Friday, 8 May 2009
The Republic does Weber - An ideal type for....Socialism
Conservatism here:- http://thesocialrepublic.blogspot.com/2008/07/conservatism-mit-added-weber.html
Libertarianism here:- http://thesocialrepublic.blogspot.com/2009/05/republic-does-weber-ideal-type.html
Before I start, there are a few housekeeping issues. Unlike Conservatism that has a fairly clear starting point (Between Burke's reflections and the Peel ministry), Socialism might well be seen as an eternal. Were the agitators for the Roman agrarian laws not socialistic or the Peasant revolt or the Levellers or Diggers? Was Babuef and the Equals not socialist before it had a name? I would say that the Socialism that gave birth to Social democracy, Bolshevik Communism, New Left, the Third way etc is a modern phenomena i.e. a child of the Liberal struggle and victory over the feudal state and 'old corruption'.
Before 1830, 'Levelling' had merely contingent forms, no continuity of ideological tradition, it was the initial gut reaction, the social urge for relief from poverty and powerlessness. After 1830, Socialism increasingly became a evolving and independent movement of ideas. It exists only as modern capitalism began to revolutionise human life. It is born of the age of the railroads and steam and the pressure therein.
'An attempt to seek human emancipation from oppression of hierarchy and capital via collective action of those at the bottom of society and to transcend Liberal societies with a utopia of collective ownership and mass political action'
Let the unpacking commence
'An attempt to seek human emancipation....' - Emancipation is key to Socialism. Socialism conceives the current human condition as one bound by chains. The nature of these chains is variable and particular but the general concept holds. Thus Socialists seek a redemptive breaking of these bounds and to begin again human society without the weight of these restraints.
Here we meet the first fallacy, that human society has a binary oppressed/free nature and there will (inevitably) be a dawn when it switches. This is very bad sociology and meaningless anthropology. Human societies do not have oppression externally thrust upon them, rather they create their norms and structures. These are a negotiation with their past state, contingency and the agency of the individuals involved. As a Socialist, I have ideas around these impasse, but they are for elsewhere. I am seeking the contradictions, not solving them.
'...from oppression of hierarchy and capital...' - Here is the generalised nature of the 'chains'. The Socialist movement were born into a world where the struggle with the old estate society and Liberalism was still ongoing.
The Socialist conception of oppression has a dual nature. The first is that passed down by Liberal radicalism, that of a ruling elite of non-producers, a despotic and tyrannical parasitic group. This 'old corruption' of worthless Barons and Dukes represented a plain and blatant inequality in wealth buttressed by political power. Their wealth was 'excessive', 'amoral', glorified thievery. This and their power over the political system were seen as a repugnant imposition. Socialists took this critique and made it their own. Power via wealth was an a-social evil, it denied those without it their humanity. It is thus no surprise that Socialists were at the forefront of the battle over legal and political equality
Socialism then swung the charge back at Liberalism and revolutionary Capitalism. They accused these 'innovators' of replacing a hierarchy of birth and privilege with one of wealth and luck, where success was due to the ruthlessness that one might render your fellow man. Liberalism, by such a switch, was a ideology of hypocrisy, seeking a formal equality whilst desperately undermining it, again omitting the poor majority. Capital raised up a new power, one just a determined to extract the labour of the have-nots for as little as it could get away with.
It should be noted that over the nature of the capitalist revolution, there is a considerable divide in opinion within Socialism. The modern industrial society was considered the devil by some Owenites and the Mutualists, whilst the Saint Simonists and the Marxists were enraptured by its dynamism and power. This divide continues today (I, myself, am in awe of the industrial revolution)
I will also add that after the mid 19th century, the old radical conception of hierarchy had little to say beyond providing a vocabulary of demonologies to be cast at the 'assuming men' of the rising bourgeoisie and their nouveau riche usurpations. Where such autocracy remained, it placed Socialists with a uncomfortable choice. How, in the age of steam and steal and Vanderbilts and Standards Oils, could Tsars and Kaisers anointed by God and hordes of Boyers and Ritters survive. Some Marxists adapted their analysis to lengthen the historical process of Bourgeois-ification, to await the finality of a French style Liberal revolution (Mensheviks, Ebertian Reformists, Labour Socialism). Others saw an opportunity, where willed political action could force society past both feudal and capitalist stages. This essentially Nihilist outlook provided the left with a program of romantic heroism, social scission, action and making history. It burnt out humanism and left pity for a never never time, literally for the utopia.
Surely the deviances from a model are a chance to re-examine, find the limits and to think anew. For years, much of Socialist dogma has seemly failed to come to terms with the world today. Only by monkish retreat ala SPGB or by seeking bloody leaps could the gap be surmounted. Between the Ostrich and the Piranha....
'...via collective action...' - Socialists hold a basically Aristotelian view of man as an inherently political and social animal. Only by combination with others could change be both effective and virtuous. The manner of this collective or combination is again particular. It is argued that the Vanguard is collective, which is true in its widest and most meaningless sense. Most Socialists however would see collective action as internally democratic (again a contentious debated term) and externally united. Here we see the possibilities and all too common pitfalls/dangers of the interaction between a individual and the collective. An ethics of collectives awaits its author, methinks.
'...of those at the bottom of society...' - Socialism conceives of itself as a movement of the poor (how poor and what the word means is again a deeply contested point). The poor are denied political power by hierarchy and exploited and made robota by capital, thus the poor have no material interest in the chains on human society. Here, yet again, we swim in a sea of arguable terms. At base, the Socialist lies between idealism (the possibility and promise of change and the utopia to come) and materialism (the nature of poverty). The poor have been reluctant numerous times to push too hard for material benefits or at all for a new world. There is thus a conflict between the ideal and the material at the heart of Socialism that is rarely addressed. Further Socialism still has not be able to conceive convincingly of why the poor are so 'unreliable'.
Asking why this reluctance, when Socialists can only promise the moon and not a extra slice of bread is vital, no matter how painful.
The nature of class, which has numerous concoctions across the genus, also raised a series of dilemmas. Is the movement to be shorn of all of the not poor enoughs? Is the aim to merely put the poor in the place of the Barons and the 'Innovators', swapping tyranny for tyranny? Or is the concept of class the enemy itself, to be subsumed and made meaningless? This central problem has been addressed by a consensus within the tradition is lacking. Socialism might well be inherently schismatic.
And what to do, post class, with those who were one the powerful. Lampposts? Camps for their re-education and 'reforging'? Plain murder or systemic neglect and prejudice? Again space thus exists within the ideology for a manichean division, the terms of which have degenerated at times to 'sins of the father' or even race. Again, are the poor to mimic the fury of those 16th century Ritters flogging and torturing peasants or make calls for capitalist politics a capital crime in tribute to Robespierre and the Agrarian Law?
'...and to transcend Liberal societies...' - While Marx placed political change within a Hegelian dialectic mechanism, as mentioned, all Socialists sought to overcome the Liberal state of the 19th century. What was involved in that transcendence, what would by part of the coming synthesis and what would be discarded are again a source of either intense debate or icy silence. The lack of, heaven forbid, an ethical and constitutional program for a post Liberal world and how to get there created the space for the . The one binding hope, or myth if you wish, of the various canons of Socialism is that there is better than the Liberal society and state. There can be. Something more just and more humane. That dream is not just possibly but inevitable. It is up to Socialists to conjure it, to argue for it and to make it more humane and more just.
'...with a utopia...' - There is a defence for having a utopian vision. It means excepting that you will never, can never and should never get there. The journey must be contested every day but arrival at perfection is disappointing for the believer and an unending horror for even the uncommitted. Revolutionary change is still inches, tiny incremental steps that can be undone in minutes. Utopia is the secular version of heaven, albeit one we'll never get to for being good girls and boys. It is the hope that endures because it is unattainable. It should guide us without ever letting us assume it is around the corner. In cloying cliche, it is the journey, never the destination.
'....of collective ownership...' - Does collective mean state controlled, worker control, simple free controlled by part time weaver/philosopher/fishermen? Again, whilst collective ownership is a mainstay of the Socialist tenet, its specifics are so tantalisingly vague. What are the limits of ownership? Merely commanding heights or every penny, kopeck and smear of butter? How are things like investment, innovation, management, purchase to be solved. Like it or not, the cash nexus is remarkably efficient at purchase and investment. Innovation, especially with attending high capital costs cannot to be relied apon to spring fully formed from Garden sheds.
The state is, in the kindest of lights, an imperfect and unresponsive manager of anything. Whilst it excels at somethings, one can hardy place the command economies of the Bolshevik states as more efficient in the Fabian sense that those of capitalist societies, in either material or human terms. Socialism's conception of the state and of the very nature of ownership need to move way beyond the statism paradigms of Beverage, FDR, War communism and x year plans.
'...And mass political action...' - Here Socialism has to face the abuse of the term democracy by many of its thinkers and activists. Mass political action could well mean a boisterous level of community democracy, where citizens seek through debate and experimentation to bring change and solutions to their lives. Or it could mean a host of un-speaking extras in a Potemkin civil society, responding pavlov-like to the glorious announcements of the great leader, or the dictates of the dialecticians, extras in their own lives and societies, without even an equity wage to thank them. Such disgusting treatment to the populace, as mass tools for a mass age, as fodder to be feed into the ongoing cogs of whatever transformation is 'progressive' is still mass political action. And it is the wider cancer of a Socialist state with the humanity boiled out of it. Our ideology promises better and should be able to deliver.
It is time for Socialists to stop dreaming or doing for the sake of doing and romantic days on the barricades.
Again, this is discursive, comments welcome and as you can probably tell from the rambling tone, needed. Next, I'll chance my arm at Liberalism