There are always three currents in each society, striving for dominance. Conservatives, Progressives and Socialists. The former seek to retain rule, the second to achieve it and the later to dismantile it forever.
It is a rare occasion when I get an insight for a blogpost from a comic but this is what happened as I was reading this one. Although the part that spoke to me was just the buildup to the main even, it seems to me that the author did present the powers that struggle for dominion in all non-socialist systems quite succinctly.
So basically, every system characterized by class struggle (thus anything other than socialism) has the following three movements vying for control.The Conservatives, the Progressives (or liberals) and the Populists (or Socialists in recent centuries).
The ruling elite of any society is generally conservative and thus generally belongs to such parties. This is born out of basic self-interest. The current ruling elite was once the progressives who have reached a position of power and through this leverage has slowly consolidated their gains by pushing for the appropriate legal or ruling system. The best way to preserve this position of course is to oppose progressive reformation of the current system so as to conserve their profit sources and prevent future progressives from overtaking them.
That is not to say that the conservatives are comprised only of the ruling elite, although historically it has been the case. Monarchs, Aristocracy and Feudal lords were all at some point the only conservative aspects of society, opposing transitions to another type of society, such as Capitalism. In recent centuries however, through misinformation and propaganda the conservative agenda has managed to make limited headway in the middle and lower class.
This is generally achieved through faulty reasoning, which is why it is mostly based on irrational beliefs such as religion and nationalism, through which you can make people follow you even if it will be against their own best interest. As such, the progressives either find it impossible to convince people through reason, and even if they do manage to attack a particular point, as they don’t have the leverage of power, the argument can simply be ignored.
This path of a progressive becoming the conservative is the norm and examples of it abound in history, but one very recent example is none other than the success of Microsoft. Here we have a company which in the 80s and even up until the early 90s was hailed as someone who was doing everything right, the underdog that was challenging the status quo and coming out on top, putting one over the Big Blue etc etc. Back then, while MS was still growing, it was very tolerant of piracy (they didn’t like it but they took only token action against it) and against software patents.
Once Microsoft became the power in the software world however it started singing a different tune. Suddenly patents are necessary and good, piracy must be squelched by any means necessary and political lobbying has increased hundredfold. Looking at this change alone, it doesn’t really make sense and it just feels like a company suddenly turning “evil” for no reason. But from the perspective of power consolidation, the actions of Microsoft (and other in a similar position) make a lot more sense. They are the type of actions any entity which gains the power takes in order to be able to retain it with the least amount of effort.
Think of that the next time you wonder why Google “does evil” now.
The progressive or liberal part of any society is simply those who are moderately well off but cannot ascend to the position of ruling elite due to the barriers the previous batch of progressives – the current ruling elite, has put up. In short the progressives are generally the middle class with great expectations.
The progressive face changes form in every epoch. They were the artisans under the monarchs, the bourgeoisie under the aristocracy and today they are the right-libertarians, the minarchist-capitalists etc. The “progress” they seek, is their progress to the top, and the “liberty” they ask is the liberty to rule. Like all progressives before them, once power is in their hands they become tomorrow’s conservatives in their attempts to retain it.
Like the conservatives above of course, their number are not limited simply to the middle class, although that is their base. Their rationalistic rhetoric can easily demolish the weak arguments of the conservatives and draw in people with dreams of grandeur. It is convenient that a fact which can be ignored is that there is simply not enough room at the top in they pyramidal form of all hierarchical systems. As such, only the most capable and/or brutal progressives will achieve ruling position. But of course, all progressives consider themselves the most capable.
It is not realistic to expect progressives or liberals to stick to their values once society has been reformed to their liking (ie with them on top). History is ample proof of that. This is something to keep in mind when you listen to rhetoric from “anarcho”-capitalists about how good a society would be under unregulated capitalism.
I use the label ‘Socialists’ instead of ‘Populists’ for while the former is a relatively recent movement in the history of mankind, (whereas populism, or movements “for the people” have always existed to some degree) populism without a socialist or egalitarian perspective has always been hijacked by the few for their own ends. The people have always been betrayed by those liberals or Authoritarian “Socialists” leading them to fight “for the people”.
And while there have always been egalitarian ideologues, they never gathered a lot of momentum before the Marxist and Anarchist movements which presented not only a reasonable argument on why an egalitarian society is preferable but also practical methods to achieve it. And while both Progressives and Socialists are disgruntled with the current ruling elite and rules of society, that is where their similarities end, for only the later seek a permanent end to ruling elites.
So where the Conservatives struggle to retain their rule and Progressives strive to claim it for themselves, it is only the Libertarian Socialists who wish to allow each person to achieve self-rule, and actualization. All three currents will use populism as reasoning but only the libertarian socialists have a concrete way to achieve it.
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- Market Populism vs. Grassroots Populism: Which Side Are You On? (bravenewfilms.org)
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- Brian Kahin: Microsoft Roils the World with FAT Patents (huffingtonpost.com)