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?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A socialist analysis of the 2016 presidential election

According to Marx, only the proletariat is capable of a revolutionary transformation of society, not because people in the proletariat are somehow better, but because the contradictions of bourgeois society create the proletariat — and only the proletariat — in ways that will eventually make them capable of revolutionary transformation. Only when the proletariat has lost everything under capitalism will they find the will and the power to overthrow capitalism.

The bourgeoisie has been far more clever than Marx expected in clinging to power, but the contradictions remain, and for a variety of reasons, the bourgeoisie is running out of tricks.

The proletariat must, however, learn to seize power, and learn to exercise it. What makes them a revolutionary class does not make them a good ruling class: there is nothing about the proletariat that makes them especially wise, clever, or efficient. And thus with any ruling class: the landed aristocracy and the bourgeoisie had to learn to rule as well. There is no way to learn how to actually take power but by trying and failing to take it; there is no way to learn to actually rule without trying and failing to rule.

The 2016 Presidential election raises some interesting issues.

First, neoliberalism is facing real problems. Although he's a racist (or playing one on TV), his racism is not why Donald Trump is popular. He's popular because he's anti-neoliberalism. And if he does beat Clinton, Trump will beat her precisely because he's anti-neoliberalism, at least on paper. (Trump doesn't have the will to actually fight neoliberalism as President.)

Sanders should be beating Clinton like Trump is beating Cruz, right?. He should be beating her even more soundly: the bourgeois left is supposedly more against neoliberalism than the right, n'est ce pas? Hardly. Neoliberalism is a creature of the bourgeois left, not the right. The bourgeois right is much more mercantilist/realist than neoliberal. Socialists should never count the bourgeois left as allies; the bourgeois left would rather risk fascism than socialism.

There is nothing about the proletariat that automatically disposes them to socialism. When they are being oppressed, they will pick whoever offers them the best story about escaping their oppression. The bourgeois right and the fascists are telling a better story than the neoliberals and the socialists. What is encouraging about Trump's popularity is that the proletariat is starting to fight back, on its own terms and not on the terms dictated by the neoliberals. They are fighting back poorly, unwisely, ineffectively, but they are fighting.

It really doesn't matter whether Trump or Clinton wins the election. Both will kill a bunch of brown foreigners and black Americans. The economy will continue to stagnate and decline under both. Neither will do shit about global warming. People in Flint will still drink filthy water. We will continue to imprison people, especially black people, in numbers that would make Stalin blush. Middle class white women will probably do marginally better under Clinton; middle class white men will probably do marginally better under Trump, but everyone not in the top 0.1%, the actual ruling class, or the top 10%, their servants, will be worse off four years after the election.

Indeed, it is possibly better if Trump wins the election. First, Trump is a buffoon, without the will to actually be a real fascist. If he's elected, he will quickly expose the emptiness of the nationalist/realist agenda. If Clinton wins (or if Trump is denied the Republican nomination), then the forces of reaction will just get stronger, and whoever follows Trump could well have the will to real fascism.

Socialists have an historic opportunity, one not seen since the aftermath of the First Global Imperialist War (a.k.a. WW I). Neoliberalism is collapsing, and the forces of reaction have only (for now) a clown to represent them. We have the perfect opportunity to tell a better story (better in no small part because it's true). Neoliberalism is weak, and, losing hegemony, the American neoliberals can no longer buy off even the labor aristocracy, much less the proletariat as a class.

Trump's weak-tea fascism-lite, if quickly exposed, will not have the force to satisfy the proletariat. However, if current conditions are a great opportunity for socialism, they are a great opportunity for real fascism, which holds a lot of appeal for the still-maturing proletariat.

Friday, March 04, 2016