Tag Archives: socialism

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains socialism

This is a long read, but it’s excellent and worth the time investment if you take politics seriously.

Everything you think you know about socialism is wrong.

For example, socialism does NOT ban private property.

I now feel like I actually have some understanding of what socialism and communism are, which I did not have before.

I recently asked a friend whether he is a socialist and he replied he wasn’t sure, but he was sure that socialism would work better than whatever economic system we currently have. I agree. And I am definitely a social democrat. The US needs strong free markets, but it also needs strong government, to keep those markets serving the people, rather than the people serving the ultra-rich. Democracy, rather than markets, should be in charge of the US.

Government also needs to provide services, such as universal education and healthcare, that the free market does not seem to be able to provide.

Also, by the way, the universe of “Star Trek” is absolutely a socialist vision. No question about it. It verges on Communism.

Remembering Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the greatest mass murder in history

Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University, writes at the Washington Post that it’s important to remember the abuses of communism as we do for fascism, for the same reason — so history doesn’t repeat itself.

The horrendous history of China, the USSR, and their imitators, should have permanently discredited socialism as completely as fascism was discredited by the Nazis. But it has not – so far – fully done so.

Just recently, the socialist government of Venezuela imposed forced labor on much of its population. Yet most of the media coverage of this injustice fails to note the connection to socialism, or that the policy has parallels in the history of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other similar regimes. One analysis even claims that the real problem is not so much “socialism qua socialism,” but rather Venezuela’s “particular brand of socialism, which fuses bad economic ideas with a distinctive brand of strongman bullying,” and is prone to authoritarianism and “mismanagement.” The author simply ignores the fact that “strongman bullying” and “mismanagement” are typical of socialist states around the world. The Scandinavian nations – sometimes cited as examples of successful socialism- are not actually socialist at all, because they do not feature government ownership of the means of production, and in many ways have freer markets than most other western nations.

These are excellent points. But it is also true that capitalism seems joined at the hip with imperialism, genocide, and mass poverty, with slavery of one kind or another endemic to capitalist societies the way hip dysplasia is common to some breeds of dogs.

So if both socialism and capitalism are broken, then what?

Somin makes another point that’s inarguably true: The Great Leap Forward and other abuses of communism must be remembered because their survivors are still alive, and deserve respect and financial compensation.

Star Trek and Heinlein in one headline. My ultimate clickbait.

Roddenberry’s Star Trek was “above all, a critique of Robert Heinlein” [Manu Saadia – Boing Boing]

I recently came across a definition of socialism (which I can no longer put my fingers on), that said it’s an economic system where the means of production is owned by the the workers, with the state as their proxy. It said that socialism is a stepping-stone on the way to Communism, when goods would be so plentiful that there would be no need to pay for them. And I said to myself, holy crap, that’s Star Trek.

Star Trek is a Communist society where everybody worthwhile serves in the military and wears a uniform.

Exploring science fiction’s Radium Age

The 100 best stories from Radium Age sci-fi, which ruled the early 20th century [Annalee Newitz – Ars Technica]

The so-called “Radium Age” of science fiction, 1904-33, popularized many themes that seem contemporary today: post-humans, the Singularity, zombie-populated dystopias, and more. It was a period when smart people could still be Utopians, many of them Socialists. The later rise of Naziism and the USSR put an end to that; later writers in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, the 1940s-50s, considered themselves wised up.

But the Radium Age writers could also be grim, writing stories that reflected the worker uprisings of the period, and the horrors of World War I.

To appreciate these novels, you have to reverse-engineer their historical context and realize that the bomb had not yet dropped and the Soviet Union hadn’t yet coalesced into an authoritarian regime. Imagine a world where we were hopeful about the future because we had no fear of weapons of mass destruction. And where we had not yet seen what fascism would do to the West but were still deeply worried about it. Instead of bombs, the spectre of World War I haunts many of these books with its senseless, overwhelming violence; there’s a good reason why some of them imagine poison gas as the ultimate horror. The Radium Age was also a time when unionization and strike violence were a part of everyday life in industrialized cities, and these conflicts gave rise to fantasies about what would happen when robots took over manual labor. Robot uprising stories begin during the Radium Age, when worker uprisings were changing the social landscape.

Evolution was still relatively new, and even more controversial than it is today. Writers then believed the misconception that evolution inevitably proceeds from inferior to superior forms, with the human race at the pinnacle. Science fiction writers of the Radium age wrote about mutant supermen who would threaten humanity; those themes continue right through until today in the X-Men series.

I recall when I was about 12 years old reading a 1935 story called “Alas, All Thinking,” by Harry Bates, where a time traveler from the present visits the Earth eons in the future, and finds the human race has evolved into a small population of gigantic, immobile heads, with shriveled bodies that can’t even support the weight of their enormous domes. The scientist, repulsed by what the human race has become, smashes the heads – killing them – and then returns to the present, driven mad by the futility of human existence. Even as a boy I thought (1) Killing people who haven’t hurt you first is wrong, even if they are giant heads and (2) It makes no sense for the events of millions of years in the future to make anybody feel life today is futile. The story puzzled me.

It’s only reading Lewitz’s essay that it occurs to me that this is really a story about good, muscular middle Americans conquering effete intellectuals, with their evil socialist and free love ideas. At about the time the story was written, Nazis were putting intellectuals in concentration camps, and not long after, the Communist Chinese and Khmer Rouge targeted intellectuals for genocide.

I don’t mean to suggest that Bates was a Nazi sympathizer, or supported the USSR, Communist China, or Pol Pot. Science fiction writers pick up ideas that are lying around on the ground and often don’t explore the roots of those ideas. Stephen King wrote about that in his book Danse Macabre, noting that many midcentury monster movies saw their monsters created by nuclear explosions. These moviemakers were tapping into fears of nuclear weapons, but it’s not like these guys were experts on nuclear policy. They were just picking up on what was lying on the ground.

Science fiction and fantasy has always had a strain of anti-intellectualism, which is baffling because writers and editors are intellectuals. Self-loathing much?

More about “Alas, All Thinking.”

Wikipedia: Harry Bates

Bates’s best-known story was “Farewell to the Master” (1940), basis for the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Teen shoplifters find community on Tumblr

We R Cute Shoplifters [Good – Tasbeeh Herwees]

Shoplifting has a long history of political activism. Attitudes toward shoplifting parallel attitudes toward women and respectability.

Or maybe it’s just petty theft.

“I lift because I’m poor,” Lifterslife responded. “I’m at that age where I feel bad when I ask my parents for money that they can’t really spare. ‘But why don’t you just go without?’ you ask. Because in today’s society dressing like you’re poor and a bum will get you nowhere.” Members of Liftblr feel empowered by a sense of social justice. They reblog Bernie Sanders memes and post anti-racist screeds. When one anonymous user threatens them with “karma,” they turn the thread into a conversation on the cultural appropriation of non-Western concepts. Feminist rhetoric infuses their language. And they’re extremely anti-corporatist. “Shoplifting can be an act of civil disobedience,” writes one user. “If you do get caught, tell them: This is not petty theft. This is non-violent resistance to a violent and oppressive economic system in which we are trapped.”

Britney Summit-Gil, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher of digital media, gender representation, and consumer identities at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, says the lifting community is participating, knowingly or unknowingly, in a historical practice of theft as activism. “Shoplifting, whether you mean it to be or not, is an anti-capitalist action,” says Summit-Gil. “You’re undermining one of the basic tenets of capitalist ideology, which is that it’s a mortal sin to steal or to get anything you didn’t work for.” This idea infiltrates the earliest anarchist doctrines, which called it “individual reclamation”—resistance to what activists of the time saw as a violent capitalist ideology. Late 19th-century French anarchists implemented individual reclamation against the Parisian elite, squatting in their homes and setting fire to their belongings. More recently, in 2000, a group of Spanish anarchists formed Yomango, which means “I steal” in Spanish slang, and billed it as an anti-consumerist movement.

19th Century women, many of them affluent, began shoplifting as a reaction to the newfound freedom that the ability to shop gave them. Middle- and upper-class women were considered respectable by society, “and to label them criminals would undo a social order the elite establishment held precious to its survival. So they were labeled ‘sick’ instead.” And that’s how “kleptomania” became a thing.


If not capitalism, then what? Just 33% of young people surveyed say they support socialism.

“The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered.

A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism.

Even conservatives don’t defend capitalism much anymore. When they talk about “capitalism,” it’s likely to be the phrase “crony capitalism.”

John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard, went on to personally interview a small group of young people about their attitudes toward capitalism to try to learn more. They told him that capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.

“They’re not rejecting the concept,” Della Volpe said. “The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that’s what they’re rejecting.”