Cooking the Books: A Nobel Prize for Non-Economics

October 2021 Forums Comments Cooking the Books: A Nobel Prize for Non-Economics

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  • #91969
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    What I would say, is that in some senses, it doesn't matter: we're not selling a plan, or a thing in itself, we're selling class struggle…. ending the wages system is what matters. 

     This is one of the stock responses (that I have used in the past) of the SPGB that has served so well in building the movement up to its current membership. I think the statement is an excuse that is all too easy to use in order to avoid the difficult questions.Ending the wages system is a plan to get rid of something. The party has some idea of what should replace the wages system: some form of democratically controlled non-market based system of governance, producation and allocation.  You don't sell reformist class struggle you sell revolutionary class struggle. You don't argue that people should be fighting for minimum wages, better working conditions, environmental reforms, political reforms, campaign finance reform or any of that (not that I am saying you argue against it; although that is sometimes the perceived effect).The party says "No! Reformism is not the way! Revolutionary socialism is the (only) answer!".So the party is not selling class struggle in itself it is selling class struggle for socialist revolution. Now if you are trying to get someone to struggle, work or strive against something they need to believe it is worth doing. The struggle that you are selling is only worth doing if it makes people better off, in expectation. It can only be expected to make people better off if there is very strong evidence that it will work (and work well).Without providing this evidence the majority of people will not see it as worthwhile to put there energy, hope and dreams into the SPGB's particular form of class struggle. I have put the party line to a lot of people in my time. The answer has fairly systematically been "Nice idea but it will never work.". I am sure you are familiar with this reply. There are a few exceptions. Now, the classic response to this is to knock down their reasons why it definitiely won't work. And then, when they are unconvinced (or agree out of politeness but don't want to get involved) is to feel that they are somehow being irrational, or ideologically blinkered. But this is not right: Just because I can't disprove something doesn't mean it exists!I believe that the big problem for the party is that, no matter how good your propaganda, people very rationally do not want to struggle for a completely unknown quantity such as world socialism. Most people will only think it is worth fighting for a socialist revolution if they think socialism will work. People are right to have this attitude. The party is wrong to treat this as unimportant. I think the party fobs this off because it is hard to deal with in a rigourous fashion and may not even be possible. I personally will not struggle for a socialist society unless I am given very good evidence that it would work (although I do spend a bit of time looking myself).

    #91970
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    I don't think, as such, we're disagreeing.  All I'm saying is that socialism isn't a software upgrade to be market tested and installed complete and functioning.  When the abolitionists called for an end to slavery, they didn't come up with a complex detailed plan for what the slaves could do next.  We are the abolitionists of wage-slavery, we don't, and can't, know what will come next, all we need is to know that we can do things differently.The working class isn't going to be convinced by a nice blue-print of how socialism will work, what will convince us is that the wages system becomes unsupportable.Medieval anti-communists used Aesop's 'The Belling of the Cat' to explain why the peasants would be crushed by the aristocrats.  No-one would be willing to actually put the bell on the cat, despite thinking it's a good diea.  Class struggle, and  necessity, is our answer to that: the workers will have to put the bell on the cat, at some point.

    #91971
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant
    Quote:
    The answer has fairly systematically been "Nice idea but it will never work.". I am sure you are familiar with this reply. There are a few exceptions.

      Actually, it's more often "Nice idea, but no one else will go for it." this chimes in with an interesting project I read about yesterday, whereby some film makers recorded some despairing people saying "It's awful there's nothing to be done" about poverty, etc. they played the film back to the people involved, and it had a staggering effect: having their despair echoed back to them, and hearing that otehr people felt the same way.I don't think it's just "Will it work" that holds people back, it's a mix of feeling there is nothing they can join in with, nothing that reflects their aspirations, waiting for someone else to act, etc.

    #91972
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    I don't think, as such, we're disagreeing. 

     I do think we are disagreeing. To be clear I think:1) People should not support a global socialist revolution unless there is overwhelming evidence that world socialism being better than capitalism.2) The evidence that world socialism will be better than capitalism is not overwhelming. The consequence of these two beliefs is that I am not willing to support a socialist revolution but I would support research into the feasibility of socialism. I think that you might agree with (1) but be happy for the evidence to be less than overwhelming. I think that you definitely disagree with statement (2).I would like to know if you agree with this characterisation of our disagreement.

    #91973
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant
    Alaric wrote:
    1) People should not support a global socialist revolution unless there is overwhelming evidence that world socialism being better than capitalism.

    Ah, if you're moving from would to should not, then we definitely have a big disagrement.  I'd support socialism if it made everyone, including myself, materally worse off: but at least we'd be free.  I think the "should" is an unnecessary bar to pass, who are we to set conditions on the working class's aspirations?

    #91974
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "I'd support socialism if it made everyone, including myself, materally worse off:"I didn't say anything about the definition of better off. I said earlier that I would accept any non-absurd definition of "better". If you want to go the route of stating socialism would be better because people would have more freedom then you still have to demonstrate that people would indeed have more freedom. "I think the "should" is an unnecessary bar to pass, who are we to set conditions on the working class's aspirations?"First, the answer to your question is: "Members of the working class.". When I talk about what people "should" am I assuming a certain amount of similarity between my own desires and those of other people. In fact, I am making a weaker assumption than that because of the weakness of the restrictions that I am placing on "better". But let's not get overly philosophical here as we are perfectly capable of using "should" in a meaningful and reasonable fashion. I could change "socialism" for "getting on a boat": People should only get on a boat if they have good evidence that it is not going to sink.Second, whether you mean to or not it sure feels like you are working damn hard to avoid the main questions. So here they are again. (1) If somebody is going to support a revolution do you think they need evidence that the revolution is going to make them better off?(2) Do you think there is strong evidence that a socialist revolution would make people better off?My answers are Yes then No (by nearly any sensible definition of better off). What are your answers?

    #91975
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant
    Alaric wrote:
    (1) If somebody is going to support a revolution do you think they need evidence that the revolution is going to make them better off?(2) Do you think there is strong evidence that a socialist revolution would make people better off?My answers are Yes then No (by nearly any sensible definition of better off). What are your answers?

    No and Yes.I'd suggest "should" remains prescriptive, rather than descriptive, whether applied to socialism or boats.

    #91976
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "I'd suggest "should" remains prescriptive, rather than descriptive, whether applied to socialism or boats."Yes. You're damn right its prescriptive. And trying to get people involved in a revolution isn't!? We are talking about what society to support. Any outcome of the discussion will be prescriptive, even if it is only a prescription for ourselves.Do you really think it is not necessary to have evidence that a revolution will improve people's lives before supporting a revolution? Why the hell would we want a revolution that does not improve people's lives, and may well make their lives worse? I think you don't really mean no to what I mean by question (1). I suppose you may have misinterpreted "need" or "better-off".You have already stated that you think it is necessary that the party demonstrate that socialism could work. This is half of a yes to what I mean by question (1). If we allow "work" to also mean that it would give people better lives (along some set of dimensions that we think are important) then we agree (I was not expectingdisagreement with (1) as I saw it as a rephrasing of your own earlier point). I wanted to establish agreement that it is important to have evidence before deciding on what type of society we want to pursue. This was the purpose of (1). I then wanted to engage in the substantive disagreement: Whether there is strong evidence to suggest that a socialist society, as described by the SPGB, would make people better-off?But if you don't think that evidence is important then I suppose there is no point in continuing the discussion.

    #91977
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    The reason I don't think people need evidence it will make them better off, is that I think the revolution will be compelled upon us by circumstance.  Like I said, it isn't a software app we can just install, it isn't something chosen from a menu, it will be a fight of necessity.On a descriptive basis, then, we can delineate what a post-revolutionary set up might look like, and we can feed that idea in to ease the passage.The job of the party isn't to persuade people to want socialism, but to find socialists, to find people who are already thinking this way, and coalesce them into a force for class struggle.

    #91978
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Well, if its inevitable I guess I might as well not bother with it until its happening. But I don't think its inevitable even if a crisis of capitalism is. There are many solutions to crises in capitalism that might be put on the table for which the working class may fight. In fact, as there has been in the past, a deal will probably be put on the table by the owning class, through the use of government legislation. People will have to choose to fight for the whole hog or cut a deal. You think they should fight for the whole hog; but when the time comes you won't have the evidence to show that its worthwhile.This whole discussion I have been trying to get a discussion about the feasibility of socialism. However, as soon as you realised that you don't actually have any good evidence for this you started trying to avoid the debate. And now we have ended up with an argument of the form "We don't need evidence for the revolution is foretold.". 

    #91979
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant
    Quote:
    This whole discussion I have been trying to get a discussion about the feasibility of socialism. However, as soon as you realised that you don't actually have any good evidence for this you started trying to avoid the debate. And now we have ended up with an argument of the form "We don't need evidence for the revolution is foretold.".

    I usually find it unwise to try and second guess the motivations of those I'm debating with: I am not a mind reader, and there is good evidence to suggest you aren't.  As it stands, you are promoting an utopian position, I am trying to oppose it.  I've no interest in trying to prove that Castles in the Sky are feasible, I'm interested in how society is and the underlying logic of its movement.  Further, I don't think they should fight for the whole hog, I think they'll have to.  Beyond that, all we need is to be aware that mechanisms other than the monetary exist and can work, thus meaning that working class emancipation is possible and the end choice needn't be barbarism.

    #91980
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I find that it is wise to think about the motivations of those one is debating. The arguments of Christians make more sense when this is done. It does not require powers of mind reading; but I didn't expect you to agree with me about your motivations.I am not promoting a utopian position. I have not done so at any point. I have promoted the idea that people need evidence for things being worthwhile before struggling for them. This is not utopian but pragmatic. You began by saying, if you look back at earlier comments, that the socialist party needed to demonstrate feasibility. When I accepted this and said I didn't think feasibility had been demonstrated you switched to a different argument; effectively as to whether it was in fact necessary to demonstrate feasibility. Now you have switched to a position where you're arguing that it is not important to demonstrate feasibility. The new position is that fighting for a revolution will be inevitable and it will inevitably be a fight for full blown world socialism. Fine. But that is a shift from your earlier position that demonstrating feasibility was necessary. I am loathe to get into a debate about what your evidence is for this view point, so I won't bother. I don't see why "all we need is to be aware that mechanisms other than the monetary exist and can work". For the earlier mentioned reasons that we do not know that a global socety can operate using such mechanisms. However, given your position, we don't even need to be aware that such mechanisms other than the monetary exist and can work because there isn't going to be any choice over whether a revolution happens or not. It will be forced upon us by circumstance, and so will the nature of that revolution. In which case I don't know why the SPGB bothers existing. People's energy's would be better spent alleviating the unpleasant symptons (or failings) of capitalism such as insufficient supply of retro-viral drugs while we wait for the inevitable crisis of capitalism. Sorry, that my tone has ended up being hostile. I wanted to discuss something that I thought we both believed important: the feasibility of socialism. Given that you have decided this is no longer an important question I think further discussion will not be a worthwhile use of our time. I am interested in trying to work out if socialism could work; if it is possible to implement; if a crisis of capitalism that requires a global revolution is inevitable or very likely; what should the revolution aim for; and other similar questions. I thought that this would be a good forum to discuss such issues. I was mistaken. Regards, We are a strange monkey.

    #91981
    Ed
    Participant

    Hello Alaric, I'm not sure what kind of evidence you can expect anyone to produce. If you're asking for evidence of a world-wide classless, stateless, moneyless society of abundance I'm afraid you're asking the impossible. As once modes of production are established they do not regress. If you're asking for small isolated communities organized without private property, classes and money then sure there are plenty of examples both ancient and modern. But if it ever had existed on a world wide scale it would be a reality right now. What possible reason would there be for society to reintroduce classes?If you're asking for evidence that the productive forces of the human race can produce the essentials needed in abundance for the entire population of this planet at this current point in time then sure we can get that for you. There's plenty of independent sources which claim that.We don't however, draw up blueprints of exactly how a socialist society will function. As we don't currently know the precise conditions that we will face when we have the power to contribute to that discussion. For example; A world revolution could be very peaceful with little destruction. If that's the case then the plan for society would be very different than if the revolution had been very violent and destructive or if we were facing ecological disaster or any other number of factors which we don't currently know about. We can only make plans when we can see the whole picture and have the power to change it. We can however, learn from what has already happened and say what we don't want.So back to my original question please could you expand on exactly which kind of evidence you're looking for?

    #91982
    Brian
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    The job of the party isn't to persuade people to want socialism, but to find socialists, to find people who are already thinking this way, and coalesce them into a force for class struggle.

    If we are not here to persuade people to want socialism what the heck have I been doing wrong for the last 30 odd years? Tut, tut!  Admittedly, we also try and find socialists but when participating in that process we also try and make socialists by convincing (and not converting) them through discussion that socialism will make a *difference for the better*.  Particulary in reference to the democratic control of the means of living so that the needs of humanity are met.Nonetheless, because the revolutionary transformation itself is going to be different from any other which has taken place – in that the next social revolution will by default be a conscious revolution – we are only in a position to draw a basic outline on how that difference will be better.  To do otherwise would not only be undemocratic but also ignore historical materialism in that its not our job to project the future in a broad outline when the dynamics of class struggle will determine when that struggle reaches a successful conclusion.Therefore the prospect of inevitability only becomes a certainty when and only when a majority have become persuaded enough is enough and to give socialism a try.  Having reached that stage of social evolution society as a whole if it so wishes can then democratically decide that although socialism has made a difference its not been for the better in respect of meeting human needs and move on to a society which will make a difference for the better.When looking at the problem from this angle – if indeed it is a problem – it means that only socialism can provide the democratic framework whereby society as a whole can decide a better future.Hope this helps.

    #91983
    steve colborn
    Participant

    I agree Brian. We are not here merely to find Socialists but to use arguments to "persuade" workers that it is in their interests. To find people who are already thinking this way is, to say, obvious. To persuade people Socialism is in their "personal interests", (and there are more of the latter than than the former), is the problematic thought that should be occupying the minds of Socialists.YFS,Steve.

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