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Noam Chomsky quite well articulates what so greatly annoys me in the use of term "marxist". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Tq4VE8eHQ

It has hardly any relation to the original context or meaning of the writings of one Karl Marx.




This video is appallingly deceitful. E.g. where he argues that the USSR was not only not socialism, but in fact as far from it as possible. He deftly redefines the core idea of socialism to make it look superficially plausible.

If socialism was ever about one bug thing, it was the collective ownership of the means of production. This was the slogan of all socialist movements, particularly Marxist socialist movements.

And the USSR was exactly that kind of society: the defining feature of its economy was a total ban on private ownership of the "means of production". Meaning, you could own an apartment, a house, a car, a wrench. You could buy and sell goods privately at a market. But you could not own a factory that made toy cars, or a tool shop that sold wrenches, or a company that wrote software. That was owned by the state collectively.

Now of course one can argue that the implementation of this ideal was twisted because e.g. the actual workers at a particular factory didn't control its planning or production, which were governed by the party apparatus. But even if true, (and it's actually not true; centralized control over the means of production is perfectly compatible with Marxism), this is still infinitely closer to the actual ideal of socialism than, say, a capitalist state with an oligarchy at power, where means of production can be and are privately owned. To claim that the USSR was not socialism and in fact some kind of anti-socialism (Chomsky: "as about remote from socialism as you can imagine"), is just such so offensively misleading; such a gross lie, clearly meant to influence people who've never lived in a socialist economy or actually read Marx.

(And it's in fact not true that workers were "virtual slaves" in the Soviet Union. They had shitty lives, to be sure, just as everybody else except state bureaucracy, but they were quite free in their choices, and made more money on average than any other class in the society. It was peasants who were virtual slaves, disenfranchised by the state and in fact forbidden to move to a different village or city without the state sanction well into the 1960s).


I think Chomsky follows the definition of socialism as you, "collective ownership of the means of production," but where he differs is that his definition doesn't include "government ownership of the means of production." To anarchists, like Chomsky, if any hierarchical structure controls the means of production, it is not truly collectively-owned. He and other anarchists use the term "state capitalism" to describe the USSR, since it's capitalism where one hierarchy (the state) controls capital, instead of private entities as in liberal capitalism.

I haven't seen the video yet, but you don't quote him as saying that the USSR wasn't Marxist, just that it wasn't socialist. A huge historical difference between Marxists and socialists is how to transition from capitalism to socialism. Marx believed that a "worker's state/council" would be needed, whereas the anarchists predicted that a "red bureaucracy" would only be worse than the one it replaced.


So what you're saying is that Chomsky means that USSR's regime wasn't anarcho-socialism.

I agree that it wasn't.

But Chomsky isn't saying that; he's saying that it wasn't socialism, and not only that, that it was "about as remote from socialism as possible". That's just a lie. Anarcho-socialists were never the only or the "true" socialists in any reasonable sense. They weren't even the most dominant faction in socialism, most of the time. Chomsky has to know that. He may privately believe that the only real socialism is anarcho-socialism, but that's his business.


Well, I think the issue is that socialism (and capitalism, for that matter) means very different things to different people.

For instance, you identify "collective ownership of the means of production" as central to the idea of socialism, and the USSR as a society with collective ownership of the means of production. There's a tricky elision there, though, in that it identifies "state ownership" with "collective ownership." Chomsky and other anarchists raise hell at that idea because to them, the State is not an instrument of collective decision making.

For more context: anarchists played a major role in revolutionary socialist Russia, with the popular party of the peasantry (the Socialist Revolutionaries) being in some ways one of the more anarchist political parties in history (supporting, for instance, land and industry collectivization instead of land and industry nationalization). They were quite popular, having over twice the number of representatives as the Bolsheviks, the second largest party. They quickly came to oppose the Bolsheviks and were among Lenin's first victims. This is is in addition to a hardcore anarchist movement also popular in Russia at the time (and also heavily victimized by the Bolsheviks).

The point of all that? They all considered themselves socialist and disagreed that Bolshevism would lead to socialism, disagreeing strongly enough that it often led to their deaths. Chomsky isn't pulling the "the USSR wasn't socialist" out of a hat, but is bringing up an ideological point that's existed since even before the USSR formally existed. And to an anarchist, the idea that the USSR was socialism is as alien to them as the idea that the USSR was capitalist is to you. (The fact that the USSR called itself socialist they would argue was just a propagandist slogan, just as a Tea Partyer might consider Obama calling himself a capitalist as meaningless political rhetoric to take advantage of the less critically minded.)


There was nothing "socialist" about the communist-era Eastern Bloc. There was no collective ownership whatsoever. Each country was owned entirely by a small group organized like a gorilla tribe, who used terror, oppression, propaganda and brainwashing to control the rest of the population. The satellite tribes were partially subordinate to the big apes in the Kremlin.

N.B.: I am not an anarchist, but I did grow up in the Eastern Bloc under dictatorship.

P.S.: In its most pathologic forms, it was a theocracy, with Dear Leader as God. The comparison is a lot more accurate than it would seem at a cursory glance. The official doctrine was the religious dogma. There was a Paradise - the ideal "communist" society. There was salvation, albeit a collective one. There was confession (public mea culpa, which were mandatory). There was Mass - the dreaded communist meetings. They had Bible equivalents (the writings of Dear Leader) and saints (Marx, Lenin). Goes on and on like this.


> And the USSR was exactly that kind of society

No, it was not.

Your username is Slavic, so perhaps you grew up in the Eastern Bloc; I certainly did.

Those were not socialist countries. Private enterprise was definitely banned, but the goods were not collectively owned either. The entire country was owned by a small clique with a rigid pyramidal structure.

Dictatorship is a much better word.


IMO dictatorship is the inevitable result of Marxism. I once had a girlfriend who was a Marxist. She used to talk about how when the revolution comes, the mean capitalists would all go to prison. I pointed out that mean people don't disappear. They adapt to the system. So a meanie who is adept at scaling the corporate ladder to the commanding heights is equally adepts at scaling the government ladder. Only now he controls the entire economy, education system, courts etc, not just one entity.


Marx advocated some pretty violent means to achieve the change he desired - so, by the principle of "sow wind, reap hurricane", you must be right. The history of Eastern Europe in the 20th century definitely does agree with you.

Just be careful to not unwarrantedly extend the shadow of violence and dictatorship over the socialist ideas too. I know it sounds like trying to tell apples from oranges, but surprisingly many are ignorant, consciously or not, of the difference, especially in the US.

A free market system with socialist overtones can work wonderfully well. Just look at Northern Europe.


> A free market system with socialist overtones can work wonderfully well. Just look at Northern Europe.

Anything will work with Northern Europeans (or Mormons, in reference to another thread) so that doesn't prove anything.

The key test is whether {something} works with cultures where other things fail.


Or maybe it's the other way 'round. Perhaps they chose a sensible system because they are rational, compassionate and civilized people.

Come to think of it, that seems more likely now.


This is not really true.

Only 100-70 years ago Sweden was a very classist society with quite severe internal conflicts (workers were gunned down by the military in an incident in the 30s for instance).

In the 17th century Sweden was an imperialist country dedicated to the bloody wars of several ambitious kings (Gustav II, Karl XII, etc). Supposedly some people in Germany still warn their kids of the Swedes...

So my point is that Scandinavia was not always a peace-loving hippie region dedicated to sensible socialism-light. That stuff is quite recent.


> That stuff is quite recent.

Any sensible, rational "stuff" is recent, anywhere in the world. Until very recently, no country or culture were good places to be.


And during that time, were Swedes productive and so on?

If so, that's evidence for the "Swedes can make any system work" theory.


Yeah, they were productive. At mayhem and conquest :)


Huh?

How they chose their system has nothing to do with whether that system would work for someone else. It also has nothing to do with how well another system would work for them.


>Dictatorship is a much better word.

No, it isn't; it's a much worse word, because it hides the economic reality of living in a country. And that's what socialism vs capitalism is all about: the way the economic activity is conducted in a country, and the way it affects everyone's life. The regimes were different in Castro's Cuba and Pinochet's Chile, and saying they were both a dictatorship is a way of sweeping that difference under a carpet.

I'm sorry, but it's ludicrous to claim that the Eastern bloc countries were not socialist. The most charitable way I can characterize it is as an extreme instance of the no-true-Scotsman fallacy.

Certainly during those regimes' existence no one seriously doubted they were socialist (except people who wanted to redefine the word "socialism" for their ideological benefit). In fact, even Chomsky realizes he has to explain that somehow and makes up justifications for why the West called USSR socialist and for why the USSR called itself socialist. Those justifications are idiotic, by the way (he's claiming the Soviets called themselves socialist to get sympathy from Western socialists, as if the internal propaganda and ideology weren't in any case by far, by x1000 the more important reason).

It's also not true that "the entire country was owned by a small clique", etc. It was not owned, it was controlled, and the 'small clique' (actually the Party bureaucracy) ostensibly represented the will of the workers, through formally functioning though farcical mechanisms such as elections, the extensive Communist Party hierarchy down to individual members, etc. It was not quite a dictatorship - dictators tend to pass their countries to their offspring or in absence of those to hand-picked successors. In the USSR, the power went to another top Party official after an internal power struggle. Never to a descendant (compare with North Korea, which is closer to a socialist dictatorship).

Now having centralized control over the economy by, say, the top echelons of the Communist Party, representing the will of the people, is an idea that's perfectly compatible with socialism and Marxism. That is why, in fact, countless socialists in the West supported the Soviet Union and saw it as the torch-bearer of the socialist dream; they were not confused about the fact that the economy in the USSR was under central control! Now many of them were naive in thinking that the Party leadership really represented "the will of the people", which it generally didn't. But that's not a reason to say it wasn't socialism; it's a reason to say, maybe, that it was bad socialism, socialism gone haywire, a socialist dictatorship, what have you. But it was, very clearly and unmistakably, socialism. Just as if in a capitalist country an oligarch clique takes over all the real power, that's not a reason to stop considering it a capitalist country. If you don't do that, the no-true-Scotsman fallacy destroys any chance you have of objectively observing whatever it is that actually happens in socialist or capitalist societies, and learning whatever lessons there are to learn from that.


If socialism was ever about one bug thing, it was the collective ownership of the means of production.

What you have to keep in mind in such discussions is that political terms like that tend to have vastly different meaning to people from different backgrounds. One of the best known example of this is that the term "liberal" has a very different meaning in the US than it does in Europe.

In a similar vein, "socialism" over here does not imply the collective ownership of the means of production. If that's what you want to articulate, you should use the term "communism" to be less ambiguous.


No, I think it's valid to say that the USSR was not socialism. That doesn't mean that the USSR was good, or that socialism is good, it just means that they have never been the same thing. (Unlike Chomsky, I am not concerned to save or favorably present either one, they simply have never been the same)

To be more specific, it wasn't even a simple readout of Marxism - hence the creation of separate terms like Leninism and Stalinism and Trotskyism and Maoism. I am not defending Marx, but one's disagreement with an entire class of people does not remove their significant internal disputes.

But the USSR used the ideas and words of socialism as justification quite a bit. That is very significant. It certainly justifies skepticism about anyone selling socialism, and about the robustness of socialism in the face of conditions like the establishment of simple old-school dictatorships by ruthless butchers.


CAVEAT: I'm only familiar with Marx from second hand sources.

I'm inclined to give Chomsky the benefit of doubt here. As a small l libertarian I can totally relate to the idea of ruling elites who falsely claim to share your ideals but are actually in politics for money, sex and ego stroking.


raises hand

I've read the writings of Karl Marx.

This guy advocated a "dictatorship of the proletariat", wherein the proletarian party seizes all capital and crushes, with force, any capitalist influence, any attempt for capitalism to re-establish itself. This alleged workers' government maintains control until the world is ready for communism, which might take quite a while. Meanwhile, there is "communal" ownership--via government--of the means of production.

Furthermore, Marx felt he had "proved" this to be the future of history with his "science" of dialectical materialism. I'm not talking about a rhetorical use of the word proof, I'm talking about proof proof. If you're a true believer it's easy to see how a little murder is OK, since you're provably bringing about a communist paradise.

Marx didn't advocate the terrible oppression characteristic of people like Lenin, but he advocated everything but, and it's easy to see where Lenin got this from. Remember, for quite a while, Lenin was considered by many in the West to be a hero, a brilliant Marxist thinker.

I've been able to surprise a few Marxists these facts--all present in Marx's writing. Amazingly, people are somehow able to become hardcore Marxists without realizing their founding figure was a maniac, something like Christians who've never read the Old Testament.


What choice did Marx have but to advocate the use of force to prevent capitalists from gaining power and taking control?

Marx acknowledged that Capitalism works extremely well for wealth creation, and it was the consequences of this that he tried to address. If you view the inevitable phenomenon as a really bad thing for society, then of course force seems reasonable.

I think it's fair to argue that the crushing weight of the social hierarchy often feels extremely violent to those at the bottom.

In order to ignore this, we Capitalists must either convince ourselves that each is harmoniously filling his role, or that each generation (at the bottom) is better off, or that life isn't fair, etc. By being unwilling to ignore this or adopt one of the easy explanations, Marx doesn't introduce force/violence into the political process, he just stops pretending it's not there.

So generally the Marxist view in the modern world (where social upheaval is quite unlikely) means that we are willing to consider toppling established institutions. It is for this reason that I credit the tea party (in its opposition to the Fed, etc.) as a Marxist group. Would shutting down the Fed be an act of violence (even if enacted by congress)? Arguably yes, since it would harshly and abruptly change the distribution of wealth. Abstractly changing the distribution of wealth via policy is in a sense identical to sending an armed thug to everyone's door who either demands money or offers money. You see where this is going, but my point is that I think it's possible (and advisable) to focus most of our attention on soft violence, not stuff like Lenin did, since that is the prevailing legacy of Marx in modern life, unfettered by the complications of past wars, dictators, etc.


> Noam Chomsky quite well articulates what so greatly annoys me in the use of term "marxist". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Tq4VE8eHQ > It has hardly any relation to the original context or meaning of the writings of one Karl Marx.

Truth be told, Marx himself would probably not be seen as a "marxist". And as a guy who swears by his Hayek and Lord Acton, I wonder how come when someone in the former Western block countries calls you a "marxist" or as a follower of Marx supposedly it is something bad, very bad?


"...when someone in the former Western block countries calls you a "marxist" or as a follower of Marx supposedly it is something bad, very bad?"

Our Western popular[1] perception of Marx is heavily colored by the usurpation of his name, and bastardization of his philosophy, by Lenin, Stalin, et al. These days, most people simply conflate Stalin and Marx, and they're unable to separate the two. (I bet many people probably assume Marx was Russian!). After 50-odd years of cold war with the forces of "Marxism," people in the US are still pretty wary of the name and the title. Add to that mix the fact that the uber-right-wingers have been all too eager to toss the epithets "Marxist" or "socialist" at the first sign of political opposition.

[1] I specify "popular," rather than simply catch-all "Western," because within Western academia, Marx is still studied and taken seriously.


Our Western popular[1] perception of Marx is heavily colored by the usurpation of his name, and bastardization of his philosophy

Not to mention the view of many Americans of "Socialism" as both the politics of the Soviet Union and those of present-day western Europe. Given that, fat chance people would know the distinction between Marx and Stalin.


> Truth be told, Marx himself would probably not be seen as a "marxist".

He is indeed quoted as saying "I'm not a marxist, I'm Marx."




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