China talks Marxism, but still walks capitalism

If there is one message that seemed to surface through last month’s crucial meetings of the Communist Party of China it is continuity. The inference that might best be taken is no significant change from the path on which the party has led China in recent years should be expected. 

That path, despite the oft-used slogan “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” has been a restructuring of the economy toward capitalism, albeit a gradual entry on Chinese terms and keeping the “commanding heights” of the economy in state hands. If we attempt to grasp the meaning of the communiqués and reports issued surrounding the party’s 20th National Congress, it would be better to observe through a holistic lens rather than fixating on personalities.

The Western corporate media obsessively dwelled on President Xi Jinping’s third term, as if nothing else was of note or as if President Xi is an all-powerful sole dictator single-handedly deciding the fate of 1.4 billion Chinese. To be sure, communiqués, internal press reports and speeches repeatedly stressed the party leader’s “core position” and urged all Chinese to fully study and implement “Xi Jinping Thought” along with the ritualistic panegyrics to the party. There appears to be no doubt as to his leadership, both through the extravagant praises for him and that the top leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee, appears to consist solely of those aligned with him.

Mount Emei/Emei Shan in Sichuan province. (Photo by McKay Savage, London.)

But nobody in a country ruled by a communist party is a sole dictator, excepting the unique circumstances of the Josef Stalin dictatorship and Enver Hoxha in Albania. Given the opaqueness of the Communist Party of China (CPC) it is impossible for us to say with any certainty what is going on behind closed doors. Is President Xi truly all-powerful, or does he lead a faction that has gained majority backing among party leaders? Does his third term, breaking two decades of precedent, represent not a grab for power but rather a reflection of opinion alignment behind closed doors and a desire for continuity in a time when more difficulties are almost assuredly coming? Certainly this is possible.

Let’s turn away from parsing personalities and instead examine key communiqués and reports, and how we might reasonably interpret them.

Prominently continuing to honor all past leaders

The most important document to read is arguably the Resolution of the 20th National Congress of the CPC on the Report of the 19th Central Committee adopted at the closing session of the Congress on Oct. 22. The very first paragraph reads:

“The Congress has held high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics; adhered to Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development; and fully applied Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

This list is repeated five paragraphs later. Why would this be significant? That it is the opening of the resolution is significant because it is nearly identical to the equivalent statement issued in 2017 when the 19th Communist Party Congress adopted the report of the then outgoing Central Committee. Then, as now, every Chinese leader is mentioned. The “Scientific Outlook on Development” is the product of President Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who declared that China must end its reliance on cheap labor and invest more in science and technology. The “Theory of Three Represents” was laid down by former President Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Jemin. (Incidentally, this tends to throw cold water on the idea that former President Hu was “ejected” from the Congress; if the current leaders were intent on “humiliating” him as corporate media commentaries assert, why would the party enshrine his policy in their most important communiqués?)

That October 2017 party Congress confirmed that the role of the market would be “decisive” rather than “basic,” consistent with the CPC leadership switching the role of the market from “basic” to “decisive” in 2013 at a key Central Committee plenum. That would certainly seem to contradict the stress on Mao Zedong Thought, a major pillar that the party consistently upholds as a source of authority. That pillar is in contradiction with the era of Deng, who inaugurated China’s move from its Maoist path and toward the introduction of capitalism. It is in particular a contradiction with former President Jiang’s “Theory of Three Represents,” a declaration that the party should represent the most advanced productive forces, the most advanced culture and the broadest layers of the people. That is an assertion that the interests of different classes are not in conflict and that the party can harmoniously represent all classes simultaneously.

The skyline of Beijing (photo by Picrazy2)

Because there is no way to reconcile these divergent programs, the consistent listing of all party leaders since the 1949 revolution can reasonably be read as a statement of continuity with the decades of China’s current capitalist path, stretching back to the early Deng years. Yet the Resolution of the 20th Congress, in apparent contradiction to China’s growing private sector, the stress on the “decisive” nature of markets and China’s integration into the world capitalist system, declared that Marxism remains central to the party’s work. The resolution states:

“The Congress stresses that Marxism is the fundamental guiding ideology upon which our Party and our country are founded and thrive. Our experience has taught us that, at the fundamental level, we owe the success of our Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics to the fact that Marxism works, particularly when it is adapted to the Chinese context and the needs of our times. [The party] has achieved major theoretical innovations, which are encapsulated in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. … Only by integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and fine traditional culture and only by applying dialectical and historical materialism can we provide correct answers to the major questions presented by the times and discovered through practice and can we ensure that Marxism always retains its vigor and vitality.”

Further, President Xi, in his keynote report to the 20th Congress, also stressed the importance of Marxism. He said:

“The sound theoretical guidance of Marxism is the source from which our Party draws its firm belief and conviction and which enables our Party to seize the historical initiative. … Taking Marxism as our guide means applying its worldview and methodology to solving problems in China; it does not mean memorizing and reciting its specific conclusions and lines, and still less does it mean treating it as a rigid dogma.”

Drawing on past triumphs to justify present policies

Understood properly, Marxism is a living body of work and not a catechism, and can only be applied with creativity and analysis of concrete conditions. Nobody can rebuke the Chinese for adapting it to their particular circumstances and need to develop rapidly. But at what point does a “socialist market” economy tip over to a capitalist-oriented economy? There is no bright line that can be drawn but at some point, the rubicon has been crossed. Then there is the matter of what lessons might be drawn. Another clue as to what might be expected from the party in the near future might be derived from a visit by the Politburo Standing Committee to Yan’an, the old revolutionary base in northwest China. A report by Xinhua, China’s news service, quoted President Xi as stating that “the firm and correct political direction was the essence of the Yan’an Spirit.”

The lesson to derive from that spirit, according to President Xi, is that progress depends on the party and that party leadership is unquestionable. Xinhua summarized his interpretation of that spirit as follows:

“All Party members must adhere to the correct political direction, resolutely implement the Party’s basic theory, line, and policy, thoroughly implement the Party Central Committee’s decisions and plans, so as to further advance the great cause pioneered by revolutionaries of the older generation. … All Party members must stand firmly with the people, act on the Party’s purpose, put into practice the mass line, maintain close ties with the people, take the initiative to apply the people-centered development philosophy to all work, and achieve solid progress in promoting common prosperity, so that the people share more fully and fairly in the gains of modernization.”

Shanghai (photo by dawvon)

So there won’t be any slackening of party discipline, nor of any loosening of authoritarian party control over society. Nor will there be any swerving from the long-standing goal of achieving “common prosperity.” To return to the Resolution of the 20th Congress, the party states its goal as:

“[F]irst, basically realizing socialist modernization from 2020 through 2035; second, building China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful from 2035 through the middle of this century. [One of the main objectives in the next five years is to] Make new strides in reform and opening up; make further progress in modernizing China’s system and capacity for governance; further improve the socialist market economy; put in place new systems for a higher-standard open economy. We should continue reforms to develop the socialist market economy, promote high-standard opening up, and accelerate efforts to foster a new pattern of development that is focused on the domestic economy and features positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows.”

The reference to “positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows” is another signal of continuity. In May 2020, the Politburo announced a policy of “dual circulation” development. This policy represents lessening China’s reliance on exports and imports — “international circulation” — and rebalancing with production for the domestic market. This is intended to lessen China’s reliance on imports for its production and become more self-reliant in the wake of U.S.-led Western hostility to Chinese technological development. Just last month, the Biden administration announced sweeping prohibitions on the sale of semiconductors, advanced computing chips, chip-making equipment and other high-technology products to curb China’s ability to indigenously develop these technologies.

“The plan places a greater focus on the domestic market, or internal circulation, and is China’s strategic approach to adapting to an increasingly unstable and hostile outside world,” according to an explanatory article in the South China Morning Post. “Officially, China will look inward to tap the potential of its huge domestic market and rely on indigenous innovation to fuel growth. But despite the increased emphasis on the domestic market and on self-reliance in some sectors, President Xi has said repeatedly that China will not completely close itself off from the outside world, and will instead open up more.”

The dual-circulation policy is also a response to an expected reduction in reliance on exports on the part of China’s export destinations in the wake of economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Morning Post writes, “It is essentially a defensive approach by Beijing to prepare for the worst-case scenario as the world undergoes significant geopolitical and economic changes. The coronavirus exposed how dependent the world was on China for critical supplies of medical equipment, with nations around the world vow[ing] to be more self reliant on such products, amid a push by the US for a sharp decoupling of the world’s two largest economies.”

Investment, not consumer consumption, continues to drive economy

The dual-circulation policy has been integrated into China’s 14th five-year plan, covering 2021 to 2025. But this policy doesn’t represent any jarring change from past policy, as China has long sought to re-balance its economy to improve consumer consumption. Progress here has been slow — household consumption there was reported at only 40% in 2021, little improved from 36% in 2007. (Household consumption is all the things that people buy for personal use from toothbrushes to automobiles.) By comparison, advanced capitalist economies tend to have household consumption account for 60% to 70% of their economies. China will remain an investment-dependent economy for some time to come.

The funds necessary for China’s massive domestic investments don’t come simply from trade surpluses; they also come from depressed living standards. That means low wages for most Chinese and increased inequality.

“[T]he vast majority of China’s citizens still have a disposable income of less than 5,000 yuan per month, and over two-thirds of the population make substantially less,” according to the China Labor Bulletin, a a non-governmental organization based in Hong Kong that “supports and actively engages with the workers’ movement in China.” For comparison, 5,000 yuan equals US$686. And even that paltry amount is well above the minimum wage. The Bulletin report says, “The highest monthly minimum wage as of July 2020 was in Shanghai (2,480 yuan), which was roughly double the minimum wage in smaller cities in provinces such as Hunan, Hubei, Liaoning and Heilongjiang. In setting this wage, local governments are focused on industry concerns and local investment rather than on ensuring a liveable wage for workers, and employers likewise still find ways to avoid paying the minimum wage.” For comparison, 2,480 yuan equals US$340.

Chinese regulations mandate that each region should set its minimum wage at between 40 and 60 percent of the local average wage, but very few cities have ever reached that target, the Bulletin report says. “Moreover, the discrepancy between the average and the minimum wage has actually increased over the last decade as higher wages for the privileged few has pushed the average wage up and wages for the lowest-paid have stagnated. In many cities such as Guangzhou and Chongqing, the minimum wage is now less than 24 percent of the average wage, while in Beijing, which has some of the highest-paid employees in the country, it is just under 20 percent.”

People’s Grand Hall in Chongqing (photo by Chen Hualin)

Similar to advanced capitalist countries, inequality is worsening in China. “The annual average per capita disposable income of the richest 20 percent in China’s cities increased by nearly 34,000 yuan in the seven years from 2013 to 2019, while the disposable income of the poorest 20 percent in urban areas grew by just over 5,500 yuan during the same period,” the Bulletin report says. The report makes a damning conclusion familiar to those living in places with harsh inequality like the United States:

“A superficial glance at China’s major cities seems to show a reasonably affluent society: young, hard-working, middle-class families, determined to make a better life for themselves. This illusion was shattered however in late 2017 when the municipal government of Beijing embarked on a 40-day high-profile campaign to clean out the city’s shanty towns and evict the so-called ‘low-end population’ who produce, market, and deliver the goods, services and lifestyle products that Beijing’s middle class families aspire to have. The evictions revealed the harsh truth that the affluence of China’s cities depends almost entirely on the impoverishment of the underclass.”

There is no independent organization pushing against inequality. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions is the sole legal union confederation in China; independent unions are not tolerated. Although the ACFTU is tasked with protecting workers and sometimes stands up for them, overall it “has rarely been a staunch advocate for workers” and is “dedicated to ensuring ‘harmonious labour relations’ and smooth economic development for the nation.” Strikes are often carried out in defiance of the ACFTU but as a consequence tend to be localized and uncoordinated. The Bulletin has recorded 666 strikes thus far in 2022, roughly on pace with 2020 although down from 1,095 in 2021.

Development, but who is benefiting?

Who is enjoying the fruits of “smooth economic development”? China has 1,133 billionaires in 2022, up 75 from previous year, the most in the world and ahead of the U.S., according to the party newspaper Global Times. The paper celebrated this in its report, saying the high number of billionaires “underlined robust growth in various industries in China.”

Somehow that is not consistent with the construction of a socialist, egalitarian economy. Nor does it meet with disapproval from “think tanks”  in the West that are dedicated to upholding and strengthening corporate domination.

Interestingly, separate papers recently issued by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Citibank both predict further privatization in China, which, naturally, they approve. It’s good to remember here that although the corporate mass media routinely lies and passes off propaganda as news for popular audiences, those sources are truthful when the audience is big business; the bourgeoisie wants accurate information. (A nice example illustrating this is a general strike in Copenhagen in the late 1990s in which a key demand was a sixth week of mandatory paid vacation for Danish workers. I read not a word about it in general newspapers but there was daily coverage in the Dow Jones Newswire, an expensive service used by financiers, where I worked at the time.)

Although the state sector of the Chinese economy slightly increased this year, reversing a long trend of shrinkage, there seems little concern from capitalist boosters. The Peterson Institute, which has never seen a corporate-promoting so-called “free trade” agreement it didn’t like, declared that global commodity price increases and China’s property crisis were behind the “pause in the rise of the private sector.” It would be “simplistic and premature” to conclude 2022’s reverse is permanent, assuring its wealthy readers that “the drop in the previous private-sector advance should not be viewed as the start of a new trend of continuous decline, at least not yet.”

Nor are Citibank economists worried. A Citibank report similarly called the idea of a reversal of privatization “superficially attractive.” Rather, “support for private sector development is evident in a number of ways in recent years, from the effort to simplify the process of registering businesses to a new bankruptcy law and greater reliance on the court system to successfully adjudicate commercial disputes.” As to the “dual circulation” strategy, the bank notes that a fear that the U.S. might impose sanctions on China similar to those on Russia are driving China’s move toward self-reliance, and that reliance in turn will lead to reduced export opportunities for U.S., Germany, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. That trend nonetheless dates back to the Trump administration’s moves against Beijing.

In contrast to continual forecasts in the corporate mass media predicting collapse for the Chinese economy, Citibank economists seem to believe China will be fine, in part due to the big trade agreement it signed in November 2020 with Asia-Pacific countries while subtly acknowledging growing critiques of runaway neoliberalism. “China’s engagement with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a sign that even if the world is experiencing deglobalization, a growing regionalization might end up being the most likely replacement for the kind of globalization that now seems anachronistic,” the Citibank report says.

More state-owned enterprises would help Chinese workers

Corporate interests across the West would of course like more and faster privatization, as would the governments, especially the White House, that cater to those interests. But would that be a good idea? In contrast to standard discourse that mindlessly intones “private good, government bad,” when actual studies are conducted — naturally, only done by heterodox economists not interested in parroting propaganda for public consumption — a much different picture arises.

A study published in the March 2022 issue of Review of Radical Political Economics concludes that “a higher share of state-owned enterprises is favorable to long-run growth and tends to offset the adverse effect of economic downturns on the regional level.” The paper’s authors, Hao Qi and David M. Kotz, found that China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in 2015 had average wages 65% higher than private enterprises; most SOE employees have access to social security, while only a few private-enterprise employees have access to it; and SOE working hours are less than in the private sector. (These findings should be no surprise to anybody familiar with conditions in China’s many sweatshops.) 

SOEs are not just good for employees; they are better for the economy as well. The authors write:

“SOEs have played a pro-growth role in the Chinese economy in several ways: first, SOEs play the role of an economic stabilizer, offsetting the adverse effect of economic downturns; second, SOEs promote technical progress by carrying out investments in riskier technical areas. In addition, SOEs have established a high-road approach to treating workers by providing workers with a living wage, which is crucial for the reproduction of labor power. We suggest that this high-road approach has a potential pro-growth role, which is favorable for the transition of the Chinese economy to a more sustainable growth model in the near future. SOEs appear to be less profitable than private enterprises; however, the higher profitability of private enterprises to a large extent results from the intense exploitation of their workers. If the profits of private enterprises are invested, the result is growth—but profits of private enterprises also go to dividends and non-productive uses such as speculative purchase of existing assets.”

Three Gorges Dam, a project funded by the World Bank that displaced 1.3 million people (photo by Christoph Filnkössl)

The low wages paid by the private sector — which gives the appearance of those enterprises being more efficient — weakens the Chinese economy. An over-reliance on investment and exports are also de-stabilizing factors, the authors write.

“With low wages, the consumption demand of the economy has been insufficient, making the economy vulnerable to overinvestment, trade conflicts, and external shocks from the global economy. Thus, moving to a more sustainable growth model requires steadily increasing wages and consumption in aggregate demand and moving away from reliance on investments and exports. It is easier for SOEs to accept higher wages given their high-road approach to treating workers. Thus, SOEs can be the bridge that connects the old and a more sustainable new economic model.”

Noting that most economic literature “fails to consider that private enterprises treat their workers badly,” the role of SOEs in stabilizing economic growth is ignored. The study by Dr. Qi and Dr. Kotz concludes that “privatization would be harmful to economic growth in the long run. In our view, privatization would destroy a central pillar for China to be able to achieve sound economic growth under unfavorable conditions.”

Too much reliance on private sector counter-productive

Another heterodox economist, Michael Roberts, also argues that privatization would be counter-productive. “[I]t is China’s large capitalist sector that threatens China’s future prosperity,” he writes. Debt and rising housing prices are products of a reliance on the private sector

“The real problem is that in the last ten years (and even before) the Chinese leaders have allowed a massive expansion of unproductive and speculative investment by the capitalist sector of the economy. In the drive to build enough houses and infrastructure for the sharply rising urban population, central and local governments left the job to private developers. Instead of building houses for rent, they opted for the ‘free market’ solution of private developers building for sale. Beijing wanted houses and local officials wanted revenue. The capitalist housing projects helped deliver both. But the result was a huge rise in house prices in the major cities and a massive expansion of debt. Indeed, the real estate sector has now reached over 20% of China’s GDP.”

There will not be a financial crash in China, Mr. Roberts writes, because the country’s big banks are in state hands and the government can order them to take whatever measures are necessary to stabilize the financial system, tools not available elsewhere. Nonetheless, the CPC’s “common prosperity” project has been launched due to the pandemic exposing “huge inequalities to the general public,” with China’s billionaires reaping benefits while ordinary people suffer lockdowns. The share of personal wealth for China’s billionaires doubled from 7% in 2019 to 15% of GDP in 2021, Mr. Roberts reports. What China needs, he writes, is more planning and accountability:

“These zig zags are wasteful and inefficient. They happen because China’s leadership is not accountable to its working people; there are no organs of worker democracy. There is no democratic planning. Only the 100 million CP members have a say in China’s economic future, and that is really only among the top. Far from the answer to China’s mini-crisis requiring more ‘liberalising’ reforms towards capitalism, China needs to reverse the expansion of the private sector and introduce more effective plans for state investment, but this time with the democratic participation of the Chinese people in the process. Otherwise, the aims of the leadership for ‘common prosperity’ will be just talk.”

Before and during President Xi’s reign, privatization and reliance on exports have increased. The reforms inaugurated in the Deng era and continuing into the 2000s brought forth special economic zones to draw in foreign direct investment (FDI), job security guarantees replaced with contracts, welfare provisions scrapped, privatizations, state-run companies converted to state-owned enterprises expected to maximize profits, 50 million laid off and an intensification of work. Fifty millions layoffs! The government has sought to retain the “commanding heights” of the economy while divesting itself of smaller and medium-sized enterprises through closings and bankruptcies, a policy begun in the late 1990s of “grasping the large and letting the small go.”

Privatization and layoffs on China’s path toward capitalism

A couple of numbers illustrate how far-reaching China’s move toward capitalism has been. As late as the end of 2010, among China’s 100 largest corporations, 78% of aggregate market value was held by SOEs vs. 8% for the private sector. By June 30, 2022, it was 42% for SOEs and 45% for the private sector. That’s just the largest enterprises. When we look at the Chinese economy as a whole, SOEs accounted for about 25% of the economy in 2021, according to a source that wishes that total to be far lower. Finally, China’s debt is estimated at 350% of its gross domestic product, an extraordinarily high sum even if that is not an immediate problem given the country’s large trade surpluses.

China’s winding road toward capitalism needn’t be seen as intentional or the product of any cabal. A strong critic of China from a Left perspective, Ralf Ruckus, who is highly critical of what he calls China’s definitive return to capitalism, nonetheless offers this explanation: “This transition was not the result of a detailed master plan or blueprint but of a series of — often experimental — reform steps taken to improve the country’s economic performance, save the socialist system, and stabilize CCP rule. This is the meaning of the phrase ‘crossing the river by feeling the stones’ that Deng Xiaoping allegedly used to describe his understanding of the course of reform.”

Of course, none of us outside the party leadership, and certainly those of us outside the country, can know for sure what the long-term intentions might be. Our guides are the communiqués following important party meetings, the speeches of party leaders and, most importantly, the policies carried out and the concrete results of those policies.

President Xi had begun taking steps to reign in certain Chinese capitalists and has more frequently talked about Marxism, even before last month’s party gatherings. Whether these are the opening moves of a future reversal back toward socialism or simply an assertion of party rule will not be known for some time. Even if it were true that the moves toward capitalism since the 1990s are intended to be a temporary expedient, as some pro-China Leftists in the West like to argue, becoming more deeply entangled in markets and the world capitalist system carries its own momentum, a drift not at all easy to check. There are industrial and party interests that favor the path China has been on since the 1990s, and those interests represent a significant social force that would resist structural moves toward socialism.

Whatever long-term intentions the party leadership may have, its short-term tactical policies are likely to be driven by a need to counteract U.S.-led aggression against it, which implies a high likelihood of increased diversion of internal resources toward a continuing military buildup. Increased tensions between Beijing and Washington are not in the interests of working people on either side of the Pacific. The U.S. maintains its global hegemony through its stranglehold on the global financial system even more than through military strength, and that domination, while eroding, remains far from any danger of being toppled. China, then, will surely be focused on internal development for some time to come. That development is increasingly capitalist-based, a direction that is fraught with contradictions and dangers.

In the former Soviet bloc, socialism came to be seen as simply expropriation and building industry. But placing production in public or state hands is merely a pre-condition, not the actual content, of socialism. Moreover, China is moving toward, not away, from privatization. A fuller definition of socialism mandates that democracy be extended to economic and political matters, beyond what is possible in capitalism. Socialism can be defined as a system in which production is geared toward human need rather than private profit for a few; where everybody is entitled to have a say in what is produced, how it is produced and how it is distributed; that these collective decisions are made in the context of the broader community and in quantities planned to meet needs; political decision-making is the hands of the communities affected; and quality health care, food, shelter and education are human rights. There is no class, vanguard or other group that stands above society, arrogating decision-making, wealth and/or privileges to itself.

It is easy enough to point out that such conditions are far from reality in any capitalist country. But such conditions are far from reality in China as well. The Chinese nation must develop within a world capitalist system deeply hostile to any attempt at building an alternative, has its own strong cultural traditions, and must find its own path toward development while navigating a complex set of economic pressures. Nor can any expectation that any socialist path can be easy or short be realistic, as history as amply proven. At the same time we shouldn’t mechanically make assumptions because of the label a country’s ruling party uses to name itself. Better to analyze with a clear eye.

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11 comments on “China talks Marxism, but still walks capitalism

  1. sustain2016 says:

    I don’t like commenting on conditions in China from a Western perspective, but if socialism is a society wherein the workers control production, then China seems to have moved away from that model, considerably, considering they began with the commune movement. I wonder if the Chinese people study their own revolutionary history in that context, and with great pride and patriotism. It seems so. My sister-in-law is from China, and tells me that the commune movement was a part of China’s history. She is retired now, and receives a pension, having held a position in the telecom industry, and is more affluent than her American husband or any of her in-laws. Not sure if the telecoms are SOEs. I suspect they are. Her father was a party official. She speaks very favorably about Xi, telling me that he came from a poor farming family, so really understands the plight of workers.

    I agree that we shouldn’t condemn China for choosing to engage in the dominant global economic system in order to raise its economic status, while still maintaining the CCP, yet not allowing ourselves to be romanced by the current crackdowns on corporate fraud as some broad indicator of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

    My feeling, dialectically, is that China has built up its industrial and technological base, which are necessary to build a socialist economy. Now is the time to use the party power to end wage disparities, and eliminate the disgusting EZs. Not sure how that will go.

    • Thanks for bring up the topic of communes. During the late 1930s and into the 1940s, the Communist Party of China greatly encouraged, and helped facilitate, cooperatives. These were tasked with producing on an affordable basis everyday consumer items and materiel for the Red Army. The cooperatives were discouraged and undermined in areas of Guomindang control.

      Begun in June 1938, the Indusco industrial cooperative program overcame the Japanese blockade of interior China, setting up small industry across 2,000 miles of territory. Many of these locations were virtually self-sufficient in producing military equipment and supplies. These small units were much safer than large factories in China’s bigger cities that could easily be bombed.

      Edgar Snow, in his book The Battle for Asia, wrote:

      Laborers were registered, selected according to health, experience and character, and grouped according to crafts. Co-operators taught them how to organize, how to conduct meetings, and how to study local markets. Technicians helped them find machinery — often dragged hundreds of miles overland from the coast — how to locate safe factory sites, and how to use, and later how to make, simple machines. Above all they taught them how to improvise with the materials available. Schools were set up to train unskilled refugees, accountants, organizers and technicians.

      I have written a summary of this cooperative movement in my forthcoming book, What Do We Need Bosses For?. Unfortunately, the Indusco system did not last long after the Communist victory because it was seen as redundant to the collective system being created.

  2. Neal says:

    You have written a very, very interesting and intelligent article. While I do not share your implicit view about the superiority of socialism, I think your points mostly make very good sense.

    For what it is worth, I see nothing unusual or problematic in a leader claiming fealty with the views of his predecessors. That is how politics, religion, etc. work. Note the enjoyment of Christmas trees, something repurposed from pagan celebrations. Note the Passover Seder in Judaism, which reinvents Judaism as a diaspora, rather than a national, religion while claiming to follow the views of the great rabbis from the national period that preceded the loss of national sovereignty.

    Politicians in the US not atypically try to justify their current agendas by tying them to real or imagined views of the Founding Fathers. In some instances, those views are really quite different from those held by any of the Founding Fathers or, in the case of the GOP, by Lincoln. None of the Founding Fathers thought that the First Amendment applied to anything done by a state government. Yet, even the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices assert that the First Amendment precludes any of the states from interfering with the free speech rights of individuals – such being based on the fiction (which is also ritualistically cited) that the First Amendment now applies to the states due to the Fourteenth Amendment.

    I have no idea whether or not more or less government ownership of industry will lead to a more prosperous China. Such might be the case – or not. I would think, however, that there is a real danger in the state being given too much power, such that I think that the socialism referenced in your article as an ideal amounts to advocating for tyranny. It is not that state ownership is tyranny. I don’t think that at all. It is that to control the economy to the extent seen as ideal is not stable and thus leads to tyranny.

    • It certainly is true that leaders often assert their fidelity with their party or movement’s past leaders and lines (although I would dispute that today’s Trump-crazed Republicans are following Lincoln). There is nothing mysterious about the current CPC leadership, and Xi himself, doing so. Mao remains a crucial source of authority for the party and it would make no sense from its perspective to do anything but venerate Mao.

      In regard to state control of economy, that is surely a difficult question. Any tentative answer to such a question would likely, and realistically must, be answered different for different countries, and even for different nations within countries. (I can’t imagine Scotland finding complete agreement with England on how an economy ought to be managed.)

      What gives the bourgeoisie such power in capitalist formal democracies around the world? It is their control of the economy, resulting power over working people and, thanks to this control, ability to exert decisive influence over governments and international “free trade” agreements. Does this concentration of power evaporate when capitalists are decisively expropriated and the economy handed over to the state? The experience of the Soviet Union and its Central European satellites give us a decisive answer, one that shouldn’t be a surprise.

      I’d like to refer here to Rudolf Slánský Jr. (yes, the son of the executed Czechoslovak party leader). The younger Slánský was a leading voice of labor during the Prague Spring. In a February 1969 commentary in Práce, the trade union daily, he wrote:

      The management of our nation’s economy is one of the crucial problems. The basic economic principal on which the bureaucratic-centralist management mechanism rests is the direct exercise of the ownership functions of nationalized industry. The state, or more precisely various central organs of the state, assume this task. It is almost unnecessary to remind the reader of one of the principal lessons of Marxism, namely he who has property has power. … The only possible method of transforming the bureaucratic-administrative model of our socialist society into a democratic model is to abolish the monopoly of the state administration over the exercise of ownership functions, and to decentralize it towards those whose interest lies in the functioning of the socialist enterprise, i.e. the collectives of enterprise workers.

      The problem of complete state ownership has long been recognized. So the question of socialism, in my view, should be: How much of the economy should be in state (public) hands and how much in cooperatives? Likely every society would come up with a different formulation. I would argue that certain key industries — certainly including banking/finance, energy and basic utilities — ought to be in state hands, but with real democratic public accountability. There is no reason for the corner grocer to be in state hands. There is no reason for small businesses and many midsized businesses to not be cooperatives or some other internally democratic arrangement.

      There is no reason why planning has to be top-down and bureaucratic as it was in the Soviet model. Planning can be democratic, participatory and bottom up, with plans used as a guide to ensure reasonable production rather than as a hard number to make regardless of any mitigating factors. I always say, and do so here again, that without economic democracy there can be no political democracy. There is no country I am aware of that has both of these.

      The context of the Slánský quote above is that the central goal of the Prague Spring for Czech and Slovak workers who were active in it was to democratize the economy. Their conception was to keep the economy in state hands, but put everything under democratic control, with a foundation of workers’ councils in all workplaces and those council coordinating at higher levels. There was even a national meeting at which about one-sixth of all Czechoslovakia’s workers were represented, at which the beginnings of guidelines and concepts were thrashed out, based in part on statutes that some large factories had already put together. As I have stated in the articles and book chapters I have published on this, the world was deprived of what would have been an outstanding experiment.

      • Neal says:

        You quote Slánský as stating that “It is almost unnecessary to remind the reader of one of the principal lessons of Marxism, namely he who has property has power.” Perhaps, Marx had that one wrong, assuming that Slánský has Marx correct. If by property, you include wealth more generally, then I might agree with you up to a point – but with caveats. But, if you mean property – as in real and intangible property -, I think that is simply not correct.

        That said, I do not think I would want banks to be a government function. That, plus the power of the central bank, would give way too much power to the government. Would the government, operated so as to benefit “the people”, actually end up benefiting average real people? I rather doubt it. Give the government power and those with that power will use it for their own ends and for the ends of those connected with them. Will average people benefit as a side effect of what the government does? Sometimes. But, more likely, what will occur is a gradual devolution into a system where only those in power and those connected with them really benefit.

        Now, note, that can happened in any system and, quite assuredly, can and has occurred in capitalistic systems. But, the fact that such occurs in a capitalistic system does not suggest that such problem is limited to capitalism.

        I think my biggest difference with your reply to me is the conflation of socialism with democracy, the assumption being that socialist democracy would be more democratic in nature and, moreover, that such a society would be just rather than devolve into tyranny. Devolution, so far, is what has occurred in socialist countries where the government was granted real power over the entirety of society (e.g., the USSR). Can socialism be checked by democracy? Maybe, at least for a while. The fact that socialism would need to be tamed would mean that socialism is a force acting against democracy, one that a democracy need want to control and limit, if such can be accomplished over the long term. You might call that, as they did when I was a kid in the 1960’s, socialism with a human (i.e., democratic) face.

        I’ll also note a definitional matter. You write: “I always say, and do so here again, that without economic democracy there can be no political democracy.” I think that is untrue. I think democracy means majority rule. Given the size of contemporary societies, that effectively means representative rule, but with the representatives being determined by majority vote. And, that is true even if the will of the people is frustrated by those who are in power. Put differently, democracy is a procedural thing, for the most part.

        Democracies have taken all sorts of forms, from what existed in classical Greece to the parliamentary systems, to federal systems and things in between. That democracies manage to better represent those with money and influence is something that, thus far, no one has even near a solution. Such is, of course, a problem and a serious one.

        At the same time, surely socialism has no clear answer to that problem because most socialists deny that such a problem could exist in a socialist country. If one is honest, it has to be understood that giving more power to the government creates more reason for those with money and influence to hope to influence those with power and for those with power to be more corrupt and otherwise act for their own benefit.

        And, some individual, group, clique, etc., will always exist, no matter the form of government, as a ruling element in all large sized countries. So, that means, using Marxist terminology, that people are estranged from the political products of their own desires. Hence, if the goal is to empower the people, there are a lot of contractions for socialism to untangle. If history is a guide, socialists have extremely slow at recognizing the obvious problems with their theories. And, an important one is to recognize that socialism is inherently at odds with democracy rather than a prerequisite for democracy.

        Now, that is not to suggest that the government should not act to benefit average people. Nor is it to suggest that government control of certain fields (e.g., health insurance) is a bad idea, in any given situation. Rather, my point is that socialism, capitalism, hybrid economies, etc., are not democracy. An economy is one thing. Politics is another thing. Democracy is a type of political system and the economy is not a political system. And, democracy can help tame to worst aspects of a given economic theory. Where socialism treats itself as if it were one and the same thing as – or a necessary prerequisite for – democracy, it is akin to religious societies that fail to distinguish between God and Caesar.

        • Be assured that Slánský had his Marx quite correct. “Property” here is the means of production. Where does the immense power of the wealthy and the corporations the wealthy control come from? It is profits, which arise out of the surplus value created by employees and taken from them. As the capital accumulated by capitalists (industrialists and financiers, who constitute the “bourgeoisie”) grows vastly, they have the ability to influence and then exert a dominating influence over the government and governmental institutions. All capitalist countries undergo this process, at differing speeds and intensity, because the entire point of production under capitalism is for the owners of capital to accumulate more capital. When I worked on the Dow Jones Newswire, almost every company, in describing at the end of their press releases what they do, would list “enhancing shareholder value.”

          Inequality is, and always will be, the result of capitalist accumulation, and there are immense structural forces ensuring this process not only continues but deepens, with the relentless pace of competition at the forefront. The capitalist is at the mercy of an uncontrollable system — if the capitalist doesn’t act to increase profits by any means necessary — and that includes cutting employee wages, speeding up work, layoffs, polluting the environment and moving production to places with ever lower wages and lesser regulation — he or she will be run out of business by another capitalist who will. The financial industry act as a whip to further this process.

          Thus the idea that democracy can ever be anything other than formal is an illusion. No capitalist country is democratic or can be; people working through organizations or forming a significant majority of the voting public can and do force ameliorations of conditions through reform, but reforms are always taken back when the movement behind them dies down and/or voters cease to maintain an alert presence on a given issue. The past 40 years of U.S. history illustrates this well.

          How then does a democracy come about? It comes about through the elimination of permanent inequality held in a tiny number of persons who benefit from the system, and who use their wealth, and the power that wealth gives them by virtue of their class position, to bend society to their will. That inequality also keeps vast numbers of people poor or precarious, and the percentage of the precarious grows except during periods of strong social movements, such as was seen in the 1960s. Capitalist places of work remain dictatorships, where we are at the mercy of bosses, who in turn, regardless of their own personality, must make harsh decisions to survive the relentless rigors of capitalist competition. It is simply impossible for any kind of democratic, egalitarian society to arise out of this.

          Economic power is the source of being able to impose one’s will on economic, social and political power, and to ensure your viewpoints drown out all others through ability to own the organs of the mass media. Why do you think right-wing ideas are so incessantly promoted? And why is capitalist apologia and fears of any form of socialism so widely held? If that’s all people hear and see across the media, then naturally plenty of folks are going to echo that, unless conditions get so bad that ordinary propaganda ceases to work.

          Some mix of state ownership — with real and extensive democratic control — and cooperatives in a system of planning, coordination and cross-enterprise cooperation is a way to break the domination of a class that monopolizes political power, dominates governmental decision-making and is leading the planet to environmental ruin in the made pursuit of ever more profits. How many billions of dollars can any human being spend? State ownership need not be excessive; key industries held in public hands would inevitably vary from one country to another.

          You write of government as if it were some alien entity forcibly implanted on a society. It is not. Governments are reflections of who holds power and a composite of social forces active within the borders. In capitalist countries, governments reflect the interests of big capitalists, especially those who own and/or control multi-national capital. In countries run on the Soviet model, the single party makes the decisions but not in a vacuum; social forces still have influence and the party-government has to do some things to uphold its prevailing ideology. Because the means of production are in state hands, the state holds decisive economic power, the crucial anchor to buoy political power, as Slánský pointed out.

          The grassroots activists in 1968 Czechoslovakia, party rank-and-filers and many party leaders, were attempting to break the power of the single party through democratizing the economy. (Here is a journal article I wrote published in Socialism and Democracy that discusses the workers’ control aspect of the Prague Spring; it can be accessed via large libraries.) In other words, they were trying to move Czechoslovakia from a post-capitalist society that had become frozen in attempting a transition toward socialism to actual start moving toward a real socialist society, one more democratic than any capitalist country can be and more democratic than any country under the Soviet system could be.

          With economic power broken, and no more dominating group imposing its will (either a bourgeoisie in a capitalist country or a party in a Soviet-style country), decision-making can be democratic with everybody having a say and social decisions being made through some democratic process, whether via majority vote, consensus or some other setup. Obviously, considerable structure would have to be implemented to maintain this.

          Because finance is so important and potentially powerful, all the more should it be in public hands. Central banks as existing in capitalist countries would not exist in a socialist economy. Central banks exist to smooth out the extremes of the boom-and-bust of capitalist business cycles and mainly work to stabilize an inherently unstable financial industry. In other words, their job is to save capitalism from itself by throwing vast sums of money at bankers ever time they crash the economy while working people can go to hell. A central bank like the Federal Reserve is a de facto service for finance capital. But because capitalism is so unstable, central banks are a necessity. That’s why every capitalist country has one. If you don’t like the Federal Reserve, what you don’t like is capitalism.

          Sadly, Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” has so deeply taken root that even those repelled by her and her horrid politics implicitly repeat and believe her core statement. With a sad paucity of imagination, so many can only see either runaway capitalism or Soviet-style over-centralization as the only possible ways to organize an economy. That is not so, and given that runaway capitalism is leading the planet to an abyss, we had better start working on a sustainable alternative now. Capitalism won’t exist much longer. What replaces it is up to all of us. I would like it be as democratic and egalitarian as possible.

          • Neal says:

            The assumption of your comments about democracy include that inequality is somehow not consistent with democracy. Again, I think that amounts to conflating socialism – assuming it could create equality – with democracy. In fact, democracy is not the same thing as equality or socialism or anything of the sort. Democracy is means for choosing leaders and policies, as in by majority vote or, in contemporary societies, by means of representatives who are chosen, for the most part, by majority vote and who make decisions – perhaps often primarily in their own interests or the interests of those who did not vote for them but, either way, subject to their being tossed out of office by their constituents – on behalf of those they represent.

            According to you, there are “a tiny number of persons who benefit from the system, and who use their wealth, and the power that wealth gives them by virtue of their class position, to bend society to their will.” Notwithstanding that assertion, the fact is that, compared to what preceded democracy (or what occurs in non-democratic countries), average people have more wealth, more power and more say in their own lives than has existed prior to democracy – going back several thousand years – (and what exists in non-democratic countries).

            And, average people have bent the power of the elite in ways that could not as easily occur other than in a democracy. Why? Because democracy allows groups to organize and push to advance agendas and because their representatives in the government tend, in the most general sense, to support more or less something akin to what their constituents want. So, it is not merely elites who benefit or have all the power. And, when things have not gone as hoped by the majority of average people, new groups tend to spring up and, over time, push their agendas and, potentially, come to power.

            You write: “With economic power broken, and no more dominating group imposing its will (either a bourgeoisie in a capitalist country or a party in a Soviet-style country), decision-making can be democratic with everybody having a say and social decisions being made through some democratic process, whether via majority vote, consensus or some other setup.” No. That is highly unlikely. There are two or perhaps more possibilities from what you describe. The most likely possibility I see on your scenario is that one group starts out with control. Where there is one group in power – call them the people’s group – that group will act so as to preserve its power, which means blocking out other groups that might vie for power. And, unless other groups gain at least some power, what you could very likely end up with is tyranny. On the other hand – but less likely -, if there really were no party or person that dominates but, instead, all power rests with the people, then you would likely soon have the law of the jungle. Life would become, to quote Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That would not likely either be democratic or lead to democracy. And, it would not likely be stable as life would be too horrible for it to persist for more than a few decades, if that long. Instead, a person or group would likely emerge that comes to power on the banner of bringing stability.

            For sake of argument, let’s assume you are correct and that no elite dominated and the people made all decisions free of economic elites – your hope, if I understand you correctly. What makes you think that the majority of such people would (a) act for the benefit of all rather than for their own benefit, (b) not continue to have racial and other prejudices and petty hatreds and (c) rather quickly end up with a new elite group in control that acts for its own benefit? I think you are assuming a wisdom in what people do that is defied by the history of what has occurred thus far on earth. I’ll quote Abba Eban (and, so far as I know, it is not entirely original with him, but I first heard it from him). “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.” In any event, you can count on people to make decisions based on greed, emotion, prejudice, upbringing, class, etc., etc. So, it is not rational to assume that you will eliminate elites by bringing down capitalism. Such an assumption assumes a species of humans quite different from homo sapiens.

            Again, I think you are conflating a theory that may or may not provide some economic benefit with a political system. They are different concepts. Where human kind has advanced (e.g., in the sciences, in social relations, in politics, etc.), such advancement has involved learning to compartmentalize concepts rather than act as if all things are part of a single whole. By way of example, the view of physicists for centuries was that the elegance of a theory was more important than whether that theory accurately corresponded with what could be observed. Now, elegance meant the conflation of concepts, typically but not always religion impacting the results of science. In your case, you think that democracy’s existence depends on what economic system exists – and, of course, there were followers of Milton Friedman who similarly conflated things, asserting that democracy is a byproduct of capitalism. But, the creation and maintenance of democracy requires looking at how government works, not on what economic system is in place.

            I have no idea whether capitalism will come to an end soon or ever. That, on your part, is a leap of faith. In any event, if capitalism comes to an end, there is no way to know whether what replaces it will be better or worse. For example, the agricultural age that began about 12,000 years ago brought, in its early days (i.e., for many thousands of years, please note), a dramatic decline in the life span of average people and a dramatic increase in the amount of time spent toiling in fields. In effect, people became slaves to their crops, with results that those who thought they were improving their lives dramatically worsened them. So, average hunters and gatherers lived for about 60 to 65 years before the agricultural revolution but average lifespans for those in agricultural societies declined to less than 30 years, with very, very tough lives. Yet, that approach ultimately advanced humankind while failing to advance, for thousands of years, how humans lived. And, even thereafter, the lives of average people remained, until comparatively recently, dismal. It was, with all its defects, capitalism and industrialization that helped change all of that. To note, the early days of capitalism and industrialization were dismal for average people. At this point, that is no longer true for the most part, at least in democratic countries. However, poverty has not been conquered and there are still people who live desperate lives in democratic countries – and efforts to help change that are important and desirable.

            My point: we don’t know with assurance what the future will bring. The hopes of the revolutionaries in Russia brought pretty much the opposite of what they expected – and rather quickly. The slave holders of the US South thought, when they accepted the original US Constitution, that they would preserve slavery forever (although, in fact, they worried that the original document did not expressly make slavery legal but, instead, allowed for ending the Atlantic slave trade after a period of time). Slavery did not last either, at least not in the US or any democratic country. Where it lasted was in countries where religion dominated all else (e.g., in parts of the Middle East, where it lasted into the 1960’s and northeastern Africa, where it has been reinstated in some countries) and democracy did not exist. In the US, the effort to preserve privileges after slavery gained strength within a short period of time and then held out for quite some time but has also lost, at least for now. Will all of this be reversed? Maybe. Or, maybe not.

            We simply don’t know with assurance what will occur over the long term because it is nearly impossible to know what trends that are running in the background of society will become dominant in the future. So, we have a lot of guesswork about the future. I thus note that theories of society that assume that a major change, including a change in the economic system, will necessarily lead to a happy ending will more likely tend, due to their simplicity, prove untrue. Put differently, I think you are making the same mistake that Lenin made in his thinking. And, I think that things that assume a single whole tend, if we go by what has occurred in history, to go very, very wrong.

            • We can keep wearing our rose-colored glasses and deny what is all around us, or we can face reality squarely. I prefer to do the latter. I will say you are a skilled advocate of the capitalist status quo and all its vast inequalities and horrors — your arguments are better put than almost all the pundits who get paid to pretend our present world is the best that could ever be. You are a worthy debating partner, indeed. But ultimately you are defending a decaying order and are trapped in ideology.

              Simply put — there can’t be infinite growth on a finite planet, and capitalism can’t exist without growth. Even tepid growth means more unemployment, more disruption. And let’s not ignore that the living standards of people in the Global North are on the backs of the Global South — massive exploitation is necessary. Billions of people live precarious lives, and the living standards of the Global North are increasingly precarious. Capitalism simply isn’t sustainable. And, where I can agree with you, Milton Friedman was talking nonsense with conflating democracy with capitalism. Capitalism exists in forms ranging from social democracy to fascism, and has historically been imposed by force, so clearly capitalism can do just fine without interference from pesky concepts like voting.

              Socialism, by contrast, can only exist in a democratic form; that is the point of it. That the Soviet Union became something vastly different from what its founders intended and far different from what socialism should be is a tragedy that requires explanation but need not stop us from thinking anew. Whatever the future holds is unwritten. It could be better; it could be worse. If we allow capitalism to run down over the course of the 21st century, and allow capitalist rulers a free hand to keep their system in place, it surely will be worse. If social movements coalesce toward a goal of a better world, then the next system can be better.

              What humanity can’t afford is to stick our heads in the sand, talk ourselves into believing the present awful world is as good as we can get, and shriek in horror at any attempt to make changes. Humanity will descend into disaster as capitalism poisons the world with pollution and destroys the environment with global warming and the huge majority of humanity sinks into desperate poverty in a world shorn of resources. Not what any of us should want. But that is where capitalist complacency is leading the world.

              • Neal says:

                I see you now arguing Malthus but in order to show that capitalism is doomed. If Malthus is correct – and such is debatable but uncertain -, I don’t see how that is a problem that only occurs in a capitalist society. Rather, it would be a problem regardless of the economic system in place. In any event, just to note the obvious: socialism, if it is to be democratic, also requires growth. If there is no growth, then it cannot sustain itself in a democratic setting because people would vote them out of office.

                Now, Malthusism was in vogue when I was entering high school in the late 1960’s. It was thought that the increase in the world’s population was about to exceed the ability to feed that population. Such turned out not to be true – at least thus far and it is, at this point, more than 50 years ago – for several reasons. The most significant reason why was improved techniques for producing food (something that, for what it is worth, was developed not by socialists but by capitalists). Will Malthus ultimately prove correct? Maybe. Or, maybe not. I don’t see why you think that the ability of humankind to solve problems has come to an end.

                You write that socialism can only exist in a democratic form. My assertion is that socialism, by its very nature, tends to make democracy more difficult. Why? Because socialism asserts the need to control things on a massive scale. Democracy, by contrast, inherently leaves it to individuals to choose in most instances. So, while socialism could perhaps be made to work in a democratic setting, it requires great vigilance to prevent tyranny, likely far greater vigilance than capitalism requires. And, to note, capitalism in a democratic society requires a great deal of vigilance.

                Now, we know that, by percentage, in the last hundred years, the world’s ability to feed people has increased dramatically, that life spans have increased dramatically, that the percentage of those who have escaped economic desperation (i.e., what had been the norm for tens of thousands of years) has increased dramatically, etc., etc.. (See e.g., the writings of Steven Pinker and Yuval Noah Harari.) Of course, things have not worked out well – which seems to be your point – for everyone across the globe such that billions of people live fairly desperate lives. Not noted in your comment is that, prior to capitalism, the percentage of those who lived desperate lives was likely far higher than 95% of the world’s population and probably closer to 99%.

                It is also a fact that, whatever shortcomings exist in China’s post Mao approach, when China moved away from Mao’s approach and towards something more capitalistic, a substantially larger percentage of China’s population has escaped desperation and subsistence living and life spans have increased dramatically. (I remember, from when I was a kid, that my parents would remind me to eat with the saying, people are starving in China.)

                I am not, please take note, an advocate for the status quo. I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion. My argument instead is that socialism is not the way forward. Rather, socialism is likely the way to increase poverty, increase desperation, increase misery.

                Rather than advocate for capitalism, I advocate the methodology that is known to solve problems – e.g., breaking problems up into what can be understood and managed, based on close and careful study and testing rather than, as you seem to advocate, looking to replace the whole based on a theory. Progress in living standards, progress in social arrangements, having choices in life (to the extent that has become more possible in life) all resulted by looking at specific problems – i.e., following the scientific method – rather than thinking that there are holistic solutions.

                If you had cancer, would you go to a doctor who uses the results in individual experiments based on studies that look at specific things (i.e., an oncologist) or would you go (e.g., as Steve Jobs did) to a person who believed in treating the whole person? One approach is scientific. The other is religious. Religion may or may not have its place but it is not likely to create a more sustainable economy that works for the benefit of average people – something about which there is more than a thousand years of evidence to support my point.

                Looking at our society, there are all sorts of problems that exist. Should we assume that better results will occur by starting from scratch (e.g., as Marx, Engels, Lenin and their followers have thought)? Or, should we assume that incremental but substantial improvements based on preserving what works while correcting what does not will achieve better results? To me, this is a no brainer.

                Starting from scratch (i.e., getting rid of capitalism) will necessarily and, for quite obvious reasons, result in huge mistakes being made (e.g., things of the type that Stalin and Mao did). So, to me, to advocate socialism is to advocate for huge mistakes. And, thus far, no one knows how to get past the likelihood of a leader, such as a Stalin or a Mao, will come to power. Who came to power after the French Revolution? It was not kind people. It was people who used the guillotine without much concern for human life. And, with the USSR? People who thought individuals did not matter, so they let them starve. And, Communist China? Again, the same sort of people. And, predictably, people were allowed to be killed in huge numbers for no good reason because their leaders did not believe that people mattered. That is not a minor problem for socialism. It is a mammoth problem.

                I am not am advocate for capitalism. However, it is the system that exists. It has real problems but it has also shown itself to be adaptable. Reforms have occurred over the years and thus remain possible. And, those reforms have resulted in lifting much of our planet out of subsistence. Mao never managed that. Stalin allowed millions to perish and, on top of that, killed huge numbers of people for no imaginable reason. Such, please note, is not a very good start for socialism.

                You note pollution. That is a problem of industrialization. Is it a problem specific to capitalism? Not likely. And, would people, in a democratic socialist state really act against their immediate need to eat (or to protect their own wealth) in order to have a less polluted world? You really think that is likely? Again, to quote Abba Eban: “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”

                Now, you do make one real point. We do live in troubled times. That is quite obvious. A lot of mistakes were made in the last several decades by people who likely should have known better. And, that has led to quite a bit of backsliding. Now is hardly the first time that there has been backsliding. However, what has occurred now is, by the standards of the 1930’s, a rather minor backslide – at least thus far. What will occur? We shall see. But, it is certainly a scary people with an uncertain future.

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