So­cial­ism is not dead

A re­sponse to An­gelo Manaloto’s “Is So­cial­ism Dead?”

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Zach Mor­gen­stern Com­men­tary Writer Zach Mor­gen­stern is a first year Law stu­dent. To con­tact the au­thor, email zachary.mor­gen­stern@mail.mcgill.ca.

On Jan­uary 23, The Daily pub­lished an ar­ti­cle by An­gelo Manaloto en­ti­tled “Is So­cial­ism Dead?”. His an­swer was an em­phatic yes. Manaloto’s ar­gu­ment, how­ever, is based on a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of what so­cial­ism is. Manaloto tells us that so­cial­ism fails be­cause hu­man na­ture is “in­clined to greed and self­ish­ness” which leads to dic­ta­tor­ship and dis­ap­point­ment.

So­cial­ism is an egal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy, and be­cause of its am­bi­tious, benev­o­lent in­ten­tions, many mis­take so­cial­ism for a utopian dream. It is for this rea­son that writ­ers like Manaloto are able to make the sweep­ing gen­er­al­iza­tion that so­cial­ism has been a fail­ure be­cause no so­cial­ist coun­try has suc­ceeded at abol­ish­ing poverty or end­ing state vi­o­lence. If one ex­pected the ini­tials U.S.S.R. to stand for Utopia of Sparkling So­cial­ist Rain­bows, then in­deed so­cial­ism has failed.

But so­cial­ists, es­pe­cially those in the Marx­ist tra­di­tion, are not utopi­ans. So­cial­ism is not about en­vi­sion­ing a per­fect so­ci­ety, but rather is based on the un­der­stand­ing that cap­i­tal­ism is a fun­da­men­tally un­just sys­tem that in­evitably leads to cri­sis. Ad­vo­cat­ing for so­cial­ism is not about build­ing a per­fect world, it’s about build­ing a bear­able one. As Fidel Cas­tro once said “They talk about the fail­ure of so­cial­ism but where is the suc­cess of cap­i­tal­ism in Africa, Asia and Latin Amer­ica?”

Cap­i­tal­ism is a sys­tem wherein wealth is not shared, but com­peted for. As such, it is a zero-sum game in which the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of bil­lions by some leaves only crumbs for oth­ers. Cap­i­tal­ists ar­gue this prob­lem can be over­come be­cause economies can grow. But growth can­not hap­pen un­less cap­i­tal­ists pur­sue new sources of wealth. In prac­tice, this can look like bru­tal in­va­sions to se­cure the eco­nomic re­sources of coun­tries in the global South (for ex-maple, as Don­ald Trump crudely puts it “tak­ing the oil”). It can also look like the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try spew­ing tox­ins into wa­ter sup­plies and dis­re­gard­ing the prob­lem of cli­mate change as they seek out fuel sources like tar sands.

This is a prob­lem that plagues all cap­i­tal­ist sys­tems. Im­pe­ri­al­ism and extraction are not just on the agen­das of hard­lin­ers like Trump and Dick Cheney, but are also seen as es­sen­tial by more like­able cap­i­tal­ists like Justin Trudeau. Af­ter ap­prov­ing the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 tar sands pipe­lines (while re­ject­ing a third pipe­line), Trudeau ex­plained that his po­si­tion was a way of rec­on­cil­ing Canada’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests. Given that cli­mate change has the po­ten­tial to de­stroy sub­stan­tial amounts of in­fras­truc­ture and make much of the world un­in­hab­it­able, one could eas­ily ar­gue that ap­prov­ing pipe­lines is not in Canada’s long-term eco­nomic in­ter­est. How­ever, from a cap­i­tal­ist, con­stant pro-growth per­spec­tive, Trudeau’s ap­proach makes sense.

So­cial­ism is not a utopian view that can be as­sessed in a vac­uum. It has to be eval­u­ated rel­a­tive to the cur­rent cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. When Manaloto claims a gov­ern­ment planned econ­omy will fall vic­tim to hu­man greed, he ne­glects to men­tion that in cap­i­tal­ism, greed is a le­git­imized part of the sys­tem. Politi­cians like Mitt Rom­ney and Paul Ryan ar­gue that elim­i­nat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, cut­ting min­i­mum wages and low­er­ing taxes cre­ate jobs. This is a main­stream, le­git­imized cap­i­tal­ist viewpoint even though it is es­sen­tially code for, ‘If we al­low the wealth­i­est in so­ci­ety (who fund our elec­tion cam­paigns and me­dia cov­er­age) to have ad­di­tional mil­lions of dol­lars on top of their bil­lions of dol­lars of wealth at the ex­pense of work­ers and the en­vi­ron­ment, maybe they’ll cre­ate a job or two.’

Sim­i­larly, Manaloto makes a sweep­ing gen­er­al­iza­tion when he claims that so­cial­ist states in­evitably be­come dic­ta­to­rial. For in­stance, he cites Venezuela as an ex­am­ple of an au­thor­i­tar­ian state, which is a highly con­tested as­ser­tion, to say the least, he fails to con­trast it to cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­eties, which may not have dic­ta­to­rial sin­gle-par­ties, but are sub­ject to the rule of the 1 per cent (dic­ta­tor­ship of the bour­geoisie, as Marx called it).

In the last U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, vot­ers were forced to choose be­tween two can­di­dates whose views left many peo­ple un­rep­re­sented. Vot­ers who sup­port open bor­ders had to chose be­tween a party whose last pres­i­dent (Obama) de­ported a record num­ber of peo­ple, and a party whose can­di­date ran on an ex­plic­itly anti-im­mi­grant plat­form. Vot­ers con­cerned about po­lice bru­tal­ity and racial in­jus­tice had to choose be­tween a pro- death­penalty can­di­date who had his­tor­i­cally ad­vo­cated for mass in­car­cer­a­tion, and a pro- death-penalty can­di­date who has vowed to com­bat what he calls a “dan­ger­ously anti-po­lice at­mos­phere.” Amer­ica’s im­pe­ri­al­ist for­eign pol­icy had to choose be­tween a can­di­date who has cham­pi­oned dis­as­trous in­ter­ven­tions in Iraq and Libya, and a can­di­date who openly calls for tor­ture and im­pe­rial plun­der. Vot­ers con­cerned about state civil­ians had to chose be­tween a can­di­date who in­sists on try­ing Ed­ward Snow­den and a can­di­date who has hinted at a de­sire to ex­e­cute Snow­den.

Manaloto con­cludes his ar­gu­ment by say­ing we can only pur­sue jus­tice by look­ing be­yond sys­tems and in­stead fo­cus­ing on val­ues like fair­ness. But no mat­ter how we re­frame our think­ing, we can’t change the fact that our world is or­ga­nized into eco­nomic hi­er­ar­chies, and that th­ese hi­er­ar­chies limit how we be­have. In 2015 Greece elected a new gov­ern­ment headed by prime min­is­ter Alex Tsipras that sought to end EU im­posed aus­ter­ity. Tsipras, how­ever, in­sisted that Greece stay a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that es­sen­tially forces mem­ber states to main­tain cap­i­tal­ist, of­ten ne­olib­eral (right-wing) economies, and as such has con­tin­ued mak­ing wel­fare cuts, in­tro­duc­ing re­gres­sive tax-in­creases and pri­va­tiz­ing state ser­vices, much as his right-wing pre­de­ces­sors would have wanted.

Build­ing so­cial­ist sys­tems can be a chal­lenge — his­tory has shown us that. But the de­struc­tive po­ten­tial of cap­i­tal­ism means that our cur­rent sys­tem of eco­nomic in­equal­ity, im­pe­ri­al­ism, racist po­lice vi­o­lence, and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion can­not con­tinue. We must heed the words of Rosa Lux­em­burg who said: “[we] stand at the cross­roads, [and must] tran­si­tion to So­cial­ism or regress” and an­swer Che Gue­vara’s call to “be re­al­is­tic [and] de­mand the im­pos­si­ble.”

So­cial­ism is an egal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy, and be­cause of its am­bi­tious, benev­o­lent in­ten­tions, many mis­take so­cial­ism for a utopian dream. Cap­i­tal­ism is a sys­tem in which wealth is not shared, but com­peted for. As such, it is a zero-sum game in which the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of bil­lions by some leaves only crumbs for oth­ers. So­cial­ists, es­pe­cially those in the Marx­ist tra­di­tion, are not utopi­ans.

Cindy Lao | The Mcgill Daily

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