Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

With abated breath

This may be yet another revision/restatement of theory I've been working on for a time, and it could probably be sharpened a bit further than I have here. Enjoy.Žižek - socialism as the true enemy of communism. Criticism:

Ž's remark that socialism as the enemy of capitalism:

  • Socialism is not creative or destructive enough to create the kinds of radical change that its ethics demand.
  • A focus on traditional liberalism as a moral compass to avoid sinking while evoking change will lead one back to a slightly different version of one's homeland, as traditional liberal ethics have the logic of capitalism (or at least condemnation of efforts towards structural change that would affect what would most be affected, e.g. property relations)
  • Liberalism shields enemies of change and enables their trickery - psychology-based ways to diffuse movements -- democracy with controlled information, preying on human weakness, misinformation in news, misinformation in lifestyle (marketing a cause as a product), even institution of democracy itself as a reflection - failure to win an election difuses rather than exacerbates cause for better world, in most people
Evaluation of Žのanalysis - It depends on what is meant by socialism. If one is meaning simply liberal-democratic capitalism (beginning a ways to the left of the US democratic party and progressing leftward towards many european societies, including all three major UK political parties), all of these are accurate but inadequate. If one means genuinely mixed-market or socialist economies (using "who owns the means of production" as the metric), the claims do not ring entirely true but there remains much worth considering. If one considers traditionally socialist parties (whether marxian or not, and whether they call themselves or are best called by some other metric communist or not), there is less to his argument.

My claim of inadequacy:

  • Other side, risks - Economics is not all there is to a socialist or communist commitment. While it may not be the focus for those factions that have considerable formal theory, the reasoning behind supporting mixed or socialist markets is a belief that capitalist systems are inadequate alone for broad human values with any type of realistic humans or the kinds of social stratification derived from capitalism in practice, that without extraordinarily extensive regulation the small abuses and problems cannot be solved, and regulation could not deal with the large-scale abuses and problems
  • Gradualism - Democracy is easily subverted by capital; it is in fact easily controlled by anyone who both understands how it and mass-scale human psychology work and has sufficient funds or other means to influence media. However, these things may be curbed by laws or potentially organised around by a broad movement, so long as it lasts. It is at least theoretically possible for the level of political discourse in a capitalist system to rise to the point where socialism would not be a minority movement, and provided "emergency measures" intended to counterbalance democracy were not too strong, a capitalist country with an appropriately structured democracy might find its democratic instutions surviving or even facilitating a change. (this is not meant to comment on the wisdom of emergency measures - those same measures no doubt might save countries from sliding off into another ideology or help avoid mob justice, and in some cases the principled difference between a movement and mob justice may be abstract)
  • Major issue: definitions. Ž is, I think, operating from a perspective where the terms are clear. This is not often the case - just as Mao, Lenin, and various others had the adventure of applying a political theory to actual circumstances (doing violence to the concepts or ideals in most cases), the idea of Capitalism, of Communism, and the like are ill-applied when they prescribe rather than describe the world. What are the fundamentals of Communism in difference from Socialism? As thinkers, we may offer terms for purposes of discussion (and in some cases, movements will write these down and try to spread them, e.g. Niscene Creed, Noahide code, Five Pillars). It is dangerous platonism - linguistic and conceptual absolutism, to draw a firm line on this matter - unless Ž would have us draw our definition of socialism (as distinct from communism) from his criticism (in this case, likely "those who are too cowardly to perform violence against liberal-capitalist values to create a new order that would redress the institutional inadequacies in capitalism and demolish the old"), we are left wondering, to which socialism does he refer? Certainly not to me - I understand his critiques and while I would say they have some weight, I would say they weigh more against a certain group of people I'd have to describe rather than a broad term like socialists.
I hold that revolution is an option - something we would do were the circumstances right, the people imbued sufficiently with the requisite values for our new society, and were there be little chance of other ideologies winning the day or for flaws in those that would initially steer parts of society until they can be more broadly steered balloon into disaster, were we to tear up our current societal norms. It is not necessarily the only path, and its risks are great. A very broad, popular movement with reasonable inner disagreement, enjoying the usual social churning that hopefully weeds out the insane or ill-willed, with sufficient education in each member to have and discuss reasonable opinions - that is a safer path than a few people with rousing speeches engaging the passions of masses that don't understand everything they're signing up for. The steps of government are and will continue to require more human character of the people - socialism, which I would consider a more demanding (with likewise more potential) governmental form must be entered with an engaged, awake, and wise body politic. It may be possible to educate the next generation during an intermediary form, but systematic corruption is a serious risk - as socialists we should focus on education, social engagement, and other activities that enrich society in order to prepare for the work of reforming the system - this is our safest path. We may wish to climb higher than where we are, but we are already very high up a mountain with the modern state, and every bit of progress is precious.

Is democracy fundamentally valid? When in place, it is a lens to understand flaws in how we think as a species - the entire reasoning behind campaign finance reform (or political advertisements) is that right now, with the low levels of political awareness, people vote poorly, without research, without broad considerations for the public good or a reasoned way of knowing what claims are true. There is no coherent will of the people if poll numbers shift radically around contentless advertisements. In this sense, the ordinary justification of democracy - that people have a will and preferences and they express them through votes, is shown to be false because of the character of that voter. It is a problem in the same way that formal liberties don't mean very much when people lack resources to enjoy them (which is partly the reason publicly funded legal advice to the very poor is considered appropriate in our system). As it stands, democracy is not pointless - it does minimally engage people in issues, it pacifies political groups that participate in it (not by force, rather by psychology - turning the blame inward), it helps avoid the greatest abuses provided the people retain, through culture or education, a basic moral sense that would override their normal distractability. It also provides finality on political decisions, providing an orderly transition of power. It does not, however, express a will of the people unless the people have a coherent will. Building that will on honest and strong foundations is the task of the socialist - we must discuss ethics because (at least for those of us not distracted by the inadequate and outdated theories of Marxians) ethics is the reason we would undertake the task. We must have high levels of education - objective education that is not produced specifically towards our conclusions, in order to have genuine inner debate, to learn from the successes and failures of the Soviet Union (particularly the early days) and other governmental systems past and present (the Ottoman state in particular merits study). We must be wary and nervous of excessive political centralisation, so as neither to have the gentle corruption of a nomenklatura nor the heavy corruption of a bad would-be leader. Social structures must arise that can limit the centralisation concern, constructed and maintained with intuitive awareness of human nature. With these tasks, even in a capitalist system, we will have most of the difficult tasks of preparing for socialism done. When this is accomplished enough, the remaining revolution or democratic shift into a better government would be relatively easy, and the intermediary period before the first period of actual socialism would be small. The validity of a democracy by its primary objective depends on the people but the other objectives can be met by a rump democracy.

Finally, we need our own terms for ourselves, a clear and espoused philosophy that breaks with Marxian ideas (even if we respect Marx and are willing to consider specific components of their philosophy in ours). Until we can do that, marxian philosophy is a danger to and blocker of socialism. Like a ginkgo tree, dialectical materialism and formal marxian theory in their various forms drive off communities that should be forming around socialist values. The doctrines: embarassing. The propoganda: dishonest. While we retain our commitment towards a solidarity towards other socialist movements (from anarchosocialism to marxism-leninism) in action, in mind we will continue to discuss and criticise them as we develop our own name and our own theory. Even if our path is moderation (I don't believe it is best described that way, as we have positive commitments rather than an intent to remain in the middle of some definition or group), it must nontheless be described well enough to be discussed and considered by someone outside the movement - it is little use to try to make a movement of people who can say little more about whom they are without several hours worth of conversation.

Claiming a different notion of the term "liberalism" than that used by Žižek and in broad American political discourse is particularly important - there are versions of the broad concept that provide us some types of protections without the entire set in American Liberalism - there is not only one Liberalism and we can consider the criticisms Ž makes on a case-by-case basis in light of the dual concerns of allowing for fundamental change and not in doing so eliminating values and principles we would hold after the initial transition. Ž's love of grandiosity causes him to overstate his points and oversimplify real movements and their challenges. It would not be prudent for us to be so irresponsible, even as we continue to consider his (important) contributions to pragmatic discussions of socialist theory.

Tags: philosophy

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