Monday, March 21, 2016

A rant on socialism, authoritarianism, and welfare

We socialists have to tell a story. That the story is true is helpful, but truthfulness is not the key; the key is to make the story itself compelling.

Trump's popularity (and likelihood of winning the Republican nomination) is probably not entirely due to authoritarianism, but authoritarians seem to strongly support him. A lot of (neo)liberals look at authoritarianism as some sort of aberration or ideological disease. But it's not. Authoritarianism is the displacement and reaction formation of an ordinarily healthy and respectable impulse: the idea that there should be rules and that people should follow them. Authoritarianism and fascism result from the displacement of anger from the ruling class, who are not following the rules (since condemning the ruling class is usually unthinkable) to some ethnic or other social group. Since half of our rules (if not more) are just shibboleths, we can always find "rules" that the black people are breaking (wearing their pants in that ridiculous fashion) or gay people are breaking (makeup? on men!?), etc. ad nauseam.

The most obvious and pernicious of this displacement is anger towards poor people: people are poor because they are breaking the rules — people should work hard, earn a paycheck, and pay their bills — and, instead of punishing them for breaking the rules, we are supporting them, enabling their bad behavior. Outrageous!

Socialism should appeal to the healthy feelings underlying authoritarianism. First, is directing the anger and anxiety where it belongs: the people, poor and not-quite-poor, are following the rules (as best they can; many rules are impossible to follow by design): it is the capitalist ruling class who are breaking the important rules, and we are not punishing but supporting them. It is the capitalist ruling class who are working us harder and for less, who are exporting our jobs, who are allowing our homes to decay, poisoning our water and air. It is the ruling class who are throwing people into abject poverty, and giving them no realistic choice but drugs and welfare. People have to live, and they have to work and be productive to be healthy, and without jobs, people go quietly (or noisily) crazy.

Most notably, we must tell the story that socialism is ninety-nine percent against welfare. Welfare is fine for the completely disabled, and of course people who work have to support our retired elders, our parents and grandparents, but beyond that, no welfare. No food stamps. No TANF. Yes, universal health care, but universal health care is not welfare, it is paid for* by our labor and our taxes.

*In a sense, MMT notwithstanding.

Under socialism, everyone who can do something, anything, productive (or reproductive) works. Nobody gets to laze around on the public dime. And nobody gets to pretend to work. Hedge fund managers and lawyers may spend 14 hours a day at the office, but they're not working; they're just planning their next heist, their next con. Fuck those guys. Everyone works a real job, and everyone gets paid a real paycheck. A socialist government is not going to beat around the bush: if you can work and you don't, fuck you: here's a job, whatever it takes, you will do it.

Socialism is about reestablishing "law and order"; not the pretend capitalist "law and order" which is just straight-up predators' demonization of their prey, but real law and order: people being civilized human beings. Socialism is not about putting everyone on the dole, but putting everyone to work, doing work with dignity, respect, honor, satisfaction, and human fulfillment. Not everyone wants to work. Not everyone wants to be a civilized human being. Those who don't want to work, those who want to be predators, they will feel the hammer of the state, hard enough to satisfy any authoritarian.

But the socialist hammer is different from the capitalist hammer. First, the capitalist hammer is in the hands of the bourgeoisie; the socialist hammer is in the hands of the proletariat. (And fuck the Soviet Union and China for taking the hammer out of the hands of the proletariat and giving it to the faux-bourgeois Communist Party.)

Second, the socialist hammer is that you will have a job, you will do your job, and you will get paid, whatever it takes.

Anyone, anywhere, can walk into the employment office and walk into a job the next day. Not a shit job — the shit jobs pay enough to encourage people to take them voluntarily — not a dream job, but a good, decent job that won't kill you or make you sick, and that will pay you enough to live like a civilized human being and raise a family.

If that's not enough, a police officer will, in essence, pick you up from your home in the morning, take you to your job, and stand behind you while you work.

If that's not enough, well, what should we do? I guess we have to lock you in a building and put you to work there. You won't be tortured. All you have to do to get out is get a regular job (which everyone can get) and keep it.

(We have to keep people who enjoy killing or harming people away from others, but such people have a medical condition, and we have to lock them up, not to punish them but to keep them from perpetrating further harm and to try to treat them, to try to make them productive citizens who can restore their harm as best they can and contribute to everyone's well-being.)

But but but!!! That's so totalitarian! People forced to work! Slavery!

First of all, what the hell do you want? You want to demonize people who "won't" work (even though the capitalist system intentionally creates fewer jobs than there are people), but you don't want to make people work? How does that make sense? Either it is morally right (on whatever basis you like) that people should work, and morally wrong that a person who can work does not, or it's not. If it's morally right, then we get to coerce people to do it; if we shouldn't coerce people, then in what sense is it morally wrong? What, you want to coerce other people to work, but you don't want to be coerced?

Second, who do you think you're fooling? We're already forced to work. However, under capitalism, that force is exercised by the plutocracy, the capitalist ruling class, who are entirely unaccountable to the people. You say you want democracy, right? Why, then, do you shrink from making democratic what is fundamental to civilized society.

I appreciate that you're voting for Trump against the neoliberals, but Trump is a capitalist, and he's not going to give you what you want. The "unproductive" will be off the dole, but they'll be in prison or criminals, and that'll cost you, a lot. The illegal immigrants will be sent home, cheap foreign imports will cease flooding into WalMart, and then Americans (even some white people, oh my!) will be $1 per hour wage slaves. We might get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Syria, and Libya, and wherever else, but do you think Trump is going to just disband the army? (Well, he might, a little, flooding the nation with even more cheap labor). If the Army is not overseas, it'll be here; an army presupposes an enemy, and you, my gentle white lower-middle-class reader — along with all the women, black people, Hispanic people, Muslims, gays, etc. — will be its enemy.

No one will give us liberty and prosperity, not the neoliberals, not the professional-managerial class, not the bourgeoisie, not the strongman. If we want liberty and prosperity, we have to seize power ourselves, and hold it, not give it up ever, to anyone, however well-meaning and sincere.

You can stand for more of the same shit, and vote for Clinton. You can stand for a "change", and live in poverty enforced by a police state, and vote for Trump. Or you can work for justice, for law and order, for a civilized society, a society that is moral, decent, productive and wealthy: you can work for socialism.

It's your world. How do you want it to be?


  1. "... it is the capitalist ruling class who are breaking the important rules, and we are not punishing but supporting them....."
    So true and I have heard a few (including me at one time) that said 'why work hard and struggle, when being a criminal like the 1%ers pays so much better!'
    Yes I went from a republican to a socialist controlled by a constitution and bill of rights and law. I could never be a good capitalist as I am neither psychotic nor criminal enough!

  2. The socialist hammer "that you will have a job, you will do your job" is a very bad & purposeless idea. There is no need for a new hammer, for policemen to make people work.

    The but-but-but sayers are right.

    First of all, what the hell do you want?

    I don't want to demonize people who won't work. Supernumerary coercion and high-minded but incoherent moralizing are not good ideas to sell socialism. The existence of money itself is enough to "make people work". And behind that the fact that humanity - even the biosphere - as a whole must work to support itself, to be itself. So such policemen are about as necessary as policemen to ensure people obey the law of gravity.

  3. I don't want to demonize people who won't work.

    I don't want to "demonize" people who won't work, but I do want to force people to work. I mean, fine, if you want to live in the forest and eat nuts and berries, fine, but if you want to live in a house and shop at a grocery store, you have to work.

    ... are not good ideas to sell socialism.

    I'm not a salesman.

    The existence of money itself is enough to "make people work".

    It is? Please explain in considerably more detail.

  4. The existence of money itself is enough to "make people work".

    It is? Please explain in considerably more detail.

    Basically, MMT, or any basic sensible economics of money or credit. It's obvious, if one thinks about it. I of course agree with you about the coerciveness of such things as Basic Income - (the Billionaire's Income Guarantee). But why should one coercion replace another? The beauty of common sense, a guaranteed job offer is that it as uncoercive as possible. Y'know, ruling a great country is like cooking a small fish and all that.

    I do want to force people to work.
    Again, why? The world, "God", money, the universal concept of reciprocity do that just fine. The demand of the grocery store for money is more than enough. Maybe cops are needed there to keep the people from robbing the people's grocery store. Having cops make people work over and above that when they don't feel like it is absurd and against socialism, against freedom. Pointless, intrusive tyranny - of the sort that made people buy capitalism over socialism.

    In this paradise, I would have my work cut out for me - I would insist on not working in order to employ cops to harass me & not some other poor tired sap. At least occasionally. And when I did, as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Earth, I would award myself a Hero of Socialist Loafing medal.

    1. Thanks for responding. I will reply tomorrow.

  5. The world, "God", money, the universal concept of reciprocity do that just fine.

    I don't buy any of those.

    The demand of the grocery store for money is more than enough. Maybe cops are needed there to keep the people from robbing the people's grocery store.

    You're just moving the coercion around: People are forced to work because they're forced to get money to buy groceries. I want to move the primary coercion to work, rather just at purchasing.

    Having cops make people work over and above that when they don't feel like it is absurd and against socialism, against freedom.

    This is the big lie of capitalism: "Hey, no one is forcing you to work: you're free to work or not as you please." Of course, they don't tell you, you're equally free to starve. And, of course, the capitalists make sure that unless you're in the 1 percent, you'd better work your ass off while you can, with no security, and nothing to look forward to in your old age but becoming Soylent Green.

    If you're a "lets all hold hands and sing Kumbaya" type of person, well, ok; nothing much I can do about that.

    I'm not that kind of person. We made a fateful choice about 10,000 years ago to create social structures and locate coercion in those structures.

  6. Let me add: I mostly agree with you: people generally want to work, and even if they're not too keen on work, they know it's rational to work. Most people won't need to be forced to work.

    But some people want to consume part of the social product without contributing to it. Not only lazy slackers, but also would-be rentiers. And the people who do want to work don't want to be taken as chumps by free rider. More importantly, I personally don't want to be seen as a free rider, so I can "freely" endorse the idea that if I don't do as I promise (i.e. contribute to the social product) then I will feel the hammer of the state. I know I won't feel the hammer because I do want to work, so the endorsement costs me nothing.

    I don't think we can run a cooperative society without the threat of force in the above sense: not because people generally have to be forced to cooperate, but because without force, outliers can have the benefits of cooperation without the obligations.

    (You can look at some of my old work on the Prisoner's Dilemma.)


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