Quote of the Day: Surgery Metaphor

A metaphor of how Marxists misrepresent anarchism and democracy

Joeldavis from reddit provided this excellent quote while demolishing a tired Marxist-Leninist anti-anarchist post.

Because workers do not exploit any class below them, as these barriers are gradually overcome workers’ states will tend to “wither away”

And yet it didn’t. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Lenin was alright. Now let’s take this scenario as an illustration of the concept: “A surgeon is attempting to perform a heart transplant. In keeping with his beliefs, he shuns the use of antibiotics. The operation more-or-less succeeds, but the patient eventually becomes septic and dies.”

Using the logic of the Bolshevik argument, the doctor would be right to argue that his rejection of antibiotics didn’t kill the patient, since it was clearly a bacterial infection that killed him, not a lack of antibiotics. Anarchists would say “But if you had given the patient the medicine, they would have at least probably survived the operation.” to which the Bolshevik replies is “No, you’re just antidemocratic.”

Email: Divided between Communism and Anarchism

A reader contacts me about his dichotomy between communism and anarchism. I think his PoV deserves some more publicity as it points, I believe, to a common question most outside the scene have.

red red red flags
Image via Wikipedia

Recently someone sent me an email letting me know that he likes the content of the Division by Zer0 (Thanks!). Along with his email, he sent some of his own musings which I found interesting enough to deserve some extra publicity. So I got his permission to post them on the blog. Enjoy.

Why I’m divided between “communism” and “anarchism”

By Scott

I have been, for the last few years of my life, moving radically leftward, from my rather innocuous beginnings as a “Trotskyist” to simply a “Marxist” to being labeled a “Left-Communist” to where I am now, which is on the fence between “communist” and “anarchist”. Both sides have their influences; the “communist” side has given me a strong respect for Marx’s historical analyses, as well as his critiques of the Capitalist system, among other things, while the “anarchist” side has given me the example to live by, for many anarchists are “lifestyle” anarchists, living their lives as withdrawn from the capitalist system as possible. Their world-wide actions (notably the recent “unrest” in Greece, along with the French riots a few years ago) have made world powers shake with fear, governments almost collapse, and the entire world watched as cars burned and the streets were controlled by police no more.

So what am I to do?

I believe that the best solution is simply to ignore these labels and be reminded of what is important: ending capitalism’s reign of terror. All who oppose the horrors of capitalism must work together under that banner, not as “communists”, not as “anarchists”, but as people who believe in the survival of humanity, and who believe that humanity cannot survive under the conditions of imperialism, oppression and slavery. What you want to add to that (from environmentalism to animal rights to “power to the people” to whatever else) is up to you. But we who oppose capitalism must not be divided by these ideological differences. Even the most dogmatic of communists from the same party cannot agree on everything, so why should we try? Instead, we should act. An action carries only the message that is put behind it, and a Leninist and an anarchist can both protest against imperialism in the 3rd world. They can both protest against the treatment of workers in many workplaces. They can both agree that community activism is a good thing. So why can’t they work together? We’ll sort out our differences (in a comradely fashion) when capitalism is no longer our enemy. Until that time, though, we must focus on our common struggles.

Truth is that I’ve had similar thought myself but the more I read and interact with Marxist-Leninists, the more stark the differences become between us. While theoretically what Scott says seems reasonable, the problem appear very soon once one tries to actually cooperate as it’s all a matter of how each movement tries to go about bringing down Capitalism.

The biggest difference imho is how one side (M-L) wants a vanguard party to lead the struggle while the other wants the revolution to occur through spontaneous and decentralized actions of the workers. There can be no agreement on this point. Anarchists cannot commit to promoting a vanguard party and M-L very often refuse to support and occasionally oppose struggle which is not led by them.

It is exactly because the methods by which we try to achieve the future society will make or break the revolution that there can be no cooperation when there’s a fundamental difference in tactics. It is exactly because the difference in tactics between Anarchists is not fundamental that they generally cooperate while on the other hand distance themselves from Marxist-Leninists and Rothbardians.

So as nice it would be for all of us to cooperate to bring about a better world, there’s also a reason why this doesn’t generally happen. The best we can do instead is patiently explain and convince people that our tactics are the ones that can work.

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Is Anarchism Utopian?

Anarchism is more often than not accused of being a utopian ideology with no basis in the real world, but if anything, it’s the only non-utopian system. Here’s why.

Collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin opposed...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s amusing when Anarchists are accused of being too ideological or outright Utopian, it is especially so when such an accusation comes from liberals or state socialists (i.e. mainstream Marxists). Why is it amusing? Because of all political perspectives, Anarchism (i.e. Libertarian Socialism) is the only one whose theories have not been refuted by history itself!

This “Utopian” accusation generally comes from two general sources. First there are those who support the current Capitalist system as is (in the 1st world countries of course) and only propose mild changes, such as more or less regulation of the economy. These would generally be the Social Democrats (or “Liberals” in US politics) or Conservatives in most political systems.

They would argue from the perspective that the Capitalist/State combination is not only “the way things are” but also the only way things can be. They would then raise such arguments as the common appeal to human nature, that Capitalism is the “end of history” – in that its superiority has been proven from an societal evolutionary perspective, that the state is necessary to ensure control from the people (i.e. representative democracy), that Capitalism provides the best benefit for all etc.

But one has to ask: who is really the ideologue here? Who is assuming an expertise of human nature in order to have some kind of unshakable base? Who is ignoring the historical forms of human societies (hint: communal) and the considerable amount of coercion required by the state in order to jump-start Capitalism? Who is absolutely oblivious the true role of the state and the real impotence of elections and government to change life for the better through normal channels, even when there is considerable popular request for social reform?

Worst of all, it’s the more than ironic result of this superior system, Capitalism, that the vast majority of people live in worse situations than they lived in pre-capitalist societies. One only has to look at the situation in the lost continent, Africa, and compare it with the pre-capitalist tribal societies, which while not great by any measure of the word, were never as bad as today. One only has to look at the current environmental obliteration, the sheer scale of unending conflict and even the relative worsening conditions of people in all nations to ask: Who is really the ideologue here?

The other great accuser of utopianism is none other than the mainstream Marxist movements of Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism and the like. The younger (who somehow think itself more mature) and patronizing cousin of Anarchism.

As revolutionary anti-capitalist movements, they at least share some of the correct critical perspective on the current Capitalist system but they lose the ball when they turn around and accuse libertarian socialists of being naive for not promoting centralization, hierarchy structures and movements from above, that is, leadership from a minority of enlightened few.

The saddest thing is not that they have to misrepresent the arguments of Anarchism in order to attack their favorite straw-men (“Anarchists will not defend the revolution” being a crowd favorite), nor that they ignore what some of their own have written that basically parrots the libertarian perspective, but that they dare claim historical proof, when empirical facts have shown that their theories put in practice failed in exactly the manner that Anarchists had predicted!

Is the federalist libertarian perspective Utopian, or is the centralized authoritarian one when it fails both in theory (power corrupts, requires inhuman knowledge, leads to bureaucracy etc) and in practice? Is a bottom-up democratic society Utopian or the top-down hierarchical one who expects leaders to be practically flawless and that “real power” will somehow still remain at the hands of the people? Is the “similar means as the ends” anarchist position Utopian or is the Leninist “ends justify the means” which expects a revolution where people just passively followed orders from the enlightened few can somehow lead to a society or politically active and empowered individuals?

In the end, who is the ideologue? The one who looks at how humans currently and historically acted and interacted and makes a revolutionary theory to describe and lead to something better, or one who makes a theory which proves to be a failure in practice and then refuse to discard it? Oh, the authoritarian socialists will say that “Of course we will learn from the mistakes our historical leaders made, we of course don’t want to repeat them. Terrible tragedy” and all that, but that is no more different than the Liberals who after every Capitalist crisis declared that they will learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure a future with no Crises and depressions. And when the next disaster comes, they are always oh so surprised.

This convinces few for it’s the theory’s core of hierarchy and authority that is flawed and by refusing to review that they only doom themselves to similar results and suffering of scale.

And finally, there’s also the right-“libertarian”, pro-capitalist, free market “anarchist” camp. But those don’t generally accuse others of utopianism for they’ve probably learned that those living in glass houses don’t throw ideological stone around.

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Exploitation cannot be obscured in time

Hans-Hermann Hoppe tries to prove that Marxian exploitation is impossible because of the concept of time preference. This is a refutation.

In my recent travels in the Anarchist reddit, more and more I stumble on Anarcho-Capitalists who insist on pointing to articles in their classic haven, Mises.org. Apparently, the place to be is you’re a progressive capitalist. Due to the quantity of such links I obviously cannot read all of them (indeed I still have quite a lot of Marxist material to go through) but now and then I’m pointed to an article that just challenges.

So I have decided to start a little series which will contain all the refutations I write on mises.org articles. I hope to eventually have a nice collection of posts I can instantly post as counters to such links.

Today I was pointed to a rebutal from some guy called Hans-Hermann Hoppe on why the Marxian concept of exploitation is wrong and how the consequences of movements based on marxism are also wrong and disastrous. I will not attempt to refute the whole analysis but rather I will try to attack the central small core concept it is all based.

After a few paragraphs providing a short introduction of “the hard-core of the Marxist belief system”, and then a brief explanation of the Marxian exploitation theory, Hoppe finally goes to the offensive

Now what is wrong with this analysis? The answer becomes obvious once it is asked why the laborer would possibly agree to such a deal. He agrees because his wage-payment represents present goods, while his own labor services represent only future goods, and he values present goods more highly. After all, he could also decide not to sell his labor services to the capitalist and then reap the full value of his output himself. But this would of course imply that he would have to wait longer for any consumption goods to become available to him. In selling his labor services, he demonstrates that he prefers a smaller amount of consumption goods now, over a possibly larger one at some future date.

On the other hand, why would the capitalist want to strike a deal with the laborer? Why would he want to advance present goods — that is, present money — to the laborer in exchange for services that bear fruit only later? Obviously he would not want to pay out for instance $100 now, if he were to receive the same amount in one year’s time. In that case, why not simply hold on to it one year, and receive the extra benefit of having actual command over it during the entire time? Instead, he must expect to receive a larger sum than $100 in the future, in order to give up $100 now in the form of wages paid to the laborer. He must expect to be able to earn a profit — or more correctly, an interest return.

Now this immediately falls afoul of an assumption: That the worker does indeed value present goods more than future goods. This however is begging the question: “Why is the worker valuing present goods more?”. The answer is of course need. The only reason a person would prefer to have less money now rather than more later (and that “later” can be as short as 1 hour from now) is because they have an urgent need that they cannot ignore until later. That urgent need can only ever be food or shelter.

If the worker has the capability to feed and shelter himself until he could reap the future value of his product, he would certainly do so. Indeed, when people have enough money to survive, very often they invest their money as well or start their own business. The problem however is that not everyone has this luxury. The vast majority of humans can never leave the working class and move to the capitalist or petty-bourgeois because they start at the condition where their basic needs are not fulfilled and because they do not own any means of production.

This is not an voluntary choice. This is a choice based on passive coercion. It is beneficial for the Capitalist who can select a low wage for the starving worker, but it is not beneficial for the worker who might only get a present value enough to simply sustain himself until the next day.

But lets look at this another way. Hoppe claims that a worker benefits because he receives present goods which he values more, in return to losing future value goods. There is another function in society which does the same however: Credit.

With credit, I can receive current goods in return of losing goods in the future. The difference of goods I lose is not too large usually but is enough to put me back a bit, making me poorer in the long run. True, I only get credit when I have such a need where current goods are more valuable in utility.

Now consider a hypothetical human who enters adulthood without any wealth. The only way for him to survive to the next day is to take 10$ credit for the food he will eat and the place he will live. That does not give him any real value other than his continued existence to the next day, where he will be actively poorer by the 2$ interest he was charged. So once again he has to get 10$ credit for the next day and so on, yet becoming more indebted as his debt increases by about 2$ per day.

Notice that I said, that this is the only way he can survive as well. That means that he has no choice but to fall more and more in debt daily until eventually it’s time to pay the piper. This situation should immediately strike us as wrong. Is it fair that our sample human’s only choice is to put himself more and more into debt without a way out? Of course not.

Lets take this example and apply to a worker’s position. The worker comes out to the society and has no other way to survive but to get a job from a Capitalist. The capitalist will, as Hoppe claims, provide him with 10$ upfront in order to create for him a widget he sells for 12$. The worker uses his money to survive until the next day, where he again has to make another widget, enriching the capitalist by another 2$, and so on.

What is the difference between our hypothetical human and the worker? In both cases, they only get to survive from day to day, while the creditor or capitalists becomes richer, without doing anything, by 2$ per day. The only difference between them is that the workers settles his debt daily by producing a 12$ widget and giving it to the capitalist, while the hypothetical human accumulates debt. But the end result is the same. At the end of 10 days, the human will have to come up with 20$ (the creditor does not care how. Perhaps sell his organs) to pay back. The end result is a 20$ richer debtor/capitalist.

But like the situation we put our hypothetical human was unfair, so is the situation we are putting workers every day. The scenarios were simple but the basic premises remain no matter the wage. Time-shifted or not, Capitalism is exploiting the worker by putting them in the unfair situation where they have to take the “credit” or starve. This “mutually beneficial” relationship assures that the worker will always remain poor while the Capitalist will enrich himself without doing anything. Indeed, this continued exploitation, will only ensure the Capitalist will be able to put more future workers in the same exploitative situation by taking control of the means of production so that they have no choice but to work for him.

Hoppe also asks why would the Capitalist borrow his money to the worker if he’s not going to become richer in a year? Why indeed. By himself the capitalist would not become any wealthier than his original 100$ and  as time passed, if he did not labour himself, his 100$ would decrease as he fed and sheltered himself. But the capitalist is not content to work like everyone else, he wants to become richer and not work at all, a societal parasite. He will look towards the immoral way of exploitation.

The “clean capitalist” who is mentioned in the article, does not escape this moral stigma simply because he didn’t get to inherit his fortune like most capitalists. Once you have capital, you always have 3 options.

  • Do nothing. Use the money that you saved to retire or have a luxurious life
  • Become a capitalist and exploit workers.
  • Bring other workers to your business without exploitation. As long as they work with you, they own what they make and they get an equal share of the surplus value. This is the only mutually beneficial way.

Hoppe continues:

Now what is wrong with Marx’s theory of exploitation, then, is that he does not understand the phenomenon of time-preference as a universal category of human action. That the laborer does not receive his “full worth”, so to speak, has nothing to do with exploitation, but merely reflects the fact that it impossible for man to exchange future goods against present ones except at a discount.

And this is simply untrue. First of all, the capitalist does not give the worker present goods. How many times have you been paid on your first day of work for what you’re going to do in the coming month? Never of course. The wage always comes at the end of the working period where the surplus value has already been created, even many times over. But yet, you do not gain the full value of your work even though you gave the capitalist “present goods” each day in the previous month in exchange for “future goods” at the end of the month.

But this has nothing to do with present of future goods nonsense. It’s all about who controls the means of production and who is starving. The only reason the worker cannot make surplus value for himself is because the Capitalist controls the way to make it and will not let him use it unless he agrees to be exploited. And the more people that are exploited, the wealthier the Capitalist becomes and the more means of production he gets to control, turning yet more people to exploitation and concentrating the wealth to the few.

I will not bother to counter the rest of the speech as it basically rests on the assumption that it has demolished Marx’s theory of exploitation. I hope I have adequately shown you how it has simply tried to obscure exploitation behind concepts of time and avoid the hard moral questions that undermine capitalism.

I’m not an economist expert or even a Marxist scholar so it’s quite possible that I am missing some fine point or argument from either side. However if this is indeed the only argument they have to declare Marx’s theories obsolete, then it’s no surprise that their system sounds so hollow.

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It seems that even people espousing a cooperative mindframe like socialism are not immune from assaulting bitterly people they disagree with.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It’s a weird thing that a ideology like socialism, which is supposed to promote cooperation, can sustain such anti-social behaviour as the one I’m lately seeing in the socialist reddit.  Specifically, all hell broke loose after I posted my blog-reply over there.

I do not mind people criticizing my ideas and thoughts, this is how one learns but it’s amazing how much the administrators of that reddit have gone on a power-trip even by the small power provided to them for filtering out trolls and spammers.

it’s funny that even though I didn’t agree with Larry’s request to stop submitting his articles to reddit, mostly because I always consider that among the morons there might be some who will listen and have an interest in conversation, his assessment ended up forcing itself upon me. Lazy morons indeed do not care to see or hear conflicting opinions and will happily attempt to silence them so that nobody else will either.

This has become plainly true in the comments of that last post, where arguing about my article ensued. This very quickly escalated into a flamewar since, for these “socialists” anyone who does not think exactly the same way they do, is an enemy to be labeled and assaulted. The jump from “You’re saying something wrong” to “You are a wrong kind of person” in their minds is near-instantaneous.

But this is the wrong kind of attitude. When one says something wrong, our reaction should not be to insult the person. That does not achieve anything other than alienate and drive others away. Sure, if your purpose is to have only your own voice heard, like the moderators above, this can be a good tactic, but in the long run, you have only managed to burn more bridges behind you.

But is this mentality of “my way or the highway” useful? On the contrary by refusing to discuss points, even wrong points that others raise, in favour of calling them traitors or heretics, not only does not help them understand where their thinking has gotten astray but immediately erects a wall between you, effectively making sure that they will get defensive and ignore whatever you say.

This is what happened to me in my last post, while I got in with interest to discuss, the initial comments immediately flew off the handle, accusing me of being “anti-working class” and calling me a “Maniac”. And even though I should have known better than to rise to the bait, I went on the defensive and the flamewar began. More time was spent on accusing each other of douchebaggery than actually countering each other’s arguments.

And opinions we do not agree with are important as well, especially coming from people that do not have completely opposite kind of views. Controversial ideas is how we learn either to strengthen our own opinions or we change our mind when we cannot counter them. It is disheartening that this reddit tends to reward mostly orthodox views on marxism and punishes the heretics with obscurity.

This is simply groupthink. You do not learn anything new, nor do you get to think. You only get to reinforce what you already believe in. As long as an article is well written and raises a few points on the part of the author, it should never be downvoted. Ignored perhaps, and even upvoted if the ideas are well presented, even if wrong. But downvoting simply hides the opposing view away from others. We should treasure controversy, not attempt to silence it.

If our views are solid enough, controversy is not an issue. The arguments against it can be presented and the idea eviscerated. When libertarians and *shudder* Objectivists come here to argue with me, I do not accuse them of being exploitation supporters, horribly misguided or douchebags as this would only serve to drive them away. But that would mean that I have even less people to criticize me, and that’s just hurts myself.

Especially people who label themselves socialists should have so much more tolerance to each other. If we cannot have an argument within our own ranks, how do even attempt to take on the people who outright disagree for anything we stand for? If we waste all of our time fighting each other with such ferocity, is it any surprise that no pressure can be directed towards the real culprits?

This is the most common reason why the Anarchist and Socialist movements are much more hostile towards each other, than they are towards the Capitalists. From the first time I noticed that, my initial thoughts were “But we’re on the same side?! Why are people fighting others who have the same goal in mind?”. And yet, for some of the revolutionary socialists, anyone who does not follow the rigid tactics he believes in, is as bad as the enemy. For the Anarchist ((Just to clarify: Not all anarchists think like this but the majority of my IRL experience with them showed me that many have as much, if not more hatred against Communists as they have against Capitalists. That is probably because they equate Communism to Stalinism. There are Anarchist ideologies who do not fall into this trap, one of which is Anarcho-Communism which is very similar to my own thinking)), because of the misunderstanding of how Marxists try to achieve Communism, they consider them hostile. The two opposing camps in the case, simply talk past each other, exchanging more insults than ideas and stabbing each other in the back more than lending a hand.

But back to our original subject. I do not expect to last much more in the socialist reddit. Bannination threats have already been implied and the willingness to do the act admitted, so I’m obviously on a tight rope for speaking my mind and daring to argue my position. Because of this, I decided to start my own subreddit where people like me, who value conversation and don’t fear opposing viewpoints, can meet.

If you’re tired of being bullied for not being a “true socialist” and prefer intelligent discussions over insultfests, hopefully you will consider joining me at Libertarian Socialism. It’s up to us to make it what the admins of Socialism /r/ won’t let happen.

That does not mean I’m quitting socialism /r/ just yet, but It’d be nice to have a conversation without the Marxist purists insulting everyone and then calling them whiners for pointing that out. Dogma and inability to consider progressive ideas are a recipe for stagnation and if that is what is necessary to be considered a Marxist, then I’m certainly not a Marxist.

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Was the USSR Communist?

Overwhelmingly, most people’s understanding of what Communism is, comes from an extremely propagandistic presentation of the Soviet Union, generally by US right-wing sources. This would give you the idea that communism is supposed to be very authoritarian, rigidly collectivistic and anti-democratic.

Overwhelmingly, most people’s understanding of what Communism is, comes from an extremely propagandistic presentation of the Soviet Union, generally by US right-wing sources. This would give you the idea that communism is supposed to be very authoritarian, rigidly collectivistic and anti-democratic.

This misconception is unfortunately so wide-spread that it’s not infrequent to be called a mass murderer wannabe for simply bringing it up and even though it is trivial to find out what Communism really is and how it works, this exasperatingly wrong view of it nevertheless persists in even otherwise brilliant minds.

So let me say this first: Whatever view you may have of the USSR (and there are quite a few supporters of Stalinism out there), it was not Communism.

Now, before you hasten to leave me a comment about Scotsmen and the like, it is important to know that the original thoughts of Marx and Engels were indeed the absolute opposite of Stalinism, Maoism etc. The fact that one can create a system and label it “Communism” does not make it so, anymore than North Korea is a “Democracy” or a “Republic”. Perhaps one can label it “Socialism” but this term is by itself ambiguous and does not necessarily equate to Marxism.

That is not to say that Russia did not really attempt Communism. It did, and it managed to achieve socialism for a very short while immediately after the revolution. But this newly-fledged socialism was defeated in the most humilating way. Not only did the counter-revolution won over the communists but it kept the name and the symbols to the overjoy of the capitalist of the rest of the world. Russian communism ceased to exist as soon as Stalin came to power.

But if USSR was not Communism what was it? Well, by the way it actually worked, the most fitting description for it is State Capitalism. Simply, the state took on the role of the ultimate Capitalist and set about exploiting the workers. Some of the practices it had, like the suppression of individuality, the strict hierarchical spread of power and the like, are identical to the ones within a common Capitalist corporation anyway. Others, like it’s inability to work efficiently or its large bureaucracy are problems that any sufficiently large corporation has as well. There hasn’t been a corporation of the sheer size of the Soviet Union of course so a direct comparison is impossible, but looking at the dinosauric movements of some of the biggest ones certainly points to that direction.

Another common opinion on this Communism = USSR misunderstanding is the claim that Communism has proven to be a failure. This attempts to show that the path Russia took in the early 20th century is the only possible result any attempt for Communism can achieve and thus it is not worth struggling towards it. But this is not simply wrong, it is intellectually dishonest. This assumes that the very unique situation Russia had to struggle is the common situation any communist revolution will have to face which is simply absurd.

Not only was the situation unique but their attempt was doomed from the start. The reason for this is that Communism requires Capitalism to exist before it can take over. It needs the hugely increased level of production achieved with it and the exploitation of the workers is what creates the revolutionary force. Russia attempted to jump directly from Feudalism (with a small growing capitalist class) to Communism while skipping the phase in between and ended up dislocating itself ((This is not the only reason by far, but it is outside the scope of this article to go into much depth with this. If you’re interested more on the subject, read this very important book)). This is also the case with China as well. An agrarian society simply cannot support Communism, especially not when opposed from the rest of the world.

To extrapolate from these example to anything that may happen during our age is simply disingenuous. Not only do we have the production required to not suffer the same fate but we have many tools in our disposal that the Revolutionaries of last century couldn’t even dream of. The instant, international information exchange we can achieve now can easily be the most important.

It is simply practically impossible at this point for any attempt at communism to take even a similar path to the one of USSR and if it is achieved, it will look nothing like it.

Further Reading