Triangulation is dead: what does "socialism" mean in the 21st century?


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/10/09/the-s-word.html


#2

The privatisation movement has produced some successes. Although it was built up under public ownership, Qantas has prospered as a private firm. There’s no obvious need for a national flag carrier in a competitive airline market.

I’m surprised that he sees the privatization of Qantas as a success. It’s still too expensive for a big chunk of the population. Wouldn’t it be preferable for there to be a public airline that serves everybody, even (and maybe especially) those that can’t afford a ticket on privately owned airlines? Or is it okay that access to flight is reserved for the wealthy?


#3

Are a $15 minimum wage and a guaranteed income a stepping stone on the way to the elimination of finance altogether, or an end in themselves, or something else?

Quiggin seems to acknowledge the need for sensible stepping-stone policies that recognise the economic and technological and climate realities of the 21st century, rather than the “eliminate capitalism now-now-NOW” approach of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Putting aside the need to fight back against 35 years of indoctrination that neoliberalism is (to one degree or another) the “natural” mode of economics, most people in the West nowadays understandably don’t have the stomach that their more put-upon ancestors might have had for the 5-10 years of chaos that sudden revolutions bring. Of course, if nothing changes or keeps trending in the current direction thanks to short-sighted greedheads and their “free” market fundie courtiers, The People™ might get that stomach back (the resurgence of right-wing populism is a warning sign of that).

Building successful socialism in the 21st century West means starting with the Scandinavian social-democratic mixed-economy model (or in the case of the U.S., making the long trudge toward a semblance of that kind of civilised developed country status) and then continuing to extend on it slowly. It means both good policy and (if the socialists respect democracy, which most do) smart and effective electoral strategies.

If the elimination of capitalism is the ultimate goal (a goal I don’t personally agree with – more of a mixed economy kind of guy), better that it be eliminated by the death of capitalists not in sudden orgies of violence but en masse over decades, of natural causes.


#4

Meanwhile the right is reacting with articles trying to smear socialism with the crimes of Stalinism and portraying anyone who rejects the current economic thinking as traitors.


#5

A socialism that can’t deal with energy policy, pollution and sustainability issues isn’t going to be any better than any other -ism in the long run.

We can choke on our own cancerous fumes in beautiful equality, or the ultra-rich can linger on in their sealed domes for a while, but the end’s the same.


#6

I would guess that even if socialism dealt with those things poorly, it’s still better than what capitalism gives us. Looking for a perfect solution might be worse than accepting a better solution.


#7

Militant Socialism? Isn’t that kind of like Evangelical Unitarianism? (According to the old joke, they ring your doorbell but aren;t entirely sure why.)


#8

Given the carbon footprint of flying, perhaps it’s best that we don’t broaden its availability via public policy.


#9

“Rather than allowing 150 white male CEOs to run the world, we should ensure that at least half a dozen of them are women and/or people of color.”

There; fixed that for you.


#10

Socialism is nothing new, even in the US. What’s new is that people are suddenly willing to say that the socialist aspect of government is the part they like.

If you interviewed a hundred people who’ve been trained to weep with fear at the S-word, I doubt more than ten would say they want to outlaw public schools and municipal fire departments. Most right-wing voters don’t really feel like they’re in Red Dawn when they see the government salting the roads in winter. And for that matter, most Sanders / Corbyn supporters don’t want to nationalize Netflix and outlaw money.

I think hope the rehabilitation of the word signifies that the 80s market-cult propaganda has finally, fatally backfired. It’s become the antonym for what mainstream politicians stand for, and people are realising that’s exactly what they want.

Obviously, Turmp also represents an “anything-but-you-guys” vote, so that’s a note of caution. But “socialism” additionally stands for something. You might even dare to hope that some Turmp voters, given the chance to better articulate their grievances, would like to vote for “socialist” candidates.


#11

A huge proportion of what happens in society, what goods are made, how they are made, under what conditions, for what wages, what infrastructure we have, which endeavors we undertake as a society, are obviously not under democratic control of all the people concerned, but under direct order of those who own property. Free markets do not make up for this, they are a form of census suffrage at best. As concentration of property into fewer and fewer hands continues, democracy is relegated to smaller and smaller areas of control. Meanwhile the executive branch is tasked with upholding the rule of law, which first and foremost enshrines the rights of property owners, thereby accelerating the system’s demise. People fed up with the inefficacy of democratic institutions, and at the same time poisoned by the ideology equating the property of few with the freedom of many, will call for a strongman. Once in power, he will not have any incentive to do away with the social conditions that made him, but rather divide and conquer, pitching one faction of the powerless against another. At the end of this downward spiral stands fascism, where a majority of the people have surrendered to the delusion that the system itself is without fault, but since it is clearly not working, it must be undermined by saboteurs, which can be any minority pitched to them.


#12

I won’t have time to write anything substantial until after work, but for now, this thread needs some tunes:

And a bit of Akala:


#13

Oh right, the cons. Mainly, that all practical attempts at socialism to date have been quite appalling, in extreme bureaucracy and state centralism, eliminating personal freedom, and stifling innovation and diversity, replacing it with often horribly misguided top down planning and enforcement of conformity, and even personality cult and militarism? I don’t see how any revival of socialist ideas could gain traction without a thorough critique of these matters and clear concepts of how to avoid them. Socialist parties as they exist today have done an amazingly poor job of that, in general the upheaval of the 1990ies just frightened them into drinking the liberal milkshake of “free markets will fix everything”.


#14

Well, if we’re having some Billy Bragg :slight_smile:


#15

I don’t want to derail the thread, but you can’t really discuss socialism and capitalism without also considering racism and imperialism.


#16

Besides the already noted problem with the carbon foot-print of flying, I would say: yes, it is ok that access to flight is reserved for the wealthy. Just like it is ok that access to large cars, large houses and luxury goods is reserved to the wealthy. If everybody, including the poor, has access to everything, then money does not exist. This would be some kind of extreme communism, and generallly does not work very well.

Where you are right is that a socialist state should protect access to basic services to all, including the poor. Basic services include transportation amongst other things, but not necessarily air transportation.

So, in summary, I think it is fine if the rich travel by plane and the poor by train or bus. I also think it is not right if the rich travel by plane and the poor cannot afford travel at all, even to find better employment and living prospects.


#17

I’ve read Quiggin over the years, and I agree with a lot of his positions, and he basically is for a rational, sensible, practical approach away from neoliberal doctrine.

But I was born in Venezuela and the phrase “XXI Century Socialism” makes me want to run for the hills.

Hope the “new” European socialists follow Quiggin more than Chávez.


#18

The article asks:

“But what do today’s resurgent socialists mean by socialism?”

And he answers with twelve pages of effing word salad.

When what he should have said would be the planks of the New Progressive Party. Is it really so hard to state what we want? Surely that is where we must start?


#19

I think of these guys

I disagree with them, but I’m don’t have an adversarial relationship with them like I do with Stalinists.


#20

The available evidence doesn’t really support that view, full-on socialism has tended towards far greater environmental damage given the chance.