Repost from the old site.
In response to my post, Dr. Andrew Austin, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, commented, rejecting my notion that all government structures in a capitalist system were de facto socialist institutions.
His response is a typical Marxist rejoinder.
Socialism is a political economic system in which the workers own and control the means of production. That means the workers run the firm, so to speak.
Leaving aside the question of whether they produce anything of value (in an exchange sense), soldiers and police officers do not run the firm. They are employees of the state and are told what to do by those who run the state. They have no say-so in determining who stands above them. The hierarchy that controls their work lives (and to a large extent their leisure lives) is not comprised of democratically-elected offices.
Moreover, the military and the police serve the interests of the capitalist class and its managers and associated functionaries, not the interests of the working class.
Government functions are socialist to the degree that they are controlled by and benefit the working class.
An example of a public system in the US that is often said to have the appearance of socialism is the educational system. School board members are elected, subject to public pressure, and every child can access the system. However, public education has become a system for indoctrinating children into the values and norms of capitalist society.
Just because the state sector is involved does not signal socialism. The capitalist state is by definition not socialist because it is controlled by capitalists for the benefit of capitalists and the perpetuation, expansion, and entrenchment of capitalist relations.
States reflect the character of the underlying mode of production. I see a lot of people make the error of thinking that extensive state intervention means socialism. The only way state intervention is socialist is if the social relations are socialist or society is undergoing a revolutionary transformation.
Authoritarian capitalism – fascism, whatever – has a massive state sector, but it is the antithesis of socialism. Capitalism can be more or less democratic – though there are always sharp limits on how democratic capitalism can be. Socialism can be more or less democratic. Unlike capitalism, the more democratic socialism becomes, the more socialist it is.
I’m not going to comment on this because I am more or less at a loss for words. Feel free to comment in the comments section.
On the other hand, astute commenter James Schipper agrees with me, but takes a non-Marxist and more social democratic view of socialism.
Keep in mind that social democrats call their system socialism, while Marxists reject that, calling social democrats “bourgeois democrats” when they are in a good mood and “social fascists” when they are in a bad mood (recall the epithet used by the German Communists against the German social democrats in the 1920’s and early 1930’s).
I agree totally with you. Every country in the world has a socialist sector. The market can’t exist without the state, but the state can exist without the market. A country in which the state ran everything would be a disaster, but it could exist. A country in which literally everything were left to the market would sink in anarchy and misery. Some African countries have come close to this.
Socialism means essentially three things: state-directed production, state-directed distribution of income and state-regulated private production. There is plenty of that all over the world.
The biggest department in the socialist sector in the US is the Pentagon. Many American generals might balk at being called employees in the socialist sector, but that’s exactly what they are. They don’t get their paychecks from a corporation.
However, I would like to add that socialism in the sense above does not necessarily mean egalitarianism. There can be such a thing as socialism for the rich. Even a totally socialist economy could be run mainly for the benefit of an elite, in the same way that a corporation can be run mainly for the benefit of senior managers and at the expense of shareholders and employees.
I respond, agreeing with James:
Indeed, what we have under Bush seems to be something like a socialism for the rich. The rich are allowed to gamble all they want with their money and possibly even blow up the economy. If they make money, they get to keep all of it. If they lose, we taxpayers cover all of their losses. Hence there is nothing to prevent them from making mad and wild gambles with money, which are quite risky for the economy.
Guaranteeing the losses of capitalists is something that economists call “moral risk”. It’s like if I get to go to the casino all day and win as much as I want, but once I start losing, I get to come hat in hand to the taxpayers and demand that they bail out all my losses. I might just stay at the casino all the time if that were the case.
This is the moral risk inherent in today’s corporatist system.
On the other hand, we cannot allow big banks and strange institutions like Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac to fail. In return for bailing these clowns out, though, taxpayers must demand either an ownership share in Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac (I would argue that there is an excellent for nationalizing these institutions, but after Ronald Reagan, that’s hardly possible).
Or those two institutions, and the entire finance industry for that matter, must submit to the kind of intense state regulation that they formerly labored under, and that worked very well from 1935 until 1973 or so when capitalists started destroying it.
Surely socialist states can be run solely for an elite as James notes. This is why I object to supporting the Burmese state. Some Leftists are supporting Burma on the basis that the Western sanctions on Burma are not because it is an evil murdering state, but because it refuses to open up its state economy sufficiently to multinational capital. They are correct that this is the real reason for the sanctions on Burma.
But while Burma is formally a socialist state and most of the economy is in state hands, the state sector is run by a venal, callous, paranoid and murderous military elite as a cash cow. They pocket the substantial profits of this state sector while disallowing any private competition with it and at the same time treating their people little better than chattel.
This is something like a crony state capitalist state, and there is nothing progressive about it, especially while the vast majority of Burmese wallow in the worst misery. Just to show that there is nothing progressive about it, the Burmese Communist Party (admittedly very radical Maoists) has been waging armed struggle against the Burmese “socialist” junta since it was formed in 1962.
The junta has oppressed the various Burmese nationalities, most of whom never even consented to be a part of the new Burmese state freed from colonialism in 1948 in the first place.
A proper progressive state gives substantial rights and autonomy to national minorities, and the USSR, Vietnam and China have all done this, despite a lot of problems along the way. The progressive socialist states in Europe also give cultural rights to national minorities.
Vicious repression of minorities is a quality of fascism and ultranationalism and not properly of the Left. On the other hand, the divergent, quirky and twisted Khmer Rouge ferociously attacked all non-Khmers, though they were surely Marxists. The Khmer Rouge was a sad case of ethnic nationalist and racist Marxists. I would agree that a racist Marxist is still a Marxist, but he just isn’t a very good one.