Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rethinking Politics: The Irresistible Lure Of Socialism

Dear friends,

Today I am posting a first article in what I hope will become a series about "re-thinking politics".  By that I mean the following: we are told that communism is dead.  I am not so sure at all, but maybe.  I would argue that what we think of as "European social-democracy" has died this year after a long and painful agony.  The US is only a republic or a democracy in name, in reality it is a fascist oligarchy.  Chavez in Venezuela spoke of "Bolivarian Socialism".  Arundhati Roy in India seems to think that democracy is dead and that Maoist guerrillas might have the answer to a lot of questions.  One thing is sure, Fukuyama got in wrong and history has not ended (unless some crazy idiot in the White House launches an attack on Russia then yes, history will end).

I will never forget the day in 1992 or 1993 when during a session of the UN Conference on Disarmament a Pakistani Ambassador said something which I shall remember forever.  He looked at the western delegations and said: "you think that your capitalism has defeated communism?  You are wrong!  What really happened is the internal contradictions of communism have caught up with communism before the internal contradictions of capitalism will catch up with capitalism".  Twenty years later it is pretty undeniable that he was absolutely correct.  And no wonder that this realization first came from a Muslim as Islam today clearly offers at least two alternatives to all western ideologies: in Saudi Arabia a medieval and deeply reactionary one and in Iran a modern and very progressive one.

I think that it is high time to re-think our politics, our political categories, our certitudes about what is worse and what is better and all our assumptions about recent history.  Most of us live in the so-called "West" and what thing is undeniable: our social order is dying, totally discredited and despised by the rest of the planet, our politicians simply seem unable to articulate anything remotely connected to the truth, and the world badly, badly, needs new ideas.

With this series "Rethinking Politics" I want to start with a tabula rasa in which we can re-examine it all and try to see if we can at least identify a few facts or ideas which would help us to think outside the iron "box" imposed on us all by our stupidifying societies.  They key will not be finding the right answers, but asking the right questions.

This series begins today with Andreja Vrazalic asking a few very basic and important questions about what socialism is (which, of course, depends on who you ask).  I am very happy with this first contribution and my gratitude goes to Vrazalic for launching what I hope will be a long and productive discussion involving many more contributions from very different authors with very different views.

The Saker
The Irresistible Lure Of Socialism

by Andreja Vrazalic

A quarter of a century has passed since socialism was officially pronounced dead. Unmourned except by a few, such as the Yugoslav nostalgics, which could travel abroad, and were young, and so remember Tito's socialist regime as something grand. They represent a small minority – so much so in fact, that a communist party transformed its country to capitalism, with excellent results – they recently became the first economy of the world.

Socialism, or communism, is completely discredited as an idea. There are some social-democratic parties, and they talk a little bit more about the working man, and that’s it. Even today, with the full-blown crisis of the „free“ market (that is a separate story), hardly anyone seriously entertains the thought of going over to socialism. That is not strange – socialism used to promise heaven on earth that somehow often tended to become hell. Even the hard-core Tito fans that gloss over the mass executions and dispossession he was guilty of do not approve of the Cambodian genocide or Stalin’s terror. Additionally, socialism did not establish equality. Far from it: there was a deep chasm between a "comrade Party member" and an ordinary citizen. And do not be so foolish to mess with your employer – there is only one, the State. With regard to the swift economic growth, well, somehow results were lacking even in that department; the Soviet Union even collapsed after an economic crisis. There are good reason for that failure, and they have to do with the inability of the State to replace the „Invisible Hand“, meaning the inability of one authority to pass decisions that millions of people pass every day. One participant in the market means no competition, etc., etc... In short, socialism, as a system, has betrayed all expectations.


I am not sure, that, for instance, the Vietnamese would agree with that. They defeated the world’s premiere superpower under the red flag. The Russians defeated one of the best war-machines the world has ever seen, and became the world’s second superpower, all under the same flag. We have to remember that, when we look at socialism, we look at it from a perspective of wealthy Europe or North America. When we Serbs look at socialism, we see Tito, and all the mines that he has laid for us, and that continually blow up in our faces for the last 25 years. The same would go for all Eastern European nations, including the Russians (communist borders, anyone?). We need to be objective, or as objective as possible. An objective observer will clearly define the terms and analyze the alternatives a little bit. The results can be interesting.

What is socialism?

When I talk of socialism, I am referring to the economic and political system most people know as communism. However, Yugoslavia and USSR were socialist by name. The thing that we today know as socialism is social-democracy, an ideology that belongs to the capitalist-democratic system, and that has only a few elements of socialism.

Socialism in practice entails dictatorship and state-run economy. In that regard, it is most often compared with its main rival, the Western System which is described as democratic and capitalist, or free-market. However, the fact that such a comparison is made in the first place represents such a masterful propaganda coup that we can only sit back and admire it.

Comparing apples and oranges

Comparing socialism with democracy and the free market is as sensible as comparing a real thing with an imaginary one – it doesn’t make sense. The Western block has, by imposing this comparison, scored (one of the many) ingenious propaganda coups: it has made a glossy, polished and imaginary picture of itself: propaganda Photoshop so to speak. It has imposed a story about a fight for freedom and democracy, as if it actually respects freedom and democracy.

How can we talk about democracy when we know that in the premier country of that democracy a president can be elected even if he loses the popular vote, where referendums are nonexistent, and where two same parties alternate at the helm for the last 150 years??? It’s even worse in its client democracies: there is an old adage that says that democracy is possible only in the US, because it does not have an US embassy. And let’s not even mention the all-pervasive spying – Staling would go green with envy.

It would look as if the Western System would fare better on the question of free market. The State does not interfere too much in the functioning of the market, and people generally go about their transactions freely. But only on the micro-level. At the macro-level, the story of the freedom of the market barely holds water. It is true that the State does not interfere too much. But the State is not the only big player – there are corporations of all kinds, those that we know and those that we can glimpse at. The Federal Reserve System is run by private bankers; then and again an American billionaire does something somehow exactly in line with US national interests; and we will not even go into discussion on the American media - they are old acquaintances of us Serbs. Their lying would make Milosevic’s propagandists blush. How is it that the US tycoons, US media and the US government speak the same language and think with the same head? How is it that we have such smooth transfers from the Big Business to Big Government and back? What was that Military-Industrial Complex Eisenhower talked about?

If we did look at the Western System objectively we would not need to ask such questions, because we would not be surprised. The Western System exited long ago, in Rome. Rome had elections, an assembly, trade was free, private property was respected (people being private property is a minor detail). Almost a capitalist democracy. But now, two thousand years later, we can take an objective look at the Roman Republic and say that it was an oligarchic republic, where all strings of power and wealth were pulled by a few Senate families. Furthermore, they had an interesting recipe: since senators could not officially engage in trade, they did it through other men, with their money becoming invisible. Rome had another thing in common with the US of today: it was an empire.


Wealth, serious wealth, mind you, is simply a wonderful thing: you have the material angle covered, and people also start to think highly of you – that you are smarter, more capable, etc… They maybe envy you, but as someone said it, envy is something like a sincerest form of flattery.

In short, you are credited with attributes and powers that you may not have, and why not, you use it. If they ask you about your first million, you explain at great length how you worked day and night, chose your partners and employees carefully, and you tend to not mention that wee deal with the local politician in charge of construction. The same goes with great nations: they wax poetic about the workings of the free market, invisible hand and division of labor, and somehow neglect to mention plundering India, or land taken from natives. It is human to forget things. Especially those that make you look bad.

Simply, when we talk of wealth, we must have in mind that it (at the level of nations) can be obtained in two ways: by work or by plunder. Furthermore, we have to have in mind that those categories are not so far apart: even individuals can obtain money through both work and crime, nations even more so. It is even connected in a way: the prerequisite for both is strength.

Wealth: prerequisites

Let’s not get into marathon discussions if it is better to live in Norway or the US; it is relatively similar, and let’s ignore the extreme cases or small or micro nations like Switzerland or Singapore. Let’s concentrate on the essentials. We should look at the large countries or continents, and ask ourselves: where is wealth concentrated?

It somehow turns out that the greatest wealth is with the greatest powers. USSR was much poorer than the USA, but was far richer than China, India or Africa of its time. We can track this in history too: just look at the wealth of the British Empire or Rome: as they began to acquire colonies, so their wealth grew. There was plunder, of course, but their industry was blooming – in fact, Britain is the birth place of the Industrial Revolution, the cause of the unparalleled standard of living today.

As Adam Smith ingenuously put it: the prerequisites of wealth are peace, low (easy) taxes and tolerable administration of justice.

And now specifically: who can guarantee peace, if he is not a power? We are not talking about peace as in absence of wars: God, no. Victoria’s Britain or the modern US are permanently engaged in wars, campaigns, interventions, preparations for a coup, etc., etc… When we say peace, we mean peace at home. They had that. And that is the prerequisite for people to relax, to work and produce, and not to worry all the time if they are packed and ready to flee.

Destroy the competition

Wealth is a relative thing: people discuss all the time whether it is better to live in Norway or Sweden than in the US. To be honest, I don’t have a clue. It is not important for this story: neither Norway nor Sweden are in any competition with the US. The whole of Africa or Latin America could be. The wealth of the US is relative: the US simply has more than X country or continent, and hence, the US is wealthy, while X is poor. There is no specific measure of goods or money that the US has to have to be considered “wealthy” – simply having more than others will suffice. If the US does not have more than others it is not “wealthy”. And if it is not wealthy, well, than it maybe isn’t the Fountain of All Knowledge, Promised Land and the undisputed Ruler of the Planet. And that would not be nice.

That status can be maintained in two ways: by economic advancement, and by undermining/destroying the competition. It somehow goes hand in hand: when you destroy the competition, your economy can spread its wings. You can destroy the competition by protectionism – kicking them out from your market – but only the greatest powers can try this, like the 19th century US or Germany. According to free market theory, protectionism is nonsense, in effect tax on domestic consumers that leads to economic inefficiency. However, we have to remember that the market is not “really” free, and that foreign states and corporations occasionally intertwine, and that sometimes they are one and the same thing. They did not come to your country to improve it; they came to make a profit –this way or the other way. More often the other way. Kicking them out from your market is not necessarily a sin towards the consumers. Lastly, if they are doing you service, why are they trying so hard to come to you? Why would Austria-Hungary try so hard to prohibit Serbian import tariffs for industry goods, if the export of such goods was such a great service to Serbia? Why is there a term “conquer the market”?

If you not open your markets, there is always the good old option of occupation.

The colonies

Colonialism is simply a wondrous thing: you move into someone else’s country with a nebulous explanation that they are savages or something, and that you simply must civilize them, introduce them to God and soap, and prevent them from killing each other. And that somehow flies. Never mind that it was okay to say that in the 19th century, when mass media were not exactly on the spot in the heart of Africa to catch you not being entirely honest, it is okay today when Americans are making a mess from the Middle East, all under the excuse of bringing democracy.

It is truly wonderful that these Western countries put so much effort in civilizing natives, and in a such unselfish way. Yes, there were a few minor perks and benefits, such as gold and other minerals, timber, land, slaves, oil, etc., but it was beside the point. The important thing was to civilize the savages. That was the “White Man’s Burden” as Rudyard Kipling put it. The White Man applied himself so wholeheartedly to the business of civilizing, that for instance in Congo, at the moment of attaining independence after some hundred years of Belgian occupation, there where were as much as fifteen college graduates.

Liberation, or why socialism is not for the rich?

The ungrateful natives at some point decided they had enough of such care, and managed to kick out the colonizers. It is interesting to note that such anti-colonial movements usually had some form of leftist ideology, and that they somehow naturally gravitated toward the Soviet Union.

This was not quite in line with the original socialist theory, where communism was supposed to win in societies such as the English or German, where the bourgeoisie and industrial workers we dominant, and where workers would triumph in the end. Contrary to that, communism won in relatively poor countries. If communism was a complete nonsense, it would not be applied anywhere, except maybe in Cambodia led by Pol Pot. If communism was truly a genial idea, everyone would adopt it. There is a fact that some elements of socialism are present in every modern society, in the form of some workers’ rights. But those are elements, and not the essence. Social-democrats essentially support capitalism – otherwise they would be asking for nationalization of factories, and not privatization. On the other hand we have Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia where even today socialist ideas persist, or even advance, and even the Chinese communist party, that has embraced capitalism, has not embraced democracy.

So, it seems by almost a default that wealthy societies do not want socialism, while poor societies tend to implement it. What did the poor see in it, that the rich did not see? Economics-wise, it is not especially efficient system. In real-socialism the State runs the economy, and it is notorious as inefficient (let’s not even go into the communist theory, where there would be no money, which really does not fly). The societies of real socialism cannot be called just by any criteria: the bourgeoisie is robbed when communists come into power, thereafter a caste system is adopted, dividing people into “comrade members” and mere mortals.

Socialism establishes control of the economy from one place. Such a unified control is inefficient and unjust, and will not establish a society superior to a “capitalist” one. However, the socialist society can direct its energies more easily towards one goal, and will be more resistant to outside influence. If you are poor, socialism may be just the solution for you. You will not live better, but you are anyway poorer than the wealthy ones, regardless if you are capitalist or socialist. But you will be able to fight the wealthy ones, because your energies will be focused, and their soft power over you diminished.

How can you otherwise explain that the Cold War rivals were the US, without question the richest country in the world since 1919, and a Russia/USSR, just one of the European powers, devastated by two world wars and a revolution, and which anyway managed to send the first man into space? How can you explain the victory of little Vietnam over the great US? If Vietnam was not socialist, it could not do everything to win. Capitalism is notorious for its tycoons/oligarchs – the US would bribe a few, and Vietnam would fall like a ripe fruit.

There are no oligarchs in socialism – the political and economic power is connected at the party level, and not on the individual level. The Party presents a unified front to the foreigners – and unity is one of the prerequisites for a victory in a war.

A war is not only “hot”, it is also “cold”, where foreign powers want to obtain economic dominion over a country and turn it into a (neo)colony. That country has two possibilities: to be let itself be conquered, and become, for all intents and purposes, a colony, or to fight for its freedom. The choice is between two evils: a colony is exploited, and cruelly punished if it tries to regain its freedom, while freedom is expensive, and not so free, because hierarchy will exist anyway. It will be less rigid – the difference between a communist Vietnamese and ordinary Vietnamese is not made in stone. The difference between a Frenchman and a Vietnamese is.

In short, socialism is a system geared for war. Just ask the Spartans.

Two sides of the same coin: crimes

Socialism, or communism, is reproached for being inherently criminal, and is even equated with fascism. The communist crimes are without doubt. From Tito, whose easily forgotten victims range into tens or hundreds of thousands, Stalin, Mao, to Pol Pot, that killed most of his people, there were a number of communist regimes up to their knees in blood. Their victims were documented and numerous. Maybe more numerous than the victims of fascists.

The victims of the West are somehow always forgotten. From the “Final Solution” to the Indian problem, through Belgian Congo, a thousand and one bloody massacre of the natives we never even heard of, Hiroshima and Dresden, to the latest victories for democracy, it cannot be said that the Western System is lily-white. On the contrary, it may be good to count the victims of that system.

Reproaching socialism, or communism, for its special criminal nature is simply not realistic. Comparing communist Czechoslovakia and communist Cambodia, fascist Argentina and fascist Croatia, democratic Denmark and democratic Belgium or US tells us that every system has its share of criminals and non-criminals (ok, lesser criminals).

Instead of the end

I understand that some people search for a more just society, a society where everyone would live in peace in prosperity. Some saw socialism as that society. They were wrong.

However, as the examples of Sparta or Ancient Egypt tell us, socialism is not inherently new. It is a system of state control over resources. That system has existed since the dawn of time, and its recent defeat does not mean that it will disappear forever. On the contrary, history tells us that things tend to go in waves, and that this victory of the system called liberal capitalism, which it is not, will not be permanent. Socialism will again come into vogue at some point, probably under a different name, but with the same essence.

It is important for us to know what socialism is, what it can, and what it cannot do. Please do not tell me about the more just distribution of goods socialism will bring. It won’t. It has nothing to do with it. Human nature is such, people gravitate toward hierarchy, and those on top will be better off than those bellow. In any system. But it is slightly different if those on top are of different skin color, or just strangers. The difference is then greater, and exploitation more cruel. If you want to talk to me about socialism as a tool against imperialism, feel free. I’m listening.