cj#990> why a ‘non socialist’ thinks we need a radical mass movement…

1999-10-01

Richard Moore

Dear cj,

The essay about not being a 'socialist' sparked a number of responses, most
of which are included below these remarks.  Two were defenses of socialism
and one suggested that "the obvious alternative to socialism is Natural
Capitalism - as advanced by the Rocky Mountain Institute".  Two said the
answer to capitalism lies in curbing the abuses of corporations - one
suggested revoking corporate charters and the other wants to outlaw common
stock and stock markets.

As for curbing the abuses of corporations, I'm all for it.  Revoke charters
of corporations which flout the law?  Good idea.  Outlaw stock markets and
link responsibility to ownership?  Good idea.  And I've seen other ideas
which I also find  worthwhile:
        - Increase the real taxes of corporations so they pay their fair
          share of the government budget.
        - Put 'stakeholder representatives' on corporate boards... people
          like customers, vendors, employees, community members, etc.
        - Change the accounting system (somehow) so that social and
          environmental costs show up on the bottom line and effect
          policy decisions.

And socialism has many good ideas in it too, as contributors pointed out.
If socialism means to control the economy democratically, for the benefit
of all of us and our progeny, then I'm all for it.  (Even if I remain shy
of endorsing labels.)

It's good that people are thinking about these things... we certainly need
to have policiy reforms in mind if we're going to change anything.  But I
don't think a lack of reform ideas is what's preventing change.  In fact,
many good books have been written about all kinds of policy reform -
covering corporate reform, socialist economics, environmental integrity,
international trade and finance, elections, media, transportation,
sustainable agriculture, energy usage, etc. etc.

I honestly think we've reached a point of diminishing returns with reform
ideas.  The question that needs our attention more is _how we can bring
about significant system reforms, of whatever kind.  If we don't start
turning the Titanic around right now, it doesn't matter what great plans we
have for refurbishing it.

One approach that is guaranteed to fail is to push a particular reform
idea, try to get it well advertised, and then get it adopted by the current
political process.  This is like trying to swim upstream through
shark-infested waters - and these are hungry sharks who can smell you fifty
yards away.  Every stage of the process, from media-access to backroom
Congressional deal-making, is stacked against you.  Either the idea will be
ignored (revoking corporate charters), or it will be blocked (health-care
reform), or it will be transformed into the opposite of what you intended
(federal regulatory agencies).

The current capitalist regime has maintained its power for a long time, and
it is pro-active and skilled in defending itself.  There's no way you're
going to sneak through a magic-bullet system reform.  You're asking the
shark to voluntarily put on a muzzle, to allow itself to be starved to
death.  It won't happen.

It's the sharks themselves that are the problem - the capitalist oligarchy
that rules the world.  They own or control the media, public opinion, the
wealth, the corporations, the banks, the currencies, the lawyers, the
political process, and the politicians.  You aren't going to sneak anything
important past them; you aren't going to persuade them to give up their
power; and you won't change the market-forces tides with any 'ownership
solution' or 'natural capitalism' type scheme.

The current regime is like a well-defended fortress.  No small foray,
however noble or clever, is going to bring it down.  And until it is
brought down, it exercises near-total power over most of the globe.  Trying
to influence it, or reform it, is like throwing stones against the fortress
walls.  There is no incremental path to a better world, not at this point
in history.  Not while the globalization process is rapidly consolidating
elite power into a single world government, a government of by and for the
corporate elite.

There is only one way to free ourselves from this fortress, and that is
through an all-out frontal assault.  Our semi-democratic political
institutions have not yet been entirely abandoned, and we still have the
right as free peoples to decide we want a clean-sweep of our politicians
and governments.

But what does it mean for a 'free people' to 'decide' it wants something?
In practical terms, this comes about through political movements.  For
example, millions of people decided that the environment was important, the
environmental movement arose, a shared understanding arose about
environmental objectives, and for a time significant gains were made.  But
since the sharks remained - the fortress still stood - those gains have
been eroded and the environmental movement has been gradually marginalized,
co-opted, and contained.  Envirnomental degradation is now worse than ever
and getting worse.

There have been many movements which have involved a large percentage of
the population, and which have acted from a sense of
shared-understanding... such as the labor movement, women's suffrage, the
agrarian populists, the civil rights movement, anti-war movements, and
others.  Often these movements have had to overcome ridicule by the media,
harrassment by the police and courts, infiltration by spies and
provocateurs, and many other kinds of suppression.

My point here is that movements _can arise, they _can be massive, they _can
somehow cultivate a shared understanding of their objectives, they _can
overcome obstacles, and they _can be rather radical in their objectives.
These things do happen, and in historical terms they happen with some
regularity.  I can't tell you exactly how they start, or how they achieve a
shared understanding (despite media lies), or how they grow to large
proportions - but somehow these things have happened and could happen
again.  It is not a waste of time to think about how such a movement could
get started, and what its 'shared understanding' should be if it really
wants to overcome the fortress.

In fact, as I see it, only such a massive movement can achieve the
political power necessary to overcome the fortress.  If someone sees
another path I'd like to hear about it.  Such a movement is possible,
similar things have happened before, and the current realities of
globalization provide ample fertile soil for such a movement to flourish.

Somehow the movement needs to get started, a seed needs to be planted.
What more important task can there be for those of us who consider
ourselves to be activists and concerned citizens?   Currently, activists
are split up into hundreds of different causes.  Each separately is trying
to influence public opinion and exert political influence.  But none of
these causes separately is strong enough - they can bring only stones
against the fortress.  And faster than the stones can be thrown, the
fortress is being made ever stronger.   If we can see that the fortress is
impervious to our stone throwing, why do we not devote our energy to
seeding a movement that can actually hope to make a difference?

For openers, we would need to begin to develop a shared understanding among
ourselves about our objectives.  In fact, I suggest, this is precisely how
movements do get started - some community of activists develops a shared
understanding of the problem and the solution.  They quit squabbling among
themselves and begin working together to define and achieve their
objectives.  If their shared understanding is a sensible one, it can catch
on, and evolve, and a real movement can develop.  This has happened with
every previous movement I've ever heard of, including the revolutionary
movements of 1776 and 1918.

At the very nucleus of the necessary seed of 'shared understanding', if my
reasoning has been making sense, is the understanding that the fortress
must be overcome - that a complete political rejuvination needs to be
brought about through a massive grass-roots movement.

If we could agree on that much, I believe our agenda of discussion would
broaden considerably.  We'd be talking about comprehensive rejuvination
programs, not piecemeal reforms.  The question isn't how to curb
corporations, for example, but how best to reallocate the resources and
technologies that they currently control.  The question isn't whether or
not we believe in 'socialism', but how in practical terms we can make a
transition from an exploitive, single-doctrine economy to a beneficial,
sustainable, and locally-centered one.

imho,
rkm

============================================================================
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 20:48:34 -0400
To: •••@••.•••
From: CREDO <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#988> Why I'm not a 'socialist'...

Because the Soviet Union stands as example of a 'socialist' revolution
gone horribly wrong, the term Socialism has become associated with a
command economy and with state ownership of the means of productions.  As a
result, freedom has become associated with its presumed opposite,
Capitalism, or the free market, which supposedly enables the 'best and
brightest' to rise to the top of the heap through their own efforts and
innate superiority.  However, like the term 'conservative' which originally
connoted the conservation of the institutions of society, and morphed into
something that meant private ownership of public resources, Russian
Socialism does not represent the root meaning of Socialism.  Along with its
presumed opposite, Capitalism, the Russian experiment was in reality, a
form of State Capitalism, in which the State had all the privileges of
ownership with none of the checks and balances of democratic forms of
government.

In its root meaning, Socialism represents a set of values, which has to do
with ensuring representative governments, the fostering of social justice
and maintaining the well being of communities.  Those are the prime
motivations of socialists historically and remain so to the present day.

Capitalism is pure dogma designed to trap the unenlightened into a false
notion of the human condition. Socialism is a necessary antidote to those
fallacious beliefs. If you don't want to call yourself a socialist, what
would you call yourself?

Ruth Cohen

===========

Dear Ruth,

Thank you very much for your clarifications regarding socialism.
Nonetheless, I just don't think the label offers that much benefit.  Like
it or not, many people do associate the label with the negative aspects of
the Soviet and Chinese experiences.  And "Small Is Beautiful", a book whose
insights I imagine most of us would agree with, was written in reaction to
the inefficiencies of the British socialist experiment.   The label does
come with baggage... what's the point in insisting on it?

Why not take the good ideas from socialism and put them on the table with
other good ideas, and work out our own synthesis?  Sustainability, and
ecological awareness, for example, aren't socialist or non-socialist -
they're another domain of understanding altogether.  And then there's the
question of poltical strategy, and constituency building, etc.  Here new
thinking is needed, because of the shift in relationship between the nation
state and capitalist interests.  Overall, I suggest that we need to think
on a very broad canvas, and old labels of any kind are unlikely to do us
much good.

Perhaps I see things this way because of my background in the computer
industry.  That industry has been characterized by entirely novel
inventions, layer after layer of them, with no precedents for what they
should do or how they should work.  Those who succeeded best, with each new
generation of technology, were those who were able to see the new
potentialities, without being held back by the mindset of the previous
generation's technology.  Those who succeeded in more than one generation
were those who learned to look at each new situation with fresh eyes,
intentionally questioning all their previous assumptions of "what's
possible".

I was one of those who thrived right on the edge, looking at a technology
while it was still on the drawing board, and figuring out how it could be
most effectively applied.  In the groups I worked with, we always started
out by defining our own neutral terminology for the technology pieces we
were working with.  We found it useful to drop terminology which carried a
strong negative or positive bias from a previous technological generation.
By choosing neutral terms, we freed our minds to see the new potentialities
in perspective, undistorted by irrelevant previous experience.

I think it is fair to say that we face a whole new generation of political
problems - the loss of our nations and our democracies, a rapid
consolidation of elite power, and an _acceleration in the rate of human and
environmental degradation.  In the face of such an unprecedented set of
challenges, I think we should free ourselves of outmoded and divisive
labels and begin to reason together in practical, unloaded terms.

yours,
rkm

============================================================================
From: "Vadim Bondar" <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Re: cj#988- Why I'm not a 'socialist'...
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 22:34:22 EDT

Dear Richard,

This is, I believe, one of your best pieces, even though it is short. You
have a number of very good points. For example, that socialists propose
economic solutions to social problems and end up usurping political power.
And those you call "technocrats" seem to do the same, only on a global
level. So what is the way to conscious political and social life, to
democracy? Seems to me, not only through developing feedback (like in
voting and local activism) but also in having people exercise more and more
freedom in various areas of social life: economic models, politics (this is
slow to change), education, judicial system (in issues of citizens' rights
vs corporation or vs government the Supreme Court might have more success
than the Congress). In these different areas will we be able not to rely
completely on an "invisible hand" but to act for the benefit of concrete
human beings around us? Beware also those who say they want a reform but
really want to change nothing. Yet I would like to think there is some
reason for optimism.

Respectfully,
Vadim.

==========

Dear Vadim,

Many thanks for your comments.  I believe our optimism can come not from
hoping, but through the seriousness of our own commitment to work together
to achieve real change.

rkm

============================================================================
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 21:31:42 EDT
Subject: Re: cj#988> Why I'm not a 'socialist'...
To: •••@••.•••

Dear Richard,

Here's my 2 cents:
I've never heard or read a socialist who made it a point to identify
socialism with an agenda of growth.  I don't know where you've plucked that
one from except maybe from the Soviet Union, where it was "Develop or be
crushed by the West!"  And they were right. Central planning?  Why should
you be opposed to that in principle?  Should every city and town have its
own FDA?  It's own IRS, FAA,  EPA?  How can you plan for improved air and
water when these elements do not recognize man-made boundaries at all?
Shall we have a central Amtrak system that's planned to cover as much area
in the most rational manner as possible,  or a rail system designed and
implemented by each community?  Ditto airlines and much more.

You've said in the past that you don't like to call yourself a socialist
because Americans have been taught that that's a dirty word.  Well, I must
ask you if you feel that to be a very brave or principled stand. The idea
of having many economic systems in operation in the US at the same time is
... well ... that does seem a bit off the wall to me.  Who will own all
those things too important to be left to the profit motive -- banking,
insurance, airlines, train system, health care, education (including
university), etc. etc.?  I believe that you have to answer this question to
be credible and taken serioiusly.

You write:"Our primary problem is a political one, not an economic one.
Global policies are being set by technocrat representatives of faceless
boards of directors of giant corporations.  That needs to be changed before
anything else can be fixed." But what motivates these directors -- abstract
political theories or the financial health of their firms and themselves?

Bill Blum

===========

Dear Bill,

Yes I agree that planning needs to be done at the natural scale of the
enterprise in question.  But there have been cases where central transport
authorities have trodden over local concerns, for little more reason than
bureaucratic convenience.  What I suggest is that we look at each policy
proposal pragmatically, neither accepting nor rejecting it on the basis of
any ideological criteria, 'socialist' or otherwise.  And I suggest that we
need to balance policy over a wide range of objectives, crossing any
particular disciplinary boundaries.

In terms of being brave and noble, I take your point.  I resent having to
leave behind noble words like 'anarchism', out of respect for successful
demonization campaigns against them.  But the power of the underdog always
comes from agility and flexibility.  If 'they' occupy a particular
stronghold, then 'we' attack elsewhere.  Let them play their orwellian
games with our language... let us take our refuge in the principles
themselves, and assign them new names faster than they can be demonized.

As to what motivates 'these directors'...  I see no dichotomy between
'political theories' and 'financial health'.  Both are important
motivators, as regards the political impact of the corporate community.
Yes they want immediate policies that yield profits, and yes they want a
governmental philosophy that bodes well for their long term prosperity.
Our economic and political systems are one and the same, intertwined
networks of media, officialdom, and behind-the-scenes power brokers.  One
need not distinguish too precisely between the domains of politics and
economics, or even geopolitics.  They're all being played on the same
global chess board from the same game plan.

The reason I say politics is 'more important' is that politics is where
power is wielded.  With a shift of power, the first order of business would
be to set up an economic system, or systems, that provide the motivational
matix appropriate to a livable world, as opposed to a profit-generating
world.  Everything is connected, but strategic distinctions are critical.

cheers,
rkm

============================================================================
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 11:47:10 -0700 (PDT)
To: •••@••.•••
From: John Lowry <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#988> Why I'm not a 'socialist'...

9/27/99, you wrote:
 >...
 >Our primary problem is a political one, not an economic one.  Global
 >policies are being set by technocrat representatives of faceless boards of
 >directors of giant corporations.  That needs to be changed before anything
 >else can be fixed.

Correct, imho.  Therefore, ...

Whereas, the corporation is an offspring of the state, conceived and
created to promote the general welfare and, whereas, the economy has gone
global;

Therefore, the Federal Government of the United States is the appropriate
entity to charter corporations doing business across any border over which
it has jurisdiction, and it now establishes the rules and qualifications
for chartering as follows:

Corporations are chartered by this government to serve the nation's
interest and will be governed by a board of directors composed of and
representing the full and balanced spectrum of citizen groups affected by
the corporation's activities.

Well-intentioned management will figure out how to comply with this
provision to the satisfaction of the interested community.

Disatisfied groups may petition a federal court to replace some or all
directors, so as to fully comply with the spirit of this provision.  In
such events, the corporation(s) shall reimburse the suing entity(s)
petitioning expenses.

============================================================================
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 11:36:29 +1200
To: •••@••.•••
From: Howard Scott <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#988> Why I'm not a 'socialist'...

Margaret

The obvious alternative to socialism is Natural Capitalism - as advanced by
the Rocky Mountain Institute - check it out.

Cheers
Howard

         http://www.futurepacific.co.nz/HowardScottViewpoint21.html



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