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Responding to Jordan Peterson on Socialism

I’ve just been watching You Tube videos featuring Canadian right-wing public intellectual Jordan Peterson making a litany of claims against Marxism: basically to the effect that Marxism is ‘essentially and inevitably totalitarian’. I intend to criticise this viewpoint at length.

But bear with me a moment while I summarise some of his arguments.

Peterson claims Marxism is politically irredeemable in any sense. Numerous examples of Stalinism are provided to illustrate the arguments ; and to suggest an ‘essential causal link’ between Marxism and the Stalinist dystopias of the 20th Century.

Peterson makes the usual claims that Marxism leads to mediocrity and failure because it fails to reward excellence and initiative. That it fails to accommodate the functionality of inequality in that sense of providing incentive and reward for effort and innovation. And furthermore, Peterson argues that Marxism is a basically destructive ideology founded on envy ; and is ‘fundamentally authoritarian’ and antagonistic towards liberty. In response to Marxist critics of Stalinism, Peterson dismissively claims that their position can be written off as suggesting ‘the utopia would have been ushered in if only they had been the dictators’. Peterson links Marxism with atrocities having claimed millions of lives over the course of the 20th Century.

From his perspective he finds it hard to grasp how some people are still claiming ‘that was not real communism’ ; and that ‘real communism deserves to be tried’.

In response, you could just as easily argue that the First World War was waged between capitalist nations ; inspired by Imperialist rivalries ; and resulted in the deaths of tens of millions. Do we conclude therefore that is the only kind of capitalism possible? That is: a capitalism characterised by imperialism, aggressive nationalism and world war?

Many Marxists have made just that conclusion. Though by contrast Karl Kautsky suggested the possibility of an ‘ultra-imperialism’ whereby the Great Powers carved the world up between themselves in a relatively peaceful fashion.

Yes, there is a common, historical and functional link between capitalist imperialism and war. The drive for economic growth and political power provides a motivation to try and secure external markets in the context of Great Power rivalry. And to exploit the resources of ‘colonised’ and ‘Third World’ countries. But ideologies around competitive individualism, market economies and so on are not essentially linked with war. Do we not distinguish between pacifist liberals and imperialist hawks under capitalism?  Nor should socialist ideologies be ‘essentially linked’ with oppression as if only one kind of outcome is possible.

On the other hand, those ideologies (of market based competition) are often appealed to in a misleading way. Socialists can also accommodate a place for competition and markets. For some socialists the real challenge is in working out ‘the best mix’. And that could involve a balance of competition, planning and economic democracy. (For instance imaginably in a context of producer’s and consumer’s co-operatives ; with peoples’ democratic organisation as producers and consumers providing checks and balances against each other).

Some markets deliver the goods in terms of innovation and responsiveness to consumer need. In other instances co-operation and civic responsibility deserve to be considered as options and as motivations. ‘Natural public monopolies’ can pass on superior cost structures to the broader economy ; assisting not only consumers – but even capitalist enterprises. There is no ‘one way’ in which to organise economies. The ‘essence’ of capitalism is neither markets nor competition (which existed before capitalism) : but rather capital as a form of property ; a social relationship and a process of accumulation ; a process through which the surplus value created by workers is appropriated ; with startling divisions resulting in both wealth and power. Divisions which are becoming more and more marked ; and with economic insecurity a means of disciplining the working class into submission.

Marx’s critique of capitalism focused on the intense human alienation which arose in the age of industrialisation. Extremes not only of inequality: but the brutality involved in long working hours, subsistence wages, inhuman and sometimes dangerous working conditions. And further: the distributive injustice arising from the expropriation of surplus value: that workers were not fully compensated for the value which they created through their labours. The division of labour under capitalism was dehumanising in that there was little opportunity for rewarding creative labour. Labour was commonly ‘broken into small, repetitive parts’ in a way which ruled out creative control or fulfilment. For many workers this is still the reality. As opposed to oppression, Marxism actually aimed to extend “personal freedom”, not of isolated individuals but through mutual “association” providing “the means of cultivating [our] gifts in all directions” (Marx and Engels Selected Works, Vol. I, pp 27-28, 68).

We cannot go into some comprehensive rendition of ‘key Marxist concepts’ here ; but in short Marxism is a plural tradition spanning the best part of two centuries. Its prestige has declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Triumphalist proclamations of its collapse and irrelevance have had a telling effect through sheer repetition and attrition ; amidst hostility in the monopoly mass media. In fact the world is always changing ; and ‘classical Marxism’ on its own is not enough to grasp every aspect of such a constantly changing world. That said ; Marx still grasps the fundamentals of capitalist accumulation and exploitation ; the problems of monopolisation and class bifurcation ; and the dilemmas where exchange value is emphasised sometimes to the exclusion of use value. (For example ; great swathes of unoccupied properties amidst widespread homelessness). He also recognised as early as the ‘Manifesto’ of 1848 that constant change (and hence insecurity) were ‘the essence of capitalism’ ; though Social Democracy has strived to ameliorate this through the welfare state, social wage and so on.

Marx provides a foundation upon which further theoretical innovation can progress – often in different directions. Every word ‘should not be taken as holy writ’. Sometimes even fundamental and iconic ideas deserve to be revised.  But aside from the horrors of totalitarian misappropriation there are other traditions : traditions of the Democratic Left. For instance ; of the Revolutionary Social Democracy which preceded the ‘Social Democratic/Communist Split’ of 1914.  And which survived on the Left of Social Democracy. The great plurality of modern Marxism – and of newer traditions – such as ‘Post-Marxism’ (eg: Mouffe and Laclau), and the Critical Theory developed by the likes of Jurgen Habermas – also demonstrate a productive engagement with liberalism.

Peterson concedes that much Marxist analysis withstands criticism and maintains its appeal ; but argues that it can only have one outcome when applied in practice. That is: totalitarian oppression and suppression of individual dignity and liberty. These kind of claims are fundamentally ahistorical. They look not to the specific historic conditions which saw Marxism twisted into an ‘official Ideology’ of authoritarian, and even totalitarian states. Rather they generalise that given such degeneration became widespread over the 20th Century that it is the only possible outcome.

But let’s remember also that the original (Marxist) social democrats were among the first to promote the fight for full, equal and universal suffrage at a time when the idea was unthinkable for most Conservatives and even most Liberals. And that Bolshevist pressure contributed to the conditions whereby liberal and parliamentary democracy was widely adopted in Europe following World War One. Let’s also remember Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Leninism ; and the critiques of Bolshevism from figures such as the German-based Marxist – and most prominent theorist of ‘Marxist Centrism and Orthodoxy’ ; Karl Kautsky , as well as the Left-Social Democratic Menshevik leader, Julius Martov. In short: right from the beginning there was resistance to Bolshevist strategies from the revolutionary social democratic and libertarian communist Left. Right from the beginning there was resistance from within Marxism – on the basis that suppression of democracy and liberties ; and the progressive narrowing of decision making to an ever narrowing stratum of Party leaders – counter-acted the corrective forces of participatory democracy. And that the narrowing foundation for real power could very well corrupt the Revolution over the longer term. (As it did).

Further ; accelerating and entrenched Terror abrogated the Marxist principles of fighting human alienation and defending human dignity. Yes, Marx understood Terror could be inevitable in certain revolutionary contexts ; but those strategies also held certain dangers ; and pervasive Stalinist Terror became permanent and indiscriminate.

Bolshevist centralisation and Terror held the same danger of facilitating effective counter-revolution: as occurred also with the Terror in Revolutionary France ; and the transition from ‘the Republic’ to ‘The Empire’ of Napoleon. Stalinism is understood by some as exactly that: counter-revolution. Some ‘orthodox’ Marxists (including Martov and Kautsky) also viewed radical Bolshevist voluntarism regarding the establishment of socialism without the foundation of prior capitalist economic development – as involving dangerous potential risks and ramifications. Most importantly: that while the Bolshevists engaged in a ‘bold gambit’ of pursuing revolution and withdrawing Russia from the War ; that the ultimate degeneration of the revolution (under enormous pressure from isolation and foreign intervention and destabilisation) could see socialism discredited in the eyes of many for generations.

On the other hand: while these flaws in Bolshevist strategy can be appreciated, assumptions of ‘inevitable, irresistible and gradual progress towards democratic socialism’ were also flawed. For example, while the Austrian Revolution of 1918 did not replicate Bolshevist strategies, the failure of the Austrian Social Democrats to fully and permanently consolidate their control of the state apparatus of force when the opportunity provided actually left the way open for the undermining of democracy in Austria from within – and the eventual rise of a domestic ‘Austro-Fascism’ over the longer term.

The fact is that a more liberal capitalism is possible ; but so is a more liberal socialism. Also let’s remember the ambitions of (pre-Leninist) Marxism – for whom the aim was economic development with the aim of promoting cultural growth, development and freedom. The drift of socialism into more authoritarianism and repression that occurred under Lenin – and radically accelerated and deepened under Stalin – also need to be understood in context.

Again: Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power amidst World War. The Entente responded to the loss of their former Russian ally by promoting destabilisation and supporting the White Armies. Desperation accelerated: became a matter of life and death – as heating materials, food supply and so on – were threatened in the context of civil war. And so Bolsheviks such as Trotsky were led to embrace war, militarisation of labour, political repression – to prevent the collapse of the communist government – and broader social and economic disaster. Everything became justifiable because it was done in the name of the (nominally) proletarian state. But that very state became more and more divorced from any real accountability to the Soviet People in practice. Again: Democratic and libertarian communists such as Luxemburg, Kautsky, Martov (who were also significantly different from one another in important respects) did see that justifying everything and anything for the sake of the ‘end cause’ was a dangerous path which could lead to the discrediting of socialism for generations.

But still: why is it that the Right can judge Marxism as a whole (and in an undifferentiated way) so harshly – but has so little so say about Western Intervention in the Civil War, and the World War that led to Russian social collapse, the deaths of tens of millions;  the desperate struggles for survival under Lenin ; and ultimately that setting the preconditions for the degeneration under Stalin? Why is it there is so little historic memory of anti-Communist Cold War atrocities? (Chile, Guatemala, half a million murdered in Indonesia ; the social and psychological trauma of McCarthyist paranoia and repression)  Why the double standards and selective historic memory? If you want some idea of what socialism and Marxism COULD have been – better to look to the examples of Red Vienna under the Austrian Social Democrats during the interwar period. Look to the mass movements in Austria which promoted working class cultural growth, democratic freedoms, and the provision of social goods and services – especially in Vienna itself. As well as effective conditions of ‘dual power’ with the maintenance of the republican ‘Schutzbund’ ; a working class militia with the aim of providing an ‘insurance policy’ for the preservation of  Austrian democracy.

There was a ‘middle way’ between Marxism-Leninism, and the ultimate degeneration under Stalin that followed on the one hand – and ‘the social democratic Chauvinists’ on the Right who rationalised support for a World War (WWI) in which tens of millions were slaughtered, disfigured and traumatised. Let’s again restate how democracy was trailblazed in Revolutionary France – and the stated principles of the French Revolution inspire still. But also let’s remember they faced comparable dilemmas re: revolutionary Terror in the face of destabilisation, war and invasion, starvation and so on. And the Terror eventually devoured its own; and led to a kind of counter-revolution – much as in Russia.  But we do not therefore abandon democracy on account of the fate of the French Revolution, do we? The French Revolution led to Bonapartism and Empire – But democrats never concluded that that was the only possibility arising from democratic and liberal revolution. Which is what Conservatives like Peterson effectively argue about socialism, and especially Marxism. Soviet and Eastern Bloc Socialism degenerated under very specific historic circumstances. But that was not the only socialism possible ; nor was it the only Marxism possible.

So a different kind of socialism and indeed a different kind of Marxism is possible.

Capitalism is not ‘essentially’ about freedom either – especially for the most exploited. And in reality wealth polarisation suppresses opportunity rather than promoting it ; and effectively narrows the cultural, social and economic support base upon which real power rests. The capitalist Ideology often bears little resemblance to the reality. Just like Stalinism bore little resemblance to the original communist ideology. But a ‘good and decent Marxism’ today will also engage with liberalism. Hence the pluralism of Agonists and post-Marxists like Chantal Mouffe on one hand ; or liberal social democrats like Habermas on the other. They are radically different from one another in many respects. One (Habermasian critical theory) believes that through Reason and the application of Enlightenment principles Modernity can resolve its shortcomings with the growth of rational consensus through dialogue. The other (Agonism) sees difference of values as perhaps perpetually inevitable ; but asks how this can be accommodated via a genuine and deep liberal pluralism. But both defer in a sense at least to liberalism.

As for the final word on ‘Communism’ ; most of us have forgotten what communism really meant. It did not originally equate with permanent Terror, Cult of Personality and so on – nor should it do so today. It’s not about an ‘essential human nature’ provided for under capitalism and suppressed under communism. The ‘fate of Communism’ revolved around ethically treacherous tactical and strategic decision-making amidst some of the worst possible historic circumstances ; which saw the Marxist (formerly Social Democratic) movements diverted in many instances for decades – into the historical dead end of Stalinism. But the (Marxist) Left Social Democrats stand out still by the examples they gave and stood for as well.

Stalinism emerges from the desperation and degeneration which occurs under conditions of permanent Terror – which in of themselves arose under extraordinary historic conditions of social and economic disintegration. It also arose in the context of war, civil war, foreign intervention, the threat of starvation – and the furious response of the Entente Powers who could not forgive Lenin for withdrawing from World War One. Without World War One – and without Western intervention – there may have been no Stalinism. Without those treacherous dilemmas and desperate historic circumstances – maybe there really could even have been a (relatively) ‘peaceful march forward for socialism and democracy’. But history rarely progresses just as we would like.

Of course the ‘Marxist Centrist’, Kautsky is not without fault either ; arguing for abstention on the issue of war credits in 1914 rather than outright opposition. But by 1915 most Marxist social democrats (including Kautksy) were agitating relentlessly for a separate peace. Lenin drew a certain prestige from never compromising or conceding in the face of a War which claimed tens of millions of lives. What he was not open or honest about was the fact he could not deliver the peace which working people wanted ; because under the specific circumstances Civil War was inevitable. Lenin wanted a world revolution which ended war, repression, exploitation and capitalism permanently. What we eventually got under Stalin was a regime whose cynicism and brutality discredited Marxism in the eyes of millions for generations. Martov and Kautsky clearly understood this.

And for working people the Horror of War is similar whether in the name of Imperial Russia or the (nominally) Proletarian State. (Trotsky argued the Proletarian State made all the difference ; But after decades through which workers suffered War, Forced Industrialisation, Labour  militarisation and so on – the ‘end goals’ must have seemed like a mirage). In any case though, we should concede that Horrors and brutality have occurred under both capitalist and (nominally) communist regimes. It’s historic contingency more so than ‘human nature’ which saw the degeneration of those nominally communist regimes.

A different kind of revolutionary social democracy is possible – which draws what is best from the history of Marxism – and grapples to understand the worst of it ; that those outcomes can be avoided into the future. That also means grappling honestly with liberalism – both its insights and its limitations. Again: it involves taking the best from the Marxist traditions ; but being open to revision and innovation where necessary.

An ‘essential’ link with personal dictatorship?

As opposed to Peterson’s arguments: if you actually read Kautksy, Martov, Luxemburg – You will see that they are NOT arguing ‘things would have been different if THEY were the dictators’. If you look at Karl Kautsky for instance you will see that for him ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ was interpreted as the ‘dictatorship of a class’ as opposed to the dictatorship of an *individual*. And if you look further to Kautsky, Martov, Luxemburg (or Otto Bauer for instance if you look to the Austro-Marxists) – you will also see that for them this could be interpreted as a form of democratic majoritarianism. That is: the implementation of a democratic mandate provided by the working class democratic majority. But if you look to Kautsky also you will see things are more complex than this even as well. That is: the liberties of minorities are important ; and ideally that includes the liberties of your ideological rivals. Which is basically what Kautsky argued in response to Lenin. Though the worst circumstances inevitably complicate matters. (Best to avoid those circumstances in the first place if possible).

Marxism should have a future ; but it needs to ‘settle accounts with liberalism’. And it needs to eschew simplistic romanticism about revolution. Desperation leads to treacherous ethical dilemmas – and ultimately can lead to degeneration into regimes such as Stalinism. But let’s not be historically selective about our memories here ; let’s concede that atrocities occurred under both sides during the Cold War. Western intervention could even be accused as accelerating that degeneration by escalating the sheer desperation involved. The Ideology of the ‘victors’ is stronger of course ; and you’d expect that given the narrow economic base upon which much cultural power rests. But those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. THAT can be applied to BOTH the Right and the Left.

‘Absolute’ Equality?

Socialists like Eduard Bernstein never argued there would (or should) be ‘perfect and simple economic equality’. As far as they were concerned there should always be recognition that there should be differences to account for varieties in skill, effort and so on. Even under socialism. But the reality under capitalism today is radical and accelerating economic polarisation. We’re not talking about ‘functional inequality’ ; we’re talking about a narrowing economic and hence cultural basis for power. Which has a corrosive effect on democracy. We’re talking about (in the US) an outrageous gap between the destitute and the working poor on one hand ; and the wealthy on the other. Indeed there is a yawning gap between the capitalist class and the middle income layers of the working class as well. Meanwhile efforts are made to construct certain (largely, objectively working class people) as ‘the middle class’ – and undermine solidarity between these and the working poor and destitute.

So no – there should not be perfect and absolute economic equality. But nor should there be accelerating polarisation and exploitation. And nor should the working class be ‘disciplined’ by the threat of destitution. There should be equality in educational opportunity ; and there is a moral imperative for equality in health care ; and provision of basics like housing as ‘non negotiable needs’ for everybody. Cultural opportunity should also arguably be extended to society in general. Enterprise and initiative can (and should) exist ; but how much better to have enterprise and initiative exercised with the involvement of co-operatives of working people than to have the economy – and hence culture and politics – dominated by a narrowing stratum of ultra-rich? How much better can goods and services become when working people have a clear and genuine stake in their production and provision?

Competition can be much of a motivation – but also in certain contexts a drag – on the broader economy. Competition can mean economic responsiveness. It can also mean enormous waste. The answer is a genuinely mixed economy ; preferably a *democratic* mixed economy. With natural public monopolies and collective consumption via tax. But also where effective the competition that fires market responsiveness: which can even exist in an economy marked by a strong co-operative movement. Getting rid of economic waste (eg: the inefficient cost structures that have been involved in privatisation) can also be the basis of providing for base economic needs more efficiently ; and from that is the possibility of going beyond the vicious circle of consumerism. That is: there is the economic basis to provide cultural opportunity for everybody. And broader cultural opportunity is more important that the dynamic of ‘more, ever more’ under capitalism ; where the sheer scale of economic consumerism lends stability to a system which needs perpetual growth and control of ‘external’ markets in order to offset its enormous waste. In the end that is both socially and environmentally unsustainable. Hence the need for a ‘democratic mixed economy’ providing a better mix of natural public monopoly, collective consumption and democratic markets.

Jordan Peterson is developing something of a reputation as an anti-Communist public intellectual. But many of his arguments involve simplifications and distortions. Peterson has every right to denounce historical Stalinism. Indeed he has the right (under free speech) to put his broader arguments on socialism forward as well ; even where these are so terribly misconceived. But it is for socialists to meet Peterson and others like him on ‘the democratic battle-field of ideas’. We cannot let Peterson and others like him ‘utterly write socialism off’  based on selective examples, distortions and simplifications. The truth of Marxism is that it is a highly plural tradition. Much of which has been firmly grounded in the principles of liberty and democracy. ‘Another Socialism’ is possible. And there are clear historical examples which illustrate this. This is what we need to argue in response to Jordan Peterson.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

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64 comments

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  1. Terence Mills

    Peterson makes the usual claims that Marxism leads to mediocrity and failure because it fails to reward excellence and initiative

    I counter that argument with one word : TRUMP

    I saw him on Q&A and found him loud and overbearing but I’ll tell you who did impress me : Catherine “Cate” McGregor AM who is balanced, thoughtful and intelligent

  2. Kaye Lee

    Peterson said the ABC intentionally putting transgender woman Cate McGregor on the panel was a “set-up”.

    Seriously, I am reminded of primary school. Trans-germs fingers crossed no return.

    Peterson is a charlatan riding a publicity wave generated by being a dickhead.

    And the ABC wasting time on letting him and Milo make up on air was a very sad descent into tabloid-style voyeurism. Let the pied piper and his coterie of angry young white men fade back into the obscurity they deserve.

  3. Shaun Newman

    Since when has Australia excelled at excellence? We have de facto socialism in government departments everywhere using government money to grease the wheels of so called “private enterprise” I wouldn’t mind it but they claim to be a capitalist society, if fact I am old enough to remember the great Edward Gough Whitlam and what he did for working people.

    Obviously the capitalist barons had to destroy him, which they did. We have not had a Labor Prime Minister since, though Julia Gillard did approach the greatness, but for a few mistakes, which were probably forced upon her from the right-wing of the ALP at the time.

    Of course this is only my humble opinion, I may be totally wrong.

  4. Lambert Simpleton

    That was the best evidence yet of the decline of that show, Qand A and ABC current affairs in general.

    The man was barking mad and several in the audience backing him. The ambience of nastiness really made it difficult to stay with the show, straight agit prop to replace what was once something intended to encourage an appreciation of an issue. The deterioration was most marked as to Tony Jones himself, a man who could have once finessed his and his audience’s way around the acrid atmosphere and conflictivity, but now only seems to add to the aggro.

  5. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Does anyone have an opinion re: Peterson’s views on Socialism?

  6. Kaye Lee

    Sorry Tristan, I have no respect for Peterson’s views on anything. I would not give them the credence of wasting time formulating an argument against them. He was an absolute nobody until he made a huge fuss about objecting to calling trans people by their preferred pronoun. The man is a trivial publicity hound riding the political correctness wave. To think he has anything credible to say about economic, political or social philosophies is giving him credit he doesn’t deserve.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Peterson is a walking, talking, Conservative and provocative PR construct to access (and occupy space in) mainstream media; presumably to change perceptions, create confusion and muddy the waters.

    Socialism is not the issue regarding Peterson (tried following him in a talk once), on any topic he starts credibly when related to his psychological expertise, then he wanders into opinion and plausibility through focus upon areas outside of his discipline, impacting his credibility.

    Meanwhile he is supported by event promoters and willing fans who promote him and his ideas on the basis of being contrarian and fluent or smooth in his presentation, seemingly designed for appeal to his enablers and their need for (conservative) bias confirmation.

    PS Stopped watching Q&A years ago, it’s simply a knock off of BBC’s Question Time (that has been obsessing about Brexit Conservative insurrection for two or three years); both present a ‘binary’ to inflame opinions and emotions without sense of resolution (but a Q&A in 2012 with Barry Humphries et al. was excellent).

  8. Ibn Aln Khatib.

    Dr Tristran,

    To me, he is a typical American right-libertarian or contrarian right-winger crank who got brainwashed young during the McCarthyite era.

    Nozick would be a Trot by comparison.

  9. Michael Taylor

    I had truly not heard of this moron, but nonetheless, this was an enthralling post, Tristan.

  10. Egalitarian

    Peterson has got quite a throng of followers and appeals to many alt right feminist hating males.
    I think he is suffering from Universityitis; ie; Too much time spent on Campus/Uni intellectualising.
    He has an interesting theory on Postmodernism and Marxism.

  11. Trevor

    Peterson is to Canadia as Andrew Bolt is to Australia.

    A pair of self important know nothing know it all’s.

  12. paul walter

    I understand what Tristan Ewins was asking a bit earlier, re “Peterson’s views on Marxism”.

    The article deserves a slower and more complete read than many may be tempted to engage in, there is much in it to consider and not just for what it says about the pitiful Peterson.

    Thanks for putting it up. Unlike the rubbish I would read in the Daily Telegraph (if I wanted to injure my brain), there is something to consider and mull over, do justice with as with a good steak rather than tabloid fairyfloss.

  13. paul walter

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/27/the-paladin-scandal-is-only-a-drop-in-the-ocean-of-corruption-on-manus-and-nauru#comment-126353198

    You know, you read something like that article by Boochani and you begin to understand why people like Ewins are very important.

    Contemporary ideology is like the Cosmic Noise, it drowns out the sounds we need to hear to appreciate reality.
    Watching the sorry fantasy beat ups on NK and Venezuela this afternoon- Plato’s Cave stuff- on the Drum this afternoon, appreciated all the more the Ewins piece as a palliative.

    It was very sad to see reasonably intelligent people not only spouting bullshit on the Drum but seemingly actually believing their own incoherent fantasies.

    With technology, it is a lot later than many realise as to the ability to get an idea of what the world is actually about.

    A hot night, so will now take a Barthes.

  14. Andrew Oliver

    Let’s rather talk about outcomes.

    One can certainly distinguish between educational outcomes and economic outcomes. Any outcome specified made exact by terror from Stalinist central planning apparatus and spy agencies tends to distort the outcome and the terror and political hierarchy tends to displace the utopia in the minds of the masses as causes for resentment.

    Rather a rough and ready equal opportunity in education and a rough and ready living wage for all imperfect and with the sort of yearly increments that motivate the more apathetic of the workers to give and take in re everybody contributing to society doing something for others.

    The supporters of the 1% will always argue deceptively with straw men. Rather we need to confront the need for energy efficiency and energy austerity (in the war on climate change) with the need for a culturally rich and socially rich outcome. We must consume less energy from coal and gas and oil and must not use too much electricity anyway as energy ends up as heat exhaust and there are black body heat radiation limits that limit our overall energy consumption.

    We need to convert the majority to support strong resolute climate action, including perhaps electricity and gas nationalisation to run under climate change motivated energy efficiency civilian boards of management accountable to parliamentary committees.

    I once was romantic about anarcho syndicalism and Spain but have gone all parliamentary road in despair at idiots who genuflect to Stalinist central planning of the colour of individual’s front doors.

  15. Pingback: A great article from the AIM ntework – Author David Tyler | Townsville Blog.

  16. Kaye Lee

    I am sorry if I sounded dismissive. That was not my intent. I just have no respect at all for Peterson. I found Tristan’s words far more interesting and informative than anything that comes from Peterson. Marxism is, for me, a very astute assessment of the progression of capitalism and the oppression that it relies upon.

  17. Dr Tristan Ewins

    One of the main points is that the conditions which led to Stalinism were historically contingent. The French Revolutionaries of 1789 also resorted to centralisation and Terror under comparable circumstances. But the degeneration of the Revolution into Napoleonic Empire was not ‘the end of the story’. People did not write liberalism and democracy off as a consequence of Bonapartism. And the same today with Socialism and Marxism.

  18. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Also there was resistance to Leninism – and later Stalinism – within the Marxist Left as well – right from the start ; People such as Rosa Luxemburg, Julius Martov, Karl Kautsky and many others. This is ignored by Conservatives who want to ‘write Marxism off’ with arguments about totalitarianism.

    Also there’s an enormous amount of hypocrisy and selective memory when it comes to Western Cold War atrocities ; the role of capitalist powers in the bloodbath of World War One and so on.

    I go into all of this in the article and urge readers to go through the whole work.

  19. Andreas Bimba

    Tristan, another well written, balanced and comprehensive article. I also support a mixed economy and feel natural monopolies like utilities and public transport as well as infrastructure like roads, airports and seaports are better under public ownership as long as competently managed. The privatisation of the SECV and the Gas and Fuel corporations in Victoria are classic examples of failed privatisations that greatly increased costs to consumers, led to massive retrenchments of maintenance workers and reductions in in-house design and project management skills as well as slowing the essential transition to renewable energy.

    Your views on socialism are close to my own. The owners of capital have bastardised our democratic processes and political institutions through ownership and manipulation of the mass media, lobbying and bribing our political representatives and parties, funding the electoral campaigns of political sycophants, dictating political policy such as through the use of the IPA and other ‘think’ tanks including the nominally progressive ones in vital areas like macroeconomics, drafting legislation that is presented to parliament, placing compliant managers in the government bureaucracy and even heavily influencing academia to promote their ideology for example in the field of economics and business studies.

    A properly functioning democracy is vital to ensuring that we have governmental institutions and goods and service providing entities that prioritise the wellbeing of all people as well as the environment and animal welfare. As a first step the democratic process must be excised from the current effective rule by the owners of capital. Only then can the democratic process be free to decide on the appropriate balance between socialism and a market economy. We are still losing this fight for example the recent push to include fundamentally undemocratic Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses in many international trade agreements.

    One of the most powerful tools our national governments have is the control of market access to consumers and to resources such as minerals, land, water or infrastructure using such tools as regulations, taxation and royalties, tariffs and quotas. I want to see parasites like Murdoch, Bezos and Rinehart separated from their sources of revenue whenever they breach democratically defined societal standards.

    Jordan Peterson’s views on socialism are wrong and the right wing libertarianist views he espouses have nothing of value to offer. His views just serve the feudal undemocratic goals of the mega rich like Murdoch, Bezos, Rinehart, the Koch brothers, the worst of the world’s corporations and financial institutions and their servants that are succeeding in stealing our liberty, democracy, social and economic wellbeing and futures.

  20. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Hi Andreas ; markets aren’t necessarily the problem ; and can even be compatible with socialism depending on the form they take. Markets existed before capitalism ; imaginably they could exist after capitalism. Co-operatives can operate in a market context ; but where producers’ and consumers’ co-ops act as ‘checks and balances against one another’. And sometimes ‘market forces’ actually work. So a ‘democratic mixed economy’ doesn’t have to mean ‘socialism against markets’. Rather a ‘democratic mixed economy’ can involve a mix of producers’ and consumers’ co-ops ; natural public monopolies and government business enterprises ; democratic funds ; self-employment and so on. Planning where appropriate ; and markets where appropriate. ‘Market discipline’ in some cases ; co-operation in others. The ideal aim is to overcome capital as a social relationship and a form of property. While retaining the aspects of the system which actually work. Perhaps experimenting with change there gradually and carefully. (remember, for instance: War Communism was a disaster ; you cannot change the world entirely over night ; or more to the point if you try it can end badly ; which isn’t to say you shouldn’t be ambitious) But we’re in a global capitalist economy marked by co-dependence – where autarky isn’t a viable option. So ‘step one’ is to restore the mixed economy and gain a foothold for other forms of democratic ownership and control. And mobilise ‘peoples’ media’ to challenge the monopoly mass media. Over the longer term we need to promote global engagement and co-ordination to make global change a possibility.

  21. Andreas Bimba

    All good in your comment Tristan. “Step 1 is to restore a mixed economy” might have to be preceeded however by a government that would implement or at least not prevent this transition which might have to be preceeded by regaining our democracy which has been bit by bit taken away from citizens during the last 40 years of the neoliberal era followed by a bit of political and societal evolution as citizens decide what reforms they want and see what works and doesn’t work in practice.

    In the end it will probably be about balancing different interests – Yin and Yang! Conservative people will probably always exist as will the producers of goods and services and some compromise will work out best for all.

    I do however believe that ALL direct influence by business interests must be removed from politics. Political representatives and their political parties must act on behalf of their electorates and must not recieve any benefits or job offers or any other rewards or be subject to threats from business interests. Tighter regulation and enforcement is needed over our political representatives and a federal ICAC is but one needed step.

    The influence by business over the mass media and on public opinion needs to be based on truth and evidence and be in proportion in magnitude and influence to other special interest groups. Canada’s truth in the media legislation and their total ban in Fox News is a relevant example. Government subsidised media outlets that employ investigative journalists appears necessary now that most media outlets have greatly reduced this function or worse degenerated to just spreading lies and partisan propaganda.

  22. Mark Needham

    Someone here has said….” he made a huge fuss about objecting to calling trans people by their preferred pronoun.”

    This is NOT TRUE. This is a lie.

    Jordan Petersen, objected to the fact that legislation, a law was being tendered, regarding the preferred pronoun., that would make it compulsory. The Law, was his objection.

    Truth. The whole Truth.
    Like Justice, put on a blindfold, and ignore the crap around you.

    I am sure, that Jordan Petersen would accept your withdrawl of the lie, and acknowledgement of the fact. But a shrill voice, supposedly educated, may find it hard, to so do.

    Holding breath,
    Mark Needham

  23. Lambert Simnel

    Mark, no derails. we all watched QA.

  24. Mark Needham

    My bags are packed. Now which Marxist, Socialist, Communist country are we catching the next boat to.

    I mean you are all coming with me?

    derailing, apparently?
    Mark Needham

  25. Rossleigh

    Cuba looks good to me, Mark. I’d be there in a flash if only they had franking credits!

  26. Dr Tristan Ewins

    For decades Sweden gave a sense of what kind of democratic socialism is actually possible. Full employment, high wages, strong welfare state.

    Cuba has its good aspects ; for instance it has one of the best health systems in the world ; and its economic difficulties have been largely a consequence of the US economic blockade.

    It has its authoritarian aspects ; but also a huge level of popular support.

    If the US had accepted the socialist government after the overthrow of Batista a great deal of that authoritarianism may have been avoided.

    Like I argue in the article: foreign intervention and destabilisation feeds into authoritarianism like a vicious cycle.

  27. Mark Needham

    “Paul Keating, the architect of the dividend imputation system”

    If Paul has a piggery in Cuba, we’ll be right.

    Wonder if I should stop reading stuff, that could let me know how others think. Nah. Waste of time. they are all morons. Nothing to teach me, I know it all. What BLOODY ARROGANCE

    Arrogant and Ignorant,
    Mark Needham

  28. Rossleigh

    Mark, personally, I read heaps. Both what I agree with and lots I disagree with.
    I think about it.
    Most definitions are useless, including left and right these days.

    I haven’t actually read Jordan Peterson yet, but I’ll get around to it after I’ve read the fifty unread books on my shelves from people as diverse as Ray Dalio to Karl Marx…

    Actually, I’ve never read Marx and I’ve never been a Paul Keating groupie apart from when he won in 1993 and said that it was a victory for the true believers…

    Anyway, grab Tim Dunlop’s “Workless” and read that…

    If you find that arrogant, I don’t mean to be. If you read that at least we’ll be arguing about specific things and not generalities that mean nothing without some complicated definition that neither of us agree with.

  29. Lambert Simnel

    Yes, Tim Dunlop is always good value for money.

  30. Kaye Lee

    Mark,

    Peterson made a video saying he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, saying it fell under compelled speech. He stated that his objection to the bill was based on potential free speech implications if the Criminal Code is amended, as he claimed he could then be prosecuted under provincial human rights laws if he refuses to call a transgender student or faculty member by the individual’s preferred pronoun. Other academics and lawyers challenged Peterson’s interpretation of the law.

    How can anyone be taken seriously if that is how they rise to fame – insisting on their right to be an insensitive dickwit? Is this really the hill to die for?

  31. Rossleigh

    I can support Peterson on that. If she thinks it’s ok to use whatever pronoun one wants when refering to students regardless of their preference then she has a perfect right to do that.

  32. Zathras

    The words Communism and Socialism are too easily interchanged by some but so are Free Market Capitalism and Fascism/Corporatism.

    Meanwhile in TrumpLand, The Don recently handed over $7.7billion of public money to compensate farmers who suffered due to his recent tariff war with China – another socialist bailout of a failed Capitalist experiment.

    Capitalise the profits and socialise the losses – business as usual.

    It was nice of our socialist ABC TV network to provide widespread public access for Mr Peterson and his views. I doubt the “free-to-air” networks would give him 60 minutes of airtime and national coverage for free.

  33. Kaye Lee

    I refuse to be compelled to call this person Jordan. Henceforth I will assert my right to refer to her as Loretta.

    (Sorry Tristan – Peterson draws me to the trivial)

  34. Michael Taylor

    Tim Dunlop is the reason this site exists.

    It’s a long story.

  35. Mark Needham

    Lee, please provide a link where Peterson confirms your claim.
    Needham

  36. Mark Needham

    Just ordered the book. Will have to wait till, Longitude, The Red Devil and Uncle Tungsten are done. But quickly, what is the link of Peterson, Socialism and Dunlop.
    Mark Needham.

  37. Mark Needham

    Kaye. It again, only says that he said…..That is not a link to Jordan saying otherwise….
    Everything I have seen, he says, himself, his words, that if he is asked to use a particular pronoun, then depending on all things being equal, he would bend to that person’s wish.
    His reaction, was that it was being made law, was his problem.
    Now, that is what I believe of the man, and really need to hear Jordan saying that he Would Not, call someone by their preferred pronoun.
    I honestly believe, you will not be able to prove your point.

  38. Dr Tristan Ewins

    contra Peterson I would try and be sympathetic to trans individuals with regard my language. I wouldn’t refuse to use that language ‘to make a point’ re: free speech ; even though I do believe in free speech. But I do wonder if legislating is the wrong way to go about it. I believe language will evolve. I believe ‘using the wrong language’ can involve ignorance ; but it not necessarily hate. There is also a difference between biological status and gender identity. Sympathy and consideration should mean we accept peoples’ gender identity and speak in accordance with that. But compulsion gives rise to reaction – as we are seeing. And if it is a matter of ignorance and not hate that needs to be considered also. But sometimes when people are inconsiderate the motivation is hate ; and that also needs to be factored in. I also think most trans people would probably want to be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’ ; and that confusion beyond that – while involving ignorance – should not be a crime.

  39. Kaye Lee

    Tristan,

    Law experts say that Peterson has deliberately misinterpreted or misunderstood the law.

    According to Brenda Cossman, a professor of law at the University of Toronto, Peterson is “fundamentally mischaracterizing” Bill C-16.

    “I don’t know if he’s misunderstanding it, but he’s mischaracterizing it,” Cossman says.

    Cossman says it seems Peterson is trying to argue that the misuse of pronouns could constitute hate speech.

    “I don’t think there’s any legal expert that would say that [this] would meet the threshold for hate speech in Canada,” she says.

    Our courts have a very high threshold for what kind of comments actually constitutes hate speech, and the nature of speech would have to be much more extreme than simply pronoun misuse, according to Cossman.

    “The misuse of pronouns is not equivalent to advocating genocide in any conceivable manner,” she continues. “If he advocated genocide against trans people, he would be in violation, but misusing pronouns is not what that provision of the code is about.”

    https://torontoist.com/2016/12/are-jordan-petersons-claims-about-bill-c-16-correct/

    This ridiculous argument is what launched Peterson into the international spotlight and he has milked that platform ever since.

    PS I don’t think trans people want sympathy – just respect.

  40. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Sympathy and respect are not mutually exclusive ; and sympathy doesn’t have to be condescending. I think we can and should have both. Kaye Lee thanks for the further explanation.

  41. Keith

    Peterson promotes a very rugged individualism which fits neatly into neo-conservatism.
    He was very negative about gender quotas, it has been very successful for the Labor Party, and has been dismal for the LNP.
    It is the LNP that follow his views.

  42. Dr Tristan Ewins

    A good question is ‘what do we do next’ when it comes to participation from excluded groups? For instance, while the ALP has an institutional relationship with the trade unions – what about participation levels (in parliament) by working class individuals? To that we could add other groups: the aged, the disabled, cultural minorities. Shorten made arguments about this when he ran for leader ; but Anthony Albanese argued it would be too clumsy. From as far as I can recall Shorten retreated. In the end women make up roughly half the population ; and were the best organised via Emily’s List and so on. Because of this gender is seen as a higher priority. And indeed it must be a high priority. But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

    I’m not sure that ‘quotas for everyone’ is the way forward ; but policy influence for marginalised and oppressed groups needs to be formalised and consolidated.

    All that said, this is an aside from the arguments in the article. And I would really appreciate more comments re: socialism and Marxism ; and the arguments I make against Peterson’s positions on these themes.

  43. paul walter

    I don’t know what you are looking for Tristan.

    Contrarianism and rightist libertarianism are decaying versions of Marxism, something the locates the individual within her social, politico-economic and cultural bases and surroundings.

    The Marxist is a grounded, decentred individual rendered sane by the realisation of the correct relationship between the individual and (theoretical) projective civilisation since Marx diagnosed the capitalist phase as only an imperfect development on the path to liberation free of divide and conquer. society; as normal rather binary/oppositional.

    Darwin, the Freudians and Einstein indirectly backed Marx in the development of an understanding of consciousness.

    A Marxist mindset is diametrically opposed to the decaying consciousness of extreme individualism tending to egotism, self-preoccupation and paranoia, classic examples being Jordan and his mate Alex Hawke the other night, caught up in an endgame of solipsism, psychosis and denialism.

  44. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Marxism isn’t necessarily ‘essentially opposed’ to all individualism. It can be applied in the manner of a mix of collectivism and individualism. Arguably Marx’s views on alienation and his commitment to cultural expression, engagement and growth for all individuals – reflects a kind of individualism. But it rejects narratives of ‘self-made men’ ; that is, of billionaires who rose to power through ‘merit’. And it rejects narratives of history as primarily ‘the work of great men’ instead of the result of class struggles and other conflicts.

  45. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Also ;I’m kind of with the Marburg school (ethical Marxism) when it comes to materialism and values. I think it’s much harder, also, to be precise with the social sciences as opposed to the natural sciences.

  46. paul walter

    Look, here is another (loose) example. Amanda Meade is always good for a read anyway, but for those interested, read the paras half way down on the Australian newspaper re polls bounces and boat people as well as the Culture Wars para re Jordan.

    https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/mar/01/sky-news-ads-go-dark-as-andrew-bolt-defends-innocent-george-pell

    False consciousness eliminates inconvenient facts. Denialism denies the reportage of truth.

    But imagine what happens when you walk on the roof of a thirty story building wearing a blindfold because someone felt it inconvenient for you to know what you needed to avoid such a problem. It’s real nineteen forties stuff and it leads to a bunker in Berlin and once great city in smouldering ruins. This is the extreme right-wing mindset, born of a sad refusal of life as it is.

  47. Diannaart

    I lost all of my considered response to Tristan’s most excellent article. Have some bits of it which require more editing.

    So, for now, following on from Tristan’s sad but true observation of the misuse by capitalism to disenfranchise workers, I submit an excerpt from The Conversation’s article, the Workplace Challenge facing Australia.

    The ascendance of global monoliths − such as Walmart, Amazon, Apple and Uber (and the big retailers and e-tailers in Australia) – has resulted in organisations that wield enormous economic and cultural power. This has led not only to a reduction in worker power but also to the creation of a crushingly competitive environment for the businesses that have to contend with contract terms dictated by the corporate giants.

    What has been the result of the combination of changing business models, reconfigured institutions and the onslaught of business consolidation?

    We have seen hyper-competition based on low labour costs, management approaches that skirt worker protection laws, and weaker regulatory oversight.

    It has manifested in almost weekly scandals regarding sham contracting, exploitation of workers and what appears to be an epidemic of underpayment in a roll call of some of Australia’s most “successful” companies, among them 7-Eleven, Caltex and Domino’s) …

    We need to move beyond the eternal stoush between employer and employers and take on the big corporations who hold the whip against smaller businesses and, consequently, workers.

    … in the current context of fragmented work, it is unrealistic to expect individual employers and employees to engage in endless rounds of labour-intensive productivity bargaining, with little to show for it.

    The economies of scale that were part of a centralised system were lost when workplace-based bargaining system took over. These could be regained, to the advantage of both employees and employers…

    …No longer would it be simply about addressing the power dynamics between employers and employees. It would also be about addressing the inequitable power dynamics between mega-corporations and businesses subjected to their might…

    …Elements on the left may be reluctant to acknowledge that not all businesses are the same, that some are being squashed by the structure of the market. Some on the right might not be prepared to concede that the bright idea of the 1990s – reducing union influence and worker voices – has succeeded so well as to create perverse and economically unhelpful outcomes.

    https://theconversation.com/the-workplace-challenge-facing-australia-spoiler-alert-its-not-technology-111492

    Capitalism is too narrow a structure to encompass an increasingly complicated, diverse and far more worldly population. Say this to Jordan Peterson, especially if you are female and watch the confected outrage from a man who talks a lot and contributes zilch.

  48. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Monopolies can result in abuse of market power ; collusion ; anti-competitive practices and so on. On the other hand they can lead to economies of scale which can benefit consumers. It’s a tough call. Government ownership of outfits like Facebook might also result in censorship if it happened. What’s the alternative? Organisations like Walmart need to be brought into line with labour market regulation and entrenchment of workers’ rights and union rights. Bernie Sanders wants a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Walmart workers have received as little as $7/hour I seem to recall. And they smash any attempts at unionisation. Governments need to come down on exploitation of workers like a ton of bricks.

  49. Andreas Bimba

    Citizens can only address the power imbalance between themselves and capital through organised labour or even more effectively by ensuring their elected representatives, political parties, governments and parliaments always act for them and not for any other entities, especially capital.

    FFS our constitution actually mandates that our elected political representatives always act in accordance with the expressed will of their electorates.

    I would be interested to know if anyone here knows how credible this ‘booklet by Arthur A Chresby’ is and whether it can be used to help take back our democracy from the current effective control by capital?

    https://www.ourconstitution.org/your_will.php

  50. paul walter

    Andreas, it is a good summary, because it certainly seems true that the world is in a bit of mess with little prospect of improvement for the masses of people under the current global neoliberal regime.

    I have to be out so I haven’t read your A A Chresby link, but will later as part of my personal strategy to avoid falling into postmodern solipsism and pessimism. I must continue to stay with the task, both for my own hide and for the future generations, not that someone like me will ever be able to make any great contribution. But the struggle is always a personal one as well as an extended class one and the alternative is too unacceptable to contemplate.

  51. Andrew Oliver

    For those who doubt the existence of the Parliamentary Road, consider the just elected five odd socialists to the Chicago City Council and like movements towards electing more lefties to United States office.

  52. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Andrew ; though the parliamentary road can go wrong too ; eg: the austro-fascist coup against the social democrats in Austria ; and not least of all what was done to Gough. But parliamentary intervention should definitely be part of the picture. So long as we’re ready for what can go wrong. And the cultural struggle is crucial. In Gramsci’s words – a counter-hegemony.

  53. Kyran

    “Marxism isn’t necessarily ‘essentially opposed’ to all individualism. It can be applied in the manner of a mix of collectivism and individualism.”
    Communism, socialism, capitalism, etcetera, are economic models. How they have been applied has been largely political, whether you want to attribute it to Stalin, Marx, Hitler, Thatcher, Reagan, Buffet or Rothschild. When the economic models are subject to political interpretation before their enactment or application, and represented as collective advancement, you cannot escape the fact that one tyranny replacing another is not a step forward, it is a leap backwards.
    The distraction has been going on for centuries, with economics becoming confused with politics, and genuine governance or regulation being dismissed as little more than an afterthought.
    The conflict or dispute between ‘labour’ and ‘capital’ presupposes they are competing interests, rather than the two essentials of production. The inequity in the returns to the respective contributors is the source of much discontent, resulting in the occasional revolution or uprising. At the start of what we laughingly call civilisation, the kings and clerics were the privileged, then the elected representatives and now it’s the corporations. Not much has changed, other than we have called the imbalance by other names and pursued other variants of the same theme.
    In 2019, we discuss the disenfranchised by their demographic, rather than their disenfranchisement. We discuss whether workers, or the young, or the old, or women, or blacks, or various ethnicities, or various religions, are impacted by entrenched discrimination, as if each one exists in isolation from another.
    The fact that the discrimination is entrenched is all but a bi-line, resulting in band aids being applied to the demography du jour.
    We infrequently discuss the resultant inequity borne off entrenched discriminatory inequality, usually giving up after admitting it’s all too hard as it’s systemic. ‘Change the rules’ resonates as a simple acknowledgement that the system is broken, requiring change. It does not go far enough, by stating the system is not fit for purpose.
    Not accepting that discrimination is real and entrenched – in the information age – is an ignorance not worth excuse or contemplation. That our ‘leaders’ half-heartedly promote that half-hearted discussion is the most base of distractions. You don’t need a fork to know that that goose is cooked.
    We see the same obfuscation and misdirection with the issue of climate change, constantly arguing which scientist of the 5% of scientists who disagree with the science should become the next example of free speech being under threat.
    The difference, or lack thereof, between ‘Individualism’ and ‘Marxism’ is a case in point. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great proponent of ‘Individualism’, had a student – Mr Oscar Wilde. So much of the pithy and pathos of his acerbic wit, misquoted for years (in terms of context), are parts of the text of ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’. In it, he argues that Individualism is integral to the notion of Socialism, not counter productive to it.
    Over a hundred years ago, Wilde predicted we would get bogged down on labels, such as socialism and communism, and ignore the substance of an evolution of civilisation where the individual could be trusted to govern their own future as a collective, notwithstanding the need to recognise we are all individuals. Ironically, Wilde suggests that democracy was the greatest impediment to an evolutionary revolution, borne of intellect rather than violence. It is ironic as, over a hundred years ago, the ‘democracy’ he was dismissing as unworkable was a very poor facsimile. Universal suffrage had not even been contemplated. The ‘democracy’ he dismissed as unworkable did not allow women to vote! In fact, the only ones allowed to vote were the people whose interest was served by the system they protected. Of course that was unworkable. The folly lies in calling it democracy.
    It is of passing interest that Mr Wilde was equally contemptuous of the (then) relatively new ‘Fourth Estate’, who he decried as apologists for, and panderers to, the First and Second Estates. He believed this betrayal was all the more heinous as the Fourth Estate was created after the various European revolutions of the 16-1700’s, with the specific remit to shine a light on the goings on in the first two estates, to hold them accountable to the only meaningful estate – the Third Estate, the proletariat – who were largely powerless and therefore defenceless.
    More than a hundred years later, the Fourth Estate, now called MSM, has been all but relegated to irrelevancy for the exact same reasons. They are apologists for and panderers to the new occupants of the first two estates, the privileged and protected politicians and corporations.
    All the while the Third Estate is ignored.
    Wilde’s observation that poverty was the root cause of all evil was little more than a revoicing of a fact as old as time itself. He labelled his argument as socialism as a matter of convenience, which he freely conceded was likely detrimental to the discussion due to the emotion attached to the word. The notion is as old as Plato’s ‘Republic’, or Martin Luther’s ’95 Theses’. These weren’t declarations of socialism, as they predated the label. They were expressions of any forward looking civilisation being absolutely reliant on egalitarianism, later encapsulated in the Declaration of Human Rights.
    Mr Bimba’s comments regarding the economic models and the need to address a mixed economy with perspective seems totally reasonable. Capitalism is here to stay if for no other reason than its prevalence. But the environment and climate have now given us the argument the GFC couldn’t, even though they were largely the same thing. Capitalism cannot continue to be regarded as an end in itself and must be remodelled on a sustainable basis as a servant of the economy, not the wealthy. This includes everything – the resources, the environment, the workers and ‘consumerism’.
    Martin Luther King declared in 1967 that poverty was not a new thing. What was new was that it could be eradicated.
    “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
    His last book, ‘Where do we go from here; Chaos or Community?’ was written in 1967. It was an early adaptation of what is now called MMT. Whether you accept the doctrine of ‘spending only being limited by imagination’ or not, even the tired old model we use as an excuse for not doing things is insufficient excuse. Even that model permits that we can prioritise, but we must first decide what is truly important.
    “We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small hearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity. The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered.”
    From one of the book reviews (a long read, but well worth it), the link between poverty and the various demographic victims is stripped of much of the spin, hyperbole and rhetoric.

    “The book is perhaps the most radical statement of King’s analysis, criticism, and vision for change. Significantly, it links race and class as the twin pillars of the capitalist exploitation that is the generator of poverty, economic inequality, spiritual disenchantment, and racial animosity in America and across the world. As Cornel West correctly states, “The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. This class struggle may be invisible or visible, manifest or latent. But it rages on in a fight over resources, power, and space.” King roots racial and class domination in the context of capitalist economic exploitation, explaining the persistence of black and white poverty and the political impotence caused by their mutual racial animosity. King advocated for an “alliance of liberal-labor-civil rights forces,” or a cross-racial class coalition, as necessary to implement a program meant to liberate Americans, both black and white, from poverty.”

    https://portside.org/2017-02-23/remembering-martin-luther-kings-last-most-radical-book

    That an economy should serve, rather than enslave, its people is not new. Naturally, such conversations are unlikely to gain traction as long as the utterings of imbeciles and their petty abuses of celebrity and notoriety are more important. We seem to have opted for Chaos, not Community. It may seem simplistic to try and lump so many ills into one basket, but the more I read the more I am convinced this is the nub of the matter.
    On another thread, there was a comment by ‘Jaq’ which seems even more appropriate given the interconnected issues;
    “Bravo John. Now let’s turn it into action. There should be a National Strike.”

    https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/

    Just sayin’.
    Thank you Dr Ewins and commenters. What a wonderful read. Take care

  54. Kaye Lee

    Capitalism could work if those who own the capital fulfilled their part of the social contract.

    Democracy could work if the electorate was told the truth.

    In the absence of those unlikely circumstances, a National Strike sounds good.

    Except unions have been neutered and so many people are living so close to the bone that they cannot afford to give up any pay and are too worn down to be able to afford outrage.

    Job insecurity, private debt, suppression or misrepresentation of information – these are the tools they use to keep a maleable workforce too scared and tired to question why they receive no share of the profits their labour produces. And why they willingly toil to maintain the extravagant lifestyle of the capitalists.

    “We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small hearted men to become cold and conscienceless”

    Great quote Kyran.

  55. Dr Tristan Ewins

    It seems to most there is no alternative to capitalism ; and it’s also true that Marxists historically neglected ‘the political’ ; attributing root cause of much if not most to the economic system. Understating the political and the cultural was always problematic ; though it is also a problem today that the field of ‘the economy’ is largely taken as ‘closed’. (again the idea that ‘There is no Alternative’) On the other hand, Marxism offers valuable insights into capitalism. Of how economy, culture, Ideology – interact with one another And over the long term we should not rule out a transition beyond capitalism. One financial and economic crisis after another ; will the people accept one bailout after another at their expense? A probable outcome is a ‘hybrid system’ ; where socialist aspects provide stability and efficiencies. But progress under such a ‘hybrid system’ is only meaningful (and in the end desirable) if it is implemented with the rights, dignity and fulfillment of the people – of individuals – in mind. Also, the ascent of the bourgeoisie took centuries. To write any alternative to capitalism off permanently would be a mistake.

  56. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Capitalism in its essence is unjust. It is a social relationship and a form of property based on exploitation. Even though that could imaginably be ameliorated greatly under a hybrid system. The political question is how we arrive at the kind of hybrid system we could feel comfortable with as ‘progress’. Efficiencies aren’t enough without liberties and opportunities. Capitalists may accept some public ownership which delivers efficiencies to their own bottom line. But how would they feel about empowering organised labour ; providing economic security for all so workers are not ‘disciplined’ by the fear of poverty? And would capitalists divide against each other? eg: A new public savings and loans bank could provide a better deal for all – including business. So would natural public monopolies in energy, water, communications infrastructure, transport infrastructure and so on. But would capitalists more generally accept inroads into their power as a class – even though it was economically rational? In the end much progress would have to come back to class struggle. But how to restore the credibility of the very idea of class struggle is crucial after decades of stigma – in which Labor has actually often been complicit? And how to restore that in a largely Post-Fordist economy where class consciousness is harder to achieve?

  57. Ken Fabian

    The examples of socialism gone bad people like Peterson cite are examples of regimes established by coup/revolution by force. Of course they were and are corrupt; they cannot tolerate an independent and impartial judiciary or free press or democracy and without those checks corruption grows. Right-fascist regimes are as bad for the same reason.

    In my view it is not whether a government leans left or right, but which way it leans corrupt versus ethical is what really matters most. Aren’t the examples of successful ‘socialism’ – the social democratic “new deal” nations like Sweden adopted are based in democracy and the rule of law? It is recognition that there are common goods that are best achieved by taxpayer funded governments, including contributing to the opportunities free enterprise businesses have available to them – educated workforce, healthy population, services and infrastructure. Which economic activity is encouraged, not inhibited, and innovative entrepreneurship as well as investing of capital still earns great rewards. Taxation is not understood to be robbery but payment for essential services – and contributing to commercial opportunities of the future. And my understanding is they mostly don’t think doing things like universal healthcare and education makes them socialists.

    Good faith democratic processes including supporting good faith debate makes good outcomes, but I don’t sense much good faith in Jordon Peterson’s arguments; he uses language as a partisan weapon, for his ‘side’, it’s effectiveness more important than it’s truth.

  58. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Remember the British Parliament gained its power only after violent struggles ; as with the French Republic ; If you read the article you will see I think we need to avoid the extremes of violence where we can ; we need to avoid escalating Terror and centralisation. But what do you do when foreign powers start destabilising your democracy? ; when people are starving and so on? For those reasons support gradualism – with ‘political breakouts’ where things advance more rapidly now and then as well. But remember also the circumstances under which the Russian Revolution occurred ; World War and the deaths of tens of millions ; and then escalating Civil War fueled by foreign intervention. I’m with Luxemburg, Martov, Kautsky – in that I think the Bolsheviks should have maintained liberties, democracy and participation under the new revolutionary state. But I don’t kid myself there wouldn’t be risks there as well. Again: I prefer gradualism or relative gradualism ; but sometimes other Powers don’t accommodate that.

  59. Kyran

    Oh bother; ‘hoist with my own petard’. I was careless with the labels I was bandying around, which distracted my own argument with semantics. Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, is no more a demonstration of capitalism than China is a demonstration of communism.
    We don’t even exercise a legitimate hybrid, even though we are regularly bombarded with claims that our capitalism is good. It is inescapable that what we call capitalism is privatisation of the profits and socialisation of the losses. It is that inequity that must be addressed. Trying to find a label before the solution was my error.
    “The political question is how we arrive at the kind of hybrid system we could feel comfortable with as ‘progress’.”
    This is, historically, a ‘hearts and minds’ issue, which we view through tired and jaundiced eyes. We keep looking to the systems that are in place with a view to changing them which, as you say, has two precedents – change through violence or gradual change.
    These methods of change are invariably subject to control by those who resist change. This article (and, interestingly, any number of similar articles on this and other platforms) suggest that there are many people who are advocating a ‘community based’ governance as opposed to what we have now.
    The ‘government’ in Australia has performed abysmally for nigh on six years. There have been protests and dissent, which the government (like administrations across the planet) have not even acknowledged, let alone responded to. And the conversation has been about changing how these administrations operate? It is an exercise in futility, reliant on time we don’t have.
    They have consigned themselves to irrelevance.
    The little rodent, howard, suggested a discussion on the republic at a time when Australians were all but unanimous in their desire. His cunning was in demanding that the alternative be decided, that a model be created and voted on, when what should have been voted on is ‘Do you want a republic – Yes or No’. After that, modelling a process that would be evolutionary, subject to ‘tweaks’ according to changing circumstances, would have been relatively easy through the AEC.
    Likewise, asking for an alternative to capitalism is self defeating, in that it demands a model be perfected before it is even put for consideration, let alone that we could agree on a definition of capitalism.
    These discussions are fine, if we have the time to await the realisation of our inclinations or aspirations. The catalyst for urgency is our climate. The ‘window’ to address these issues with any chance of success, is quickly closing. Our scientists are devising new approaches, each requiring more extreme action. To address the needs, we need to be discussing the ‘outlawing’ of fossil fuels – not just coal. When asbestos was finally acknowledged as poisonous (after years of the industry and their political representatives arguing there was no problem), it wasn’t just banned from use, the mining of it was banned. Coal and oil are in that category and need to be viewed the same way.
    Do you really think for one second that that conversation could be had with the current shower of wasters?
    An underlying root issue (which, as you say, is a requirement of our existing system) is poverty. The means to address it are already known. There is no appetite for change at governmental levels, even in the opposition and cross bench.
    Ms Lee’s comment about the impediments to calling a national strike are valid and relevant, but only in terms of the existing system. The unions can’t call a strike without risking fines and criminal charges. Even if a national strike was called, why try sending a message to the people who have resolutely and steadfastly ignored your voice for so long?
    We are soon to have an election. Both major parties are ‘on the nose’ and the trend to independents is now established. The hanson’s and palmer’s are still being featured as contenders in the media run polls, even though recent by-elections suggest the trend is to unaligned independents.
    The purpose and benefit of a national strike is not to convince an imbecilic government, but to warn any incoming politicians that the change better come sooner rather than later, and it must be substantive. As for their media lackeys, they may even start doing their job rather than the governments bidding.
    The imbalance of return on investment (labour and capital) won’t be solved any time in the next few centuries if we are to await action from the government. If a national strike called for every employer of more than 200 people to have 50% representation of workers on their boards, that might give them a gee-up. If executive salaries were capped to multiples of those in the work force, would corporates act quicker to address the imbalance? If we returned to the thoughts of the Toffler’s (Future Shock) or De Bono (Future Positive) in advocating a working week of 15 hours, would that have popular appeal? After all, over a hundred years ago, Wilde suggested the great appeal of the industrial revolution was that it enabled menial jobs be replaced by mechanisation and the fledgling automation. How much better off would we be if we used the incredible opportunity of technology, robotics and AI to replace the menial, tedious and repetitive? The list of ideas is limited only by our imaginations, which are seriously impeded by the incessant hysteria of the advocates and proponents of a system that is broken.
    Whilst I greatly admire the current executive of the ACTU and many in union hierarchy, their reality is that they must address membership decline and be wary of hysterical media abuse if they act outside the rules that were designed to destroy them. My complaint with them is that they are not anywhere near aggressive enough or cognisant of their own member’s disenfranchisement. They won’t call a national strike for fear of repercussions, which implies they are blind to the potential of a protest so substantial that the opposition, and aspirants, of the next election aren’t just cautioned, but bludgeoned into doing their jobs – representing their constituents.
    The usual cry of ‘we are too apathetic’ may well arise. I remain convinced that not only is there a genuine hunger for change, but that many people now go about it at a local level with positive results, due to the futility of trying to argue in echo chambers. At a more basic and fundamental level is a question of trust. Any trust barometer rightly confirms we don’t trust our ‘leaders’. I am more than happy to trust my brothers and sisters. It may not work brilliantly, but it’s got to be worth a go.
    My apologies for the rambling generalisations. Hopefully, the vibe resonates.
    Thank you, again, Dr Ewins and commenters. Take care

  60. Andreas Bimba

    Many worthy comments have been written here.

    The Australian political scene appears to be lagging those of the UK and the US where more ‘socialist’ candidates and movements are slowly getting a bit closer to gaining government.

    The UK Labour Party’s, under Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum movement and Bernie Sander’s Our Revolution movement which drew from many protest movements that arose after the GFC and during the long period of neoliberal decay of the UK and the US along with other social and labour movements and organisations, may produce tangible results in gaining government and a majority in parliament. They both have substantial followings despite the relentless assaults or the absence of coverage and heavy promotion of neoliberal political competitors by the right wing and ‘progressive establishment’ arms of the neoliberal mass media. Both Corbyn and Sanders have ambitious social democratic policy platforms, are prepared to act decisively to tackle global warming and Sanders even partially ‘gets’ MMT so can actually fund his program.

    Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer – John McDonnell still tie their own hands by still publically supporting the neoliberal lie of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and balanced budgets over the economic cycle and that ‘money grows on rich people’ which if followed through means they cannot deliver as much positive change as they could if they also harnessed deficit financing in the right way. The same applies to the nominally progressive ALP, the New Zealand Labour Party and Canada’s Liberal Party and nearly every other nation.

    If right wing populist Donald Trump can get away with deficit financing of his substantial military build-up and massive tax cuts for the rich, surely left of centre or centralist governments should not deny their supporters and the entire populace the same funding means to deliver a worthy policy platform despite the expected hypocritical and hysterical attacks from the neoliberal rulers of banking and capital and their agents in the mass media. This is especially so when an understanding of MMT tells us that deficit financing or more correctly termed overt monetary financing that takes advantage of the larger economy that results from the increase in aggregate demand when idle productive capacity and the energy and talent of the unemployed are productively applied to delivering worthy social or environmental purpose, without incurring ongoing inflation or debt, is the most responsible and effective method of financing that is available. Please note however that even with optimal overt monetary financing and a national Job Guarantee the total tax take by the national government is likely to be similar or a little higher than currently in order to deliver such a policy platform without incurring ongoing inflation, so it is useful to realise that overt monetary financing just allows that ‘little bit more’ and is not a ‘magic money tree’. ‘That little bit more’ is however enough to substantially improve the lives of those millions that are currently discarded by our sociopathic neoliberal society and to deliver the social, economic and environmental transformations that are needed.

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=32361

    National governments and national parliaments are extremely powerful institutions, the owners of capital know this which is why they have devoted so much effort into ensuring these institutions act in accordance with their dictates; and Corbyn and Sanders are showing that such power may be in reach. If not ultimately by them then their successors. With powerful popular movements backing these governments if they eventuate and if they involve and energise a sizable portion of the electorate in support of the inevitable battles with those that try to frustrate meaningful reform and these governments act competently and ethically, then the 40 year imposition of the neoliberal era may begin to be unwound. If done correctly this should further increase electoral support.

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