Venezuela – failed leadership or failed socialism

Venezuela was already a mess, but now it is in deeper trouble. International pressure is growing for the government there to call elections or hand over power in a virtual coup.

The fall from the wealthiest country in South America to an economic, democratic and human rights basket is often claimed to be another example of the failure of socialism, but terrible leadership must take a lot of the blame. Perhaps there has no one yet been capable of leading a successful socialist state.

The current crisis is political, with a growing number of countries calling on the current president  Nicolás Maduro to stand down, recognising opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state – but Russia and China are supporting Maduro.

news.com.au: US President Donald Trump throws support behind Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido

President Donald Trump has made the extraordinary step of recognising an interim president in Venezuela, taking to Twitter to declare his support for opposition leader Juan Guaido after a week of deadly protests.

The troubled South American country’s armed forces have been stamping out protests all week, including a brief uprising at a military stockade yesterday.

Under Mr Maduro, Venezuela has been in the grips of a severe economic downturn and a humanitarian crisis since 2013.

But now, the tide could be turning after the US announced it officially recognised Mr Guaido as President.

“The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime,” Mr Trump wrote.

Global News: Canada’s recognition of Juan Guaido as true Venezuelan leader was months in the making

The politician Canada and its allies recognizes as Venezuela’s real leader stood in a Caracas plaza Friday and exhorted his supporters to “stay the course” if he winds up behind bars.

Juan Guaido’s defiant pronouncement against President Nicolas Maduro – whom Canada has branded a dictator who stole an election – marked the latest dramatic development in Venezuela’s political crisis. It followed Guaido’s decision two days earlier to declare himself his country’s interim leader, two weeks after Maduro’s contested inauguration.

Canadian diplomats in Caracas, with their Latin American counterparts, worked to get the country’s opposition parties to coalesce behind the one person who emerged strong enough to stand against Maduro: 35-year-old Guaido.

The turning point came Jan. 4 when the Lima Group – the bloc that includes Canada and more than a dozen Latin American countries – rejected the legitimacy of Maduro’s May 2018 election victory and his looming Jan. 10 inauguration, while recognizing the “legitimately elected” National Assembly, sources say.

Guaido made a clandestine trip to Washington in mid-December to brief U.S. officials on his strategy for dealing with Maduro’s Jan. 10 inauguration. He secretly crossed his country’s border with Colombia so Venezuelan immigration officials wouldn’t know he’d left and prevent his return.

On Jan. 5, Guaido assumed the presidency of the National Assembly, which the Lima Group regards as “the only remaining democratically elected institution in the country.”

Four days later, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland telephoned Guaido to “congratulate him on becoming president of the National Assembly and his work on uniting the opposition,” said another source.

The next day, Maduro was sworn in as president with support of countries such as Cuba, Russia and China; Freeland said “the Maduro regime is now fully entrenched as a dictatorship.”

Countries who try socialism seem to end up as dictatorships.

On Wednesday, after Guaido declared himself to be the interim president, Venezuelans took to the streets in protests across the country. “It’s an important day for Venezuela,” Freeland said in Davos, Switzerland.

The Telegraph:  US demands world stands with ‘forces of freedom’ in Venezuela

The United States pressed all nations Saturday to “stand with the forces of freedom” in Venezuela, encouraged by a tougher European line as Russia stood in the minority in backing embattled leader Nicolas Maduro.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a forceful case at a special session of the United Nations Security Council, where he described Maduro as part of an “illegitimate mafia state” responsible for Venezuela’s economic collapse.

Pompeo denounced Russia and China, which have stood by Maduro, saying that they were motivated not by principle but raw financial interest.

“China and Russia are propping up a failed regime in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years,” Mr Pompeo said.

Russia has denounced the United States for interference and attempted to block the Security Council meeting, but it was voted down with nine of the 15 members agreeing to go forward.

Four major European countries – Germany, Britain, France and Spain – said on Saturday they are ready to recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president if elections are not called within eight days.

Fox News: How socialism turned Venezuela from the wealthiest country in South America into an economic basket case

Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America, but in recent years millions have fled the country amid mass starvation and violence after socialist policies were enacted and government seized private industries.

“Socialism not only takes away from people the access to basic food and medicines, but also creates an environment in which life is worth nothing,” Giannina Raffo, who fled Venezuela in 2016 but who still works with activist organizations there, told Fox News.

Venezuela’s journey to disaster began in 1992, when a Venezuelan lieutenant colonel named Hugo Chavez led several army units in a coup against the government. More than 100 people were killed in fighting, but his coup was defeated.

However, in the name of national unity, the government released Chavez from prison after just two years.

Four years after that, Chavez ran for the Venezuelan Presidency. During his run, he downplayed his previous radicalism – telling people that he was ”neither for savage capitalism, nor socialism, nor Communism”. Instead, he claimed to support a “third way” — a balance between socialism and capitalism.

Chavez won the election.

News reports from when Chavez won the Presidency in 1998 state that some Venezuelans sent their valuable property to Miami to protect it from potential confiscation.

Chavez succeeded in re-writing the Constitution, which came with new rights to things like free government-provided health care, college, and “social justice”. The constitution passed a popular vote easily, with 72% of the vote.

However, after several Supreme Court rulings went against Chavez, in 2004 he “stacked the court” by passing a law to add 12 new justices to it – justices that he got to pick.

In 2006, Chavez ran for election on an overtly socialist platform, and soon after he won, he began major seizures privately-owned property.

Thousands of private businesses were nationalized – including media outlets, oil and power companies, mines, farms, banks, factories, and grocery stores.

In beginning, Chavez had shown some progress in reducing poverty – something experts say was possible by spending Venezuela’s vast oil wealth.

“They were able to fund a lot with the oil money, and when oil prices went down, the rest of the economy had been just destroyed,” Tom Palmer, Executive VP at the Atlas Network, told Fox News.

And Venezuela has been a failed socialist basket case since then.

NZ Herald: ‘Total disaster’: How Venezuela went from prosperous nation to struggling

A decade ago, Venezuela was best known for its Caribbean coast, boasting the highest waterfall in the world and sitting on more oil reserves than any other country.

But Venezuela’s oil has always made it very attractive to the rest of the world and leaves the country fighting off constant foreign interference.

Since 2013, when Nicolas Maduro was elected as President of Venezuela, the country has been in the grips of corruption, deep recession and hyperinflation, triggering shortages of food, medicine and any basic necessity the people desire.

And the country’s lengthy crisis is about to get either much better or much worse.

I think it will be some time before it’s possible to get much better.

Is it socialism itself that has fundamental flaws, or is it that leaders who impose socialism on a country who have been flawed? Quite possibly both.

It is unlikely that the recognition of Guaido as leader, or new elections, will sort things out in Venezuela quickly. Once socialism has turned to custard it can take a long time to remove all the lumps.

I can”t find any sign of the New Zealand government taking a position in the current political crisis. Perhaps Jacinda Ardern could offer them advice on wellbeing budgets.

Karl Marx born 200 years ago

Yesterday here (today still in Europe) is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday.

Karl Marx 001.jpg

Marx in 1875

from Wikipedia:

Born in Trier (in West Germany near Luxembourg) to a middle-class family, Marx studied law and Hegelian philosophy. Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile in London, where he continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings.

His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, and the three-volume Das Kapital. His political and philosophical thought had enormous influence on subsequent intellectual, economic and political history and his name has been used as an adjective, a noun and a school of social theory.

Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics—collectively understood as Marxism—hold that human societies develop through class struggle. In capitalism, this manifests itself in the conflict between the ruling classes (known as the bourgeoisie) that control the means of production and the working classes (known as the proletariat) that enable these means by selling their labour power in return for wages.

Marx’s prediction that capitalism would collapse and would be replaced by a new system of socialism has failed to happen so far.

Stuart Jeffries (Guardian): Two centuries on, Karl Marx feels more revolutionary than ever

The other day I stood at the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate cemetery in north London, wondering if he has anything say to us today, 200 years after his birth, on 5 May 1818. “Workers of all lands unite,” reads the tombstone. But they haven’t – the solidarity of the exploited, which Marx took to be necessary to end capitalism, scarcely exists.

“What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, are its own gravediggers,” he and Friedrich Engels wrote 170 years ago in The Communist Manifesto. “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” Not really: capitalism today is rampant.

In the kind of historical irony that the philosopher Hegel called the cunning of reason, capitalism has even co-opted its gravediggers to keep it alive: China, the world’s biggest socialist society (if only ostensibly) supplies capitalist enterprises with cheap labour that undercuts other workers around the world.

So is Marx finished? Not at all. For me, what makes Marx worth reading now is not his Panglossian prognoses, but his still resonant diagnoses. For instance, he and Engels foresaw how globalisation would work. “In place of the old wants,” they wrote, “satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.”

That’s why Chinese workers make products we never conceived would exist, let alone that we would covet, and that would convert us into politically quiescent, borderline sociopathic, sleepwalking narcissists. That’s right – I’m talking about iPhones.

I find it hard to read the first few pages of The Communist Manifesto without thinking that I live in the world he and Engels described. “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” We inhabit a world just like that, only more intensely than Marx and Engels dared imagine.

Marx didn’t foresee Facebook, but he grasped the essentials of Mark Zuckerberg’s business model, certainly better than American senators did at last month’s congressional hearings. “The bourgeoisie,” Marx and Engels wrote, beautifully, “has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self- interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

Facebook, not to mention Amazon and Google, have made humans into exploitable assets. Which is some kind of genius.

Humans are not exploitable assets here at Your NZ, but stuff posted online could be.

But it’s what Marx wrote in Das Kapital in 1867 on commodity fetishism that, I think, is most painfully relevant to us today. By that term he meant how the ordinary things that workers produce – iPads, cars, even the spate of new books commemorating Marx’s 200th birthday – become, under capitalism, bewitchingly strange. Just as in some religions an object invested with supernatural powers becomes a fetish for those who worship it, so commodities under capitalism are accorded magical powers.

Until they become worthless.

In such a world it’s easy to collapse, as many of the Frankfurt School did, into the philosophical quietism that drove Marx nuts. “The philosophers,” he wrote in words also emblazoned on his tombstone, “have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

That remains the challenge. We need Marx to help us understand the state we’re in, though that is only a prelude to the bigger struggle, for which his writings are less helpful: namely, how to get out of it.

Change happens.

But revolutions, or major changes to basic systems and infrastructure of countries and the world, don’t generally happen. We have gradual evolution, with a few tweaks and hiccups here and there.

Do we need major change to or away from capitalism?

If so, can it be made to happen? Each of us can make small changes towards a socialist system, but history has shown that from communist countries and groups of countries to hippy style communes they collapse due to power struggles and freeloaders.

Or do we just chug away waiting for capitalism to collapse and try to make something new out of the mess?

 

Ex-Green Tava on Turei

Vernon Tava stood for Green co-leadership in 2015 when Russel Norman stood down from Green co-leadership and resigned from Parliament. The position was won by James Shaw.

In February this year Tava resigned from the Green Party – Top Green resigns and says party has become socialist:

A former top Green official .and leadership contender in 2015 has resigned from the party because he believes it has lost its way and  he is now working with National.

As for the Greens, he said he began to part ways with them because he began to doubt whether the environment was seriously at the top of their agenda.

He also began to doubt that there was any genuine will on the part of the party to work with the Government whoever they were.

That was a central theme of his campaign for the party co-leadership in 2015.

He said the charter’s values of ecological wisdom and social responsibility were neither left nor right.

And he went on to suggest he would be happy in Government with National.

Metiria Turei strongly opposes supporting a National led government returning.

“The Green Party should be the sustainable axis around which every government turns, he said.

But he didn’t win the leadership, and he watched as the party signed its Memorandum of Understanding with Labour, and that was enough.

“When I stood for co-leader one of the great things about that was that we travelled around the country and I was contacted by a lot of the older, founder members who thought it was no longer the party of Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald.

Greens tend to claim that the environment and social issues are inextricably linked and you can’t promote one without the other.

Tava disagrees, and has come out and said Metiria Turei’s attitude proves the Greens aren’t 100 percent pure:

We are now entering the third week of Metiria Turei’s welfare fraud scandal with less than eight weeks until the election, and it is still a story.

Labour have distanced themselves, understandably concerned that her stance is anathema to the political centre; her welfare policy announcement has been eclipsed, and it seems that she has done irreparable damage to both her personal integrity and the Green brand.

Turei’s lack of contrition is irksome. Her evasion of any sense of personal responsibility in saying that the Government “made me poor and it made me lie” have infuriated both law-abiding beneficiaries and those of us who get up and go to work each day.

While there is probably wide sympathy for the difficulties faced by beneficiaries who struggle financially, there are probably many people who are troubled by Turei’s no fault, no blame attitude to rorting the system.

Saying, as Turei does, that the solution to poverty is “simply to give them more money”, without conditions or obligations to seek work, and that fraud is an acceptable means of obtaining whatever money one feels they need, makes a very poor case for redistributive justice through taxation and does little to end dependency.

More money and less punitive conditions for beneficiaries is a very worthy issue to campaign for, but Turei and her supporters seem to fail to see that there are potential with a no questions asked taxpayer handouts alongside approving of fraud if you think your need warrants it, on a moral basis, and on a state dependency basis.

The cost is another factor not thought through – if being a beneficiary provided a comfortable income and a comfortable home with no requirement to work or to be honest then the number of people wanting a free lunch as well as a free breakfast, tea and everything else they felt they ‘deserved’ could surge.

Lawmakers cannot credibly advocate breaking the law. Turei has been in Parliament since 2002 and seeks the position of Minister of Social Development, but has been unable to answer questions about how she could pursue prosecutions against those who would defraud even the more generous entitlements she advocates.

Politicians from other parties, including Andrew little and Jacinda Ardern, have said that MPs cannot condone breaking the law.

Turei’s defenders wax lyrical about the “privilege” of her critics. Ironically, she is indulging in another, more insidious, form of privilege in inciting fraud and attempting to argue some kind of moral justification. Others who follow her example will not be able to evade the consequences that someone on her considerable taxpayer-funded income is able to.

This is deeply irresponsible. Benefit fraud is not civil disobedience, nor is it a noble protest against a supposedly unjust system. It is cheating.

There is another privilege being pushed – the privilege of being something other than white and male. It has become common to see the opinions of white males being rubbished and discounted on Twitter.

It seems that benefit fraud is acceptable to Turei and her supporters as long as you are female, brown and have children.

The tension between being a protesters’ collective or a parliamentary party has always been an issue for the Greens, but Turei has gone a lot further than merely admitting legal wrong-doing – she has condoned it.

Metiria Turei may have secured a hard-left segment of the Green base and appealed to demographics who tend not to turn out on election day, but it will be at the cost of a far larger group of voters disappointed to discover the party that earlier this year claimed that “honest politics is what we stand for” is not 100 percent pure after all.

What Turei seems to want looks like 100% pure socialism. I’m not sure whether all her supporters see that.

But Tava looks male and looks white-ish so his views may mean 0% to the Green Party he has left. Same as mine.

Kaupapa Maori, socialism and Bob Marley

A curious post by Willie Jackson at The Daily Blog, with some very mixed messages:

Kaupapa Maori is the new Kiwi socialism

Kaupapa Maori is a way to value each and every person in New Zealand while ensuring the basic question of their welfare is central to any decision making process. The way our welfare state has been eroded into a stick with which to beat the poor is the best example of where Kaupapa Māori could best be applied.

Sadly a Kaupapa Maori approach is missing from a section of Maori leadership, some elitist Iwi leaders have sold out their communal values and adopted a corporate approach when dealing with Iwi members.

The consequences of that strategy has meant that 21years after the first treaty settlement close to 90 percent of the Maori population have yet to see any benefits from the treaty settlement process.

Holistic and communal values not corporate materialistic values are the essence of Kaupapa Maori and this is missing in too many tribes’ business strategies. We need communal and holistic approaches if we are going to help the 85 percent of Maori who live in urban centres but Kaupapa Maori goes beyond just Maori. It’s a philosophical approach that respects the individual without ignoring the family bonds that strengthen that individual. It’s a way of viewing the world that our current welfare state desperately needs to adopt.

For me Kaupapa Maori is the new Kiwi socialism with a focus on everyone benefiting from moving forward, not just the some and the few.

I’m not sure that trying to sell Kaupapa Maori as new Kiwi socialism is smart politics.

Socialism itself is a hard sell in New Zealand these days. Joe Carolan tried it in the Mt Albert by-election and got 171 votes

And the style in which Jackson has written this is hardly going to appeal to ordinary Kiwis.

The post started with this:

inspirationalquotes-club-get-stand-fight-rights-bob-marley-830x437-600x316

While watching the fabulous waiata and haka at Te Matatini I thought about the vicious debate over “what’s Kaupapa Maori?” that took place last week.

That’s an odd connection to “the fabulous waiata and haka at Te Matatini ” and to Kaupapa Maori.

Most people think great God will come from the sky
Take away ev’rything, and make ev’rybody feel high

Hardly Kaupapa Maori.

 

Tava leaves Greens (not his cup of tea)

In 2015 Vernon Tava stood for the Green co-leadership when Russel Norman stepped down – James Shaw won that contest.

Politik has reported that Tava has now left the Greens as he thinks they have become too socialist (which is a common view outside the Green Party).

Top Green resigns and says party has become socialist

A former top Green official .and leadership contender in 2015 has resigned from the party because he believes it has lost its way and  he is now working with National.

As for the Greens, he said he began to part ways with them because he began to doubt whether the environment was seriously at the top of their agenda.

He also began to doubt that there was any genuine will on the part of the party to work with the Government whoever they were.

That was a central theme of his campaign for the party co-leadership in 2015.

He talked about the primacy of environmental values in the party and said the party should re-focus on its core Green values.

He said the charter’s values of ecological wisdom and social responsibility were neither left nor right.

And he went on to suggest he would be happy in Government with National.

That’s something the Green Party, and especially co-leader Metiria Turei, seem staunchly against.

“Currently we say it is not enough that you care about the environment and that have a concern for ecological wisdom and social responsibility but you must also identify as left.

“And in doing that we alienate all the people who might share those values.

“Conservation, after all, can be inherently conservative.

“We leave these people out.”

He said the party needed support from across the spectrum because the problems facing the country were too urgent and too pressing.

“The Green Party should be the sustainable axis around which every government turns, he said.

I’ve voted Green in the past, and I would strongly support an environment focused Green Party that was prepared to deal with any government, no matter which party led it (that doesn’t mean I would vote for them but I would give them serious consideration).

Currently Green support growth seems to have stalled. It’s hard to see much change to that as they seem to promote socialist policies more than environmental ones, and hitch themselves to Labour only.

Tava:

“I  had joined what I thought was an environmental party and I did find that on the whole, it was more of a socialist party.”

Tava says his fundamental question of the Greens was to ask how serious they were about the environment.

“Is it that we will only protect the environment when it feels good or will do what it takes to work with whoever is in Government.”

“When Russel Norman really started going after John Key, a lot of us were very unhappy about that.

“It was like we’d burned the bridge, and the party was traditionally always meant to be above the fray, and you didn’t hear Jeannette Fitzsimons or Rod Donald making personalised attacks against people.

“So there was a feeling, and a lot of founder members did express this to me.”

The focus and feel of the Green Party has certainly changed a lot since the days of Fitzsimons and Donald.

Tava is not alone in that view — postings on “The Standard” website yesterday over the Greens disappointing showing in the Mt Albert by-election make frequent reference to the party being the true left wing party.

This prompted a response from lprent, who posted National bolster their moribund blue-greens and a standard grump:

FFS: Individuals write here and have individual voices. “The Standard” is a dumb computer program that allows them to discuss their opinions to each other. Give attribution to those making comments or posts rather than to the machine.

He sort of has a point but The Standard (commenters at) often refers to ‘the media’ and named media outlets as being culprits without attribution to individual voices, it’s very common elsewhere as well to generalise about sources.

But his point loses it’s impact when you see anonymously authored hit job posts like Poor Tory Farrar – is ‘Natwatch’ a dumb computer program? Without an identifiable voice who can blame people referring to it as ‘The Standard’?

Back to the Greens, Prentice’s post and some of the comments adds some interesting points to discussions on where the Greens fit in now, who they appeal to, and whether they can break through their support ceiling with their current approach closely allied with Labour.

One late comment from ‘s y d’ is actually quite perceptive:

To summarise.

The Green Party will be stuck on 11% cos most of us are just too poor to be able to give a fuck about streams, dolphins, driftnetting, fracking, mining or the next thing to be destroyed in the ceaseless march to elysium.

Only the rich get to choose to go hiking, everyone else can get the bus, or get in their 1998 nissan sentra.

The poor, the deprived, those in poverty generally worry about their own predicaments on a day to day basis, they are likely to not much thought to the environment.

Neither are they likely to give much thought to voting, they are probably  a significant part of the ‘missing million’.

This is a bit of  Green dilemma. Are they really green, or have they become too red for voters?

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.

The final stages of capitalism

Is capitalism going to come to an end?

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Is capitalism in it’s final death throes? Some seem to hope that it is.

But maybe not. China, now one of the world’s biggest economic powers, has moved quickly from failed socialism to a capitalist-socialist hybrid.

Even the most capitalist countries have some degree of socialism.

Political and financial systems will continue to evolve in a very complex world. It’s hard to see an end in the foreseeable future to capitalism or some sort of non-state monetary systems.

Venezuela failed

A dramatic depiction by Joel B. Hirst of The Suicide of Venezuela (David Farrar linked to his blog from Facebook).

A political failure – why do socialist leaders go so wrong? And the failure of a country of 30 million people.

I never expected to witness the slow suicide of a country, a civilization. I suppose nobody does.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing epic about it.

…I have watched the suicide of a nation; and I know now how it happens. Venezuela is slowly, and very publically, dying; an act that has spanned more than fifteen years. To watch a country kill itself is not something that happens often.

In ignorance, one presumes it would be fast and brutal and striking – like the Rwandan genocide or Vesuvius covering Pompeii. You expect to see bodies of mothers clutching protectively their young; carbonized by the force or preserved on the glossy side of pictures. But those aren’t the occasions that promote national suicide. After those events countries recover – people recover. They rebuild, they reconcile. They forgive.

No, national suicide is a much longer process – not product of any one moment. But instead one bad idea, upon another, upon another and another and another and another and the wheels that move the country began to grind slower and slower; rust covering their once shiny facades.

Revolution – cold and angry. Hate, as a political strategy. Law, used to divide and conquer. Regulation used to punish. Elections used to cement dictatorship. Corruption bleeding out the lifeblood in drips, filling the buckets of a successive line of bureaucrats before they are destroyed, only to be replaced time and again. This is what is remarkable for me about Venezuela.

I haven’t followed what has been happening in Venezuela, apart from hearing bits and pieces about the rule of Hugo Chavez until his death in 2013, at which time the country’s economic situation was dire, made worse by the collapse in oil prices which they had substantially relied on.

Wikipedia: “In the subsequent decade, the government was forced into several currency devaluations. These devaluations have done little to improve the situation of the Venezuelan people who rely on imported products or locally produced products that depend on imported inputs while dollar-denominated oil sales account for the vast majority of Venezuela’s exports. The profits of the oil industry have been lost to “social engineering” and corruption, instead of investments needed to maintain oil production.”

Tonight there are no lights. Like the New York City of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the eyes of the country were plucked out to feed the starving beggars in abandoned occupied buildings which were once luxury apartments.

They blame the weather – the government does – like the tribal shamans of old who made sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of an intervention.

There is no food either; they tell the people to hold on, to raise chickens on the terraces of their once-glamorous apartments.

There is no water – and they give lessons on state TV of how to wash with a cup of water. The money is worthless; people now pay with potatoes, if they can find them.

Doctors operate using the light of their smart phones; when there is power enough to charge them. Without anesthesia, of course – or antibiotics, like the days before the advent of modern medicine.

The phone service has been cut – soon the internet will go and an all-pervading darkness will fall over a feral land.

Sounds dire.

The marathon of destruction is almost finished; the lifeblood of the nation is almost gone.

Is it a failure of an ideology? Or just failure of power crazed incompetents?

Is socialism simply lacking when it comes practical application, is there no one capable of rising to the top and applying it without corruption of principles and corruption of Government?

Is ‘socialism’ a dirty word?

Mark Dawson, editor of the Wanganui Chronicle, has written about Socialism alive and kicking. 

…here in NZ, socialism seems to be a dirty word, those tagged with it presumably having no table manners and bad body odour.

It depends entirely on how the term is used, and where – Cameron Slater tends to refer to socialism differently to Chris Trotter.

Dawson is obviously a fan of some sort of socialism.

Yet, in reality, socialism is about some sense of equality and fairness in society, some sense of the people – via a democratically elected government – having control over the economy and the services which the country provides by means of taxation, and having some counter-balance to the power of private wealth.

In other words, we might regard New Zealand as a fairly socialist country, and John Key as, at least, a fellow traveller.

It is interesting how words are used and invested with meaning, often for political ends.

Other writers in the Chronicle have noted attempts to turn “activist” into an offensive and derogatory term. It is usually done by those in power who fear they may be the targets of that activism.

Those opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been called activists as though it was a bad thing. Some of them are probably socialists, too.

Yes they are – there were socialist banners at last weekend’s Dunedin protest meeting, and on the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand website Andrew Tait wrote a post about it – Dunedin Protests the TPPA.

“Socialist”: Someone concerned with the greater good of society, rather than their own personal gain.

Sounds great – and most people have some concern about the greater good of society, although almost everyone also have thoughts about personal gain as well.

“Activist”: Someone who takes action to change aspects of their society which they believe are wrong.

That’s fine too, if the action is reasonable and doesn’t impinge too much on the rights of others.

But I presume those are Dawson’s definitions. Here’s Oxford’s take on it:

socialist

noun: A person who advocates or practises socialism

adjective: Adhering to or based on the principles of socialism

So it’s necessary to check our socialism, and that says that the term has had quite different meanings, from anarchism to social democracy.

socialism

A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism.

(In Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.

Here’s where the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand stand on it.

Socialism

Capitalism is a system of crisis, exploitation and war in which production is for profit – not for human need. Although workers create society’s wealth, they have no control over its production or distribution. A new society can only be built when workers collectively seize control of that wealth and create a new state in which they will make the decisions about the economy, social life and the environment.

Workers’ Power

Only the working class has the power to create a society free from exploitation, oppression and want. Liberation can be won only through the struggles of workers themselves, organised independently of other classes and fighting for real workers’ power – a new kind of state based on democratically elected workers’ councils. China and Cuba, like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, have nothing to do with socialism. They are repressive state capitalist regimes. We support the struggles of workers against every ruling class.

Liberation From Oppression

We fight for democratic rights. We are opposed to all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. These forms of oppression are used to divide the working class. We support the rights of all oppressed groups to organise for their own defence. All forms of liberation are essential to socialism and impossible without it.

Revolution Not Reformism

Despite the claims of the Labour party and trade union leaders, the structures of the present parliament, army, police, and judiciary cannot be taken over and used by the working class. They grew up under capitalism and are designed to protect the ruling class against workers. There is no parliamentary road to socialism.

Internationalism

Workers in every country are exploited by capitalism, so the struggle for socialism is part of a worldwide struggle. We oppose everything that divides workers of different countries, We oppose all immigration controls. We campaign for solidarity with workers in other countries. We oppose imperialism and support all genuine national liberation struggles.

Revolutionary Organisation

To achieve socialism, the most militant sections of the working class have to be organised into a revolutionary socialist party. Such a party can only be built by day-to-day activity in the mass organisations of the working class. We have to prove in practise that reformist leaders and reformist ideas are opposed to their own interests. We have to build a rank and file movement within the unions.

That’s quite different to Dawson’s slant, far more extreme, revolutionary, than “someone concerned with the greater good of society”.

And ‘activists’ can range from “someone who takes action to change aspects of their society which they believe are wrong” to “collectively seize control”, with contradictions like “we fight for democratic rights” and “there is no parliamentary road to socialism”.

I think that most people in New Zealand are status quoists rather than revolutionaries, where most battles are over which tweaks to the balance between capitalism socialism will be made.

Socialism is a dirty word only if used in a dirty context.

But socialism with all capitalism rejected is not something many Kiwis aspire to.

Most of us are even happy for international corporations to make it easy for us to find stuff on the Internet with ever cheaper and more powerful devices that only the research and development and manufacturing money of capitalists could have enable.

And most of us are happy for ‘big pharma’ to develop new antibiotics and cancer drugs with their big money. Most of us being able to survive early childhood is kinda nice. Even for socialists.

Perhaps Dawson could write his next on editorial asking if capitalism and corparation really are dirty words.

Trotter’s doublespeaky progressive taxation

What is ‘progressive’ in politics? Someone tried to answer that leading into last year’s UK elections via the BBC, offering a number of varying explanations, and suggesting:

Tony Blair’s followers use progressive in those terms, to avoid being cast as “left-wing” or “socialist”, and as it seems to be a comfortable and ill-defined word that often means what the listener wants to hear in it.

Chris Trotter has his own take on what ‘progressive’ means in relation to taxation in “Show Me The Money!” Filling the hole in Labour’s policy framework.

The essence of social-democracy is the redistribution of wealth. And the best way to redistribute wealth is through a comprehensive system of progressive taxation.

…it is strategically vital for Labour to set out its fiscal policies openly and honestly before releasing its key policies relating to education, health and housing. The party first needs to settle upon a revenue target, and then upon the fiscal instruments it will use to achieve it.

These may include Income Tax, Land Tax, Inheritance Tax, Financial Transactions Tax, Carbon Tax, as well as a much stricter regime for extracting an appropriate level of taxation from New Zealand’s largest businesses.

Unquestionably, making the case for progressive taxation is the most important task faced by any left-wing political party.

The power of social-democratic politics lies in its refusal to allow the parties of the Right to escape the question that is so often put to the parties of the Left. “Where’s the money coming from?” The Right wagers everything on the ordinary voter not understanding the causal relationship between his or her own straightened circumstances and the ease and comfort of the rich. That’s why it is Labour’s political duty to point out the gaping hole in the Right’s policy framework.

Namely, that the wealth accumulated by the rich comes from the people, whose hard work created it, and to whom it is only right and proper that a fair share be returned.

There’s as many ideas on what ‘a fair share’ means as there are on what ‘progressive’ means.

Trotter’s ‘progressive’ tax ideas seem to be a bit doublespeaky.