Someone else has a go at refuting socialism
June 2023 › Forums › General discussion › Someone else has a go at refuting socialism
- This topic has 7 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated 2 months, 1 week ago by robbo203.
March 28, 2023 at 1:16 pm #241959ALBKeymaster
Here’s someone in South Africa having a go at refuting socialism. At least he has gone to the trouble of reading what we say :
Note the comment from Guy;
“The closest society to true socialism then was the ancient San of the Kalahari. There was no private ownership for example of say an ostrich egg or anything else. One took what one needed ( a gazelle) without over consuming. If one needed something you crafted it, for example a bow and arrow, which then was shared when others needed it. So it can and did work for 10 000 years or more with small clans of 10 or 20 people. What it lacks is progress though. And it could never work with 60 million people.”March 28, 2023 at 1:56 pm #241974chelmsfordParticipant
I wonder why Ivo wears that hat?March 28, 2023 at 3:58 pm #241979
“The closest society to true socialism then was the ancient San of the Kalahari. There was no private ownership for example of say an ostrich egg or anything else. One took what one needed ( a gazelle) without over consuming. If one needed something you crafted it, for example a bow and arrow, which then was shared when others needed it. So it can and did work for 10 000 years or more with small clans of 10 or 20 people. What it lacks is progress though. And it could never work with 60 million people.”
Well, clearly, Ivo cannot then use the argument that socialism is “against human nature” because if hunter-gatherer groups like the San are representative of our paleolithic past – that is to say, over 95% of our existence – then you could argue that if anything socialism is the expression of our human nature, far more so than say capitalism which is only a few hundred years old. Except, of course, we don’t really say “socialism is just human nature” like the exponents of “capitalism say is in our human nature”. What we do say is that our human nature shows us to be a highly adaptable species capable of living under a wide variety of social arrangements including capitalism and socialism and much more besides…
Which begs the question – why then does Ivo say socialism cannot work for 60 million people?
This refers to what is called the “scaling up” problem. Socialistic or communistic relations are feasible on a small scale characterized by face-to-face interactions – like the family unit or a commune – but not, goes the argument, on a large scale among complete strangers. I have never really understood what it is about the fact that socialism is a large-scale society that makes it impractical. What are the people who make this kind of argument actually assuming about socialism? Are they saying for socialism to work relations between members of a socialist society have to be face to face – or direct – otherwise society will simply collapse? But the argument doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.
People who argue along these lines fall back on concepts such as Dunbar’s number named after the British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, who are argued that there cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships – about 150. Beyond that, you need more impersonal mechanisms – like the market – to mediate and coordinate large numbers of people.
Granted a socialist society, being a global society, will be one in which everyone in that society will be technically a “stranger” to almost everyone else. But why is this a problem? I don’t see this as being a problem at all. If we can characterize a socialist society as a system of generalized reciprocity without any quid pro exchanges then are plenty of examples of large-scale pro-social behaviour involving strangers.
The Internet itself has been compared to a gift economy. There are other examples such as the custom of hospitality towards strangers such as practiced by people living in harsh environments like the Bedouin or the Inuit. This is not entirely altruistic. There is an element of enlightened self-interest involved insofar as you never know when you might have to rely on the hospitality of strangers next time you find yourself stuck in a desert running out of water. You will thank your lucky stars that the local culture is one that values hospitality towards strangers.
It does not really matter whether the population is 6 million, 60 million, 600 million, or 6 billion. It’s the principle that counts. Are you willing to in effect cooperate with complete strangers you will never get to meet to provide for your and their means of subsistence? Of course, you will. Gawd, if people today succumbing to the mental disease of nationalism are willing to give their lives for the “imaginary community” that is the capitalist Nation State, they sure as hell won’t have any problem cooperating with each other globally to sure their own mutual benefit!March 28, 2023 at 5:08 pm #241981WezParticipant
Robbo – I don’t know this guy’s work but his objections are probably ideological i.e. irrational. Scratch a liberal and you usually find a reactionary underneath.March 28, 2023 at 5:47 pm #241983
Robbo – I don’t know this guy’s work but his objections are probably ideological i.e. irrational. Scratch a liberal and you usually find a reactionary underneath.
Maybe so Wez but all the same, it is interesting this objection he raises – the so-called “scaling up” problem with the implication that while “socialism” can work on a small scale face-to-face basis (e.g. a commune) it cannot work for a large scale society. Frederich Engels cited the example of the religious communities of North America as proof positive of the practicality of communism (socialism). What this guy is saying and many others have said, is that on the contrary, socialism cannot be scaled up.
I would like to know what is it that lies behind this argument that leads people like him to come to this conclusion. What is it about socialism that they think prevents it from being implementable on a large scale?
Dealing with this argument effectively I think involves developing a kind of anthropology of a future socialist society. Sometimes we tend to send out mixed messages. Is establishing and operating a socialist society a question of self-interest? Or altruism? Or both? I think it is both myself (you cannot logically talk about the self-interest of the working class since “self-interest” pertains to particular individuals, not collectivities, so to that extent, class solidarity entails altruism).
In clarifying this we might better be able to get to grips with the “scaling up” objection to socialism which ranks alongside the economic calculation argument and the human nature argument as the principal objections to socialismMarch 28, 2023 at 6:46 pm #241986WezParticipant
In clarifying this we might better be able to get to grips with the “scaling up” objection to socialism which ranks alongside the economic calculation argument and the human nature argument as the principal objections to socialism
We might be able to counter these objections for a very small minority who are open to rational debate but for the majority of both left and right they will just find another excuse to object to socialism. What makes ideology so strong is that it’s impervious to reasoned argument. Our real problem is to convince people that they don’t need leaders to tell them what to do. It takes courage to mature politically in a state dedicated to keeping the population politically infantile. The terror of thinking for oneself is something most cannot overcome. By all means carry on with rational analysis and debate but it’s time we admitted that it doesn’t work for the majority. The endless debate with ‘TS’ seems to prove that the Party hasn’t grasped this fact. I believe this is what we should concentrate on rather than trying to counter the unending rationalizations that reactionaries use to object to socialism.March 28, 2023 at 6:48 pm #241987ALBKeymaster
Interesting that people in South Africa, on hearing the case for real socialism, should react by saying that that’s like how the Bushmen used to live.
Talking about South Africa, by coincidence Imposs1904 has just put up on his blog the letter column from the March 2004 Socialist Standard which recalls the following experience of a socialist living there at the time of Aoartheid (it’s the last letter):
“During the apartheid era he (Alec) was visited on many occasions by the ‘Special Branch’. Alec had an enormous picture of Karl Marx on the wall and when asked by one of these detectives ‘Who’s that man?’, he quite blandly said it was Johannes Brahms. Fortunately they believed him!”
http://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2023/03/letters-making-allowances-2004.html?m=1March 29, 2023 at 5:02 pm #242010
“Interesting that people in South Africa, on hearing the case for real socialism, should react by saying that that’s like how the Bushmen used to live”
Talking of the San (“Bushmen” is regarded as a derogatory word these days) I came across this which is interesting
“Mutual Aid and the Foraging Mode of Thought: Re-reading Kropotkin on the Khoisan”
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