Is Socialism Feasible? Would it be better than the current system? What does the evidence say?

October 2021 Forums General discussion Is Socialism Feasible? Would it be better than the current system? What does the evidence say?

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  • #81773
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I left the SPGB a long time ago. One of the major reasons for this was I didn't feel like we had sufficient evidence to answer the following two questions with a "Yes!", or even a "Yes….probably". The questions are:

    a) Is socialism feasible?

    b) Will it be better than the current system?

    I would like to know whether people think there is good evidence to answer yes to these two questions; and what this evidence is.

    From earlier discussion I have realised that these questions are very open to interpretation. When I say "feasible" I do not mean possible in a philosophic sense. I mean do we have good evidence that we could create and maintain, for several generations at least, a world socialist society.

    When I use the term "better" I use it loosely. People do not necessarily need to have greater material wealth. If however, everyone had shorter lives, with more hours of labour, and harder labour then I would find it difficult to accept this as better (although I am not writing this off completely).

    I define world socialism as a society that satisfies all the following properties: doesn't use markets; doesn't use slavery; doesn't use punishment to force labour; is not a dictatorship; is global and large; and is technologically advanced (at least a similar level to our current society).

    I am open to amending this definition for the purpose of the discussion. 

    (I believe that the answer to these two questions is probably yes at the levels of technology that exist in certain science fiction novels such as Iain M Banks' culture novels. I believe that such levels of abundance are sufficiently far away that it falls outside of the scope of my current political goals. That is, I am not interested in discussing questions (a) and (b) at tech levels more than a couple of centuries out (at least not for political purposes).)

     

    In order to move this debate along I will quickly discuss the types of evidence that are usually presented in order to claim yes to questions (a) and (b). I will also present my objections to these types of evidence.

    The three major types of evidence, of which I am aware, for saying yes to questions (a) and (b) are:

    #1 There are examples of very small hunter gatherer societies that don't use markets; are somewhat democratic; and don't use punishment to force labour.

    #2 There are examples of  societies larger and more complex than hunter gatherer societies which do not use markets. These societies do use slavery or punishment to force labour. They are nearly always some form of oppressive dictatorship.

    #3 Non-market processes play a large role in production, distribution and administration within modern capitalism.

    If there are other "types" of evidence please add them to the list. For example, should a modern state capitalist society — e.g, USSR —  be a type of evidence. I am not sure whether or not they can be said to function without markets. 

    It will probably prove fruitful throughout the discussion to use specific examples of these different types of evidence. However, right now I will give some general reasons why I think these different types of evidence are not sufficient to answer yes to questions (a) or (b). Excuse me if these objections are overly abstract or obvious; they are starting points which can be expanded upon. This also not a completer list of objections.

     

    Objections to evidence type #1: We know that scale and complexity matters for the way in which human organisations can organise:

    i) Scale: A society of 600 organising without markets or oppression does not imply it is possible in a society of 6 billion (or 600 000 for that matter).

    ii) Complexity: A society organising without markets or oppression using a hunter-gatherer mode of production does not imply it is possible for a technologically advanced society with high levels of specialisation.

     

    Objections to evidence type #2:

    i) Scale and complexity again, these societies while larger than hunter-gatherer societies are still a millionth the size of the world population.

    ii) It seems that slavery and punishment wielded by a minority were fundamental to the organisation of such societies. These examples need  evidence that people would have produced and consumed according to the state's edict in the absence of coercion.

    iii) These societies did not inculcate technological or scientific development very effectively. This relates more to question (b) than question (a).

     

    Objections to evidence type #3:

    i) Both market and non-market processes are used within capitalism. It does not follow from this fact that it is feasible to have a system using only market processes (anarcho-libertarian) or only non-market processes. Non-market and market processes interact with one another within capitalism. One would need to demonstrate that these processes are somehow separable. I suspect that what we will find when we examine the evidence more closely is that the market serves to aid non-market organisation and vice-versa; we will see as we deal with specific pieces of evidence.

    ii) Clearly, argument (i) above is even stronger when we replace "feasible" with "better".

     

    So, for anyone who has made it to the end:

    What are good responses to my objections?

    Are there specific examples that do not fall foul of my objections?

    Are there other types of evidence that we ought to be looking at?

    #92090
    Brian
    Participant

    For the purpose of discussion I'll tend to agree that given the current magnitude of evidence we have available there is no certainty or any guarantee that socialism will either be feasible or even better than present capitalist society.  But in fact there is no such model available which meets the criteria you are suggesting or even anywhere near it!  And if even if such a model were available it would be impossible to isolate the model from the dominant capitalist mode of production. So even that would be defective and still be subject to some of the horrors of capitalism.The truth is that we don't really know if such a mode of production is possible until its under trial and also in situ, and therefore subject to review and assessment so that any unintended problems, or consequences were identified and possible solutions considered and also tested for their viability in reference to meeting human needs e.g. shelter; food; clothing; education; medical care; and leisure.But nevertheless, when we take a look at the subject from the perspective of a growing socialist consciousness then it could be argued that the (possible) problem can be inspected, assessed and examined in a much different light so we are aware what is impossible and possible given the current level of technology and global resources.Of course, and obviously we will only be able to reach such a judgement once a socialist majority have done the necessary planning and preparation in respect of the research, data collection, run computer stimulations and other essential work, etc.  In effect what I'm suggesting is that the closer we are to a socialist society the closer we are to providing an answer to your questions.May I also suggest, and purely for discussion purposes, we use the series of articles on this subject covered in the last 3 issues of the Socialist Standard as a reference point?   They may well provide a clear framework where we can discuss this subject more thoroughly and hopefully investigate whether or not the problem you have outlined is in fact relevant to the case for socialism?Because you have yet to convince me it is.

    #92091
    ALB
    Keymaster
    Alaric wrote:
    I left the SPGB a long time ago.

    But now you're being more SPGB than the SPGB ! I mean that you accept the common caricature of our position that we are out to convince a majority of the world's population one by one by rational argument of the desirability and feasibility of socialism.This is not the case. OK, at the moment we are trying to convince more people of this with a view to their joining the Party and thus help to speed up the coming of socialism, but we are relying on people's experience of capitalism's failure to meet their needs properly to convince them of the need for socialism, independently of our own activity. The activity of a socialist party is aimed at speeding this up, not creating it from nothing as you seem to be assuming.

    #92092
    Ed
    Participant

    Sorry I haven't responded properly yet Alaric, I haven't had time to give your response the full attention it deserves. I just want to say quickly as I don't think this point has been raised. That at no other time has there ever been a blue print or I would argue the sort of definitive proof that one mode of production and one class dictatorship would be better than any other. If we look at the middle ages and the gripes of the burghers they exist right throughout the period Canterbury tales being a good example but it wasn't until the enlightenment that they actually sat down and started making any sort of concrete plans and then look how much their plans have been forced to change since then. While they knew that capitalism could work in isolated areas they had no evidence that it would work as an interconnected global system as we have today. People didn't require proof; they didn't even make concrete plans until it was plain to see that they had enough support and were on the eve of a fundamental change.

    #92093
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    None of you seem to think that there is sufficient evidence to answer Yes to questions (a) or (b). Is that correct?Maybe I coul summarise the answers as:(1) We can't have evidence that socialism works until we have socialism (Ed, Brian),and(2) We don't need evidence that socialism would work (Brian, Ed and ALB) to have the revolution.Please, correct me if I am wrong. I admit that there are nuances but I hope these capture the spirit. It is just easier to respond if I can condense people's arguments into classes.My response to (1) would be: I think that we can have more evidence that socialism works. I think that this can be done by carefully considering the problems that socialism would have to face and work out ways of solving these problems. The viability of these solutions can be investigated by testing the assumptions upon which they rely. It may be the case that these solutions might rest on assumptions not testable within capitalist societies; I would avoid relying on solutions that contain such assumptions.Point (2) seems to be based on three considerations.First, people here are of the belief that we can have the revolution and work it out as we go along. Moreover, people have made claims that if socialism doesn't work out we can choose to go back to capitalism. I am of the position that just because there is some form of voting mechanism does not mean that we will get predictable outcomes. Nor will we necessarily get outcomes that reflect the general will. There are many reasons for this belief, available on request.Second, revolutions happen without people having rational reasons to believe that life will be better after the revolution. I agree with this but I do not think that revolutions are necessarily improvements. I don't think that the revolution can happen through persuading people through rational debate one by one. However, I do think that if I am to support a revolution that I need to be persuaded through rational debate. Moreover, I think that, if a socialist movement is to get to a critical mass many people are going to need to be persuaded by rational argument (unless you want to persuade them by irrational argument or emotional manipulation; but I think that the SWP has that game sewn up.).Third, "we are relying on people's experience of capitalism's failure to meet their needs properly to convince them of the need for socialism, independently of our own activity". It is certainly the case that the current system fails many people. There are huge injustices occuring and the conditions of life for some are terrible. I don't see why they should push people towards socialism unless they believe that socialism would fail them less than capitalism.Of course if there is a very large global crisis in capitalism which is close to complete failure then the bar is lowered considerably. In such a case we don't need to demonstrate that socialism will be better than the failed system; we will have to convince people that it is better than the alternatives though.This will not be a small task as the alternatives will probably include lots of "proposals" for actions on a non-global level: such as closing borders; dictatorships; ethnic cleansing; theocracies; and war. These might be collectively bad ideas but frequently such ideas win out because of the strategic dynamics of the situation. Another reason that such ideas often win out is because people know how to do them already; in a crises people frequently reach for the familiar. These options are very familiar.p.s. Brian please link to the articles you mentioned in the socialist standard. I am not sure which they are.  

    #92094
    Brian
    Participant
    #92095
    Brian
    Participant

    Here is the part from the 1st article which relates to this discussion: "Once decided democratically that we are heading for a socialist world it becomes a much simpler matter. Quite how this will happen is open to conjecture. As expressed on numerous occasions, we have no blueprint. Depriving the capitalist class of the state and its functionaries is the first objective. Once the decision is made, then it becomes a matter of organisation.Suffice it to say there will have been a period of planning and co-ordination by mass organisations in work places, in neighbourhoods, in educational establishments, in organisations with international links and in civic organisations, which will culminate in the collective and proactive decision of the people to take control over the direction of their lives immediately and for the future. The decision to turn their backs on the system that has failed them over and over in favour of one for which they are ready to work to make happen, ready to work to continue its progress and which will work for them, not against them. With ever-increasing numbers, discussion and debate will have begun to determine the direction of the path to be taken."

    #92096
    Brian
    Participant
    Alaric wrote:
    My response to (1) would be: I think that we can have more evidence that socialism works. I think that this can be done by carefully considering the problems that socialism would have to face and work out ways of solving these problems. The viability of these solutions can be investigated by testing the assumptions upon which they rely. It may be the case that these solutions might rest on assumptions not testable within capitalist societies; I would avoid relying on solutions that contain such assumptions.

    Seeing that you have consciously decided to paraphrase and summarise my initial response to this thread I have to assume that you also are a member of class (1)?  Correct me if I'm wrong.

    #92097
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Please excuse me if my condensation of arguments is too crude. Point out any important nuances that I may have missed.Am I in class 1?No! I'm sorry if I was unclear but I am NOT in Class 1. I do not think it is necessarily the case that socialism must exist in order to get good evidence as to whether it would work.  It may turn out that it is not possible to get such evidence prior to socialism; but we can't know this without trying to gather this evidence first.As I have said earlier and elsewhere, I think that the way to do this is to show exactly how the various major problems facing a socialist society can be solved. But this approach would require a level of rigour that I have not seen in WSM literature so far.I realise that this is running close to the idea of a "blue-print" that the party does not like. The difference is, however, is that such a system doesn't necessarily have to be the one that is chosen in the end. It is unlikely that it would be. It is a first cut. It seems that no one in these discussions, other than me, thinks providing evidence for saying yes to questions (a) and (b) is important. So let me ask a different question.Why should anyone get on board with socialism unless they believe that it will improve the world (or their lives)?

    #92099
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    On a crappy keyboard, so will be brief:1) No-market interactions and organisations on a massive scale do existFord, General Motors, Massive CorporationsThe NHSThe Armed forces of various states.2) Yes, it could be argud that they are ultimately tied to markets, but within them are co-operative organisational models, albeit hierachical ones.3) Co-operatives, though, do exist on a similar scale to these organisations, and show that domination is not an essential characteristic of co-operative operation. On the question of scalability, it would be difficult to demonstrate that market interactions scale (arguable in that they don't, and what worked in a medieval village is failing now).  Also, do we need to scale these interactions, or spread them?  A market interaction remains a buyerseller relationship even when embedded in much more complex processes, the same would occur for democratic non=market interaction between different co-operative socialist agencies.

    #92098
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    Alaric wrote:
    Why should anyone get on board with socialism unless they believe that it will improve the world (or their lives)?

    One of the factors which convinced me that socialism would be a vast improvement over capitalism was my reading of the pamphlet "Questions of the Day", one of the best pieces of literature the Party has ever produced IMHO.http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/questions-dayIn particular the chapter, "What Socialism means".http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/questions-day#socmeans

    #92100
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Some specific examples of evidence type #3 have been put forward:Ford, General Motors, Massive CorporationsThe NHSThe Armed forces of various states.These are examples of non-market processes used in production in capitalist society.Here is one issue with extrapolating from these examples, there are many others. These organisations, including cooperatives, attract their workforce through promises of material rewards in the first instance. Moreover, their work forces are disciplined by the stick of job-loss; the bonus carrot; and the promotion carrot. Socialism cannot use these tools for attracting workers to a project or disciplining them.

    #92101
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Gnome,It seems that you do think it is important to have evidence to answer yes to questions (a) and (b). The question you quote was aimed at those people who are suggesting it is not.As to the pamphlets that you provided I am not particularly sure what evidence they provide for answering "yes" to questions (a) and (b). Is their a specific piece of evidence, or argument, within the pamphlet that you are referring to?

    #92102
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Master Smeet,"On the question of scalability, it would be difficult to demonstrate that market interactions scale (arguable in that they don't, and what worked in a medieval village is failing now)."I do not understand. We live in a capitalist world. We do not need to demonstrate it is feasible to have a capitalist world as we live in one now. I do not see the current capitalist system as failing. It might, but it is not currently failing relative to a medieval village. "Also, do we need to scale these interactions, or spread them?  A market interaction remains a buyerseller relationship even when embedded in much more complex processes the same would occur for democratic non=market interaction between different co-operative socialist agencies."I don't really understand what you are saying here, be more specific please. Which processes? Which evidence type are you referring to?

    #92103
    Ed
    Participant
    Alaric wrote:
    Here is a none exhaustive list of the problems that such a proposal would have to deal with.

    OK I'll do my best.

    Alaric wrote:
    1) How do we stop democratic oppression of minorities?

    What minorities? How do you define a minority in a socialist society? If there are minorities we certainly have not reached a level of equality and are still compounded by social constructions which are caused by a class society. Socialism will require a fundamental change in the way we identify ourselves and others, recognizing that our interests are dependent on everyone elses. I don't think something like minorities can exist in a socialist society not in the same way they do now.

    Alaric wrote:
    2) How do we get people to put in the sufficient effort to make informed decisions when their votes will have negligible weight (no individuals vote will make a difference to any big decision)?

    I don't know and I don't think it is possible for anyone to do anything other than speculate on this question. But I will say that there are certain forms of democracy that could be used if it was a serious issue, which I think it could be, but then again my opinion is pure speculation. So lets say for example there are many decisions which are not very important and that people find boring, instead of calling a huge referendum for something fairly trivial we could use a demarchic system. A bit like jury duty, a certain number of people are called at random to sit on a committee who would spend some time learning about the issue in depth before voting on it. That's an option.

    Alaric wrote:
    3) How do you stop capture by entrenched executive committees with specialized knowledge of the current workings of the system?

    Well demarchy would prevent this as well. But really I'm reminded of Chomsky's answer when asked how to end terrorism "it's simple stop participating in it". Same thing don't create committees that have too much power, limit their terms, etc, etc. But really what makes you think that people would re-submit themselves to a class society? There's only two reasons I can think of apathy (Plato's reasoning in the republic for why democracy fails) or natural disaster creating a natural period of scarcity.But of course both of those premises are wild speculation about things that could happen.For a real world example you might enjoy the story of Tristan Da Cunha on Ian Bone's blog; it's an enjoyable read. I remember one part of it talks of a guy who tried to make himself into a leader, gave himself heirs and graces. For this he was generally mocked by the other inhabitants of the island.http://ianbone.wordpress.com/tristan-da-cunha/

    Alaric wrote:
    4) How do you get people to work hard on boring/unglamorous/hard jobs of which there will still be many?

    Consider housework, why do you do it? You do it because otherwise you'd be living in unpleasant surroundings. Earlier you used the example of people not respecting their workplaces, not keeping them clean and tidy etc. I doubt they all do the same at home. Could this be because they don't have a personal stake in it? Because they don't own it. If they did have a personal stake not just in their workplace but in every facet of society we can presume with some certainty that people would be willing to do the boring or hard jobs. Glamorous jobs are different, however. What is a glamorous job? Why are some jobs more glamorous than others? Well in capitalist society being a celebrity for no other reason than appearing on a TV game show, is glamorous and it unbelievably is a job. Now again this is speculation but perhaps socially necessary jobs will be given the glamorous status in a socialist society. Since we obviously recognize that some socially necessary jobs are harder than others could we not also give them the same social capital as say a doctor gets. I fully support making street sweepers the new premier league footballers.There are of course other parts to this answer making hard jobs easier, making sure people responsible for these jobs work less hours etc. Making boring jobs less boring. Boring jobs usually are jobs where workers have the least amount of input into how they do those jobs. If they were in control of the method used to do that work they would presumably make it less boring.So yes as you predicted the answer is positive social enforcement but what seems to be missing from your analysis and what I have alluded to twice in this answer is Marx's theory of alienation which goes a long way to explaining the effects of capitalism on human behaviour.

    Alaric wrote:
    5) How would “scarce" goods be allocated?

    Which scarce goods? What are they needed for? Why are they scarce? These are all questions which would factor into any answer. But simply put on a needs basis.

    Alaric wrote:
    6) How do you find out what to produce?

    Democratically.There are blueprints for how a kind of socialist government could function. Many fairly similar to how the party functions. Delegates elected from within their place of work sent to a county committee then again sent to a regional one then up to a higher committee and so on. People have created these very detailed plans. I wouldn't endorse a single one and neither would any good materialist. As the exact way that we organize these things will depend entirely on the material conditions at the time. To endorse something now, to say this is how it must be, is to dictate to the people in the future actually making those decisions who may be faced with material conditions which we are currently unaware of and contradict our plan. By making exact plans for the future we create dogma, it is in every way idealistic.I know you won't be happy with my answers, you'll probably accuse me of dodging the questions. However, I think your questions are based on speculation not fact. How can they not be? And if they are based on speculation, on hypothetical situations, how can the answers be anything but speculation. So while you may feel the answers are unfair I believe it is the questions which are unfair and which are impossible to answer empirically.I prefer dealing with objective facts that exist in the here and now, things that can be empirically proven to exist. Looking at today's problems in the context of today. Looking for the material conditions causing these problems and looking at how we can eliminate the causes of the problems. Almost exclusively todays societies problems are a result of it's economic system. To solve todays problems I suggest removing that cause completely altering the material conditions which gives rise to them forever. Once we've done that we can see what problems we encounter and Socialism will be no utopia, I don't believe in perfection. I'm sure there will be problems but problems based entirely on the material conditions present at the time which will be completely alien to us now. It would be like asking a Venetian merchant in 1500 to explain how to fix unemployment in 2013. He might just about be able comprehend what you were talking about but how could he possibly give you the right answer, let alone what you are asking for which is empirical proof to back those answers.For these reasons I think your questions are impossible to answer.

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