Gen X at 40

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Arthur -

I don't believe in Marxism.

That said, the first time I was asked about my political preferences, I got the same deriding remark David makes on his blog: apparently if you care about social circumstances and believe in equal rights, regardless of gender and race, you're a 'pinky commie'. This is typical Northern American ignorance: people don't know better, because the social revolution in Western European countries (indirectly a cascading side effect of the Russian November 1917 revolution) in the early twenties and thirties did not affect them or their families. It was also this social revolution that brought voting to the 'mortals and peasants': labourers and women. I think in my own home country, it was only that after 1917 every man was allowed to vote (before that only the privileged were allowed to do so [women in 1919]). I bet, that if you look in the history of countries with a British-style democracy, you'll see the same pattern.
Note that the social revolution was a consequence of a rapidly changing society due to industrialization (which of course, was only possible because of the wide availability of science).

As for Republicanism: It clearly has its roots in the French Revolution, something most people rather tend to forget.

David -

> That said, the first time I was asked about my political preferences,
> I got the same deriding remark David makes on his blog: apparently if
> you care about social circumstances and believe in equal rights,
> regardless of gender and race, you're a 'pinky commie'.

Did I say that Al?

Alan -

I don't know. I think if Arthur could provide a link to that comment it would help.

Arthur -

Did I say that Al?

No you didn't but I remember a deriding remark about 'Hippy, get a job' or something?

Alan -

OK, ok. But we are all a happy family here on this thread and I really am interested in a variety of views on the antecedents of socialism and civic republicism with the aim of determining if they are the same, have had the same effect in both Europe and the USA and whether my contention that one is source in Marx is clap-trap.

Arthur -

But to get back to the topic (before any namecalling start):

As for Republicanism: It clearly has its roots in the French Revolution, something most people rather tend to forget.

I'll sharpen that a bit: Clearly socialism has its roots in the French Revolution. After all the Russian November revolutionaries were heavily inspired by this remarkable event and its catchphrase: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

True or false?

Alan -

Can you provde the links to that useful argument, Arthur?

David -

I'll reiterate one of my claims from my blog, to get things rolling.

If one cares about workers, minorties or women or whatever, one would look at the impact of political systems and viewpoints and how they impact those persons. The question many of those profess to be socialists are asking (in my megre experience) is "if _I_ was _X_ what would _I_ want" as opposed to "what does _X_ want". Thus, we have university students, university professors and scions of the rich and privledged doing a little mental slumming to attempt to figure out something they could determine merely by asking. Asking, of course, is out of the question because X is generally held in contempt (as undereducated and/or too ignorant to understand what is best for them) by the person asking the question.

To digress, or ingress to the point, the place where women, minorities, workers, etc. best achieve what _they_ want is under the Western tradition, and in particular, under the system of individual rights and capitalism. Socialism, in general, and Marx, in particular did not invent compassion or that the idea that humans should live decently. Furthermore, Marx and Marxists are associated in reality with systems where humans are treated at the level of livestock. Socialism, and for the sake of argument let's say that that's implemented in countries politically to the left of Canada, has certainly given workers _in the short term_ benefits that they enjoy greatly, such as the ability not to work at all and have other workers support you. However, to use a catchword of the day, I do not believe this is sustainable in Europe and will not be sustainable in Canada if or when it comes here. A system based on taking other people stuff in the name of compassion is built on a foundation of sand.

Ben -

It's always difficult to see how a group like the Mensheviks (and there's a case of branding -- they actually were a majority, yet Lenin grabbed the title of Bolsheviks because he won a single procedural vote) would have acted, if they were in power.

Remember that even Stalin wanted to work with the Provisional Government and the soon-to-be elected Constituent Assembly -- he thought Lenin was crazy to grab for power. Once power is in people's hands, and the old norms of behaviour are swept away, they can act much differently.

Also, the Mensheviki were never in power. One can make an argument that Kerensky was a bit of a socialist... and the party that actually won the elections for the Constituent Assembly was the Socialist Revolutionaries. [Oh, there's a bit of information I didn't know -- Kerensky was in on the founding of the SRs.]

I suspect -- we'll never know -- that the SRs would have been in favour of some property rights. That is, they would have seized some of the large estates and redistributed the land to the peasants -- essentially expanding on some of the Tsarist-era policies which had given some of the former serfs their own land, policies that made Russia a major exporter of grain in the period immediately preceding WWI.

Unfortunately, we got the Bolsheviks, who decided, ten years later, to liquidate the class of small landowners. So it goes.

A little bit of soft socialism wouldn't have been _too_ terrible for Russia in 1917 -- though really all it needed was to get out of the war, to let things settle down. (Great progress had actually been made in the 1905-1913 period. But not quite enough, sadly.) Instead, they got the most brutal dictatorship the world has ever seen.

Ben -

On the other hand, if you look at some of the actions of people in the SR leadership in the 1900-1913 period -- assassinations and whatnot -- perhaps things would have gone just the same. One pack of murderers for another, you know.

David -

I was just flicking through one of the papers and I noticed a big picture of Stalin at a May Day parade. Funny he's still welcome, given the way that he (supposedly) perverted Marxism.

http://news.google.ca/news?hl=en&lr=&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial_s&tab=in&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=may+day+stalin&btnG=Search+News

Alan -

This is interesting as my presumption that socialism with a small "s" as opposed to marxism may have been more distinct from the outset. Were the International Socialist Conferences broad ranging bodies in the 1800s?

Mike -

What a great May Day Discussion. May it happen every year (which I believe it does).

I think Arthur's right regarding the French Revolution and the origins of modern socialist thought. If Babeuf had had his way, Western Europe would have been a Mao-ist wasteland.

Also, look to Robert Owen and his New Lanark experiment in early 19th century Scotland; he was perhaps a visionary regarding what we've come to take for granted in the 21st century -- better wages, working conditions, including cleanliness, and education; however, he fell down, and NL and his New World experiment at New Harmony failed because he adopted an authoritarian approach to conduct and morals; he expected people to behave in an 'ideal' way, and they could not; he brought people into a situation where there were no incentives to do any work, so they quarreled and stole, etc. While some of the cooperative communities that sprung up in the US survived for a time, these were religion-based; the socialist ones failed quickly.

Owen's work had an influence on Engels, and Marx would have been nothing without Engels. For me, I don't understand why Marx remains one of our 'great thinkers'; someone whose writing had geat influence? Yes, obviously; but 'great thinker'? He was anything but. Violent revolution was at the heart of Marxism, and many took that aspect and ran with it - true. But, aside from that, his historical and economic theories were nonsense. (I know no one here is saying 'hooray Marx!')

Still, I don't think that the Russian revolution had all that much to do with the development of social programs in, say, Britain. They were coming along on their own over a long period of time. The Liberals brought in labour exchanges, unemployment insurance, child labour laws, a minimum wage, limited work hours for miners. Lloyd George brought in state pensions and declared a war on poverty almost ten years prior to the Russian revolution.

Would recommend Edmund Wilson's "To The Finland Station" (although he's soft on Lenin) and Joshua Muravchik's "Heaven On Earth" for very good looks at Marx and his place in history, and also the development of socialism into its modern forms.

Alan -

That is interesting, Mike, especially as it is where the story converges with my family. A lunch time recollection is in order.<p>As attentive readers will recall, Grannie was municipal socialist politician in the 1920s to 50s in Scotland whose ambitions to national Labour party status were stymied by the fact that she was a woman. While she was socialist and there were communists on Greenock City Council at the time, the Labour leaders outside of the Red Clyde and especially in Egland were against a working class woman getting ahead in the party. Court cases ensued which can be found at the Supreme Court of Canada library on the actual libel inherent in the public use of "scum" - Grannie died before I was born but I admire her greatly. Anyway, Grannie did listen to mostly Radio Moscow and was quite the red in some ways though also concerned with public health, fair housing and adult education as a way out of poverty - more in line with soft socialist ideals we all live by now.

Arthur -

"Socialism, in general, and Marx, in particular did not invent compassion or that the idea that humans should live decently."
<p>
Nor does capitalism or any religion for that fact. If that statement was true for capitalism, we wouldn't have people struggling on the streets. I think it's a shame that in any rich country, there are still people struggling to get or find a better life. So much for capitalism.
</p>
Furthermore, Marx and Marxists are associated in reality with systems where humans are treated at the level of livestock.

<p>
You could say the same of capitalism: capitalism degrades us all to single-minded consumers in a supply and demand world. In that aspect, being a consumer is just the same as being a pig in the lowest regions of the capitalism chain (think: fast-food). As for social programs not being sustainable: Consumerism is not sustainable either. Check your local gas station next time and think what happens if there wouldn't be any oil.
</p>

Alan -

Those things are muchly true as South American industrial social history proves, Arthur but for the moment I am interested in these threads of legacy on the socialist side. I am hoping for one breif shining moment, a blog might actually convey some collective collaborative intellegence on a topic.

Arthur -

I was just flicking through one of the papers and I noticed a big picture of Stalin at a May Day parade. Funny he's still welcome, given the way that he (supposedly) perverted Marxism.

That doesn't surprise me at all: there are (and will) always people feel attracted to extremes. You can't blame people for longing to 'better times' (warning: better times is just something subjective).
For example, there are still people who march around with Hitler-signs every year.

Arthur -

Arthur but for the moment I am interested in these threads of legacy on the socialist side.

The legacy of 'plain-vanilla' socialism? Equal rights.

Alan -

I was also thinking of agricultural anachists (Tolstoy-esque) and their counterparts in French cuisine. One of my favorite articles of all time was in the Manchester Guardian 20 or 25 years ago about a 90 year old French anarchist chef complaining about how cheese has not flavour anymore.

David -

Capitalism doesn't "degrade" anyone; that's the contempt I'm speaking about -- you're sitting back and judging all the other human beings that surround you. And they disgust you; perhaps you have a fix, no?

Consumerism, as you care to call it, is perfectly sustainable. What you mean by sustainable is having central planners devising a system where everything can remain the same forever. In the 1970s, we were "running out" of oil. The demand incented searching for more oil; today the known reserves of oil today is multiples of what it was a quarter century ago. But granting the fact there is a finite amount of oil, what will happen as those supplies start to dry out? Price goes up, demand goes down, substitutes appear. That's why we're not up to our necks in horse manure, despite that no one came up with a "sustainable" system in 1880 for providing transportation to the rapidly increasing size of the middle class.

On the subject of lunch Al, all this talking on your blog inspired me to do a long-cook on ribs today on the BBQ. Report tonight.

Alan -

Fab. This year, I am expanding my repetiore to include brisket. All places on the acceptable polical spectrum support the slow grilling of meats.<p>On manure, the Parisians discovered that leaving it locally to support in-city vegetable gardens was the way to go. My removing the cost of manure removal out and the food transportation in, the City was able to be far better fed for less than London.

David -

I'm doing nothing sophisticated -- boil for 20 minutes, marinate for 2-3 hours in a homemade BBQ sauce, cook for 2-3 hours at about 200 degrees at the back of the BBQ (off the heat). Baste every 30 minutes. I've got a moderate amount of cumin, cayanne and chili powder in the sauce to give it a SW twang, honey and molases for thickness and stickiness and the tiniest amount of seasme oil for exoticness.

No good Bolshie would eat this ... it'd remind them of GWB too much.