Crash Course Socialism
- Crash Course Socialism
Crash Course Socialism
Socialism is an economic and social system defined by direct social ownership of the means of production. Marx also refered to this as the "associated mode of production," or simply communism. These terms and phrases were used by Marx interchangably, although they have all taken on meanings distinct from one another over the years.
The means of production are non-human inputs that help create economic value, such as factories, industrial machinery, workplaces, large tracts of land, etc. The means of production are the means of life. Socialists refer to the means of production as capital, or private property, IE, the things which give the people who own them power over those who don't. Private property in the socialist context shouldn't be confused with personal property, such as your home, car, computer, and other possessions, which would be protected. Private property is in actuality another word for absentee property, whose ownership is claimed through title only (and not use), for the purpose of extracting rent from the actual users, occupants, or workers.
In a capitalist society the means of production are owned and controlled privately, by those that can afford them (aka those with capital). Production is carried out to accumulate capital (production for profit). Workers are paid a wage, and receive that amount regardless of how much value they produce. Socialists call this difference the surplus, profit, unpaid labor, exploitation, or wage theft.
Wage Theft = Worker Value Added - Wage Paid image
A 1983 report by England national income and expenditures found that on average, 26 minutes of every hour worked (or 43% of labor value added) by English workers across a wide range of industries went to various exploiting or unproductive groups, with workers receiving only 57% of their pre-tax productive output as wages1. In other words, at least 40% of the work you do every day is stolen.
Capitalists use the surplus to push out competitors and gain market share, leading to the destruction of most small businesses, with just a few companies controlling our food, media, energy, transportation, and finances. The accumulation of capital demands the destruction of competing capitals.
In the table below, both capital and surplus value are controlled by a company's owners, who usually appoint a board of directors. This owning class (called Capitalists, or the Bourgeoisie) make up a tiny minority of the population.
|Capitalist firm / Economy|
|Total Value||Worker value added||Surplus Value / Profit||Other payments||Owners, Shareholders, Board of Directors, Managers, Clerks|
|Armed Enforcement||Police, Military|
|Money / Finance capital|
Wage workers are dependent on selling their labor-power (the ability to preform labor) to the owners of capital in order to gain access to the necessities of life (money for food, shelter, clothing, etc). Its similarities to chattel slavery has lead many to term wage work as wage slavery, with voluntary employment being simply a false choice between one exploiter or another.
Technological advancements, instead of benefiting workers, result in decreased or stagnant wages, worsening bargaining power, or mass layoffs. For example, a machine that replaces 10 workers leads to their firing, resulting in a benefit for the machine owner, and an economic hardship to the fired workers.
Increase in profits due primarily to automation
The difference between these two lines is a measure of the surplus.
Capitalism has nothing to do with human nature.
That socialism contradicts human nature is the most common criticism levied against it. The idea of equal access to goods conjures in peoples' imaginations images of people loading up cart after cart at the supermarket, preparing to haul off half the goods in the place for themselves. This is what we'd do if we all had equal and unlimited access to the stock of society, right?
And this is an understandable argument to make, if still wrong. This certianly might be what would happen if a store were to allow each person to take as much as they wished for a day. But this is only because of the eventual threat of scarcity, the knowledge that whatever you don't take for yourself today will not be avalible to you the next. The idea that one might not always have access to food is what leads to stockpiling, not greed. In a society where access to the goods necessary for life is gauranteed today and everyday, there'd be no threat of eventual scarcity. There'd be no reason to stockpile, it simply wouldn't make sense.
Even if we do assume, however, that people are immensely, uncontrollably, illogically greedy, socialism still comes out looking like the more reasonable system! If people are as greedy as the capitalists make them out to be, why do we allow the capitalist class to take the products of our labor, allow them to dictate what we do with 40 hours of our lives each week? In communist society, nearly all people would have access to more goods than they do today. So, if people truly were driven by greed above all else, we'd all be communists already!
Economic systems, such as Capitalism, don't invent, create or build anything. Workers do. (See Soviet Space Program). The "isms" just determine who gets compensated. Nor does capitalism spur innovation; the pursuit of new ideas is fundamental to humanity, and takes place regardless of the economic system in place. Inventions like rocketry, the internet, space travel, GPS, mobile phones, vaccines, were all developed under public funding.
The labor theory of value recognizes that our most valuable resource is time, specifically socially useful labor time. There is after all only a finite number of hours of work humanity can perform in a given day; and at least half of that value is going to a few absentee owners. The labor theory of value has been proven empirically correct in recent decades, by comparing the amount of labor required in given industries, and the money output of of those industries. For nearly every country with sufficient economic data, the correlation is > 95%.
Under capitalism, the subjective theory of value is based almost entirely on the supply and demand curve model which is unscientific since it presupposes more unknowns than knowns, and as such is useless at making any predictions. Its greatest use is to allow the mega-rich to justify owning thousands of lifetimes of stolen labor.
The planned economies such as that of the USSR, while imperfect, often provided better social outcomes than its western equivalents. Its publicly owned, planned economy brought it from feudalism to a world superpower, with the fastest growing economy of the 20th century, despite starting out at the same level of economic development as Brazil in 1920.
This video by Paul Cockshott - Going beyond Money, illustrates how it is currently possible to go beyond money, and to build a democratically planned, labor-time based economy for human needs, rather than private profit.
Socialism has nothing to do with conformity, restriction of artistic expression, or equality in abilities. It instead proposes economic and political equality through the abolition of classes, placing all citizens on an equal footing with regard to the means of production. It is Capitalism, with its inherent authoritarian hierarchies, that imposes conformity on society through vapid consumerism, and through the authoritarian nature of capitalist firms themselves. A chain of command ensures that orders from capitalists drop like a rock, to dominate the actions of every worker.
Socialists view democracy under capitalism to be an unrealistic utopia, better labeled as Bourgeois Democracy, or democracy for the rich, which socialists contrast with proletarian democracy. Under capitalism, political parties, representatives, infrastructure, and the media are controlled by capitalists, who place restrictions and limitations on the ability and choices of the working class. Bourgeois democracies are in reality Capitalist Dictatorships, resulting in legislation favorable to the wealthy, regardless of the population's actual preferences. Examples of restrictions include stacking the candidates before an election, the First Past the Post voting system (which enforces capitalist two party domination), gerrymandering, long term limits with no way to recall unpopular representatives, restrictions crafted to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, bills directly crafted by lobbyists and bourgeois lawmakers, voter suppression, electoral fraud, unverifiable closed source electronic voting systems, capitalist campaign financing, low voter to representative ratios, inconvenient voting locations and times, and most pervasive, candidate stacking. Most elections are performed before we ever get to the polling booth. In short, political democracy can't exist without economic democracy.
Communists propose building alternatives alongside of bourgeois democracy, with the goal of to replacing it with Proletarian democracy. Measures might include:
- Replacement of bourgeois parliamentary bodies with broadly inclusive workers organizations, such as unions, councils, or syndicates.
- Seizing land, productive facilities, and housing and putting them under democratic control.
- Elimination of all debts, suppression of all private banks and stock markets.
- Direct democracy in as many decisions as possible, often called cyber communism. A site called Simplevote, a direct democracy voting platform.
- A democratically planned economy for human needs, with open participation.
- Low-level workplace democracy.
- Elimination of the standing army, and the substitution for it of armed workers.
- An emphasis on universal education, health-care, child-care, care for the elderly, and human welfare, paid for socially.
- Increase in productive technology.
- Low levels of wealth and income inequality, often driven by a system of labor vouchers for compensation.
- Experts (if any) elected by the working class through universal suffrage.
- All representatives and officials (including police) are revocable at any time.
- Public officials are paid workmen’s wages.
Late Stage Capitalism
During Capitalisms' growth period (early Capitalism), when there are new markets and labor forces to expand to, capitalism can appear stable for the richer consumers whose products are actually being produced by exploited, poorer workforces. Likewise, in a labor shortage, as existed in the newly industrializing US, capitalists have no choice but to keep wages high (and the rate of exploitation low) in order to bring in workers from other countries, and keep them from becoming subsistence farmers. In the southern US, African slavery was used to solve the labor shortage, and keep exploitation high (since no wages were paid), and consumer products such as tobacco and cotton cheap. In order to take advantage of cheap labor, capitalists usually build production far away from where those products are actually bought and consumed, meaning that most consumer goods are shipped by ocean-freight, wasting energy and polluting the environment.
Since the 1960s, there has been a labor surplus, due to a decreased demand for workers due to computers and automation, and an increased supply of workers (women, and low-paid manufacturing and agriculture in less-developed countries). The extra, unemployed workers make up a reserve army of labor, keeping wages low, and desperation high. Increased worker productivity (due to computers and automation) mean that the surplus (the difference between worker productivity and wage paid), is historically higher than ever. This trend will only continue, and workers will naturally become more class conscious, as they see their exploitation increase, and their livelihood decrease.
Since workers have less money to survive, let alone buy what their employers are selling, there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall, and capitalists fight and wage wars over the decreasing surplus. Late stage capitalism refers to the extreme polarization of the two classes, the increasingly absurd and cruel ways our society copes and justifies such stark inequality, and the horrible things capitalism forces people to do to survive.
As the supply of labor outstrips the demand, and it becomes cheaper to employ workers rather than to sink startup costs into innovative technology, the technological growth rate grinds to a halt (as of 2018 technological growth in Europe has slowed to ~1-2% per year), much like in ancient Rome, inexpensive slave labor resulted in stagnant technological progress.
In actuality, capitalism is highly unstable, made up of a series of crises, economic bubbles, booms, and eventual busts, termed business cycles, that occur every few years, with varying intensity, but with most of the resulting burden shifted to the working class. The capitalist state often intervenes to prop up failing businesses, and bail out members of its own class.
Both feudalism and slavery were thought to be highly stable systems, and even they lasted hundreds of years until their eventual overthrow.
Defending the Status Quo
The reason why most people are reticent to read anti-capitalist literature, and discouraged from participating in the class struggle through unionism and political movements, is due to capitalist indoctrination, capitalist media concentration, and police repression. In Marxist philosophy, cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society... the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores, so that their imposed, ruling-class world view becomes the accepted cultural norm; the universally valid dominant ideology, which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.
The police in western bourgeois democracies are the domestic enforcement arm of the capitalists, much like the military is the external imperialist enforcement arm. They are the hired goons of the elite interests of their given city, protecting their factories and workplaces from unionization and worker control, oppressing the poor and homeless, and keeping them separated from other workers by intentional impoverishment via legal means. Cops have a long history of killing workers and crushing unions.
The State, and Revolution
Private ownership of the means of production was established through force and private tyranny, and is only upheld through force. The state is a special organization of force used for the suppression of one class by another which (in capitalist society) exercises a monopoly on violence to forcibly maintain the right to private property. The modern state developed alongside the emergent capitalist system as the bourgeoisie seized political and economic control. It arises from the irreconcilable class antagonisms that exist in society.
The State, under capitalist society, which protects private property and upholds the capitalist mode of production, is an instrument wielded by the bourgeoisie to suppress the proletariat. So long as there are classes in society, a State (or any organization that uses force in the interests of a class) must exist.
Marxists aim to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with a transitional dictatorship of the proletariet, smashing the presently existing bourgeois state apparatus, and replacing it with a new state constructed on the basis of worker power, destroying all the elements which exist to oppress workers, and safeguarding the ones that help workers. Once the proletarian state possesses political power and controls the means of production, it will wither away over time as it suppresses the bourgeoisie and moves toward a classless, egalitarian society. Eventually, the use of force is no longer necessary to suppress class antagonisms, because there are no classes, and the oppressive elements of the proletarian state wither away.
Socialism as an economic system is distinct from neoliberalism, as well as social democracy/Welfare state capitalism, which aims to band-aid the ills of capitalism while leaving the exploitation inherent in wage slavery intact. Social services provided by the capitalist-controlled state have nothing to do with socialism.
The Communist Legacy
Some Marxists call the regimes typically called socialist, as more correctly defined as State Capitalist, since production was controlled by state bureaucracies who also distributed the surplus, rather than through the democratic input of workers. Other Marxists call them siege socialist, contrasting it with pure socialism, stating that siege socialism is a natural reaction to the external pressures of capitalist encirclement, and that pure socialism is an ideal which is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable. The US for example, has been involved in militarily crushing nearly every socialist attempt for the last 80 years, and installing right-wing fascist dictatorships (friendly to US interests) in their place. Needless to say, capitalist encirclement has a profoundly distorting affect on the building of socialism; very few attempts have survived US interventionism. This talk by Micheal Parenti is a good reflection and criticism on the soviet experiment.
The early stages of the 1917 russian revolution were far more progressive than is typically portrayed; Divorce was legalized, Homosexuality was decriminalized, land was distributed to the peasantry, banks were nationalized, control of factories was given to worker's councils, the workday was shortened, wages were fixed at a higher rate, all elected officials could now be immediately recalled; it created mass literacy drives, free nurseries, communal kitchens, and laundries. 14 Western nations (including the US) sent troops to russia to fight against the gains of the revolution.
Contrary to the popular phrase, Communism did work: within a few short years, the Soviet Union doubled its life expectancy, became a world super-power, and the second fastest growing economy of the 1900s. Other achievements include: near-zero unemployment, continuous economic growth for 70+ years (excluding WW2), near-zero homelessness, higher caloric intake than the US, 99% literacy, free education, free health-care (most doctors per capita in the world), free childcare, low poverty, and low levels of sex and racial inequality, not to mention the soviet space program's achievements. 1
These achievements were possible due to efficient use of resources resulting from the lack of a parasitic capitalist class expropriating the majority of the nation's wealth. Similar outcomes in other socialist countries prove that socialism did indeed work, and provided an alternative to the private property system. This is why it was intentionally and systematically attacked by western capitalist nations.
The famines and economic hardship typically associated with communism in Russia and China, were partially a result of the painful process of industrialization, and the transition from agriculture to industry. It would be the case whether capitalists, communists, or enlightened rulers were in power. During England's rapid industrialization, life expectancy in some cities was less than 30 years. This is the case with every country in the process of industrialization. Lysenkoism, and a period of droughts made the problem worse. The scale of famines were also exaggerated by capitalist historians, whose brinkmanship in quoting higher death counts is contradicted by the massive population growth of those countries. Even in spite of this, a look at a drastic increase in the life expectancy in the USSR should put to rest the notion of socialism as contributing to starvation.
Exaggerated death counts blamed on communism and usually attributed to Stalin or Mao are often due to western historians attributing all deaths to the economic system. This would be the equivalent of attributing deaths from the Dust Bowl to FDR. Yet UNICEF, RESULTS, and Bread for the World estimate that 15 million people die each year from preventable poverty, of whom 11 million are children under the age of five.
Even if we were to fully accept the western propaganda that socialist regimes have killed 100 million people, then within 10 years, capitalism kills more children under the age of 5 than socialism did in 150 years.
The Communist Future
Communism is the highest developed stage of socialism wherein there is no state, no money, no class system. The means of production are owned by all and provide for everyone's needs. There are also presumably high levels of automation so most do not have to work.
Many socialists point to directly democratic worker’s councils as an ideal way to organize production, with gift economies for abundant goods, and labor voucher economies for scarce/luxury goods. Here is an example of a moneyless, Cyber-Communist system.
Past and present socialist/anarchist societies include - Revolutionary Catalonia, Anarchist Aragon, Shinmin Province in Korea/Manchuria, Free Territory of Ukraine, The Bavarian Soviet Republic, The Paris Commune, The Zapatista controlled areas of Chiapas (current day), Magonista Baja California, Shanghai People's Commune, Rojava (current day), Communist Marinaleda, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, USSR, Peoples republic of China, Socialist republic of Vietnam, Cuba.
- Against Capitalism - Jerry Cohen
- Alienation - Paul Mason
- Introduction to the Law of Value (Xexizy)
- Law of Value (The Labor Theory of Value) Playlist - Brendan Cooney
- Michael Parenti on US imperialism, and the overthrow of Yugoslavia
- Michael Parenti on Imperialism and Film - Rambo and the Swarthy Hordes
- Karl Marx and Marxism - BBC documentary by Stuart Hall
- Dr Gabor Maté - Why Capitalism Makes Us Sick
- The Philosophy of Antifa (Philosophy Tube)
- 3 minute intro to Marxism
- 10 minute intro to Karl Marx
- Introduction to Anarchism by Noam Chomsky, #1, #2
- Chomsky on american or right-libertarianism
Modern introductory books
- Cyril Smith - Marx at the Millenium
- Amadeo Bordiga - The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism
- Erich Fromm - Marx's Concept of Man
- Humanaesfera - Telegraphic Communist Theory
- Kämpa Tillsammans - Hamburgers vs Value
- Gilles Dauvé - Capitalism and Communism
- Engels - Principles of Communism (A great glossary of socialist terms)
- Marx/Engels - The Communist Manifesto
- Marx - Value, Price, & Profit
- Rosa Luxemburg - Reform or Revolution
- Raya Dunayevskaya - Marxism & Freedom
- Erich Fromm - The Sane Society
- Gilles Dauvé - The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement
- Howard Zinn - A Peoples History of the United States
- CLR James - The Black Jacobins
- John Reid - The Ten Days that Shook the World
- Huey P. Newton - Revolutionary Suicide
- Eduardo Galeano - Open Veins of Latin America
- George Orwell - Homage to Catalonia
- Trotsky - History of the Russian Revolution
- Joshua Bloom - Black Against Empire
- Robert Cialdini - The Psychology of persuasion (not explicitly Marxist, but a great breakdown of the main psychological tactics used by exploiters to manipulate us)
- Pride (2014)
- Reds (1981)
- Salt of the Earth (1954)
- Matewan (1987)
- Snowpiercer (2013)
- Libertarias (1996)
- The Trotsky (2009)
- The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- Land and Freedom (1995)
- The Spook who sat by the door (1973)
- I, Daniel Blake (2016)
- The Proud Valley (1940)
- The Young Karl Marx (2017)
- Network (1976)
- The Hospital (1971)
- Burn! (1969)
- Trumbo (2015)
- Walter defends Sarajevo (1972)
- Rosa Luxemburg (1986)
- Joe Hill (1971)
- The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
- Viva Zapata! (1952)
- The Organizer (1963)
- Lulu the tool (1971)
- Rebellion in Patagonia (1974)
- Seeing Red
- Tsar to Lenin
- Paul Robeson - Here I Stand
- Fidel - The untold story (Cuban Revolution)
- How Yukong moved the mountains (Chinese Revolution)
- Malcolm X - Make it Plain
- The Upright Man (Thomas Sankara)
- Black gods with guns - Robert F Williams and Black Power
- The Act of Killing - Communist purging in Indonesia
- Lenin - old British Documentary
- Oliver Stone - Untold History of the US
- Soviet Storm - WW2 in the East
- Red ant dream
- The Murder of Fred Hampton
- The Revolution will not be televised (Chavez and Venezuela)
- A place called Chiapas (EZLN)
Parties / Groups