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Daniel Taylor writing in Red Flag, addresses some of the systemic problems with the economic system we currently have.

 

“When the system is under strain, the “democratic deficit” of capitalism becomes obvious. No matter how many elections take place, the things we want don’t happen; the things we don’t want, do happen; and the people we despise are in charge.

But the roots of the problem are deeper than the political process: the lack of democracy is built into the fundamental structures of a capitalist economy.

Democracy means “the rule of the people”. Capitalism means the rule of the market. Between those two concepts lies a gulf that can’t be bridged by any number of patriotic songs and firework displays.

A capitalist economy, based on private property, divides society into those who own and those who don’t: those who decide and those who obey. The first, most fundamental decisions that can be made in society – what to do with the tremendous wealth and technology that exists in the world – are made with no democratic oversight at all.

Will factories be used to assemble medical equipment or machine guns? Will cranes be set to work building schools and hospitals or luxury apartments for the rich? Will the printing presses make textbooks or newspapers full of racist fear-mongering?

These key decisions, which determine the shape of the society we live in, are made every day in secret, with no democratic oversight, by the tiny minority of the population that owns society’s productive wealth. They are not made in parliaments, but boardrooms. And they are made in the interests of the capitalist class, to increase its profits and strengthen its rule over society.

In capitalist “democracy”, “the people” have no say whatsoever over the most important decisions in the world: the economy is the private concern of the bosses, and we have to live with their decisions. And the state – supposedly the democratic influence on society, in which all citizens, rich and poor alike, have an equal say – merely reflects and reinforces this tyranny.”

I think it is time we give democratic socialism a fair shake.

 

Eugenedebs

From Wikipedia:

“Eugene VictorGeneDebs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies), and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States.[1] Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

Early in his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), one of the nation’s first industrial unions. After workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company organized a wildcat strike over pay cuts in the summer of 1894, Debs signed many into the ARU. He called a boycott of the ARU against handling trains with Pullman cars, in what became the nationwide Pullman Strike, affecting most lines west of Detroit, and more than 250,000 workers in 27 states. To keep the mail running, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was convicted of federal charges for defying a court injunction against the strike and served six months in prison.

In jail, Debs read various works of socialist theory and emerged six months later as a committed adherent of the international socialist movement. Debs was a founding member of the Social Democracy of America (1897), the Social Democratic Party of America (1898), and the Socialist Party of America (1901).

Debs ran as a Socialist candidate for President of the United States five times, including 1900 (earning 0.63% of the popular vote), 1904 (2.98%), 1908 (2.83%), 1912 (5.99%), and 1920 (3.41%), the last time from a prison cell. He was also a candidate for United States Congress from his native Indiana in 1916.

Debs was noted for his oratory, and his speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926, not long after being admitted to a sanatorium due to cardiovascular problems that developed during his time in prison. He has since been cited as the inspiration for numerous politicians.”

1200

Damn, Ólafur Grímsson, President of Iceland, is getting cocky.   For good reason of course.  Keeping the people that run your country and businesses educated and healthy = productivity and innovation.

 

Shocked I am.  Positively aghast.  :)

 

This just popped into my reader.  It deserves to be shared and discussed.

Did you ever wonder about economic growth?  Take the time to question your assumptions on economic growth and how it effects you?  Thomas Homer Dixon has and what he says is quite interesting.  From The Upside of Down pages 192 – 193.

One might even say that we’re collectively fixated on maintaining growth.  But this is a curious fixation because beyond a certain point – a point many of passed long ago – the higher incomes that growth produces don’t make us any happier.

When psychologists have questioned people over the years about how happy they are, they’ve found that people in rich countries are on average no happier today than people were in the 1970’s of even the 1950’s.  During the intervening decades we’ve become far richer.  In the United States, personal income (in constant 1995 dollars) more than doubled between 1957 and 1998.  But over this period the percentage of people who said they were “very happy” actually declined slightly.  Notes the American Psychologist David Myers, “We are twice as rich and no happier.” And when we look at countries around the world, we find that happiness is correlated with income up to about $10,000 to $13,000 per person annually, but beyond this threshold the correlation vanishes.

Money, in economists’ terminology, produces “diminishing returns” of happiness.  Once our basic material needs are satisfied, it turns out, we don’t need more money to be happy, but we do need loving families, supportive social relationships, absorption in a satisfying activity, a sense of purpose in our lives, novelty and security from catastrophic threats to our income and health.

   So, if above a relatively modest threshold, greater material wealth doesn’t make us happier, why do those of us who are already well off in rich economies work so hard to get more of it?  Psychologists and behavioural economists have offered a range of answers to this question.  Some say we’re stuck on a “hedonic treadmill”: our aspirations tend to exceed our income, and as our income rises, our aspirations rise in lockstep.  Others stress that our happiness is partly a result of our relative social status because human beings naturally compare themselves with other people.  We’re all trying to at least keep up with Mr.Jones next door.  If our yardstick of comparison is income, a higher income makes us happier only if it goes up relative Jones’s income.  But because Jones is working as hard as we are, nobody gets ahead, and no one feels any happier.  We are, essentially, in an unwinnable income race with other people.

These theories may explain why most of work so hard to get ahead economically, and why all this effort doesn’t make us happier, but they don’t really address the deeper conundrum that’s our central concern here:  why do our politicians, policy makers, economists, and public commentators remain so fixed on maintaining economic growth even when higher incomes don’t make us happier?

Thank you Mr. Dixon.  The next paragraphs in his book, (which I recommend you read) deal with answers to this problem given withing the contextual frame of capitalism.  As THD is very thorough with his prescriptions let me offer my insights in addition to his.

If we need a rather modest amount of goods/income to be happy should we not support a system that focuses on building and developing society in ways that will make us more creative, productive and happy.  Let’s look again –

  Once our basic material needs are satisfied, it turns out, we don’t need more money to be happy, but we do need loving families, supportive social relationships, absorption in a satisfying activity, a sense of purpose in our lives, novelty and security from catastrophic threats to our income and health. 

So, once the bases our covered we need things that don’t revolve around acquiring wealth.  Here is where I would propose that economic systems that promote and focus on the welfare of society really shine.   More egalitarian societies realize what THD has pointed out and consciously distribute their resources to make society a better place to live because they pay attention to all the factors that contribute to making our lives a happier worthwhile experience.

So things like Universal Health Care, Guaranteed Income, Old Age Security, welfare, social programs are necessary and vital parts of resilient, functional society.

Makes sense, no?

The lack of reflection in North American society reflects in our policies and economic choices.  Countries that have experienced the ripsaw of  neo-liberal capitalism (essentially the unbalanced “free-market” reforms that we impose on other countries to savage their people and exploit their resources) are contemplating life after the free marketers have been kicked out and those countries must once again reform a nation from the hollow shell left by ‘free-market’ plundering.   In this piece from Al-Jazeera we gain an inside look at what happened at the forum and some of the topics discussed.

“I just returned from the sixth International Forum of Philosophy in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where philosophers from four continents were invited to discuss “State, Revolution and the Construction of Hegemony”.The event was inaugurated by the vice-presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, televised by several channels, and on the last day, a prize of $150,000 was awarded to the best book presented within the Libertador Award for Critical Thinking of 2011.”

It is nice to see that somewhere in the world people can speak of the world as it is as opposed to the geo-political bias imposed by living in North America.

“Similar to the World Social Forum of Brazil, both the prize and forum aim to reflect not only upon the social progress that characterises these nations, but also the progress taking place in rest of the world; this is why only thinkers whose position is essentially leftist are invited, that is, those in the service of the weak, marginalised, and oppressed sectors of society.”

Before we jump on the ‘fair and balanced’ objection, let me remind you fair readers that the opposing point of view can be found by simply accessing any major newspaper of record, or any corporate media source.

“Regardless of how effective the conference’s statement is on the governors that read it, what is interesting for us – European academics – is the institutional significance that is given to philosophy in the region. Is there a philosophy conference or forum in the United States or EU where vice-presidents take time to inaugurate a similar event?

Before exploring this relation [between governance and philosophy], it is necessary to remember that most Latin American countries today are governed by socialist governments whose main objective is to elevate from poverty those citizens that were discarded by the neoliberal (and in some cases dictatorial) states that ruled the region in the past. This is why for more than a decade now, such renowned progressive intellectuals as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and many others have been endorsing Chavez, Morales, and other democratically elected presidents for their social programmes and economic independence from the IMF.

    It might be nice to learn some of the lessons from these failed neoliberal experiments as the doctrines are still playing in Canada, US and Europe.

“But despite the social progress (since 2003, extreme poverty has been reduced by 72 per cent in Venezuela), ecological initiatives (Morales has been declared the “World Hero of Mother Earth” by the president of the United Nations General Assembly), and economic efficiency (unlike the EU, Latin American economies will grow by 4.7 per cent in 2012) of these governments, a campaign of hatred and disinformation has been taking place throughout our Western media in order to discredit these achievements.

Perhaps, as Oliver Stone pointed out in his brilliant documentary South of the Border, this campaign is a symptom of fear that citizens in the West might also begin to demand similar policies. After all, while in Europe we are cutting social services following the European Central Bank demands, Latin American states are increasing them, just as so many western protesters (“indignados”, Occupy Wall Street, and other courageous movements) demand.”

Ah, the threat of a good example.  To the embattled North American Economies a threat worse than Iran, Iraq and the Taliban all rolled into one.  The idea that a model focused on people rather than profit can and is working in the world.  Fortunately for these Southern Cone countries they are now too big and well organized to be brought down, as Nicaragua was in the 90’s by the US.

“These Latin American countries are not calling philosophers to obtain from them rational justifications or hoping that some of us write propaganda articles for their policies. Rather, they are showing their awareness that history has not ended. I’m referring here to Francis Fukuyama’s famous theory of “the end of history” (“liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government broadly accepted”), which has now been assimilated, if not completely incorporated, by our capitalist culture.

But history in Latin America has neither ended nor started anew. It’s simply proceeding as an alternate to our capitalist logic of economic enrichment, technological progress and cultural superiority. The Latin American countries do not aim to dominate others, but simply to evoke those whom Walter Benjamin called the “losers of history”, that is, the ones who have not succeeded within our neoliberal democratic system. These unsuccessful “shareholders” are represented not only by underprivileged citizens, but also by underdeveloped nations and continents. In this condition, philosophy is called upon to think historically – that is, to maintain living history. But how?”

How refreshing to see another point of view being expressed and some of the tenets of neoliberalism thoughtfully challenged.  And how do we see our “free press” respond to such a conference?  Observe.  The silence is deafening.  Such an unscrupulous avoidance news is a regular feature of our corporate news media, that exists mostly to feed and reinforce the system that it profits from, and most certainly not to educate its populace.

Let’s hope that people can find out more about alternative points of view and learn about competing narratives so they can more effectively judge the systems that they currently inhabit.  The OWS movement is a step in the right direction but need to ground themselves in the historical struggle for citizens rights and power within the state capitalist system.   Looking toward Latin America and what people have and are achieving there would be a good start.

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