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Socialism or Barbarism

Each week, LA Progressive’s editors pick what they regard as a particularly insightful comment from one of our readers, both to draw attention to one particular reader’s thoughts and to encourage more readers to weigh in with their opinions. This week’s pithy "Feedback Friday" response comes from Wes King, who commented on the article by Jim Lafferty, "Will It Be Socialism or Barbarism?"

I respect that you are committed to your view. I would say this in reflection:

The labels “socialist” “capitalist” or whatever other label are overused and dumbed down to simple sound bites. Sort of like saying there are only two colors, “red” and “blue”…nonsense!

The labels “socialist” “capitalist” or whatever other label are overused and dumbed down to simple sound bites. Sort of like saying there are only two colors, “red” and “blue”…nonsense! This paradigm limits the discussion and limits thinking. That is not to say the labels have no meaning. You have to start with some sort of label to begin a comparison. Let’s get to the ideas themselves. This is where the meat of the discussion rests.

There are many, many problems resulting from heavy corporate control and influence in our current society. Many distortions. And some very bad outcomes. They are not all universally bad, but many of them are. However, I do not agree with your reading of history if you suggest government control of the means to production as a “replacement” for what you see as corporate control. History, recent history, is replete with examples of the abject disaster that would bring upon any society. Prime example is the Soviet Union. About all it could do was make armaments…the tools of war…under state control. It did nothing else well in terms of economic welfare of the people. Had not the United States supported it with massive infusion of logistics, it would have fallen to the Nazis in WWII (this is a fairly well accepted concept). So when you start with government control, you are already advocating a proven failure. Proven emphatically.

Secondly, we already do have a form of socialism. It is a socialism the benefits the corporations you decry and allows them to impose conditions on a broader society and in service of narrow interests. A money-drenched political system allows the corporations to basically approve of the laws and rules to benefit the “bottom line $$” above all else…that is…the “money god”. I think we need to address that and it is hard to do, because “money talks” and it controls many things.

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We should not try to reshape a society in a way that limits the freedom of individuals to create..and yes..create businesses that make reasonable profits…so long as they do not do great societal harm as a result. I think there can be (and is) some consensus around this. A society in which people can associate and freely choose, including in the field of commerce, tends to promote better outcomes.

Now, to come back to a label again. The label “Progressive” seems a better fit. There was a guy named Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican no less…He was also a Progressive. There were great excesses in the Gilded Age of the 1890s. There were a lot of reforms he advocated, good reforms that were based on doing good for the society. A lot of them were enacted during his Presidency. None of them involved government “seizing the means of production”. (a fundamentally flawed and frankly, terrible, idea).

We need good ideas, and good leaders to implement ideas, that substantially curb the distortions and excesses of our “crony capitalist” (another label) status quo. I am very much on board with that, including a lot of ideas Bernie Sanders brought forward in 2016. However, you are advocating, in my view for a system that looks a lot like the Stalinist 1930s in what was the Soviet Union. I can’t imagine any good in that. Millions died in that era…and it was only the beginning of a tyranny that destroyed the lives of many others. In fact, Nazism itself was “national socialism”. This too was all things under the thumb of the state (albeit a sinister state…Stalin was also sinister).

I do not believe supplanting “corporate control” with “state control” solves the problem. It creates other problems. Some just as bad. Others worse. (Footnote: regarding the environment, the old Soviet bloc was an environmental wasteland….I saw some of it personally in the early 1990s in the former East Germany.)

Thank you for sharing your views and stimulating this rich dialogue.

As we reason together, so there is hope for progress and positive change.