Leftists! Leftists Everywhere!

On the annoying habit of right-libertarians to use “Socialist” as a profanity.

Mimi and Eunice had a very funny comic today

The sad slash annoying thing is that this is done against everyone, not just against each other. Of course, most actual socialists, like Anarchists, don’t mind being called such, but it’s the implied definition of socialism that is the annoying part.

By “Socialist”, Right-Libertarians usually mean a very particular kind of Socialism: Marxism-Leninism and variants of such (Stalinism, Maoism etc) and by calling people socialist, they mean to imply that your ideas would end up resembling a totalitarian dystopia. They are unwilling and very often unable to entertain the idea that not all socialism needs to be or leads to totalitarianism and will vehemently reject any such argument.

This is one of the most common frustrations I have when having to deal with propertarians but it’s hilarious when I see them turning such an absurd rhetoric even against each other. That they can actually call people who praise Rothbard, Hoppe and whatnot “Socialist”. For example this vide, other than being comedy gold by itself, has a part displaying this mentality succintly.

“Leftists! Leftists! Leftists everywhere!”


The perpetual confusion about "Property"

Private Property or Possession? If only an actual discussion between the two finally replaced the endless definitional bickering…

keep out
Image by Arriving at the horizon via Flickr

Once again I must return to the subject of ownership rights and how there’s two very distinct ways to define them: Private Property and Possession. That is not of course to mean that there’s no further variation between each of those systems, such as variation on the time to abandonment, the scale of ownership (individualist or collective) etc but rather that there is a hard core difference which splits the ownership scale in half, making each half incompatible with the existence of the other within the same social structure.

This idea, that Private Property as an ownership system is distinct from Possession as an ownership system should not be difficult to grasp.  It is after all one of the core concepts of most forms of Socialism and anyone trying to do a substantial critique – especially of communism – should as a bare minimum be able to understand what socialists actually oppose when we speak about “abolition of private property” or what collective ownership means in practice.

And yet, time and again, instead of seeing valid criticism against socialist theory from defenders of the capitalist mode of production, we see an endless string of strawmen centered around misunderstanding (purposefully, one starts to think eventually) the socialist opposition to “Property”. This is even more cringe-inducing when it is stated as a novel and irrefutable argument against socialist theory. As if it so easily proves that all socialists are just too silly to see and understand the obvious flaws in their opposition to Capitalism. It’s like someone bringing up the “Mud Pie” example as a new and exciting criticism against Marxian economics.

Such is the most recent example where we are guided to understand what “property” is and that communists “seem to forget” a bunch of stuff about how human societies function and the positive aspects of being able to own stuff. It once again trots out the classic red herrings about people who would prefer private property over anything else and that the only way to stop them must be via a state. Yadda yadda. Regular readers of mine should already know how easy it is to refute this nonsense.

It is all, in the end, based on simply calling all “Ownership” as “Property” and thus claiming that we, as humans, can’t function without “property”.He therefore obscures the fact that there is a difference between “Possessive property” and for lack of a better word now, “Sticky Property” and its significance. He pontificates on the voluntary aspects of “property” and how everyone else got it so wrong, while failing to make any point on whether Possession or “Sticky” property should be preferred, something which is at the heart of the socialist idea. In short we replace arguments over substance with arguments over vacuous semantics.

You see, it does not really matter what we call the various systems of ownership, we could call them blue and purple bananas for all the good it will do us. The important thing is that we understand the same concepts. That the socialist criticize the ownership system which facilitates and promotes wage-slavery, rent and usury and promote one which makes that systematically impossible. That this is not a discussion on how we’re going to enforce it (voluntarily or coercively) but on simply which system we ought to prefer.

To simply take your own or what you assume are the “right” definition of the word ‘property’ and superimpose it onto socialist critique, is simple a recipe for strawmen fallacies. Perhaps you have the most popular definition. Perhaps you have the proper or more the most clear. Perhaps not. The important thing to remember, as Proudhon pointed out in the past, is that if you’re going to call all types of ownership “property” then you really need a way to distinguish between possession and “sticky property”. He suggested to call the later the more appropriate name of “theft” of course but I doubt the propertarians will agree on that.

As a communist, I have a reason why I prefer the definitional distinction to be between “Private Property” and “Possession”. Property is generally understood anyway to be “sticky” that is, to remain with someone until they sell or abandon it, regardless of occupancy or use. As such, it does not take much effort, other than explaining that there’s other possible forms of ownership other than that, to clarify my opposition to it.  But it’s not important to use those concepts if they confuse someone. I can easily switch to a terminology that one feels more comfortable with if that will make things easier for them. However this is still my preferred terminology for the reason I just explained and thus find it incredibly silly for someone to make strawmen based on what I write for the general audience and then defend their actions on the grounds that their definitions are superior or more correct.

OTOH, what I most commonly end up seeing is that propertarians do not choose to call everything “property” because it is easy to discuss the concepts around it, but because it conveniently allows them to pretend that other valid forms of ownership do not exist. They will attempt to argue that “Property” is necessary and by that lump all concepts of ownership into the same umbrella, even when incompatible with each other. This is necessary in order to make their core arguments from “self-ownership” lead to Laissez-faire Capitalism, something which would be weakened if possession was a valid form of ownership, distinct from private property. Therefore it’s better to assume that the former is simply a subgroup of the latter. In fact, this is surprisingly similar to the way they try to argue that they’re open to the idea of communism…as long as it exists within a greater propertarian framework.

But I digress into an anti-AnCap rant again. What I’m trying to point out is that the words we use are irrelevant as long as we end up understanding each other and making substantial arguments. I long to see someone making  a solid critique on why a Possessive system is unfeasible or even simply inefficient, or how private property is more ethical and whatnot…without having those points demolished by decade-old anarchist arguments or simple facts of reality.

And until then, all misguided propertarians who insist on making strawmen and presenting them as the most insightful thing ever and the absolute refutation of any and all forms of Socialism – should and will receive at best a quick dismissal as the waste of time they are, or at worst a well deserved ridicule for being obnoxiously ignorant.

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Socialism is not merely Anti-Capitalism

Brad Spangler tries to merge Agorism with the greater Libertarian Socialist movement. I show how this is based on simple redefinitions and missing the point.

FFS! Why are the propertarians so hell-bent in appropriating all the concepts of socialists for their own ends? Libertarianism was twisted to mean Capitalist Minarchism. Anarchism has been pulled over by the AnCaps trying to make it mean Private State Capitalism. And now Libertarian Socialism? Will it ever end? Will you leave us no term untainted? What next? Communism?

No wait, that one has only been taken over by the statists instead…

Ok, enough ranting, lets look at why Brad Spangler believes that Agorism is a valid LibSoc movement.

His confusion seems to emanate from misunderstanding what Socialism entails. He is under the impression that socialism means simply anti-currently-existing-capitalism which is patently false. Socialists were never merely interested in shallow opposition to the current status quo but rather against all the building blocks of what makes capitalism. Socialists recognise that the exploitation coming from Capitalism, the wage-slavery, rent and usury that is rampart in our society stems from Private Property and the possibility of accumulation it repressents.

Of course Socialists spend the most energy criticizing the current system rather than any fantasy laissez-faire utopia Liberals could think of but it’s a great jump to consider that this was their only opposition and therefore as long as someone proposes a non-contemporary capitalist system, they are also “socialists.”

Basically, the point that Brad confuses is this

* Labor-based ownership rights? Check.

Socialism is not simply labour-based ownership rights. It is persistent labour-based ownership rights. That is,  the ownership of any capital or land is held by whoever is currently working it. In other words: via Possession. This is a profoundly anti-propertarian proposition as it would prevent the basic concepts that make capitalism capitalist: The Capitalist mode of production Or more specifically Wage-labour (and also Rent.)

While under Agorism the theoretical initial redistribution of ownership rights made after a revolutionary effort might be based on labour (although I fail to see how their theory aims to achieve this), they would not change the system so as to prevent wage-labour or rent. This means that very soon, the inequalities would start to amass, people will be turned into proletarians en masse and de-facto states (those private defense companies) will be required to prevent the class struggle from escalating once more. Enter democratization of the states to pacify the proletariat and you’re back where you started.

So unless your main purpose is to manage to allow all workers to own the capital and land they are working on, you are no socialist. And to extend that, unless your main purpose also includes the abolition of all hierarchy and domination of human over human, you’re neither an Anarchist or a Libertarian. A system therefore which will not systematically prevent wage-slavery (a mode of production encompassing both non-worker-onwership of capital and hierarchy) cannot be Libertarian Socialist.

And if you’re such a Libertarian Socialist who still wishes to have free markets as well. Then you’re a Mutualist, not an “Anarcho”-Capitalist.

A clarifying question might be this: Do you embrace the free markets because you believe they will achieve egalitarianism (ie allow the workers to own the means of production?) If so, you’re indeed socialist but such a perspective would require that you reject the free markets if you discover that they cannot, in fact, achieve this goal. However, if you’re for free markets and private property in principle whether wage-slavery, rent, usury and vast inequality will persist or not (but just think they won’t) then you are no socialist.

Agorism fails this test. If does not worry about whether labour-based ownership will remain after their revolutionary change but only that past aggression is reneged according to propertarian principles and afterwards, come what may. But those propertarian principles are also a result of the past aggression and unless they are abolished as well, the fix will be impotent.

This kind of confusion seems to be very common in those who do not seem to understand Anarchist or Socialist thought. The same way that Anarchism is mistakenly conflated with Anti-Statism, now we see Socialism being mistakenly conflated with Anti-Capitalism and ending up with absurd propositions such as a “Socialist” system which would have the capitalist mode of production as dominant or an “Anarchist” society where people enter voluntary slavery or simply sell their liberty piecemeal. People refuse to understand the political history behind these two concepts and use their own definitions.

So yeah, if you simply define Socialism as merely Anti-Capitalism, then all sorts of things become “Socialist”.  Feudalism for example. However defining yourself into Libertarian Socialism would still not make you a LibSoc as the greater LibSoc movement defines itself. Much like Socialism, so does Libertarian Socialism not apply via self-description either and to pursue such a path is to unnecessary muddle the waters and provide the appearance of infighting to outsiders.

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Communism in the garbage bin of history

Has Communism been discredited so much that it’s not worth even considering anymore. Listening to online pundits, one might think so. But I wish to explain why this is greatly exagerrated.

Marching for Communism in Iran
Image by Petteri Sulonen via Flickr

As the Iran situation becomes worse ((Personally I refrain from saying much about it as it seems there is a lot of propaganda from both sides, for an external observer like me to decide either way. Furthermore, neither of the two warring parties are on the side of the people of Iran)) and more and more people start speaking about it online, it seems that many take it as an opportunity to take a swipe at communism while they’re at it.

I’ve started monitoring twitter for mentions of political currents I am interested in and among the usual ignorant bashing, the following phrase, in various similar forms, seems to be posted often:

Theocracy is destined for the garbage bin of history along with Communism and Fascism.

This seems to be repeated by Liberals, Conservatives, Rothbardian minarchists and a generally a lot of people standing on the “right” side of the political spectrum. Putting aside the idiocy of putting Communism and Fascism side to side, there’s the implicit assumption that Communist has indeed been delegated to the “dust bin of history”.

But how much truth is contained in such a statement? While it’s undeniable that Communism has been severely slandered by those who would rather that you don’t know much about it; has it been discredited like fascism, to the point where ideological basis is rejected by most people outright? As much as it would seem so in the US political scene, the answer fortunately is no.

In times of a capitalist boom, there’s always a lot of pundits who will eagerly proclaim the obsolescence of Communism, the end of class struggle and “The end of History”. That lasts only as much as the next bust, recession and depression when the socialist spirit once more rises up to haunt the ruling class. It is at this point where the same pundits will try to stem the tide by reminding us that they already proclaimed Communism obsolete so why are we bringing it up all over again?

But in fact, Communism itself has not been discredited. The core idea of Communism: a stateless, classless society can’t be, as instinctively it sounds positive for most people. Instead what has been discredited are the hijacked results of socialist revolutions of the early 20th century, results which for the delight of the western propagandists were self-described as “Communist” or “Socialist”.

These ideas, that a totalitarian regime can somehow act for the best of the working class, have deservedly been discredited by history itself, which is incidentally proved Anarchist predictions correct. But, and this is the important point, since Communism is not about totalitarianism, this does not affect it.

Now some US Americans might claim that due to popular use, Communism has been accepted to mean the USSR, PRC example and as such, the phrasing is right. But then of course one could easily point out that the USA has completely fucked up the political definitions they use to the extent that, like their measurement system, they are the only ones who accept it.

For most of the world, Communism is far from discredited and even the Stalinist currents in many countries are still going strong. Certainly, many people might think that Communism can’t work in practice, but that’s not the same as rejecting the system altogether. Indeed most of the time it simply takes a libertarian perspective on it to show that what’s practically impossible is only the authoritarian currents.

But if one can say this about Communism, how about Fascism? Doesn’t it mean that Fascism as well can be considered valid? The main difference between them is that Fascism has been rejected by most people altogether, from the ideological components (racism, xenophobia, anti-labour, cronyism etc) to the specific practical implementations of it. It’s been rejected because its whole base is rotten to the core. And while there will always be people rotten enough to embrace it, it’s unlikely to gain popular support. (although of course, I can always be proven wrong)

But this is not the case with Communism, which still has pure goals and people have simply been prevented from progressing towards them; not as a systematic fault but because of the particular (flawed) paths that people took towards the goal. But there’s still other ways to attempt, other paths to take and fortunately there’s quite a lot of people willing to listen.

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Why talking about Communism matters

Spreading the ideas of Socialism and Communism has always been important but it’s never more important than at the time of a systematic crisis of Capitalism.

Image by andreasmarx via Flickr

DB0: If you remember Orgthingy, he was the contributor to the Division by Zer0 who wrote an article on socialism a month or so ago. Today he returns to discuss a bit of why the Socialist society can only based on democratic principles and why we need to promote. Orgthingy is not a natural English speaker so please try to read more into his sentences if it doesn’t immediately make sense.

Many have told me already that Capitalism is a “Natural system therefore loved by society”. First of all, it’s not natural at all. It’s a fairly new system that emerged just few centuries back in Europe, brain-washed the people then democratically got applied (at least in countries like UAE and Kuwait, but Capitalism democratically emerging isn’t the case in most of the world I guess).

[DB0: I have to disagree with Orgthingy here, as he is taking a very simplistic view of the rise of Capitalism. Capitalism didn’t brainwash the people just like that. The state helped the capitalist mode of production take hold, by protecting the bourgeoisie from proletariat aggression and by always siding with the Capitalist on legal challenges. As the mode of production spread and people’s rebellions (e.g. the Luddites) failed to stop it, eventually the got used to it. So it wasn’t democratically applied, but rather brutally forced on peasants and artisans.]

Most of this blog’s regular readers already know that Capitalism offers inequality and contradicts with democracy, yet people these days seem to like it as most  are ignorant of the ‘bad’ aspects of it). Now if you do similar techniques, like educating people on Socialism and Communism, through schools or any other way, then you’d end up with a fully-democratic move towards this economic system and ‘country’ since you’re not forcing ((forcing, even if they don’t clearly know what Socialism and Communism really are, would be against people’s will, therefore contradicts with democracy and idea of revolution which needs support of majority of the people)) any of the two ideologies onto people.

This was of course a simple and theoretical view, since in reality it would be much more complex to achieve having a communist/socialist society. Capitalism unfortunately is a ‘changing-proof’ kind-of system ((by that, it means it’s hard to reform a bourgeois state apparatus into communist or socialist ideologies)) and prevents that from happening. Simply put, capitalists have the money and power.  For example they use expensive mass advertisement for their political campaigns (and unsurprisingly win); They’ve got the money/power, therefore media would not spread the idea of communism and socialism, but actually oppose it as much as possible ((Dbo: This is a bit simplistic really but the main idea is right)).
Thus without the people’s support, a ‘democratically’ emerging communism and socialism is impossible, as the capitalist-propaganda model will break even through a revolutionary spirit. A Revolution of minority can only fail.

[Db0: This is not strictly true. While a revolution without popular support will fail, during times of severe downturn, such as a period of economic crisis, the spark of a revolution can be lit by a minority uprising and this can quickly spread elsewhere. People who were neutral may become supportive, and those who were a bit opposed may become neutral and silent consentors. But one has to remember that the current system is indeed maintained by a minority rule. The minority of the state and the capitalist class. To overcome this, a socialist revolution would probably just need to have a somewhat larger minority than that]

What has to be done then? You may be wondering what should we do to get Socialism/Communism into power. First of all, don’t lose hope. What we need to do is get people’s attention, especially now since we’re in a recession (like what I’m doing by writing this article). Second: Communists and Socialists all around the world should focus on education (not necessary through media, but L’Humanite is a great example of ‘communist-media’) of what Socialism and Communism really are and free their minds from propaganda of the capitalists.

Socialists/Communists all over the world, unite! Educate those who don’t know!

Db0: The idea of Orgthingy is basically very similar to what my tactic is, although I do not limit myself to Socialism only. The whole point of this site is to spread my ideas around. I believe that each of us is incapable of changing the world by himself but small actions in concert would be enough. I would be happy to know that I’ve managed to convince two people to not only espouse Epicurean/Anarchist/Communist thoughts, but to also attempt to convince two more people themselves.

For all of us, it is vitally important to promote grassroot informational campaigns and word-of-mouth “advertising” of what we espouse. And it’s not enough to simply do it behind close doors in a forum of our peers and bask in the groupthink, like some Rothbardians like to do. We must go out, on open ground and challenge others and ourselves (to defend our ideas). Doing this will not only give our voices a chance to be heard by the silent majority, but strengthen your own arguments and give a much needed confidence.

So don’t be afraid of dialogue. Go out, challenge and be challenged!

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Private Property VS Possession

The distinction between Private Property and Possession is a very important one for people wanting to understand the socialist system. This post explains what it is.

Discussion (Property)
Image by Tama Leaver via Flickr

One of the most sticky points in explaining Communism to people is the concept of property. This is especially tricky because all socialists renounce the concept of Private Property as wrong and something to be abolished, which in turn created vast confusion to those not familiar with the theory. This is even more accentuated by deliberate (ie propaganda)  or accidental misunderstanding of Communism as it espousing that people won’t own stuff.

But it is an obvious truth that people like to own items for various reasons. From the most simple of not wanting to share a toothbrush, to the more complex of feeling psychological attachments to various items that we would like to consider ours (say a car or a toy). This is understandable and it is obvious that it would be unnatural if any social theory proposed that this is undesirable.

Which is why Socialism doesn’t demand it either.

Now this might seem contradicting but it is only because we are missing part of the puzzle. The fact that one can define two different types of ownership.

The first type of ownership is the common one that everyone is familiar in our current society. It is the type of ownership based on a legal claim to something, ie it is based simply on what the law will recognise based on previous contracts. In this system of ownership, one can consider to own anything and it will remain his until he trades it away. Private Property (PP).

Precicely because this ownership is legally constructed is why it requires to be defined through contracts of some sort that will be recognised by the state. Which is incidentally why any social system based on Private Property will require the existence of a state of some sort and extensive laws to clarify and settle disputes.

But this is not the only system of ownership that can exist. There is another one that not only comes naturally to humans but it also avoids all the pitfalls of PP. Possession or ownership based on use. To put it simply, one can only ever lay claim to things that they use personally. This is fundamentally different from PP in that it does not demand an extensive legal system to enforce it (although it can benefit from it) and it prevents accumulation of wealth.

Now there is an immediate straw man that people who hear of this system immediately jump to. It goes something like this:

“Under Possession, as soon as you left your car unattended, someone could take it legally. Or someone could get in your house and lay claim to it.”

If this sounds as an absurdity, it’s because it is. Of course socialists do not mean something like this when we talk about Possession. Of course the claim to anything is more solid than this. The basic difference from PP is that it is anchored on the use of the item in question rather than an arbitrary claim that goes back to the original forceful appropriation of land.

So under the rules of any society, the possession of any item can be defined socially or legally. Socially for example, it would be unacceptable for someone to lay claim to a car that someone else left in the parking lot. People doing so would be prevented with all the coercive measures any socialist society makes use of (peer pressure etc). However, as this is defined socially, it’s the acceptance of society that would make act of appropriation act acceptable or not. So for example, a car that has been left in a parking lot for years and is going to rust, could be taken on by someone else. Common sense would say that this would be acceptable. Of course these are not hard and fast rules, but up to each community to define to their own culture and experience. But I hope to give you an idea of how this works.

Why is the difference between private property ((Note: Some elements of the Anarchist tradition, such as Mutualism, use the term Private Property to refer to ownership of all sorts. They still make the functional distinction between them, but call them somewhat differently. So Possession becomes “occupancy and use”. Of course they support possession as natural.)) and possession so important? First it is because it explains what socialists mean by the abolition of the former and avoids straw man arguments about the “unnaturality” of communism. The second is that it provides a link to pre-civilization human societies, or to be more precise, those which had a hunter/gatherer lifestyle which were egalitarian precisely because the concept of PP did not exist. The third is that it draws attention to the severe drawbacks of PP and by extension it shows how the introduction of it directly led to inequality and relations of authority.

The main characteristic private property is that it allows accumulation of wealth. As each persons claim of ownership is simply based on the law, one can keep massing up as many such claims as they can. As society expands and as people are born without a claim to property, this in turn becomes a leverage for exploitation and, by extension, inequality. Simply put. Someone who does not own land, must sell the only thing he can, his labour (and by extention freedom), and he must sell it at a price that is less than what he would make if he did own land. The excess result of this labour, profit, of course goes to the employer who then uses it to expand his PP. And the cycle of exploitation continues.

Contradict this with Possession, where any one person can only ever own as much as they personally use. As such the scarcity of the land is automatically reduced, as there’s not a few people controlling vast tracts or land and preventing its use until those desperate enough “volunteer” to their terms. There is of course always the possibility that the amount of humans would eventually become so great as to create a situation of scarcity where people would be landless again. But if anything human ingenuity has shown that we can always find more places to live in (From multi storey buildings to space stations).

As such, inequality would not be possible without the ability of people to accumulate. Without this incentive people in turn have no reason to exploit and emiserate their fellow humans for it would not bring them any social benefit. As such, people would realize that their interest lies in spreading the surplus value they create and cooperating with others to collectively improve their life standard rather than competing with each other for diminishing returns (as excessive wealth does not bring excessive happiness).

One would ask, how would Possession deal with items that are too big for one person to use, such as a factory? This is of course has a very easy solution: Collective ownership. Each person who works in a factory is considered to own an equal share of it and as such, any surplus value it creates. And this cannot be run in any other way other than a democratic one. For in a collection of equals, there’s no room for bosses giving orders.

One can then imagine a society based on Possession rather than Private Property would be the exact opposite of what we have now. A society where people would actually not have an incentive to be evil. It is from this society that the necessary mind-frame would spring, of cooperation, voluntarism and freedom.

And as much as the above is true, so is it delusional to expect a society based on private property, an ownership system that promotes the mentality of greed and short term interest, to somehow transform into a libertarian society, where people actually act charitably and do not seek to exploit their inequality for personal gain.

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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The three struggling powers of non-socialist systems

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.

Image by Dr Case via Flickr

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 Conservatives

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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Why not try to change the system from within?

Is working within the capitalist system preferred to other actions when one does not expect Capitalism to topple within one’s lifetime? Obviously not.

What is it with the people who have taken the road of compromisation to direct arrows or morality and condescention to those of us who have recognised it for the sham it is and choose to act appropriately? It is not the first time I’m reading this kind of appeal to emotion, but the difference is that this time the argument comes from a self-identified socialist who even flies and red and black flag.

So this latest argument (in Greek) basically says the following:

  1. Capitalism is bad and many of us struggle to topple it in favour of socialism.
  2. But realistically this will not happen within out lifetimes. If that is the case, why do we still struggle instead of just  living a normal life?
  3. Is it because we want to help the downtrodden nevertheless? But in that case, centrist politics are a better path since those have the possibility of making an actual change within our lifetimes.
  4. If you don’t want to follow centrist politics, it follows then that it must be because of your “egoistic idealism” which prevents compromise even though it would do more good within your lifetime.
  5. If then one does not expect his struggle to topple capitalism in his lifetime, and as a result of this knowledge does not turn to centrism, then they are a hypocritical idealist.

Unfortunately the author makes some pretty bold assumptions in here which I need to tackle.

It seems that a very main point of the author is point 2, (something which is later confirmed in the comments). But wether Capitalism will be toppled within our lifetime is irrelevant to wether one should struggle towards this purpose. The reason why I speak and take the appropriate actions against it is because it must be toppled eventually. It may not be within my lifetime but I can only hope that what I do and say will be the base on which others will step on to perhaps complete this task.

Further to this, it is practically impossible for any of us to know when Capitalism might die. None of us is a seer and if anything has been shown by history is that Capitalism is a very precarious system. Going from a stable Boom to a dangerous Bust within a few short years. And if the correct mindframe has not been cultivated when the Bust comes, then the opportunity is lost.

So if anything, not working towards the end of Capitalism through radical means, even when the system is stable, only ensures that the system will perpetuate.

Point 3 however is the largest objection I have to the whole thing. The assumption that working through parliamentary centrist channels will do more overall good than radical actions. The whole political history of the 20th century in the western nations is one of Socialist or Centrist parties trying to make the system better. What have they achieved? That the worst excesses of Capitalism will simply be migrated to areas outside of their “benevolent” influence (ie other nations), that the revolutionary movements at times of crises were safely defused by a few scraps thrown to them (via the same centrist parties) by a terrified capitalist class, that the situation in the world has nevertheless steadily grown worse.

No, the reformist parties are never a better solution. History has proven that much time and again.

What is the reason why me and others refuse to play this game? No it’s not utopian idealism, it is the knowledge that our energy would be better served elsewhere. Direct action for example is a 100 times more effective than parliamentarism. It is through direct action that every socialist change has happened, for which then the aforementioned parties have attempted to get credit. Leading by example, with cooperatives and takeovers is another.

There’s too many different ways that Capitalism can be undermined, and reformism is not one of them. If anything, the accusation of naive idealism should be directed back to those who call themselves socialists and yet support a course of action that has been proven, both in theory and in practice, to be actually helping the Capitalist system stay in place, rather than the opposite.

Of course, that is not to say that parliamentarism cannot have its uses. In some political systems for example, where non-voting counts for the winning party, it’s far better for radicals to simply vote for the most radical party that exists, or alternatively to simply create a new party for the purpose of removing the votes from the (usually two) ruling ones and to serve as an awareness vessel. Winning parliamentary seats is irrelevant as even if by stroke of luck it happens, it will not amount to anything.

In short no, even if Capitalism is not to be toppled within my lifetime, direct action from below is infinitely better than parliamentarism. Any emotional arguments to the contrary simply try to play people in supporting the lesser evil and perpetuate the status quo.

Further Reading

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Socialism doesn't apply via self-description

Should we take those who call themselves “Socialist” at their word? Anti-Socialists seem eager to do so but such a label can only be assigned by act, not by word

Socialists in Union Square, N.Y.C. [large crow...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Db0: A reader recently contacted me asking if he could write an article on Socialism and have it posted at the Division by Zer0. Since WordPress provides the capability to have multiple users and since the contributor role already exists and since writing has been slow around here lately, why not? Following you’ll find the opinion of Orgthingy from (I assume) France, edited for clarity by yours truly.

Whenever I mention that I’m a socialist, many point out that I’m a “Communist Nazi” or “Racist Bastard”, when I ask how’s being socialist racist, they answer “Nazis are National SOCIALISTS YOU RACIST BASTARD GO TO HELL!”; it basically annoys me.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and other “dictators” are nothing but the usual: Dictators that use the Communist and Socialist noble messages to satisfy themselves. Hitler didn’t provide jobs by his “Creative and evil Socialist ideas” but rather to kill the Jews (and others) so the Aryan-blooded Germans would think he actually created jobs for them.  He didn’t. Socialism isn’t about satisfying anybody by killing others.

Now Stalin’s turn, USSR wasn’t Socialist/Communist at all, but State Capitalist. Stalin was a control-freak, but not every kind of control means “The Socialist Devil”; Capitalism has its kind of control as well, but people just don’t know.

Now it’s Saddam’s turn: His country had billions of dollars ,before he became president, flowing into country’s revenue, then he made his country billions in debt! After googling I found out that he spent the money either on weapons or for personal use; that really isn’t socialism.

People Wake up, just because they claim they’re socialists doesn’t mean they are!

Db0: Orgthingy is pointing out the classic fallacy of taking Dictators at their word on whatever they claim to be. Thus Stalin was a “Communist”, Hitler a “Socialist” etc. The people who accept such a self-definition by dictators and brutal regimes are guilty of intellectual dishonesty, for they won’t as readily accept, say, the claims of North Korea of being a “Democratic Republic”, nor would they accept claims of such people that their acts are for the greater good and whatnot.

It is obvious that a dictator will attempt to provide legitimacy to their rule. It will always be “for the people” or “for the nation” and any other such rhetorhic. The specifics will not matter but it will be whatever most people believe in. As such the dictators of USSR called themselves Communists, and the fascists of Germany called themselves National Socialists (as Socialism back then was still quite popular).

However to believe one thing those Leaders say but dismiss the other is simply disingenuous. Especially since what they claim to be has a perfectly clear definition already which diverges from their actual practices. For example, Socialism is supposed to be Worker’s ownership of the means of production and egalitarianism, but National socialists promoted exactly the opposite. Their regime was defined by a strict hierarchical pyramid of power and corporate cronyism, where economic freedom was high but political freedom low. Indeed, Capitalists all over the world loved the Nazis (as they have loved every other fascist/right-wing dictator since).

The rulers of any country will hijack the ideology that is most popular at the moment in order to retain their rule with the minimum of resistance. Nazi leaders gave the illusion of working for the good of the German people (National “Socialism”) while the USA ruling elite give the illusion of allowing power and choice for everyone (“Democracy”). None of these have much legitimacy and nor do they necessarily merge with what others mean when they say “Socialism” or “Democracy”. These labels do not work through self-identification.

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