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Pat Gunn
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Revolution versus Evolution: Communism, Democratic Socialism, and Stories versus Values

First draft of a new essay...

Pat Gunn
21 June 2006
Distribution and/or modification of this document is unlimited

One of the problems facing us as a movement is our relation to other movements and. In particular, the maintenance of our values and goals in the face of those who would do differently. The Anarchists, our sometimes brothers, along with social democrats are alternate movements which we ignore at our peril, just as the Stalinists, Maoists, and other flavours within our movement paint alternatives. There is a difficulty in ignoring these other movements, as divided from those who fall elsewhere from the tree, we lose strength, yet in unity with them, we worry that we comprimise who we are. While this tension will never dissipate completely, there is a path to further understanding when we may and may not collaborate with them.

Many of the divisions that split socialism are questions of judgement. In order to justify our existence as separate movements, we describe how our most threatening opponents (often those close to ours) have ideas that will never work. Communists frequently deride the possibility of real progress made by social democrats, suggesting that those in power will never betray their class interests, offering nothing but a series of tricks to satiate the workers without satisfying them. Likewise, social democrats point to the failure of the Soviet Union as evidence that radical and rapid top-driven movements towards communism must fail. Anarchists suggest that any society organised as a state will rapidly degenerate towards despotism, while Communists suggest that Anarchism will rapidly degenerate towards barbarism that paves way for those seeking power to assert themselves. All of these are matters of judgement, touching on human nature as it is now and might be, and examined closely, it is difficult to find a method to evaluate any of the assertions. One might say that attempts at systems provide such data, but given the wide variety of means one can use to set up such systems, the effect of changing time on these attempts, and an honest appraisal of the faults and benefits of any of these approaches reduces our ability to accept such arguments to areas where reasonable people might disagree widely. Temporary alliances with those who do not properly share our ends have already been discussed, but partial or full union with those who share our values, properly understood, should be possible once we learn to do so.

One of the difficulties in my value theory, as it has been stated in the past (for now, see here), is that we do not intuitively understand our values, and that considerable reflection is needed to enumerate and understand the interactions between them. I propose to modify my metaphysics of value to provide a deeper understanding and integration with the idea of placing ourselves in stories. Values remain as the atomic and aggregate unit of desire (as some values are compsed partly or wholly of other values, but the basic mental, as opposed to physical, unit is the simplest values). We add to this pantheon the story, which is an alternate aggregate unit of value. The story is a less clear unit, in that it is clumsier to work with, does not encourage philosophical investigation into itself (it in fact may claim not to be based on values, although value analysis can decompose it readily enough if applied honestly and carefully), and in may cases the lack of clarity it has causes people to unwittingly betray their values. Rather than provide a trivial example, we can come to a clear example of this by an analysis of our disagreements with Democratic Socialists. DS differ from our movement in their committment to peaceful, more gradual transition to a Communist society. Our traditional response, as noted above, is to applaud their ends but consider their methods to be naive and futile. This dismissal is a mistake to state as fact -- class loyalties are not always conscious, and just as Marx became socialist despite his family origins, others may come to socialism frolm a variety of class backgrounds. Classes can evolve, and with weak class identities, a potential for progress is present in humanity. Emergent dampers on human potential exist, but these may be flexible -- it is another question of judgement what means may be used, if any, to achieve communism without revolution. We may realise that our ends, and (except sometimes our tradeoffs on values for consensus and nonviolence) our values are the same as those of Social Democrats. The primary difference is our judgement, or rephrased, the story that we have committed ourselves to when we call ourselves Marxist Communist (whatever subflavour we may be, as I am Trotskyite and know some Maoists and Leninists) -- that we accept a revolution as necessary. The story or theme of revolution, asserted as dogma, blinds us from a simple understanding of our movement and its essential unity of values with the SD (just as their story of peaceful gradation may blind them). An honest Communist who has made their understanding more clear and post-story, might instead say that they believe that the most reliable (and perhaps fastest) path to Communism relies on the Revolution and a transitional nondemocratic society, but they may likewise note that other paths may be possible (and given the difficulty of the judgements involved, it is difficult to imagine that they would not). Understood and phrased as judgement differences, the essential unity of SD and Communism as parties and organisations may be more easy, and may make less likely the mutual excommunication that has marred relations in the past.

Giving up on stories leads to philosophical maturity. It is very easy to make emotional committments to the idea of an epic struggle to smash the Capitalists and ensure fairness, but this may cause us to lose sight of the possibility of other means to a task. We may further wonder if, caught up in the romance of a revolution, we will be ready when it is over and we face the far more difficult struggle of staring down human nature within ourselves and society to build something better. The means to the goal is not unimportant, because it affects the likelihood of the goal being achieved, but disagreement over tactical judgement on means where value-disagreements are not involved should not divide movements. As communists, and as philosophically-minded people who seek to grow as people, we should seek to discard our perception-as-stories and come to a more direct, value-based understanding of ourselves, inspiring others along the same path.
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