Smashing capitalism and the failure of communism

Danyl several interesting posts at Dim-Post on the failure of communism in practice, and the stupidity of far left calls to ‘smash capitalism’.

Labour day thoughts about Marxism and the radical left

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance.

If you interested in this topic it’s worth reading the whole post and there’s also some good comments. Danyl concluded:

The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left.

That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.

It is very meaningful, I think, that Piketty’s critique of capitalism didn’t come from the radical Marxist tradition. He’s read Marx but he trained as an economist and describes himself as a ‘believer in capitalism, private property and the market’ and he discovered a deep and powerful truth about capitalism that none of the tens of thousands of Marxists and Critical Theorists ever uncovered over the last hundred years.

There’s still a lot of serious work to be done critiquing capitalism and solving its problems, but right now the radical left aren’t doing any of it. At best they’re wasting their time, running around telling everyone ‘The problem is capitalism, sheeple!’, at worst they’re trying to impose their nonsense on mainstream left-wing politics and preventing actual progressive change.

Of course, it’s not only the radical left who want to burn it all down: Trump’s campaign manager is a guy called Steve Bannon who describes himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy society and rebuild from the ashes. There’s also a growing ‘neoreactionary’ movement advocating the abandonment of both capitalism and democracy, and a return to the ‘western tradition’ of monarchical feudalism and ‘traditional gender roles’. Smash modernity, and it’ll all come out in the wash. It worries me that there’s so much of this about.

He followed up with What bought that on? Some of his points:

  • About a year ago, just before the Paris conference I went on the Climate march to Parliament. It was a good crowd. Various speeches were given, and everyone cheered. And then someone (I don’t recall their name) got up and gave a speech explaining that climate change wasn’t the real problem. Capitalism was the real problem. Some people cheered, but lots of people didn’t, and as he went on in that vein, telling us all that we needed to smash capitalism because colonialism and cultural hegemony were the true enemy, people drifted away. ‘I’m not here for that,’ one of my friends – not very political but worried about climate change – said as he headed over the road to the pub.
  • It’s a conviction that’s gained a lot of ground on the left over the last eighteen months, metastasising from climate change to social justice and economic issues. I don’t know why. Corbyn and Sanders? Historical materialism? Whatever the policy problem, getting rid of capitalism is the increasingly popular solution.
  • What actually went wrong in Russia though? Lenin and Trotsky were smart guys. Geniuses, even. They lived and breathed Marxist theory their entire lives. Yet they had no plan of how to run their country after they seized power, and they spent years improvising various doomed solutions while their country starved. War communism. ‘Electrification + socialism = communism!’ State capitalism. Eventually it was back to capitalism on the assumption that they could then progress through capitalism to socialism to communism, just like Marx said. It didn’t work.
  • The left is very prone to intellectual fads and I guess this one too will pass, to be replaced by something hopefully less silly. And less frightening, because ‘Smash capitalism’ really means, ‘Let’s destroy society and see what happens.’ I don’t think the activist left has the slightest chance of actually doing this. But they can scare away non-crazy people who want to join left wing parties and causes to find real solutions to problems, like all the people who walked away from the climate march.

There were a lot of comments on that too.

And then some Further reading

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I read that and it didn’t come close to convincing me there was much value in Marxism in modern New Zealand.

Someone in the comments linked to this, a post by a US based blogger.

He also wrote an excellent review about Francis Spufford’s novel Red Plenty. I read this a few years ago (and I thought I wrote about it too but cannot find the post).

This really was a key book for me, especially on the issue of capitalism and climate change. It’s axiomatic on a lot of the left that capitalism causes climate change (because of the drive for endless economic growth), and Red Plenty showed that you can get rid of capitalism and have a planned economy and have it work pretty well, actually, thanks, and still have your public and leaders demand continued high economic growth, because that’s a great solution to many political and economic problems, regardless of whether you’re a capitalist economy or not – and then dig up and burn huge amounts of coal and oil to fuel it.

It’s refreshingly unusual to see someone sort of from the left giving such a wide ranging consideration of political theories and realities.

One thing that seems to escape those promoting a revolution – how they expect a utopian socialist society to magically emerge after a smashing of capitalism.

The person surviving may be equal I guess.

Leave a comment

46 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  28th October 2016

    Shock to us, Parti.

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  28th October 2016

      Take 2…sock it to us. Parti.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  28th October 2016

        I’m a bit distressed about danyl’s misuse of ‘bought’ instead of brought in his heading what ‘ bought that on’, Corky, but, knowing how you can get about people bringing up spelling errors, and because sometimes I make them too, I’m not going to mention it.

        Reply
  2. I read Tiso’s post. It’s just wrong.
    He writes:
    “It is the fear of insurrection that builds schools and hospitals, that redistributes land, that shortens the working week. It is the exercise of that power. ”

    It’s democracy that delivers these things, not communism. Communism has always suppressed democracy and as a given the working poor nothing but misery and an early grave. Check out Venezuela for the latest socialist failure.

    Reply
  3. I’ve said repeatedly Corky I don’t want to “smash” capitalism. I believe capitalism – the Right ‘Hemisphere’ of the collective brain of human organisation – is ill or dis-eased and needs a fairly major health check and overhaul … a socio-economic & political colonic and ‘adjustment’ … or perhaps a tumor removed?

    Actually cancer is the perfect example: ‘Healthy’ cells run riot, encouraged by ‘lifestyle’, and then we surgically remove the ‘rot’ … the poor, the indolent, the uneducated, the uninnovative, non-productive, inefficient … Many women (mothers) and Maori fall into this category …

    What we’re also doing instead of healing is medicating it … Valium, ProZac and synthetic pain killers … Props that mask the symptoms … so the ‘system’ can still go to work and pay its bills – When it really needs heavy-duty emotional release and ‘counselling’ …

    Capitalism needs to evolve and reconnect with its Left Hemisphere, which isn’t the ‘communism’ of Russia or China – actually State Totalitarianism, a form of facism – but which seemingly cannot escape the negative label “socialism [an example of the suppression mechanism]. I call the Left Hemisphere social-responsibility for lack of a better term.

    Capitalism is today being actively prevented from healing in many ways – by those who are disproportionately benefitting, often grossly – and by many means … restrained by the limitations of prevailing ideology – the neoliberal consensus – commonly euphemised on here as “pragmatism”, which means based on ‘economics’ rather than humanity – and by the notable restrictions and glaring shortcomings of our present form of so-called ‘democracy’ … Adversarial, Herd Instinct [Party] and Personality-Media-Manipulation based … rather than founded upon ethics ..

    We’ve run up against a wall of our making …

    Reply
    • I can’t really express it any better than this –

      ” … social dominance which is a natural survival trait. At risk of oversimplification, the other natural traits are empathy and reason, with conscience being our natural connection to the ethical dimension of life. Full expression of our innate nature involves all of these traits, and our state of happiness works like a barometer which tells us if we are managing these traits optimally.” – Ugly Truth @ Police Accused of Moral Crusade …

      There goes the “moral” for starters eh!

      What Ugly is also rather beautifully [and simplistically] describing is the ‘Self’, of which society is a miasmically large collective of …

      In this regard capitalism is only partially serving our society and, for some inexplicable reason, doesn’t want ‘us’ to be ‘whole’ …. or perhaps ‘holy’ …?

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2016

      I must say, I found myself very much in agreement with the following two quotes from hui attenders in the Matike Mai report (p 71) – once I understood the meaning of tikanga in the sense it was used here of honouring the proper value & role & purpose which Questions in The House are meant to represent in our British style democratic institution of governance:

      “We went along when my whanaunga (relative) gave his Maiden Speech in Parliament and had to sit through question time which was boorish and childish…one of my aunties leaned across and whispered ‘There must be a better way to govern a country’ and I had to agree – there was no tikanga there, none at all”.

      “We’ve got so used to Parliament and everything about it it’s the only way we understand political power…but I struggle to see what its values are except that right now democracy and economic development seem to have become the same thing…there’s not much tikanga there”.

      Reply
    • Corky

       /  28th October 2016

      ‘I’ve said repeatedly Corky I don’t want to “smash” capitalism.’

      Fair point. I do remember you saying that previously.

      Reply
  4. Humans are strange creatures. As an individual we like to enjoy the fruits of our endeavours and resent it when outsiders attempt to take it away. However collectively we all assert a cooperative and supporting demeanour when in a group, not wanting to differ from the collective mood. We see this in action in the build up to a riot, and witness the mindless phenomenon of the beast without brains. Why do we need to destroy what we have built over Millenia in order to construct something better? Why not start with what is wrong and look for the causes and treat the causes. Revolution for change’s sake is a very costly method and will invariably harbour resentment. Think of the consequences of the colonialism revolution in the 19th Century New Zealand! The fatal flaw in Communism is it requires sacrifice of individualism and slows creativity. It also gives to the leadership unbridled power and destroys the classless society by use of rewards and sanctions. True democracy demands governance by and for the people, not an ideology.

    Reply
    • @ BJ – You say regarding revolution, “Why do we need to destroy what we have built over Millenia in order to construct something better?”

      We could say the same regarding war, surely?

      “Why not start with what is wrong and look for the causes and treat the causes.”

      My feelings exactly, although we may differ as to what the causes and treatments are …?

      @ Gezza – A collaborative, consensual Marae Ture/Legislative Assembly as (I believe) is envisaged by Matike Mai Aotearoa – whatever exact form it ultimately takes – will be much better equipped to deal wholistically with these ‘real progress’ issues. Presently our Government vs Opposition combative, adversarial format perfectly reflects the Left-Right Hemisphere division, the personal & societal ‘disconnectedness’ … and, regrettably, the lingering ‘battle-lines’, trenches and war-monger mentality …

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2016

      Ours is delivering governance which has become subordinated to an economic ideology.

      Reply
      • Good way of putting it Gezza! I’d say “relatively poor quality” governance due to structural deficiencies …

        Our system is essentially medieval or older … its kind of missed a few things, like the industrial and techno-digital revolutions …

        It’s time to realign things … that’s all … an economic ideology alone is a ship without a rudder …

        Reply
    • Kevin

       /  28th October 2016

      There was no fatal flaw in communism. As totalitarianism wrapped in pseudo-intellectualism it worked perfectly. It gave those who implemented it total power. It’s only flawed if you actually believe it was about freeing the working class.

      Reply
    • “True democracy demands governance by and for the people, not an ideology.”

      The rule of law is more than an ideology, it is the difference between democracy and organized mob rule. The people don’t have the authority to abrograte the law of the land.

      Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  28th October 2016

    Capitalists do things. Lefties talk about doing things. Somehow they convince themselves that is virtuous.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th October 2016

      if you call ‘doing things’…instigating wars and fermenting divide and rule…you are correct.

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2016

      Capitalists do things for personal profit, and ultimately often eat other capitalists and impoverish & even wreck the lives of others, including the employees who used to work for those other capitalists, in pursuance of gobbling up competition & shifting production to wherever wages are lowest & making as much personal profit as possible.

      That’s what Corporations – the end product of capitalism – do. That’s what Trump’s selling. That’s why capitalists alone can’t be allowed to rule. There’s a place for capitalism, without it we wouldn’t have seen the development of all the improvements it’s made in people’s lives, but it’s also exploitative & destructive in many ways & not exactly what I’d call virtuous either.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  28th October 2016

        “not exactly what I’d call virtuous either”

        Except without it you would starve to death after you had eaten your last copy of Das Kapital.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  28th October 2016

          Don’t be ridiculous Alan. I’m not a Marxist. I’m a social democrat. Social democracies are very good at feeding their people without patenting the hell out of seeds to enrich themselves & shitbag stuff like that.

          Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  28th October 2016

          Without capitalists you would be a Marxist for the three weeks it would take for you to starve to death. Social democracies don’t exist without capitalists. As for patents, they are an anti-competitive creature of government, not capitalism. I fought against software patents for years.

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  28th October 2016

            ‘As for patents, they are an anti-competitive creature of government, not capitalism’….complete nonsense…you need only look at the proposals in the TPPA and TTIP ,made by corporations to destroy your notion.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              Why? TPPA and TTIP are creatures of Government as I stated.

          • Gezza

             /  28th October 2016

            Where did I advocate the removal of caitalists? Of course I freaking know social democracies don’t exist without capitalists, I’m a social democrat!
            As for patents, that’s news to me. I’m not against them per se, just think they should be limited. Have to go. Busy afternoon ahead.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              Capitalists have the virtue of feeding you. Concede their virtue.

            • Gezza

               /  28th October 2016

              Food growers and food processing workers and food sellers have the same virtue. They all need each other.
              And you concede fthat I didn’t advocate the removal of capitalists.

              And whoever is downticking me at the moment for just expressing an opinion, what are you doing it for? Downtick if because you’re a wanker, uptick if because you’re a plonker, no tick if you’ve got no good reason at all.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              Food growers and food processing workers and food sellers have the same virtue.
              Absolutely. And you didn’t advocate the removal of capitalists; you just insulted them.

            • Gezza

               /  28th October 2016

              Dad’s nodding off, and I don’t want to learn how to make ice cream.

              I did not insult capitalists. I criticised the worst types. Stop hyperventilating about it.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              Wriggle, wriggle. You see, we don’t even have to learn how to make ice cream because of capitalists. People are good and bad irrespective of capitalism. Capitalism is just the freedom to do stuff that doesn’t harm anyone else.

              an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

              Bizarre that people complain about it, isn’t it?

            • Gezza

               /  28th October 2016

              “Capitalism is just the freedom to do stuff that doesn’t harm anyone else.”

              No it’s not. It’s the definition you posted in italics. That statement above is just your refusal to admit what wreckage or harm it’s extremes can do without regulation.

            • @ Alan – So are you saying that if it DID or DOES harm others, like slavery and colonial capitalism did, and like casualisation and under-employment does, it isn’t capitalism? If that’s the case, what the hell is it?

              “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state”

              This definition, one of many, implies the necessity of “the state” IMHO, otherwise why say “rather than the state”?

              Even most hard-line capitalists reject anarcho-capitalism for minarchism – the need for police, judiciary and penal branches of government – which implies a skepticism about capitalist motivations and capitalism’s consequences, plus a requirement for control over capital owner-producers’ activities and behaviours as well as wage worker consumers’ …?

              It’s a whole lot more complicated than that I reckon …

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism#Comparison_to_slavery

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              You don’t need capitalism to let people kill and harm other people. The history of communism is ample evidence of that. Plus even in this country the vast amount of killing and harming is done by people with no connection whatever to capitalism – most often by your social democracy welfare recipients to each other. Capitalism operates within the social and legal boundaries controlling other human behaviour as well as its own and a minority will trespass over those boundaries irrespective of whether they are capitalists or not.

              Capitalism needs the protection of life, liberty and property rights to operate as well as the enforcement of contract so there is no argument as to the need for a power such as a democratic state to provide these.

          • Blazer

             /  28th October 2016

            the TPPA and TTIP are drawn up by corporations,the governments they sponser are meant to enact the legislation to validate them.Btw where in the world does Capitalism reign ,pure and simple?

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              Nonsense. The trade agreements are drafted and negotiated by Government bureaucrats and politicians with input from affected industries.

            • @ Blazer – “Btw where in the world does Capitalism reign, pure and simple?”

              Good question Blazer, which I notice Alan has conveniently side-stepped. The answer is it doesn’t operate anywhere. Never has and never will.

              Any example of social organisation even remotely resembling it has relied on imperialism, slavery and/or exploitation/genocide of indigenous peoples, their land and resources … and/or lower ‘classes’ …

              The division of ‘life’ into “one OR the other”, into two mutually exclusive ‘Hemispheres’ like Capitalism and Communism is the problem, not the solution … Its also a gross, reductionist, semi-literate misinterpretation of Marx’s dialectic … thesis, antithesis, synthesis … designed to scare, beguile and manipulate …

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th October 2016

              I didn’t answer because it is a silly question. Capitalism is not a form of government so it doesn’t reign anywhere. If it were rephrased as implemented then there are many countries starting with the USA.

            • And how’s that going for them …?

              I’ll tell you some. Their El Supremo capitalist ‘businessman’ is standing for President on a platform of job creation through government military spending and the reimposition of old fashioned trade tariffs …

              Nice one capitalism …

              American capitalism … the new socialism …

  6. Kevin

     /  28th October 2016

    “The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left.

    That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.”

    Actually no, the “brilliant” people Danyl describes were never brilliant. They were as thick as planks. What they were good at was writing pseudo-intellectual nonsense that got them jobs as universities and books published because everyone else was too scared to admit they couldn’t understand a word.

    They’re a dime a dozen at The Standard.

    Reply
  7. Zedd

     /  28th October 2016

    “Viva la revolucion.. death to extreme capitalism !” 😀

    Reply
  8. Zedd, I prefer Sun Tzu’s advice: (500BCA)
    “A leader leads by example, not by force.
    You have to believe in yourself.
    Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
    If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
    The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
    Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
    If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.
    Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
    To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
    Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
    Have a think about what Putin is doing and saying right now!

    All wars are an admission of failure of International Diplomacy, as war is an extension of Diplomacy. If you want to play the blame game for wars, all sides are guilty. I like the Russian teenagers response to a question about Putin and current Russian TV news about TV. They said basically, no one pays any attention to what Putin is saying and don’t watch Russian TV its all disinformation! Have a read/look for yourself” Source:
    (GOOGLE:The Russians who fear a war with the West
    Gabriel Gatehouse analyses why Russia increasingly sees the world =
    differently from the West.)

    Reply
    • Jeeez Beejay, your lengthy list of accepted orthodoxy is also a long litany of social illness and dis-ease …

      “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” That must be good for the soul?

      In a perfectly rational world I’d agree “All wars are an admission of failure of International Diplomacy, as war is an extension of Diplomacy” but personally I believe many and perhaps even most wars are actually some sort of preter-international, sub-diplomatic agreements …

      Example: In Vietnam the French pass the ‘colonial-maintenance’ batton to America to defend on slightly different terms … anti-communism …

      Your ‘Russian teenagers’ points to a major connundrum … The less people take any notice of what their politicians do and say the better off those people will be … and the worse off the world …

      Reply
    • Zedd

       /  28th October 2016

      #bjm1

      Sun Tzu ‘the art of WAR’ recommended reading for all.. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Blazer

     /  29th October 2016

    the final word…’smashing Communism…and the Failure of…CAPITALISM…the ultimate parody ..the contestants for the leader of the ‘free’ world ….perception and..reality…are we ..really that…basic…or that..stupid!

    Reply

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