A response to “don’t markets allow for more freedom of choice than planning by some central committee?”

Some ancap (“anarcho”-capitalist) came onto the MLM Communism 101 Facebook group and eventually put forth this question. This was my response.

There are a lot of mistaken assumptions in your question. Let me try to do them really quickly.

1. Free markets are never coming back. All we will ever have from this point forward are cornered markets divided between monopolies, or planning.

2. Even in the era of free markets 375 years ago, the freedom of choice was only for those who had money–the overwhelming majority of people producing the goods for sale were doomed to an even more brutal existence than they had been living as peasants, and they could never afford them.

3. Freedom of choice is a misunderstanding of the nature of freedom. If I can live in this soul-destroying suburb with a tropical design scheme or that soul-destroying suburb with a midwest design scheme, and I don’t give a fuck about either, what good is this choice? What good is the addition of twenty additional design schemes if my only option is suburbs? This is the kind of choice presented to us under capitalism: difference that doesn’t make a difference.

What makes freedom meaningful is the choice between things that hold meaningful differences between us. If all the human beings on this planet grow up psychologically malnourished, all the idiosyncrasy in each individual is dulled. The choice of who we’re friends with, whom we love, etc. etc. is all less meaningful. If we grew up in a society that oppressed no one, and gave literally everyone all the resources that they need to truly flourish, everyone’s idiosyncrasies would be given fertile soil to blossom into their own unique fruit. And everyone could enjoy that fruit, and be inspired by that fruit. We would have a society whose richness and diversity and harmony-through-diversity are inconceivable to us today. As Marx put it, “the free development of each would be the precondition for the free development of all.”

We cannot have this kind of society without a planned society.

4. The history of the socialist countries of the 20th century is complex, and it is incredibly unlikely that you have an accurate picture of it.

Super-rich capitalists run our society. They control the media, the education system, the think tanks, and basically all official and commonplace apparatuses for generating and spreading opinions. They have control over commonsense and “obvious” understandings. This is who taught you how the USSR was, and how the People’s Republic of China was.

I am a Maoist, I hold that the USSR thru the 50s and the PRC from 1951 thru 1978 were a genuinely new type of society, and that after those points they simply returned to capitalism.

I think if you examine those eras compared to what came before or after them, or really to any other point in history, you will find more meaningful freedom of decision than had ever existed, or has existed since.

6. Your opinion of how human beings work is flawed. We aren’t born with preferences that contradict each other. Class society generates two groups of people with irreconcilable interests: the capitalist class wants to stay pampered and powerful, while the working class wants liberation. Obviously there is a worry for the capitalist class if the majority got a vote. But who cares? Their pamperedness comes with the brutal oppression of billions.

In a classless society where all things are produced by democratic decision-making, but certain things (such as a guarantee to every individual of all the things they need to completely flourish) are non-negotiable, no decision where the minority “loses” can be meaningfully harmful for the losing faction. One faction might want to colonize Mars, the other might want to focus more on undersea research.

Boohoo for the faction that doesn’t get as much funding as it wants.

7. Your concept of “central planning” is without a doubt based on false ideas of how it operates.

In all future socialist countries, as it was in the PRC under Mao, a method will be employed that should be better understood as “democratic-centralist” planning.

The way this operated and would continue to operate is according to Mao’s principle of the mass line.

Some of the most important premises of the mass line are that
 
* “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.
 
“The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves [that is, the communist leadership] are often childish and ignorant.”
 
* “The masses have boundless creative power. They can organize themselves and concentrate on places and branches of work where they can give full play to their energy; they can concentrate on production in breadth and depth and create more and more undertakings for their own well-being.”
 
Working from this understanding, we see that the center undertaking the planning isn’t implementing *any* of its own ideas. It takes all of the ideas, demands, and needs from the masses themselves. If, say, all the products are too drab in a certain way, that is an expressed need, and the planning would solicit ideas about how that could be changed from the masses themselves, and the most popular and clever of those ideas would be bounced off of the rest of the population, and made sure that they benefit the broad masses and further the struggle for a free and democratic society–and if they do, those ideas will be implemented.
 
In this way, the “central” planning is the very opposite of how it’s usually imagined, of a center of a handful of self-styled geniuses at the top forcing their own ideas about what’s good for the masses onto the population. To the contrary, they are only implementers of the ideas of the masses themselves. In this way, what is produced will be even *more* responsive to the deepest needs of the people using these products and inhabiting this society than anything produced by a market.
 
Because capitalism, to the contrary, doesn’t care about meeting the entirety of the masses’ deepest needs–it cares about selling a lot of some product or small set of products, and if that means making them addictive, or expensive, etc., then all the better. In this way, capitalism produces far worse and more inhumane products than democratic-centralist planning does.
 
It’s really telling that so many who grow up in capitalism believe that all of our most meaningful choices are about which products to buy. In communism, the products just *work* and fade into the background, and all our important decisions to make are who we want to be in relation to other fully-actualized human beings and the non-human universe.

(my current best understanding of) Fascism, in a nutshell

UPDATE (2016 09 17 0418 CDT):

After a conversation with my comrades, I realized that the definition offered below is too broad. While I intend to update this post more thoroughly, for now I want to say that two aspects need further narrowing:

1. The ideology of fascism is not just right-wing–one that supports the law of value. The ideology of fascism is reactionary–it is actively opposed to the leftist elements in liberalism and actively seeks a return to an era of more open terror against oppressed-nations and gender-oppressed people.

2. It is not enough for there to be a nationalism that moderates and suppresses class struggle–what is distinct about fascism is the hyper-nationalism, which is not just pride and focus on the nation but a supremacism, an exceptionalism, to the point of including open and unapologetic justifications for expansionism and domination of other nations.

I.

There is a tendency among some Marxists to be picky about the definition of fascism—like, can we call it fascism if it’s not in an imperialist country?—but I don’t think this pickiness is useful. I think the whole point of trying to make an analysis of fascism as a distinct form of capitalism (and a movement that sometimes emerges within capitalism) is that it can give us predictive power. I think a globally applicable definition gives us that necessary predictive power, whereas reserving the term “fascism” for imperialist-country movements only needlessly requires us to come up with an additional term to refer to basically the same phenomenon in non-imperialist countries.

II.

What is fascism? I would define it as “a revolutionary right-wing movement consolidated around ideas of national supremacy.”

“Revolutionary,” here, means believing in proactive, extra-legal violence to attain state power, and open terror as a strategy once it has taken state power.

“Right-wing,” here, refers to wanting to preserve the existence of private property—i.e., capitalism.

And “nation,” here, is not strictly the Marxist definition put forward in works like “Marxism and the National Question.” Instead, the “nation” that is exalted by a fascist movement can be a more fictional nation.

For instance, the Trump movement’s fascism and the Bundyites’ fascism focus on the united states as a whole, and Erdogan’s fascism takes Turkey as a whole, as the nations to be exalted—but neither of these is actually a nation in the Marxist sense, and both are instead a “prisonhouse of nations.” Other, more traditional forms of fascism (e.g., Nazism and neo-Confederate white supremacy) do venerate things that more closely match the Marxist definition of “nation.”

III.

A discussion of fascism doesn’t offer any predictive power until it explains where fascism comes from. People with a fascist mindset don’t come from nowhere.

Fascism emerges like clockwork in times of crisis in capitalism. Fascism’s main social base is a “middle class” (the petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy) being squeezed out of existence by increasing wealth stratification between the working poor and the super-rich. Fascism and social democracy are created by the same social forces—”middle classes” trying to resolve the contradictions of capitalism without abolishing capitalism, with the fascists usually being led by a particularly reactionary wing of the capitalist class, and the social democrats by a fairly “progressive” section of the capitalist class.

The solution that both movements offer to this crisis is to perpetuate and cling to a mythology about bygone glory days of the nation when capitalism was fundamentally decent, and trying to end the current crisis by trying to restore the nation to that former glory.

By its nature, the so-called “middle class” exists in a state of ideological groundlessness and confusion. The “middle class” lacks the clarity about the workings of society that both the working class and the capitalist class have. The working class gains awareness of a class structure directly by being confronted day by day with capitalism’s heavy exploitation and oppression, whereas the capitalist class grasps the existence of class in order to perpetuate their rule.

The danger in this “middle-class” ideological groundlessness is that it gives the fascist movement a wildly inaccurate “class analysis,” so they inevitably find some scapegoat(s) other than capitalism. This lets them recruit from the working class as well, because workers, who inevitably grasp that there is a class structure but not necessarily its specific inner workings, may be able to believe that after the scapegoats are neutralized, businesspeople will be able to give them good-paying jobs, or the crisis will otherwise be resolved.

The fact that the middle class is being threatened both from below (by the threat of being outcompeted by people lower in class) and from above (because they can tell they are being screwed by at least some section of the “elites”) means that scapegoats are usually sought in both directions. These scapegoats can be a shady section of the capitalist class (such as Jewish people are alleged to be), or immigrants from economically weaker countries, or Catholics or Muslims, or some “impure” ethnic group that is “dirtying” or “destabilizing” the nation genetically and/or culturally. Leftists also get targeted, usually both for “causing trouble” (and thereby exacerbating the crisis) and for “enabling” and protecting the scapegoats.

Another way fascists use nationalism to recruit workers is to claim that the capitalist class are being jerks *currently* because some of them are degenerates being corrupted by the scapegoats (or *are* the scapegoats), but the capitalists who join the fascist movement are patriotic and will love you and be kind to you because you’re both part of the same nation, and that’s more important than the fact that you’re from different classes.

IV.

One final point to make is about fascism’s relationship with social democracy. Importantly, they both attract a significant segment of the oppressed and exploited of a society away from revolutionary politics back toward a worldview that can never liberate them. And by promoting a mystifying view of society and discouraging armed self-defense at the precise time when fascism is growing, social democracy objectively facilitates the success of fascism, because fascism never goes away of its own accord but has to be defeated with organized force.

This is why the leading anti-fascist orientation has to be a revolutionary leftist one—it is fine for the anti-fascist movement to be partially composed of social democrats *tactically* (contingently, short-term) as long as they agree with confronting and isolating fascists, but anti-fascism cannot accept social democrat leadership *strategically* (unconditionally, long-term), because that ultimately disarms the working class literally and ideologically when they most urgently need to be as armed as possible both theoretically and militarily.

Edit (2016 06 26 1834 CDT):

When I recently shared this on reddit, /u/skeeran commented adding some really thoughtful nuance to the question of fascism in imperialist countries vs. fascism in imperialist-dominated countries. Their two comments appear below. Their first was,

I’m not sure if you’re giving adequate consideration to the role of imperialism, though. Consider that the class basis for both fascism and social democracy is generated by imperialist capital. In addition to sharing a social base, both ideologies have proven to be pro-imperialism, and indeed accomplish their policies with large governments funded by imperialist loot.

And then their second, when I said that that was a very good and important point and asked whether they thought it was unfair to call Pinochet’s regime fascist, was,

I think that, shall we say, comprador fascism, as we might consider the political formations that were put in place in Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Ukraine, and even perhaps including such organizations as the Islamic State would have to be formulated differently from the imperialist fascisms that we observe in Italy, Germany and Japan. Another prototype to examine might be the “fascist” (in form, though not social basis) collaborator governments that Germany and Italy put in place in the territories they conquered. These could be compared with the fascist comprador governments that imperialism (primary US imperialism) put in place in the third-world in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fascism as it appears in imperialist countries, at the later stages of capitalist development, takes on an imperialist form, savagely attacking their neighbors and destroying foreign rival capital to essentially create a capital vacuum to fill. The policy of Liebensraum, while framed in terms of national destiny (much like the policy of “Manifest Destiny” in the USA), was ultimately a desire by monopoly capital to liquidate its rivals and expand into the gaps left behind. In the 20th century, this meant securing colonies and conquering access to resources. In the 21st century, economic warfare and financial control may be more important than military conquest (see China’s entry into Africa and US hegemony over Latin America).

Comprador fascism simply cannot follow these examples. They are not in a geoeconomic position to do so. Dominated nations led by comprador states must by necessity be weaker, without the worker’s benefits that were typical of European fascism. Generally, it seems that these states require outside interference in order to maintain stability at all. The combination of low state funding, high worker exploitation, and no economic space for the petite-bourgeoisie, would seem to prohibit a solid social basis for fascism from forming. That would seem to be why so many fascist leaders in oppressed countries and their political organizations (e.g. Papagos in Greece, Pinochet in Chile, Poroshenko in Ukraine, Suharto in Indonesia, Rhee in Korea, etc.) required assistance and support from an imperialist country to take power and legitimize themselves.

 

A few quick words against so-called gun control laws

We live in a society where the laws are not applied equally; white, wealthy, cis-het people get far less policing and lighter sentences than oppressed-nation, working-poor, queer, and/or trans people—despite comparable rates of illegal acts.

So-called gun control laws are no exception. Our inherently white-supremacist, patriarchal, anti-poor “justice” system applies them unequally in this same way.

Strengthening these laws would be like intensifying the War on Drugs—it would primarily hurt the already most oppressed.

“Gun control” is not the answer. More police up in oppressed people’s lives is not the answer.

The roots of this violence are patriarchy and white supremacy, which continue to exist because they are perpetuated by capitalism. So solutions that are proposed by capitalism—such as changes to the laws, or campaigns led by nonprofits funded by capitalist money—will not solve it.

The independent, organized, self-reliant power of the oppressed is the answer—power that will make reactionary scum afraid to attack for fear of retaliation. Anything else is an illusion that serves the same group that benefits from all oppressive violence.

A few quick thoughts on the shape of things to come on the planet

I find myself imagining a world where the oceans are acidic and “a writhing mass of unkillable tentacles” and the largest mammals in the forests and prairies are rodents, where humanity is compressed into a thawed tundra in the far north while Nebraska and Italy are as dry as the Sahara is now–but where humanity as a whole has embraced Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and exists in a fundamentally new way, everyone knowing that everyone else truly believes and wants to act on the idea that “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Everyone knowing that everyone knows of the utter necessity of profound equality, everyone on the planet vigilantly seeking out and flattening any kind of unaccountable power that emerges, knowing that we are all at risk if any of us become dominated.

I look at what is going on nowadays and it reminds me of the Great Oxygenation Event, which was “probably the first major extinction event,” where the emergence of lifeforms of a new type, oxygen-producing lifeforms, disrupted all ecosystems on the planet by flooding the atmosphere with oxygen, which was poisonous to most life at the time.

It makes me sad to think of so many different forms of life dying, of so many entire ecosystems dying. But I also think of those human beings, in a world filled with squirrels, who truly live without fear of each other. And I don’t expect or want them to be miserable or embarrassed forever. I want them to be glad and flourish, in a way almost no one has flourished for thousands of years. And I think they will, if we make it.

On dialectical materialism, damnation, and how crucial it is to have an overview of all 15,000 years of human history

I am so grateful I learned about dialectical materialism. It may sound bizarre but it is a great theoretical complement to my struggle to be kind wherever I can. And it makes it a lot easier to be kind to *know* that everyone and everything will be transformed. People can and do put up cold walls between each other, people can and do say wretched things to each other. It’s easy for me to get tricked by my mood, by my fear in the moment. But I know that ceaseless change is true. I know that work adds up and adds up and causes sudden shifts and jumps in improvement. Dialectical materialism gives me a steadiness it seems like Jesus gives to some other people. I know the masses are coming. I know they are infinitely creative. For me the closest thing I can think of to damnation is to be alive on this earth and doubt the masses. We do live in a very dark place and time, but to think that there is nothing on this earth, no force that will bring us out, that the exit is closed–how wretched. I can see how that could make some people so angry, at themselves, at everyone. People underestimate philosophy, but the idea of human nature that gets preached… that we are all greedy, zombies just waiting for someone they can get away with eating alive–what a perfect weapon for the ruling class to use against us. To make us afraid of each other and doubt each other. My faith in the masses has only been strengthened since I started Serving the People. But something made me believe in trying to carry out the mass line in the first place, before I was ever in a position to try. Maybe it was reading “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”–to hear how over thousands of years, again and again, with nothing, the peasants in all societies rose up to try to destroy their oppressors. Long before there was any chance of building a different society, human beings relentlessly rose up against the people who held them down and lived on their pain. That is human nature–that the oppressed struggle, that we wait, that we plan, that we won’t take it. We will never take it. There is no promise that we will reach communism, but as long as we live we will try. There is just no question about it.

An attempt at an accessible, jargon-free explanation of how capitalism returned in the socialist countries of the 20th century

Something I just wrote up for a learning comrade to explain the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist understanding of how and why socialist countries slip back into capitalism. I think it is very accessible and avoids as much jargon as humanly possible. This is what we say happened to the USSR by the ’50s and the PRC in 1978. I welcome criticism (mostly from fellow MLMs. MLs with whom I have standing debates: I will get back to you eventually).

so Mao made many breaks with previous communist leaders. he declared that the Chinese communist movement had learned a lot from the Soviet experience, which was doing its best as the very first attempt at creating a socialist country, but at the same time saying that it was obvious in hindsight that they had also made major mistakes that did not get corrected–not just mistakes of judgment in one-off situations, but also that they were working from a theory that was incorrect in places.

Mao said that Stalin’s contributions were 70% correct, 30% incorrect. virtually everything that Mao disagreed with Stalin on had to do with the role of the masses in a socialist country. Stalin declared that once the proletariat had taken over, the only capitalists remaining were the leftover ones, or people who still had unreformed capitalist sympathies from the old society.

Mao disagreed. watching Stalin be replaced by Khrushchev, who very much betrayed the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, Mao asked himself where Khrushchev and all those who supported him had come from. Khrushchev had never been a capitalist or anything like it, and had been a communist for a long time. Mao broke fundamentally with Stalin’s idea, declaring that in fact new capitalist-minded people were being created all the time under socialism. and not only that, but capitalist-minded people are power-seeking people, so wherever they emerge in society, they will try to climb the ranks into the governing communist party, and implement as much of their capitalist ideology as possible. MLMs believe this understanding is completely correct. like Mao, we say that socialism is a transitional period, neither fully capitalist nor fully communist, and the heart of which direction it is headed in depends on who controls the party–is it the people and their genuine representatives? or is it capitalist-minded people who have climbed the ranks and seized power?

but this leaves the question of where the capitalist-minded people come from. well, where do they come from in our society? the babies of capitalists and workers do not spring into the world with pre-formed capitalist or proletarian inclinations. instead, they develop these through very specific life experiences that shape what they believe in, what they are passionate about, what they have struggled with, how much they have been given, and so on.

so the nature of socialism is that it is a transitional period, and the completion of this transition is not something that can happen overnight. in fact, it will be impossible for this transition to be complete until the whole world has had communist revolutions where parties that are genuine representatives of the proletariat have seized power. until then, there are certain compromises, you might call them, that are necessary to cope with the fact that economically powerful and heavily armed countries that are the enemies of socialism (such as the united states) still exist. another compromise that has to be made is the fact that you cannot build a socialist economy overnight–you have to transform the preexisting capitalist economy into a socialist one, which means you have to keep certain capitalist-type operations running in order to keep things stable and producing during this economic transformation.

the essence of these compromises is that they represent unequal relationships between people. there must be a hierarchy in the military–but there is always the temptation for those at the top of the military to prioritize the increasing of military power as much as possible over the goal of maintaining genuine democratic people power in the country. inevitably, some people in the military leadership will start to think more and more about raw military power, and will prioritize less and less the democratic control of the people. how can they make the military strong? more missiles! more tanks! more jets! but someone has to make those things. and every hour a worker spends in the factory is an hour that they do not get to spend investigating their society, or studying, or debating politics, or talking with their representatives.

thus, there is a direct conflict of interest between how much the country produces (in the short term, at least–not in the long term), and how much it makes sure the population is well-informed, and independent-minded, and able to investigate things to draw their own conclusions.

so it is not *inevitable* that all people in leadership positions will put “production in command” instead of “(genuine democratic) politics in command.” but what is inevitable is that *some* leaders will. really this is the essence of the conflict between capitalism and communism. capitalism says “produce as much as possible, who cares what good it does!” and communism says “let’s produce what we need, for those who need it, in a way that is maximally beneficial to the whole society and for a better and better future–and let’s do this by making sure the least advantaged are empowered *first*, and then once we have achieved equality, maintaining it firmly.”

this happens at every level. a manager in a factory has more of an interest in the workers they are managing to produce more, because the manager has a greater responsibility to look after the well-being of the entire country, and what’s more, of course, high productivity reflects well on the manager. but the workers, of course, want to work no more than is necessary. this again does not mean that there will not be good managers–there will be lots of good managers. but as long as this unequal relationship continues, *some* managers will continue to get more and more production-minded instead of communist-minded.

these are the people, whether they come from positions of leadership in factories, or the military, or universities, or even in the party itself, who slip beyond the pale and lose sight of the point of communism to begin with. these are the people who will aggregate in the party. if nothing is done, soon the party will fill with them, and they will in turn use their positions of power in the party to change policy, sharpening those hierarchical relationships. they will make workers work longer and longer hours, and increase the pay of managers more and more, and make military leaders less and less accountable to the soldiers they command, and give university administrators more and more power over students. and thus there is a feedback cycle, where before long, capitalist-minded, production-first thinking has taken an iron hold on the entire government. and we say that at that point, it is once again a capitalist government, regardless of what it calls itself.

the answer to this problem is proletarian cultural revolution, which you can read more about here: http://www.mlmrsg.com/attachments/article/72/CRpaper-Final.pdf