Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why I'm a Socialist

In reading a lot of the nonsense by right wingers the past few years, I feel it is necessary to point out several of the major flaws in their thinking and to likewise state what I believe in and what I assume many others actually believe in. 

I refer to myself as either a democratic socialist or a libertarian socialist. 

By these terms I mean that I believe quite profoundly in the intimate connection between liberalism and socialism.  I tend to see that socialism is the logical development on liberal/libertarian ideological principles. 

There is a great deal of talk by the right wing about the principles of libertarianism, limited government, and individual liberty.  There is often the claim that these principles are what this country was founded on and that they are the true form of liberalism.  I say let’s go back to the writings of the father of liberalism, John Locke, and really examine what he was talking about.

When one does this, one can see that there are at least two major flaws in the ideology of right wing libertarianism. 

The first of these is a flaw of Locke’s thinking in general, in that his notion that society and government are formed by the free association of individual property owners.  This is incorrect for two reasons. 

The first is that given contemporary historical and anthropological understandings of human development, there is no instance that I’m aware of where individuals actually existed purely as individuals absent of any form of societal context.  

The second is that likewise given our contemporary anthropological understanding of human development, we know that the idea of private property is actually a relatively new concept in human history and originates with the development ‘the State’.  Thus exclusive private property does not exist naturally, but instead requires the coercive power of the State to recognize and enforce the claim by an individual to property.  In this sense the Lockean understanding, and thus the right wing understanding, of human development isn’t factually correct.

The second of these major flaws on the part of the right is the radical misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the profundity of the Lockean notion of ownership.  In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke describes ownership as deriving from human labor.  In this sense, when someone works something the product of that labor becomes an extension of their-self; thus they own it. 

Locke talked originally about this in regards to basic subsistence functions like hunting, gathering, and farming.  The idea being that in hunting, the labor involved gave you the legitimate claim to ownership of the dead animal; in gathering, labor gives you legitimate claim to ownership of the berries; and that in farming, working the fields gives you legitimate claim to the products of the harvest. 

While right wing libertarians tend to accept this principle in its basic form, they tend to lose it when it is extrapolated to the modern context.  They accept the principle that individual labor means individual ownership, but they fail to see that labor by more than one person must logically produce collective ownership by those persons.  The failure to recognize collective ownership when there is collective labor is a fundamental failure to recognize the profundity of liberal/libertarian principles and is perhaps a base rejection of those principles.

It is for those reasons why I tend to understand contemporary right wing libertarians as being half genius and half moron.  They are great on understanding the individual liberty components of liberal/libertarian thought, but terrible when there is the complexity of more than one person in society.

In returning to my original objective of describing why I’m a socialist, in following these principles of Lockean Liberalism as it relates to labor and ownership, I do not see many instances where there is only individual labor in society.  There are myriad examples of individual ownership, but most of these derive from collective labor. 

For example, many people might work at a company, but only a small number of people actually own it.  And in instances where there is the trading of stocks, the people who ‘own’ the company and make money off of its products don’t even work there. 

I tend to see that our entire wage based economy where a person ‘sells’ their labor to an employer is fundamentally unjust given this Lockean understanding of the connection between labor and ownership. 

Thomas Jefferson, as a true liberal, correctly referred to this unjust manner of economic organization as “wage slavery”.  When a person does not own what they produce, that constitutes theft, and they are thus not free! 

It is for that reason that I embrace (at least in the short term) unionization, so that workers can receive more remuneration for their labor.  But it is also why, in the long term, I know that we have to move to an economic system based on a combination of cooperative worker owned and operated enterprises as well as some government involvement in the areas that affect all citizens.

This lack of an understanding of the relationship between the individual and society, on the part of right wingers, extends into all areas of society but particularly into how they view and understand government, how they understand corporations, as well as the connection between the individual and community in society. 

In regards to government, they tend to see a concentration of power in the hands of government officials that are unaccountable to the people as being a possible threat to liberty. 

Broadly speaking, I do tend to agree with that view.  However, only having that type of an understanding of government is very limited and very problematic given our contemporary situation.

That way of thinking about government sees it in the sense of a monarchy or some other authoritarian rule as being an arbitrary and unjustly coercive influence.  That manner of thinking though is not consistent with a society that is based on the principles of a democratic republic. 

My point is that when your type of government changes, your thinking about government must also change. 

It is very problematic to use the same objection to government that one uses against a tyrant to object to a democratic republican government trying to fulfill the obligations of its social contract (in the case of the United States, this would be the U.S. Constitution), but yet that is exactly what so many right wingers do! 

It is correct to object to an authoritarian but potentially wrong to object to the decisions made democratically by the government on the same grounds.  It is for that reason that right wingers talk about how they want to reduce government or outright end government. 

I tend to see such views as being not only radically antidemocratic but also unjust, selfish, and in some cases, sociopathic when they exist in the context of a democracy or a democratic republic. 

As a libertarian socialist and a democratic socialist, I do not want to end government, rather I want to make the government work for the people and be accountable to the people. 

That is what is important.  If a government becomes authoritarian then it is the right of a people to overthrow it. 

Government, in itself, is not an arbitrary influence on society but is in fact a very natural component of all human societies.  Wherever more than one person exists in a community there is government. 

Government is only the creation of the people to serve as the guiding or steering influence in society.  That is in fact what “to govern” actually means in the original Greek; to steer.  Thus all legitimate government must be accountable to the citizens, and it must work in the interests of all citizens.  In a democratic republican society, government is only what the people make it, for better or worse.

While right wingers decry (real and imagined) governmental tyranny, they also fail to recognize any other possible form of tyranny.  Libertarians (of the left and right) oppose the concentration of power because the concentration of coercive authority is a fundamental threat to liberty. 

As I said before, this is true of government when it becomes too centralized and unaccountable to the people.  However, what right wingers often times fail to recognize is the tyranny of our current socioeconomic system. 

As I touched on earlier, our economic system dominated by large corporations using a system of wage slavery is incredibly tyrannical. 

Corporations are private tyrannies. 

Just because something is private sector tyranny doesn’t make it any less tyrannical than that of the public sector.  Corporations, as organizations, are centralized, hierarchical, and undemocratic entities. 

All of them are. 

It’s not a matter of good corporations versus bad corporations; they are all unjust simply by their organizational model (to say nothing of their business practices).  In fact, the governmentally supported monopoly of the British East India Company (a corporation) was one of the main reasons for the original Boston Tea Party. 

Many of the founders recognized the threat of corporations, and Thomas Jefferson even tried to amend the Constitution to have protections from corporations and monopolies included in the Bill of Rights. 

What we need to do is eradicate all concentrations of coercive authority in society. 

Coercive authority, where it exists in the public and private sectors, must be broken up and made accountable to the people.  The transition to a community-based cooperative economic model, as I mentioned before, will resolve this issue in the private sector.

Lastly, I want to talk more broadly about the general relationship between the individual and the community. 

Right wing people usually try to phrase this as though the individual and the community are inherently antagonistic to each other, and that in order to maintain individual liberty, individualism must triumph over communalism. 

However, when we examine actual human history and the anthropological development of human societies, we see that humans have never actually existed as individuals outside of a community context.  Thus, this discussion needs to not be one of the individual against the community, but understanding how individuals exist in community and how we can make more just and open communities that both function as communities and respect individual differences. 

Also, we need to seek to develop humans in these communities on the levels of both the community and the individual as holistic beings.  We cannot separate the myriad aspects of society (economic issues, social issues, religious/spiritual issues, etc) and the myriad people in society. 

This connection between the individual and community is seen by the founders of some of our religious traditions.  For instance, Christians believe in the idea of the collective Body of Christ, which symbolically represents the worldwide Christian community.  Likewise, Muslims tend to believe in the idea of the Ummah as the worldwide community of Muslims. 

Believing in individualism as antagonistic to communalism runs contrary to our world religions and is a very selfish and dangerous ideological position and is very damaging to human society. 

We have to have a society that is mutually supportive and promotes the full development of human potential for all persons.

So, why am I a democratic and libertarian socialist? 

I am because I recognize that freedom and democracy go hand in hand.  I am because I know that collective labor necessitates collective ownership.  I am because I know that all forms of tyranny need to be abolished, not simply the ones in the public sector. 

I am because I know that ‘the State’ (the centralized coercive authority that supports the interests of the upper classes), not the government (as the guiding organization in a society), is the problem. 

I am because I know that in order for democracy to survive and to thrive, and in order for people to be truly free, all aspects of society must be fully democratized. 

I am because I know that humans have always existed in community and that we must continue to do so.  I am because I know that an individualist society is an inherently anti-human society.  I am because I abhor greed, racism, sexism, and classism in all of their forms; and because I abhor the commodification of life and of society. 

I am a socialist because I’m an actual liberal. 

And finally, I am a socialist because I actually believe in freedom in all of its forms.


  1. This is a great piece. Great job we need more people to read this. Most conservatives don't understand these concepts and its scary.

  2. we need to reeducate our base. this is a good start.

  3. Please.

    Try and sell this blabble to the American Public (republican AND democrat) and see how far you get.

    Nobody buys into this. If they did, and actually thought it was a good thing, they wouldn't be so scared to call themselves a "socialist".

    And socialist don't believe in economic freedom, so you don't believe in "all forms of freedom".

    And government doesn't care about anybody but themselves (they are the upper class you fear)....so that's out the window as well. You think Nancy Pelosi is going on Obamacare?? HA. She's already filed for waivers.

    Again, the problem with socialist thinking is that you,

    A. You need the "rich and the wealthy" to pay for your programs. (although you claim a world without them is "better...rubbish). The old Thatcher line comes to mind...Eventually, you'll run outta other peoples money.
    B. You can't sustain socialism. Especially in a country like the USA where people want more outta life than just "average".

    I don't want average. I don't want the "status quo". I don't care what you or the left is selling.

  4. And you're totally wrong about the constitution. It was to protect the people from GOVERNMENT...not themselves or the free market. (show me in the constitution where it says anything about corporations)

    And when it comes to corporations (again, those who pay for your liberal and socialist programs) anyone can start one. Anyone can get "rich" or be successful. So without them...you have neither the money nor the drive to be anything but average.

  5. Always Right,

    I think you missed the whole point of the piece. The point is that the capitalist economic system is based on the exploitation of the working classes. Remember what Marx said in the Communist Manifesto: "Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation". Everyday the rich steal from the workers by usurping the products of their labor. This happens everyday!! So this whole nonsense about 'running out of other people's money' or that we in anyway what to take people's money is absurd! What we want is for the rich to stop stealing from the workers and enslaving them. Right wingers like you seem to believe that it is wrong for someone to want back what you have stolen from them. It isn't stealing from the wealthy because it isn't legitimately their money in the first place. And no socialists don't want people to be poor or "average" (as you put it). You can be what you want to be, you just can't exploit anyone in the process. It's called human decency.


  6. I absolutely agree 100% . AR, you are totally missing the point of this piece...and socialism in general.

    The real producers aren't the corporations; they are The People. Corporations exploit The People. Socialists just want a more equal society...hell...a totally equal society where everyone has the same opportunities and not have those same opportunities stolen by the bourgeoisie.

    If we could achieve a more progressive nature in our legislature, the entire nation would benefit...the poor wouldn't be poor, the middle class could take more days off, the rich...well...they would be even richer.

    That's what happens when you have an economy that's 70% consumer spending driven.

  7. Conservatives seem to forget that point, PfP SWR. Facts are an elusive lot for them. They don't want to hear about bubble up econ because they are still being brainwashed from reaganites even though reaganomics has proven fatal to many a campaign and our country. they dont want to hear common sense like putting more money into peoples pockets would lead to more jobs bc of increased productivity. thats too much sense making for them to handle

  8. What you all seem to forget is that no matter what...someone is going to get exploited.

    Whether it's the working man that isn't earning as much as the company owner...or the fact that you want to over tax the rich to pay for those that don't deserve it.

    You need to get over this "utopia" that you all think exists.

    And the only way the economy recovers. LONG TERM, is by allowing the private sector to thrive.

    And PFP, what is "progressive" about returning to the "pack" mentality?? If anything, you want to go back to the tribal days. This isn't progressive. You see, progressives are really "progressive" the only way people are progressive is through innovation and advancement. Nobody advances or achieves greatness in a socialist society. And if the rich should pay back the workers for what they've "stolen" from them(hilarious), then should our government pay back to me what they've "stolen" from me?? Talk about exploitation! The government is the BIGGEST CORPORATION THERE IS.

    And again, someone please answer this...Without the rich, where do you get your money to pay for all of your programs???? Who hires people (because without the rich, the government is useless and defunded)??

    Please. Enlighten this "brainwashed" person.

  9. so i suppose you would rather exploit the proletariat than the corporations. i guess somebody has to suffer right. the poor are used to is. and if you ever read any political philosophy you would know that returning to the pack mentality is not the opposite of progressive. i suggest you read hobbes' leviathan thank you. and pretending know one can be great in a socialist society? keep pretending to fool yourself. there is no basis for this claim. and in answer to your question with more fair wages that is where the money would come from. the money is there and would still be there. money just doesnt disappear because the people get it. if anything it goes back into the economy. if anything maybe if they paid a fair wage they would get lower taxes.

  10. Always Right,

    You see to have very odd and, frankly, disturbing ideas about humans. This idea that exploitation is inevitable is quite barbarous. Also, nobody said anything about destroying the private sector. Cooperatives are private sector entities. They should be the basis for our economy. No one is against the private sector thriving; it just has to do so in a just and equitable manner. I would suggest that you do some research on Mondragon in Spain for what we are talking about with cooperative enterprises. I would also suggest that you do some research on the functioning social democratic societies in the world.

    Like what John K said, the money doesn't disappear; so I don't understand your emotive question on where the money comes from. Also, the idea that the wealthy are 'job creators' is absurd. All jobs are created by demand, which is a bottom up process.


  11. Common decency is a hard thing to come by these days because of the cutthroat society we live in bred by corporations. eliminate them eliminate the problem. We need coops!