Letters, May 2016

Our own machine; 'Real Socialism', bathroom blues

Our own machine

I caught the last bit of a Robert Reich interview on the radio on my way to work this morning, where he referenced the Progressive Era and the New Deal as periods in US history where our leaders “put ideology aside” and compromise with each other to propose and implement common sense reforms to benefit the public. Now, this may sound strange to some people, as the idea of two points in US history where major reforms were enacts as periods of compromise sounds certainly sounds contradictory on the surface. But, I think Reich was pretty much spot on, albeit perhaps not in the way that he thought.

Both the Progressive Era (1900-1920, roughly), and the New Deal (1933-1939, even more roughly as it could be argued that this set up the post-WWII social settlement which lasted into the 1960s) were periods of major social upheaval. Many groups, principally the working class, were running up against the limits of capitalism and developing political class consciousness because of it. More importantly, both as a result of and as a developer of this consciousness, permanent organizations formed which could both seriously articulate demands for the improvement of the lives of their members and supporters, as well as have the potential to pose broader questions of power in society. These organizations, such as the Socialist Party and IWW during the Progressive Era, and the Communist Party (as well as the Socialist Party and smaller socialist/communist groups, if to a lesser degree) and the nascent industrial union movement which formed into the CIO during the New Deal era, represented a potential systemic challenge to the existing order of the time; if these pieces are added into the picture that Reich alluded to above, then the idea of these periods as times of “compromise” comes into a bit of a clearer picture. Rather than compromises between the left and right of the existing political order, as the idea is often perceived to be in our time, these compromises were in fact between the existing political order as a whole, and a movement which posed the threat of overthrowing that order.

Fast forward to today. The old organizations have either atrophied, been co opted into maintaining the compromise that was struck decades ago (and now being put in the position of administering the roll-back of those compromises), or have been destroyed completely. And on many levels, laws have been enacted which make the formation of new organizations significantly more challenging (at least if we are to take working solely within the confines of the law as a virtue or necessity, which is a debate in itself). While there are signs that political class consciousness and a fighting spirit do still existing among some organizations of the broadly-defined left (some union organizing drives and campaigns, the work of some NGOs, the Bernie Sanders campaign, etc.) these still by and large exist with the organizational confines of the existing order, which makes any positive gains won easier to roll back, and can serve to stymie forward development.

So it is not enough, even if they are signs for some optimism. New organizations of the old type need to be built, organizations which can survive on their own strengths rather than immediately looking for compromises with the state, and actually put sufficient fear in the minds of those in power to be driven to the bargaining table, or to give us sufficient training in running our own affairs so that we can successfully remove the old order and replace it with one infinitely more equitable and democratic. It’s a hard road, because even under the best circumstances it will never be a fully legal one. But it’s a necessary road.

We need our own machine.

– Peter Moody


On Contradictions of Real Socialism: the Conductor and the Conducted

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Winston Churchill

We need a Marxism that articulates the logic of the working class, the logic of associated producers–one that points to the centrality of cooperation, the development of solidarity, protagonism and building of a society of ‘free individuality based on the universal development of individuals and on the subordination of their communal, social productivity as their social wealth.’”  Michael A. Lebowitz, p. 187

The society of conductors (the thinkers) and the conducted (the producers) produced deformed people lying to one another and to themselves. The lie was not socialism. The lie died. We do not want what died, but to understand why it was a doomed lie.

Contrary to the words of the bomber of Iraq, Winston Churchill, the economy of shortage and the queue that existed in real socialism was also the good result of the liberation of peasant and worker from the constraints of the lord, capitalist, and Czar. Demand rose on the back of the scanty accumulation of the less advanced capitalist economy where revolution had taken place. Not the overproduction of goods with no money to buy, under capitalism, but the increase of free demand from ennobled strugglers. What would the primitive accumulation of socialism be and how would it do? Create a new alienation of the producers from production and society? Create new stresses from environmental degradation?  The struggle of socialist logic against a dying capitalist logic could not be assuredly predicted. Even with 20-20 historical hindsight, the lessons for 21st Century Socialism from the struggles of 20th Century real socialism is debated. More tragically and foolishly, too many assume that socialism failed. End of history, folks, get to work for the man!

Michael A. Lebowitz is Professor Emeritus of Economics of Simon Fraser University in Canada and author of The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (2010) and Contradictions of “Real Socialism”: The Conductor and the Conducted (2012).

Real Socialism, Lebowitz’s term for the system that existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern / Central Europe from the 1950s through the 1980s, was a system where there were conductors –  the planners and managers – in social relation to the conducted, the workers, with the self-appointed vanguard controlling production and reproduction in that peculiar non-capitalist system. Capitalism has a longer history. Capitalism has had a long incubation. And I daresay, so will socialism.

Capitalism is built on ancient habits and social technologies developed by merchants and moneylenders, and probably Christianity, and the millennial game-changer of the encounter between the Old World and the New begun by Christopher Columbus. There was a series of “real capitalisms”, failed revolutions, before capital was to seize the means of production.

So the failure of socialism is really a history of the difficulties of social reproduction. It is a reproduction weighed down by an unintended production of the shortage economy. The conductors and the conducted were able to individually maintain a level of capitalist logic, making life more bearable for themselves, but, was parasitic of the socialist dream and, indeed, of the robo-computer compliance system demanded by top down command and control. Absent was the real promise of democratic control with bottom-up initiative from the workers.

Real socialism created deformed people as does capitalism. Thinking and producing were separated between conductors and the conducted. Workers were still alienated human beings. The workers were merely complicit in maintaining a condition of guaranteed jobs, with minimal anxiety, and accommodated as long as the social contract seemed viable. The social contract had to be based on comfort, reasonable expectations of a better world unfolding, and hope. Live well and don’t think too much remained comfortable for decades, and then, it became uncomfortable. Workers did this as collective individuals and not as bottom-up participants in real worker organizations.

Planners and managers, the thinkers, produced an environment of inadequate and inaccurate data, producing waves of variable and faulty production that fed comfortable growth statistics, was comfortable for the economic interests of those conductors, but produced glaring contradictions that eventually brought down the USSR and Eastern and Central Europe.

From the beginning, a real historic period with real people, produced an actual USSR and brethren socialist nations, made by imperfect pioneers of Marxism, in a hostile world, constrained by previous productive capacities of real pre-existing societies, and operating within societies where socialism was not a coherent system, “…the result of a logic of different systems it contained and which interacted to generate dysfunction” (Lebowitz, p. 90). Emphasis is mine.

In the 1920s, Evgeny Preobrazhensky argued about the war between capitalist and socialist systems that existed in the Soviet Union, two conflicting systems that interacted in mutual deformation, and, I suppose like an explosion of atomic particles from fast collisions in a cyclotron particle accelerator. The interaction of the two systems living in “real socialism” created crises, contradictions, and inefficiencies. (Lebowitz, chapter 4) The crisis of Soviet socialism became, in part, of managers seeking income maximization within the myopic command structure resulting in the perverse production results within the shortage economy. Bummer! History is Pandora’s box, or life is like a box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’ll bite into.

In short, real socialism was a vanguard state, where the vanguard replaced the capitalists but did not completely lose capitalist logic. Vanguard selected reproduction of itself produced a ruling nomenklatura (list of those who can be trusted):                                             , a compliant leadership and followership. Not in this the burial agents of capitalism that socialism needs as seed prescribed by the Communist Manifesto, rather than a conscious proletariat, we have a servile and scheming worker doing the least for the most, exercising condoned theft (blat) for family and friends, an opponent of the vanguard, but not an agent to bury the system.

Vanguard socialism, “real socialism,” died as the one-sided socialism it was. Twenty first century socialism must be one of human beings, developing fully, not as deformed and alienated beings coping as best they can. As Lebowitz ends a lecture, “socialism of the future: build it now”. (Michael Lebowitz: Contested Reproduction and the Contradictions of Socialism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVdpEKFT_As).

– David Smithers

YouTube Resources:

*Michael Lebowitz interview on cuban tv feb 2010 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymz87uQDVYw)

*Michael A. Lebowitz – Primitive Accumulation versus Contested Reproduction (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_FpXwOlZCA)


Who else does the bathroom law affect?

Of course we have situated ourselves on the bathroom laws being a purely transgender issue. Many people in our country are afraid to pee while they go to the grocery store or try to make a living. Though as a party we must concentrate on this problem as a whole who else do the bathroom laws affect?

Recently while scavenging in the deepest corners that the internet can provide, I read an article about a man who followed a woman in to the bathroom. Because she did not look like a woman and he had to make sure. This lead for me to research what else this bathroom law means to families with special needs adults and children in their midst.

What happens when an adult with the mentality and social sense of a three year old needs to go to the bathroom? With the chance of elopement so high, do you send them alone? Or do you go in the bathroom with them? It’s typical for a mother to take their child with them. But in many situations, like when entering a gym, you enter and have to go through a locker room. What happens when a mother enters the locker room with her thirty year old son in tow?

As reasonable minded people we think that people will observe the person’s disability and move on with their life. But this is not what happens. We must ask ourselves: is this law putting more then just transgender people’s lives at risk? Are we living in a country where a mother or father may fear taking their child with special needs to the bathroom? What happens when a single father with a daughter with special needs has to take his daughter to the bathroom? How can a single law marginalize so much?

Of course the North Carolina law says that there are exceptions using the quote “to accompany a person who will need assistance.” Mind you, this law also states that after a child turns eight that they have to go to the bathroom with a parent of the same sex. Good luck, single parents with children with or without special needs.

Of course family restrooms are an option. But many places cannot accommodate for this space. And this leads to the illusion of a safe option for the transgender and special needs population, but what happens when there is no family restroom? Over 650 million people in this world today are disabled. I think the most important thing to do is to stand with these people and help keep them safe.

So what happens now? Finding myself in the deep hallows of the internet I found another article written by a mother that was written in a way that filled my heart with dread. In short, the woman has let her kid pee in the woods. For such an “advanced” country why are we letting people live like this? The only hope lies in the Red Party to fight for those with special needs who can not fight for themselves.This law puts them at risk for so many problems. What happens in the school? Or what happens when a mistake is made and a parent goes to jail for helping their child use the bathroom?

– Cassidy Good