Radical socialism, and the ‘underdog socialist’

A Guest Post at The Standard by an unnamed ex-radical socialist: Radical Socialism

I first became aware of the Anti Capitalist Alliance in 2002, shortly after it formed. It was a coalition of a couple of other smaller socialist groups, and ran a couple of candidates in that years NZ general election. The grouping had a 5 point platform:

The five-point policy platform of the Workers Party is as follows:

  1. Opposition to all New Zealand and Western intervention in the Third World and all Western military alliances.
  2. Secure jobs for all with a living wage and a shorter working week.
  3. For the unrestricted right of workers to organise and take industrial action and no limits on workers’ freedom of speech and activity.
  4. For working class unity and solidarity – equality for women, Maori and other ethnic minorities and people of all sexual orientations and identities; open borders and full rights for migrant workers.
  5. For a working people’s republic

The ideological debates within the groups were about Trotskyism verses Maoism, and peoples assessments over Russia and China. These historical debates always interested me, but I generally entered them usually to wind others up rather than seeing them as the pressing issue of the day.

Other debates such as whether New Zealand was a junior imperialist state or a semi colony of the US was more somewhat more interesting, as it was assessing the current state of the NZ economy.

I also enjoyed studying volume 2 of Karl Marx’s capital addressing the Tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a theory that many economists on the left and the right of the political spectrum believe explains why the post war boom and subsequent neo liberal policies were implemented from the late 1970s onwards.

On the issue of revolution verses reform, or working within the parliamentary established structures or outside of them was always a big questions.

I doubt that revolution has ever looked anywhere close to likely in New Zealand.

Eventually the inevitable happened with small socialist groups, and those who have seen the Life of Brian know how this goes down.

Coincidentally I watched Life of Brian again in the weekend.

So I was a radical socialist. Do I regret it? It was an experience I learnt from, so why would I regret it. By taking part in radical politics many dismiss you as a nutter, and years later some still view me in this light. This is disappointing. Yes some of the positions I took at the time were (literally) out of left field.

But sometimes radical or out there ideas can be right. Blindly following ideology is limiting, but so is totally dismissing someone who has these ideas and everything they say as “nuts.”

I think that in a decent democracy considering and debating radical ideas is important, in order to explore other possible solutions, even if most can be dismissed as unworkable or never possible here.

The global financial crisis of 2008 was I think the end of it for me. Capitalism had ended up in another crisis due to its own inherent flaws. The free market that had been trumpeted as the ideological way by the right had to be abandoned as governments bailed out the banks. Yet left and socialists politics went into decline rather than growth after this crisis. Yes the banks and markets had failed. But socialist idea’s, while perhaps providing some useful analysis did not have much to offer during this.

Also coincidentally, someone linked to this yesterday: The left needs fresh ideas and a new language if it’s to win again

It’s a perplexing question: why has so little changed since 2008? If your recall is a little hazy, 2008 was the year the world woke up to a banking crisis of epic proportions, a crisis borne of blind faith in market wisdom and an utter lack of public oversight. But in a bizarre twist, the parties who benefited from the bust were the conservatives (the people who glibly told voters it was all the government’s fault) and the xenophobes (who blamed it all on terrorists and immigrants, who steal our jobs yet are too lazy to work).

So why isn’t the left coming up with some real alternatives? There are volumes to be written about this conundrum, but I’d like to venture one simple explanation: the eternal return of underdog socialism.

It’s an international phenomenon, observable among legions of leftwing thinkers and movements, from trade unions to political parties, from columnists to professors. The world view of the underdog socialist is encapsulated in the notion that the establishment has mastered the game of reason, judgment and statistics, leaving the left with emotion.

…the underdog socialists’ biggest problem isn’t that they are wrong. They are not. Their biggest problem is that they’re dull. Dull as a doorknob. They’ve got no story to tell; nor even the language to convey it in. Having arrived at the conclusion that politics is a mere matter of identity, they have chosen an arena in which they will lose every time.

And too often, it seems as if leftists actually like losing. As if all the failure, doom and atrocities mainly serve to prove they were right all along. “There’s a kind of activism,” Rebecca Solnit remarks in her book Hope in the Dark, “that’s more about bolstering identity than achieving results.”

…the underdog socialists will have to stop wallowing in their moral superiority. Everyone who reckons themselves progressive should be a beacon of not just energy but ideas, not only indignation but hope, and equal parts ethics and hard sell. Ultimately, what the underdog socialist lacks is the most vital ingredient for political change: the conviction that there truly is a better way.

There truly is a better way – things can always be improved.

First socialists, capitalists and whateverists need to find a much better way of debating political issues. This means accepting the right of anyone to propose ideas and solutions, no matter how radical they may be, and allowing decent debate.

UPDATE: While the Standard post doesn’t name the guest author, the home page summary does – ‘Nick Kelly (Upper Hutt boy in London)’

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33 Comments

  1. PartisanZ

     /  May 2, 2018

    Sounds like ‘fun’ …

    Reply
  2. Grimm

     /  May 2, 2018

    “debating radical ideas is important”

    Don’t you think his ideas have been debated to death over many decades? Haven’t we been “lucky” enough to witness them in action in other places.

    Haven’t enough people suffered poverty, disease, torture and death…in the name of his ideas?

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  May 2, 2018

      Oh Lord … Let’s have the tired old debate all over again …

      Marx predicted the natural evolution of communism due to the dialectic of materialism inherent in capitalism … It’s failings would naturally lead to something better … as in reality they are doing …

      The Totalitarian regimes who ‘imposed’ so-called communism or socialism on nations were nothing more than despotic dictatorships who lent credence to their foul activities by using Marx and other’s theories as justifications … while in reality they tried to rapidly industrialize in competition with the advanced capitalist countries …

      The ‘socialism’ you Righties are most afraid of – Stalin, Mao and Cadre – are in fact horribly perverse forms of capitalism … The ultimate ‘command economy’ version …

      Using economists’ theories as justifications resulting in massive human suffering is IN NO WAY confined to these so-called ‘socialist’ states … as the people of Pinochet’s Chile can attest thanks to Von Hayek and Milton Friedman’s ‘Free Market’ philosophies … as Russia can attest under Yeltsin once Gorbechov was ousted by Reagan & Thatcher …

      “Marx refined and improved his positions throughout his life, so we would do well to track the intellectual and social conditions Marx critically participated in and emerged from. Here I want to suggest that a surprising number of the social problems the young Marx had to confront in the 1840s are strikingly familiar to us today, among them: reactionary political leadership stripping what had been a thin veneer of liberalism, scarce and precarious academic opportunities, state silencing of dissent, ideological and theoretical confusion among those who pretend to offer critical theories, a hyper-charged but politically empty atheism, and a general lack of careful, detailed social analysis in the midst of growing social unrest.”

      With the courage to soberly confront the actual conditions of his life, the early 1840s marked Marx’s rapid development toward the ruthless criticism of existing conditions. In doing so, Marx insisted that the critical theory of his day shy away neither from its theoretical results, nor from conflict with the powers implicated in its conclusions.”

      http://www.publicseminar.org/2016/11/marxs-radical-development/

      Reply
      • David

         /  May 2, 2018

        “Using economists’ theories as justifications resulting in massive human suffering is IN NO WAY confined to these so-called ‘socialist’ states … as the people of Pinochet’s Chile can attest thanks to Von Hayek and Milton Friedman’s ‘Free Market’ philosophies ”

        Let’s compare the body count shall we? It’s estimated at around 40,000 for Chile, something around the 100,000 for Cuba, as well as millions of refugee’s. Given Chile is now a wealthy country compared to it once being one of the poorest in the world, and Cuba has gone from one of the wealthiest to one of the poorest, it seems a rather bad outcome.

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  May 2, 2018

          That’s an excellent way of measuring it … wealth and ‘body count’ …

          Reply
          • David

             /  May 2, 2018

            Yes it is. And, to date, your revolutions have only racked up the bodies, and never any wealth.

            Reply
      • David

         /  May 2, 2018

        “The Totalitarian regimes who ‘imposed’ so-called communism or socialism on nations were nothing more than despotic dictatorships who lent credence to their foul activities by using Marx and other’s theories as justifications … while in reality they tried to rapidly industrialize in competition with the advanced capitalist countries …”

        Can you please show us where Marx’s theories have been applied and not resulted in mass murder and oppression. Show us the success.

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  May 2, 2018

          Marx theories weren’t “applied”, they could not have been, CAN NEVER BE. They were merely used as justification … Wrongly …

          The socialist state has to ‘evolve’ … Totalitarian ‘Socialism’ or ‘Command Capitalism’ has actually delayed, obfuscated and perverted this evolution …

          When true socialism comes, people will have freely chosen it …

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  May 2, 2018

            Capitalism will create the absolute necessity for a UBI … as it is now doing … which will be democratically instituted …

            That’s the next stage of freely chosen enterprise-socialist evolution.

            Why fight it?

            Reply
            • Grimm

               /  May 2, 2018

              UBI won’t happen. The disincentive to work inherent in all western welfare systems is already too great. There’s few votes in making it worse. Further, the work disincentive with UBI captures both the needy recipients and those that don’t need it because they have a job. Those that already have a job, are faced with much higher taxes to pay for it.

              Many times in the last 200 years the end of work has been predicted. Very few of the jobs from 50 years ago even exist now. Maybe none, in the original form.

              Socialists don’t promote UBI because they really believe that no one is going to have a job, it’s because they think more wealth should be redistributed.

            • PDB

               /  May 2, 2018

              PZ: “Capitalism will create the absolute necessity for a UBI …”

              The theory of a UBI has been around for many decades. Name a country that has successfully implemented a full UBI?

            • Gezza

               /  May 2, 2018

              Capitalism will create the absolute necessity for a UBI … as it is now doing … which will be democratically instituted …
              That’s the next stage of freely chosen enterprise-socialist evolution.
              Why fight it?

              I don’t think there’s any need to fight it – it’ll most probably never happen. And if by some miracle it does there obviously won’t be any need to fight it.

          • Grimm

             /  May 2, 2018

            “When true socialism comes, people will have freely chosen it … ”

            Next time it will work right?

            How many body bags and mass graves would it take to convince you?

            Reply
            • PartisanZ

               /  May 2, 2018

              Wow, you Righties are really totally addicted to the Capitalist West’s false fusion of totalitarianism with so-called socialism …

              There won’t be any body bags or mass graves when REAL socialism is democratically chosen by the people …

              There’s no “next time” because there hasn’t been a first time yet! We are currently transitioning smoothly towards Enterprise-Socialism … (head for your bunkers!) … When you re-emerge everything will look just the same, your property rights will be protected … only things will feel very different … and speculating in property will no longer be possible … the ethical market won’t let you do it …

              What’s the outcome of China’s so-called ‘communism’? … Central Command Capitalism, Right? Two-Dollar Shops everywhere …

              What’s the outcome of Russia/USSR’s so-called ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’? State-sponsored Mafia Capitalism, Right?

          • sorethumb

             /  May 2, 2018

            Human nature has its limits. good luck uniting people around wishy washy concepts.

            Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 2, 2018

    The success of capitalism is precisely that no-one knows if there is a better way until it is tried and capitalism allows anyone to try anything.

    Socialism allows only the elite to force everyone else to try whatever the political elite chooses to impose.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  May 2, 2018

      ‘capitalism allows anyone to try anything.’…tell that to Hussein,Allende,Gaddaffi,and countless others that did not toe the U.S line.

      Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  May 2, 2018

      Capitalism allows only the corporate-political elite to force everyone else to try whatever they choose to impose.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  May 2, 2018

        Well, that’s a matter of rather jaundiced opinion, imo. That description more closely fits various current despotic regimes and communist countries.

        Reply
      • Grimm

         /  May 2, 2018

        No, capitalism enables the millions of transactions in a free market (willing buyer, willing seller) that enable you to buy one egg in a supermarket, or type one letter on your smartphone.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  May 2, 2018

          which supermarket sell single…eggs?

          Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  May 2, 2018

          Seriously Grimm, I would say, exaggerating somewhat for effect: No, capitalism enforces the millions of transactions in a corporate-captured marketplace (zealous through willing to obedient seller, willing through apathetic to utterly compliant buyer) and ‘acculturates’ and/or ‘addicts’ you to buying eggs in the anonymous wasteland of the supermarket – after necessarily driving your motor car there – or type a letter on your smartphone and send it via the encroaching impersonality* of the internet …

          *impersonality might be a new word?

          Supermarkets, by the way, are the ideal model of socialist food distribution centre … We just need a few more of them so they are accessible to everyone!

          Likewise Smartphones provide the perfect food ordering system, for delivery to 100 households by 1 vehicle (already happening) rather than 1 vehicle going to the Supermarket per household … The unused carpark space will be very useful for housing!

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  May 2, 2018

            Someone should do a study to measure the extent to which the system we currently call ‘capitalism’ ALREADY IS SOCIALISM – with all its social/corporate welfare and government regulation …!?

            The silent revolution may have largely already happened?

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  May 2, 2018

              So no change needed then?

            • PartisanZ

               /  May 2, 2018

              Only radical change that comes about naturally … Much of which will probably be personal ‘consciousness’, psyche, ‘mindset’ or emotellect change anyhow …

              How we ‘think-feel’ about stuff …

              One can see year in year out, government in government out, how minor adjustments at the periphery changes SFA …

              Ultimately ‘socialism’ may look much like ‘capitalism’ looks now, except without the vicious dichotomies and vile exploitation, and without most of the stress-related illness …

          • Grimm

             /  May 2, 2018

            You miss the point. Just for a change.

            For a single egg to be supplied to you in a supermarket takes untold transactions. You can start with the farmer buying the land, the petrol he puts in his car, the builder who builds his sheds, the electrician, the plumber, the internet provider, the sawmill, it goes on and on and on. Each person along the way, is involved in countless more transactions.

            The less the government is involved in these transactions the quicker they happen, the cheaper they become. Efficiency reigns.

            When the government gets involved, the market turns to custard. Housing is a classic example. It sits at the intersection of three of the most highly regulated parts of our lives. Land use, Finance and Construction. Is it any wonder there is a housing problem? Perhaps we need to get the politicians out of the way, and go back to it being a market.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  May 2, 2018

              Too true, Grimm. No “perhaps” about the solution but there are too many vested interests opposing it.

  4. sorethumb

     /  May 2, 2018

    Being pro open borders shows they are clueless about the real world – like those who say we go through stages and sub Saharan Africa is in one of those stages and as it develops birth rates will drop, the world population will go to X and then decline. They assume the process is contained and (by implication) controlled.

    Reply

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