Sunday, 21 April 2013

Steps to anarchist revolution



Transcript


Hi, this video is to offer ideas to anyone interested in working towards a social anarchist revolution - particularly in the UK.  I’ll be taking ideas from the Spanish and other anarchist-type revolutions, as well as contemporary social movements and revolutionary thinkers since the 1800s. As such, most of the ideas are fairly well known already, but I will attempt to present them in a short and simple video, relevant to people living in the UK today.

So let’s start by defining a social anarchist revolution.

The minimal goal, as I understand it, is a community of people refusing to recognise state sovereignty over them and refusing to recognise pre-existing capitalist property laws over workplaces.
Instead, after an anarchist revolution, communities will be managed via networks of community organisations in which all can participate equally, working in combination with democratic workplace organisations. That is, social matters that are currently managed by hierarchical, inter-linked government and capitalist institutions driven for profit and power, will become managed via non-hierarchical organisations, driven only by satisfying human needs and wants.

This type of social set up can also be referred to with a number of other names such as libertarian socialism, or direct democracy.

Now, if we see democratic, self-managed networks of community and worker organisations as the basis of any revolution, the central task for revolutionaries is building these organisations and preparing them for running society. Note that the methods I propose here for building these organisations will simultaneously weaken and reduce dependence upon current systems of power, making it possible for them to be finally discarded.      

It is important to acknowledge that we already have organisations designed for helping communities and workplaces democratically manage themselves.  With regards to community organising, there are two organisations I will mention here. The first is the International Organisation for a Participatory Society (also known as IOPS). The second is the Anarchist Federation (or AFED). Both are non-hierarchical international organisations with local chapters in towns throughout the UK, which aim to move away from state-capitalism and bring about democratic self-management.  

The main revolutionary workplace organisations are firstly, the Solidarity Federation, part of the International Workers Association and secondly, the Industrial Workers of the World union. Both aim to introduce widespread worker control over all workplaces.  

I would argue anyone interested in revolution should, as a starting point, join one of the organisations, as the most important revolutionary projects require many people working together. Personally, I believe the easiest organisation to join as a starting point is IOPS. It has a user-friendly website and is free to join at the moment. However, there are benefits to joining any of the others, or even all 4 of the organisations.  
Once joined up, I would that there are four types of projects which should be central to anarchists when working in these organisations, as they concretely prepare, or fund, the institutions of a future society. These activities are 1) building worker co-operatives 2) building democratic credit unions 3) promoting trade union rights and larger trade unions, and 4) promoting participatory budgeting. Let’s look at each of these projects in turn.

There are many types of co-ops but key components of a co-op compatible with social anarchist ideas is that it is non-hierarchical and that workers have an equal say on management decisions. This is how anarchists want to see work organised in the future and we can begin this today within today’s society.
A corollary of this is that anarchist organisations should seek to build democratic credit unions, which aim to finance local cooperatives. Transferring enough savings to these credit unions would have the added benefit of protecting communities against future financial crises. Events in recent years have shown that this is an ever present threat, but the threat could become larger if investors panic in response to increased trade union activities and participatory budgeting - matters we’ll now turn to.  

By promoting trade union rights, anarchists can help give workers at the bottom more power over the companies they work for, particularly if these workers are part of the SolFed or IWW unions. This would begin moving current workplaces more in the direction of worker self-management which anarchists would like to see in the future.  Apart from using this power to benefit themselves in the short term, through better wages, hours and benefits (perhaps including skills training and education), workers could begin to effect wider company policy in numerous ways that promote social interests over profit. For example, they could push for strong company environmental policies.

In terms of directly promoting anarchist institutions, trade unions could push for company contracts to be given as far as possible to worker co-operatives. Additionally, where suitable, they could insist that their company banks with democratic credit unions. Workers could also use the threat of strike action to support demands to the government to allocate increased resources to community participatory budgeting, something we will now discuss.

Participatory budgeting is whereby local communities meet to discuss and decide how local government money is spent. This is close to how anarchists aim for communities to be managed in the future, instead of being overseen by a hierarchical government.  Participatory budgeting has been tried very successfully in Brazil and Venezuela. For example, In Porto Allegre, the World Bank has found that the system has helped improve health, education and water services. It has also been tested to a small degree in other countries in the world, including many towns in the UK. The task for anarchists should be to push for it to become more widespread, with more recourses dedicated to it.

Apart from being useful in itself to the anarchist cause, through participatory budgeting, communities can support the formation of new non-hierarchical workplaces. For example, if the community agrees to open a new library, the library could be managed in a non-hierarchical way by staff.

Extending participatory budgeting to as many areas of government spending as possible could have multiple positive short and long term effects. For example, communities could invest in public transport and bicycle paths, which could have important long term benefits on the environment.   Networks of communities controlling NHS spending could also prevent the government forcing through NHS privatisation. Such victories could also attract increased public support for anarchist ideas.
It may also be tactically useful for the revolution if local police spending can be brought under the participatory budgeting process, as communities may be able to prevent the police being used by the government to attack the people.

As a part of demanding increased local community control over government budgets, anarchists could draw attention to central government programs that should be immediately cut. For example, anarchists could oppose government subsidies to arms companies that export military equipment to oppressive foreign regimes.

In this way anarchists could build support from networks such as Campaign against the Arms Trade which are also concerned with this type of issue.

In order to further increase funding for community led programs, anarchist and community organisations may also want to push for new measures to prevent corporations and the wealthy evade tax. This year, evasion will cost the UK around £90bn per year – around the same figure as the deficit – which the middle and lower classes are being held responsible for. [1]   

Anarchists could also push a higher tax rate for the richest, particularly the richest 0.1% whose wealth has exploded in recent years without any perceivable economic or social benefits to the country as a whole. In fact, the social consequences of increased inequality have almost undoubtedly been negative. For example, in their ground-breaking study, the Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett document how economic inequality is linked to widespread social problems for at least the bottom 90% of earners in countries such as the US and UK.  Thus Sweden has far better social indicators than the US and UK, despite having far lower GDP per capita and median incomes. Higher taxes for the rich could help address this problem. 

Furthermore, by pushing for tax reforms, anarchists would be helping link anti-cuts activists with participatory budgeting activists, and could help build support for further change.   

With increased tax funds from the very wealthiest, communities could fund a range of new, not-for profit, co-operatively managed services for the public, including better schools, youth clubs, better services for the disabled and public transport, or whatever else communities decide on. All of this would help improve the living standards of communities. This process could also be useful in addressing under and unemployment, creating empowering jobs in all communities throughout the country.  Again, all of these short term benefits could help build broad support for anarchist ideals of collective, democratic action.

Most of the measures discussed here have been aimed at building the foundations of a future society. However, note that almost all these steps also work to weaken current systems of power. For example, through participatory budgeting, central government power is weakened. Through trade union action, the power of corporate directors is weakened. 

Those in powerful positions will inevitably attempt to resist such changes using either economic power or state violence. For example, financial investors may move their money overseas in reaction to tax increases or they may disinvest from companies with strong trade unions. In terms of political retaliation there may be a violent clampdown by the government, just as there was a violent clampdown on unions in the 1980s.
Here, further pro-revolutionary action could be the most beneficial course of action for communities and workers. For example, as mentioned earlier, savers could survive a banking crisis by saving with credit unions. Such credit unions could also keep credit flowing to communities. If an economic crisis occurs in which factories or shops begin closing down, organised workers may be able to react by taking over these workplaces themselves – as happened widely in the 2001 Argentina economic crisis.  Additionally, earlier this year, closed down HMV stores were occupied by ex-workers in Ireland, as a protest against unpaid wages. This was only one step away from the workers deciding to re-open the stores under self-management. This is something that well-organised communities and trade union networks could achieve in the future.

Alternatively, in the case of violent suppression by the government, the best way to resist may be even more public protest as happened in Argentina in 2001. There, after the government announced a state of siege on the population in response to economic protests this spurred a far larger uprising, forcing 5 Presidents out in 3 weeks. The chant in Argentina was, “all of them must go”, but without a national network of self-management in place, they accepted provisional government. A similar process can be seen in Egypt recently. However, if a similar event happens in the UK and worker and community organisations are prepared throughout the country, with economic and self-defence strategies ready, they may be able to agree to begin self-managing the country.  

Thanks for listening. Comments and questions on these ideas are welcome. See you soon. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

"Liberal" myths about Globalisation (Critique of John Green's 1st Crash Course video on Globalisation)


[Click here for the original video]


Transcript and slides (with larger text for references)...




* Hi, today I will be critiquing the first video on globalisation by John Green in his Crash Course on World History.
* I consider John’s video to be analytically in line with mainstream so-called “liberal” commentary on globalisation, found in the news media and in academic scholarship. I therefore feel that critiquing it will show up some of the distortions and biases that we are regularly fed.
*So let’s starts
*To begin, John does not provide a clear definition of globalisation. This is slightly problematic but John does at certain points in the video explain that globalisation includes increased global economic interdependence over the last 30 years, so we’ll use this as his definition.
*With this in mind he states the following: *(1  3:15) ”Global Trade is now anarchic and unregulated, at least by international institutions and national governments. Much of this has to do with academic economists, mostly in the US and Europe who have argued with great success that governmental regulation diminishes prosperity by limiting growth. “
There are many problems with this statement.
Firstly, John’s use of the words anarchic and trade are somewhat misleading when describing today’s international movement of goods.
For one thing, about a third of so-called trade is simply the centrally planned cross-border movement of goods and components within corporations and conglomerates. Another third is thought to be covered by centrally planned outsourcing.  
We also still have significant government interference in international transactions. One example is so-called anti-dumping legislation, which is used by many of today’s richest countries, such as the United States, to protect domestic companies from foreign competition.
With these points in mind, it is difficult to use the word’s “anarchic” or even “trade” to describe today’s movement of goods. 
A second problem with John’s statement is that it is very misleading to say that economists have argued with great success that government trade regulation diminishes growth.
Pro-trade liberalisation economists have certainly not one the argument within the economics field. The most prominent studies arguing that trade protectionism reduces growth have been completely discredited by leading economists such as Harvard’s Dani Rodrik. One former Harvard economist, Paul Bairoch, has stated that the theory that trade liberalisation increases growth is one of the biggest myths in economic history. Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang has pointed out that nearly all of today’s richest countries, such as the United States, developed under protectionist economic regimes. The leading theorist on economic growth, nobel prize winner Robert Solow points out that the where growth has occurred alongside trade liberalisation, the causal direction is unknown.  These are just some of eminent economists which reject the view that trade protectionism limits growth.   
It is also unclear that pro-trade-liberalisation economists have influenced policy-makers. Where trade liberalisation has occurred, it seems that there are two more significant influences. Firstly, in poorer weaker nations, particularly in Africa over the last 30 years and Latin America from around 1980 until around 2000, liberalisation was largely the result of bullying by rich countries and the IMF. John actually acknowledges this.
Meanwhile, where trade liberalisation has occurred voluntarily, it seems that this has reflected rational calculations of interests amongst influential economic groups within nations, rather than some widespread religious commitment to free trade. This can be seen by how selectively free-market doctrine is applied. Let us look at the United States as an example. Tariffs have reduced drastically from 50% in the 1950s, but US companies are still strongly supported against foreign competition. This farm subsidies, oil subsidies, anti-dumping legislation, government-supported research and development, government-procurement, and many other processes. But protectionism is by no means unique to the US. Hence the latest World Trade Organisation negotiations have been unable to produce even a limited deal on liberalisation since beginning in 2001 because almost all parties refuse to drop their own protectionist measures.  Meanwhile the WTO talks themselves even have protectionist intellectual property rules built into them.  
With these points in mind, we can see that John’s statements range from unhelpful to misleading when it comes to understanding global economic developments in the last 30 years.
Now, let us move onto another key point in John’s video.  
·         (1  5:52) “While die-hard Marxists deny this – global capitalism has been good for a lot of people”
·         *He puts forward two arguments in favour of this statement... (Clip of John mentioning economic growth and poverty reduction)
There are major problems with these statements
Before considering John’s arguments in favour of global capitalism, it should first be acknowledged that he somewhat misrepresents Marxism, by implying Marxists don’t see positives in capitalism. In fact, central to Marxism is the idea of history as progress, with societies going through economic stages from feudalism, to capitalism to communism. In this context, Marx and Engels praised capitalism and saw it as progressive for non-industrial countries to go through a period of industrial capitalism. It is therefore somewhat misleading for John to imply that die-hard Marxists would deny that capitalism has been good for a lot of people. There may be many non-Marxists who disagree that capitalism has been a good thing, but this is a separate discussion.
Now, let us look at the arguments that John puts forward in favour of capitalism, which happen to be very similar to those put forward by Marx and Engels.  He points to (1) increased economic growth and (2) material poverty reduction, which are usually intertwined. 
 The first problem here is that John uses unclear terminology to describe the current global economic system. What we have around the world is not capitalism but varying types of state capitalism. We mentioned some of the state-capitalist elements of the United States above and state capitalism is also prevalent in East Asia, the region of most economic growth and poverty reduction in the last 30 years. As just one example, whilst China has made some pro-capitalist reforms in the last 30 years, Chinese state-owned enterprises are still responsible for between a third and a half of economic output.
 Furthermore, whilst John does state that he does not want to confuse correlation with causation, this is empty after he has just said that it is clear that global capitalism has been good for a lot of people – the clear implication being that capitalist reforms have led to growth and poverty reduction throughout the world. However, this is an extremely contentious claim.
Firstly, if John is still referring to the last 30 years, it is misleading to imply that it has been a period of economic success. East Asia is the only region in the world where economic growth and poverty reduction have not slowed or reversed in the last thirty years. Total world economic growth has actually been lower than it was during the preceding 30 years. For example, one measure of the economic problems in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union is that life expectancy actually dropped in the 1990s and only reached the level of the late 1980s again in 2009. Another example is that Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered a near complete economic disaster in the last 30 years after moving towards arguably the most purely capitalist economic regime in the world under IMF supervision. This is following a comparatively promising period up until the mid-1970s under more state-led policies. Latin America is only now recovering in the last decade after pro-corporate reforms in the 80s and 90s, which the region is now moving away from. In the United States, since the 1980s real wages have stagnated or declined for most workers.  Economic growth has also slowed in many European countries. All of this is overlooked in John’s celebration of the last 30 years.
Furthermore, in East Asia, where there has been growth alongside pro-market reforms, it is unclear what the causal direction is. That is, respected economists have argued that East Asia’s integration into the global economy has happened in response to productivity growth rather than the other way around. This is the opposite causal direction John suggests.

Setting all this aside, many oppose the idea that economic growth and material poverty reduction necessarily justify social systems, as John implies. For example, due to its oppressive nature, many reject the view that Stalinism was justified despite its record-breaking economic growth and widespread material poverty reduction. This is even setting aside the mass murders. Similarly, many reject that slavery was justified by economic growth. Furthermore, slave owners argued that slaves often lived healthier, longer, more secure lives than wage labourers. How often this was true is debated to this day, but even if it was true 100% of the time, many would still argue that this would not justify slavery.  If John is one of these people, in order to be consistent he needs to put forwards another argument for the current global order than economic growth and material poverty reduction. 


To conclude, as with many mainstream so-called liberal commentators, John puts forwards a misleading image of world order, and spurious arguments in favour of this order.
We will see more of this in part 2, when we will be looking at Johns’ second video on globalisation.
Thanks for listening.
See you soon.


I have written the references in larger text in these slides. Click to expand the slides...




UK aid and and modern imperialism in Africa

[Original video here]

Transcript (with selected links) and slides with references...


(Note that this video originated as an article for the Huffington Post called 'UK Aid, Imperialism and Child Mortality' [here].)

·         Hi
·         In this video, I will be looking at aspects of UK aid to Africa that seem carefully designed to help control and exploit the region, whilst acting as a subsidy from UK taxpayers to corporations, with the impacts upon the poor being largely irrelevant. That is, I will be looking at evidence that aid is being used as a tool of modern imperialism.
·         So let’s start.
·         Firstly, UK aid to Africa is used to promote discredited pro-foreign investor, anti-poor, anti-growth programs designed by the World Bank and IMF. This is done in two ways. Firstly, much UK aid still goes directly through the World Bank and IMF. Secondly, direct government-to- government aid remains conditional upon Bank-IMF programs being followed. Under the programs the world’s poorest countries are barred from using the same strategies that today’s rich countries used to develop including trade and capital controls.
·         This aid conditionality has previously been condemned by UK poverty activists.  For example, in 2005 Make Poverty History wrote to Tony Blair that the conditions attached to aid are undemocratic and ‘often work to entrench rather than overcome poverty.’ In 2006, Christian Aid stated that by providing aid through the World Bank the UK government was ‘paying for poverty’. Such criticism forced the government to claim that it would change direction. However, several analysts including the UK Aid Network have pointed out that little real change has materialised.
·         Moving on, the UK government is also using aid to promote increased corporate control of African food systems with a range of harmful impacts upon the poor. For example, the Department for International Development’s Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund is aimed at promoting export commodity production by African smallholders for sale to UK supermarkets, instead of food production for local needs. In this way, countries such as Kenya export large amounts of food crops whilst many in the country starve.
·         The Department for International Development also funds the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which makes grants of between US$250,000 and US$1.5 million for investments in Africa, primarily to large scale agribusiness companies. The support for their land deals comes at a time when Oxfam reports that large firms are increasingly taking over productive land and water at the expense of African peasants.
·         It seems the UK government is also attempting to use aid to control poverty groups in Africa. For example, observers in Rwanda report that Western aid provided to local NGOs, often first going through Western charities, works to divert them from political advocacy and promoting social reform. Instead, anti-poverty groups are funded to focus only on technical project work - such as digging wells - while ignoring underlying socio-economic problems. The thinking of the UK government seems clear: national economic policies in poor countries are supposed to be designed by donor governments in collaboration with compliant local elites. The poor should stay out of the way and concentrate on coping strategies.
·         Before ending this video, I would like to mention Teresa Hayter’s 1971 book, ‘Aid as Imperialism’. In the book she expressed doubt that major donor governments could be convinced to fundamentally reform aid and stop using it as a tool of control. She believed that concerned citizens in donor countries had a choice between: (1) accepting aid in its current form, (2) opposing aid altogether, or (3) promoting socialism within donor countries so that aid could be provided in a genuine spirit of solidarity. 
·         Viewers are invited to discuss her assessment and their general views on aid, in the comments below.
·         Thanks for listening
·         See you soon

 References can be seen more clearly by clicking on the slides, whereby the slides will expand...








Introduction to Socialism (part 2)

[Click here for original video]

Transcript, selected links and slides with quotations...


·         Hi.
·         Welcome to part two of this introduction to socialism
·         In part one we looked at socialist ideas in the 19th century. Today we will be looking at societies that were referred to as socialist in the 20th century.
·         So let’s start.

·         Firstly, we had Soviet Russia, later becoming part of the Soviet Union.
·         Here, the Bolshevik party, led by Lenin took power in a coup as the Russian government struggled to deal with widespread agitation by Russia’s lower classes. The Bolsheviks then instituted a one-party dictatorship and a largely state-planned economy.
·         It is worth noting here that there has always been a lot of confusion, both internally and externally, over whether the Soviet Union should actually be described as Socialist.
·         In fact, whilst Lenin re-named Russia the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and later named it as part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or USSR), he also regularly explained that the country was in fact not ‘socialist’.[1]
·         Lenin, who was influenced by Karl Marx’s theories to an extent, thought Russia was not economically advanced enough for a genuine socialist revolution.[2] He believed Russia had to develop economically, or Germany had to lead a world revolution, before real socialism – meaning direct worker control and direct democracy - could be enacted in Russia.[3] In the meantime it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop Russia economically and maintain political control.
·         This included suppressing Factory Committees and Soviets which were trying to build socialism from below.[4]
·         He regularly lashed out at his socialist opponents, including writing a pamphlet called ‘Left-wing communism – an infantile disorder’.   
·         For these reasons, many prominent socialists did not consider the Soviet Union to be socialist at all and instead referred to it as state-capitalist, with some considering the collapse of Bolshevik rule a victory for socialism.
·         However, by Lenin’s time, the word socialism had also become associated with state control of industries, so the Soviet Union was in some way ‘socialist’ if we apply this new meaning of the word.
·         The libertarian socialist, Bakunin, who as discussed in part 1, had criticised Marx’s ideas and predicted oppressive Marx-influenced dictatorships, would probably have derided the Soviet Union as ‘’state-socialist’ – which for Bakunin was a contradiction in terms.
·          On a related point, the Bolsheviks referred to themselves as the Communist Party.
·         Meanwhile Western governments including those in the US and UK also described the Soviet Union as a Communist society even though the Soviet Union matched no traditional definition of communism. This was possibly to give the word communism a bad name by associating it with Bolshevik rule.
·         Whatever the reasons, the result of the word Communism being so widely used with regards to the Soviet Union, was that Communism also took on a second popular definition: that is a one-party state, with a planned economy or heavy government involvement in the economy.
·         This has been re-enforced by other authoritarian states, such as China and North Korea, also referring to themselves and being referred to as ‘communist’.

·         Moving on, another example of a country referred to as socialist is Sweden.
·         One of the main political parties in that country, which has been in power for the majority of the last century, is the Social Democratic Workers Party (also known as the SAP).  This party refers to its policies as either social democratic or democratic socialism – terms which were formerly used as synonyms for traditional libertarian socialism, anarchism or communism. However, the SAP uses the terms differently.
·         The SAP leadership thought of socialism as government action designed to achieve social well-being, rather than as a social system based upon abolishing private ownership of the means of production. 
·         Following this, while in power during much of the 1900s, the SAP kept multi-party, parliamentary democracy and private capitalism to some extent, with Sweden being home to some of the world’s best known corporations including Ikea and H&M.
·         However, the SAP also enacted welfare policies, state provision of services such as healthcare, and state companies providing transport and energy. 
·         Note that during the 20th century, mixed economies with similarities to Sweden became prevalent throughout the world.
·         It is also worth mentioning that since it became common for mixed economies to be referred to as socialist, many people have begun referring to ANY government intervention in the economy as ‘socialist’.
·         This includes welfare spending but also, when a corporation gets a subsidy, or a bank gets bailed out by the government, some refer to this as socialism – or in these particular examples, one term used is ‘socialism for the rich’.   
·         What is noteworthy here is that if we describe any government spending in the economy as socialism, then many thinkers who have considered themselves anti-socialist, such as the famous Austrian economist and philosopher Freidrich Hayek, have actually been to some extent socialists as they have favoured state welfare for the poor and other government programs to prevent unrestricted markets causing excessive social and environmental damage. 
·         Additionally, by this definition, several government leaders who considered themselves anti-socialist were also socialists. For example, Margaret Thatcher - who strongly criticised socialism - actually increased total public spending after taking power from the labour party, which had referred to itself as socialist.

·          Moving on, a final type of socialism I want to discuss is Revolutionary Spain during the 1930s.
·         A fascist coup occurred in Spain 1936, which sparked an anarchist-influenced revolution throughout much of the country, during which many urban and rural areas were taken over by anarchist collectives. Direct worker control of workplaces and broader direct democracy became widespread.  
·         The anarchists also formed militias to fight the fascist and state communist armies, which were both supported by foreign governments.
·         It is worth mentioning that one of the most popular 20th century British writers, George Orwell, fought with the anarchist militias and wrote a very interesting book on his experiences called ‘Homage to Catalonia’.
·         However, unfortunately for Orwell and his comrades, eventually, the anarchists were defeated by the foreign supported armies.  
·         Note that due to the direct worker control of workplaces and broader direct democracy, anarchist Spain came very close to the traditional libertarian socialist ideal favoured by figures such as Bakunin.

·         OK, so that brings us to the end of our discussion of the different uses of the word socialism.
·         As we have seen, the term is used extremely broadly.
·         In fact almost every modern society in recent history has matched someone’s definition of ‘socialism’.
·         However, we can identify two main types of socialism.
·         Firstly, traditional mainstream socialists favour direct worker control of workplaces as well as broader direct democracy in communities.
·         More recently, socialism has taken on a second meaning which is: state involvement in the economy – often for redistributive purposes, but not necessarily.
·         Thanks for listening. Comments and questions welcome. See you soon.



[1] (For example, during his third year in power, he said in a speech, “Capitalism has been smashed, but socialism has not yet been built; and it will take a long time to build.”  http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/apr/07.htm These kinds of statemesnts were made right up until his death.
[2]We, too, lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism” http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/mar/02.htm


References to slides can be seen clearly by clicking on the slide whereby the slide will expand...










  





Introduction to Socialism (part 1)

[Click here for original video]


Transcript and references to quotes


Hi, my name is David and today I will be talking about the different meanings of the word socialism. I will also quickly look at the meanings of some related terms such as communism, anarchism and liberalism.
·         So let’s start
·         The word socialism originated in the early 19th century. Some believe the word was first used by the followers of the French utopian writers Comte de Saint Simon and Charles Fourier.
·         However, the origins could also lie in England, which was going through the industrial revolution. At this time, many commentators, such as William Thompson and John Francis Bray thought that local communities or worker cooperatives should jointly control factories and other work places as well as capital and land.
·         An important organisation to think about in the development of socialist ideas is the first international workers association.
·         This organisation was made up of workers, trade unionists and various revolutionaries or socialists of different kinds.( The police estimated its membership to be approximately 5 million at one point.)
·         The organisation was split into two main camps. On the one side there were the anarchists led by figures such as Bakunin.
·         On the other side were the communists led by Karl Marx.  
·         Despite being enemies in some ways, Bakunin and Marx had very similar views of a future society – which were also similar to the views early English socialists.
·         Firstly, they both opposed concentrated private economic power – meaning private ownership of the means of production such as factories and farming land.
·         Secondly, they both opposed state power.
·         Instead of private ownership and control of factories, they thought factories should be owned and managed collectively by workers and communities.  They extended this idea to farms, and other workplaces.
·         They also thought the state should be abolished and society should be run via a system of direct democracy – an idea of democracy which goes back to the Ancient Athenians who invented the word.
·         We also have examples of direct democracy today. For example, some Swiss districts have had direct democracy for centuries.
·         Also, in Portoe Allegre they have a famous system of participatory budgeting where thousands of people from the city meet to decide on local government spending. The system has helped improve water, health and education services so the experiment is being rolled out to many cities throughout the world including London and New York.
·         Returning to Bakunin and Marx, a social experiment which they praised was the Paris Commune of 1871. Here, the Parisians rose up against the government and instituted a direct democracy. They also turned several workplaces into worker cooperatives. However, eventually the commune was crushed by the French government.
·         Now, Marx and the communists referred to the future society they favoured as ‘communism’.  They sometimes used the word socialism interchangeably with communism, but often avoided the word socialism because this term was also associated with ideas of St Simon, Fourier and others who they were not supportive of.
·         Now, Marx and the communists also thought that there needed to be a temporary state government to manage the transition from capitalism to communism. This state government could either be achieved through the election of the communist party or it could be achieved through revolution. 
·         However, many revolutionaries such as Bakunin opposed the idea of a transitional state, arguing that it would either fail to finish revolution or that any such state would end up oppressing the people. These revolutionaries referred to themselves as either anarchists – anarchy meaning no ruler - or often just socialists. Meanwhile, they referred to Marx and the communists as ‘state socialists’.
·         Another term used to describe the anarchists was ‘libertarian socialists’.
·         It is worth noting that today the words anarchist and libertarian have taken on different meanings but this is how they were popularly used in the late 1800s.
·         Let us look at the word libertarian. Today, in the US, the Libertarian party, opposes state power to some extent but unlike libertarian socialists, does not fully oppose the state. Also, unlike libertarian socialists the libertarian party does not oppose concentration of economic power.
·         It is worth noting here that on this, the libertarian party is also very different to the father of classical liberalism, the enlightenment philosopher, John Locke. Like libertarian socialists, Locke opposed both private and state power. Locke proposed that private economic power should be checked by people’s ownership of property being limited to what they could manage with their own labour. He was a pre-industrialist so society consisted mainly of farmers.  He thought farmers should only own the small plot of land which they farmed themselves, without interference from rich landlords who didn’t do the work directly. 
·         He also thought that state power should be limited to keeping in place this kind of system and that the people should revolt if the state over-stepped this mark.
·         It is a definite possibility that if writing later, Locke would have also opposed concentrated ownership of modern means of production such as factories and like libertarian socialists, would have preferred communal ownership.
·         Moving on, other terms used to describe the future society favoured by both the traditional anarchists and the communists included democratic socialism and social democracy – although again, these terms have different meanings today.
·         Recently, other terms have been used such as ‘radical democracy’. Others just use the word ‘democracy’.
·         Now, many socialist groups during the 19th century engaged in parliamentary politics. This included the Communist Party which wanted to be elected to government, with the aim of putting in place communism. However, the Communist manifesto also outlined other short-term policies such as universal education, progressive taxation and state control of key industries. 
·         Other socialist parties such as the German Social Democratic Party had similar programs and in this way, the terms ‘socialism’, ‘social democracy’ and ‘democratic socialism’ came to also be associated with state redistribution and provision of public services as well as state control of industries.
·         OK, so that brings us to the end of part 1 of this video. So far we’ve seen that the word socialism has several meanings. It could mean a pre-planned utopia, a direct-democracy with communal ownership of the means of production, or a state-managed economy with redistributive policies. 
 ·         During the 20th century the word took on even more meanings and that will be the subject of part 2 of this video. 



 References to quotes can be seen more clearly by clicking on the slide whereby the slide will expand...