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


I’d much prefer if we returned to neoliberalism, rather than the crony capitalism that mostly exists today.


Any tips on how to talk socialism with an anti-racist who argues exclusively in terms of first person politics, meta-discourse and morality? or with an anti-imperialist who happily allies himself with all kind of reactionaries for short term support of his favorite independence movement? Because I have tried both, and failed spectacularly, finding myself to have more common vocabulary with a bloody conservative of all people.


But what do today’s resurgent socialists mean by socialism? It’s easier to see what they dislike than to describe a socialist policy agenda. Most obviously, socialism implies an unqualified rejection of the system of financial capitalism (variously called neoliberalism, market liberalism or, in Australia, economic rationalism) that emerged from the economic chaos of the 70s.
Neoliberalism has massively enriched the 1%, and particularly the financial sector, while delivering nothing but economic insecurity and stagnant living standards to the great majority of the population.

Has it though? Especially when you equate capitalism and neoliberalism, the final statement is the opposite of true.



A lot of this improvement has happened since slavery was abolished too, so it’s not just due to exploitation (especially when you consider the benefits around the world).

We’re also much more peaceful under capitalism than other systems, in part because of the increased trade links. Innovation has improved our quality of life in ways that socialist countries have not matched.

This is not to uncritically praise capitalism – there are plenty of problems and capitalism doesn’t automatically lead to more freedom. However, it does seem to provide a good framework for allowing social advances. I think if we see socialism as antithetical to capitalism, I’m with capitalism. It has a far better record, and socialism consistently fails to meet its promises. On the other hand, acting like we can trust the market is not the answer either.

I think the context matters quite a bit – the Levellers and Diggers had many socialist ideas, but they were more anti-feudalists than anti-capitalists. TBH, non-conformists in that era are fascinating, as is the propaganda by and about them (the first two cartoons are in the YT video you shared):


It’s also interesting to see the kind of petitions and pamphlets that were being published, and the ideas that were going around at the time – there are a lot of parallels with 20th century ideas, where normal rules of morality and social order were being questioned and rejected, such as that women should not have a political voice and that the gender norms should be strictly maintained:






I, for one, have missed you here at BB. Expansive comments like this are just one reason why.

Welcome back.


What some of the global left are aiming for:


I should mention some US locals, though.


And Naomi on climate:


Frankly straight up capitalism is evil. Unregulated and in markets where it makes no sense because you hinder the service for the sak e of shareholder profits capitalism is stupid.

Healthcare, education, and the like? These services have no business being run bybusinesses. See also astronomical tuitions and medical costs for why.

‘Govermnets exists to do what the normal person cannot.’ That is my stance.

Let businesses exist where it makes sense; the consumer market. In markets where yu want ‘things’ to be sold where having competition is healthy.

It’s just in some markets you end up either having regional monopolies by default, or a shell game where three or four subsidiaries basically are the parent company’s way of going ‘see? we’re not a monopoly all these companies COMPETE.’

I am angry and in pain so i do not know if this makes sense.

  • What is a realistic alternative to an economic order based on private profit?
  • Where has socialism not shown brutality and violence in defence of the status quo, once it becomes the status quo?
  • What does ‘popular control of the means of production’ mean in the 21st century?
  • Socialists are not the majority. How does the socialist idea of ‘the people’ prevent itself from being an elitist ideal that is divorced from actual people, as seems to be common in socialist systems?

To undermine my last question somewhat, it seems to me that many of these ideals are shared by many people, although they don’t necessarily share the estimation of their significance or the solutions proposed by socialists. Many are not incompatible with a capitalist worldview either, and the dichotomy seems to be less respected in Europe:

"I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

“The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish,” he added.

He goes on to talk about the welfare model in Denmark, which would seem very socialist to many people. In fact, many policies would be very much in line with Article II of the DSA Constitution. It just seems that labels like ‘liberal’, ‘socialist’, ‘market capitalist’ and others are becoming increasingly difficult to define, and the most successful systems combine ideas that would be considered all of these.


A lot of this is obviously going to centre around definitions of what is and isn’t a socialist country.

Noam Chomsky is an anarchist rather than a socialist, but what he has to say at the start of this is directly on topic:

The point I want to make with that is that political economy is a spectrum. No current nation is purely capitalist, no current nation is purely socialist. All economies are regulated and managed.

The question is not if the economy is managed, the question is for whose benefit the economy is managed.

While there are some people (including myself) advocating peaceful revolution as a solution to the immediate problem of fascism, there is no substantial advocacy or support in America for any sort of antidemocratic imposition of authoritarian pseudo-socialism.

The Berniecrats are as close to the centre as it is possible to get without turning into capitalist social democrats, and the DSA are one step to the left of them.

You still have many, many miles of leftward ideology to travel before you get anywhere close to the extremes that are currently embodied by the American right. Framing the debate as if the entirety of the left were defined by Stalin and Mao is absurd.

OTOH, speaking of Mao:

The particular bit of relevance starts at about 0:45.

However, China is not the relevant model here. Despite what the occasional right-wing Dane may claim, the Nordic countries are generally recognised as a clear example of successful, moderate democratic socialism. That is the model that the Berniecrats are pushing for.

The main left-wing party in my country is officially a democratic socialist party. Up until relatively recently, that wasn’t just marketing bullshit. They were born from the late-19th century union movement after decades of brutal struggle against capitalist exploitation.

The Labor governments that ruled Australia for much of the 20th century did not create an Orwellian hellscape as far as I have noticed.

All current economies are mixed. There are no purely capitalist or socialist economies on the planet at this time. There is a place for markets, and there is a place for communal control. The two are not mutually exclusive in an economy.

On the terminology, it’s more that the US understanding is grinding back in line with the rest of the world.

The boundary between left and right is socialism. If you are a capitalist, you are not left wing.

Just left of that boundary, you have Berniecrat-style democratic socialists. This is also roughly the location of the centre of US political opinion, if you look at all-people issues-based polling.

One step to the right you have social democrats, like the Danish fellow you quoted. One more step to the right and you get to the liberals, the original capitalist party.

One more hop right to the conservatives, then another hop or two and you get to the fascists that currently control the US state.

The American use of “liberal” as a synonym for “left” isn’t just a quirk of linguistics. It’s a consequence of the historical suppression and erasure of the real American left, which is in turn a consequence of the strong fascist strain that has been present in US politics since the birth of the nation.


It seems that, among those quoted, we agree that a democratic economy is one that runs on both private and public capital and implements free (but fairly regulated) markets and socialized programs for basic individual and societal needs.


They are not mutually exclusive terms. Chomsky has identified as a libertarian socialist, which includes left wing anarchism (sadly also necessarily redundant at this time).


Some interesting points.


(a) those graphs don’t really give us much information on which forms of economic organisation lead to the greatest poverty reduction. They just show that poverty has reduced over time. The question is, how much more or less would it have reduced given different policies and institutions.

(b) I would wonder how much of that poverty reduction is down to China, a country which, while having many capitalist elements to its economy, strays pretty far from the neoliberal consensus in a number of ways. Certainly, the only comparative data you give shows China growing more than India.

(c) Economists like Ha-Joon Chang and others have argued persuasively that growth was actually often faster in the pre-neoliberal forms of capitalism, in many developing countries - so much so that he describes promotion of neoliberal economics as a way for richer countries to “Kick away the ladder”.

…the ‘bad old days’ in the developing countries weren’t so bad at all. During the 1960s and the 1970s, when they were pursuing the ‘wrong’ policies of protectionism and state intervention, per capita income in the developing countries grew by 3.0% annually. As my esteemed colleague Professor Ajit Singh once pointed out, this was the period of ‘Industrial Revolution in the Third World’. This growth rate is a huge improvement over what they achieved under free trade during the ‘age of imperialism’ (see above) and compares favourably with the 1–1.5% achieved by the rich countries during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. It also remains the best that they have ever recorded. Since the 1980s, after they implemented neo-liberal policies, they grew at only about half the speed seen in the 1960s and the 1970s (1.7%). Growth slowed down in the rich countries too, but the slowdown was less marked (from 3.2% to 2.1%), not least because they did not introduce neo-liberal policies to the same extent as the developing countries did. The average growth rate of developing countries in this period would be even lower if we exclude China and India. These two countries, which accounted for 12% of total developing country income in 1980 and 30% in 2000, have so far refused to put on Thomas Friedman’s Golden Straitjacket.

(d) The data you share is exactly what some socialists (Marxists in particular) might predict. Their position, I think, is not that capitalism is never a positive and progressive force. It’s that capitalism starts as a positive force but at a certain point becomes a hinderance to further social progress. I’m not a Marxist enough to be sure exactly how that is the case, or why, but phenomenon of “secular stagnation” in the developed world might suggest that they are on to something.

In any case, I think we need to think more about an infinite constellation of possible sets of policies and institutions, rather than placing everything on a line between capitalism and socialism. There are plenty of possible social systems that are neither. (For example, what do you call an economy where the dominant form of workplace organisation is not factory owners renting human beings to work in their factories, but groups of workers forming cooperatives that manage themselves and rent factory equipment from the owners of capital. It’s not capitalism, but it isn’t really socialism in the sense that people tend to use the term either).


And pilots.

Is it okay that access to space is reserved for the wealthy, and astronauts?


If access to space becomes something that normal people require from time-to-time, then no, it’s no okay. For example, if my parent or child is at a moon resort and they are involved in an accident and I have one last chance to see them, yes I think I should get a spot on the next shuttle over some person that is just going because they want to be drunk on the moon.


Not just for whose benefit, but by whom. Under both capitalism and whatever-you-call-the-USSR-system, economic decision-making tended to be dominated by a self-perpetuating class of managers. I would say that who formally owns things, or on whose behalf those who manage the economy claim to act, is actually pretty irrelevant. Either the important economic decisions are monopolised by some sort of oligarchy, or they are made democratically, both at the micro and macro levels. The latter has never been achieved for long, although elements of it have (workers cooperatives, etc.) but to my mind its the only hope for a system better than what we’ve had before.


It’s called market socialism. Markets predate capitalism by many centuries, and, in my opinion, are worth having. The work of Alec Nove and others involved in the calculation debate has convinced me of that.


Those two paragraphs seem to be contradictory. Why would it not be possible to accept a mixture of socialist and capitalist ideas? If anything, this seems to be the norm.

One of the things I like about liberalism is moral equality – the impression I get from the Lincoln-Douglas debates is that both are somewhere to the right of Richard Spencer, but liberal principles give a poor basis for identitarianism. Even if you couldn’t care less about other people, and Lincoln seems to be making a serious effort to give that impression, protecting others’ rights and protecting your own rights are explicitly linked:

I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why may not another man say it does not mean another man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get this statute book in which we find it and tear it out.

I was talking about the way that the article equated neo-liberalism and economic capitalism. I can be persuaded that neo-liberalism doesn’t offer the benefits that it claims, but not if neo-liberalism is understood to cover capitalism as a whole, throughout its history. I can support capitalist ideas without believing that the market shouldn’t be regulated or that we shouldn’t have any nationalised services. I think European countries seem to work differently from the US in this regard, and see less of a conflict.

I think some of it has to do with the trend toward a de facto feudal system, where money has too much power to allow social mobility:

I can’t remember whether it was here or somewhere else that was talking about the fall in trade union membership, and connecting it to the kind of jobs that people do. There’s less job security, more gig work and more potential to lose work abroad or to automation/technological developments. It’s one of the reasons I was asking about owning the means of production – it seems to be much more difficult to define in the modern economy.

Again though, criticism is fine but I haven’t seen examples of socialism performing better. I mean, Corbyn, our only hope, is the guy who backed Venezuela…


The following is oversimplified, but it should get the point across:

Imagine a spectrum running from 100% socialist to 100% capitalist.

The Berniecrat-style Democratic Socialists are 55% socialist and 45% capitalist; they’re socialists. The Social Democrats, one step to their right, are 55% capitalist and 45% socialist. They’re capitalists. Both use a mix of economic policies, but each is to one side or the other of the centre point.

DemSoc and SocDem policies tend to appear rather similar, which is unsurprising given their ideological proximity. Moderately regulated markets with a safety net to catch those who fall through the cracks.

The SocDems are trying to make capitalism as inoffensive as possible; the moderate DemSocs are trying to make socialism as unintrusive as possible. The SocDems put a bit more power and wealth into the top half of the income distribution, the DemSocs put a bit more into the bottom half.

It’s a spectrum; the changes in policy are gradual, and neighbouring ideologies are more similar than distant ideologies. Parties such as the ALP in Australia began as DemSocs, but are now mostly SocDems thanks to the rightward drift of the last few decades.

Unsurprisingly, I have a somewhat different point of view on liberalism. It would take a very long post to explain and justify why in detail, but as a quick summary:

Liberal and libertarian free-speech politics-by-debate ideology is based upon the false premise that political disputes are settled by reasoned argument.

Firstly, this premise just isn’t true. Politics is, and always has been, about power. The current ruling class did not gain their position by the virtue of their arguments; they got there because they had the money and guns. Access to political power and resources in the present reality is very heavily influenced by inherited wealth and privilege. Liberal capitalist meritocracy is a myth.

Secondly, and of more practical concern in the current situation: politics-by-debate ideology is competely defenseless in the face of fascism. The marketplace of ideas does not work when confronted with disingenuous participants who do not respect their rights of their opponents. To borrow from Sartre:


You can argue all day with fascists, bringing your very best logic and evidence to the table, and it won’t do a damned thing. Nazis don’t see anyone outside their group as fully human, and they will attempt to subjugate or kill their victims as soon as the opportunity presents itself. To quote from another thread where related topics were discussed:

Liberal ideology claims that it can control extremism and oppression by codified legal rights. The counter to this is that rights on paper are worthless when the state does not respect those rights, and that the best guarantee against oppression is to vest political power in the hands of the majority.

Both the current reality and American history in general suggest that the liberal approach is ineffective at resisting oppression and exploitation.


On the more general theme of why I am not a liberal:

The history is important [1].

The original parliamentary parties were conservatives; the landed nobles who forced their kings to surrender some power during the Renaissance. Then in the 18th century, after the rise of capitalism, a new group of merchants and industrialists gained enough wealth that they were able to successfully challenge the power of the conservative aristocrats.

These were the liberals [2], and it is from their newfound dominance that the concept of “liberal democracy” was born. But note that it was still only people with money that had any say in running the government.

About a century later, the radicals arose. These were people who were “radical” in the sense that they believed that working-class people should be allowed to vote. The advancing development of firearms had rendered traditional methods of suppressing uppity peasants less reliable, so after long and painful struggle, the workers got the vote.

But they still didn’t have any money, and their power was severely constrained by the moneyed classes’ deliberate corruption of democracy.

Then the socialists showed up, and began to argue that the peasants should not just have a say, they should be in charge, because they are the majority and they do nearly all the work.

This is the basis of where the “dictatorship of the proletariat” idea comes from. That sounds like a cartoonishly menacing phrase, but all it really means is that in any true democratic state, the largest group is going to have the dominant say, just by weight of numbers.

The current US political system is deliberately designed to prevent that from happening. Some of that is openly acknowledged (e.g. the original justification for the electoral college), some of it is not (e.g. the functional disenfranchisement of the American working class via voter suppression and the gerrymander).

Which leads into the argument presented in this thread:

Anyway…that was all a bit rambly, but it might provide some things to talk about.

My background is neuroscience, philosophy of science, scientific history and military history; I’m not accustomed to discussing political theory in detail. The basic ideas are in my head, but explaining it clearly and with accurate terminology is still something that I’m working on. My general political position is somewhere between Naomi Klein and Akala, and both of them are much more eloquent than I am.


[1] So important that I am now going to oversimplify it to such a degree that historians are probably spontaneously combusting around the globe. But it does the job for what I’m trying to say here.

[2] Being a bit loose with terminology here; ideology and party names are not the same thing. Whigs etc.

Jeremy Corbyn to European left-wing parties: you won't win until you abandon neoliberalism