Sunday, April 3, 2011

Social & Political Philosophy: Socialism

As we learned, capitalism rose with industrialization. Merchants became industrialists and capitalists, far more free than in earlier ages to seek profit for self-interest. As Adam Smith argued, this created much productivity and competition that fueled advancement and ever-increasing numbers of products and services. While this had great benefits and continues to fuel innovation today, it also caused problems such as great inequalities and periods of economic depression and collapse. Industrialization not only allowed capitalists to mobilize for themselves and their new class, it also mobilized labor, allowed it to be more coordinated, and develop several movements in counter-reaction to the domination of capitalists and the cultural groups to which they belong. For the rest of this class, we will be studying these, including socialism, communism, anarchism, fascism, post-colonialism, and feminism.

Equality vs. Freedom
In many ways, while all people appreciate the values of freedom and equality, capitalism leans toward freedom while socialism leans toward equality. Industrialization created great freedom for those who are positioned to take advantage of it, particularly the middle and upper classes, but it also created great inequalities. Consider that neo-conservatives and free-market capitalist thinkers such as Milton Friedman took Adam Smith’s position farther in arguing that businesses should be for the purpose of profits, not jobs. This would mean that we should be striving in economic theory for the freedom of individual interest, not equality as social purpose. In America, a country that has leaned more towards capitalism than any so far, the demonstrators of the Civil Rights Movement were called communists for seeking federal laws that ensured equality across ethnic groups.

Social Use vs. Individual Interest
Saint-Simon, Marx and Engels all argued that cycles of overproduction lead to depressions and poverty, and so industry should be planned in accord with maximizing social advancement. This is entirely in line with Mill’s idea of Utilitarianism and taking both the long term and social view of society. Socialists also advocate the redistribution of wealth to benefit society as a whole rather than individuals who hold the wealth. This is put in balance with meritocracy such that those who work gain through redistribution while those who merely hold (either poor or rich) lose. Jobs should be provided not in accord with individual profit but social welfare and maximizing the potential of all members of society. A good example of this can be found in the beginning of War on Democracy: Hugo Chavez provided grocery stores for the poor of Venezuela that offered cheap government subsidized food funded by a nationalized oil industry, with constitutional rights in large print on back of each product.

Planned vs. Free Economies
While communists have an entirely planned economy (such as Soviet sneakers and jeans out of fashion by the time they are state made) socialism, like capitalism, is mixed economics with some industries and products made cheap by the state for the support of equality of people. In this sense, socialism is to communism as capitalism is to radical free-market capitalism and libertarianism. Industries that are often nationalized in such mixed economies include natural resources (water, electricity, oil), basic goods (bread, milk, corn, steel) and basic services (mail, transportation, housing, police, fire-departments, healthcare, quality control). Today, China and Vietnam are overall successful with socialist leaning mixed economics, mixing private corporations with state-controlled industries. Social Democrats, such as the Democratic party in America and many political parties all over the world often following European and American models, believe in some degree of government and public control over market driven forces, capitalism with some socialist steering, but no entirely nationalized/socialized industries (ex: corporation for public broadcasting, PG&E having monopoly on power in California as a corporation, BART).

Reform vs. Revolution
Some socialists believe in gradual reform from within, such as the social democrats who took over Russia after the Tsar abdicated but were tossed out as not radical enough by the Russian Revolution. Other socialists believe in radical reform and revolution, such as Lenin and Trotsky who formed the vanguard party to overthrow the social democrats. Revolution need not be violent, but involves rapid change in a short amount of time.

Authoritarian & Democratic Economics
Mill’s idea of Economic Democracy, unions, co-ops, everyone having a say in the business, is particularly important to socialism. Some want to live more socialist in a capitalist society: many communes are socialist this way, communist if the whole society becomes a single commune. The co-op housing arrangements in Berkeley are communes in that they are living arrangements rather than business like Cheeseboard co-op. Saint Simon, Engels & Marx believed technology would make the anarchy of capitalism gradually unnecessary. There remains, however, a split in socialism between those who seek socialism from above through centralized planning (Saint-Simon’s champions in the meritocracy, Lenin and Trotsky’s vanguard Bolshevik party) and those who seek socialism from below through de-centralized planning (co-ops, soviets, direct democracy). Both have advantages and disadvantages. From the top down, the government can take the overall view of the situation and the long term view, but there is a danger in centralized control hoarding power and advantage. From the bottom up, the democratic decisions of labor unions, co-ops and communes ensure the autonomy and interests of the group, but there is a danger that each group can lose sight of the social view and long term view and produce for their group interests rather than the interests of society. Anarchism, which we will study in two weeks, is similar if not identical to bottom-up socialism, especially when leaning to the left.

Mazdak, Persian Socialist
While socialism is often confused with hard-line communism, especially when religion and atheism are discussed, the earliest socialists were religious thinkers who believed that common purpose and property were the fulfillment of the teachings of their religion. Monasteries, for Buddhists, Christians and others, are communes in which much of the resources are commonly owned and distributed. Mazdak (450 – 525 CE) was a Zoroastrian priest living in Persia before Mohammed and Islam when Zoroastrianism was still the Persian religion. He believed that socialism was the true Zoroastrian way of life, and argued that the Zoroastrian clergy had oppressed the people rather than raised them up. He taught that God wanted everyone to share everything equally, but as the strong had come to dominate the weak, wealth must be redistributed such that it is shared in common. He advocated reforming and simplifying religion and replacing many religious rituals with community life and altruism. Like Plato, and Marx/Engels, he argued that families should be held in common such that individual families were not hoarding for themselves. Needless to say, many of his fellow Zoroastrian clergy found his teaching radically heretical, but he received royal patronage and his ideas flourished in Persia for a brief period. While his ideas were counteracted by later rulers, small Mazdaki communities survived in Persia for centuries long after Persia was converted to Islam.

Saint-Simon’s ‘Socialisme’
Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a French thinker who many believe coined the term ‘socialism’ (socialisme in the French). He was a big influence on Marx and Engels, arguing that the anarchism of individual interest driven capitalist control should be transformed by science, technology and social planning such that poverty is eliminated and the powerful are the worthy (meritocracy, like Plato) rather than the wealthy (oligarchy, like often). Born an aristocrat in Paris, he fought for Washington in the American Revolution and worked hard in the early and more peaceful years of the French Revolution to build an industrial society for the French people. Renouncing his aristocratic title, he believed in meritocracy (those who achieve become great). Like Robespierre’s Cult of Reason, like Marx & Engels and the Soviet Union in Russia, Saint-Simon believed that scientific advancement would allow society to achieve meritocracy and egalitarianism. Because he was an aristocrat and attempted to finance his plans for France with land deals, he was imprisoned under Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and released at its end. Unfortunately, as we will see with Communism next week, similar suspicion and punishment faced many of the strongest supporters of the Russian Revolution.

Against Adam Smith, who argued that individual interest is better than social planning, Saint-Simon argued that power struggles, both those between workers and capitalists and those between capitalists, limit and harm production and prosperity. Individuals should think of themselves as laborers who work for themselves and others rather than owners who work for themselves. Note that this is similar to the swing of Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic, as the slave progresses because he does work for both self-interest and the master’s interest while the master stagnates because he acts only for self-interest. While Adam Smith used the term ‘invisible hand’, Saint-Simon used the term ‘hand of greed’. Much like the debate between Mencius and Xun Zi and like Hobbes, Saint-Simon believed that people were naturally greedy and self-advancing and this must be countered with education and society. Saint-Simon argued that only working people should have voting rights, and he divided society into workers and thieves (including both the wealthy and beggars into this latter category).

Unlike the Jacobins or Marxists, Saint-Simon was a Christian who believed in simplifying Christianity, boiling it down to its essential teachings and clearing it of the doctrines of both Catholics and Protestants. This way, without factions, Christianity can be used for its true purpose: the elimination of poverty and the equality of humanity. Thus, unlike Robespierre or Marx, Saint-Simon did not propose eliminating religion but rather using it as an essential part of the socially-purposed state. Some revered Saint-Simon after his death as a prophet, both religious and political.


The Young Hegelians
Marx was a student of Hegel, and believed that society evolves in stages based on the previous stage building its way towards completion through the tensions of class conflict. Marx and Engels argued that socialism is a lower and imperfect form of communism based on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to productivity”. This would, once socialism is firmly entrenched and established, gradually be transformed into communism, based on the principle, “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. Clearly, Marx and later Marxists believe that once society is based on utilitarianism, everyone would be raised in productivity such that Saint-Simon’s “thieves” would be eliminated on both top and bottom.

At the university of Berlin, the center of Hegel’s following, the Young Hegelians including Marx and Engels began circulating their views about politics and religion around 1840, only a few years after the death of Hegel. They were fond of reason, science and the French Revolution and deeply critical of class conflict and religion. Just like Hegel’s idea of a war between North and South America, they believed that a great and final conflict would come before the final political unity, that one political party would inevitably be left standing alone uniting all people. They gradually evolved from philosophical criticism of conservative noble-supported Christianity to atheism as the final and reasonable position.

Engels: Socialism Utopian & Scientific
In this work, Engels contrasts utopian socialism such as that of Saint-Simon, an ideal socialism in ideal conditions, with that of scientific socialism of Marx, his comrade and friend. This is very similar to the difference that Machiavelli sees between Plato and Aristotle creating ideal city models and his own examinations of how power works in real-world conditions. Engels argues that he and Marx use socialism as a science to examine society and improve it rather than creating an idealized model. He also saw socialism as acceptable in Europe of his day, but communism, the true final form of socialism for Marx and Engels, was not yet acceptable to the intellectual culture.

Engels praises the French for a revolution that strove to make reason rather than domination the way of society, but he argues the revolution and Rousseau had to be realized in an imperfect false society that protects the property of the upper and middle classes rather than true egalitarianism. He criticizes Saint-Simon’s antagonism between workers and the idle/thieves as a precursor of his and Marx’s antagonism between the capitalists and the laborers, but Saint-Simon had not realized that each side works in its own way for its own ends. He then proceeds to summarize Hegel’s Logic and method of dialectic suggesting that Saint-Simon’s thought as well as that of other socialist precursors would be set right through Hegel’s methods. However, he criticizes Hegel’s idealism and just like his praise/criticism of Saint Simon, says that Hegel’s ideas were to be realized later when the time was right and conditions had developed. He then goes on to praise Marx as the culminating stage, and argues that a proletarian workers revolution will resolve the contradictions of society that have developed over time.

I will examine Marcuse’s ideas in One Dimensional Man and An Essay on Liberation next time.