Earlier I had explored the roots of Classical Liberalism (more like Libertarian to those of us in the USA, as our Progressive Socialists, having gotten a bad name during W.W.II, stole the word “Liberal” for themselves and corrupted our meaning). In that same posting we looked at several other “isms” that contributed to how our world evolved and touched on the roots of many of them back in The French Revolution, where The Ancient Regime (Kings, Queens, Princes and Emperors. Plus the Church.) was overthrown for the rights of The People. At that point, The People included what would later be named BOTH the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie. Two words that drove me nuts when I was required to study Communism as part of my Economics education (it IS an economic system…).
So, just because I had to work at it to figure it out, what do those two mean? The Bourgeoisie is, roughly, the merchant class. Today it would include both the “Small Businessman” and the “Corporate Capitalist” (along with the wealthy “Robber Baron”). Then it was mostly just the petty merchant class (they not being nobles.) The Proletariat is basically the wage worker. Then it was the petty serf and freeman. Now it would include the Union Airline Pilot pulling down $300,000 a year. Go figure. (They are paid based on the size of the airplane, so as we moved to jumbo jets some of the wages went through the roof. The guy flying the ‘puddle jumper’ is paid about the same as a bus driver…)
So, as we wander through the land of Socialism and its various odd words, I’ll do my best to ‘translate’ to non-codewords.
At any rate, during The French Revolution, the “Left” included both the Bourgeoisie (merchants) and the Proletariat (peasants) while the “Right” had the Kings, Queens, Princes and Bishops.
And, just as another caution on the use of words, remember that “Left Wing” and “Right Wing” are functionally useless terms in any kind of historical perspective. They have mutated massively over time.
This quote starts off referring to the term “Right Wing”:
Now, to the meat of it. At the bitter end we get “nationalists and fascists” tossed in along with ‘free market capitalists’. This is starting to look more and more like a list of “Anything the Present Day Socialists / Leftists don’t like” and less and less like a rational classification… So who decided Nationalism was ‘right wing’? And why?
So, our first Ah Ha! moment is to realize that “right wing” means exactly nothing. It’s a catch all for “collectivists don’t like it” and they don’t like the history of Fascism being scored on their side, so they’ve pushed it over here on the “right wing” too and drug Nationalism along for the ride to assure you get both Italy and Germany assigned to “not us over here on the left!!”. So what IS now counted as ‘left wing’?
What about “left wing”?
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist are generally used to describe support for social change to create a more egalitarian society. The terms Left and Right were coined during the French Revolution, referring to the seating arrangement in parliament; those who sat on the left generally supported the radical changes of the revolution, including the creation of a republic and secularization.
Use of the term Left became more prominent after the restoration of the French monarchy in 1815 when it was applied to the “Independents”. The term was then applied to a number of revolutionary movements, especially socialism, anarchism and communism as well as more reformist movements like social democracy and social liberalism.
So, in the beginning it was those Nasty Republicans… Who knew? Then as hangers on we got the “independents” mixed in that brought the early French socialists and communists along for the ride. Note, too, sneaking in “social liberalism” that we’ve discussed earlier is actually NOT Liberalism at all, Classical Liberalism was the stuff of Republics, Libertarians, and Individual Freedom.
Social liberalism is just a back door way to try to hide socialism under the (then) more popular Liberal label (in the USA at least, the “Progressives” such as Woodrow Wilson and FDR had tarnished “Progressive” pretty badly what with mass arrests, propaganda machines, railing against the constitution as it constrained what he could do with the country, attempts (often successful) at control of the media, and a couple of world wars along with some economic depressions; so they rebranded as ‘social liberals’)
Our major clue here is to discover that whenever you see the word Social as a modifier, suspect fraud is being done to the modified word. Also, watch for the ‘redefinition rebranding’ game being played. It may not be 100%, but it is a very fruitful clue.
So where are we now? We’ve got those in favor of the Republic being moved from “Left Wing” over to “Right Wing” and stuck with the folks who want to keep the King on the throne (don’t think they’d like that…) and we’ve got “Classical Liberals” who were dead set against having their liberties stolen being stripped of their good name so collectivists socialists can hide behind it. Oh, and they shove their National Socialist and Fascist attempts at collectivism over with the Republicans and Monarchists and reactionaries and capitalists and all the others that Marxism doesn’t like. Can’t ‘rebrand’ Fascism as good so may as well stick that Tar Baby on the guys who fought to kill it.
OK. conclusion time: “right wing” and “left wing” are entirely useless terms with the possible exception that “Left Wing” is consistently used by the Socialists, Communists and other Marxist Collectivists at least since the time that they shoved the Republicans over into the same (propaganda driven definition) side as the reactionaries and Monarchs.
Basically, I “smell a big fat commie rat” at work manipulating the language.
So we will need to be particularly careful in the words we use, the ‘time scope’ to which any given use might apply, and the political forces that (IMHO deliberately) corrupt the language.
As we will be looking at a couple of hundred years duration, this is highly important. “Right” and “Left” are meaningless on those scales. Only fundamental principles of what each group wants to do can be a reliable measure.
Back At The French Revolution
There was a movement, prior to The French Revolution, that also lead to The American Revolution. That movement was The Enlightenment. It lead to a world that held Individual Liberty to be of high value. That the individual could not be at liberty as long as their lives or their property were at risk. That Kings, Queens, Princes, and Bishops typically did NOT respect any individual liberties (you were property of The Crown or supplicant to The Church) nor any individual property rights (The Crown could take anything it wanted to take. If you defied The Church, you could be excommunicated and often all your ‘stuff’ taken as you might be driven out of the country.)
In a future posting I’m going to refine the term Evil Bastard, but I’m going to use it here unadorned. We need some degree of Evil Bastard as they devote more of their income to investments and enterprise building. Unfortunately, left unconstrained, they end up dominating the world.
In capitalism they dominate as leaders of giant multinational corporations. In this ancient era, they dominated at Kings, Queens, Emperors, and the occasional odd Religious Leaders. So there is a fundamental strain between our need for The Evil Bastard to save, invest, promote change and growth of industries and empires; and their desire to dominate us and take all our stuff. It is that fundamental strain between needing a little bit of a controlled Evil Bastard running things, and a bit too much leading to various sorts of Tyranny, that make up much of the flow of human history.
In this Ancient Regime, the Evil Bastards were the Kings, Queens, Emperors, Princes, and other odd petty tyrants (sometimes even including The Pope – who’s position was, at times, for sale to the highest bidder…) In many ways we see the end point of unfettered Evil Bastards in the worst that Monarchy has to offer when left unchecked. It isn’t a fundamental of monarchy, but of all Evil Bastard systems regardless of heredity and method; so we see the same ‘end point’ in Empire as well as in various Socialisms and Communism when they ‘run amok’ and an Evil Bastard takes unfettered control. Stalin in the USSR was in effect no different from Old King George or from Napoleon. (Or, I might add, from Hitler). In all cases, they are a leader who has astounding power over the lives and property of others, with a largely unfettered hand.
The Magna Carta (there were several starting in about 1225) was one of the first efforts at reducing the power of The Evil Bastard to act without limit against the liberties and property rights of others. (Unfortunately for the Proletariat and Bourgeoisie it was mostly aimed at securing the rights of Petty Evil Bastards – the Lords and Barons – against the King. It would take much longer for those same rights and privileges to be extended to the rest of us. But it was a start.)
It is very important to understanding the sweep of history to understand the Magna Carta. It is where we see most clearly displayed that property rights are essential to maintain personal liberties. Most of our liberties are embodied, directly or indirectly, in property rights. How can you farm if you do not have rights to your land? How can you invest in a new idea or factory if it can be taken at any time? How can you even be “secure in your papers” if at any time the government can come and take your home, read your papers, and put you in prison for thinking the wrong thoughts and writing to the wrong people?
We see this historic lack of liberty returning today in various “Hate Speech” and “Hate Crime” and “Conspiracy” laws and in the “warrantless searches” authorized by laws like The Patriot Act. I still find the concept of a “Hate Crime” to be hideous. It implies that the opposite can also exist; a “Love Crime”. Isn’t ALL crime a hateful act? Similarly “hate speech” is a broken concept. Either we have freedom of speech or we do not. If SOME speech is criminal, then we simply have said that some Evil Bastard or their delegates will be deciding which of us is criminal and which is not by choosing what thoughts to criminalize. We’re seeing that end game approach as various folks have started calling for Climate Denialism to be called criminal or hate speech… Have a politically incorrect idea, go to prison. That is all “hate speech” really means to me.
So the first basic concept we need to internalize is that there is no “Left” and “Right”. Then the second concept is that it doesn’t really matter what you call The Evil Bastard. Either YOU have liberty to think your own thoughts, share them with friends, own your own ‘stuff’, and choose your own economic destiny; or you are serf to The Evil Bastard. Be they King, Queen, Prince, Emperor, Party Commissar, Dear Leader, Premier, or even President. Either YOU have some self sovereignty, or you don’t. All the rest is just smoke and mirrors.
Back to the Middle Past
Which brings us back to the end of The Ancient Regime. That was the point where The Enlightenment brought us the best golden years of The Enlightenment and the growth of several grand Republics. Free market capitalism flourished, and the world moved to more wealth production and more intellectual advancement in shorter time than had ever been seen before. That Libertarian / Classical Liberalism world was, in many ways, the best that had ever existed.
Yet it had serious faults. What happens when The Old Evil Bastards get fettered? New Evil Bastards arise. So the Kings, Queens, Emperors and Bishops were pushed aside and The Robber Barons rose to dominance. Sweat shops. Slave traders. Incredible abuse of the Proletariat and the accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of the unelected, once again. Even the elected ‘representatives of the people’ were often bought and paid for by the wealthy Evil Bastards. See the history of Boss Tweed for just one small example. Look at the tendency for the leadership of Goldman Sachs and GE to hang out with Obama for another. “The best government money can buy” is all too often the case even in Washington D.C.
Carl Marx saw this, along with Friedrich Engals and together decided they knew how to cure it. From that root grew all of Marxism and The Communist Manifesto. (Which, BTW, I’ve read a couple of times. First time in college as assigned reading. Latest just a few months back as a ‘refresher’. It’s readable, if a bit ‘thick’ some times; but more clear once you know Bourgeoisie means businessmen and Proletariat means workers.)
What they ‘missed’, IMHO, is simply the universal nature of The Evil Bastard. Folks who grasp after power over others, position, prestige, et. al. don’t really care if you call them King, Emperor, Kaiser, Fuhrer, or Party Premier, President or General Secretary. (Or even UN Secretary General…) What they care about is that THEY have Central Control over you, your voice, your property, and your liberties.
Thus the USSR ended up being Just Another Empire, IMHO. Lead by a series of Evil Bastards functionally indistinguishable from the various Kings, Queens, and Emperors of the past.
At its core, that is what I see as the main failing of Communism and the various other Socialisms. They focus on The Bourgeois as “oppressor” (as, during the time when Marx did his writing, the Royalty had pretty much been brought under control) and missed the point that both Democratic and Republic structures were also subject to domination by The Evil Bastard, grasping after power over others. Further, their emphasis on Central Planning and Central Control virtually assures the concentration of power in the Central Core, the attraction of the worse Evil Bastards to those levers of power, and the removal of all rights and liberties from the dominated peons or proletariat as a necessary consequence. They trusted too much in the power of The Committee and Commissars to constrain the ambitions and avarice of The Evil Bastard. It doesn’t work out that way…
Sidebar on Capitalism and The Regulated Economy:
We’ve tried our own approach at limiting the ability of a Bourgeois Fat Wallet to become an Evil Bastard via a variety of Anti-trust and Anti-Monopoly laws. They have had only limited success. The rise of the Multinational Corporation pretty much gives an end run around those laws. See the OPEC Cartel (as Cartels are legal in some parts of the world, like parts of Europe and the Middle East).
Lately those Fat Wallets have gotten some more of the restraints on them removed. Under Bill Clinton, the Glass-Steagall law was repealed, letting financial institutions combine and grow to excessively large sizes. This directly lead to the “Too Big To Fail” problem. Glass-Steagall had been enacted after the same ‘combinations’ of Retail Banking with Investment Banking with Insurance Companies had resulted in similar instabilities in The Great Depression. That the Democrats “lit the fuse” with the Community Reinvestment Act can not be denied (though the Dimocrats keep trying). It forced banks to make loans that could never be safe, sane, nor likely to be repaid; and directly lead to the Real Estate Bubble. The banks demanded the right to grow larger and freedom from Glass-Steagal as their side of the trade.
Combining those two was the lethal mix. The bankers then figured out how to “Third Party” the junk as an alphabet soup of ‘investment vehicles’ (from SIVs to CDS’s and more). Democrats are pissed that their attempt at social engineering (an oxymoron if ever there were one…) and forcing the banks to swallow the junk failed. The banks are pissed that they got caught in a global financial instability of their own making (as they demanded the repeal of Glass-Steagall that put a fire break between Investment Banking and Retail Banking and Insurance companies…) and the Republicans are pissed that they are getting blamed for everything when all they did was vote for what the banks said they wanted and cooperated with the Democrats to give them what they wanted.
The point of mentioning this, here? To point out that The Evil Bastards are often not very bright. We had Democratic Power Brokers cooperating with Republican Capitalist Lackeys doing what The Evil Bankers wanted. And while it worked well for a couple of decades, it all blew up in their collective faces in the end. Evil Bastards lust after power so much that they have little discipline and even less humility to realize that they are often spectacularly wrong. No mater what side they are on, or if from the Left or the Right, if called Emperor Napoleon, King George, Chairman of The Finance Committee, or President of Lehman Brothers. Or even UN Secretary General or Commissioner, or EU Member of Parliament for that mater.
We, the masses, need The Evil Bastards to drive forward some amount of investment and new ideas (otherwise we eat all our own seed corn and would still be communicating with dial phones on national telephone systems). Democracy is not stable precisely because We The People vote for ourselves the largess of the public purse, under invest, and consume way too much while investing way too little. We choose to keep stability, so the National Telephone company just keeps doing the same old thing, and does not embrace new technology very fast.
It takes a Steve Jobs to turn their world on its head and give us iPhones with built in internet and music downloads and a video studio built in. It may surprise some young folks, but when I was kid, there was one kind of telephone. It was owned by the phone company. If you wanted something else, tough. Eventually they came out with the “Princess” phone, and even a few colors other than black. “Change” was not very important to them. Profit margin and reliability where their major concerns. Shortly after ‘deregulation’ let competition come to telephones, there were a thousand different sizes, colors, styles, etc. Not too long after that, cell phones arrived. The rest, as they say, is history…
So the basic problem we face is how to let The Evil Bastards have enough leash to build a better, richer, world for all of us; yet not so much that their (excessive?) greed, power lust, drive, ambition, avarice, etc. leads us to the otherwise inevitable ruin. See the deaths of W.W.I as one small example of what happens when The Evil Bastards have too long a leash. No peon nor member of the Proletariat (and darned few petty Bourgeois) would be in favor of that kind of conflict, destruction, and waste of life. It take “Big Thinkers” with high ambitions to lead to that kind of death, destruction, and evil. In short, it takes an Evil Bastard who stands to gain.
Much of the rest of history and Political Economy is devoted to various attempts to get the balance right between us, and what we want (mostly to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit and free of oppression by the very powerful) v.s. The Evil Bastards and what they want (to “change the world” and gather to themselves huge power, wealth, and ‘historical importance’). My point is just that various schemes have been tried to solve this one basic problem. They are couched in a variety of terms (often changing over time) and often the code words used deliberately hide the common root. When those schemes fail, the true believers in them simply can not accept that their pet theory failed, so find all sorts of rationalizations for why it was not their theory that was wrong. This, then, leads to the next cycle of the wheel.
In many cases, The Evil Bastards will move into a movement, take over the terms and language of that movement, and eventually lead to the downfall of that movement. This is why it doesn’t really matter if you call it a Monarchy, an Empire, a Socialist Workers Paradise, or even a Constitutional Republic. Once the Big Rats are on the inside, they start making it into a nest of their liking. (See the changes being done to the Australian States’ constitutions and the way the U.S. Supreme Court had made us more amenable to the Progressive Agenda under FDR for simple examples. See what the UN and Agenda 21 are doing now as a much more complex and onerous one. Unaccountable Evil Bastards writ large.)
We must keep that, too, in mind as we explore Socialism and its roots.
One example that causes some folks to bust a gusset, but ought not
“Reality just is. -E.M.Smith”.
There were two variant forms of Socialism that arose from The Progressive Movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Those were Nazism and Fascism. “Everyone knows they are right wing”. And evil. So how could they even remotely be Socialism which “everyone knows is good”? This cognitive dissonance is simply a result of trying to assign things to “good” and “bad” buckets.
It isn’t a question of Socialism being good or bad, or Capitalism being good or bad, or even Empire or Monarchy being good or bad. It is just a question of when and how The Evil Bastard can rise to power and parasitize that particular system. Some are more resistant than others, but none is perfectly resistant. Monarchy can turn with one new king or queen. (So we get Constitutional Monarchy to try to keep it stable and restrict the degree of evil one Evil Bastard can bring). Socialism can be relatively benign (as in the German Social Democrats) of today or the USA (we are now, as of the quasi-nationalization of the banks and buying parts of GM a Lange Type Socialism) or they can be horridly abusive (as in the Stalinist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).
The simple fact is that both Fascism and Nazism were from the Progressive mold. Part of the spectrum of The Socialisms. The adherents of each identified themselves as Socialists. They followed socialist ideals. They had strong emphasis on Workers Rights and Unions (hallmarks of Socialism) and they used the doctrine and literature of Socialism as their foundational guidance. They added a Nationalist element in both cases (where Communism is distinguished by their insistence on an international workers revolution- read your Marx…) and the Nazis added a racist element.
The Progressives in the USA had similar beliefs, BTW. Look up the history of the US Eugenics movement and Planned Parenthood. Hitler had praise for the American Progressives and they had praise for Mussolini. That this became an embarrassment does not remove that bit of history, try as they might to hide it and demonize anyone who remembers that “inconvenient history”. It was this “problem” that led the American Progressives to steal the word “Liberal” and corrupt what it means in the USA when compared to the rest of the old British Empire. To hide from their historic connection to the Socialist roots of Nazism and Fascism (that they then set about demonizing as well, with particular emphasis on calling racism and nationalism evil… “Me thinks he doth protest too much”.)
Why push this point here? Because it will inevitably come up and I’d rather get it out of the way early. It is a commonly held fallacy that Nazi and Fascist are “right wing” and evil, therefor not socialism that is clearly “left wing” and good. That is simply put, a lie. Carefully constructed propaganda from The Progressives to hide their common roots. My pointing that out is not done to disparage them. In fact, they are no more prone to The Evil Bastard problem than any others (and less so than unrestrained Monarchy and Empire). I’ve often said I can make the best intellectual case for The Mixed Economy (or “Lange Type Socialism Lite”) and I mean it. Laissez Faire Capitalism does an absolutely horrible job of controlling the Evil Bastards and lets them run amok as Robber Barons. In that case “Fattest Wallet Wins” and you end up with everything owned by whoever has the fattest wallet coupled with the least moral scruples.
My pointing out their common roots, shared philosophical base, and similar beliefs is not to be construed as any kind of value judgment. In Mussolini’s Italy (prior to the tie up with Hitler) the trains ran on time, the economy made a spectacular recovery, and life, in general, was quite good. Jews were accepted (and held rank in the Military). It was, in short, an effective economic system. Hitler was a bit nutty with a fixation on racial purity. That aside, the Socialist parts of his government worked fairly well. There was a spectacular recovery of the German economy (that was ruined by W.W.I). As is often the case, The Evil Bastard brings good things to life in the early stages. So we give them more power and a freer hand. Later, when Germany started influencing Fascism, Mussolini had to embrace some of the Nazi beliefs. That was when a racist element arrived and Jews were subject to oppressions. That is not an artifact of Fascism, nor of Socialism. It is an artifact of the odd broken beliefs in a rabid racism that Hitler brought to the mix.
Why push that point? Because if we do not remember our history we are doomed to repeat it. That simple.
So as we explore the roots of Socialism, and ‘play it forward’, do not be surprised to see that some of it ends up in the American Progressive Movement (that leads to American Social Liberalism; that leads to the present Democrats). Do not be surprised that one line wanders off via Marx to become Marxist Communism; then sprouts Maoism in China, that eventually backs off from the Communism line and becomes a “3rd Way” fascism in the old Italian mode – which is what they have today. Working rather well, too, I might add. They would never admit it is a fascism, but it was fascism that first married Corporatism to a Socialist model, and that is what China is doing today. Central Planning and Control, Corporate implementation. There is much to be said for the effectiveness of “3rd Way Progressives” and their fascist ‘union – corporatist – socialism’ blend. My major complaint is just that I’ve never seen it last very long in a stable form before an Evil Bastard takes over the Central Control and it turns into Tyranny that ends in war. Maybe “This time for sure!” ;-)
I’m prone to the same emotional things as everyone else. I like the idea of a “Sugar Daddy” who will give me stuff. Free health care. Free food. Free housing. It is hard work to be responsible for yourself. It is very attractive to get stuff for nothing. So I’m just as emotionally drawn to the “story” of socialism as the next guy. However, I know enough of Economic History to know that it typically doesn’t turn out well. The Evil Bastard rises rapidly under Central Planning and as all the power and control are already centralized, it is a very short trip to Tyranny.
Under a capitalist system, power is distributed and we have competition between the Evil Bastards that tends to keep them busy and off our necks. We have separation between industry, markets, individuals, and government, so no one person can control all of them. The path to tyranny is long and hard. Usually by the time one guy is about to make the big score, they are old enough to die off. We have inheritance taxes to reduce the risk of Evil Bastard Dynasties. We have anti-monopoly practices laws to say you must play well with others. We have anti-cartel / anti-trust laws to say you can not conspire against those of us with smaller wallets and less political clout. We have election of representatives of the people to help keep some balance in things. So I intellectually prefer the “regulated market republic”. But even it is not perfect. (But those imperfections will have to wait for some future time…)
Just realize that there is nothing inherently evil about Socialism, nor is there anything inherently good about Capitalism. Nothing evil about Monarchy and nothing inherently good about a Republic. There are only relative goods and evils; relative ability to control The Evil Bastards and to slow the slide into Tyranny when those controls fail (as they always have, eventually).
My complaint with Socialism is simply that the path to Tyranny has been very short, historically, often under 50 years – which is about the time it takes a Direct Democracy to fail to Tyranny was well. Republics often get 200 years and sometimes more. (Empires can be stable for up to 1000 years – but they are already a Tyranny run by an Evil Bastard, so no comfort there…)
Our (USA) Founders did a wonderful job of balancing the competing pressures and making a governmental form that was not prone to the failure mode of Democracy (via States Rights and State election of Senators). They did a modestly poor job of controlling Evil Bastard Corporations, but those were a new idea then. Later the Progressive Movement broke our balance with the direct election of Senators, and we’ve been on a slow slide into Socialism ever since. The constant advocacy for more “Democracy” is just to accelerate that slide, as democracy has been known since Plato to be a bad form of government due to the instability of the people voting ‘goodies’ for themselves and ending in Tyranny.
In the grand scheme of things, I’d rank Lange Type Socialism just behind The Mixed Economy of the USA of about 1960 and well ahead of Communism, Laissez Faire Capitalism, and unfettered Monarchy or Empire. But I rail against it simply because it has shown a very strong tendency to instability, and to a slide into Tyranny. What I like simply does not matter to what works well.
That the practitioners of it like to constantly corrupt the language, erase inconvenient bits of history, practice vilification and demonizing of anyone who does not ‘toe the line’, and generally support central control of individual behaviour does not endear it to me either… So while there is nothing inherently evil in it; it does have an annoying habit of acting in evil ways and ending badly in an evil outcome. Other than that, it’s a great economic system…
Roots of The Socialisms
Folks often think Socialism is a German invention. Marx and Engles both have German names and German roots. In reality, Engles was a boundary spanning English / German Industrialist. Marx spent a great deal of time in England as well. Other folks think that the Socialist Root reaches back to The French Revolution (and in a small way it does, as that was a key point in the fall of The Ancient Regime). But in fact the taproot of Socialism leads back to a Utopian dream that starts in England and The British Empire.
In many way, the basic divide is between the pragmatic nature of capitalism and the idealistic nature of socialism. The folks who embrace capitalism are often doing so for the very pragmatic reason that it works. Socialists basically say “Yes, it works, but it has problems and is not ideal. We can do better.” They embrace an idealism and faith that human thought can create an ideal system. Capitalism depends on “emergent behaviour” that works, but where the idealists can’t see perfection, so they reject it.
At some other time I will explore the concept Emergent Behaviour and how it can lead to snowflakes, biological systems, and even an effective ecology of Capitalist Enterprises despite being recalcitrant to analysis or inspection by idealistic thought. Just realize that it is at the core of why markets and capitalism work, and why ‘manged markets’ often fail. (We add more and more ‘regulations’ in an attempt to direct the emergent behaviours, but end up with unexpected emergent behaviours, that lead to more regulations, that … until it collapses. So “price controls” are often tried – they rationally ought to work – but always fail as folks do ‘unexpected’ things. We have a ‘war on drugs’ – that raises the profit margin and causes more Evil Bastards to supply ever more drugs instead.) Mastery of Emergent Behaviour, or even just accepting that it will win over our idealized beliefs, is the key to understanding how real economies and political systems function. But that is for another day.
For anyone wondering at my use of a plural “The Socialisms”, realize that Socialism has mutated rather rapidly in a lot of variations. I’m naturally a bit suspicious of anything with that rapid a rate of change and that much need to mutate to survive. I think it indicates it still hasn’t quite got it right… see: the Types of Socialism wiki for a long list that will have conspicuously absent any embarrassing variations like fascism…
Lange Type Socialism is also often called Market Socialism as they try to get the market forces to work inside an idealized directed managed framework. “This time for sure”…
We will start with Pragmatism and Idealism. Then wander back in time looking into the roots. I’m going to assume folks are already familiar with the modern version of Socialism and Communism or can easily look them up from links here.
Pragmatism and Idealism
From the wiki:
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice. Important positions characteristic of pragmatism include instrumentalism, radical empiricism, verificationism, conceptual relativity, and fallibilism.
Charles Sanders Peirce (and his pragmatic maxim) deserves most of the credit for pragmatism, along with later twentieth century contributors William James and John Dewey.
Pragmatism enjoyed renewed attention after W. V. O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars used a revised pragmatism to criticize logical positivism in the 1960s. Another brand of pragmatism, known sometimes as neopragmatism, gained influence through Richard Rorty, the most influential of the late 20th-century pragmatists. Contemporary pragmatism may be broadly divided into a strict analytic tradition and “neo-classical” pragmatism (such as Susan Haack) that adheres to the work of Peirce, James, and Dewey. The word pragmatism derives from Greek πρᾶγμα (pragma), “deed, act”, which comes from πράσσω (prassō), “to pass over, to practise, to achieve”.
Pragmatism as a philosophical movement began in the United States in the 1870s. Its direction was determined by The Metaphysical Club members Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and Chauncey Wright, as well as John Dewey and George Herbert Mead.
The first use in print of the name pragmatism was in 1898 by James, who credited Peirce with coining the term during the early 1870s. James regarded Peirce’s 1877–8 “Illustrations of the Logic of Science” series (including “The Fixation of Belief”, 1877 and especially “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”, 1878) as the foundation of pragmatism . Peirce in turn wrote in 1906 that Nicholas St. John Green had been instrumental by emphasizing the importance of applying Alexander Bain’s definition of belief, which was “that upon which a man is prepared to act.” Peirce wrote that “from this definition, pragmatism is scarce more than a corollary; so that I am disposed to think of him as the grandfather of pragmatism.” John Shook has said, “Chauncey Wright also deserves considerable credit, for as both Peirce and James recall, it was Wright who demanded a phenomenalist and fallibilist empiricism as an alternative to rationalistic speculation.”
Inspiration for the various pragmatists included:
Francis Bacon who coined the saying ipsa scientia potestas est (“knowledge itself is power”)
David Hume for his naturalistic account of knowledge and action
Thomas Reid, for his direct realism
Immanuel Kant, for his idealism and from whom Peirce derives the name “pragmatism”
G. W. F. Hegel who introduced temporality into philosophy (Pinkard in Misak 2007)
J. S. Mill for his nominalism and empiricism
George Berkeley for his project to eliminate all unclear concepts from philosophy (Peirce 8:33)
In particular, notice the presence of Hegel and J.S. Mill in that list. This is the Hinge Point of History where divergence starts. Prior to this point, we had the fall of The Ancient Regime, and the rise of Industrial Capitalism. Folks were trying to sort out which way to take philosophy and society. Pragmatics looked at the world and asked “What will work?” in essence.
If we take a small peek at Idealism, for comparison, we find Hegel again:
From the wiki-
In philosophy, idealism is the group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas — especially beliefs and values — shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind. An extreme version of this idealism can exist in the philosophical notion of solipsism.
Religious and philosophical thought privileging the immaterial or supernatural over the material and natural is ubiquitous and ancient. However, the earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek Neoplatonists gave pantheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality. In contrast, the Yogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE, based its “mind-only” idealism to a greater extent on phenomenological analyses of personal experience. This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism.
Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as G. W. F. Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or “ideal” character of all phenomena, birthed idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism. The historical influence of this branch of idealism remains central even to the schools that rejected its metaphysical assumptions, such as Marxism, pragmatism, and positivism.
It is at this point where the divide forms. Positivism runs off and eventually forms the foundation of some types of Socialism. (The wiki for Positivism is part of their Sociology Portal set. There is also a Socialism Portal.) While the pragmatic capitalists just went on their way trying to make money in the context of the Emergent Behviour world of a Libertarian Naturalist world. The Socialists and Marxist Socialists believed that they could conceive an ideal world and cause it to be. That the Emergent Behaviour world (though they did not use those words or that concept directly) was somehow messy and would inevitably lead to the oppression of the masses and the revolt of the proletariat. They embraced an idealist / positivist world. (And forgot that emergent behaviour might give them their own Evil Bastard problem…) Some of the pragmatists, like J.S. Mills, had socialist leanings and some of their work ended up in the pot as well, but always tempered by that need to create a Utopian model.
Quoting a bit from the wiki on Positiveism:
Positivism is philosophy of science based on the view that in the social as well as natural sciences, data derived from sensory experience, and logical and mathematical treatments of such data, are together the exclusive source of all authentic knowledge. Obtaining and “verifying” data that can be received from the senses is known as empirical evidence. This view holds that society operates according to laws like the physical world. Introspective and intuitional attempts to gain knowledge are rejected. Though the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of Western thought, the concept was developed in the early 19th century by the philosopher and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte. Comte argued that society operates according to its own laws, much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other laws of nature.
We find Comte popping up from time to time as well.
The key takeaway at this point is just that Socialists believe, in their core beliefs, that they can work out the “laws of nature” that govern human interaction and build an idealized rule set to control human behaviour and build a Utopian world. The stereotypical Workers Paradise.
That Emergent Behaviour (i.e. “The Law of Unintended Consequences”) causes them to fail is something with which they have not yet come to grasp… They do seem to have started to realize they still have an Evil Bastard problem; but have not figured out how to fix it. Instead they seem to simply assert that the newest particular trial was in some ill defined way flawed; and if we just try some other variation it will all work out fine “This Time For sure!” … (For anyone unaware of it, that’s a reference to a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon where Bullwinkle tries to pull a rabbit out of a hat and repeatedly fails… always saying “This time for sure!”…)
In essence, the divide happens at the moment where the Sociologists decided they could define the “natural laws” governing human behaviour and the Socialists decided they could use that to build an ideal Workers Paradise. This is also part of why Sociology has been intimately tied to Socialism from the get go. One can be seen as the intellectual underpinning of the other; or the reverse, one is the real world demonstration of the other. IMHO “needs work” comes to mind. For both of them. With particular emphasis on the intractable problem of Emergent Behaviour. There is a fundamental conceit that they hold; that they can take the chaotic and non-deterministic world of human behaviour and both model and control it.
Socialism runs forward from that point, evolving into several different forms, spitting out a Communist variation, a Nationalist variation, and even various Democratic Socialism variations. It generally works, after a fashion. Mostly it is a bit shy on new ideas and innovation (being too focused on preserving the jobs and power structures of the entrenched) and too prone to a slide into Tyranny. But especially for a downtrodden economy faced with a world full of Rapacious Oligopoly Capitalists, having a bit more Central Control and a bit less ’emergent behaviour’ (when it will be dominated by foreign management interests) can work out very well for an individual country.
From here on out I’m just going to wander through the list of folks involved in the evolution of The Socialisms (not spending much time at all on the Communist, Fascists, and Nazi variations, and spending more on the older roots). If you want to explore all the various forms that have been tried, in different places and in different times, that would take a modest sized book. I’d suggest hitting the wiki on types of socialism (link above) first so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
For now it’s enough just to realize that socialism is a “work in progress” and has some more work needed. It has a large number of variations and not one of them has been as effective as the American regulated Free Enterprise model.
So where did this come from?
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (German pronunciation: [ˈɡeɔɐ̯k ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈheːɡəl]) (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.
Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or “system”, of Absolute idealism to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion and philosophy. In particular, he developed the concept that mind or spirit manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. Examples of such contradictions include those between nature and freedom, and between immanence and transcendence.
Hegel influenced writers of widely varying positions, including both his admirers (Strauss, Bauer, Feuerbach, T. H. Green, Marx, Vygotsky, F. H. Bradley, Dewey, Sartre, Croce, Küng, Kojève, Fukuyama, Žižek, Brandom, Iqbal) and his detractors (Schopenhauer, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Stirner, Nietzsche, Peirce, Popper, Russell, Heidegger). His influential conceptions are of speculative logic or “dialectic”, “absolute idealism”, “Spirit”, negativity, sublation (Aufhebung in German), the “Master/Slave” dialectic, “ethical life” and the importance of history.
One can simply run down that list of ‘admirers’ and see how things develop and diverge. In particular, Marx runs with this to communisim, while on the other side ‘detractor’ Popper gives us some decent rules for how to do science (even if a bit too much of a straight jacket in some contexts). We also see here early use of “dialectic” or “speculative logic” (which, IMHO, is an important detail often forgotten “speculative” needs more emphasis when taking about the ‘socialist dialectic’…)
Down in the page is this quote:
The French Revolution for Hegel constitutes the introduction of real individual political freedom into European societies for the first time in recorded history. But precisely because of its absolute novelty, it is also unlimited with regard to everything that preceded it: on the one hand the upsurge of violence required to carry out the revolution cannot cease to be itself, while on the other, it has already consumed its opponent. The revolution therefore has nowhere to turn but onto its own result: the hard-won freedom is consumed by a brutal Reign of Terror. History, however, progresses by learning from its mistakes: only after and precisely because of this experience can one posit the existence of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Hegel’s remarks on the French revolution led German poet Heinrich Heine to label him “The Orléans of German Philosophy”.
Worth note, here, is that the European Experience is dominated more by oppression from The Evil Bastard, in one form or another, than much of anything else. The French Revolution was (and is) “unprecedented”. The notions of individual freedom and liberty were essentially alien to much of Europe then (and, I would assert, many in power in the EU today…)
The Orléans being referenced was a House of Bourbon segment that was essentially oriented toward markets and capitalism, but under the direction of a modestly powerful Monarch. NOT a ‘free market’… In many ways, IMHO, Europe has never really accepted the concept of limited government and a truly free society of individuals with individual actualization and liberty. France briefly played with The Republic, then empire again, then back to Republic etc. etc. Much of Europe has been under one thumb or another for most of their history, and even into the present. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible for someone from that context to understand what it is like to grow up in an essentially free land. (The USA was that way in my youth. Now “not so much”…) A place where all things are possible and you depend on yourself.
I mention this simply because I think it shapes the way the Europeans (who make most of the foundation of The Socialisms) see the world of the possible. One where there must be a large role for government, and where the choice is between Kings, Queens, Emperors, or The Commissar. Certainly not one where such folks with huge extant Fat Wallets are allowed to dominate a ‘free’ market that only they are large enough to exploit.
The devotees of Hegel divided into “Right” and “Left”. On the “Left” were several names of note. It was here that Marx and Engles start their journey, eventually ending in the deaths of millions under The Evil Bastard Stalin.
Another Young Hegelian, Karl Marx, was at first sympathetic with this strategy of attacking Christianity to undermine the Prussian establishment, but later formed divergent ideas and broke with the Young Hegelians, attacking their views in works such as The German Ideology. Marx concluded that religion is not the basis of the establishment’s power, but rather ownership of capital — processes that employ technologies, land, money and especially human labor-power to create surplus-value — lie at the heart of the establishment’s power. Marx (and Engels) considered religion as a component of the ideological superstructure of societies, and a pre-rational mode of thought, which nonetheless was wielded by ruling elites to obscure social relationships including the true basis of political power. In this latter sense, he described religion as “the opium of the people.”
Friedrich Engels co-developed with Karl Marx a materialist analysis of history, since known as historical materialism, beginning with their joint critique of the Young Hegelians and Feuerbach in the two books The Holy Family (1845) and The German Ideology (1852). A central premise of this materialist conception of history is that, generally speaking, social being precedes social consciousness. Together with Marx, Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto.
The Young Hegelians were not popular at the university due to their radical views on religion and society. Bauer was dismissed from his teaching post in 1842, and Marx and other students were warned that they should not bother submitting their dissertations at the University of Berlin, as they would certainly be poorly received due to their reputations.
Gee, that’s a heck of a legacy… Note, too, that it is here where the attack on Christianity is started, as a way to attack the foundations of the German Establishment.
OK, on to German Idealism.
German idealism was a theological, philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It reacted against Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and was closely linked with both romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment. The best-known thinkers in the movement were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, while Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, and Friedrich Schleiermacher were also major contributors.
So the 1700s to 1800s. The rest of that wiki isn’t all that interesting, though it has its moments. This is a hinge point, so things wander in conflicting directions. We have a strong influence in America, and a warping of it that leads to the line of “reason” that ends in Socialism.
Mostly I find this quote of interest:
George Santayana had strongly held opinions regarding this attempt to overcome the effects of Kant’s transcendental idealism.
German Idealism, when we study it as a product of its own age and country, is a most engaging phenomenon; it is full of afflatus, sweep, and deep searchings of the heart; but it is essentially romantic and egoistical, and all in it that is not soliloquy is mere system-making and sophistry. Therefore when it is taught by unromantic people ex cathedra, in stentorian tones, and represented as the rational foundation of science and religion, with neither of which it has any honest sympathy, it becomes positively odious – one of the worst impostures and blights to which a youthful imagination could be subjected.
—George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine, IV, i.
The basic point here is that Idealism in general, and German Idealism in particular, leads to the “Scientific” and non-Theological line of thought. On the one hand, it leads to much of our rational science. On the other hand, it leads to the fallacy that one can create a scientifically Idealized Society. To Socialism. (And, I would assert, the repugnance that Socialism and Communism often show toward God and Religion…)
From this emphasis on the physical, provable, and “real” and this tossing out of God and Religion comes Materialism.
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter.
To many philosophers, ‘materialism’ is synonymous with ‘physicalism’. However, materialists have historically held that everything is made of matter, but physics has shown that gravity, for example, is not made of matter in the traditional sense of “‘an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist’… So it is tempting to use ‘physicalism’ to distance oneself from what seems a historically important but no longer scientifically relevant thesis of materialism, and related to this, to emphasize a connection to physics and the physical sciences.” Therefore much of the generally philosophical discussion below on materialism may be relevant to physicalism.
Also related with materialism are the ideas of methodological naturalism (i.e. “let’s at least do science as though physicalism is true”) and metaphysical naturalism (i.e. “philosophy and science should operate according to the physical world, and that’s all that exists”).
A variety of schools of thought call themselves “materialist”, particularly those associated with Marxism, dialectical materialism and historical materialism. The term can be used pejoratively, for example in the popular usage of the term “vulgar materialism” by Marxists and post-Marxists. Contrasting philosophies include idealism, other forms of monism, dualism and pluralism.
OK, why mention this? Because it gets tied up in The Socialisms and how they evolve. No room for God, for theology, or for any belief that isn’t “material” and can not be shown to have a root in reality. It is the root from which moral relativism comes.
How can it be simply “wrong” to torture someone if it is for “the good of the nation”? How can it be simply “wrong” to order individuals to have at most one child if it is for “the good of the nation”? How can there be ANY thing that is “wrong” if the scientifically designed Central Committee finds it to be “for the good of all”? This is the slippery slope that lets the Evil Bastards do whatever they want, in the end. We see the corruption of science today in the world of “Global Warming” and the “climate science” that supports it where numbers are fudged, results are created ‘for effect’ and nobody feels bad about things like lying and pretending to be a board member to get private communications. After all, it is ‘for the greater good’, so must be the right thing to do. There is no larger moral compass. There is no “Golden Rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” for those things are not “material”.
Like all things related to this path, there is an explosion of variations as they keep trying various mutations “This time for sure!”…
Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism, synthesizing Hegel’s dialectics, which proposes that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions and weaknesses that contribute to its systemic decay. Philosophically, dialectical materialism — that Man originates History through active consciousness — was originated by Moses Hess, and developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Moreover, Joseph Dietzgen developed the hypotheses of dialectical materialism independent of Marx, Engels, and Hess. In Marxist philosophy, the proposition that dialectical materialism is the philosophical basis of Marxism is disputed, regarding the ideological status of science and naturalism in the philosophy of Karl Marx.
It makes up that base upon which is built the notion that Capitalism leads to its own internal conflict as stresses develop. As more of the “chips” end up in fewer hands of larger Evil Bastards and eventually the Proletariat, being left with nothing, revolt against the Capitalists and institute the Socialist Order. That the pie might keep on growing, that the children of The Evil Bastard might not be so bright, or so greedy, and might spend the inheritance, or that folks like Carnegie might give his wealth to create good works; those things were not held important to that “dialectic”…
Frankly, I find a lot of these “philosophical” writings to be just a whole lot of wandering in the dark trying to put very complex explanations on pretty simple stuff. Like the idea that history has this whole cycle of thesis and antithesis. How about just a tendency to evolve in good times until a group of Evil Bastards are in charge, then collapse into anarchy when things turn bad? Does it really take much more than that? But I’m not a Ph.D. so my philosophies tend to be less abstruse… I don’t need to “publish or perish” and don’t need to sound more complicated and more impressive than the other guy. I just have to see how things work and how they fit together. So I wander through a lot of this Intellectual Dreck to learn about it more than to absorb it. So we will press on. At the bottom of the wiki is a long list of folks who contributed to that ‘philosophy’ including links to the philosophy of the Soviet Union, among others. I’ll leave that level of detail for individual exploration.
As a minor sidebar, there is Metaphysical Naturalism. While mostly this is a philosophy of nature as reality, and has various followers of various sorts (including some ties into the natural sciences), there is also a minor “hook” into Marxism and through it to The Socialisms.
Marxism, Objectivism, and secular humanism
A number of politicized versions of naturalism have arisen in the Western world, most notably Marxism in the 19th century and Objectivism in the 20th century. Marxism is an expression of communist or socialist idealism within a naturalistic framework. Objectivism is an expression of capitalist idealism within a naturalistic framework. Most proponents of metaphysical naturalism in First World countries, however, are not Marxists nor Objectivists, and instead embrace the more moderate political ideals of secular humanism or cultural moral relativism.
Mostly I mention it as it forms the basis for why Communism and most of The Socialisms have a hatred of religion. It is the thread that leads to the ills of Moral Relativism and is the place where the Moral Compass is lost. It is also the foundation stone that requires secular humanism to be promoted and the removal of God from the Public Square. As soon as you see folks arguing for Secular Humanist and Moral Relativist goals, look deeper and you will often find a closet Socialist. They swim in the same ditch.
For those who are do not like my putting Marxism and Communism in the same bucket with the rest of The Socialisms; it is not at all unusual and is the normal way of classification:
Main articles: Marxism and Socialism (Marxism)
In the most influential of all socialist theories, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels believed the consciousness of those who earn a wage or salary (the “working class” in the broadest Marxist sense) would be moulded by their “conditions” of “wage-slavery”, leading to a tendency to seek their freedom or “emancipation” by overthrowing ownership of the means of production by capitalists. For Marx and Engels, conditions determine consciousness and ending the role of the capitalist class leads eventually to a classless society in which the state would wither away.
Marx wrote: “It is not the consciousness of [people] that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
The Marxist conception of socialism is that of a specific historical phase that will displace capitalism and precede communism. The major characteristics of socialism (particularly as conceived by Marx and Engels after the Paris Commune of 1871) are that the proletariat will control the means of production through a workers’ state erected by the workers in their interests. Economic activity would still be organised through the use of incentive systems and social classes would still exist, but to a lesser and diminishing extent than under capitalism.
So all you advocates of Socialism Lite who think Communism and Marxism are some distant alien thing, they are not. They are your first cousin and bedfellows. Like Catholics and Episcopalians, far more alike than different, despite all their occasional bickering and fighting over who is in charge.
Prior to Marx, there were other socialists. The Marxist ideal was “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (with the Party Bosses having Great Needs…) The earlier ideal had a bit more of the capitalist ethos in it. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.” so if you worked hard or did unpleasant work, you got a larger part of the communal pie.
In an interesting way, this leads to the peculiar point that the early Socialists use the works of David Ricardo to justify their type of Socialism. If you are unfamiliar with him, Recardo is one of the founding lights of Economics. The field pretty much begins with Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Malthus.
David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823) was an English political economist, often credited with systematising economics, and was one of the most influential of the classical economists, along with Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill.[ He was also a member of Parliament, businessman, financier and speculator, who amassed a considerable personal fortune. Perhaps his most important contribution was the law of comparative advantage, a fundamental argument in favour of free trade among countries and of specialisation among individuals. Ricardo argued that there is mutual benefit from trade (or exchange) even if one party (e.g. resource-rich country, highly skilled artisan) is more productive in every possible area than its trading counterpart (e.g. resource-poor country, unskilled labourer), as long as each concentrates on the activities where it has a relative productivity advantage.
One might wonder how the ideas of a Rich Jewish Parliament Member could be turned into socialism. It rests on his theory of the value of labor.
His legacy and influence
David Ricardo’s ideas had a tremendous influence on later developments in economics. US economists rank Ricardo as the second most influential economic thinker, behind Adam Smith, prior to the twentieth century.
With his highly logical arguments, he has become the theoretical father of the classical political economy. Schumpeter coined an expression Ricardian vice, which indicates that rigorous logic does not provide a good economic theory. This criticism applies also to most neoclassical theories, which make heavy use of mathematics, but are, according to him, theoretically unsound, because the conclusion being drawn does not logically follow from the theories used to defend it.
Ricardo’s writings gave rise to a number of early socialists in the 1820s, who argued that his value theory had radical implications. They argued that, in view of labor theory of value, labor produces the entire product and the profits capitalists get are a result of exploitations of workers. These include Thomas Hodgskin, William Thompson, John Francis Bray, and Percy Ravenstone.
I’ll leave the biographies of those Ricardian Socialists for your individual exploration. Just realize that the dogma about labor being all that has value, and the efforts of the Capital Owner being a form of social theft, come from a radical reinterpretation of the ‘value theory’.
Ricardo’s most famous work is his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). Ricardo opens the first chapter with a statement of the labour theory of value. Later in this chapter, he demonstrates that prices do not correspond to this value. He retained the theory, however, as an approximation. The labour theory of value states that the relative price of two goods is determined by the ratio of the quantities of labour required in their production. His labour theory of value, however, required several assumptions:
both sectors have the same wage rate and the same profit rate;
the capital employed in production is made up of wages only;
the period of production has the same length for both goods.
Ricardo himself realized that the second and third assumptions were quite unrealistic and hence admitted two exceptions to his labour theory of value:
production periods may differ;
the two production processes may employ instruments and equipment as capital and not just wages, and in very different proportions.
Ricardo continued to work on his value theory to the end of his life.
So we find that Socialism has, at its core, a belief in a 1/2 finished theory, that even the author admitted ‘had issues’ and where the caveats were left out. We find a lot of that in the history of Socialism. Things that are not complete, lionized and turned into iconic idealized morally relative “truths”. Then folks extrapolate them to things like ‘all capital ought to belong to the people because it was all the product of their stolen labor’. You will find that kind of talk all over the place on this May Day.
Ricardian socialism refers to a branch of socialist economic thought based upon the work of economist David Ricardo. The Ricardian socialists reasoned that the free-market was the route to socialism, and that rent, profit and interest were not natural outgrowths of the free-market. The central beliefs of Ricardian socialism are that all exchange value is created from labor, and that labor is entitled to all it produces.
Ricardian socialism is a putative form of socialism based on the arguments made by Ricardo that the equilibrium value of commodities approximated producer prices when those commodities were in elastic supply, and that these producer prices corresponded to the embodied labor; and that profit, interest and rent were deductions from this exchange-value. This is deduced from the axiom of Ricardo and Adam Smith that labor is the source of all value.
The first imputation that early British and Irish socialists were influenced by Ricardo is made by Marx in his 1846 Poverty of Philosophy:
It never ceases to amaze me how some folks can take an idea, an run off a cliff with it, bending and breaking it out of all recognition.
The taproot that blended with Ricardo to end up at Socialism was the Utopian movement. This led to a variety of communes and various attempts at building a more equitable, perfected, and fair shared effort. We find a variety of communes, co-ops, and Utopian movements continuously tried, typically failing, and then being tried again. Some last for a fair amount of time, but few are what would be thought a rousing success. (They typically spend too much time being ‘fair’ and not enough time having an Evil Bastard assuring they will win in a competitive world.)
The Utopians begin early on. I find this one particular amusing:
Saint-Simonianism was a French political and social movement of the first half of the 19th century, inspired by the ideas of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825).
Saint-Simon has been “variously portrayed as a utopian socialist, the founder of sociology and a prescient madman”. His ideas, expressed largely through a succession of journals such as l’Industrie (1816), La politique (1818) and L’Organisateur (1819–20) centered on a perception that growth in industrialization and scientific discovery would have profound changes on society. He believed, nonetheless, that society would restructure itself by abandoning traditional ideas of temporal and spiritual power, an evolution that would lead, inevitably, to a productive society based on, and benefiting from, a ” … union of men engaged in useful work”, the basis of “true equality”. These ideas influenced Auguste Comte (who was, for a time, Saint-Simon’s secretary), Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and many other thinkers and social theorists.
One can’t help but think that an apt description… It also shows how Socialism and Sociology have been ‘joined at the hip’ from the beginning. It then comes as no surprise that Sociology departments around the world are largely Socialist Enterprises.
At the bottom of that page there is a list of folks associated with his “movement”, for further exploration. One minor note is that they bought Le Globe, so one can trace its editorial origins to an interesting source.
Following Saint-Simon’s death, his followers began to differ as to how to promulgate his ideas. A ‘charismatic’ faction, led by Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin purchased the newspaper Le Globe as their official organ, and formed an increasingly religiously-minded ritualistic group based on a community founded at Ménilmontant, before being banned by the authorities in 1832. Following this some of Enfantin’s followers visited North Africa or the Middle East in search of Messianic revelations, and the formal Saint-Simonian movement expired.
However, others who had been associated with the group and were not so interested in the increasingly bizarre antics of Enfantin, (such as Olinde Rodrigues and Gustave d’Eichthal) developed Saint-Simonian notions practically and involved themselves in the development of the French economy, founding a number of leading concerns including the Suez Canal Company and the bank Crédit Mobilier.
We also see the early introduction of Socialist ideologues into the French Economy.
But the ideas did not stop there, with John Stuart Mill they ran off to England and mutated a bit again. This is where we see The Progressive Movement picking up. It shares roots with what became Socialism, and periodically they cross pollinate.
Mill supported the Malthusian theory of population. By population he meant the number of the working class only. He was therefore concerned about the growth in number of labourers who worked for hire. He believed that population control was essential for improving the condition of the working class so that they might enjoy the fruits of the technological progress and capital accumulation. He propagated birth control as against moral restraint.
Here we see two important elements, still seen today. “Population Control” is for the masses, not the elite… so when you hear “we need population control” remember that it does not apply to the speaker…
And the notion that we need to kill off the excess labor to give it a better life.
These same ideas circle around in all The Socialisms to one degree or another. Progressives of the 1920’s and 1930s even into the 1940s embraced it whole heartedly. Their brethren in Italian Fascism and especially the Nazis emulated them. Yes, we here in the USA were the model for the Nazis in their ‘population control of undesirables’. The USA had an active Eugenics program busy sterilizing anyone deemed ‘undesirable’… all nice and ‘scientific’ and all… With particular emphasis on dark races, deaf folks, anyone in institutional care, etc. “That’s Progress”ives for you.
It leads back to this source. The Utopian Socialists and their Idealism to “do good” to you if you want it or not…
We also find here the root of the current Watermelon Green Movement:
Mill’s views on the environment
Mill demonstrated an early insight into the value of the natural world – in particular in Book IV, chapter VI of “Principles of Political Economy”: “Of the Stationary State” in which Mill recognised wealth beyond the material, and argued that the logical conclusion of unlimited growth was destruction of the environment and a reduced quality of life. He concluded that a stationary state could be preferable to neverending economic growth:
I cannot, therefore, regard the stationary state of capital and wealth with the unaffected aversion so generally manifested towards it by political economists of the old school.
If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compel them to it.
This is the root for the ongoing paranoia about “unlimited growth” and the need to control folks to prevent their consumption. Never mind that our continued ingenuity keep pushing boundaries out faster than consumption and never mind that anything can be a resource. This is the point where the Fear Of Running Out is anchored.
No egalitarian is Mill; we see here the root of the notion that we ought to be equal in having the vote, but some animals ought to be more equal than others:
Mill supported legislation that would have granted extra voting power to university graduates on the grounds that they were in a better position to judge what would be best for society. It should be noted that, in this example, Mill did not intend to devalue uneducated people and would certainly have advocated sending the poor but talented to universities: he believed that education, and not the intrinsic nature of the educated, qualified them to have more influence in government.
He started off in favor of markets, and slowly drifts into ever more interventionist forms. We see the early push against alcohol (reaching a zenith in Prohibition and in the modern War On Drugs – another waste of $Billions and millions of lives via incarceration.) Socialists of all stripes have never seen a natural system that did not need “intervention”.
Mill’s early economic philosophy was one of free markets. However, he accepted interventions in the economy, such as a tax on alcohol, if there were sufficient utilitarian grounds. He also accepted the principle of legislative intervention for the purpose of animal welfare. Mill originally believed that “equality of taxation” meant “equality of sacrifice” and that progressive taxation penalised those who worked harder and saved more and was therefore “a mild form of robbery”.
Given an equal tax rate regardless of income, Mill agreed that inheritance should be taxed. A utilitarian society would agree that everyone should be equal one way or another. Therefore receiving inheritance would put one ahead of society unless taxed on the inheritance. Those who donate should consider and choose carefully where their money goes—some charities are more deserving than others. Considering public charities boards such as a government will disperse the money equally. However, a private charity board like a church would disperse the monies fairly to those who are in more need than others.
Later he altered his views toward a more socialist bent, adding chapters to his Principles of Political Economy in defence of a socialist outlook, and defending some socialist causes. Within this revised work he also made the radical proposal that the whole wage system be abolished in favour of a co-operative wage system. Nonetheless, some of his views on the idea of flat taxation remained, albeit in a slightly toned down form.
Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1848, was one of the most widely read of all books on economics in the period. As Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations had during an earlier period, Mill’s Principles dominated economics teaching. In the case of Oxford University it was the standard text until 1919. The text that replaced it was written by Cambridge’s Alfred Marshall.
And with that kind of impact is it any wonder we got Progressive Taxation, taxes on inheritance, and a general drift toward socialism?
There is a timeline of the history of Socialism here:
That includes a lot of the various revolutions and a load of when various committees held meetings. Starkly absent are the history of the abject falures (such as fascism and Nazism). One wonders how long before the history of the USSR will be faded away…
Utopian Socialism has its own category listing:
The Utopian movement had several types. Some religious, some not. One branch wandered off to Socialism and even Marx talks about Utopian Socialism.
Utopian Socialism is a term used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen, which inspired Karl Marx and other early socialists. However, visions of imaginary ideal societies, which competed with revolutionary social-democratic movements, were viewed as not being grounded in the material conditions of society and as reactionary. Although it is technically possible for any set of ideas or any person living at any time in history to be a utopian socialist, the term is most often applied to those socialists who lived in the first quarter of the 19th century who were ascribed the label “utopian” by later socialists as a negative term, in order to imply naivete and dismiss their ideas as fanciful or unrealistic.
Religious sects whose members live communally, such as the Hutterites, for example, are not usually called “utopian socialists”, although their way of living is a prime example. They have been categorized as religious socialists by some. Likewise, modern intentional communities based on socialist ideas could also be categorized as “utopian socialist”.
It is at this point we see the root of Socialism reaching back to an earlier, well intentioned, Utopian movement. That a later and more jaded group of Socialists used the term in a derogatory way does not diminish the connection. I’m just going to stick the section about Utopian literature here. If you read it with a mind to the sweep of history, you can see how the original idealism of a grand perfection slowly mutates, trying for success but running into failures.
Utopian socialism in literature and in practice
Perhaps the first utopian socialist was Thomas More (1478-1535), who wrote about an imaginary socialist society in his satire Utopia, which was published in 1516. The contemporary definition of the English word “utopia” derives from this work.
Saint-Simonianism was a French political and social movement of the first half of the 19th century, inspired by the ideas of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825). His ideas influenced Auguste Comte (who was, for a time, Saint-Simon’s secretary), Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and many other thinkers and social theorists.
Robert Owen (1771–1858) was a successful Welsh businessman who devoted much of his profits to improving the lives of his employees. His reputation grew when he set up a textile factory in New Lanark, Scotland, co-funded by his teacher, the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, and introduced shorter working hours, schools for children and renovated housing. He wrote about his ideas in his book A New View of Society, which was published in 1813, and An Explanation of the Cause of Distress which pervades the civilized parts of the world in 1823. He also set up an Owenite commune called New Harmony in Indiana, USA. This collapsed when one of his business partners ran off with all the profits. Owen’s main contribution to socialist thought was the view that human social behavior is not fixed or absolute, and that human beings have the free will to organize themselves into any kind of society they wished.
Charles Fourier (1772–1837) was by far the most utopian of the socialists. Rejecting the industrial revolution altogether and thus the problems that arose with it, he made various fanciful claims about the ideal world he envisioned. Despite some clearly non-socialist inclinations, he contributed significantly – if indirectly – to the socialist movement. His writings about turning work into play influenced the young Karl Marx and helped him devise his theory of alienation. Also a contributor to feminism, Fourier invented the concept of phalanstère, units of people based on a theory of passions and of their combination. Several colonies based on Fourier’s ideas were founded in the United States by Albert Brisbane and Horace Greeley.
Étienne Cabet (1788–1856) who was influenced by Robert Owen, published a book in 1840 entitled Travel and adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria in which he described an ideal communalist society. His attempts to form real socialist communities based on his ideas, through the Icarian movement however, did not survive, but one such community was the precursor of Corning, Iowa. Possibly inspired by Christianity, he coined the word “communism” and influenced other thinkers, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Edward Bellamy (1850–1898), published Looking Backward in 1888, a utopian romance novel about a future socialist society. In Bellamy’s utopia, property was held in common and money replaced with a system of equal credit for all. Valid for a year and non-transferable between individual persons, expenditure of this credit was to be tracked via ‘credit-cards’ (which bear no resemblance to modern credit cards which are tools of debt-finance). Labour between the ages of 21-40 was to be compulsory, and organised via various departments of an ‘Industrial Army’ to which most citizens belonged. However working hours were to be cut drastically due to technological advances (including organisational). People were expected to be motivated by a Religion of Solidarity, and e.g. criminal behavior was treated as a form of mental illness or ‘atavism’. It was the second or third ranking best seller of its time (after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur). Bellamy published a sequel Equality in 1897 as a reply to his critics, and from which the Industrial Army and other authoritarian aspects were absent.
William Morris (1834–1896) published News from Nowhere in 1890, partly as a response to Bellamy’s Looking Backwards which he equated with the socialism of Fabians such as Sydney Webb. Morris’ vision of the future socialist society was centred around his concept of useful work as opposed to useless toil, and the redemption of human labour. Morris believed that all work should be artistic, in the sense that the worker should find it both pleasurable and an outlet for creativity. Morris’ conception of labour thus bears strong resemblance to Fourier’s, whilst Bellamy’s (i.e. the reduction of labour to a minimum) is more akin to that of Saint-Simon or indeed Marx.
The Brotherhood Church in Britain and the Life and Labor Commune in Russia were based on the Christian anarchist ideas of Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910).
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) and Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) wrote about anarchist forms of socialism in their books. Proudhon wrote What is Property? (1840) and The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty (1847). Kropotkin wrote The Conquest of Bread (1892) and Fields, Factories and Workshops (1912). Many of the anarchist collectives formed in Spain, especially in Aragon and Catalonia, during the Spanish Civil War were based on their ideas.
Many participants in the historical kibbutz movement in Israel were motivated by utopian socialist ideas, but few examples of this type of kibbutz remain.
Augustin Souchy (1892–1984) spent most of his life investigating and participating in many kinds of socialist communities. He wrote about his experiences in his autobiography Beware! Anarchist!.
The philosopher and pornographer Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) anticipated Charles Fourier in his project of a harmonious utopia based on the free play of sexual passion in the pamphlet Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans, found in Philosophy in the Bedroom.
Behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904–1990) published Walden Two in 1948. The Twin Oaks Community was originally based on his ideas.
Ursula K. Le Guin (born 1929) wrote about an impoverished anarchist planet in her book The Dispossessed, which was published in 1974. The anarchists agree to leave their home planet and colonize the barren planet in order to avoid a bloody revolution.
I think you get the picture. A whole lot of fuzzy idealism, often going down in flames as it confronts reality. Tried again and again, never learning from the past.
Thomas More is from back around 1500, so the Utopians predate the Socialist variation by quite a while.
Sir Thomas More ( /ˈmɔr/; 7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and was Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. He is commemorated by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr”. He was an opponent of the Protestant Reformation and in particular of Martin Luther and William Tyndale.
More coined the word “utopia” – a name he gave to the ideal and imaginary island nation, the political system of which he described in Utopia published in 1516. He opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church and refused to accept the King as Supreme Head of the Church of England, a title which had been given by parliament through the Act of Supremacy of 1534. He was imprisoned in 1534 for his refusal to take the oath required by the First Succession Act, because the act disparaged papal power and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In 1535, he was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded.
Utopia contrasts the contentious social life of European states with the perfectly orderly, reasonable social arrangements of Utopia and its environs (Tallstoria, Nolandia, and Aircastle). In Utopia, with communal ownership of land, private property does not exist, men and women are educated alike, and there is almost complete religious toleration. Some take the novel’s principal message to be the social need for order and discipline rather than liberty. The country of Utopia tolerates different religious practices but does not tolerate atheists. Hythlodeaus theorises that if a man did not believe in a god or in an afterlife he could never be trusted, because he would not acknowledge any authority or principle outside himself.
And with that, we reach the final end of the beginnings of Socialism. In a work of fiction, aimed at an indirect criticism of the King, resulting in an “Off with his head” moment.
So now you know.
Now, just for fun, “play it forward” in your mind. From a work of fiction, to attempts at real world Utopian Communes that regularly fail, to Mr. Mills ideas about control, to a 1/2 finished economic theory about value and labor turned into a base belief, to a Marxist twist into a struggle of the classes (class warfare) and on to the USSR – Stalin and the various purges, Fascism, Nazism and The Progressive push for euthanasia and forced sterilizations, eventually to Mao and The Cultural Revolution (one could toss in Pol Pot and the Khmer rouge for another 3 million dead… but that would be piling on…)
And folks wonder why I’m not all sweetness and kiss-kiss with The Socialisms…
Personally, I’m more inclined toward the Naturalist and Capitalist line. Fewer folks end up dead that way. Maybe not as much “justice”, but I’d rather a bit less justice and more prosperity and long life.
Now, too, you can see why it took me so long to do this one. It could easily be twice this long and still not complete. But this is ‘enough’, I think, to capture the historical roots of The Socialisms and give a sense of what led to them, and why they so regularly fail. What they do well, and where they go horridly wrong.