Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fredrik Deboer "To call things by their right names" looks to be the sequel to "the ground floor", warning the left that social democratic is not the same as socialist

Having read Deboer for a couple of years I kind of had an impression that "The Ground Floor" was a part 1 that was paving the way for a part 2.  It looks like part 2 arrived.

The basic condition of the American radical left, today, is a rising social democrat movement that, for complex (and predominantly social) reasons, insists on calling itself a socialist movement. Bernie Sanders, a jobs guarantee, DSA, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobin, Medicare for all – each worthy of praise, each fundamentally and existentially social democratic and thus not socialist.

Perhaps the order of the day is social democracy. A social democratic movement is a proud thing. I’d love to see it spread. But we must be able to call things by their right names. And while I understand the social conditions that make it hard for people to admit that they are not socialists, for the good of everyone – and especially for the good of their own movement – they should publicly accept their identity at social democrats. It is a necessary and inevitably step.

I am the sort of pessimistic person who doesn't think that either capitalism or socialism can ever exist in the real world, that these respective ideologies are unattainable in theory and promulgate massacre and mass death in practice.  The more I look back on the Cold War and the legacies of the partisan blocs the more impossible it seems to regard either side as "the good guys".  If I thought socialism could actually exist in the real world I might suggest people veer toward non-Marxist forms of socialism because they obviously have existed for a while.

But ... the reason I mention Deboer's post is that he seems aware of a problem that will come about, and has been in play for decades since the end of the Cold War, that reactionaries will broadbrush all forms of proposed socialism and the platform of social democrats as "socialist" and also as inextricably linked to Marxist thought, whether of a Leninist or a Maoist or whatever variety.  It will not be difficult for people on the right to trot out the various times in which class revolutions led to the liquidation of intellectuals and competent farmers and in some countries revolutionaries would decide to kill anyone who wore glasses as probably being a member of a decadent intelligentsia if they didn't already have a working class job.

My hunch has been Deboer is advising social democrats to call themselves by their real names and not pander to people who may think they're socialists because in the age of Trump that's the fast self-affixed labeled way to distance yourself from all things Trump.

Or as John Halle has blogged in the last couple of years, at some point any functional American left has to live with the reality of how power will be used if they ever get even local level political office, rather than endlessly vamp on the riff of purity of ideology.  The counsel seems reasonable since I know from my red state family and friends that they really do collapse liberalism with Marxism, socialism, communism, intersectionality, LGBTQ and all across the board.  If progressives want to make some kidn of long-term progress divesting themselves of the propagandistic dynamics of the DNC and GOP respectively might be a good idea.  Not having a totalitarian commitment to a panoply of ostensibly left or liberal causes might not be a bad idea, either.  Even Franky Schaeffer, hopeless blue state hack that he has become, managed to suggest in Crazy for God that the DNC shot itself in the foot by refusing to concede there could be pro-life people who might be very progressive on economic issues who would not sign on for a maximalist pro-abortion platform.

A lot of what passes for liberal or progressive causes may in the long run turn out to be the interests of the aspirational managerial castes who love the idea of having as much freedom as aristocrats and can pass this off as progressive by dint of the rainbow banner rather than addressing more traditionally working class issues.  In that sense I'm more sympathetic with the old left and even post-Marxist thought than I am with the new left.  I don't blame an old school Marxist like Adorno for regarding the nascent new left as being more or less like the fascists.  To look at how intersectionality advocates write Adorno's riff on how the resurgence neo-pagan polytheistic mythology was worse than the Judeo-Christian monotheistic mythology ... but I don't feel like slogging into that on a weekend, or at least not this weekend.

He had another post up I was planning to link to but it's down. 


Cal of Chelcice said...

You and deBoer are making the same fundamental mistake about these politico-economic concepts. They're not self-contained, bullet-point, listed concepts, but a constellation of ideas that do not possess a particular iron logic about how they're fulfilled. Part of this means that people who say that socialism or capitalism have never been tried are wrong: they have been tried, but rather than treat these platforms like ideologies, they're flexible political arrangements. It all has to do with ownership of property, in a kind of ideal last-court of appeal. Ultimately, socialism is about a collective ownership of "the people" (thus not collective ownership by feudal lords covenanted with a king).

Social democracy, which seeks to effect this process through parliamentary representation democracy, is a form of socialism. And so is Marxist Communism, and Leninist Communism, and Saint-Simonian Communism, and Proudhonian anarchism, and so on. There are a variety of political orders that can bring about a popular collective ownership over the means of production. And so too with capitalism, whether it's monarchist, oligarchic, democratic, dictatorial (like Pinochet's Chile), party-state (like China) or whatever.

Your pessimism is the shadow cast by ideologues, but I don't think you need to bite the hook. The question is whether a more just (not perfect) economic order would involve some sort of popular ownership of propertied means of production or whether individuals should be able to own it. There's no splitting it half way one or the other, that's just rhetorical sleight of hand people use to seem reasonable.

I don't mean to sound mean, but to reject capitalism or socialism doesn't mean anything, unless you're saying you want to dial the clock back to feudalism. If you want to take ideologues like deBoer to task, you have to see that his whole argument is begging the question.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I'm not sure I'd say I'm taking him to task, I was suspecting he's trying to make a pragmatic suggestion--whether or not it's practical I'm less sure about.

My pessimism isn't necessarily about capitalism vs socialism. I can think of things that seem like socialism over the course of human history. If it's a matter of nobody owns the land but lives in more or less set residencies and exchange resources the Nez Perce come to mind. In terms of having rule of law without centralized formal political office just about any traditional PNW tribe could have been a viable example.

My pessimism is less about the capitalist/socialist side of things than the entire world running on a credit system and the long-term ecological risks of the First World continuing to be the First World. When I think about how PNW Native American tribes are five times more likely to die of certain types of cancer because of mercury in the water table polluting the local salmon and fish populations that's more along the line of what concerns me. Even if we socialized everything in Washington state that ecological damage can't be reversed.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I do admit to having a lot of pessimism about the economic side of things on the matter of capitalism and socialism but in terms of the ecological ruin wreaked by technocratic bureaucratic states across the capitalist/socialist divide it doesn't seem like one side is better than the other on that front. A socialist system could probably do better by dint of decentralizing ownership of the means of production but my concern is about how much irreversible damage has already been done by the First World and that is continuing.

But, on the other hand, I doubt someone like me could have made it past infancy outside of a technocratic society, either. It's one of those irreconcilable ambivalences I've had throughout my adult life.