.”

    These two sentences are self contradictory. If you think Morsi will be any better than Mubarak, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in Egypt and you don’t know much about Sharia, which is what Morsi and the Brotherhood is aiming for, or in other words: The Islamic Utopia.

  46. A highly emotional account of why someone chooses Communism and thinks it the best choice for the future (despite all the humanitarian disasters we’re familiar with, etc. etc.).  As a former communist I can relate to everything contained in this article: the rage, the indignation, the utopian hope.  But it’s still nothing more than that.

  47. Surely the existence of a working class working for wages and a privileged class of owners is the very hallmark of capitalism?  Do these classes exist in the so-called “communist” countries? Yes indeed they do! So all those posters attacking N. Korea etc are actually attacking capitalism, albeit run in a slightly different way from the more developed western capitalism of say the USA. If state ownership = “communism” then Fort Knox must be a bastion of “communism”.

    What is Russia nowadays? Is it capitalist or communist? When did it change from one to the other. Or if it didn’t change, how come the sudden growth of billionaires like Abravomich, Deripraska and others. Are they “communist” billionaires? Ditto China. Or, did, as I suspect, capitalism exist in those countries even though the label suggested otherwise. Certainly the workers weren’t any better off than their western counterparts, far worse off in fact.

    Whilst the high priests worshipping the so-called “free market” paint its glory in transcendant colours, they seem to forget that the biggest market in the world, the labour market, currently has some 300 million workers worldwide who can’t get jobs. Some “freedom” eh! And where would the owners be without their workers? Would Mr O’Leary, or Mr Branson have to fly their own planes?

    Namazie’s call for a “fairer” capitalism is like calling for a benign malignancy. I don’t think her party is any more communist than the ones in Russia or China, i.e. not at all! Where is the cry for the abolition of the wages system?

  48. The Mubarak regime was one of the most brutal governments in the world. They practiced torture on a regular basis. Here are some example videos. Watch them if you can stand it, I can’t.

    https://www.google.com/search?…

    As for the current regime, I have no illusions about them. Here is a recent story about how human rights activists are protesting outside the presidents office:

    http://wrmea.org/archives/515-

    The thing is under Mubarak rather than protesting outside his office these human rights activists would have been in some secret police dungeon with electrodes on their genitals. 

    I have no doubt that as flawed as the current fledgling democracy is, it is better than a totalitarian torture state. And I would bet you anything that the vast amount of Egyptians would agree with me. Or does democracy and self determination no longer count for you if someone is a Muslim?

    As an example of how devoted the Egyptian people are to democracy check out these videos:

    http://www.democracynow.org/20

    Asmaa Mahfouz was just an average young Egyptian woman. She started posting videos on Youtube to encourage people to come to protests. Protesting and posting these videos was a dangerous thing to do because Mubarak was still in power. She was risking far worse than imprisonment but she had the amazing courage to do it anyway and her action played a big part in motivating others and helped lead to the downfall of the torturer Mubarak. I really like those videos. I find them very inspiring and proof that even Muslims want democracy. (Amazing that could be a controversial statement)

  49. Post by Negasta
    I am an officer in the South African Police Service …

    It’s always a pleasure when a discussion started bv an armchair expert is interrupted by someone who has actually been there.

    Thank you, Sir, for your enlightening contribution.

    Keep your head down out there :)

  50. I’m all for different types of articles on this site, but this is a very strange one. I must admit I never saw the plight of the Iranian people and South African mine workers alongside that of the poor downtrodden Swedes!

  51. “What is Russia nowadays? Is it capitalist or communist? “

    Its capitalist. But what was it under the Soviet Union? Wasn’t that Communism? Isn’t that what you are advocating? Seriously? You want to work to make your home and the world more like the Soviet Union used to be?

  52. Yes, some people benefited from the slave trade (it accounted for about 5% of the British economy if memory serves me correct). That’s most definitely not why there was a great increase in British prosperity and output during the 1800s; that resulted from relatively unregulated capitalism. Same with the USA.

  53.  “Or does democracy and self determination no longer count for you if someone is a Muslim?”

    I happen to see people as first and foremost people, not as Muslims, Christians or communists. Islam is the problem, not my opinion of it or what I do or do not want for Muslims. I want Muslims to stop being Muslims. Being Muslim is not a genetic trait, a Muslim is by definition a person who believes in Islam, and Islam is not compatible with democracy and self determination, because it’s a complete system, more akin to a nation or a totalitarian state in itself than just a religion or an ideology.

    If you think Egypt is now a fledgling democracy, then I’m sorry to say that your impression will have to be filed under wishful thinking. Asmaa Mahfouz is not the President of Egypt; Morsi is.

    Thanks for the links, Red Dog, but there are limits to how much horror videos I can stomach.

  54. In a strict technical sense, of course N. Korea is capitalist. However, ‘capitalism’ is generally understood in these kinds of discussion to refer to the system of private holdings and investments, relatively free from govt.  interference.

     “If state ownership = “communism” then Fort Knox must be a bastion of “communism” “

    No, since the state doesn’t control or owns the means of production. FK holds some of the US’ gold reserves.

    “Whilst the high priests worshipping the so-called “free market” paint its glory in transcendant colours, they seem to forget that the biggest market in the world, the labour market, currently has some 300 million workers worldwide who can’t get jobs. Some “freedom” eh!”

    Em, where do you think truly free markets actually exist?!

    “And where would the owners be without their workers?”

    And vice-versa. There were no shortage of workers in the USSR, were there? I’m assuming the workers feel that they are better off with O’ Leary or they wouldn’t be working for him.

    “Where is the cry for the abolition of the wages system?”

    To be replaced by what exactly? Good vibrations?

  55. There are many ideals of the communist world that we should be striving for. Greater egalitarian policies for a starter. Universal education, health care and dental care.

    At the moment we are rewarding the well off at a level that is far greater than any time in history and all of the time, we have very vocal and powerful people advocating to lower the amount of tax that the well off have to pay. We also owing to the desire to maximise personal wealth ignore the wealth and value of the community around us. We refuse to have our governments build items that would be assets to the community – things that would ironically massively increase the standard of living and thus the price of housing in your area.

    We are focused on one column of the financial results – The expenditure side. Always asking how much does it cost? Must cut costs… We never ask, if we perform this activity, how much can we make out of it, what are the implications of not doing this? How many people does it employ and keep off the jobless column. Is it something that would benefit the environment?

    The other major factor that where capitalism fails is growth. Capitalism always expects growth. Life is a zero sum game, you can not keep growing forever. We have limited resources on this planet – I suspect that peak oil might find a few people out in a few years…

    Whilst not advocating a one-party state, perhaps we need to look much more closely at how we can better look after the needs of everybody on the planet and maybe take much better care of the planet – the only place where we can live at the moment.

  56. “Universal education, health care and dental care.”

    Yes, but you seem to be implying that capitalism can’t provide these things. If that is what you’re implying, why? What provides your most important daily requirement at an ever decreasing cost, with increased choice and quality?

    “We refuse to have our governments build items that would be assets to the community”

    If they’re truly assets, why do you need govt. to build them? 

     “How many people does it employ and keep off the jobless column.”

    Its easy to keep people off the jobless column. Just get everyone to smash, dig up, or burn all their possessions….then get them to undo the damage they’ve done; the ‘jobless problem’ is solved. Very often, that’s more or less what communist states did in the last century, albeit not quite as bluntly as I suggested! However, if you want to keep people at work AND increase prosperity, the best way is to allow the creative dynamism that free markets create to do its thing.

    “The other major factor that where capitalism fails is growth. Capitalism always expects growth. Life is a zero sum game, you can not keep growing forever.”

    Why does a free-market economy result in a zero sum game? It’s the exact opposite.

    “…perhaps we need to look much more closely at how we can better look after the needs of everybody on the planet and maybe take much better care of the planet – the only place where we can live at the moment.”

    Free markets, free trade, small govt., strong laws to protect third parties…..there’s more than enough to go around for everyone.

  57.  Isn’t communism without the Marxism just populism?

    Anyways, the article didn’t address the economic failings of communism. That is, the system seems designed to flatline economic value. In communism, the kids would still die, not because people won’t give them vaccinations, but because enough vaccinations cannot be made.

  58. You are failing logic, mathematics and economics if you don’t understand why life is zero sum.

    You are born with nothing, you die with nothing. The earth had zero money on it to start with and when life goes from this realm, then there will be no money on it. I doubt the aliens out there will accept AMEX as valid. The free-market is highly advantages to those who choose to use it as a tool to increase their personal wealth at the expense of the environment around them…

  59. The discussion is about economic and political systems. It’s about which system best serve the needs and desires of people while they’re ALIVE, as individuals and in the groups they form. ‘Zero sum’ refers to a situation where one person or group wins while another loses. If a person makes money in a free market, where there is competition for business, it is only because he has served the needs or desires of substantial numbers of people. In other words, he has supplied the customer with something he needed at a higher quality or less expensively; therefore, both parties benefited from the transaction. That’s the antithesis of zero sum. The fact that someone dies is irrelevant.

  60. This is what it is like to witness an intellectual suicide. The naivety aside, it is a dishonest representation of the situation. No mention of the tribal sectarianism, rival union fighting, race war rhetoric, previous violence and murders, or the role of juiced up mobs protected by the expensive magic of witchdoctors. 
    I do not understand why such a gut feeling piece deserves inclusion on this site. 

  61. It doesn’t have to be about winning or losing. If you drive your car, you have depleted a natural resource (petrol). Neo-capitalists fail to see this. All of their modelling has all resources as a magic pudding, or if not a magic pudding, then there is always somewhere else to drill for it.

  62. There has been a global propaganda blitz against unions.  It has successfully convinced poorly paid workers that union workers are their enemy.  The argument plays on envy.  How dare the union workers get paid more than you!  They must be pulled down to your level by destroying their union.  This completely ignores that fact that even some union workers in an economy raises wages generally.  This argument appeals to chimp psychology.  See Bonobo Handshake for details.

  63. Ah yes let’s relativise the slave trade, very moral. The trade  itself was part of the unregulated capitalism of the 18th century and was of no benefit to those human beings traded during that whole shameful period

  64. Slavery was also part of many economic/political systems throughout history. Of course it was wrong. So what? How does that change the fact that the prosperity of the 19th C. was brought about by capitalism? Have you looked at the economic history of the UK during the 19th C. or are you just spoofing?

  65. Judging by the testimony of Negasta, who, as an officer in the South African Police Service, is actually there, this article appears to be a tissue of lies and distortions, crafted to score points in support of a long-discredited political system.

    Along with Maryam Namazie’s other piece reporting the ‘brutal’ arrest by the British Police of some ridiculous Ukrainian women who were running amok in London, shouting and waving their bare breasts in peoples’ faces, in the belief that this helps the cause of atheism, I am at a loss to understand why such pieces are published here.

    Such blatantly biased and untrue ‘journalism’ does this site, or the cause of rational atheism, no good at all. Material such as this is more suited to a some pathetic student Socialist Workers’ meeting in 1977. Let’s leave it there. As I did.

    Furthermore, to publicly ally Communism with atheism hands ammunition to our enemies who counter a rational argument for the lack of belief in Gods with ‘look what Stalin did, is that the society you want to create?’

    Just because Maryam Namazie exhibits courage by her public apostasy, should not mean she becomes free to publish any old distorted rubbish on a forum which prides itself on rationality and truth. 

    Plenty of Islamic suicide bombers exhibit considerable courage (albeit based on insane beliefs) but we don’t see their personal philosophies given bandwidth here. Extreme politics and RATIONAL atheism just don’t mix.

  66. Wow! I think it’s fun we are arguing about something besides religion. I must agree with those who are surprised at Maryam Namazie’s faith in communism. The verdict is in and communism has been a disaster everywhere it’s been tried. I think “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” might work at the level of an intentional community or commune–for a while, but only a while! History is littered with communes that began with good intentions, had varying levels of success but eventually ended. I sometimes wonder what supercomputers could have achieved in making a socialist economy more efficient. I guess every computer is only as good as its programmers. 

  67.  I do work for a Silicon Valley company. Yes, the culture of performance linked bonuses & incentives seem to perform well. Hence, the carrot & stick method is the most populary adapted methodology everywhere. But my point is, that doesnt ought to be.
     
    “I’ve seen how money is a great motivator for innovation.” – Red Dog

    True, but only because we have taught ourselves to value our achievements through how much money we posses. I do not think M$, Google & Apple are the pinnacles of Silicon Valley. Not in the least bit. I do not think William Shockley & hundreds of others researchers at Stanford, Berkeley & MIT are spending their day & night with money as the motivation. They are the reason why Silicon Valley is a success and why technology has propelled human race. I do not think Prof Dawkins wrote the Selfish Gene expecting to make millions. What motivated Einstein or Newton or Planck or Heisenberg or Wagner or Mozart or Michelangelo or Picasso is the human tendency to explore the unexplored. To be inventive & creative. Money might have played a minor role is giving them the facility to create & invent, and not be worried about being captured by foreign troops and send to Americas as slaves or sent to foreign lands as indentured workers. All money did was to stop them from worrying about getting killed in the transatlantic voyage chained to thousands of other poor human beings. And not worry about scortching sun picking cotton or plucking tea leaves while some pompous arrogant free market capitalist can lecture the world of their moral superiority and their god-given right to civilize the humand race and their colonies!

    And hence, the reason why Silicon Valley is a success is because of freedom of expression, freedom of thought, pursuit of happiness & the innate tendency of this bipedal primate to explore. And this is exactly what motivates Prof Dawkins & Hawking & Weinberg. Of course, money does motivate some people and the resultant is Microsoft Windows, Britney Spears and Justin Beiber.

  68. It’s good to have an article like this here to demonstrate that not all atheists think alike politically. Apparently using the word “communism” favourably causes quite a stir.

    I have to say I whole-heartedly sympathize with Maryam Namazies’s sentiments. But I don’t agree with her conclusion.

    Her support for communism clearly rises from a feeling I share watching this world. It is simply not right that some people hold on to a wealth measured in billions of dollars, while billions of people live in poverty and even starve. It is simply not morally acceptable, not tenable in the long run and will eventually lead to violent revolts and desperate wars. While I have no objection to some people being much richer than me and some poorer, I find it abhorrent that some people are legally allowed be hundreds of millions of times wealthier than others. This is the shared sentiment.

    However, communism has been tried, and it failed miserably both as an economic system and as a way to govern a just society. To be fair, it might have had a better history in some other circumstances, having concretized in the midst of disastrous World Wars and in authoritarian countries ruled by ruthless imperial dictators throughout their history. But even so, a communist society is inherently hampered by its insistence on inflexible government plans and disempowerment of individual effort and innovation. Basically, communism didn’t accept our darwinian selfishness. It erroneously assumed our human yearning for equality and fairness outweighs our greed and competitiveness. 

    The sad truth is that to work as a viable economic system, communism would require more selfless and benevolent people than what this hominid species is capable of at this stage. In this sense, communism denies certain biological facts of our psychology, and to uphold itself it had to develop into an unfounded belief system, a quasi-religion.

    But the usual right-wing (often American, and also present on this thread) habit of equating communist and fascist ideologies is dishonest. Granted, both ideologies can be condemned for having resulted in dictatorial governments responsible for horrible atrocities. But as social ideologies, the  sentiments behind communist ideals are compassion, social fairness and the equality of all human beings. All acceptable ethical values. The sentiments of fascism are racism, chauvinism and inequality. Not very acceptable.

    While most people in western Europe would never wish to live under communist rule, the significant presence of strong left wing parties have served as a counterbalance to savage capitalism. Without left wing political pressure there wouldn’t be universal health care, afordable day care system, free schools and universities, all crucial to nurturing human resources and the greatly cherished upward social mobility in a healthy society. Without left wing political pressure most tax funded public services would soon be in jeopardy along with clean environment.

    In a democratic country, having a communist political minority to be reckoned with is essential to societal well-being. For instance, the complex and in many ways admirable American society would greatly benefit from having a viable far left party to counter the atrocious laissez-faire capitalism pushed by the Tea Party Republicans. But sadly and very much against any ideals of freedom and democracy, far left people are not even allowed to enter the US.

  69. The habit of making no difference between communists, fascists and their crimes is strongest in those countries that actually suffered through both of these regimes. Think of Poland, Hungary, the Czech, Slovak and Baltic republics.

    Both of these forms of totalitarianism demand and enforce closed societies with conformity and collectivism, an all controlling secret police and power permanently concentrated in the hands of the ruling party. Everything else is just propaganda, irrelevant to the suffering of the people caught there.

  70. The habit of making no difference between communists, fascists and their crimes is strongest in those countries that actually suffered through both of these regimes. Think of Poland, Hungary, the Czech, Slovak and Baltic republics.

    To some, all communism seems to be a defined by the atrocities committed by dictators and their followers. To others, like me, it’s more familiar as a normal political part of the parliamentary democracy — the word ”communist” is just a label for people who value rights to social justice and income fairness over rights to free enterprise and private wealth. So is it the word you’re against, all are you against all possible ideas that communism tries to promote?

    But you do have a fair point about Eastern Europe and the Balkans. For someone having experienced both fascist and communist atrocities it would be humanly very understandable to equate the two based on their similarities. But while I deeply empathize with these people, it is not a valid ideological argument to my point about being sympathetic to the victims of the abhorrent social inequality in our world. 

    Many Vietnamese hate the American capitalists for massacring their villages in the name of freedom and democracy. While understandable, it’s not a valid reason to reject free enterprise and the effectiveness of market economy. And many Southerners hated the Yankees for burning Atlanta in the name of freeing the slaves. Also understandable, but hardly a logical reason to support slavery. Similar bitter hatred for the oppressors and their ideological backgrounds stretches all over our global history. 

    Most ideologies have been based on ideals of freedom, justice and better tomorrow. Many ideologies have turned awry. Arguably, with a broad enough definition, the most atrocious ideology is capitalism, with a body count of billions of starved and impoverished people all around the world. 

    But fascism stands out on its own. While most ideologies started out as benevolent and got corrupted as they progressed, fascism was evil and morally bankrupt from the very beginning. There is a logical pathway from the essential fascist ideals to oppression, torture and the holocaust. Racism, inequality and fanatic patriotism form the very heart of fascism. If you accept such an ideology, whereby a race, a nation or any group of people is inherently above others, there is no possibility it will be accepted by these others without violence.

    Perhaps it’s only those not scarred by political oppression and atrocity who can afford the luxury of not throwing the baby out with the bath water. We can choose to oppose such evil and common communist practices like limitation of free speech and criminalizing political opposition. But I find it hard to oppose such practices like free education system and such ideals like a more equal distribution of wealth. A good example of this excess bath water drainage actually happened in post-communist Russia, where certain people objected to all social organizations, even such communist bureaucracy like the police, traffic rules, passports and mandatory driver’s licences. 

  71. I’m glad you recognise that Russia is capitalist. It has a privileged minority ruling class, who will emply the workers as and when they sense the prospect of profit.  As other posters have pointed out, there was still a privileged class of “communist” leaders supported by the workers when it was supposedly “communist”.  And also a massive collection of armed forces to:  a) repel invaders, b) keep the workers in their place.

    And, no, I am not advocating a return to the brutal state capitalism of Russia or anywhere else. Please read my post more carefully.

  72. “But I find it hard to oppose such practices like free education system….”
    Now when you say ‘free’…. Where do you think the money comes from to run such systems, e.g. to pay the staff, pay for insurance, heat, light etc.?

  73. RJMoore says:

    In a strict technical sense, of course N. Korea is capitalist.

    Thank you sir, that was my point!

     “If state ownership = “communism” then Fort Knox must be a bastion of “communism” “
    No, since the state doesn’t control or owns the means of production. FK holds some of the US’ gold reserves.

    Since the state and the capitalists have the same interests in maintaining the status quo, one thing is for sure: the gold in Fort Knox doesn’t belong to the workers!

    “Whilst the high priests worshipping the so-called “free market” paint its glory in transcendant colours, they seem to forget that the biggest market in the world, the labour market, currently has some 300 million workers worldwide who can’t get jobs. Some “freedom” eh!”
    Em, where do you think truly free markets actually exist?!

    I don’t think they do exist, hence my point about people being forced into the labour market. But then I never called markets “free”! Of course before things can be bought and sold, they first have to be produced. Now Mr O’Leary may have had a bright idea about cheap air travel, (as did Freddy Laker), but he didn’t make the planes himself, and I doubt if he can fly them or even work the check in desk.

    And vice-versa. There were no shortage of workers in the USSR, were there? I’m assuming the workers feel that they are better off with O’ Leary or they wouldn’t be working for him.

    I think I already pointed out that the workers in the western countries were considerably better off than their counterparts in Russia. The economic reality is that all workers are forced to work for an employer, or face the consequences. As the statistics in the article point out, millions die every year through poverty related issues. Is that their choice? Or are they just “losers”?

    “Where is the cry for the abolition of the wages system?”
    To be replaced by what exactly? Good vibrations?

    I am sorry that RJMoore is so cynical and accepting of the status quo of capitalism, that he feels humanity is incapable of improving its position by basing its society upon common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s resources, rather than upon the relentless drive for profit, profit profit.

  74. Communism requires a revolution and the subsequent establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is intentionally violent, undemocratic and lawless. Check Marx and Lenin on that. So much for freedom, justice and a better tomorrow.

    The ones who actually brought improvements to education, healthcare, suffrage and labour conditions to Europe were the Social Democrats. They went through the parliamentary process, got elected and negotiated results when the communists were busy dreaming of revolution.

  75. At what point did I deny that capitalism (via the industrial revolution) provided the impetus that drove the 19th century economy forward. You have obviously confused me with someone else. My point was quite simple and it was how do you disentangle the slave trade from the unregulated capitalism of the 18th century, when it was in fact an integral ( and profitable) element of an emergent international trade based largely on imperialism.

  76. “My point was quite simple and it was how do you disentangle the slave trade from the unregulated capitalism of the 18th century, when it was in fact an integral ( and profitable) element of an emergent international trade based largely on imperialism.”

    But it wasn’t an integral element; you can disentangle it quite easily. It was a very unpleasant yet, economically speaking, insignificant part of the vast economic growth of that period. It was  evil and immoral, but it had nothing to do with unregulated capitalism ; quite the opposite, in fact, since unregulated capitalism places more value on the right of the individual to control of his own life than any other system! The slave trade owed its existence to extremely racist sentiments that have existed in all kinds of political/economic systems throughout history. In other words, it was primarily a failure of parliament rather than the markets.

  77. “Since the state and the capitalists have the same interests in maintaining the status quo, one thing is for sure: the gold in Fort Knox doesn’t belong to the workers!”

    It belongs to the citizens of the US, workers and non-workers alike.

    “Now Mr O’Leary may have had a bright idea about cheap air travel, (as did Freddy Laker), but he didn’t make the planes himself, and I doubt if he can fly them or even work the check in desk.”

    OK, let’s take O’ Leary. I assume you feel his rewards are excessive in relation to those of the staff who work for him. Now since the staff who work for him, according to you, have all the requisite skills to run an airline, it surely must make you wonder why they don’t set one up? What’s stopping them? He had the vision, he did the organizing, he fought the battles, he put in the time and effort, he took the risks…he gets the rewards; good for him. If O’ Leary stops making money tomorrow, he’ll be gone.

    What has O’Leary achieved? He has created countless jobs, directly and indirectly. He revolutionized the tourism industry. The tourists he induced to travel provide huge economic benefits to the countries his airline services. Finally, and most importantly, he has made it possible for people to travel at a small fraction of the cost they used have to pay to Flag Carriers. Whereas it used cost more than a week’s wages for people to travel from, say, Dublin to London, they can now do it for an amount that takes only a few hours to earn. Furthermore, his approach has forced other airlines to reduce their fares, further benefiting the consumer.

    Do I think O’ Leary is a saint? Far from it. I have no doubt that if he could double his profits by charging his customers twice as much, he would. So what protects the customer? The free market. The minute he starts taking liberties, some other bright spark will step in and take his customers’ business by doing what O’ Leary initially did to make his money, i.e. offering less expensive flights. In a free market, O’ Leary’s pursuing his own self-interest benefits everyone, everyone except those who wish to protect their position of monopoly. 

     “As the statistics in the article point out, millions die every year through poverty related issues. Is that their choice? Or are they just “losers”?”

    Do you know all those immigrants who swarmed to the US in the late 19th and early 20th C? There was no safety net, no welfare, yet tens of millions believed they would be better off in the robust capitalist state. How many died of poverty? How many died of starvation? Think of the improvements in the lives of immigrant families that were achieved within one generation.

    The poverty that is in the world today is not caused by capitalism; it’s caused by despots, corruption, absence of law, collectivism, superstition, and state-sanctioned monopolies. My sympathies are with those who are forced to live in such societies. 

    “I am sorry that RJMoore is so cynical and accepting of the status quo of capitalism….”

    I’m most definitely NOT in favour of maintaining the status quo; I want unregulated free markets and free trade.

     “….that he feels humanity is incapable of improving its position by basing its society upon common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s resources, rather than upon the relentless drive for profit, profit profit.”

    Common ownership means you control me and I you. It inevitably ends in tyranny and regression, not freedom and prosperity for everyone. Therefore, for reasons of principle and expedience, I favour capitalism.

  78. RJMoore in reply to me:

    “Since the state and the capitalists have the same interests in maintaining the status quo, one thing is for sure: the gold in Fort Knox doesn’t belong to the workers!”It belongs to the citizens of the US, workers and non-workers alike.

    Ha ha! Nice one RJ! But of course if Joe the Plumber tries to his hand on “his” share, he will be in jail pretty quick! As indeed would Bill Gates be should he try his luck.  No I’m afraid the gold belongs to the US state, so according to some people’s definition of “socialism”, Fort Knox is “socialism” personified!

  79. RJMoore:

    Now since the staff who work for him, according to you, have all the requisite skills to run an airline, it surely must make you wonder why they don’t set one up? What’s stopping them?

    Perhaps a little thing like access to capital? You know what the banks are like these days? The odds of a worker making it into the ranks of the capitalist class are pretty dam slim. Some make it like David Beckham, or Sir Mick Jagger, but for every one of them are a thousand failures. Even then Beckham and Jagger are very small fry compared with the big boys or gals, like e.g. Gina Rinehart.

    “As the statistics in the article point out, millions die every year through poverty related issues. Is that their choice? Or are they just “losers”?”

    Do you know all those immigrants who swarmed to the US in the late 19th and early 20th C? There was no safety net, no welfare, yet tens of millions believed they would be better off in the robust capitalist state. How many died of poverty? How many died of starvation? Think of the improvements in the lives of immigrant families that were achieved within one generation.

    Ah yes the good old days of the 19th century! Abolish the Corn Laws and let, in those days, British capitalism rule the roost! How many did die of poverty, starvation and preventable disease RJ? Or, was that just “collateral damage” in the pursuit of profit?

    I’m most definitely NOT in favour of maintaining the status quo; I want unregulated free markets and free trade.

    Well RJ, you may be surprised that you find yourself in agreement with Karl Marx! I will leave you to do the requisite research as to why. The reality of capitalism is that because of conflicts between different groups of capitalists the state can and does inevitably intervene in the economy. Anyone remember those “socialists” Bush and Paulsen using state resources to save AIG from bankruptcy?

    Common ownership means you control me and I you. It inevitably ends in tyranny and regression, not freedom and prosperity for everyone. Therefore, for reasons of principle and expedience, I favour capitalism.

    I notice you left out the bit about common ownership and democratic control. That makes a big difference IMO.

    With no parasitic class of money grabbers to support, I think the workers will do just fine!

  80.  “unregulated capitalism places more value on the right of the individual to control of his own life than any other system!”

    Not quite, unregulated capitalism exists in order to make a profit and accumulate wealth at the expense of the indvidual. It is in fact an undemocratic and exploitative system that does not in any way recognise the needs of the individual. We can see all of this  in the current economic crisis which, it has been argued, has it’s roots in a largely unregulated banking system.

  81. “… at the expense of the individual.”

    Probably the most persistent and misleading fallacy in economics. In a free market, one person can ONLY gain if the other person gains; that’s the beauty of the system.

    “It is in fact an undemocratic and exploitative system that does not in any way recognise the needs of the individual”.

    It is undemocratic, thank god. The individual is his own master; he’s not the servant of the collective. Exploitative? How? If you don’t want what’s on offer, take your business elsewhere.

    Recognises the needs of the individual?! That’s what caused capitalism to thrive, ffs!! There is no other system that empowers the individual as much as capitalism.  

  82. What utter nonsense,  capitalism thrives on inequality, FFS, how it can it not, as it generates inequality. What for example did those individuals that bought into the fantasy of a, share owning, home owning democracy gain from the global collapse of the “free” market. Which meant the loss of their home and in some cases the loss of their one and only source of income  their job.I have noticed that there are’nt many bankers collecting the dole, as it were.

    “Exploitative? How? If you don’t want what’s on offer, take your business elsewhere.”

    Really ? and thats a viable option for eveyone is it ?

  83. “Perhaps a little thing like access to capital? You know what the banks are like these days?”

    Em,  why didn’t they set up an airline in the 90s or the early 2000s? The banks were throwing money at investors during that period, weren’t they?

     “The odds of a worker making it into the ranks of the capitalist class are pretty dam slim”.

    Come on, that’s just ridiculous! Never in the history of the world has social mobility been as great in degree or as prevalent; and the more ‘free’ the sector of the economy is, the greater the opportunity for advancement, particularly for ethnic minorities. In which fields have, for example, Jews and Blacks been most successful in the US? Music, sport, theatre, film etc…in other words, those fields where govt. is largely a non-player. In which areas have ethnic minorities been least successful traditionally? Furthermore, do you find ethnic or sectarian strife in capitalist states or ones which promote collectivism?

    You’re using the old ‘top 10% fallacy’. No one actually takes the time to look at the composition of the the top 10%, at regular intervals. If you checked, say, every 5 years who is in the top 10%, you’d find many ‘members’ who started life on the bottom rung of the economic ladder and worked their way up to the top; and you’d find many whose wealth has been reduced substantially and who’ve fallen out of the top 10%.

    “How many did die of poverty, starvation and preventable disease RJ? Or, was that just “collateral damage” in the pursuit of profit?”

    Ye olde snapshot fallacy! Of course there was poverty, starvation, and death from preventable illness in 19th C England (mainly the early part); but what proceeded and what came after the advent of capitalism?  Did capitalism almost completely eradicate these problems over a period, a very short period, in fact? Absolutely, 100% yes. All those kids working as chimney sweeps in Victorian England…awful…but why do you think they were doing it? Do you think there was some idyllic rustic existence from which these kids were dragged away to be forced up chimneys? No. The poverty, starvation, and disease in the countryside were far worse; its just that it wasn’t as visible or concentrated. 

    You might want to consider this fact: between 1500 and 1830 CE, the GDP of the world doubled. Between 1830 and 1915, it quadrupled! What other than capitalism, largely unregulated, could cause such an increase in prosperity for the common man?!

    “Anyone remember those “socialists” Bush and Paulsen using state resources to save AIG from bankruptcy?”

    Yes, and a true capitalist would never use state funds for bailouts. Bush, Obama, Clinton, Carter, and Nixon…. none was a true capitalist….not even Reagan was.

    “I notice you left out the bit about common ownership and democratic control. That makes a big difference IMO.”

    No; that was my point. ‘Common ownership’ means you control me and I control you. It can’t be otherwise; and it’s antithetical to freedom. ‘Democratic control’ means that 51% can tell the 49% what they should do with their money. You don’t think  that the 51%, when push comes to shove, is going to privilege itself at the expense of the 49?! Furthermore, what invention or innovation was ever brought about by a collective? Such things are brought about by individuals pursuing their self-interests.

    “With no parasitic class of money grabbers to support, I think the workers will do just fine!”

    In a free market, parasites will die off very, very quickly; in a collectivist society, they eventually outgrow and overpower the host.

  84.  “Ye olde snapshot fallacy! Of course there was poverty, starvation, and
    death from preventable illness in 19th C England (mainly the early
    part); but what proceeded and what came after the advent of capitalism?
     Did capitalism almost completely eradicate these problems over a
    period, a very short period, in fact? Absolutely, 100% yes.”

    No it bloody did’nt it was the advent of the collectivised NHS that did that

  85. “….capitalism thrives on inequality,FFS, how it can it not, as it generates inequality.”

    If your concern is equality of outcome rather than increased prosperity, freedom for all, and equality of opportunity, you can have it. I know which I’d rather. You’ll see how much comfort equality will be to you if you have hundreds of people queuing round a corner to buy a loaf of bread, or you have to make to do with the state-manufactured car that breaks down after 5,000 miles and you have to wait two weeks before the state-approved mechanic gets round to you…..and that’s the pleasant bit. Wait til the persecution and thought- control starts.

    “What for example did those individuals that bought into the fantasy of a, share owning, home owning democracy gain from the global collapse of the “free” market. Which meant the loss of their home and in some cases the loss of their one and only source of income  their job.I have noticed that there are’nt many bankers collecting the dole, as it were.”

    Jesus, compared to which system? Seriously, what economic system offers this certainty you demand. Please have a reasonable sense of historical perspective and economic proportion. Your example is a perfect illustration of the snapshot fallacy.

    “Really ? and thats a viable option for eveyone is it ?”

    In a free market,  it is in the vast majority of cases. How many scenarios can you come up with that the free market won’t provide the best outcome for the great majority of people? And whats the alternative?

    Re. exploitation: I live in Dublin. Until about 10 years ago, the taxi industry was regulated by the state. In other words the state decided how many taxi drivers there should be. The result? Great incomes for a relatively small number of taxi drivers, who could decide when and where they would work. Brill. What about the tens of thousands of customers socializing at the weekend? A two or three hour wait on a Saturday night for a cab or a very long and often dangerous walk home. And what about the hundreds of young men who were prepared to work the unsociable hours to provide a proper service? Tough luck; it was a completely closed shop. So who was exploiting whom?

    After deregulation, some taxi drivers indeed suffered a loss of income; but think of the benefits to those tens of thousands of customers, to the new drivers, and to the businesses that enjoyed the greater number of customers who were happy to come into the city at the weekend. Which is preferable? And which made the better of the two scenarios possible: the bureaucrat trying to be ‘fair’ in his office, with a pen and calculator or the free market, doing its thing? 

  86. “No it bloody did’nt it was the advent of the collectivised NHS that did that”

    I don’t think even Red Ken would claim that the NHS eradicated poverty and starvation!

    In any case, where did the money come from to fund it? Would it have been possible to establish the NHS in 1848?

    And what about the US? When did they begin socialised medicine?! How did the standard of living in the US compare with other countries?

  87.  I said that the current government of Russia is capitalist. The Soviet Union is quite literally the text book definition of communism. If you just say “well no THAT’S not communism” you are as guilty as the US Tea Baggers who also use terms like communism and fascism without knowing what they mean. The world had a chance to try communism and we got Soviet Russia and Communist China. You can’t say you want communism without explaining in specific terms what you are trying to do that is different from what happened in those countries.

    Here is some political science 101 for you. The difference between communism and socialism is democracy. Communists don’t believe in it and socialists do. And the reason anyone with a basic understanding of history could tell you that communism is a failed idea is because history shows us that with no democracy you soon get a ruling class that has no checks on its power and cares more for that power than for the people they started out to represent. Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao all started out as pretty good guys with goals to help working people and farmers and to make more equal societies. But Lenin and Trotsky got replaced (and at least one of them assassinated) by Stalin and Mao was corrupted and became just another tyrant. Its why for all their faults the US founders had an amazing idea that is still relevant, that governments need a regular process for feedback from the people and to make sure no one branch of government gets too powerful.

  88. I don’t think what you wrote quite captures what the ‘amazing idea’ of the founders was. It wasn’t just that the system of governance they established allowed for feedback from citizens or for a division of powers; it was that they believed there were very few activities that govt. should interfere with, and that citizens should be free to pursue their own goals and decide what they valued. 

    While socialists, thankfully, support democracy, the problem is that they believe govt. should stick its nose into things that I believe it should have no business involving itself in. So, for example, 51% of voters use the  force of the state to tell you that you can’t inject heroin, pay a woman for sex, serve whom you want in a bar or restaurant, or agree a wage that is less than what a bureaucrat decides it should be. 

    You believe Lenin was basically a good guy, who just happened to be followed by a villain; but it was the economic system that Lenin espoused which inevitably led to Stalin’s tyranny. If we in the West continue on the path to socialism we are currently on, the danger is that we will end up with a new tyranny, the tyranny brought about by the quest for ‘equality’.

  89. I don’t mean this in a mean spirited way, friends, but there’s such a deluge of utter tripe and ignorant bile on this forum, masquerading as well-informed opinion (what self-proclaimed ‘objective’ opinion so often is), that I’d have to spend literally weeks unpacking the countless distortions, confusions, and outright mischaracterisations of communism so casually interspersed among the comments here. I actually felt somewhat depressed and nauseated going through this terrain of triumphalist and pretentious ignorance. This inevitably happens when the topic is communism, which, as it happens, few of you evidently know anything about, let alone the reasons for the demise of Marxism-Leninism in the 20th century, and much less do you have even a sliver of appreciation for the current monstrosities of capitalism, even among those of you who realize that capitalism is unsustainable (but who can’t muster the notion that we might move beyond it instead of politely asking it to become ‘more humane’ or ‘greener’).

    Let’s go through the claims (until I run out of patience).

    ‘‘Soviet, North Korean and Chinese communism were and are appalling – presumably they are the ‘no true Scotsmen’ of those who just can’t face that this system is almost always a disaster.’’

    If we’re talking about communism in the Marxian sense, rather than the crudely defined and mutilated conception that most bourgeois commentators use, North Korea is not a communist country. Its leaders, who run a kleptocratic dynasty imbued with religious symbolism and mythology, see the world in racial terms and their own people in a paternalistic and basically feudal manner: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/TheCle. Rather than invoking the ‘true Scotsmen’ fallacy, make sure that you’re actually dealing with true Scotsmen to begin with.

    The story of Chinese communism is much more complex (http://www.mlmrsg.com/attachments/article/72/CRpaper-Final.pdf); the Chinese experience (the most maligned and grotesquely misrepresented precisely because it was the farthest foray that humanity has made towards communism) represents something altogether different (other than the factors that the self-proclaimed experts, here and elsewhere, loudly fixate upon, like personality cults, to the exclusion of anything approaching a scientific and concrete analysis). Stalin’s USSR was something in between, a highly distorted socialism to be sure, but not quite the out-and-out abomination that his sanctimoniously invoke. Crucially to this discussion, keep in mind that the shortcomings of Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China have been used to reject in toto everything that these societies stood for. If Mao was ‘just another tyrant’, then the Chinese revolution, its struggles and its complexities can be conveniently brushed under the carpet. This has been used as a blank cheque to avoid even having to investigate anything about it, and to believe any proclamation made about it, no matter how absurd and fantastic. Everyone becomes an automatic expert by chiming in with the mantra about ‘totalitarianism’, with no risk of contradiction (after all, that many people can’t be wrong, right?). Blanket statements that ‘everyone knows’ to be true (ironically, the modus operandi of religious discourse, that so many here lambast when done be others) are given the status of Truth simply because they fall within the prescribed narrative. Even many communists feel the need to add a disclaimer stating that they, too, have nothing kind to say about Mao. As I argue below, they need not be so apologetic. It is in fact the apologists of capitalism who should sharpen their arguments and cough up some justifications. The experience of China was much richer and far more nuanced than the simplistic and frankly laughable caricatures of the sort offered up here.

    • In reply to #113 by Promethean Entity:

      I don’t mean this in a mean spirited way, friends, but there’s such a deluge of utter tripe and ignorant bile on this forum, masquerading as well-informed opinion (what self-proclaimed ‘objective’ opinion so often is), that I’d have to spend literally weeks unpacking the countless distortions,…

      I agree with you on the deluge. I also agree that there is a lot of bias and selective history about Marxism. Even on most of the American left when they, for example, talk about Vietnam the usual framing is “the US just can’t resist trying to be good guys and spread democracy, we need to stop being so good and just realize we can’t help everyone”. Of course in reality calling people like “Big Minh” lovers of democracy is like calling the Shah of Iran a lover of democracy.

      Also, when we look at the history of the Cold War it’s usually framed as either the US trying to contain communism or as both sides who couldn’t trust each other. When in reality, while the Soviets were hardly blameless or models of self rule it was usually the US that drove the escalations. The Soviets were recovering from a war that had decimated their country, occupied, bombed, starved, etc. Except for some Japanese balloon bombs that destroyed a few trees in the Pacific Northwest the US never even had the mainland attacked. And after the war the US was the unquestioned world power. It was the Soviets who were afraid of us not vice versa. One of the worst days for US policy makers was when those treacherous Soviets unilaterally gave up on the cold war. They realized that they needed to find another bogie man to justify the insane US military spending. (It’s actually amazing how easily they kept up the justification and nixed the idea of a “peace dividend”)

      I’m guessing you agree with much of that. Now to where you probably won’t agree. I like Capitalism. I always had fun at work. I like working and I had a job where I used my brain and solved cool problems and worked with cool people (well mostly). Oh, and I made a shit load of money and frankly I don’t see anything wrong with that. I worked my ass off. For long stretches of time I worked every single day and often 10 hours or more a day. I know that kind of life isn’t for everyone but it seems rational to me that for those of us that can do it that it’s perfectly reasonable that we get paid more.

      And as bad as Capitalism is, I think the evidence is clear that “dictatorship of the proletariat” is a lot worse. For the basic reason that the US founding fathers understood, it’s human nature, give any group unchecked power and it will inevitably corrupt them. The problem as I see it isn’t democracy and capitalism… its not enough democracy and not true capitalism. Chomsky makes this point as well, Adam Smith would roll over in his grave if he saw the way large US corporations are virtual monopolies and have so much control over government. So I want more democracy and more true capitalism.

  90. ‘‘These miners weren’t shot because they were demanding higher pay, they were shot because they were in a heated confrontation with armed police. They were only there because a disputes between two trade unions anyway.’’

    Should we therefore blame the trade unions for the shooting instead of the system that led to the dispute in the first place (indeed, made it necessary for trade unions to exist at all)? Why the grubby and anxious avoidance of context when it goes against capitalism? You acknowledge context when it comes to the police opening fire on workers. Why not a larger view? Regardless, haven’t capitalist regimes done ‘far worse to their people’? In fact, don’t capitalist regimes routinely do this? While we’re on the topic, haven’t capitalist corporations done far worse to people? (one only needs to recall the Bhopal disaster to understand how the profit motive and the structural imperative to expand or die might lead to workers having their lungs filled with poison gas). I watch the news, and I haven’t noticed any communist regimes around lately (unless one counts the non-communist North Korean regime), but I have noticed plenty of capitalist regimes and plenty of police massacres of workers and peasants. It would seem that capitalism and massacres go hand-in-hand with no help from communism.

    ‘I can’t believe this article is even on this site.’

    Essentially, you’re saying that we should be beholden to a pro-capitalist narrative. You already get that 99 percent of the time and call it ‘freedom of speech’, but on the one percent of times that you get a different opinion, you express shock and dismay that a different view is even being offered. One would think that if communism was so thoroughly discredited, its invocation should be harmless. Clearly not, it seems.

    ‘‘Communism failed in practice because of a number of reasons. 1) Lack of business experience. 2) Lack of ideological motivation. 3) Lack of public support which forced the government (which obviously wanted to stay in power) to exert brute force in order to quell the masses.’’

    Nope. It had nothing to do with ‘the government’ (which you invoke here as some abstraction separated from the processes and masses of the time) wanting to stay in power. Communism was overthrown in China not by the government ‘losing power’, but because Mao’s faction was defeated at the end of an inter-party line struggle. In the USSR, the nascent bourgeoisie that germinated in Stalin’s USSR in the form of privileged workers and officials within the state apparatus and party later congealed and coalesced into a full-blown bourgeoisie after his death, and maintained the prestige and trappings of socialism (prestige because of the Soviet contribution to defeating Nazism, which the bureaucrat-monopoly bourgeoisie wanted to capitalize on in its dealings with countries undergoing revolutions in the Third World), or what you guys call ‘communism’.

    ‘‘4) stupid, ignorant idiots with near absolute power. 5) A large bureaucracy who only served their own interests as opposed to the people’s.’’

    Incidentally, Mao’s Cultural Revolution was aimed at eliminating this bureaucracy (his guiding slogan during that period, ‘‘Bombard the headquarters’’, can’t exactly be construed as a love for and coddling of bureaucracy). The reason, which many assume must reside in some ineluctable dynamic of ‘communism’, actually has its roots in the retention of capitalist forms throughout the transitional period of socialism and the reinstatement of a state bourgeoisie. Mao’s innovation in Marxist theory was to recognize that class struggle continues under socialism (http://www.mediafire.com/view/?g6nsqj65xpzdx5y), and that line struggles develop within the party. In fact, according to his analysis, a bourgeoisie sets up shop right in the party itself. Thus the state isn’t some monolithic entity immune to the contradictions and processes taking place in the wider society and that is only concerned with its ‘own power’. The state is itself a site of struggle, and the line that wins out will largely determine whether the revolution is carried through (it wasn’t, in either China or the USSR, and Mao was proven completely correct in his prediction that if the revolutionary line lost the struggle, it would mean the return of capitalism to China) or if it stagnates, is reversed, and a regression to capitalism made.

  91. ‘‘6)… . There may be some flaws in the ideology but the main reasons why people dismiss communism (or Marxism, which has never even been put to the test) as an actual viable political system are the atrocities and the poverty. Both of which have nothing or very little to do with the actual ideology (add underscore). I just wanted to say this because I, too, am a social-democrat with a small, blood red m/ Marxist heart :).’’

    Social-democracy is proving itself quite impotent in the face of capital’s repeated and steadily mounting blows. Social-democracy means leaving the bourgeoisie to remobilize so that on the day of reckoning, it can reassert its fangs, as we’re now seeing. Since it leaves intact the basic structural imperative to undo whatever reforms get in the way of capital accumulation, social-democracy cannot, in the final analysis, have a ‘blood red Marxist heart’. Any ideology that bestows legitimacy to the extraction of surplus-value of one class by another, however well regulated, humane and ‘progressive’ it may be, cannot but be anything other than an open invitation for capitalism to eventually reassert itself in all its worst forms. Any analysis that fails to point at the underbelly of bourgeois society – the exploitation of labor (to be understood in the Marxian sense of ‘relation to the means of production’, not the crude and irrelevant sense invoked by free market cheerleaders – and that REFUSES to touch this by substituting it with a ‘harmonious’ accord between capital and labor and sappy narratives about ‘fairness at the work place’, ‘upward mobility’, peaceful coexistence with capital, and the like, all of which disarm and bribe the worker from the task of eliminating exploitation rather than concealing and prettifying it, has nothing to do with Marx, and represents a total capitulation to capitalism.

    ‘‘No, communism failed because it has no viable easy to provide economic organization.’’

    Completely false. It’s actually communism (and socialism during the transitional period) that provides a rational way of economic organization, in place of the irrational and monstrous misallocations that are completely normal under capitalism. A common notion, it’s true, is that revolutionary socialism failed because it failed economically. In fact, it didn’t. It was defeated by line struggles within the party and the state apparatus. In China, this reached the level of virtual civil war. That the capitalist-roader faction won out says nothing about any inherent failing of socialist planning. Indeed, in spite of the many problems and the enormous amount of opposition (and yes, sabotage) it encountered, socialist planning produced some spectacular successes in conditions that were both difficult and uncertain. It is entirely understandable that those for whom the world is little more than a resource to be milked for profit would want this reality to be swept away and forgotten, but that doesn’t mean that the ‘respectable’ narrative (i.e. the one that assumes the correctness of capitalism and that axiomatically assumes the incorrectness of socialism) is accurate. It just means it’s widespread and that a lot of people harbor ignorant views bearing little resemblance to anything that transpired.

    ‘When communist stop using emotional pleas and focusing on political unfairness, and instead start to focus on the underlying economic holes in their theory, I’ll be more inclined to listen.’’

    Presumably, though, you’re perfectly ‘inclined’ to listen to the capitalists, in spite of the innumerable holes in their theories (indeed, they’re in such a shambles that Marxian ideas are actually being looked at anew even in financial journals, simply because the bourgeois ideologues who only yesterday pronounced the god-like correctness of their system have NO IDEA how to get out of the economic crisis their system has wrought). Your pompous dismissals are as unbecoming as they are conceptually and empirically unjustified.

    ‘Tell me how communism can be reconciled with subjective value, how you have solved the socialist information problem, how it can provide for marginal utility, and I’ll listen.’’

    Marginal utility is a category invented precisely to get around Marx’s insights on the exploitation of labor and the existence of surplus value. Capitalist ideologues need to invent these things in order to conceal the exploitative nature of their system and present everything that happens in an economy as being due to the independent and (for some odd reason) rational decisions of atomized ‘individuals’ who differ only in their level of success, since, owing to their ideological commitments, it stands to reason that capitalism can’t possibly be exploitative. Observe what capitalist economic ‘science’ has proven itself incapable of doing: formulating a coherent account for economic crisis under capitalism. Capitalist economics is like an accordion. When Keynesianism fails, the market fundamentalists gain the upper hand. When that collapses, it’s back to more regulations and state spending. While they were singing their praises during good times, Fukuyama’s soon-to-be vanquished history was busily reasserting itself. This is something right at the beating heart of their system, and like idiots they’re still scratching their heads, trying to find some ‘externality’ they can blame it all on. As for subjective value: Marx never dismissed that concept, and is in fact part of his theory. I’m curious as to why you think this isn’t so. Pointing at objective value doesn’t preclude subjective value.

  92. ‘In other words, instead how telling me how you wished the world worked, give me a system that can work in the one we actually inhabit, using arguments based on facts, logic, and science, not emotions and wishes’’

    That lament would more fruitfully be directed at capitalist ideologues, whose theoretical edifice has gone up largely in smoke as Futuyama’s forecasts went to hell. There’s a reason that economics is called ‘the dismal science’, and it proves itself so every single day
    .

    ‘Give me a reason to believe that communism won’t cause famine like it had every single time it has been tried.’

    Again, a lament that should properly be directed at capitalism, which continues to oversee famines in spite of the proud proclamations that the triumph of capitalism would see a world where prosperity would be readily available to all. That never happened, and now, not even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders can seriously entertain such utopian claims, which have given way to a type of default ‘least bad system’ position. To paraphrase you: give me a reason to believe Goldman Sachs won’t cause death and hunger in the Third World by dabbling with food prices on the stock market and ruining local economies in poor nations that suffer dire consequences from these fluctuations: https://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=4171:how-goldman-sachs-banks-on-hunger&Itemid=399. This is the stuff that routinely happens under the noses of those who pontificate about communist famines. But to answer your request: communism didn’t ‘cause’ famine, let alone ‘every single time’ it has been tried (I’m aware of no ‘famine’ in East Germany, for instance). What transpired was the result of bitter and often brutal conflict and struggle in the midst of national emergencies. In the USSR, the need to feed the cities to avoid the country collapsing took place in an emergency situation. This was achieved through brutal grain acquisition. Death and hunger were assured in any case, whether in the country or the cities; the choice was whether to chance it in such a way as to risk losing the socialist union by co-towing to the kulaks, or to continue with a situation in which these guys were extracting concessions and building an opposition power base that explicitly wanted to rid itself of the union. As for Stalin’s fateful decision, however hideous it was, I’d like to know why you think it has anything to do with some inevitability that you need to be convinced ‘won’t happen again’ before you’re ‘inclined’ to listen, when you know perfectly well that it took place under particular circumstances encountered by particular agents in a particular historical situation, and that food emergencies and sometimes outright famines arise every single year in a world dominated not by socialism but by capital. Maybe the onus is on you to provide some comforting reassurances for why we should keep going like this. Food, being a commodity under capitalism, will be sold to those sectors of the market that can provide an acceptable ‘rate of return’ for the growers (in this world, these growers are increasingly enormous agribusiness corporations). It isn’t hard to see that this would cause all sorts of horrific misallocations in a world system composed of giant multinationals dumping their grain on foreign markets (something you would be only too happy to allow in your free trade utopia, comfortable in the knowledge that this can’t possibly lead to horrible consequences because, by definition, capitalism is that system that best allocates resources in the most efficient manner), small local farmers who are sidelined by such dumping (hey, at least they have the ‘freedom’ to compete with Monsanto, right?), wildly fluctuating food prices made even more unstable by financial outfits doing what their shareholders require them to do (something you would allow and even lionize, given the terrible stranglehold that state regulations on financial instruments and other unpredictable shenanigans entails), and land being set aside to cater to the tastes of affluent markets at the expense of local needs (your precious ‘price signals’ at work and leading to an eminently rational allocation of resources). And I haven’t gotten to the effects of climate change, which make all of this even more dire. That’s capitalism, not socialism, and it happens every day of the week. Please convince us that all this will soon stop and that the market will attend to it.

    The Chinese famine? Well, there’s a lot to be said about it, a hell of a lot. Firstly, no one knows how many people actually died during the Great Leap, and the figures that are often trotted around, with some ludicrous assertions intoning ‘50 million dead by Mao’s hand’, belong squarely in the realm of science fiction. Here at least is one socialist take on the famine which doesn’t politely acquiesce to the commonly recieved narrative about Mao the genodical lunatic: http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward. But let’s say that 10 million died during the Great Leap. Obviously, even a tenth or a thousandth of that would be a horrible outcomes. But again: context. A few things can be said about this. Firstly, we need to dispense with the nonsense about a ‘terror famine’. Such a hideous war on his own people would have had precisely the opposite effect to what Mao was going for throughout his entire engagement with the Chinese revolution: winning the hearts and minds of China’s hundreds of millions of peasants, the strategy he used to organize them in the first place. Secondly, China was experiencing some of the worst droughts in its history. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, many officials and peasants fabricated their grain harvests out of enthusiasm for the revolution and to appear as exceptional citizens and villages (in the case of the latter) and to curry favour with the central government by appearing to be excelling at meeting and besting government directives (in the case of the former). Fifth, and related to this point, the people who were often in charge of carrying out these programs were often against them. The non-Mao faction controlled large parts of the state apparatus. Thus Mao had to largelx rely upon his opposition within the state to carry through the programs he wanted to implement. Taking them to absurd extremes, ‘blowing a Communist wind’ (a term used at the time to refer to dogmatic and simplistic campaigns that too an ultra-left line), gigantism, these were ways in which many officials who who opposed Mao’s revolutionary focus undermined his project by simultaneously carrying out state directives while doing them in such a way that socialism would be discredited (their intended goal, by the way. These very bureaucrats were later targetted during the Cultural Revolution). Finally, Mao himself overestimated the preparedness of China’s masses to engage in the Great Leap, as well as the shortcomings in China’s organisational prepardness. He acknowledged his errors as his own, but at the very least, whatever amount of blame should be assigned to Mao, this was certainly NOT a terror famine, and it was almost certainly nowhere as large as Cold Warriors have claimed it to be (we might ponder whether they had any ideological stake in doing so. The answer, incidentally, is yes). Incidentally, China’s long history of periodic famine ENDED by the time Mao died. The infrastructure and organization was put in place that ensured that famine would no longer be something that China had to anticipate. To quote Raymond Lotta: ‘‘By 1970, China was for the first time in its history able to solve its food problem. The new society was able to provide for a minimal diet and food security. This had everything to do with the Great Leap Forward and the formation of communes [which solved a problem to do with economies of scale. Small-scale farming was entirely inadequate to the task of feeding China]. It had everything to do with the collective mobilization of people to build irrigation and flood works, to reclaim and improve land, to master new agricultural techniques, and to establish small industries in the countryside. It had everything to do with the spirit of working for the common good promoted by socialist revolution.’’
    http://www.revcom.us/a/033/socialism-communism-better-capitalism-pt9.htm http://thisiscommunism.org/ThisIsCommunism/ChinasGreatLeapForward.html

  93. ‘Until then, communism should be relegated to the same category of ideas as homeopathy and Christ’’

    But, oddly, capitalism – which has had both ecocidal and genocidal consequences for two centuries (there’s even a book, which I implore you to look at, called ‘Capitalism: A structural genocide’, which goes through four modern case studies of this: http://climateandcapitalism.com/2013/06/17/capitalism-a-structural-genocide/, and this isn’t even including Bush’s war in Iraq, en eminently capitalist war if ever there was one), and which continues to produce all manner of irrational outcomes, mental illnesses, shattering alienation, appalling inequalities, and monstrous misallocations, as well as apologists who look anywhere other than its basic workings as the culprit – isn’t to be so relegated. That’s troubling to say the least.

    ‘‘ideas that seem nice on the surface, ideas that provide comfort, but ideas that ultimately provide suffering, death and the extension of ignorance.’

    You’ve perfectly described capitalism. Here:

    http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue56/Smith56.pdf
    http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue64/Smith64.pdf
    http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue53/Smith53.pdf

    ‘‘private incentive is eliminated, and massive amounts of goods are inevitably produced that are not needed. This is clearly what broke the back of the former Soviet Union’’

    I thought the collapse of the USSR was because it couldn’t produce ENOUGH goods which were sourly needed. Isn’t that what we’re always hearing? That the Soviet system was ‘inefficient’ and that people had to wait for hours in queues for basic necessities? Well, whatever the case, try this for inefficiency: the capitalist system produces massive amounts of stuff that pile unsold, not because people don’t need or want them, but because they can’t be sold at a profit. More significantly, capitalism produces massive amounts of excess capital, which lay about doing nothing. In previous eras, people might have gone without, but at least it was because the forces of production weren’t powerful enough to produce what everyone wanted and needed. Now, people go without, not because they can’t produce enough, but because they’ve produced too much. If that isn’t irrational in the extreme, I really don’t know what is. And still there are people who talk about the marvelous efficiency and rational ‘allocation of resources’ under capitalism (indeed, about how it ‘rationally allocates scare resources) – in the very midst of a worldwide overproduction crisis where there is a glut of goods and capital. That is, deprivation in a sea of too much – again, not in relation to what people need and want, but in relation to what can be profitably sold. These outcomes require an approach to understanding capitalism that don’t focus on personalities and personal quibbles or on innovation or the free market spirit – but on basic structural issues about the organisaiton of production. Perhaps someone could justly paraphrase you and say that when you provide such an analysis, they’ll be inclined to listen.

    ‘‘and spurred China to commence privatizing major areas of its economy.
    (NOT RONALD REAGAN!!!)’’

    No. China was ‘spurred’ to adopt capitalism because of a line struggle that the capitalist faction within the Communist Party won. Of course, there has been enormous economic growth since that time (which puts the lie to the claim that Mao’s China was ‘stagnant’, a complete distortion of reality), but three things are worth noting: firstly, the growth could not have happened without the infrastructure already in place that was built during the Mao years (including during the Great Leap). Secondly, the growth took place not because of the inherent superiority of capitalism over socialism, but because of something much simpler: a massive amount of capital and technology was suddenly made available once China joined the capitalist club (a club which had an historical head start of over a century, let’s not forget). Indeed, US capitalism was in such a pickle that the capitalist coup in China came as a God-send purely from the standpoint of staving off stagnation at home: excess capital could now be offloaded and put to work (that’s what made Wall-Mart big) in special-economic zones along China’s coast. Now, consider that Mao had inherited a society that was semi-feudal and constricted by a comprador bourgeoisie. This very backward society was what the Chinese had to build from. To do that via a socialist path was necessarily going to put them at odds with the United States and imperialism in general, which instituted a comprehensive embargo on technology, and pressured other nations to do likewise. Thus, a lot of China’s technology had to be developed at home rather than exported. This technological lag, if one is lazy and doesn’t care for facts, can be attributed to socialism. But if one is willing to connect basic facts, then something becomes apparent: Deng’s reforms meant that China now had access to Western hi-tech. Thirdly, the reforms have produced grotesque inequalities, injustices, horrific environmental destruction, widespread illnesses, gangsterism, prostitution, shanty towns, things that capitalism’s cheerleaders can only very convolutedly lay at socialism’s door (a favourite is to say that China is ‘economically capitalist but politically communist’, a theoretical muddle of epic proportions. Again, the ideological commitments at play and the need to present capitalism as axiomatically correct lead them to these blunders. Anyone with an inkling for the truth, on the other hand, knows full well that China is perhaps the most lawlessly capitalist state in the world, and that the ‘Communist Party’ is in fact a ruthless enforcer for capital, both domestic and foreign (as well as a site of corruption and personal accumulation within the state apparatus that dwarfs even the American equivalent). How a ‘communist’ government can have any place in this scheme is known only to the ideologues. Thankfully, it has no place in the minds of rational person trying to seriously understand the historical trajectory of communism.

  94. ‘‘To be a “communist” (with a small “c”) is to be tripping backwards to economically, collectively, failed times.’’

    Utter nonsense, given that any socialist renewal is going to look at what actually caused these problems. You seem to be saying, essentially, ‘‘This didn’t work then, therefore it can never work, and those who want to try it again are committed to doing things exactly the same way.’’ That’s strange logic. But to get to such a conclusion, you need to also look at WHY such and such failed (or was defeated), rather than simply hurriedly intoning THAT it failed. Conditions change, understanding changes, and mistakes can be avoided. Of course, new failures can arise, and there’s nothing automatic about success just because efforts are made to avoid past errors. But really, I didn’t know that being a communist entails adopting strategies and methods without a view to avoiding mistakes. I could have sworn that in all that communist literature I’ve read, the mistakes of the past are central themes that are discussed precisely that they can be identified so as to help ensure the success of any future salvo of socialism. But I suppose that the naysayer, who is ignorant both of the reasons for the failings in the USSR and China, and who is ignorant of current communist discourse, knows all (even when he knows nothing).

    ‘‘Ms. Namazie, with all the understanding of the human tragic consequences of this particular action in South Africa, I nevertheless urge you to think harder and deeper about our collective human future than you obviously have.’’

    I likewise urge you to investigate things a little more carefully rather than repeating ‘what everyone knows’, as though that made it a fact, and for exactly the same type of reason that you offered: the human and ecological tragedy unfolding before us.

    ‘There may have been some excuse before the great experiment of the 20th century, but no longer. Now it can only be the result of willful ignorance or worse.’’

    So by this logic, you’re not a capitalist, right? Because, surely, you’re fully aware of the genocidal outcomes of capitalism right through to the present day. There may have been some excuse before the great experiment of the late 19th century, but no longer. Now it can only be the result of willful ignorance or worse.

    ‘‘What made these countries wealthy and improved the lot of the common man beyond anything in the history of mankind was (largely) unregulated capitalism.’’

    Well, that, but check out what it was coupled to and what made it possible in the first place: primitive accumulation. That was utterly drenched in blood, a veritable Holocaust subsequently forgotten by most of capitalism’s admirers. Primitive accumulation continues to this day, and is therefore not so ‘primitive’ (other than in the sense of being barbaric).

    ‘‘if you look at communist states such as China or the former Soviet Union there was still a powerful elite that gobbled up most of the resources at least as bad as any of the oligarchies in capitalist states.’’

    You really aren’t ‘red’, are you? If you were, you’d know that China under Mao was the most equal society in the world. Not the tenth most equal, not the third most equal, but the most equal. And this after being one of the most unequal. Now, it’s certainly true that China today is grotesquely unequal, but what has that to do with communism? Come to think of it, wasn’t this condition exactly what Mao predicted would happen if the capitalist-roaders took over?

    ‘Yes, I’m for workers rights too but I’m against one party rule, a government that attempts to control what you think, no freedom of press, no freedom of movement, a command economy, no freedom of religion and no right to vote. This is demonstrably what happens when you have a communist government.’

    Nope, it isn’t. It’s what happened. It’s not ‘what happens’, i.e. what would happen if you attempted it now with all the understanding and reflection that’s taken place. Obviously, no communist is talking about re-instituting Stalin (well, most of them aren’t). Certainly, communists are for workers hegemony (rather than the limp and concessionary ‘workers rights’ you cited), so there will necessarily be many people who feel that their sacred ‘rights’ are being robbed (capitalists, for example, will feel grave injustice when their right to dictate the conditions of work are taken away, but laments by exploiting classes don’t count as nuanced analyses that should form our worldview).

  95. ‘by the self confessed follower of a political ideology responsible for torturing, beating and starving to death 100 million people’

    Sorry to say, but you pulled that figure out of thin air. ‘100 million’, a figure so often pulled out of thin air, is trotted out by Cold Warriors who get paid to inflate numbers so that gullible people can nod in agreement and agree to not even THINK about communism being anything other than a monstrous aberration in human history. Works beautifully, I’m told.

    ‘Have some of the posters on this board not heard of the KGB/ NKVD and gulags?’’

    Yes. Those are things almost unanimously opposed by communists. You’re working under the strange notion that, because Stalin was a communist, then, therefore, all communists want to institute gulags and secret police. In fact, you act as though these very things weren’t the focus of a lot of communist literature seeking to understand why the USSR reverted back to capitalism and what course any socialist renewal will need to take (and avoid).

    ‘’ Perhaps Namazie can tell us in simple terms what she will do if faced by a howling mob of machete wielding thugs?’’

    Hang on, are you DEFENDING police shootings or are you opposing them? It seems difficult to tell when you’re interspersing your comments with drivel about ‘100 million’ killed by secret police and then holding the police up as guardians of life in capitalist realms (one might have hoped that a glance at the news would disabuse you of that notion, but apparently not).

    ‘In a free market, the owner only makes profit by offering goods and services that people want, and supplying them at a cost and with a quality that is attractive to consumers.’

    This mutilated reply is typical of free market fundamentalism, wherein the practitioner can’t seem to notice that corporations are authoritarian institutions produced by the pressures of having to compete or die. The claim you’re responding to is clearly talking about the internal character of companies, not the relation of individuals (‘owners’, as though that implied nothing more that a financial transaction) to markets (which, by the way, come with their own regimentations). By focusing on ‘consumers’, you leave out what actually takes place in the production process and the pressures that shape it. This is a ball that Marx, on the other hand, didn’t drop, and he’s been getting hell for it ever since.

    ‘The minute he stops doing this, someone else will step in and take his business and profit. ‘

    True, and in typical fundamentalist fashion, you leave out the HOW. Here, let me explain it to you: the capitalist has to lean on his workers to actually produce those goods (as they don’t come out of fairy-dust), and this can involve anything from lowering wages, to speeding up production, to firing workers and replacing them with automated equivalents, to using cheaper materials or cheap labor overseas. He has NO CHOICE but to do so, because, exactly as you said, if he doesn’t, someone else will, and he’ll be out of business. That’s an INTERNAL issue to do with the company that comes forth as a result of a structural, not subjective or optional, feature of capitalism: competition. The exponential pressure to outcompete or die is close to an iron law under capitalism, and sets the stage for the owners of the means of production being at cross purposes to the workers, who have irreconcilably and fundamentally opposing interests of their own.

    ‘No one serves the interest of the common man more than the free marketeer does,’

    Actually, the common man (your odd label for the worker) serves the interests of the common man more than the free marketer (your odd label for the capitalist) does. The capitalist will throw the worker into ruin the second it serves his interests to do so. Capitalism, left unregulated as in the ‘libertarian’s’ utopian fantasies (and disastrous real-world implementations, something instructive for those who criticize communism on the same grounds), imposes a crushing pressure on everyone to constantly have their backs to the wall lest they be wiped out. Anyone can appreciate that this is a pretty sick and unhealthy way to organize a society, except for the free market enthusiast who imagines that just because everyone is legally free to set up biotechnology or computer companies means that they’re actually able to do so (and hence, axiomatically, have no one to blame but themselves if they fall through the cracks. The reason the poor bum can’t get enough to eat is apparently because he hasn’t decided to invest enough shares in JP Morgan. Nothing to do with basic structural issues of capitalist organization).

  96. ‘‘It makes the development of benevolent morality impossible.’’

    One has to wonder what you think this even means. I always imagined that rampant selfishness and a system designed to cater to it makes benevolent morality impossible, but that must be me being ignorant and out of touch with my own human nature.

    ‘Its capitalist. But what was it under the Soviet Union? Wasn’t that Communism? Isn’t that what you are advocating? Seriously? You want to work to make your home and the world more like the Soviet Union used to be?’’

    This is so wrong it’s almost nauseating. Please, just change your name already. Any colour other than red will do. I think red would tell you that you’ve outstayed its welcome, because it’s obvious that your entire conception of communism starts and stops with what happened in the USSR. Therefore, if something the Soviets did was bad, communism is therefore bad, which means that anyone advocating communism must therefore want to make the world like the USSR. What sort of logic is this? Explain it to me.

    ‘On reading this opinion piece, my first reaction was that Namazie has commited ‘credibility suicide’; and from the comments I have read so far, this seems to be the case.’’

    Ignorant opinions and half-baked conceptions don’t summate to create truths. Credibility in the midst of those harbouring incredible misunderstandings doesn’t negate the validity of one’s views, as any evolutionary biologist can appreciate.

    ‘In a strict technical sense, of course N. Korea is capitalist.’

    So…it’s not communist, then. Incidentally (and this might be relevant) it’s not even aiming for communism, as the word has been scrubbed clean from the country’s constitution.

    ‘Free markets, free trade, small govt., strong laws to protect third parties…..there’s more than enough to go around for everyone.’

    This is nonsense thrown out even by the optimistic cheerleaders of capitalism after the collapse of the state-capitalist USSR. The language these days is: austerity, debt, and geopolitical jockeying. Evidently, while there is indeed enough to go around, capitalism will ensure that it doesn’t go around – except, of course, to those who can pay. Those who can’t are shit out of luck, which doesn’t strike me as a solution to anything, unless those who can’t pay are removed from the category of ‘people’.

    ‘’Communism is a lovely idea but people aren’t like that. Like the Anarchists the Communists believe that human beings are basically good, whereas in reality they are all egoists.’’

    No, communists don’t believe that human beings are ‘basically good’. It believes that human beings are shaped by the material relations of their society and their historical level of class consciousness. There’s a major difference there. Everything done by humans, everywhere, has been consistent with human nature, simply because it was DONE BY HUMANS. By definition, it’s compatible with some aspect of human nature, just as all the things dogs have ever done have been consistent with dog nature. The question is: what aspects of our nature come to the fore? Your nebulous ‘people’, devoid of any class content or analysis, is useless as a datum.

    ‘Furthermore, to publicly ally Communism with atheism hands ammunition to our enemies who counter a rational argument for the lack of belief in Gods with ‘look what Stalin did, is that the society you want to create?’’

    Right, so your argument is, ‘Let’s equate communism with Stalin and leave it at that, lest our enemies make fun of us, instead of learning about what communism actually means.’ Does expedience come before truth?

    ‘Just because Maryam Namazie exhibits courage by her public apostasy, should not mean she becomes free to publish any old distorted rubbish on a forum which prides itself on rationality and truth.’

    Priding oneself on something doesn’t mean that one is actually doing said thing. You still need to actually DO IT, and this particular forum has been rather wanting in that department.

    ‘But even so, a communist society is inherently hampered by its insistence on inflexible government plans and disempowerment of individual effort and innovation.’’

    WRONG. Utter, absolute nonsense. Try this on for size, and tell me if it smacks of ‘inflexible government plans’ and ‘disempowerment of individual effort and innovation’: http://thisiscommunism.org/pdf/Shanghai_Afterword.pdf
    You can get the full story in the book ‘The Shanghai Textbook – Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Socialism’. It’s ten orders of magnitude more nuanced than any of the cartoon caricatures of ‘totalitarian dictatorship’ and ‘command economies’ that are so routinely lapped up.

  97. ‘It erroneously assumed our human yearning for equality and fairness outweighs our greed and competitiveness.’

    No, it didn’t. The triumph of socialism over capitalism was no sure thing in the minds of Stalin and Mao. The latter constantly warned about the danger and risk of reverting back to capitalism. As for greed and competitiveness: what context are you talking about? And who’s ‘our’? Weren’t the communists ‘erroneously’ assuming these things (about themselves…?) also humans?

    ‘The ones who actually brought improvements to education, healthcare, suffrage and labour conditions to Europe were the Social Democrats. They went through the parliamentary process, got elected and negotiated results when the communists were busy dreaming of revolution.’’

    Ummmm….the communists in China brought about all those improvements as well, and much more swiftly than, say, capitalist India, which is still mucking around with such niceties as childhood starvation. In short, the Chinese communists didn’t ask the capitalists for permission. I suspect that’s what really irks a lot of people: the Europeans social-democrats went through the polite channels and bowed to the ideological hegemony of capital. And once they did that, they were bestowed by the capitalists with the legitimacy (hence becoming ‘respectable’ and ‘serious’) they craved, whereas the Chinese were willing to offend liberal sensibilities.

    ‘’ Common ownership means you control me and I you.’’

    It doesn’t, but continue.

    ‘’It inevitably ends in tyranny and regression, not freedom and prosperity for everyone. Therefore, for reasons of principle and expedience, I favour capitalism.’’

    Small-minded platitudes like these are shockingly effective at short-circuiting serious analysis, and they’ve worked with devastating effect throughout the entire discourse of social change, from anything from health care reform to outright revolutionary politics. Your talk of ‘freedom’ is admittedly of this small-minded variety. The communist conception of freedom is something else. For one thing, it means understanding the forces that run our lives (like the objective laws of capitalist accumulation and exchange-value) and having conscious and direct mastery over them so that they can be identified, constrained, or utilised, rather than letting them effectively turn us into their creatures and appendages. It would take literally days – not hours, but days – to unpack the bad assumptions that went into those three sentences of yours. At any rate, freedom, in the communist conception, is about more than just the liberal desire for self-gratification, comfort, and the right to disseminate ill-conceived opinions. It’s the realization of necessity and the ability to change necessity, rather than living within an individualist bubble where you can ‘do what you like’, including remaining oblivious to the forces that shaped you.

    ‘In a free market, parasites will die off very, very quickly; in a collectivist society, they eventually outgrow and overpower the host.’’

    This is so asinine it almost beggars belief. You seem oblivious to the fact that in free markets, people’s ability to stay afloat doesn’t ONLY rely upon the ability to produce or think up something cooler than the competition. It relies upon the ability to co-opt other people’s labor, to compel them to accept a smaller cut of what they produced, to make them work in more dangerous or onerous conditions, to speed them up, to lay them off when it’s profitable, to threaten capital strike to make the state co-tow to your wishes, and so on and so on. There’s an entire universe of things you’ve left out. Heck, parasites are so well off under free markets that one of them even ran for president in the form of Mitt Romney, an asset-stripping and open sock-puppet for capital. But I suppose you think that asset-stripping and off-shoring jobs while living high on the hog don’t count as parasitism. This is the sort of enslaving mentality that the world’s workers need to overcome, not silly worries about what’s going to happen if workers take over and run things rationally without having to wait for a capitalist to okay them.

    ‘The difference between communism and socialism is democracy. Communists don’t believe in it and socialists do.’

    I think you mean ‘social democrats believe in capitalism’, which you’re equating to democracy for some strange reason.

    ‘and Mao was corrupted and became just another tyrant’

    Right, a tyrant who didn’t run the state for many years and had to call on the students and workers to ‘bombard the headquarters’ which he saw as becoming too corrupt and oppressive. This is what you imagine ‘corruption’ and ‘being just another tyrant’ means.

    • In reply to #122 by Promethean Entity:

      No, it didn’t. The triumph of socialism over capitalism was no sure thing in the minds of Stalin and Mao.

      I want to understand what your point is. Clearly Russia and I’m guessing China, I don’t know as much about it, but I would guess both are currently some form of capitalism with rampant corruption and monopolistic power. So if you want to claim those as the worst capitalism I will agree. But you can’t just dismiss the fact that those two worst examples of Capitalism came from the hugest experiments in Dictatorships of the Proletariat. And as much as I acknowledge the US committed plenty of international crimes during the cold war the behavior of China and Russia to their internal populations was abysmal. I mean beyond contempt. Detention with no or show trials. Torture. Use of mental health to punish political opposition. Rampant propaganda. No real freedom of speech. Any system that justifies that kind of a government (I don’t care if its excused as a temporary measure even for a few days) is completely without credibility as far as I”m concerned.

      I don’t care what kind of ultimate paradise they promise, nothing good can come once you descend to that level of barbarity and lack of respect for individual and civil rights.

      • In reply to #123 by Red Dog:

        It is kind of depressing to think that capitalism is not so much good as less bad than the alternatives. Perhaps it was not so much capitalism as democracy and international trade that made it less problematic, since the former demands taking the citizens’ interests into account, and the latter makes it harder to support prejudice and war against a country that is now your trading partner.

        And as much as I acknowledge the US committed plenty of international crimes during the cold war the behavior of China and Russia to their internal populations was abysmal. I mean beyond contempt. Detention with no or show trials. Torture. Use of mental health to punish political opposition. Rampant propaganda. No real freedom of speech.

        Let’s not forget their narcissistic incompetence when it came to agricultural policy. Stalin hired a quack called Lysenko to run crop breeding developments, and Mao effectively deluded himself into enforcing a farming policy based on no firmer foundation than how much it agreed with his political vision. The result starved tens of millions of people.

        • In reply to #124 by Zeuglodon:

          t is kind of depressing to think that capitalism is not so much good as less bad than the alternatives.

          Actually, I don’t agree. I forget who said this but one of my favorite quotes about politics and democracy is “it’s the art of the possible”. I.e., we are never going to get optimal solutions with it and we are wrong to expect them. If you really want a system that gives everyone a chance (and for all their faults I think that is one of the core good ideas in both democracy and capitalism) you have to accept at times it’s going to be less efficient than having one person unilaterally make decisions. It’s in fact the very nature of a system designed to encourage fairness and collaboration. This is a bit of a tangent but it reminds me of some of the things I thought of when I ran a lab. There were times when I was democratic — a few people said overly democratic, more democratic than any other place in the company that I worked in — and got input from lots of people on decisions I could just as easily made myself. It was more work that way and to be honest (not a surprise given my ego) I often felt that the ultimate decision wasn’t any better than I could have done unilaterally but I felt that by going through the process it made people feel a part of things and that was even more valuable than making the fastest, optimal decisions.

          I heard some historian say something I liked on this as well. He was talking about early US history, I’m paraphrasing but he said something like “You Americans like to imagine yourselves as being all about the individual and freedom but in reality the most important achievements and milestones in your history were all about compromise and showing how compromise could be used instead of civil unrest to resolve conflicts among an incredibly diverse collection of people”

          Perhaps it was not so much capitalism as democracy and international trade that made it less problematic, since the former demands taking the citizens’ interests into account, and the latter makes it harder to support prejudice and war against a country that is now your trading partner.

          Absolutely. You’ve probably read Pinkers Better Angels book, he talks quite a bit about how trade and even greed can be good things because purely by looking at a balance sheet it’s obvious that trade and negotiation are infinitely more cost effective and encouraging of wealth than war and conflict.

        • Mao effectively deluded himself into enforcing a farming policy based on no firmer foundation than how much it agreed with his political vision. The result starved tens of millions of people.

          It didn’t. http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward

          Secondly, the Greap Leap actually put in place the infrastructure and organisation that ENDED China’s historical food insecurity. Incidentally, life expectancy practically doubed between 1949 and the time Mao died, which means, when you think about it, that socialism actually SAVED millions of lives. The mistake most anti-communists make is to see ‘famine’ and assume ‘therefore, because of socialism’. Oddly, though, when the situation is ‘famine’ and ‘capitalism’, the latter is never acknowledged as a culprit. Capitalism has apparently never starved or deprived anyone of anything – with the tragic consequence that this ideological take, which imbues the minds of policy makers, is precisely what makes it possible for capitailsm to continue starving and depriving people.

          • In reply to #130 by Promethean Entity:

            It didn’t. http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward

            It did. At least eleven sources estimate between 18 and 46 million from starvation, not including deaths by violence.

            Also compare with previous Chinese famines for a sense of scale:

            Northern Chinese Famine of 1876-79. Killed between 9 and 13 million people.

            Chinese Famine of 1928-30. Killed roughly 3 million people.

            Between them and someone off the Internet who seems more than a little overzealous about defending Mao’s reputation, I hope you don’t mind if I remain more than a little skeptical.

            Also, I don’t dispute that this is no black-and-white situation, nor that there aren’t atrocities at the hands of capitalism. Myself, I dislike the UK’s history of colonialism and conflict both with itself and with other countries, even as I begrudgingly admit that they might be the reason I enjoy my current comforts. What I do dispute is the notion that someone like Mao is somehow worth praising by comparison, much less that he’s a good poster child for socialism. Even allowing that he was responsible for the unification and economic foundation of China as a superpower, and for the improvement of some forms of welfare, being responsible for one of the worst democides of human history into the bargain based on ideology-fuelled paranoia hardly strikes me as justifying what seems to be your enthusiasm for the subject, especially given how most of the recent improvements in human societies have little to do with socialism or the likes of Mao. It would be like saying Hitler has been demonized too much and we should acknowledge his party supported animal welfare: yes, there’s such a thing as going too far on demonizing someone, but there’s such as thing as way, way too much whitewashing.

            Also, there’s just no getting away from the fact that the Great Leap Forward was based on transparently insane agricultural quackery, such as planting the seeds extra deep and close together for “solidarity”. A system like that is doomed from the start. Even the Cultural Revolution was essentially violent and destructive in nature, targeting “class enemies”.

            I’m not anti-socialism – frankly, I think such economic theories would benefit from a scientific investigation to establish their effectiveness – but I do object to downplaying Maoist atrocities for the sake of arguing for socialism. If your best defence of a violent revolutionary like Mao is that the West is conspiring to blow his crimes out of proportion as part of an anti-socialist agenda, I am not assured of the objectivity of your case.

          • Postscript to #131 by Zeuglodon:

            I do have to thank you for introducing me to the benefits and the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, since it at least led me to look into it and change my view somewhat. I’m still not impressed by it, but at least I have some understanding of why the Chinese still seem to venerate him to a degree, a matter that had puzzled me once or twice given what I had previously known about his actions. I should also take the opportunity to reiterate that I am curious as to the open question of whether socialism would be an improvement over capitalism, though not yet convinced, and that most of my issue is with your comments on Mao rather than on socialism.

          • In reply to #132 by Zeuglodon:

            Postscript to #131 by Zeuglodon:

            I do have to thank you for introducing me to the benefits and the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, since it at least led me to look into it and change my view somewhat. I’m still not impressed by it, but at least I have some understanding of why the Chinese still…

            I don’t know much Chinese history but the story of Mao in the early years I do know and it is actually amazingly inspiring IMO. I can see based on that alone why Mao would be venerated as such an important figure in helping China assert itself as a true independent nation rather than as a dependent on colonial powers. The Chinese had been suffering from a war instigated by Japan that started well before Pearl Harbor. And as occupiers and invaders the Japanese were extremely brutal.

            Mao had been leading the resistance to the Japanese in a very uneasy truce with the people aligned with the West but he decided to fight Chiang Kai Shek (sp?). I forget some of the reasons but from what I recall the justifications were fairly rational. And even allowing for propaganda exaggerations the “long march” where he picked up a whole army and all the population that supported him and moved them on foot to a successful battle is one of the most amazing feats in military history.

            The problem with a lot of that history is it’s so hard to get an unbiased version. You either have apologists such as PE who see everything through a prism that justifies any action Mao did or you have apologists for the West who paint Mao as an insane tyrant. It’s been a long time since I read the actual history of that time and I have to run right now but from what I remember Mao was quite a leader and in those days seemed much more interested in the people than in his own power. Of course that all changed as he held power for life, that’s really the point even the best of people aren’t immune to the corruption of total power.

          • In reply to #130 by Promethean Entity:

            Mao effectively deluded himself into enforcing a farming policy based on no firmer foundation than how much it agreed with his political vision. The result starved tens of millions of people.

            It didn’t. http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward

            Seco…

            I’ve been following this discussion with interest for a couple of days . There is much to read and I find your comments very informative. IMO unfettered capitalism is the worst of all possible political systems. When it’s harnessed in a fair bit, it’s not so bad. I favour a system in which there is no such thing as a mining magnate. Why certain individuals should be permitted to plunder the mineral wealth of the country for their own personal gain strikes me as immoral. This mineral wealth is gone forever once it’s sold off to foreign buyers and the trickle-down effect means that the population as a whole only enjoys some short term benefits.

            This does not mean that I’d endorse a communist system either as I think people like to participate in the decision making process even if they chose unwisely. I like to see effort rewarded as well, but only to a moderate degree. A CEO who has a take home pay in the millions is not earning it. No one is worth these inflated salaries, no matter how valuable they are.

            Perhaps a form of Democratic Socialism offers the best for the most. Adequate checks and balances need to be put in place, so that the inevitable claims of corruption do not surface. We’ve visited most countries in the world at one time or another so I think I’m in a position to voice an opinion.

            PS. I deserve a medal for the reading effort I’ve put in.

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  99. Now to where you probably won’t agree. I like Capitalism. I always had fun at work. I like working and I had a job where I used my brain and solved cool problems and worked with cool people (well mostly). Oh, and I made a shit load of money and frankly I don’t see anything wrong with that. I worked my ass off.

    Well, fine, you had a nice job. So do I. I, too, like working. But what I’m talking about is capitalism as a system, not how I personally benefit from it. If I was only concerned about that, then I’d leave capitalism alone and even get behind it. Of course, that I benefit from capitalism (as do hundreds of millions of people) doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have monstrous consequences that largely prop up the benefits me and many others enjoy. Secondly, capitalism is currently in the early stages of the greatest economic crisis in industrial history. When the next Great Depression sets in, the system won’t have such lustre. In fact it’s already losing its shine for a lot of people, as austerity kicks in, and where the workers who were constantly told that capitalism is their best bet have to give up more and more just to keep the system afloat. Thirdly, capitalism is driving the planet closer and closer to an ecological catastrophe, and the ideology it imbues in people is itself a major hurdle. Sure, capitalism produced nice things, but that won’t matter if we don’t have a viable ecosystem. These things make it clear that this is an obsolete system, fundamentally incapable of really meeting the needs of the world’s people and fundamentally at odds with humans being serious caretakers of the natural world.

    For long stretches of time I worked every single day and often 10 hours or more a day. I know that kind of life isn’t for everyone but it seems rational to me that for those of us that can do it that it’s perfectly reasonable that we get paid more.

    Okay, but this isn’t what characterises capitalist production, which is what I’m talking about.

    For the basic reason that the US founding fathers understood, it’s human nature, give any group unchecked power and it will inevitably corrupt them.

    True, but that’s precisely one of the main topics in communist discourse: how to AVOID the negative eventualities of the USSR. Obviously, no one’s talking about reinstating THAT form of proletarian dictatorship. But it will still be a class dictatorship (the US is a class dictatorship, except that it’s the bourgeoisie who run the show). You also said that dictatorship of the proletariat is a lot worse. Well, for who? For some nebulous categoy of ‘people’? Certainly, it was worse for the capitalists (by definition). Worse that the capitalist hell-holes that go into producing so much nice stuff for affluent markets in the West? One has to be more specific.

    The problem as I see it isn’t democracy and capitalism… its not enough democracy and not true capitalism. Chomsky makes this point as well, Adam Smith would roll over in his grave if he saw the way large US corporations are virtual monopolies and have so much control over government. So I want more democracy and more true capitalism.

    I’ve often thought about Chomsky’s take on this and thought it was rather muddled, especially for a supposed radical like him. Firstly, it’s true that Adam Smith had a different conception of capitalism to what many of his supposed fans have, but he lacked Marx’s crucial insight: the exploitation of labor through the expropriation of surplus value from one class by another. Capitalism, whether the monopoly-style capitalism seen in the US today or the more serene vision of Smith, leads inexorably to accumulation and concentrations of wealth and power. Capitalist production, driven by competition, means that scales of economy are improved by having larger enterprises, which means being more assured of survival in the market place, which means that there is an inexorable drive to plough back more and more of the surplus extracted from labor into production. Once that happens, we’re off to the races, and these processes are accelerated by an order of magnitude. Once the playing field is raised, such that you need to be larger just to stay afloat (or even to get into the market in the first place), a spiral accrues that that produces larger agglomerations of capital. This isn’t because the individual capitalists want this, but because they have no choice. That’s why I said that there is an exponential pressure to grow, and when there’s an exponential pressure to grow, there’s an exponential pressure to find ways to speed up your workers, to pay them less, to replace them with machines, to engage in speculation, to engage in predatory and monopolistic practises. Smith’s idea was that large combines would indeed lead to a ‘conspiracy against the public’ in the form of price fixing and the like, and that it was the state’s job to curtail this. It seems to me that attempting a Smithian type of capitalism is a dead-end, because even if you had it, you leave intact the structural imperative to accumulate and eventually produce the institutions we see today and the processes I outlined above. Thus, what you and Chomsky are alluded to isn’t capitalism per se, but a different stage in the macroevolutionary development of capitalism. If we want to halt and eventually eliminate, rather than temporarily postpone, the extractive and ecologically harmful fundamentals of the system and the alienative effects of labor being a commodity, we can’t just set the clock back to the beginning and pretend like the basic accumulation processes and dynamics of capitalism don’t exist and won’t kick in again.

    • In reply to #127 by Promethean Entity:

      Secondly, capitalism is currently in the early stages of the greatest economic crisis in industrial history

      I’ve been talking to Marxists since the early 1970′s and they always say this. It kind of reminds me of the apocalyptic Christian cults who predict the end of the world every 10 years or so and never seem to register any self doubt over the fact that they are consistently wrong.

      You also said that dictatorship of the proletariat is a lot worse. Well, for who? For some nebulous categoy of ‘people’? Certainly, it was worse for the capitalists (by definition).

      For everyone. I’ve known several people who lived in Soviet Russia and even more who lived in other parts of the Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc at that time. Some of them were far to the left. Some of them were far to the right. Some really didn’t give a damn about politics but no one, not one person has ever told me how great things were and how they wished they could have the life they left there.

      And I actually disagree that “Certainly, it was worse for the capitalists (by definition). ” I think this is something both the left and the right don’t get about the Cold War. The Soviet Union played a very useful role for the people in power in the US. It gave them a way to unite the country around military spending that never would have been tolerated at any other time in our history. It’s actually amazing when you look back at the history of the US, true we were much more war like than most people realize but until WWII there was a very strong bloc from the business community that was against foreign intervention. It’s one of the reasons people like Joe Kennedy were appeasers.

      My basic position though is simple, I think it’s ridiculous to claim that any system that requires a dictatorship as a “temporary step” to some workers paradise should be taken seriously. It never should have been taken seriously in the first place but now that it has and now that we’ve seen the results it would be insane to consider trying to do that again. Dictatorships don’t remain temporary. People don’t willingly give up power.

      Any idea that you can just tweak things and do a Bolshevik revolution again but this time not get a Stalin is BS and the vast, vast majority of workers would realize it’s BS.

      The other thing I’ll say (and I don’t mean any of this toward you — I’m sure you are very active in the real world but this is a general comment) is that in my real experience most of the people who prattle on about revolution are just lazy. They have masturbatory fantasies about taking over the world but that is all they are. They seldom do any actual work to organize, form unions, etc. Because for them that is just bourgeois. It’s a lot easier for people to sit in their parents basement and dream of one day storming the bastille than it is to get off their butts and do the tedious actual work of politics.

  100. So if you want to claim those as the worst capitalism I will agree. But you can’t just dismiss the fact that those two worst examples of Capitalism came from the hugest experiments in Dictatorships of the Proletariat.

    Actually, in China, also the hugest experiment in capitalism. The movement of Chinese peasants to the special economic zones dwarfed anything that happened in Europe after the Land Enclosure Acts in England. In Russia, the state-capitalist machinery was taken over by and divided among gangsters and oligarchs, aided and abetted by stupid advice administered by American free-market whizz kids and Yeltsin’s willingness to listen to them. Certainly, a reversion back to gangster and monopoly capitalism was hardly what Stalin or Mao were aiming for; and the factors that led to the collapse of the respective socialist orders are, as I mentioned, central topics of today’s communist discourse. Yes, these things happened, nevertheless. Perhaps not insignificantly, both these countries were already run by oligarchies and gangsters before their revolutions. Both were sick and backward societies. The landlord/state-capitalist groupings were part of a social set of forces that the revolutions had to fight against and overcome. They have now reasserted themselves by stealth and have openly come to the fore once again. Indeed, it can be argued that it is in such countries that revolutions will break, because it is there that class contradictions are most acute. Thus, contrary to Marx, it is in the backward ‘peripheries’ that communist revolution will erupt, producing the most advanced and class conscious segments of the international proletariat, ironically in the midst of the most backward conditions and institutions. We see this today, in India, the Philippines and Nepal, which have historically been run by wealthy families, comprador-bureaucrat bourgeoisies, and an extremely reactionary ideological superstructure, and which each have strong communist movements and/or insurgencies.

    Whatever the truth, you raise an interesting point that certainly needs to be looked at and pondered seriously.

    I don’t care what kind of ultimate paradise they promise, nothing good can come once you descend to that level of barbarity and lack of respect for individual and civil rights.

    Well, what can I say. Firstly, Marxian revolution isn’t about producing a ‘paradise’. He never envisaged an end to struggle, contradiction, conflict, sexual jealousy, personal disputes, or a whole host of other chisms. He was concerned with the emancipation of labor from the prison of commodity production and how to build a world where humanity’s ‘species being’ could come to the fore rather than being subordinated to the needs of capital accumulation. As for barbarity, plenty of ‘good’ has come from it. The primitive accumulation that robbed and decimated the Americas and other aboriginal populations set the groundwork for subsequent capitalist expansion. As I mentioned elsewhere, this continues to the present day, as the commons are raided, privatised and sold off to the highest bidder, all for the good of capital’s need to keep replenishing itself with new opportunities for expansion lest it stagnate. This all too often ends up meaning the torture, rape, murder and conquest of those unwilling to see their way of life, which is much more in tune with a genuine balance with nature, becoming another appendage of capital. Secondly, socialism will bestow far MORE rights than capitalism currently can. Yes, some people will have their rights curtailed (such as capitalists no longer being allowed to exploit the labor of others, for example, which will undoubtedly draw forth shrieks of ‘totalitarianism’ from them), but should we keep going from crisis to crisis, ecological disaster after ecological disaster, just so that THESE people can have the right to get as rich as possible? Should humanity keep paying for their mess just because we don’t want to be accused of ‘lacking respect for individual rights’?

  101. Between them and someone off the Internet who seems more than a little overzealous about defending Mao’s reputation, I hope you don’t mind if I remain more than a little skeptical.

    Though presumably not about the scale of the famine that is often claimed. That’s to be believed. And hang on, but aren’t you ‘someone off the Internet’ as well? Anyway, I’d like to point out that there’s a book called ‘Through a glass darkly’ by William Hinton that documents and refutes each of the major claims of a major Harvard university study about the Mao era. Hinton lived in China throughout much of the period of socialism and wrote extensively about the agricultural and culture changes that were taking place there. His analysis of the study showed it to be riddled with countless basic misunderstandings of the intentions and the content of Chinese socialism – perhaps this was the reason it became widely cited in Western scholarship on China. It’s basically possible to impute anything negative to Chinese socialism and to have it widely believed. Chang and Halliday’s book is a best seller, receiving a hearty endorsement from none other than G.W. Bush.

    Figures of between 18 million and 46 million represent enormous margins of error, it has to be said. Which estimates are actually more reliable? How do we even know that the lower estimate is reliable? You don’t tell us. Figures of 46 million need not be seriously entertained. It’s also curious that the death estimates have tended to steadily rise over the past three decades, perhaps as a corollary with China’s economic reforms and the need to showcase capitalism as the solution to China’s problems (and, concomitantly, the need to sideline socialism by showing how it ‘inevitably leads to disaster’). If we take leave out Chen’s higher estimate of 46 million (and I don’t know how this estimate was obtained. The article just mentions that it was revealed in an interview with him), there is an R-squared value of 0.746 with year as the independent variable and death estimates as the dependent variable. I mention this because Chen was head of an economic reform research institute just before Deng Xiaoping’s ascent and later a dissident who got out in 1989 (for reasons I don’t know. I can’t find anything substantial on this guy). He could well have hated Mao and/or the Communist Party for his own reasons and had an axe to grind. A guy stating a death toll doesn’t constitute substantial evidence for it. The inter-line struggle within the party continued for a few years after Mao’s death and one arena of that was the Right faction’s mission to denigrate what Mao had done by casting it as a complete disaster that was holding the country back (Maoists are today attacked and arrested in China). Secondly, the intervening years have seen triumphalist euphoria in the West about capitalism’s ‘victory’ in China and of the failures of communism. Finally, these years have seen the rise of Maoist insurgencies in Asia going against the grain of capitalism’s ‘undisputed’ triumph. This context needs to be considered.

    It would be like saying Hitler has been demonized too much and we should acknowledge his party supported animal welfare: yes, there’s such a thing as going too far on demonizing someone, but there’s such as thing as way, way too much whitewashing.

    Actually, it wouldn’t be like saying that Hitler has been demonized. Hitler stood for, at the core of his worldview, reaction, mysticism, regressive sexual relations, racism and White supremacy, militarism, blind obedience, strict hierarchies, imperialism, and the manipulation, dominion and exploitation of people. Mao stood for the end of classes, the equality of women, the rational and just allocation of economic resources, the emancipation of work, the end of racism, and the popular participation in political life. The equivocation of Mao with Hitler is an outrageous slander that is used to denigrate everything achieved by the Chinese people under socialism.

    Also, there’s just no getting away from the fact that the Great Leap Forward was based on transparently insane agricultural quackery, such as planting the seeds extra deep and close together for “solidarity”.

    No, it wasn’t ‘based’ on these (admittedly hair-brained) things. It was based the optimism of previous successes of socialist development. As Raymond Lotta says: ‘‘But there was nothing “irrational” about collectivizing land holdings to promote mechanization and more social forms of work and cooperation; nothing irrational about creating rural infrastructure like water control projects, or planting forests and orchards, expanding rural industry in the countryside; and certainly nothing irrational about overcoming inequality between men and women and the age-old domestic responsibilities that have been foisted on women.’’

    • In reply to #135 by Promethean Entity:

      Though presumably not about the scale of the famine that is often claimed. That’s to be believed.

      Actually, I’d be quite willing to know what the actual figures are, and come to an actual conclusion to this debate. However, the disparity between Ball’s account in an openly socialist magazine on the one hand, and several scholarly sources on Wikipedia which I can’t access from the Internet on the other hand, are making things a bit difficult to verify either way. And let’s be pragmatic: the differences between Ball’s Mao and Wikipedia’s Mao are big, and unfortunately the truth is that this is not a field I’m entirely willing to sacrifice several hours of research for, especially as I detect rhetorical flourishes in Ball’s account.

      As a provisional indicator, has Ball’s article been published in a peer-reviewed journal? Is there any indication, in other words, that this historically significant review of this period of Chinese history is gaining any scientific credence? This is not an invitation for accusing historians of anti-communist prejudice; this is a fallible test to see what the consensus is on Ball’s analysis.

      No, it wasn’t ‘based’ on these (admittedly hair-brained) things. It was based the optimism of previous successes of socialist development. As Raymond Lotta says: ‘‘But there was nothing “irrational” about collectivizing land holdings to promote mechanization and more social forms of work and cooperation; nothing irrational about creating rural infrastructure like water control projects, or planting forests and orchards, expanding rural industry in the countryside; and certainly nothing irrational about overcoming inequality between men and women and the age-old domestic responsibilities that have been foisted on women.’’

      You’re missing the point. How could Lysenko’s pseudoscience have worked its way into the system if not for Mao believing in it based on ideological underpinnings rather than any technical expertise (and on pushing it), and why did it continue until 1961 rather than being called off after the Lushan Conference, where Peng’s criticisms were turned into what turned out to be a call for purging rightist opportunists? Ball is conspicuously silent about the agricultural practices Mao wanted adopted and why, which would call into question his (and Mao’s) blaming the famine on the weather (another point that makes this account contradict Wikipedia’s). If anything, the theme of purging is consistent with other Mao-era events, such as the 100 Flowers incident and the Red Army activities in the Cultural Revolution.

      I might also note that Ball seems at times indecently eager to claim that Mao “paved the way” for future economic success. Quite apart from the fact that this has nothing to do with verifying how many people actually died (and has a whiff of rationalization about it), it involves portraying Deng’s China as “a dictatorship that tried to rigorously control the flow of information to its people”, yet the simple explanation for why the data did not arrive until after Mao’s death seems to escape him: that Mao was suppressing the data at the time the censuses, say, were collected, and that part of the opposition was simply because of the damage Mao caused. This seems indicative of bias on Ball’s part and contradicts the overall picture one could glean from Wikipedia, and is another reason why I want to know of any peer-reviewed journals confirming his analysis.

      Figures of between 18 million and 46 million represent enormous margins of error, it has to be said.

      Well, Wikipedia notes that “demographic specialists” estimate a range of 18 to 32.5 million, which is a difference of 14.5 million, and later provides a mild estimate of 30 million, indicating the more extreme assessments are outliers. By rough comparison, the article on the number of World War II casualties estimates between 50 and 80 million. Obviously, they can’t all be right and some of them will inevitably contain methodological errors, but it’s generally considered normal for independent but uncertain dataset estimates on this scale to be within the same digit scale of each other and to cluster. This scale of error is normal in phylogenetics, for example. Whatever else could be criticized, sheer scale is not necessarily one of them.

      Basically, if Ball’s account is correct, then has it been subjected to scholarly criticism, and why is it not informing Wikipedia’s account, with which it differs so much?

      • In reply to #146 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #135 by Promethean Entity:
        Basically, if Ball’s account is correct, then has it been subjected to scholarly criticism, and why is it not informing Wikipedia’s account, with which it differs so much?

        Interesting discussion. I just wanted to point out if there is a serious error in Wikipedia people here can always go and edit it. I’ve done some Wikipedia editing and the process is not at all like what sometimes gets portrayed in the media, where any idiot can go in and make any change you want. That can happen on articles hardly anyone pays attention to but an article like this will get a lot of attention. The process, at least from my limited experience, is very impressive. Very much what you would expect in a good academic environment, focusing on references and objective tone.

  102. you have to accept at times it’s going to be less efficient than having one person unilaterally make decisions.

    Incidentally, the latter has nothing do with socialism (well, it did under Stalin. His method of rule by fiat is almost universally seen as a grave error and a dead-end by most socialist, not least by maoists). The mass line method of revolutionary leadership, formalized and developed by Mao and which he used to enormous effect in uniting China and inspiring its people to attempt to build socialism in the first, is the very OPPOSITE of ‘unilateral’ rule.

    http://massline.info/sum1p.htm
    http://massline.info/China/JHorn-ML.htm

    he talks quite a bit about how trade and even greed can be good things because purely by looking at a balance sheet it’s obvious that trade and negotiation are infinitely more cost effective and encouraging of wealth than war and conflict.

    Pinker’s platitudes are nice and I desperately wish they were valid, but unfortunately they ignore the structural imperative for war that result from the inexorable dynamics of capital accumulation, the economic function of the military, and the capitalist-imperialist system and why it exists.

    • In reply to #136 by Promethean Entity:

      Pinker’s platitudes are nice and I desperately wish they were valid, but unfortunately they ignore the structural imperative for war that result from the inexorable dynamics of capital accumulation, the economic function of the military, and the capitalist-imperialist system and why it exists.

      Can you explain how “the inexorable dynamics of capital accumulation”must result in “structural imperative for war”? I think I know what you mean but I’m not sure. Here is my guess, it is probably totally wrong:

      Since the second world war the US has essentially had a war economy. It made sense to have one during the second world war but after we could have and should have gone back to a peace time economy but we didn’t because there were too many people in power who could steer us away from it by generating fear of the Soviets and the Cold War. So now we spend about as much as the rest of the world combined on “defense”. Virtually all our government funded R&D is for weapons and other requirements of the DOD.

      If that is what you mean I agree Pinker ignored it and that was a major flaw in his book. But I still think he had a good point in that book. War is bad for business and that is why so many nations have moved away from it and he has the data to back that up that as nations focus more on trade and capitalism their willingness to go to war shrinks.

      BTW, this is why I would like to see more of an emphasis on pro-business in US left wing politics. I think all the Occupy capitalists are the devil stuff is not only just not true but counter productive. There was a time not so long ago in this country where some of the fattest of fat cats like Joe Kennedy were adamantly against war because it was bad for business. I think there are a lot of people in the business community who could be rallied to that point of view again and could also get behind things like universal healthcare just because they make economic sense and are in the long run better for business.

      • In reply to #137 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #136 by Promethean Entity:

        Pinker’s platitudes are nice and I desperately wish they were valid, but unfortunately they ignore the structural imperative for war that result from the inexorable dynamics of capital accumulation, the economic function of the military, and the capitalist-imp…

        When a country has a large investment in weapons manufacture it has a vested interest in keep a war going in some part of the globe on any pretext.

  103. I’ve been talking to Marxists since the early 1970′s and they always say this.

    As they should, given that the data to back it up is plain for anyone to see. To take the US situation:

    • Stagnation in real wages of US workers since the 1970s, in spite of a two fold increase in productivity since then
    • An explosion in consumer, business and government debt, as the shortfall of frozen wages had to be made up for. This explosion in credit also paved the way for the following, namely:
    • The continued concentration of capital, with a definitive qualitative trend towards what Lenin called ‘monopoly’, with many of the world’s biggest economies being so-called multinational corporations
    • The qualitatively increased central role of finance-capital in the economy, leading to instabilities of the type that broke out in the 2008 financial crisis and that will continue to break out given the state’s impotence in the face of these concentrations of capital
    • A massive glut of capital and diminishing outlets for physical capital to find new investment opportunities (as exampled by the reluctance of banks to lend to business these days), thus the increasing hoarding of wealth by the capitalists and the turn to stock market and financial shenanigans to keep the accumulation process going, which have had the result of simply exacerbating the basic problem by producing more instabilities and uncertainty
    • Imperialist war, such as the Iraq campaign, designed to shore up the capitalist-imperialist system and the United States’ preeminence in it, and the continued escalation of the military-security state, especially as it engages in increasingly dangerous confrontations with its imperialist rival, capitalist China
    • The use of massive Keynesian deficit spending to shore up the economy and its sagging prospects, and the open realization and even panic by many bourgeois commentators that even such massive injections into the system can’t keep it moving along very well. The chickens are coming home to roost and things, far from really improving, are about to take a term for the worst in the near future, as even these pundits are beginning to understand: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/opinion/when-wealth-disappears.html?_r=0

    It kind of reminds me of the apocalyptic Christian cults who predict the end of the world every 10 years or so and never seem to register any self doubt over the fact that they are consistently wrong.

    There’s no comparison. The Christian cults are driven by a devotion to Biblical prophecy, using a philosophical idealist take on history. The Marxian critics are driven by an analysis of the world capitalist system.

    You also said that dictatorship of the proletariat is a lot worse. Well, for who? For some nebulous categoy of ‘people’? Certainly, it was worse for the capitalists (by definition).

    For everyone.

    ‘Everyone’ must then exclude women, poor peasants, workers, children, students and old folks. China before 1949 was known as the ‘sick man of Asia’ for a reason. By the time Mao died, life expectancy had basically doubled, foot binding was gone, several diseases had been virtually wiped out by the Barefoot Doctor Program, literacy was greatly increased, prostitution had been largely eliminated, and workers had representation in the factories. You need to be more specific about who you mean by ‘everyone’, at least as far as China is concerned.

  104. I’ve known several people who lived in Soviet Russia and even more who lived in other parts of the Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc at that time. Some of them were far to the left. Some of them were far to the right. Some really didn’t give a damn about politics but no one, not one person has ever told me how great things were and how they wished they could have the life they left there.

    I don’t know about the people you’ve talked to (not exactly a random sample, given that they’re all ex-pats), but international polls have shown that surprisingly large portions of the population of former Soviet dominions see things as being worse now than they were before the collapse of the nominally socialist USSR. In fact, large numbers of Russians even view Stalin in a positive light, having recently voted him as a national hero who had a mainly positive influence on Russia’s development. Large numbers of Eastern European voters have turned to communist or socialist parties during elections. This perhaps shows the current failings of capitalist free market dreams more than it advertises the joys of Soviet-style life, but it damages your point about ‘not one person’ not wanting things to return to at least some semblance of what it was.

    And I actually disagree that “Certainly, it was worse for the capitalists (by definition). ” I think this is something both the left and the right don’t get about the Cold War. The Soviet Union played a very useful role for the people in power in the US. It gave them a way to unite the country around military spending that never would have been tolerated at any other time in our history.

    Could do, but this is getting away from my point about Chinese capitalists. I was saying that for THEM, the socialist experience was certainly one of dictatorship in the common-usage sense of the term.

    My basic position though is simple, I think it’s ridiculous to claim that any system that requires a dictatorship as a “temporary step” to some workers paradise should be taken seriously.

    ‘Dictatorship’ in the common-usage class-neutral sense of the term? Firstly, it seems to me ridiculous not to acknowledge (in the face of a mountain of evidence, as seen on the daily news and in the empirically easily verifiable processes and tendencies I outlined earlier) that bourgeois society is itself a type of dictatorship – a dictatorship of capital that regiments and organizes society and work according to its needs and opportunities. Its consequences are clearly genocidal (I can give examples if you’d like) and against the fundamental interests of the world’s workers, two things that should make one pause and ponder about the forces that are really running the show. Is this dictatorship to be temporary as well? Secondly, proletarian dictatorship is democratic with respect to the workers; certainly, they would enjoy far more rights and freedoms than they do now. The dictatorship is not something to wield over them. It is an instrument to help ensure that the workers run society in their own interests, rather than having to keep up with and accommodate themselves to the requirements of capital accumulation and all of ITS regimentations, which are politely relegated to the sphere of the ‘private’ in even the most democratic and open of capitalist states. Incidentally, it should also be noted that issues of dictatorship are acutely appreciated in the Third World, where the baton of the police officer is every bit as much a component of the capitalist system as the investment banker in New York City.

  105. It never should have been taken seriously in the first place but now that it has and now that we’ve seen the results it would be insane to consider trying to do that again.

    But, oddly enough, it’s somehow not insane to keep going with the genocidal and ecocidal experiment of capitalism. That’s something that we can apparently ‘take seriously’.

    Dictatorships don’t remain temporary. People don’t willingly give up power.

    The dictatorship you invoke is the class-neutral category that invokes ‘people’ rather than paying attention to basic structural issues.

    Any idea that you can just tweak things and do a Bolshevik revolution again but this time not get a Stalin is BS and the vast, vast majority of workers would realize it’s BS.

    Firstly, no one’s talking about ‘tweaking’, but overhauling. ‘Tweaking’ is what capitalists and their politicians want us to limit ourselves to, as when they try to convince themselves and everyone else that by making some cosmetic changes to our lifestyles, we can keep capitalism without paying attention to its basic imperative for endless accumulation. And it’s having consequences – conveniently mostly confined to the peripheral countries for now, but increasingly, with the environmental effects becoming globalized and more extreme, into the imperialist centres as well. These are effects that are cumulatively far deadlier than anything to be blamed on Stalin or Mao. So it’s really in the capitalist experiment (or trap) that we should hope that workers will see the ‘BS’. Secondly, how do you know that we’ll get Stalin no matter what? Thirdly, who’s talking about a Bolshevik revolution again anyway? That was a revolution that took place in a particular context in a particular country in a particular historical period. The commitment to a repetition of ‘doing things the same way’ doesn’t exist in the socialist mindset but is a figment of misunderstanding. As anyone who knows anything about Marx will tell you, scientific revolutionary experience is precisely about learning from the past, drawing together the positive and negative lessons of it, and reformulating action and strategy so that it has a higher chance of success in the future.

    The other thing I’ll say (and I don’t mean any of this toward you — I’m sure you are very active in the real world but this is a general comment) is that in my real experience most of the people who prattle on about revolution are just lazy. They have masturbatory fantasies about taking over the world but that is all they are. They seldom do any actual work to organize, form unions, etc. Because for them that is just bourgeois. It’s a lot easier for people to sit in their parents basement and dream of one day storming the bastille than it is to get off their butts and do the tedious actual work of politics.

    True! But admittedly, Lenin and Mao weren’t just killing time in their parent’s basements.

  106. I should point out that there is a difference between maoism and Mao. Mao was a guy with some good ideas, some not so good ideas and who, by virtue of having gained experience leading the Chinese people in their struggles against semi-feudalism, the KMT, the bureaucrat-monopoly bourgeoisie, and foreign imperialism – was situated to be able to test his take on revolution. Maoism today, as it’s understood (by maoists), however, is actually a stream within marxism that really came to be developed well after his death and that more or less synthesised the key insights and refinements to Marxism-Leninism that he brought to bear and that rung true to many communists as being genuine advances within that overall framework, namely: the mass line (explicitly developed by Mao, even if already implicit in Marxism-Leninism), democratic centralism (a contradiction in terms to many people but key to understanding the content of proletarian dictatorship and the transitional character of socialism), Protracted People’s War, the continuation and inevitability of class struggle under socialism and within the party and state (forming the theoretical backdrop, incidentally, for launching the Cultural Revolution), the necessity for a period of New Democracy in the building up of peripheral countries after they had undergone proletarian and peasant based revolutions, and the handling of dialectical contradictions within the socialist economy. Within maosim is the imperative not to worship anyone, including Mao, as many assume, but to move beyond him as a personality and to critically assess all experience, even (perhaps especially) that of Mao. He is NOT held by maoists to be the last word/a god/infallible, even if something like that all too often did happen in China during his time. Many have taken the essence of maoism to be a cult of personality (which was, indeed, very inappropriate and actually harmful to the revolution, though there were fairly complex reasons for why it came about in the first place) or public works projects that involved killing a lot of sparrows. Actually, such things don’t form the heart of maoism at all.

    There was of course a flavour of Marxism at the time of Mao called Maoism, or Mao Tse-Tung Thought, but this was not a finished thesis. It was then a still developing strain of the revolutionary politics that was aligning itself against what the Soviets (after Stalin) were advertising as socialism (but which the Chinese revolutionaries considered to be capitalism under the guise of socialism). So in that day, Maoism was perhaps as much a stance against Soviet revisionism as much as a still evolving set of particular practical manifestations that could only later be assessed. The variety that is now called maoism is the post-experiential summing-up and synthesis of the lessons learned from the Chinese and other revolutions and from which could be drawn a concrete scientific and practical kernel; in other words, in no way does maoism stop and end with what Mao personally believed. What drives it forward is an ongoing scientific investigation of revolutionary practise, including the failures and dead-ends.

  107. PE, I still don’t really understand what exactly you are arguing for. We both agree that Capitalism has lots of faults and needs serious change. The question is how to do it. So for the US or UK can you give in a few sentences your model for how people should be trying to make change? Some specific questions:

    1) Do you think it makes sense for people in the US or UK to be preparing for violent revolution, to overthrow the Capitalist governments by force?

    2) If yes to 1 or even if you only believe in change via democracy is the kind of state you want to change to a dictatorship? One where we have no more elections but instead some group with absolute power that is supposed to work for the benefit of the workers?

    My answer to all those questions would be an overwhelming no to violence and to dictatorship. Both for practical reasons (the right is much better at violence) as well as principled reasons. Here is how I would answer this question:

    My model for change is via democracy. Educate and organize people on the evils of capitalism and get them to stop voting against their interests. Try to get far left people into democratic primaries but when that fails except in extreme circumstances support the democrat over the republican because there are very serious issues at stake right now where the Republicans are destroying the country. At one point I supported the Green party in the US and if there is ever a viable third left party I would support them but at this point it’s clear to me that for all their faults the only viable alternative to the lunatics are the democrats.

  108. PE, I still don’t really understand what exactly you are arguing for. We both agree that Capitalism has lots of faults and needs serious change.

    Sort of. You believe that capitalism needs serious change. I don’t think capitalism needs serious change so much as I think that it should be replaced in its entirety (not in one fell swoop, as that would be impossible in any case, but certainly replaced) because I think that capitalism itself is an obsolete system that is fundamentally incapable of meeting the needs of the world’s masses. It is the accumulation dynamic of capitalism that is the problem, not particular manifestations of it (though I would certainly want the worst excesses to be ameliorated. Indeed, this is a valuable part of popular struggle). But I do agree with a more general point, which is about the need for change per se.

    Do you think it makes sense for people in the US or UK to be preparing for violent revolution, to overthrow the Capitalist governments by force?

    Not really. I mean, that may well be something for the (relatively far) future, but whether or not I want violent revolution in the West is really immaterial. Such a thing would require the necessary organization and consciousness to be raised, but that’s a long, tedious, difficult and uncertain process. The masses in the US and UK are nowhere near being suitably agitated and they certainly haven’t systematized the critique of the problems they face (that is, placed them in their proper political-economic context and understood the forces at play. People are still skimming at the surface, blaming this or that politician or this or that segment of the population). No serious person would advocate for people to start flipping over police cars tomorrow. Ultra-leftists might advocate such a thing, like the insurrectionists who used ‘terrorism by the deed’ in Europe a couple of decades or so ago (the Red Brigade types, who really had no idea how to start a revolution and just ended up alienating themselves from the masses they were supposedly ‘helping’). In the Third World, violent revolutions are entirely appropriate in my view, because there you’ve had the right level of agitation and systemic critique, and so the next level can be got to. But this might be academic in the West. If the masses in the West are too ‘bought out’ by capitalism, the right level of revolutionary consciousness may never be achieved, though global crises of capitalism and other processes may change the subjective factors needed for revolution (and certainly, the imperialist centres have had high levels of revolutionary consciousness at times, such as in Germany before the Nazis put a stop to it). But we’re still talking decades away at the least, if ever. And humanity might well perish before then due to nuclear war or ecological catastrophe.

    2) If yes to 1 or even if you only believe in change via democracy is the kind of state you want to change to a dictatorship? One where we have no more elections but instead some group with absolute power that is supposed to work for the benefit of the workers?

    Well, as we’ve seen, such concentrations of power aren’t good things. Any future revolutionary configuration should decide everything by committee. Democratic centralism means that all courses of action are done with a view to the wishes and interests of the people, but this doesn’t mean crass populism or the retention of basic capitalist forms (at least not indefinitely). Important, also, are that there be no personality cults. I emphatically don’t believe that there should be a group with absolute power, let alone a leader with such power. But I do think that there should be an iterative process that takes the ideas and initiatives of the masses, ‘concentrates’ them (checks that they are likely to lead to both the short-term and long-term advancement of the interests of the masses, as gauged by both historical experience and the current, concrete conditions, including the array of class forces at play, the international situation, and enthusiasm of the masses), and that sends back a plan of action for implementation by the masses. Without such an iterative, participatory but at the same time centralized process, the long-term momentum for change will cease. And, by the way, there would be plenty of elections (not done in the same way as the bourgeois pigsty known as multi-party parliamentary politics. The system would accommodate serious politics, not factions, interest groups and lobbyists gumming up the works and fawning at the heel of every base and reactionary impulse that the masses may have). Please also read the link I provided that describes the mass line.

    My answer to all those questions would be an overwhelming no to violence and to dictatorship. Both for practical reasons (the right is much better at violence) as well as principled reasons.

    What are those principled reasons, and why does violence occupy another location in that universe for you? If those reasons are grounded in a philosophical idealist and ahistorical conception of right and wrong, of what use are they to achieving the ultimate interests of the masses, who are living and embedded within a material, historical context? Violence is of course an awful thing, but it should be noted that those with the guns and who excel at violence are always pushing non-violence as a ‘solution’ for others. I just don’t share the trendy and, in my view, mindless dedication to non-violence that so many on the left seem to think any ‘principled’ stand must enshrine and place at the forefront of all else. If a commitment to non-violence above all else ultimately has the effect of deflecting and dampening a movement striving for change, then it’s not really principled in any sense that’s actually useful for the masses, and they should ditch it. It becomes a dead-end which ensures that they will continue to live under conditions of violence while never feeling justified in its use to rid themselves of these conditions due to a wishy-washy conception of ‘violence is bad’. If violence is indeed necessary, in the final analysis, to getting rid of inherently violent, unjust and exploitative conditions, then that’s just a fact of life, not an invention of maoists. Maoists lament it, but they, like anyone else, can’t get away from it. And if they’re serious about eliminating exploitation, injustice and indeed violence, then they have to be realistic about the inevitability of violence.

    Here is how I would answer this question: My model for change is via democracy. Educate and organize people on the evils of capitalism and get them to stop voting against their interests.

    That’s a good step, but what makes you think that the people getting voted in will do a decent job and won’t end up reverting back to the logic of capital? If you leave the economic base untouched and couch everything within the framework of electoral politics, then you leave intact the structural position of the state in relation to that base. Meaning, ultimately, the fertile ground for the worst excesses to rear their heads again. That’s a program of fending off the bad stuff rather than aiming to comprehensively overcome it.

    Consider this: the capitalists, who effectively control the money stream (through their investment in the economy, which in turn means the availability of jobs) which is taxed by the state (which it needs to just function, let alone implement any of the programs it might wish to implement), can choose to withhold investment in the economy if they feel that the state’s policies are detrimental to their interests. Such capital strikes, or the threat of them, have played out in France under Mitterrand and Chile under Allende. State managers internalise the need to create a healthy ‘investment climate’, and thus favour the interests of capitalists before they can begin thinking about the interests of anyone else. Do you propose to deprive the capitalists of their ‘right’ to effectively extort everyone else? Or do you want to keep that in place on the basis that you ‘like capitalism’? Secondly, people are well aware of the evils of capitalism. What they lack is a systemic critique of those evils. What you’re advocating is for them to (continue to) locate these evils other than in the basic workings of the capitalist accumulation dynamic, by targeting particular personalities or institutions instead. This gets away from focusing upon basic structural factors that generate such personalities and institutions. What you propose has been tried numerous times, and each time, it has led to bitter defeat for the masses. I remember the hope and optimism that surrounded the election of Kevin Rudd in Australia, and then when he was ousted, his replacement with Julia Gillard. Both of these supposedly ‘left wing’ politicians ended up offering up blood-curdling platitudes, on issue after issue, in favour of capital. They had to keep the revenue stream going (after all, their jobs were at stake at the next election, for one thing). In so doing, they ended up betraying the electoral base that voted them in. Now, if they HAD pushed through with even mild socialist measures, the stock market would have screamed, the capitalists would have made noises of all sorts, the columnists would have been on their backs, and the campaign contributions would have dried up. Under capitalism, the masses can have their health care reforms, education programs and other things so long as they don’t interfere with the ‘investment climate’. That’s the limit of democracy under capitalism. So I ask you now: do you want that limit in place? Incidentally, the Labor Party has done such a fantastic job of living up to their left wing credentials that Australia now has a reactionary right-wing government in power. And let’s not forget Obama, head the ‘only viable choice’ you mentioned, who was elected upon a platform of ‘change’ and ‘hope’, and yet, this guy eventually ended up coming ridiculously close to losing the last election to a right-wing, crypto-fascist clown. And, as I mentioned above, even in contexts in which the people voted in were not from the capitalist class and were not sponsored by the capitalists, they ended up conforming to the logic of capital. I would love for you to be right, but I think you’re pushing a dead-end. That’s why I say, yes to reforms, no to a program that is philosophically limited (on the basis of ‘principles’) to reforms.

    Anyway, no one should really care what I think. I’m not the one in the trenches. This is for your guys to think about.

    • In reply to #144 by Promethean Entity:

      The masses in the US and UK are nowhere near being suitably agitated and they certainly haven’t systematized the critique of the problems they face (that is, placed them in their proper political-economic context and understood the forces at play.

      I think that’s a rather condescending thing to say and unfortunately I think that attitude is prevalent with a lot of Marxists in the US and UK who are often academic Marxists, people who have read lots of books but done little actual real political work. They talk about “the people” but in reality they don’t have much respect for the average working person and whenever a working person doesn’t jump on the revolution bandwagon they assume it’s because that person is just not enlightened enough rather than respect the actual argument.

      I haven’t had a lot of experience with Marxists from outside the US but I have had some (from trying to organize a union once and working with a group called CISPES) and in those cases I didn’t see such arrogance or condescension at all. Also, those Latin American Marxists, people with actual experience fighting against a violent foe, were not the cheer leaders for violence that so many academic Marxists are. The Latin American Marxists were also far more pragmatic. They viewed talk about some eventual revolution as a waste of time and focused on real short term goals that also invariably included working with Democrats and other liberal groups to do things like pass laws or organize unions.

      Well, as we’ve seen, such concentrations of power aren’t good things. Any future revolutionary configuration should decide everything by committee.

      How is a “committee” any different from a Politburo or some other non democratic bureaucracy? Either you have elections or you don’t and if you don’t I want no part of the change you envision. You may start out with Lenin and Trotsky but you quickly descend to Stalin because without some kind of democratic process power will inevitably accrue to the people who are best and most ruthless at working the system.

      What are those principled reasons, and why does violence occupy another location in that universe for you? If those reasons are grounded in a philosophical idealist and ahistorical conception of right and wrong, of what use are they to achieving the ultimate interests of the masses, who are living and embedded within a material, historical context?

      The principle is first of all that violence is bad and that non-violence is almost always a better way to solve problems either at an individual level or an international one. And besides just not liking violence I think (and btw Chomsky agrees with this he says this often) that history shows overwhelming evidence that non-violence just works better in the long term for social justice movements. The American Civil Rights movement for example. Also, when you look at what the other side does, e.g. with agent provocateurs in the peace movement, they recognize this as well, they always try to push movements toward violence because that will marginalize them. That happened with the Occupy movement as well I think.

  109. The masses in the US and UK are nowhere near being suitably agitated and they certainly haven’t systematized the critique of the problems they face (that is, placed them in their proper political-economic context and understood the forces at play.

    I think that’s a rather condescending thing to say

    Well, it’s not condescending, since it’s perfectly accurate. Wishing something were so – pretending that there is more anti-capitalist content in the minds of the masses than there really is, for example – doesn’t make it true. Note that I didn’t say that the masses in the US and UK are incapable of understanding an authentically anti-capitalist analysis, only that they haven’t done so yet. I think that they have internalized certain elements of a systemic understanding, but they haven’t tied all the pieces together. That, by the way, is largely the fault of communists, who haven’t done a good of bringing this critique to the masses. But I’m here to say that there is such a critique, and that tailing the current limitations of the masses isn’t a good substitute to disseminating that critique. That there are limitations among the masses is a fact that should be acknowledged and overcome, rather than slavishly bowed down to.

    and unfortunately I think that attitude is prevalent with a lot of Marxists in the US and UK who are often academic Marxists, people who have read lots of books but done little actual real political work. They talk about “the people” but in reality they don’t have much respect for the average working person and whenever a working person doesn’t jump on the revolution bandwagon they assume it’s because that person is just not enlightened enough rather than respect the actual argument.

    Alas, all this is true. Academic Marxists, by the way, at least those in academia, tend not to be revolutionary, but reformist.

    I haven’t had a lot of experience with Marxists from outside the US but I have had some (from trying to organize a union once and working with a group called CISPES) and in those cases I didn’t see such arrogance or condescension at all. Also, those Latin American Marxists, people with actual experience fighting against a violent foe, were not the cheer leaders for violence that so many academic Marxists are.

    ‘Cheerleaders for violence’ in this context is a completely vacuous term. No one is a ‘cheerleader for violence’ just for the sake of violence, as though violence were an ideology rather than a tactic.

    Well, as we’ve seen, such concentrations of power aren’t good things. Any future revolutionary configuration should decide everything by committee.

    How is a “committee” any different from a Politburo or some other non democratic bureaucracy?

    Because there would be elections at all levels, and there would be ongoing, direct participation by the masses at these levels. There would also be committees at all levels, from the grass roots to the top levels of the state. Please, however, don’t confuse this with crass populism. The mass line and democratic centralism are methods of revolutionary leadership aiming to overthrow class relations and to fully emancipate the proletariat and the peasantry, not a windmill for tired platitudes about ‘one man, one vote’.

    Either you have elections or you don’t and if you don’t I want no part of the change you envision.

    I never said or even implied there wouldn’t be elections, only that the electoral system would be something entirely more serious (and, indeed, democratic) than the pigsty of bourgeois parliamentary politics and its acquiescence to the hegemony of capital. There would be elections right in the production process as well, in the form of worker’s representation in the factories. As for those who don’t aim or desire for the eventual elimination of the hegemony of capital, they should simply stop calling themselves ‘Marxists’ and should admit that they are tailing the indulgence of bourgeois legality instead.

    You may start out with Lenin and Trotsky but you quickly descend to Stalin because without some kind of democratic process power will inevitably accrue to the people who are best and most ruthless at working the system.

    Thanks for that morsel of wisdom, but none of that was in dispute. As I already explained, the point of studying revolutionary history is to avoid repeating the negative aspects of these revolutions.

    What are those principled reasons, and why does violence occupy another location in that universe for you? If those reasons are grounded in a philosophical idealist and ahistorical conception of right and wrong, of what use are they to achieving the ultimate interests of the masses, who are living and embedded within a material, historical context?

    The principle is first of all that violence is bad and that non-violence is almost always a better way to solve problems either at an individual level or an international one.

    Sure, when it actually works by being a viable option in the first place. There are a few things to point out, though. It isn’t always a viable option; it gives room and breathing space for the purveyors of violence in the state and elsewhere to remobilize their forces and to deflect, ignore, chip away at and bribe the masses; and it’s a proven weapon of choice for the bourgeoisie and its agents in the state (in their pronouncements to the masses, that is), who invariably push an ethos of ‘peaceful change through the ballot box’. Without a systemic, thorough, explicitly anti-capitalist critique to lead the charge, however, the masses will keep on being thrown back into the jaws of economic crisis, imperialist war, and a political system and social life utterly dominated by capital. And, of course, the environmental catastrophe underway. Why on Earth should Marxists, of all people, be interested in limiting, and telling others to be limited to, playing the game of the bourgeoisie’s system, which the bourgeoisie have shown themselves to be experts at doing (after all, it’s their system)?

    As I said: unless you aim for the elimination of exploitation per se, then you leave intact the structural imperative to undo whatever reforms you put in place. The giving-way of the latter to the former has happened time and time again. The financial sector, for example, has not only succeeded in undoing decades of reforms aimed at constraining it, it has also succeeding in inserting itself right into the upper echelons of the very state that is supposed to be overseeing it! Should we tell the masses to limit themselves to reforming the financial sector as the ‘solution’ to the predatory (and, within the logic of the system that’s only to be tinkered with, entirely rational and to-be-expected) practices on display? Your Latin American Marxists eschew the revolutionary content of their program in place of some concessions within the system in the hope that the system will be overthrown (or perhaps even that’s too strong). You seem to think that we can ignore history and just hope that capitalism will peacefully wither away if we work with the Democrats closely enough. I know this is something of a caricature of your position, but it’s essentially what you’re saying, and it’s clear to me at least that it’s a dead end.

  110. Actually, I’d be quite willing to know what the actual figures are, and come to an actual conclusion to this debate.

    Me too, but such conclusions won’t be forthcoming in the near future. The fact is, no one knows what the actual figures are.

    However, the disparity between Ball’s account in an openly socialist magazine on the one hand, and several scholarly sources on Wikipedia which I can’t access from the Internet on the other hand, are making things a bit difficult to verify either way.

    Among those scholarly sources is Chang and Halliday, who have been severely criticized by other researchers (I believe there was a joint critique in the London Review of Books). They cite 38 million dead from starvation.

    More importantly, though, is that Bell’s account does in fact go against the grain of most China scholarship, at least with respect to the famine. But that something comes from a ‘scholarly source’ doesn’t mean that it’s right. We need only look back on the innumerable instances in which mainstream science and history have been shown to be wrong. I posted the link to Bell’s analysis because it made sense to me and raises a number of issues that I think are salient for this discussion – namely, how estimates are arrived at, what the assumptions that go into those estimates are, conflicting accounts, conflicting data, and similar contexts in which, for example, a giant famine is not supposed to have happened (in this case, India around the same time, where malnutrition and calorie intake often matched or was even worse than the Chinese averages, but with no giant famine supposed to have happened there). At the very least, I think he’s provided enough reasons to suppose that we shouldn’t jump on the ‘giant famine measuring tens of millions dead’ just because some scholars claim that one did happen, especially if we aren’t, as you said, ‘prepared to spend hours’ on this topic.

    And let’s be pragmatic: the differences between Ball’s Mao and Wikipedia’s Mao are big, and unfortunately the truth is that this is not a field I’m entirely willing to sacrifice several hours of research for, especially as I detect rhetorical flourishes in Ball’s account.

    Well, there are such flourishes, but he was writing in a socialist magazine, not a dry scientific paper. Certainly, some of the scholars cited in the Wikipedia article have used ‘rhetorical flourishes’ themselves. This isn’t surprising (or necessarily a bad thing) given that different class perspectives are going to influence what the data ‘show’, and given how much is at stake, this is hardly a topic that can avoid rhetorical flourishes.

    As a provisional indicator, has Ball’s article been published in a peer-reviewed journal? Is there any indication, in other words, that this historically significant review of this period of Chinese history is gaining any scientific credence?

    On the first question, I’m don’t know (I can check for you, if you’d like. I have access to Web of Knowledge, a database search engine for academic papers, though I’m not sure if my access extends to anthropology and world history). I do know that aspects of the Chinese revolutionary experience are undergoing something of a rethink among China scholars. There’s a book called ‘Mao: A Reinterpretation’ by Lee Feigon, who’s definitely not a Marxist-Leninist, and accepts the ‘tens of millions dead’ paradigm, but that casts the events of the Cultural Revolution, and Mao’s intentions, differently to how they have often been presented. Similar analyses have been made of Stalin and the Soviet experience, including by anti- or non-communist scholars who nevertheless don’t accept the ‘Stalin killed tens of millions’ paradigm. So it could be that there’s a piece-by-piece rethink. I would still guess that the giant Chinese famine paradigm is predominant in academia, though.

    You’re missing the point. How could Lysenko’s pseudoscience have worked its way into the system if not for Mao believing in it based on ideological underpinnings rather than any technical expertise (and on pushing it), and why did it continue until 1961 rather than being called off after the Lushan Conference, where Peng’s criticisms were turned into what turned out to be a call for purging rightist opportunists?

    Yes, there were many unfortunate things about this period, but in spite of that, I don’t see them as being the main driver for the Great Leap. I think that there were rational reasons to suppose that a rapid increase in Chinese industrial capacity (even over and above what had already been achieved) could be brought about, but that it was done in too haphazard a manner. The Leap might well have worked if it had been scaled down in ambition and scope. It’s certainly true that Mao got personally carried away; this was evident in the many proclamations about ‘conquering nature’.

    Ball is conspicuously silent about the agricultural practices Mao wanted adopted and why, which would call into question his (and Mao’s) blaming the famine on the weather (another point that makes this account contradict Wikipedia’s).

    My understanding was that weather did in fact play a major role in the famine, but that it wasn’t the primary reason (perhaps a catalyst, but its worst effects could have been avoided if better planning/implementation/better science had been put to work). Also, I don’t think that Ball is only blaming the weather, and in fact Mao did acknowledge his own role. It also seems to me that Ball’s article focuses more upon demographic aspects of the famine rather than specific hair-brained schemes by Mao and company, though these would certainly be relevant in any comprehensive analysis trying to uncover the causes of the famine.

    I might also note that Ball seems at times indecently eager to claim that Mao “paved the way” for future economic success.

    Could be, but it seems logical to me that this is in fact the case. Firstly, there was in fact enormous economic and industrial growth under Mao. Whatever the reality of the famine, China did finally resolve its historical food problem by the time he died. And there was in fact the basis for future expansion (realized after the market reforms) in the form of the SOEs (state owned enterprises), which even today play a core strategic role in the Chinese economy (and in some sectors, they have a near or actual monopoly, and allow the Chinese state to quickly and effectively gather together enormous amounts of capital to undertake large projects relevant to the economy as a whole). Electrical infrastructure, water management projects, irrigation, basic sanitation and housing – these were all developed under Mao.

    Quite apart from the fact that this has nothing to do with verifying how many people actually died (and has a whiff of rationalization about it), it involves portraying Deng’s China as “a dictatorship that tried to rigorously control the flow of information to its people”, yet the simple explanation for why the data did not arrive until after Mao’s death seems to escape him: that Mao was suppressing the data at the time the censuses, say, were collected, and that part of the opposition was simply because of the damage Mao caused. This seems indicative of bias on Ball’s part and contradicts the overall picture one could glean from Wikipedia, and is another reason why I want to know of any peer-reviewed journals confirming his analysis.

    Good points. I can’t fault them at this stage, though I would say that ‘confirming’ is too strong.

    Well, Wikipedia notes that “demographic specialists” estimate a range of 18 to 32.5 million, which is a difference of 14.5 million, and later provides a mild estimate of 30 million, indicating the more extreme assessments are outliers. By rough comparison, the article on the number of World War II casualties estimates between 50 and 80 million. Obviously, they can’t all be right and some of them will inevitably contain methodological errors, but it’s generally considered normal for independent but uncertain dataset estimates on this scale to be within the same digit scale of each other and to cluster. This scale of error is normal in phylogenetics, for example. Whatever else could be criticized, sheer scale is not necessarily one of them.

    In fairness to the scholars, I myself have accepted large casualty counts for events such as the Suharto bloodbath in Indonesia, where estimates for the number of opposition members killed range from 200,000 (an estimate gleaned from a CIA memo) to half a million. However, I would point out that critiques such as Ball’s make me think that there are fundamental problems with even the lower ‘giant famine paradigm’ estimates, while for the Indonesian case, we have the intelligence agency of the biggest supporter of Suharto citing an enormous figure.

    Basically, if Ball’s account is correct, then has it been subjected to scholarly criticism, and why is it not informing Wikipedia’s account, with which it differs so much?

    Perhaps it’s just not well known. As Ball’s account might not have made it into any peer-reviewed journal, or into any popular books on the subject, it may itself be something of an outlier.

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