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February 15, 2008



I know exactly the tendency he's talking about, and it does show up in left-wing politics quite a bit. The old Labour blogger Neil Harding, for one, provides prime examples of this sort of thinking on a regular basis. I agree that it isn't necessarily synonymous with 'socialism', though.

Matt Munro

"I'm a socialist precisely because I believe bosses and politicians know no more than ordinary people, and so their claims to power - based as they are upon a pretence to expertise - are mistaken."

Fair enough but how do you operationalise the knolwledge of ordinary people into the exercise of power without corrupting it. Once anyone (ruling class or proletariat) assumes the mantle of state authority, they cease to represent the interests of the ordinary person, thus beggining the schism between the interests of the government and the interests of the governed. Some animals are more equal than others and all that.


You devolve power to the smallest unit possible and make it's agents directly accountable to the punters.

The opposite of centralizing everything and giving the rodents you've elected five years to run riot in.


I think DK was concerning himself with actual once-existing socialism.


DK believes that socialism is a belief that socialists should control everyone else in their own best interests.

You have told me that you don't think it is that - but you have not said what it is.

What do socialists actually believe, and how can you demonstrate that they do, in fact believe this?

tom s.

"I think DK was concerning himself with actual once-existing socialism"

If we think there are new avenues to explore that are still socialist we get the really-existing thing thrown at us, but if we don't think there are such avenues we get "stuck in the USSR". When it comes to new ideas, this is an attempt to damn us if we do, and damn us if we don't.

tom s.

ad - that would seem to be a topic for another tome or six. I don't think it's realistic to expect our host to tackle everything in a single post.

Scott Hughes

I don't consider myself a socialist. But I do agree that socialism is not based on the belief that people are think or stupid. In fact, socialism is usually about giving "power to the people," and taking it away from the political leaders.

Socialist governments tend towards authoritarianism because all governments do that. Power corrupts, and politicians lie.


Look, it's quite simple; every government that has called itself 'Socialist' has ended in tyranny.

It simply won't do for self-styled Socialists to then say, "Ah, but the Soviet Union (or anywhere else in this sad litany) wasn't the genuine article."

If it walks like a duck..etc.

Socialism IS exactly as defined as DK. We only have experience to judge it by and that is the inevitable conclusion.

Bob B

Can we, please, have examples of successful socialist economies post-industrialization?

Engels' views of the role of the state might apply to hunter-gatherer lifestyles, or just possibly to settled agrarian communities in villages with tribal systems of governance, but hardly apply when large scale irrigation systems were adopted in classical times and those were times when it was possible to wander off to places beyond the control of the state.

Question: who policed the Silk Road trade route stretching from Chang'an in China through to Rome against attacks by marauding nomads?


Scott if “socialism is usually about giving "power to the people," and taking it away from the political leaders” there must be many examples of socialists reducing the power of the political leaders in their country. Would you mind giving many such examples?

Was this true in the UK? Russia? China? France? Cambodia? Vietnam?

Historically, socialists have worked to change the identity of political leaders by putting themselves in power. Then they work to increase the power of the new political leaders.

Tom, if DK is the only person to give me a description of what is meant by socialism, why should I not believe him? It seems to fit the facts, and I have been pointed towards no evidence against his theory. Nor has Chris given an alternative theory.

The Tory Troll

I agree Chris. Those on the right always conflate Socialism with Communism. There is a world of difference between the statist practices of Stalin and the Democratic Socialist principles of Orwell.
The problem with so-called 'free market' capitalism is that it always ends up with the monopolization of that free-market for those at the top of the pile. Democratic socialism at its best can dampen those inequalities whilst still allowing people to prosper.

Bob B

"Those on the right always conflate Socialism with Communism."

According to the constitution of the Soviet Union, the Soviets never claimed to have achieved "communism", only "socialism". Since there is no copyright on use of the word, they were fully entitled to make a claim to be socialists, as indeed were the Nazis. Recall that the formal title of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

To illuminate the realities, on 28 September 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Friendship Treaty when Britain and France were already at war with Germany [Norman Davies: Europe (OUP 1996) p.1000]. This link is to the text of the treaty:

Btw while Orwell was very clear about those aspects of politics with which he disapproved, he was never clear about what he meant by "socialism".

The Tory Troll

Nazism had zero to do with socialism. Hitler only ever used the term in order to gain the support of dissatisfied German workers. Hitler believed entirely in private property he just believed that it should all belong to Germans.
As for the soviet state's rights to the word Socialism, they made many such claims. Unfortunately they were murdering liars.
Orwell's views on Socialism were not unclear, they just developed over the course of his life. Much of what he aimed for at the end of his life has been achieved (NHS etc) and Orwell's main aim, the elimination of poverty, has been achieved in England if not elsewhere.
But the basic premise: that all forms of socialism are inherently wrong because of the tyrannies of Stalin, is false. The soviet state was never a socialist state no matter what it claimed.

Bob B

"Nazism had zero to do with socialism."

I'm glad you have cleared that up beyond dispute, especially as I was under the evidently mistaken impression that the Nazis in government in Germany quickly brought down unemployment [1] and launched VolksWagen as a state owned enterprise to manufacture the People's Car.

Personally, on the meaning of words, I've tried to follow Thomas Hobbes:

"For words are wise men's counters; they do but reckon by them: but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever"
Leviathan Bk.1 Chp.4

Btw if Nazism had zero to do with socialism, why you do suppose Stalin agreed to the Soviet Union signing up to a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939?

I'm a bit puzzled by this as well:

"The tax department chief of the Association of Industrialists (Reichsgruppe Industrie) emphasized that it was useless to attempt precise comparisons between the new and old tax regulations because the important issue was 'the new spirit of the reform, the spirit of National Socialism. The principle of the common good precedes the good of the individual stands above everything else. In the interests of the whole nation, everyone has to pay the taxes he owes according to the new tax law'."

Source: Avraham Barkai: Nazi Economics (Berg Publisher Ltd (1990)) p. 183. Mr Barkai is a research fellow at the Institute of German History, Tel Aviv.

Lloyd George and Hitler seem to have got on rather well when they met in 1936:

[1] " . . from 6 million in October 1933 to 4.1 million a year later, 2.8 million in February 1935, 2.5 million in February 1936, and 1.2 million in February 1937." [CP Kindleberger: The World in Depression 1929-1939 (Allen Lane, 1973) p.240]

Bob B

More on Lloyd George and Hitler:

"Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Adolf Hitler pose for a photograph on the Obersalzburg during George's second visit with the German Chancellor. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is visible in the rear between the two leaders. (June 7, 1936)"

Lloyd George wrote a glowing assessment of Hitler in an article for the Daily Express on 17th November, 1936. Unfortunately, the link to the article no longer functions now but compare this:

"In August 1936 Lloyd George met Hitler at Berchtesgaden and offered some public comments that were surprisingly favourable to the German dictator, expressing warm enthusiasm both for Hitler personally and for Germany's public works schemes (upon returning, he wrote of Hitler in the Daily Express as 'the greatest living German', 'the George Washington of Germany')."

Miguel Madeira

"Btw if Nazism had zero to do with socialism, why you do suppose Stalin agreed to the Soviet Union signing up to a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939?"

Stalin also signed alliances with Churchill...

Bob B

"Stalin also signed alliances with Churchill... "

But that only came after Nazi Germany, the "friend" of the Soviet Union, invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Meanwhile, Britain had been at war with Nazi Germany since 3 September 1939.

Field Marshall von Rundstedt was captured by the US 36th Infantry Division on May 1, 1945. During his captivity he was reportedly asked by Soviet interrogaters which battle he regarded as most decisive. Expecting him to say 'Stalingrad', Von Rundstedt replied: "The Battle of Britain". Annoyed the Soviets "put away their notebooks and left."

The Battle of Britain was fought and won over the skies of southern England in the summer of 1940. For an engaging TV documentary on the battle in four episodes, try:

Bob B

We should honour all the foreign pilots who came to Britain to fight in that decisive battle to prevent the Luftwafe gaining air supremacy, an essential precondition for the planned invasion of Britain:

Had the battle been lost, there could have been no Normandy invasion of France on 6 June 1944.

Btw America entered the war in Europe on 11 December 1941 when Germany and Italy declared war on America, following Japan's attack on the US Pacific fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.


There are a minority of idealistic socialists who - like CD - are not statists by aspiration. Noam Chomsky is another.

But I would think it fairly obvious the great mass of leftists/ socialists, and the party machine and the funding, and the mass of electoral votes - all come from statists (especially from public sector employees), and from special interests groups such as unions and 'minorities' (variously-defined).

Nowadays (and for several decades) socialism does not have a core definition or a coherent ideological rationale - this disappeared along with the belief in socialist economics.

But 'populist' socialism as interest-group politics (once euphemistically termed a 'rainbow' coalition), and deploying a heavily moralized form of discourse, is still very powerful.

The Tory Troll

If being in alliance with other countries meant that you shared their ideology, then we are currently living in an Islamic, Capitalist, Socialist, Fascist democracy.
As for alliances during ww2, Orwell and other socialists were strongly against these. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, suggested that we should probably support the Nazis.

Bob B

"The Daily Mail, on the other hand, suggested that we should probably support the Nazis"

But then so did Lloyd George, the last Liberal prime minister of Britain, after he met Hitler in 1936.


How do you have socialism without forced redistributism? And how do you have forced redistributism without statism? So socialism causes statism, even if they are not the same thing.

Bob B

"How do you have socialism without forced redistributism?"

According to Engels in his preface of 1886 to the English edition of Capital, Marx thought it could all be worked out through Parliamentary democracy. Really:

"Surely, at such a moment, the voice ought to be heard of a man whose whole theory is the result of a lifelong study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion that, at least in Europe, England is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a 'pro-slavery rebellion,' to this peaceful and legal revolution."

But Stalin had a different analysis. In a speech "Concerning Questions of Agrarian Policy in the USSR", which he made on 27 December 1929, Stalin proposed: "To launch an offensive against the kulaks [which] means that we must smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class."

Killing by category - a direct consequence of which was the Ukraine famine of 1932/3. Estimates vary on just how many millions died as a result: some say 4 million while others estimate up to 10 millions.

Miguel Madeira

"there must be many examples of socialists reducing the power of the political leaders in their country. Would you mind giving many such examples?

Was this true in the UK? Russia? China? France? Cambodia? Vietnam?"

Two examples: in Portugal usually are the left-wing parties who support the "gestão democrática das escolas" (the election of the direction of state schools by representatives of teachers, parentes, studentes and administrative staff), while the right-wing prefers more the model of an appointed "executive manager".

In the public hospitals, are also the PCP (comunist) and BE (far-left) who are in favour of the "Director Nurse" and the "Medical Director" being elected (by nurses and doctors, respectively), while the center-left and the right are in favour of theses offices being appointed by the government.

"And how do you have forced redistributism without statism?"

Some examples:



"Can we, please, have examples of successful socialist economies post-industrialization?"

Japan comes close in many ways.

Bob B

"Japan comes close in many ways."

ROFL! As incredible as it seems, you may have a point. For one thing, Japan is almost a one-party state with the same party in government almost continuously since the late 1950s. For another, it has a more equal distribution of income than most other industrialised countries and it has maintained a comparatively low rate of unemployment. From personal experience, some Japanese economists do recognise the irony.


I think Socialism is a purpose, an aim and a process rather than a management system, but no less valuable for that. Socialism is the effort to break down the exploitation of the majority of people by a tiny wealthy minority - it is a force for democratisation (in its real and meaningful sense).
Perhaps politics is corrupted in the same way as religion. The principles of Christianity and Islam are truly egalitarian and in fact quite lovely, but we all know what happens when the ideology falls into the hands of the power hungry and unscrupulous. So it was with the tragedy of Communism and the turning of monotheism into oppressive doctrines. We should not be put off by past failures: hope lies in the willingness of people always to rebuild the ‘good society’. Many countries still take Socialist core values seriously, whilst using a market economy. The important thing is to make the market a servant of people rather than their master. I think Finland is a good example.

Bob B

"Christianity and Islam are truly egalitarian and in fact quite lovely"

Both have had relatively little influence in Japan.


Bob B - your arguments are:

- Socialism attempts to use the state to achieve equality.

- Oppressive regimes use the state to oppress people.

- All oppressive regimes are socialist.

or am I missing something?


and another thing.

to object to the use of the state to bring equality is to belive in one of two alternatives:

- equality can be achieved without the state

- equality is not desirable.

so which one is it?

For many, the state is the mechanism whereby the oppression that they would otherwise suffer is averted, and they can avail themselves of opportunities through the state that would otherwise be unavailable to them.


Probably the most socialist initiative of the current government is Parenting classes.

Back in the 70’s when Labour was a proper socialist party, my properly socialist parents explained that the middle classes would make sure that their children were okay under any system, but the working class parents who routinely drank all their wages in pubs and didn’t believe in education were condemning their children to a cycle of poverty, and the state had a duty to intervene; to become in essence the caring parent their real parents so obviously weren’t.

The Blair government introduced compulsory parenting classes for feckless working class parents – a real socialist measure - and received a whole load of abuse for it.

Bizarrely, the one group of people who seem to like the idea is the parents themselves.


So Socialism is the belief that working class people don't care about their own children, or are too thick to know what is good for them?

You seem to have a lot in common with DK.

"to object to the use of the state to bring equality is to belive in one of two alternatives:"

Or a third alternative: that equality cannot be achieved with the state.

Kevin Carson

Matt Munro,

I think the central idea in Chris' version of socialism is to reduce the role of central administration and planning (in both state and corporation) as much as possible, and devolve as much decision-making as possible to voluntary associations (like worker cooperatives and mutual aid networks).

Most of the regulatory and welfare state would be unnecessary if not for the role of the state in creating the evils of corporate capitalism in the first place. Abolish state-enforced privilege, artificial property rights, subsidies to big business, etc., and the bargaining power of labor will increase and disparities in income equalize themselves to the point that the welfare state is superfluous.

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