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Socialism is Democracy

Written By: - Date published: 4:30 pm, November 11th, 2009 - 61 comments
Categories: socialism - Tags:

This hilarious stoush between Moore and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is worth a look too.

Hat tip: The kids at the Workers Party.

61 comments on “Socialism is Democracy ”

  1. BLiP 1

    Simple really, isn’t it: those opposed to socialism are ipso facto opposed to democracy. One need only consider the process involved and resulting outcome so far as it relates to democracy in Auckland City.

  2. tsmithfield 2

    Anything, including socialism, is democratic if people vote for it.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      No, socialism requires democratic systems as a matter of course. Capitalism doesn’t as can be seen by the feudalist and absolutist periods of our history.

      • Quoth the Raven 2.1.1

        Feudalism is not capitalism. I thought you’d read Marx.

      • Lew 2.1.2

        No, socialism requires democratic systems as a matter of course.

        A cursory examination of history reveals that this is complete and unadulterated bullshit, routinely employed by the proponents of socialism mainly to justify their utterly failed system and its broken utopian dreams.

        Unless you want to go all No-true-Scotsman and claim that the USSR, East Berlin, Yugoslavia, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. weren’t socialist. Then we’re not so much talking past each other as abiding on separate planes of existence.

        Moore’s point — who cares what we call it — gets things the wrong way around. How we call things dictates to a large extent how we think about them. Socialists need new terminology; Marx is beyond rehabilitation, not necessarily through any great flaw in his theories, but due to the misapplication and abuse of his principles by the regimes named above. That can’t be un-done, and it mustn’t be ignored, which is what people tacitly suggest when they say ‘socialism’ deserves one last try. It doesn’t; it’s dead, and long may it remain so. Something else may rise in its place, a 21st Century economic philosophy which fulfils the needs of 21st Century societies. But it can’t be socialism.

        L

        • Daveo 2.1.2.1

          Depends how you define socialism Lew. I don’t define capitalism by the actions of Pinochet, likewise I reject the idea that socialism should be defined by the actions of Stalin.

          What Moore’s arguing is that the values behind democratic socialism should be revived and applied to the 21st century. Whatever we decide to call that is irrelevant.

          • Lew 2.1.2.1.1

            Daveo, but you do define capitalism by the actions of Bush, Reagan, Thatcher, Gates, Bloomberg, Buffet, Banks, Jones and Key — and that’s reasonable to do, since those are the implementations we have. Those I listed are the implementations of socialism we have. I left a few out — Cuba, for one — but the societies you’re probably thinking of in Scandinavia and Western Europe can’t really be called socialism, no matter how the Teabaggers might like to attach that label to it. There really isn’t a mature example of socialism having worked toward sustained improvements of peoples’ quality of life without massive compromises in terms of civil rights or in other areas.

            The problem with Marx is that he provides a mechanism by which the proletariat gives up its power to a dictatorship, but he doesn’t provide a mechanism by which they can take it back without either dismantling the whole structure or installing a replacement dictatorship in its place. And because of this the dictators enjoy impunity, and are no longer motivated to do what’s right for the people, because — what can the people do anyway? And so they become corrupt and evil.

            Solve the power transfer problem and Marxism could work. At present the only solution is via the democratic process, and that means those who want socialism need to convince the rest of their society that they should want it too. That requires ditching the term ‘socialism’ and all the authoritarian baggage which comes with it.

            Again: what we call it is not irrelevant, because what we call it determines how people think about it. The more people carry on about socialism, the more the capitalists laugh behind their hands, because they know that, running against that horse and its track record over the past century, they can’t lose. And perhaps, if that’s the quality of thought among its opponents, they shouldn’t.

            L

            • Herodotus 2.1.2.1.1.1

              So how do you enable”socialism” whilst still maintaining individual responsibility and contributing to the whole? i.e. socialism as opposed to “welfareism”.
              from R Winston The Story of God, there is mentioned that back in the old days those who did not abide/contribute towards the community were excluded i.e. A death sentance, as an individual did not survive alone. Such policies were followed by many modern cultures including Maori.

            • Daveo 2.1.2.1.1.2

              Your problem is you think of socialism purely within the confines of Stalinism. It’s a broad church, encompassing anarchism, social democracy, and yes, even the authoritarian socialist regimes of the 20th century.

              We’ve seen that authoritarian socialism is a failure, just as authoritarian capitalism has proven a failure. Now that democratic capitalism is faltering I’m positing that we try democratic socialism. Do you have a problem with that Lew? I mean, I’m happy to rebrand it as something else if you’d like, I’m all ears. But do you have a problem with the project?

              And if you do, what is your problem and what would you do instead?

            • Lew 2.1.2.1.1.3

              Daveo, I think of socialism in terms of implementation, and in terms of Marx’s schema which was followed in broad terms by the implementers. What you’re talking about as socialism — and what Moore is — isn’t really much like that at all. So I’m saying it should be called something else. What it should be called I don’t know — social democracy is ok, but it gets perverted into socialist democracy by both its enemies and its more idiotic proponents.

              Herodotus, I don’t really know. There should be no requirement incumbent upon people criticising an existing scheme to come up with an entire new scheme in whole cloth. As it happens, we have capitalism in its variously moderated forms. Some of them work tolerably well. We don’t need revolution, and we don’t need blind adherence to failed doctrines of the past — what we need is synthesis.

              L

            • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1.1.4

              The problem, Lew, with you calling the USSR et al socialist is the simple fact that they weren’t – they were communist (and it’s arguable that they weren’t that either). Socialism has always been to work within the capitalist system to bring human rights and improve the conditions of the lower classes but not to replace it.

              Modern democracy has come out of that movement. It’s taken awhile but the interesting point is that the revolution that finally overthrew Absolutism back 1688 wasn’t a capitalist revolution. It was one by the proletariat which was usurped by the capitalists. The revolution would have continued against the capitalists as well except for two things:
              1) Democracy was promised and, even though limited to less than 5% of the population, given.
              2) After nearly 50 years of on again/off again civil war people were a little sick of the dying.

              Democracy is not native to capitalism.

            • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1.1.5

              PS. I agree that we have a problem with the meanings of words. The problem is that we don’t have any other words to use unless we start using a different language from English and I’m not sure if we’d find any there either.

            • Lew 2.1.2.1.1.6

              DTB,

              In fact, voting seems more often than not to act as a fig leaf for decidedly undemocratic systems of governance.

              Ah yes, No True Scotsman.

              Per the Marxian schema, communism has never been attained, only socialism of various sorts, and the regimes I cite all got stuck at the dictatorship of the proletariat, a proto-communist stage. The shorthand for these proto-communist stages was socialism, and so it remains, because the schema cannot progress beyond that stage. There is no mechanism to ensure power transfer. The incentives are too perverse.

              Socialism has always been to work within the capitalist system to bring human rights and improve the conditions of the lower classes but not to replace it.

              This is pure revisionism, attaching many of the characteristics of ‘democracy’ (which you know has broad appeal) to the label ‘socialism’ (which you know doesn’t).

              Go back and read Marx again. And when you’ve done so, you might give your schema a new name, because the one you’re using is already taken.

              Democracy is not native to capitalism.

              I agree with this but I think there’s an argument to be made that capitalism of a sort is native to democracy.

              PS. I agree that we have a problem with the meanings of words. The problem is that we don’t have any other words to use unless we start using a different language from English and I’m not sure if we’d find any there either.

              And this is the problem in a nutshell: an absence of vision, a lack of inventiveness and creativity which sees otherwise inspired people rehash the same old bullshit or go out on a radical limb rather than analysing the political arrangements we have, and what we know about political and economic organisation, to form a system which builds on and extends the remarkable achievements made in the past half-century or so. Political science and propaganda theory are not the problem; economics and public choice theory are not the problem; they are not the enemy — they are tools which can be used to construct a new system. Part of the problem is that the whole programme is tarnished by an adherence to broken utopian ideals of socialism, and with that an blind loyalty to aspirational ideas of how people are and ought to be, rather than to reason.

              L

            • Daveo 2.1.2.1.1.7

              “What you’re talking about as socialism — and what Moore is — isn’t really much like that at all”

              Why not? Why do you assume that Stalin gets to define socialism? You don’t assume Pinochet gets to define capitalism, so why the double standard?

              I’m not talking branding here, I’m talking the actual idea of an economic system based on equality, fairness and democracy.

              If you’ve got a new name for what socialists are talking about then by all means tell us what you think it should be, but there’s not much use just screaming “SOCIALISM EQUALS STALINISM FIND SOMETHING ELSE!” and pretending that makes you smarter than the rest of us.

            • Lew 2.1.2.1.1.8

              Why not? Why do you assume that Stalin gets to define socialism? You don’t assume Pinochet gets to define capitalism, so why the double standard?

              I’ve rebutted this bit of idiocy. To repeat: I’m not referring to Stalinism, I’m referring to socialism as explicated by Marx and as implemented by all of those who’ve implemented it. The problem is with Marx’s schema.

              I’m not talking branding here, I’m talking the actual idea of an economic system based on equality, fairness and democracy.

              That’s not socialism. Socialism is an economic system where the means of production is predominantly controlled by the proletariat. That’s not the same, and that’s why you need to re-brand. It’s worth re-branding, because “an economic system based on equality, fairness and democracy” is much more marketable than socialism which, in implementation, has been proven to be none of those things.

              I’m not really objecting to the programme which I guess you’re talking about — social democracy roughly along the Scandinavian model — only saying that it’s not socialism. It doesn’t exist for the purpose of delivering the means of production into the control of the proletariat. Calling it such is both historically incorrect and electorally damfoolish.

              L

            • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2.1.1.9

              economics and public choice theory are not the problem;

              They are the problem because they happen to be wrong. You aren’t going to get good economic or political policies if the theory that the policies are based upon have no relation to reality.

              as explicated by Marx and as implemented by all of those who’ve implemented it.

              I do not know what I am but I do know that I am not a Marxist, Karl Marx, 1851
              He did say great things about the Paris Commune though which was, essentially, anarchist and was destroyed by the capitalists because it was working and was a threat to them.

              much more marketable than socialism which, in implementation, has been proven to be none of those things.

              This is incorrect. The USSR and China proved that there are people who will do anything for power not that Marx’s ideas don’t work because the Paris Commune proved that they did. The general consensus in academia is that communism in the USSR existed for almost 50 days.

            • Lew 2.1.2.1.1.10

              DTB,

              You aren’t going to get good economic or political policies if the theory that the policies are based upon have no relation to reality.

              I can concede objections to Public Choice Theory on these grounds, but not to the wider field of economics (and particularly behavioural economics). And even PCT has a fairly good track record of predicting reality, so can’t be dismissed so glibly as this just because it sometimes ends up at ideologically inconvenient conclusions.

              My point is that the tools employed in political science and economics are valuable, and shouldn’t be discounted simply because the ideological right has used them to ends you happen to find distasteful. The tools themselves can be use toward other ends, and it would well behoove the left to adopt them and begin employing them in earnest.

              The USSR and China proved that there are people who will do anything for power not that Marx’s ideas don’t work because the Paris Commune proved that they did.

              The USSR and China proved that one should never implement a political system where power is concentrated in a small subset of individuals who emjoy impunity. The trouble is that that’s what Marxism requires. The Paris Commune proved nothing: in terms of scale, it was too small to be especially relevant — making a scale model of society, proves nothing much towards the goal og making an actual society on the nation scale. The reason for this is that as the number of players increases, so does the complexity of the strategies they’ll employ. Likewise, in terms of durability the Paris Commune proves nothing. It doesn’t make a government appear to function for a couple of months at a time. The same reason as above: as time passes, things get more complicated.

              L

          • Pascal's bookie 2.1.2.1.2

            Anybody know of any readable papers turning the PCT insights on the private sector?

            I’m specifically thinking of management capture of public companies, financial institutions and like. Seems the PC theorists gave the public sector a good going over but the private sector is just assumed to be immune for what seem to be not very good reasons.

            • Quoth the Raven 2.1.2.1.2.1

              I don’t know about Public Choice Theory, but you could read some of Kevin Carson’s work he uses the Austrian critique of central planning against large corporations, which are essentially doing the same thing.

    • burt 2.2

      Anything, including socialism, is not democratic when illegal spending on advertising is used to distort electoral outcomes.

      • Bill 2.2.1

        Why does the delusion that voting is synonymous with democracy persist?

        Voting, while sometimes a desirable feature of a democratic process is NEVER a sufficient indicator that democracy is actually being practiced…for all the reasons mentioned in other comments on this thread as well as other reasons besides.

        In fact, voting seems more often than not to act as a fig leaf for decidedly undemocratic systems of governance.

        • Lew 2.2.1.1

          In fact, voting seems more often than not to act as a fig leaf for decidedly undemocratic systems of governance.

          This is bollocks as well.

          While not sufficient, voting (in its elemental form of a mechanism to make one’s policy or candidate preferences known) is a necessary condition for democracy.

          L

    • BLiP 2.3

      Hands up everyone that voted for the Super City . . . thought so.

      • burt 2.3.1

        I agree, and who voted for increased ACC levies and reduce cover for rehabilitation?

        • BLiP 2.3.1.1

          You.

        • snoozy 2.3.1.2

          Here we have two possibilities- lazy citizens who didn’t make sure they were informed or gullible, naeve or misled citizens who listened to their friends or a handful of poor news sources.

          It was fairly clear that despite their lies (this one was actually in their manifesto-ish) or misdirection that there were some nasty and big changes to NZ institutions on the cards.

  3. Jagilby 3

    I haven’t seen the movie so perhaps this is all slightly premature and Moore does present some options but it seems to me that he is just totally avoiding answering the Wolf’s question about providing a serious alternative to Capitalism?

    Reminds me of the 350.org brigade demanding a 40% cut but routinely sidestepping the question of how to get there… “if pull out our half ass bikes that (judging by the state of them) we clearly rarely we ride and then take a cruise en masse around Wellington harbour then they sure can’t ignore us!”.

    How about providing some viable alternatives instead of just constantly whinging. It’ll makes you sound a heck of a lot more credible.

    I can feel your tidal waves of rage building as I write this. How bout thinking about it though… I’d far rather engage with someone who has an alternative than someone just out having a cry.

  4. Rich 4

    He gave at least one alternative – worker-owned (I prefer joint worker/customer) cooperatives.

    But Moore is a gradualist – he supports the enactment of the Second Bill of Rights” proposed by FDR. That’s capitalism, but regulated capitalism. If that were part of a nation’s basic law along with the individual rights in the UDHR, it would be made harder for right-wing governments to trick people out of their basic rights.

  5. In theory it is but not in practice…

  6. tsmithfield 6

    Here is what Wikipedia says about democracy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

    “Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’,[3] there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes, equality and freedom.[4] These principles are reflected by all citizens being equal before the law, and having equal access to power.[5] A third common principle, though less measurable, is that all citizens are promised certain legitimized freedoms and liberties, which are generally protected by a constitution.[6][7]”

    It seems to me that it could be argued that New Zealand and many Western nations fall short of the three principles mentioned above in one respect or another. Therefore, is there actually a true democracy anywhere?

    However, I think the point that I am making above is valid, even though I accept that voting is not necessarilly indicative of a democratic system, as Zimbabwe and its ilk have demonstrated..

    Thus, any system, socialism, capitalism or otherwise that meets the principles above, is by definition democratic. Any system that claims to be democratic but does not meet the principles above is obviously undemocratic.

  7. Herodotus 7

    Previously say pre mid 80’s there may have been financial seperation of people by their incomes, but there was a greater social interaction between different people, be it at school, sport, holidays. There was intergration of classes (I hesitate using this phase but cannot find a more adequate one). The school I went to had family from Wilson/Horton, Griersons etc and some of us joe average, at the time I was unaware of some of their weath. All groups comprised within a sporting team, many could afford baches/cribbs. Now there is at best little intergration between different levels, we holiday at different places,schools are far more divided into decile groups, which is a form of division. So we have lost that link of all being equal or at least having some appreciation of each other by interaction. Some rich (Watson & Hochens) appear to have no appreciation of a social conscience. It is literally dog eat dog. Pity

    • prism 7.1

      Perhaps they have been brought up on Ayn Rand – the virtue of selfishness and objective ethics amongst her creations.

    • DeeDub 7.2

      I lived in state housing and later NZ Railways housing for a lot of my young life. I remember associating with kids of other working class families. At school and at play.

      Your experience of 80’s NZ society may have been true for ‘joe averages’ but it certainly wasn’t mine. Rich kids played cricket, we played softball etc.

      I think you’re right that it has got worse – IMO largely due to the neo-libs and their grabbing, mad brand of capitalism.

  8. Gosman 8

    The naivety in Moore’s comments in that clip makes me thank my lucky stars that his views are considered far too radical to ever get proper traction in the US.

    What he is discussing is not democracy but tyranny of the majority.

    He also trots out the tired old pie analogy which has been discredited on numerous occassions.

    Only primary school kids can be excused for thinking like that. Grown men who spout such nonsense are just idiots.

    • IrishBill 8.1

      As opposed to the tyranny of the Wall Street minority? You’d have more credibility if you offered a rebuttal of the “old pie analogy” rather than claiming some mythological discrediting (and if you spelled “occasions” correctly).

      • Gosman 8.1.1

        The ‘Old Pie’ analogy where leftists try and argue that there is a limited amount of wealth in the economy and therefore it is beholden on society to share it equally, totally ignoring the fact that the size of an economy is dynamic and it is possible to grow the ‘Pie’ rather than redistribute it.

        If you want to see the result of redistribution go have a look at Zimbabwe after they ‘redistributed’ (read stole) land from Commercial farmers (Both Black and White) and gave it to their cronies and the landless masses. Lot’s more equality in that country now (beyond a very few wealthy elite). Except it is equality in poverty.

        By the way I didn’t realise this site included grammar and syntax police. I must remember not to split my infinitives.

        • RedLogix 8.1.1.1

          No-one, but no-one on the left considers the ‘size of the economic pie’ irrelevant and it is a statement of the bleedingly obvious that sustainable growth and development are, within limits, a desirable thing.

          But equally there is little point in having a pie, if it isn’t cut up reasonably fairly. All the data suggests that countries which do a better job of distributing the pie, do better on a whole range of social measures.

          Using a single data point (Zimbabwe) to prop up your argument is fairly weak. At the very least the presence of a hyper-wealthy elite completely negates your assertion that the country is now more equal.

          • Gosman 8.1.1.1.1

            Zimbabwe always had a hyper elite. Initially it was the large White minority. It then became the politically connected Black’s as well as some White’s. This elite has now shrunk in size and also the real value of their assets have also dropped significantly. It is therefore accurate to describe Zimbawe as a more equal society since the land reforms started back in 2000. Of course the economy basically collapsed but so long as the wealth is shared more equally it is all okay isn’t it?

            • RedLogix 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Again, you use the example of one country at one period of it’s history. Drawing conclusions from one selected data point is called cherry picking and is well known as a very quick and effective way to jump to the wrong conclusions.

              The link I provided to the Equality Trust provides a wealth of data from many countries, analysed in a number of different ways. It is considered an exceedingly robust project of it’s type. I warmly recommend a long quiet read of it.

            • Gosman 8.1.1.1.1.2

              I could take a number of post colonial countries in Africa to show how this ‘wealth envy’ obsession of the left and redistribution policies have lead to a economic disorder and poverty.

              Take Ghana after independence under Nkrummah.

              Look at Uganda under Amin when he forceably ‘redistributed’ the wealthy Asian elites assets and gave them to his poor supporters.

              Finally do a little research on the ‘Afican Socialism’ of Tanzania to see how to make your people poorer rather than wealthier by following equality over growth.

            • RedLogix 8.1.1.1.1.3

              Look at Uganda under Amin when he forceably ‘redistributed’ the wealthy Asian elites assets and gave them to his poor supporters.

              Therein lies a clue to the mistake you are making. Under colonialism these countries already suffered extremes of wealth and poverty, and the resulting injustice and imbalances eventually resulted in a forceable overthrow of the prevailing order.

              All of history shows that this kind of social and economic discontinuity, that all uprisings, revolutions and dramatic political changes are followed by a considerable period of dysfunction. Evolution is preferable to revolution, if at all possible.

            • Gosman 8.1.1.1.1.4

              And therein lies your problem in that you obviously haven’t studied Post-colonial African nations in any great depth.

              Tanzania never had the violent upheaval of society you mention (although a small part of it, Zanzibar, did go through something along those lines it was geographically isolated). ‘Ujamma’ was introduced by Julius Nyerere not as part of some social upheaval but as a utopian social policy.

        • Pascal's bookie 8.1.1.2

          The ‘Old Pie’ analogy where leftists try and argue that there is a limited amount of wealth in the economy and therefore it is beholden on society to share it equally

          Strawman. The ‘left’ says the pie is currently distributed in an unfair way. It says nothing about the size of it being fixed. In fact, they say that a more equitable splitting of the pie may actually mean that it grows bigger.

          totally ignoring the fact that the size of an economy is dynamic and it is possible to grow the ‘Pie’ rather than redistribute it

          False dichotomy. The pie can both be grown and redistributed more equitably.

          I didn’t realise this site included grammar and syntax police. I must remember not to split my infinitives.

          Syntax is grammar, but it is not spelling.

          • Gosman 8.1.1.2.1

            If anyone is creating the Strawman argument it is the Left as represented by Moore and trying to argue that it isn’t fair that the rich have too much wealth.

            As stated in my last post, if you want to see how redisribution helps foster economic development take a long hard look at Zimbabwe.

            As for your anally retentive obsessions with grammar and spelling PB, frankly it smacks of intellectual elitism especially as this is a comments section on a blog not some vehicle of higher learning.

          • BLiP 8.1.1.2.2

            🙂

    • RedLogix 8.2

      Grown men who make silly assertions as you just have are morons… but I don’t suppose you’ll take my assertion any more seriously than I have yours.

      (In other words, if you don’t have anything useful to say….)

  9. ak 9

    Oh come on Red: surely you know by now that this failed utopian vision is on its last legs and that any day now Castro will be overthrown and the evil traps of welfare, unions and the public company will lead us all to hell? Isn’t the land of the free leading us steadily to paradise? Haven’t you read a newspaper in the last 70 years?

  10. Pat 10

    Specifically for NZ, isn’t the idea of some sort of Socialist Democracy nothing more than an impossible dream?

    For a start, you have to convince a majority of NZers to vote for an economic system to replace capitalism. You have to win the argument.

    Having voted it in, then you need a mechanism to prevent Nzers from voting it out (particularly during the transition period).

    So on one hand, you need to convince Kiwis that the new economic system (whatever it is) will be more “democratic” and at the same time you need to make the electoral system less democratic.

  11. David 11

    I agree with Daveo that “the USSR et al’ weren’t socialist. But I think the claim that they were “communist’ is just as bad.

    The only way that those societies can be described as “socialist’ is if socialism and / or communism is stripped of all association with political and economic democracy and the key Marxist concept of the “self emancipation’ of the working class, and is reduced down to state intervention, ownership or control of the economy.

    However popular this definition of socialism may be, it is one that Marx, Engles and Lenin all rejected and ridiculed. See for example Lenin’s “The State and Revolution’: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/

    I also have to disagree with Daveo’s assertion that “Socialism has always been to work within the capitalist system’.

    Socialism has been used to describe forms of capitalism, such as “state capitalism’ or capitalism with a welfare state, but this has not “always’ been the case.

    Even the term “social democracy’ was originally associated with those who’s aim was to abolish capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist system.

    Lenin’s party for example was originally the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, a name the Bolshevik faction retained until after the 1917 Revolution. The Bolshevik’s then changed their name to “communist’ because the term “social democrat’ was associated with the German party (itself officially Marxist) which had supported World War One.

    If there is a meaningful distinction between “socialism’ and “communism’ within the Marxist tradition it is that “communism’ is sometimes seen as the final goal of a classless, stateless society. But most of time, at least as far as Marxists are concerned, the terms are interchangeable.

    • Gosman 11.1

      What a bunch of theoretical nonsense. I especially love this part “Lenin’s party for example was originally the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party”. Lenin was never a Social Democrat. He had a general loathing for the liberal democratic system as evidenced by his actions when he came back to Russia in 1917.

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