Recently a friend was made fun of for posting the above picture because it somehow exposed him of *gasp* valuing property.
I think such a points exposes quite a bit about how people miscommunicate on political/economic issues today.
Let me define some basic terms that are thrown around a lot, before I start to analyze how they function using the rhetorical concept of God/Devil terms as theorized by Richard Weaver and Kenneth Burke.
Capitalism is not based on choice or freedom or hard work or upward mobility. It is based on private ownership. That’s all. This is what Marx meant when he coined the term. He predicted that this trend, which was emerging like a bad spirit at the time he lived in, would spoil the so called free market, leaving us in a second age of feudalism. I think, with the rise of state sponsored corporatism, we can all agree that Marx was right about this prediction. We might disagree about what to do about it. (Also, there is debate about the origins of this term, so it is important to mention that. I believe, like most attributions of coinage, that term actually precedes Marx.)
Communism, is the collective ownership of the Means of production. That would mean that everyone owns the field and can grow their own fucks in that field. They would be morally obligated to share those fucks with whomever needed them.
The problem, and Marx is unequal in his superiority of thought here, is that when we look at human nature we see both good and evil. Why? Marx theorized that, like evolution, humans nature adapts to the environment where humans live.
Change the environment, change human nature.
But, should we do that with government or through volunteerism? A question like this (and I am oversimplifying to save room) exposes the basic disagreement that gives us all the various schools of thought on the left.
Socialism is one way that the left has tried to put left-wing theory into action. Socialism is based on the idea that there is no such thing as human nature. It is a way of breaking from the limits of a binary argument that just turns endlessly in circles: humans are basically bad at their core. No. Humans are basically good at their core. Socialism is designed to break those limits and see human nature as environmental. Grow up in a dog eat dog world, become a dog eat dog person. Grow up in an environment where a gift economy exists, become ready for the stateless society of communism.
Michael Hardt gets into this when he discusses revolution in a rowboat…seemingly to show off his biceps. But hey, I would show those off if I had em, so I won’t be too much of a prick about it.
Most everyone today confuses socialism the theory with socialism as practiced by the USSR.
We have bad feels about the USSR because of 80s films like
and Rocky IV
The Soviets did not and do not have a lock on communism because it never reached communism. And if we trace the term historically, we see that Soviet style socialism emerged through a suppression of their (wait for it) left wing. The soviet’s suppressed the left in order to conduct their socialist experiment. (I am not alone is this reading of history, though I am aware of several counter arguments. My view is accepted as valid by many though. And that is why you hear a lot of people talking about Trotskyism and Italian Neo-Marxism and Rosa Luxemburg and autonomous Marxism, not to mention all the strands of left-wing Anarchism. Believe I could go on and on about anarchism. But I will stick to Marx and Marxism because I think a general audience has at least some experience there.)
Free Market economy is what is written about in A. Smith’s Wealth of Nations. His theories are really not that bad. In fact, it might even be nice if we tried them out. We have never really done that though. And if we actually read Smith, we will find that many people today would call him (wait for it) a left-winger.
We need to be much more careful about how we define these terms because many have become what we in my field call God Terms — basically empty floating containers that are equated with things we already value and allow us to read into them all the good feelings we have for something else.
You might, say, value Free Markets because you like freedom. Never mind that ushering in low taxes on the rich and zero to no regulations on the market privileges Capitalism and not what Smith wrote about. One could even imagine an argument that provides for a multiculturalism: No you do not get to discriminate against another person just because you own a business. It’s Wealth of Nations not Wealth of Wealthy people living in a Nation. But there is still that very real blind spot that Marx pointed out. That blind spot still needs to be dealt with.
Other terms have become devil terms. They are associated with things we already hate, thus they guide us to hate that philosophy without actually learning anything about it.
Here is what is funny to me. Capitalism started as what could be called a devil term (Marx has a real definition, he isn’t blowing smoke. Put the term did become a devil term of sorts when it began appearing in propaganda.) It described in Marx’s view a blind spot in economic theory. Basically, free markets end up being great for those who own but not for anyone else.
No one took this blind spot into account for a long time, and eventually the term Capitalism became a god term and ushered in a huge Stock Market crash.
Socialist ideas saved us. But Capitalism remained a God Term somehow.
Communism went a different route. It began as a God Term then became a Devil Term and was used to erase the New Deal and BAM! We get another big crash and corporate socialism was used to ‘fix’ it. And yet, communism remains a Devil Term while Capitalism remains a God Term (at least they remain in those categories for the general public. This is a general view of how US society views these terms.)
Every once in a while someone will come up with a new term to address this problem of corporate feudalism. But it is roundly and soundly beaten up as just being socialism or communism.
This being the case, should we keep trying to come up with new ideas at the risk of having them refuted as communist? Or should we try to reclaim the term Communism and show people why these ideas will help create a more equitable world?
I also think we need to discuss what our main definition of left-wing is. Do we see a central tenant as: Central planing will correct human nature and prepare us for Communism. Or do we see Workers owning the means of production as central? Perhaps we see the central idea as something different entirely. Maybe the problem is an obsession with the basic notion of centrality.
I don’t know, but I would think that the discussion would be good to have.
We should also do that for the right. Just what is it about the right that makes it the right? Faith in authority? Tradition? Is the right always already a product of its environment and thus incapable of thinking critically about that environment, left only to see all attempts at change as a direct attack on traditional values?
Perhaps the right’s central premise is merely to look before one leaps, that change is not something that should be entered into lightly and that to be right-wing does not mean merely to be opposite of left-wing, that to be right-wing does not mean abstaining from change at all costs.
I don’t know. But we should find out soon because I am quickly running out of fucks to give…