Saturday, November 29, 2008

Feminism, communism and reformism

I am completely sympathetic and supportive of reforms within capitalism to mitigate the more egregious oppression and exploitation of women, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTs, and other systemically screwed groups. I vote, I protest, and I do what I can within the system to mitigate the worst effects of oppression.

But it's important to understand that reformism can at best mitigate only the very worst effects of exploitation and oppression, and even then only partially. The bourgeoisie in a capitalist society always select some easily identified group for hyper-exploitation. If it's not blacks, it'll be immigrants, or Muslims, or short people, or people with trivial genetic disorders, but it will always be someone. And, given the persistence and virulence of misogyny and racism within the United States, women and racial minorities don't have much of a chance. And the women within Islam are completely and irredeemably screwed without revolutionary change.

You do have to treat the symptoms, if only to buy time. But at some point you have to step back and treat the cause of the disease. And imperialistic capitalism (the last ruling/ruled political-economic system) is the cause of the diseases of racism and misogyny.

Update: Let me be more specific: so long as you have an economic basis of exploitation and oppression, you will have political and social exploitation and oppression. It's possible, perhaps, to completely eliminate the oppression and hyper-exploitation of specifically women, but only at the cost of finding some other group to systemically oppress. You cannot eliminate all exploitation without eliminating economic exploitation.

Sure. Treat the more egregious symptoms. No argument there. But that's what we've been doing, with some success... but the success has been faltering in the last 20 years. It's time to take the fight to the next level, to not just ameliorate but eliminate misogyny and racism; indeed to eliminate all forms of oppression.

Update: I also want to restate a point from the original article. Fundamentally, bourgeois reformism can at best achieve equal access to the bourgeoisie for various marginalized groups. But the bourgeoisie can comprise only about 10% of the population: 90% of any marginalized group will still be oppressed.

4 comments:

  1. What you are talking about is the problem of power. Anytime there is power, there will be oppression of someone, because of simple human nature -- where there is power, someone will abuse said power for his own benefit at the expense of others.

    The problem is that capitalism is just one mechanism for instantiating power relationships, and far from the most dire mechanism. So you might talk about eliminating capitalism, but do not think that this would solve the fundamental problem of anarchy theory, the problem of power.

    Anarchism proposes to eliminate all power relationships. Unfortunately, anarchy has no realistic mechanism for doing so. Eliminating explicit power relationships such as governments in places like Somalia did not result in an elimination of power relationships, it simply shifted it to the family or clan and warlords -- those most comfortable with inflicting violence upon others -- took over the job of head honcho in the power relationships of Somalia.

    You can eliminate all the infrastructure of power that you want but in the end, you come down to the simple human fact that not all humans are created equal. Some humans are created more violent, bigger, stronger, or otherwise with more power than other humans. In the end there is one fundamental fact to be had in all this: we can, at best, address the symptoms of power and try to set up power structures that are as equitable as feasible. But we aren't going to be able to create absolute equality as long as power exists, and we currently have no way to eliminate all power structures without returning power to the basest of humans, those who are most violent and physically strongest. So I suggest that your emphasis upon capitalism as the problem is, perhaps, misguided. You should be looking at power as the problem... and figuring out how to limit the inequities of power in the preferred economic system of your choice, all of which have proven to have difficulties in this area.

    - Badtux the Power Penguin

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  2. What you are talking about is the problem of power.

    But of course.

    The problem is that capitalism is just one mechanism for instantiating power relationships, and far from the most dire mechanism.

    Of course it's not the most dire. Capitalism is a distinct improvement over slavery and feudalism. But its the power relationship we have to deal with today. And capitalism illustrates most sharply the economic foundations of all power relationships.

    Anarchism proposes to eliminate all power relationships.

    Communism, with its goal of eliminating classes -- i.e. economic power relationships -- and the state that enforces those power relationships, is fundamentally (mostly) anarchistic.

    Unfortunately, anarchy has no realistic mechanism for doing so.

    That's because anarchy is a goal, not a mechanism.

    You can eliminate all the infrastructure of power that you want but in the end, you come down to the simple human fact that not all humans are created equal. Some humans are created more violent, bigger, stronger, or otherwise with more power than other humans.

    Physical inequalities do not entail the necessity of institutionalized economic power relationships. We can, if we choose, act intelligently and reasonably in dealing with our inherent physical inequalities.

    But we aren't going to be able to create absolute equality as long as power exists...

    You are not speaking precisely here, if you're serious about inequality entailing power: You would be more precise to say that we cannot create absolute equality so long as inequality exists, which seems... trivial.

    In the end there is one fundamental fact to be had in all this: we can, at best, address the symptoms of power and try to set up power structures that are as equitable as feasible.

    Indeed: we must implement communism.

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  3. " capitalism illustrates most sharply the economic foundations of all power relationships."

    Uhm, not exactly. To quote Mao, power grows from the barrel of a gun. Capital buys guns and their wielders, but Mogadishu shows that you don't need capitalism in order to have power -- you just need guns and their wielders.

    "Communism, with its goal of eliminating classes"

    Classes are just a symptom of the underlying problem, not a cause. The underlying problem is power, which in turn is based upon the primate leader-follower model that is built into our monkey hindbrain which says "my group of monkeys good, other group of monkeys bad". Communism has the same problem as anarcho-socialism or anarcho-syndicalism in that it postulates the disappearance of power structures despite the fact that power differences are inherent in human beings due to details of genetics, upbringing, etc. In other words, it ignores human nature and thus is utopian rather than practical, like any system (such as pure capitalism as preached by the Republican orthodoxy) that ignores human nature.

    "You are not speaking precisely here, if you're serious about inequality entailing power:"

    Power is a specific term referring to a specific relationship between two people wherein one person possesses an advantage over the other. "inequality" is a general term referring to a multitude of social status relationships between a multitude of people. White male computer geeks possess little real power, yet nobody claims that they are a class that is discriminated against or that suffers from widespread inequality. Power or lack thereof is not sufficient to note whether some particular group of people suffers from inequality in other aspects of social status. Inequalities in power merely predicates that there will, at some point in time, be some group which suffers from inequality in other aspects of social status due to the corrupting nature of power.

    My take: From a pragmatic point of view, any philosophy of economic organization which ignores fundamental facts of human nature -- and I classify both capitalism and communism as such philosophies of economic organization -- are unworkable. A democratically controlled mixed socialist-capitalist economy such as in the Scandinavian nations appears to be, at the moment, the method of social organization that results in the least unpleasantness insofar as undesired side effects are concerned. While it may be said that "real" Communism has never been implemented, the same might be said of anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho-capitalism ("pure" capitalism or radical Libertarianism) or any of a number of other systems that are clearly unworkable from first principles. Human beings are basically hairless apes, with all the built-in instincts of millions of years of ape-ness such as the desire to follow an alpha male, and the dividing of the world into "our" tribe and "their" tribe. A mere 16,000 years of civilization on top of this millions of years of being apes is barely enough to get us from knocking each other over the head with rocks to yelling at each other in the halls of Congress. It doesn't change the fact that we're apes with delusions of grandeur, and any system of social organization which ignores the fact that we're apes with delusions of grandeur simply will not work.

    - Badtux the Pragmatic Penguin

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  4. Capital buys guns and their wielders, but Mogadishu shows that you don't need capitalism in order to have power.

    I didn't say you need capitalism, I said all power -- i.e. guns -- flows from the underlying economic relationships. That's as true in Mogadishu as it is in the US, USSR or PRC. I don't know what the specific economic relationships in Mogadishu are, but the warlords have to buy the guns and feed the soldiers, which requires an economic foundation.

    Communism has the same problem as anarcho-socialism or anarcho-syndicalism in that it postulates the disappearance of power structures...

    This is simply false. Communism does not postulate the disappearance of power structures. Communists see the eventual disappearance of power structures as a goal. (Not necessarily all power structures, but specifically those power structures that enforce economic inequality.) We aim to break the feedback loop between political power and economic power.

    A democratically controlled mixed socialist-capitalist economy such as in the Scandinavian nations appears to be, at the moment, the method of social organization that results in the least unpleasantness insofar as undesired side effects are concerned.

    You may be correct. Still, there are unique features of Scandinavia which might make it difficult to replicate elsewhere. They're hardly evangelistic anyway; politically they seem quite insular.

    How are the Scandinavian countries doing now in the global financial crash? (I know Iceland is in grim shape; I'm not sure about the rest.) How are they doing on immigration? To what extent do they depend on imperialism and exploitation of those outside their country?

    The problem I've seen with this kind of social democratic reformism is that it leaves too much power in the hands of the owners of capital, who have a built-in incentive to destroy social democratic reforms. Even the modest social democratic reforms in the US have been under severe attack for almost a half-century.

    While it may be said that "real" Communism has never been implemented...

    I wouldn't say that. I think communism has been implemented, with all the mistakes, blunders, inefficiencies and stupidities that human beings are prone to, but also with some notable successes. Note that both Stalin and Mao took backwards countries, actively oppressed by foreign powers, and made them into world powers. Note too that Stalin (not Churchill) defeated Hitler, and Mao deserves a substantial portion of the credit for defeating the Japanese.

    But, in a sense, no, there are large aspects of communism that are yet untried. No one has yet, for instance, tried to implement communism under conditions of relative abundance. But the untriedness of many aspects of communism is not an argument that they work, it's simply an argument that we require testing to see if they can work.

    And I will be the first to admit that communists need to go beyond vague generalities and talk very specifically about how to manage a political economy in transition between capitalism and well-developed communism. Simply saying "dictatorship of the proletariat" is not sufficiently specific.

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