Wednesday 30 June 2004

You Live and Learn

For much of my life, I have been agin Communism, Marxism, and all associated baggage. I still firmly believe that the Marxist Labour theory of Value is not merely false, but demonstrably and easily shown to be completely bogus (Labour theory of Cost is another matter). There's also no doubt that in the last century, tens of millions of people died as the results of deliberate actions by Communist regimes, mainly under Mao and Stalin, but also under others. Closer to home, I've worked alongside a man with a passion for engineering, a man of great natural ability who just wanted to architect stuff that was the best possible - yet who had been denied a place at University because his parents were Academic Bourgoisie, and the Workers and Peasants (or rather, their self-appointed representatives) didn't want the growth of an Intellectual class. His place likely went to some politically reliable but thick-as-two-short-planks student who could parrot the Party Line, but who didn't care two hoots about the people who were going to use his creations, nor that they were shoddy and unreliable. That was the standard way of doing things in the late-and-unlamented DDR (East Germany).

And yet... consider this from Socialism in an age of Waiting :
Like the SPGB (Socialist Party of Great Britain) , and as indicated in the very name of this blog, we're waiting for the majority of workers to come to the conclusion that socialism is worth building and worth fighting for (and only then actually get on with the task). However, unlike the SPGB, we don't think that there is nothing worthwhile that anyone can do in the meantime to shorten the age of waiting. The obvious fact that the world is - on the whole, and even taking into account all its enduring horrors and injustices and inequalities - a better place, for many more people, than it was in 1904 seems to us to show that some progress is possible even within (some forms of) capitalism. We'd even argue that such progress - albeit it is limited, distorted, corrupt and, often, made for the wrong reasons by the wrong people - itself contributes to the eventual building of socialism, by educating and galvanising those who will build it (yes, comrades, Kautsky is worth re-reading). To be even briefer: we accept the doctrine of the lesser evil, and the definition of politics as the art of the possible; the SPGB don't.
Then again, they're the genuine article, a Marxist party that has not changed its stance or diluted its principles over the years - and that has to make them a whole lot better than all the pseudo-left sects put together.
This is Marxism? Well, yes it is. But nothing remotely like the odious doctrine I loath and detest. It is very... human. It recognises facts, reality, that exists despite what doctrine says. It even gives some credit to people who the author believes are deeply wrong. OK, we differ radically on methods: but I see a kindred spirit when it comes to the results we're aiming for. And I too have a grudging respect for people who have tried to keep their idealism alive, despite tha fall of so many of their dreams.

Now I'm not a Socialist. Except in the late 19th century sense of the word, where I may fit. I worship the Gods of Individual freedom, of opportunity to do either well or badly, and the concept of ownership of property. But not to the exclusion of basic humanity. To the Randites who say 'taxes/charity from those with ability and drive, to those without the ability or who are just bone idle is the path to destruction', I say 'It's my money, I worked damned hard to earn it, those who paid me got a lot more value than they paid for, so how dare you tell me what to do with it!'

Yes, I believe strongly in Capitalism, a Free Market, as a very good means of maximising total wealth generation. But I also recognise that there are Natural Monopolies that inevitably destroy the 'Perfect freedom' of the market, some intervention is required in some sectors. To me, this is self-evident, just look around you. Not all monopolies are bad, but power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and monopoly is a form of power.

I also recognise that there's such a thing as Bad Luck. I want equality of opportunity - anything else is unjust. Equality of outcome is another matter, some people will make stupid or malicious choices, and if they get no punishment, or worse, get rewarded for this behaviour, then obviously they'll continue it. But some people are just victims of circumstances, and what is taxation and a social security net but a form of insurance that spreads the risk? Or at least, that's what it would be in a perfect world.

I've seen people who, through no fault of their own, and despite their best efforts, have been put in parlous states. I've also seen people who, given great opportunities, have pissed it all away and have ended up destitute. Funnily enough, in my personal experience it's the latter who always scream the loudest for handouts from those 'more fortunate', most of whom were a lot less fortunate, but worked harder and played less, sacrificing immediate pleasure for long-term gain.

But the punishment of Poverty should only be confined to those who brought it on themselves, and not to succeeding generations, nor innocent victims of circumstance. Moreover, unless you live in a society which is too poor to afford subsidising a few drones, starvation is a punishment far too severe. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that when charitable organisations refuse to take Black and White TVs because to donate them to the poor would show disrespect, that things have gone too far the other way.

Does this political ramble sound incoherent? Well, that's because the situation isn't cut-and-dried and simple. To continue:

You don't make the poor rich by making the rich poor, and having a class of people with more money than sense turns out to be useful to society as a whole - they get to risk their wealth on chancy propositions that, if they turn out well, can benefit everybody. Wealth doesn't always 'trickle down', but it tends to, especially if given a bit of encouragement.

As an example, Carmel and I sometimes attend a bash called the Black and White Ball. What passes for High Society in Sydney, the Movers and Shakers, the Filthy Rich, and a lot of perfectly ordinary people attend. The Governor-General is usually there, along with a band from the Army. It's in aid of the Royal Blind Society, and some of the donations made during the night exceed my combined salary for a decade.

For some people, once you have more money than you know what to do with, earning it no longer becomes psychologically satisfying, but finding a good and worthwhile cause to spend it on does. There's Competition in seeing how greatly one can contribute to the Common Wealth. Hence the X-prize, and SpaceShip One. Hence the many Libraries and Universities subsidised by the Filthy Rich.

This is not universal : there are still plenty of people who still own the first dollar they ever made, and who are playing the game of "Whoever dies with the most toys, wins". But even they often end up paying for artisans (accent on the Art) who often create buildings and other objects of lasting beauty. Not always, but enough so that the rest of us don't man the barricades and put them up against the wall in Bloody revolution. Those who persist in selfish money-grubbing tend to be pitied and despised by their peers, they have the cash, but can't buy respect. Again, some sociopaths are immune, and in many of the world's poorer countries, this phenomenon is unknown : there, wealth equals respect, or at least power, or at least fear. Only relatively well-off societies can afford to be blase about wealth.

So here I am, a Right-Wing Death Beast, wholly in favour of Thatcherite 'People's Capitalism' (though I prefer to call it 'The Workers Employees owning the means of production'), completely enthralled by capitalism as a good, proven, way of running an economic system (yet wanting a safety net to make sure no-one starves even if they deserve to, and to give not-too-unequal opportunities to all). Certainly no Socialist - except where socialism is neccessary for justice tempered with mercy. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, but with the massive surplus after basic needs are satisfied distributed by the people who created it, as they see fit, because it's theirs.

As I've lived and learned, I've moved further to the left, having seen far too many people who have 'slipped through the cracks' of Capitalism. Yet everything I've seen about what passes for the left here has confirmed my view that it's very often populated by people bound up with Doctrine, who loudly proclaim their Love for Humanity while not actually doing anything constructive to aid a single Human being. In fact, they're more often Destructive than not, preferring a facade of caring rather than the far more messy and complicated reaching out and helping people, especially Black or Brown people living in remote countries. The triumph of style over substance, words over deeds. Capitalism meanwhile is too often afraid to admit that the Poor might not actually deserve to be that way, that the increase in total wealth might not help those who need that wealth get any of it, or even that this is not a good state of affairs. Yet the historical record shows that in the more affluent countries anyway, under Capitalism the poor are only poor relatively, not absolutely, and are growing less absolutely poor as time goes by.

One thing I disagree with the author of Socialism in an age of waiting on though :
All due praise, then (and, in a few cases, with all due reservations regarding differences over interpretation) to such blogs as A.E. Brain, Black Triangle, Daily Ablution, Hak Mao, James Hamilton, Mick Hartley, Oliver Kamm, Last Superpower, Lileks, Normblog, Semi-skimmed, Tim Blair, Who Knew? and anyone else who's willing and able to keep on exposing the pseudo-left, and holding them up to the hatred, ridicule and contempt they so richly deserve
Just look at the incoherent ramble that is this article. I may have the will, but compared with James Lileks or Norman Geras, my writing ability is not up to it. Nice of him to say so though. Colour me Chuffed.

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