For socialism and democracy

As I mentioned a while ago, in the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve described my political perspective as “social-democratic”. In earlier years, I mostly used “democratic socialist”. My reason for the switch was that, in a market liberal/neoliberal era, the term “socialist” had become a statement of aspiration without any concrete meaning or any serious prospect of realisation. By contrast, “social democracy” represented the Keynesian welfare state I was defending against market liberal “reform”.

In the decade since the Global Financial Crisis, things have changed. Socialism still describes an aspiration, rather than a concrete political program, but an aspiration to a better society is what we need now as a positive response to the evident failure of neoliberalism.

On the other side of the ledger, nominally social democratic parties nearly all failed the test of the crisis, accepting to a greater or lesser degree to the politics of austerity. Some, like PASOK in Greece, have paid the price in full. Others, like Labor in Australia, are finally showing some spine. In practice, though, social democracy has come to stand, at best, for technocratic managerialism, and at worst for capitulation to the demands of financial capital.

So, I’ve changed the description of this blog’s perspective to socialist. I haven’t however, adopted the formulation “democratic socialist” which was used, in the 20th century, to emphasise a rejection of the Stalinist claim to have produced “actually existing socialism” in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. That’s no longer necessary.

As has been true for most of the history of the modern world, the only serious threat to democracy is now coming from the right. So, it’s important to defend democracy as well as advancing the case for socialism.

98 thoughts on “For socialism and democracy

  1. You have openned a can of worms here John – mulling over how to best harmonize the means (e.g. genuine democracy) and the ends (e.g. genuine socialism) and keeping both in play even where they conflict.

    It was a worry 30 years ago when Keating boasted how he’d helped eject the old socialist aspirations from the Labor Party (common ownership of the means of production and all that) – because this action also ejected the touchstone they seemed to use of whether their proposed ‘democratic’ initiatives were consistent with more basic socialist aspirations like justice and equity. Certainly it wasnt all a disaster. Medicare has proved robust. But the superannuation system the other great claim to fame of the Hawke era increasing feeds the casino style finance sector where much profit is to be made by shuffling pots of money from one place to another with short term gains the focus.

    It would be nice to see an analogous discussion like yours above coming from ‘the right’. From Robert Mann and, in the absence of old Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson. Their more recent behaviours/positions seem to illustrate what happens when people from their end of the political spectrum apply a similar reality check to their actions looking for a workable compromise between pragmatism and ideals.

    I also wonder if this understanding of the need to harmonise these drivers is something fundamental that the Liberals and Nationals are also losing in these neoliberal decades, and along with this the ability to see the nastiness and meanness in their policies arising from their pursuing their personal ideologies single mindedly without care for the more catholic principles of their party in its early stages or what they might have aspired to in their more idealistic youthful years.

    In this respect the rise of Turnbull and Abbot comes as no surprise. Whatever their differences both seem to have lost their ideals and replaced them with ideologies centred around their egos.

  2. I’m not sure that this will work, Prof John. Socialism carries a lot of baggage and you can’t define away what it meant during the 20th century. Socialism will always be associated with collective ownership of the means of production, even if it can be unshackled from the perversions that happened under Stalin. I think that to adopt this term unadorned will make you an easy target.

    If you want to portray yourself as defending democracy, meaning a method of appointing our governors, then “democrat” is an appropriate term to use.

    If you are referring to an ethic or fulcrum upon which to hang your insight into how to manage our economy/society, then you might place “sustainability” on the table. So much of the neoliberal agenda is unsustainable – debt, inequality, environmental destruction, privatisation of public services, underfunding of public goods – are all antagonistic to the principle of sustainability. That is why they are so bad – the agenda undermines the pre-conditions of sustainable prosperity and well-being. You can truthfully portray yourself as a “sustainability economist”, advocating sustainable economics. This might be better than “ecological economics” as that discipline has a more narrow and academic focus than your own field of interests.

  3. You’re for socialism, but what does that mean? Some industries are state-controlled? All of them?

  4. Well this is good – but in the meantime, some have moved on to the point where we are now Ecofeminist socialists, or ecosocialist feminists, or Ecofeminist materialists, or some such – always keeping in mind that we oppose oppression based on Indigeneity, race/ethnicity, sexuality, ableism, ageism and so forth. I am not joking, this stuff is complex. I have recently written a paragraph explaining that although I think ecofeminism is a legitimate, intersectional, overarching framework that acknowledges all forms of oppression, sometimes it is strategically important to also name the other forms of oppression.

    In short, a white, heterosexual, ableist, ageist, patriarchal hierarchical capitalism was imposed on this country 230 years ago, and we still have the task of dismantling it completely. How one signifies by one word descriptions that one is FOR egalitarian and ecologically sustainable societies, and AGAINST all forms of oppression and exploitation, including the oppression and exploitation of other species and the ecosystem, is challenging. In calling yourself a socialist, how do you deal with the fact that Marx, like most of his peers (right and left) saw the world of nature and caring as subordinate to the work of men in ‘improving’ upon nature? He definitely did, I can give you the quotes if you want them.

  5. So you’re a democratic (monopoly majoritarian), socialist (discretionary rule) independent of (in conflict with) rule of law (non-discretionary rule), because you sponsor reproductive redistribution (dysgenics) despite regression to the polity mean, rather than reproductive meritocracy (eugenics) which circumvents regression to the mean, despite the rather obvious fact, that we can choose between high trust highly redistributive small homogenous kin state (eugenics – europe), and low trust corrupt, authoritarian heterogeneous polities (india, south america, southeast asia, and the muslim world). And you do this in a world where technological, institutional, and geographic advantages are no longer competitive, and the principle difference between the wealth of groups (peoples, nations, countries, states) is demographic (eugenic vs dysgenic) and normative (the result of genetics) – and you do this without accounting for (and therefore cherry picking) the cumulative cost of that dysgenia (primarily intelligence, personality traits, and rates of reproductive maturity). That just means you’re not a scientist, but a priest or philosopher driving your people to destruction, dark age, and despair as a means of escaping the near term cost of policing the most important capital humans have ever developed by the simple act of reproductive and migratory intolerance. I mean. You really can’t get around it. That’s just what you’re doing. And you’re doing it for virtue signals from others, and yourself. It’s unearned virtue signaling, because it’s not creating any intertemporal capital – just consuming an inheritance you had nothing to do with producing.

  6. If socialism is just “an aspiration to a better society”, 99% of the population will be on board, including me. But something so vague doesn’t seem worth arguing about. At the very least, a socialism worth defending has to stand for a high priority for values of equality, community, and solidarity, and a corresponding scepticism about (not rejection of) aristocratic or individualist values of areté and autonomy.

  7. I almost feel sorry for the conservatives who’s intellectual underpinnings and authority are crumbling. There are some extremists like Curt Doolittle with his ‘western aristocratic egalitarianism’ trying to take advantage of the intellectual vacuum, but they will not succeed.
    I think the vacuum on the right will be filled by soft neo-liberals and hard neo-liberals joining together, with most of the libertarians also joining in. The group that we have called social democrats will split into those with a more socialist view and those that will join (de facto or de jure) with the new conservatives. It will make for some interesting times in politics, particularly in the US, where the voting system produces two party outcomes, and so the transitional period during which the new conservatives take over from the rump Republicans could be quite chaotic. Lot’s of intra-party warfare.
    We’ll see what happens.

  8. Too my mind one reason why we need a welfare state is to make it up to people who may be hurt by us forcibly ending gross and obvious dysfunction in capital markets. Loanable funds ought not be going to land-inflation, derivatives, the purchase of existing assets or calculated debt-slavery. Loanable funds ought to be going at low interest to the purchase of producer goods, by people who already have a cash flow and are attempting to expand that cash flow by business renovation.

    Now it might be that if you ban personal loans at 8% interest that someone could starve because you stopped him from getting an emergency loan right? Thats conceivable and even likely right? So economically we need to take the financial bull by the horns and beat it senseless and make it do our bidding. But morally the fight to do so could have collateral damage right? So I say that for the moment we need to really look after our old guys because we have kept changing the rules on them and duped them and given them decades of underemployment, bad health advice and generally not given them the means by which they could reasonably have saved huge amounts for their retirement.

    But we need working age welfare as well. To compensate those who by sheer serendipity could be damaged by our need to restrict usury and force loanable funds towards wealth creation.

    So I could be seen as a small government socialist or a social credit type. At least for the time being when no solution to the incompetence of the bankers seems to be in sight.

  9. Terminology.

    “Social-democratic”, “democratic socialist” or “socialism and democracy” are all acceptable as descriptive terms. However, labeling can be important, especially in a mass media and social media age. Whichever term is used, I would combine it with a sub-heading or marketing strap line of “Economic Democracy”. The other way to go would be to ditch “socialism” as a headline term altogether and simply use “Economic Democracy”.

    “Economic Democracy” could be a very useful term to further the intended program.

    It puts the term “Economic” in pride of place. Those who read what I post in this blog will know that I rail against economic discourse leading discussions of what to do in our social and political economy. But capitalist and neoliberal discourses have successfully placed economics and discussion of same uppermost in the public’s mind. The intention then is to use the momentum of neoliberal discourse against neoliberal discourse. Place economics front and center.

    With the second term “Democracy”, here comes the judo throw. Utilise the momentum of neoliberal propraganda against itself. “Democracy” is an unimpeachable term. Even those who don’t really want democracy have to pretend they do and still have to use the term, however dishonestly. Democracy remains an idea of great power.

    The compound term “Economic Democracy” in positing what it explicitly states, also posits that there can be other forms of economics which are not democratic and which we most oppose. This comes through as a very clear and resonating sub-text. Now, ideas about economics become framed by the idea of democracy. “Economic” leads and grabs attention but it’s only the adjective. The key noun, the key concept is democracy. Any economic idea may pass all other tests, tick all other boxes, yet must still be tested against the fundamental criterion. Is it democratic? This also introduces the idea that democracy is not just something that happens every three or four years with a vote but that it is a reality which must apply every day in terms of local control and workplace control with economic fairness and democracy being equated.


    “Economic Democracy” already has a standard meaning in the literature. “Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that proposes shifting decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, customers, suppliers, neighbors and the broader public.” – Wikipedia.

    The advantage of an Economic Democracy program is that it is well suited to a gradualist implementation program. It can applied piecemeal, on a case by case basis, and slowly extended through society and the economy. It would slowly transition us back to a Keynesian welfare and unionised state but it contains no presupposition that matters should end there. The final goal of the program should indeed be socialist. There would eventually be a large adjustment (required by the need for true economic democracy) towards nationalisation of natural monopolies and towards a form of market socialism with many enterprises large and small becoming true cooperatives (but still operating in a market socialist economy). A raft of institutional changes would be necessary to facilitate these changes. But that’s part of a much larger blog post (if anyone makes it).

    The question of whether market socialism could ever become market-less socialism could be left in abeyance. It’s not a question we can answer yet. We do not know what further social, economic and technological innovations will apply in the future and whether they could or could not lead beyond market socialism.

  10. Being on the side of the angels is really about being on the side of small-government (apart from infrastructure) egalitarians like Huey Long, Thorstein Veblen or Henry George. Its these people that the oligarchy simply cannot tolerate. Because if they had their way the oligarchy would have to work for a living and since they are fundamentally parasites they would fade away eventually. Or if they didn’t a few subtle extra measures would do the trick.

    Its a pretty sad situation where we have bipartisan support for low income tax thresholds. If you define yourself as a small government egalitarian it becomes obvious that an income tax threshold that kicks in below full-time minimum wage is an absurdity and virtually a crime against humanity. But this is an absurdity which holds bipartisan standing in this country and the reason is that its the oligarchy calling the shots. They won’t let small government egalitarian thinking get in the way of their parasitism.

  11. “With the second term “Democracy”, here comes the judo throw. Utilise the momentum of neoliberal propraganda against itself. “Democracy” is an unimpeachable term…”

    Come now. Have you witnessed an American election? One dollar one vote, Hekyl and Jekyl, tools of oligarchy, pitted against us. A complete rig-up. And think of all the Goldman Sachs bot types we have had foisted on us, with a ubiquitous and monolithic media? We have Malcolm in this country, but Sachs-bots have been foisted on many many publics all over the world. Democracy is a joke and therefore the term “Democracy” is far from unimpeachable.

    Nor can these problems be solved by trying to rig things that other stakeholders get a say within corporate communism. Those assets ought to be in the hands of sole traders. You are just going about things the wrong way. Your way means no capacity for clear decision making.

  12. In today’s world, the Overton window has shifted so far to the right that Keynes is now called a socialist. By this standard, Professor Quiggin may well be qualified to be called a socialist. However where does that put Marxists and Post Keynesians? Socialist left?

  13. @Tom Post-Keynesianism is an economic theory, which doesn’t have any direct political implications. I’m well to the left of most of the post-Keynesians I know.

    Some thoughts on Marxism here

  14. On my Facebook page I describe my politics as “Green, radical democracy”.

    For about the last 20 years I have described myself as a “radical democrat”, meaning that I advocated the extension of the principles of democracy, equality and liberty to all areas of social life, including the economy and the workplace. This description, I felt, would encompass what I considered valid in socialism when I described myself as a socialist (and which I continued to consider valid), such as challenging undemocratic corporate power, challenging undemocratic and hierarchical relations within the workplace, opposing economic inequalities that vitiated democracy and liberty, supporting various forms of social ownership of enterprises and public provision of services, etc. At the same time I considered “radical democrat/ic” a superior term to “socialist” as it would not imply, or be interpreted by others to mean, that I:

    (a) accorded primacy to economic goals over ecological. demoocratic and social goals;

    (b) accorded primacy to the class contradiction and struggle over contradictions and struggles based on gender, race, sexuality, etc;

    (c) thought human social progress would or should reach a preconceived end state called socialism.

    That said, I have never considered that my self-definition as a radical democrat required me to throw up my hands in horrified repudiation whenever someone called me a socialist.

  15. @James Wimberley

    a socialism worth defending has to stand for a high priority for values of equality, community, and solidarity, and a corresponding scepticism about (not rejection of) aristocratic or individualist values of areté and autonomy.

    I took all of that as given. My point was just that we don’t need to focus on a platform for the next election based on attempts to tweak the tax and welfare system (though obviously we need to have that). Rather we can start talking about what society and economy based on those values would look like.

  16. @Graeme Bird

    I said “Democracy” is an unimpeachable term…”. I did not say democracy is a functioning reality in practice in this or that polity, like Australia or the USA. Of course, I have seen extant “democracy” in practice and it really is not democracy at all. Capitalism (and corporatism) are essentially, perhaps even quintessentially, undemocratic. Economic democracy implies and mandates, in the long term, the progressive dismantling of capitalism. Unfettered capitalism is where some people, a small minority, have much more money and wealth than all others. Then, under this system, as you describe, dollars get votes essentially and not people.

    Perhaps I should have said “democracy is a near unimpeachable idea”. There are few, in the West anyway, who will openly argue that we need to go back to having a monarch, a dictator or a plutocracy. This is even though, as in the USA, the elites keep trying and succeeding so far, to paddle us further and further up the plutocratic creek. Democracy is the best idea to harness for socialist or equality purposes.

  17. @Val

    a white, heterosexual, ableist, ageist, patriarchal hierarchical capitalism was imposed on this country 230 years ago, and we still have the task of dismantling it completely.

    That’s quite a program, and a big ask when most of the people, most of the time, are mostly happy with their life and care mostly about who is winning Married at First Sight.

  18. Paul Norton :
    On my Facebook page I describe my politics as “Green, radical democracy”.

    I’m amused because on the one hand I agree – I support extending the franchise so it’s as universal as possible (“Australian votes for Australian Laws”, to repurpose the slogan while disagreeing with the English use of it), but also limiting it to natural people. I’d also like to see more democracy, in more modern forms (so much of society has changed, but we still use 19th century democratic forms… how quaint)

    I don’t think there’s any political label that’s not contested, so ruling out “socialism” since “we all know what it means” is just wrong, and because “it’s tainted” … well, so is “democracy” – look at Iraq, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe for example. Even today’s Nazis are precious about who gets to use the label because of all the “bad Nazis”…

    I’m happy to label myself an anarchist, even to people ignorant of the political meaning. Likewise radical, ecofascist and deep green. I’ve had some lovely discussions with people who dislike “ecofascist” or are appalled that anyone would support military/militant action to stop ecological devastation. But a lot of them are also keen proponents of state violence to prevent genocide or nuclear war etc, or even just murder. It doesn’t take much to get them to see the “no society without environment” for the most part. Even extreme pacifists often accept that we live in a world that will cheerfully slaughter passive resistors by the million and move on boasting about the increase in GDP that results.

  19. @Smith

    “That’s quite a program, and a big ask when most of the people, most of the time, are mostly happy with their life and care mostly about who is winning Married at First Sight.”

    How deep does that happiness run? Are they really happy? In any event should we not aspire to something greater than mere happiness, which is but a fleeting emotion?

  20. @fred
    I read that book recently too. Mies seems to be a very valuable Ecofeminist critic of Marxist theory because she is a considerable scholar of Marxist theory.

    I thought a lot of her ideas were very relevant, especially about how work can be simultaneously boring and fulfilling. I’m very interested in a framework for evaluating technology, because many ideas about technology are so simplistic – basically anything that makes human life easier, or more ‘productive’ (which generally also just means easier/expending less human energy when you analyse it) or relieves us from ‘boring’ work must be a good thing. Whereas as Mies points out, many forms of work can be simultaneously boring, time-consuming, and expend a lot of human energy, and yet at the same time be profoundly important and fulfilling.

  21. @Smith
    I watch some junk TV occasionally myself – I’m still deeply committed to working for a more equitable and sustainable society though. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

  22. @Val

    Most people though are not committed “to working for a more equitable and sustainable society”, at least not in the same way you are. If they were, the government would comprise people who share your values and political objectives.

  23. @John Quiggin

    I admit that I’ve made an error of on referring to Post Keynesian as of it is a political theory, obviously due to Post Keynesians are generally associated with left wing politics and often being called socialists. I also agree that you are to the left of many Post Keynesians on many issues.

    The original intention of my comment was meant to say that socialist is now a very loosely defined word which has been used to label the ALP and public school teachers etc.

  24. @John Quiggin
    “Rather we can start talking about what society and economy based on those values would look like.”

    One of the participants in my study expressed a similar thought: “Ultimately what future do we want for our world?” (as will be quoted in my hopefully soon to be publicly available thesis).

    Those are exactly the questions we have to be asking ourselves as we finally and conclusively, I hope, reject the stupid idea that ‘the market will decide’ (ie the people who have got the most money, because they have been the most successful at exploiting other people and the environment, will decide)

  25. @Smith

    “Most people though are not committed “to working for a more equitable and sustainable society”, at least not in the same way you are. If they were, the government would comprise people who share your values and political objectives.”

    I know this comment was directed at Val not me but I wonder what the point of such a comment is.

    Most people didn’t support gay rights when I was young but now they do, thanks in large part to the tireless effort of brave activists who swum against the tide. There will also be a tug of war for the hearts and minds of public and society will always change.

    Are you suggesting that progressives should sit out the tug of war, let the reactionaries win and console themselves that the fact that the masses appear to be comfortably numb, thanks to the opioid that is pop culture?

    Aren’t you commenting here with a view to changing minds? Are you deeds and words not in conflict? Why aren’t you watching the Young and the Restless with a big vacant grin?

  26. @Hugo

    Attitudes and opinions do change over time, but the change is usually evolutionary rather than sudden. Gay rights is a good example.

    Sometimes though the pace of change is so slow as to be non-existent. Progressive activists have been trying to get the masses to reject capitalism for 120 years. They are no closer now than they were in the 1890s. The successful socialist parties in the world, that is, in Scandinavia and Finland, (where success is defined as winning free and fair elections and implementing beneficial social change) long ago made peace with capitalism (patriarchal or not) and instead decided to regulate it for the benefit their societies. They seem to have been quite successful, as these things go. No doubt there’s plenty wrong in these countries but there’s plenty wrong everywhere, always has been, always will be.

    Of course on some people’s definition, if you have capitalism, you can’t have socialism by definition. To me, this is just semantics.

  27. Below is an excellent essay, shedding light on the many aspects of exploitation under capitalism, especially contemporary capitalism.

    In my opinion, this eassay also sheds light on the question of who might now or soon constitute the revolutionary class. In short, women, the precariat and excluded minorities will likely meld to form this class. These groups overlap to some extent. In broad terms, women are the excluded majority. The precariat by current trends will soon also be a majority. These two groups in turn will likely find much in common with excluded minorities and extend them solidarity. Men of the non-precariat class need to decide where they belong in all this or risk ending up on the wrong side of history. But that last is just my opinion.

  28. Prof John, why don’t you press the ‘public interest’ into service. The term has fallen by the wayside as our economic elites have conflated public interest with whatever the markets determine; and our political elites have conflated it with whatever ministers determine. Both of these are fallacious equivalences. The public interest can be conceptualised as an ideal, a light on the hill, to which your economics/social democracy/sustainability agenda strives.

    ‘Public interest’ would allow you to advocate against outsourcing of public services like VET education, because clearly market participants act in their self-interest. (The economists tell us so). To craft an economics that advances policy towards a public interest would be an honourable mission.

  29. @Ikonoclast
    It’s a good article Ikon but it still seems to me typical of many Marxist scholars in refusing to face up to some of the limitations of Marx. From what I’ve read, Marx was typical of his time in seeing ‘nature’ and caring work as a subordinate sphere which men improved by their labour. I think Marxists have to face up to that if they’re really going to form alliances with feminists/women in general and environmentalists. Marxist theory as least as Marx presented it, really doesn’t engage with the fact that both the ecosystem (including other species) and caring work have value in their own right*, rather than as something for adult (implicitly male) workers to use or ‘improve’ upon.

    I think the article goes some way towards that but is limited because it won’t admit to the limitations of Marx.

    (*I’d like to put ‘in their own right’ in italics but I’m writing this on my phone in a crowded tram so not going to try)

  30. I am interested in what industries should be nationalised

    I find it easy in knowing which industries should nor be privatised ( not many usually they are essential industries). In assessing which industries should be nationalised then it would be electricity and wholesale internet. I cannot think of any others .

    I would much prefer market liberal/ neo-liberal (?) policies to nationalisation.

  31. Both democracy and feminism will be drastically altered, if not dead, by the mid century. Democracy because as political system it will not be able to cope with the perfect storm of demographic winter, baby boomer bulge, fiat currency collapse, climate change feedback loops. Feminism because it either will be supplanted by an ideology that reproduces close to the replacement level of 2.1, such as Islam or Western governments will simply repress feminism (an anti reproductive ideology) in response to the demographic emergency

  32. @Smith
    No but you might be surprised how many people are supportive. I put something on Facebook recently about real egalitarianism and I was surprised by how many of my friends agreed. Obviously, I know, FB friends are people ‘like us’, but I thought more of them might be saying it’s an ideal but it would never work kind of thing – but no, quite a few just agreed.

    Bit like JQ putting up that he’s a socialist here – sure, most of us who read this blog are sympathetic to that, but there haven’t been all that many comments of the ‘oh no, you can’t do that, you’ll be dismissed as irrelevant’ kind.

    Clearly straws in the wind, but suggests the time is right for a shift to egalitarianism.

    I started to look into how much money we’d have if the income in the world was distributed equally and it seems to be somewhere between 10-20,000 $US annually. Now obviously that’s not what middle class Australians live on, but there’s a lot more to be taken into account including
    i) if we distributed wealth as well (profound impact), and
    ii) many of our prices are inflated eg home prices – we could change the whole structure of how we think of homes and home ownership, let alone the cost of homes, and that also would make a profound difference

  33. @Shane From Melbourne
    Speaking as an ardent feminist who had three children, I’m not sure you’re right on that (though it’s a welcome change to be boasting about having three kids instead of being slightly embarrassed). I hope you’re not my in-law Shane from Melbourne cos I’d be a bit disappointed about that.

  34. @Smith

    “Attitudes and opinions do change over time, but the change is usually evolutionary rather than sudden.”

    In the blink of an eye, we went from a situation whereby homosexuality went from being illegal (the last state to legalise homosexual sex for males [it was never illegal for females] was Tasmania, in 1997) to gay marriage.

    A couple decades ago, cops bashed gays and at the very least turned a blind eye to the murder of gays (i.e. the much publicised Sydney gay killings). Nowadays cops march in the mardi gras, cop shops have rainbow symbols and gay liaison officers.

    Anyway, I still don’t see the point you are trying to make. Few progressives expect or aim for the immediate overthrow of capitalism. Most are happy to just tame the beast.

    As I see it, capitalism has only been the dominant mode of production for a couple hundred years. Hunter-gathering was the dominant mode of production for a couple hundred thousand years and the agrarian era lasted a few thousand years. Arguably, capitalism is barely pubescent.

    I think capitalism has many jobs left to do and will remain dominant mode of production for many more centuries, still I don’t think those who agitate for an earlier change are necessarily wasting their time. Who are you to say these folk would be happier or more fulfilled if they joined you on the couch in front of the box?

  35. @Val

    The Marxists writing at the Monthly Review have been finding new depths in Marx’s and Engel’s works for some years now. Search for terms like “metabolic rift”, “universal metabolism” and simply “nature” at the MR site.

    Marx and Engels – and scientists whose work they referenced like Justus von Liebig – did recognise that humanity and its whole life, reproductive and productive (economic), is dependent on nature. That recognition went very deep in their work.

    With respect to women, this essay by Sandra Bloodworth, “Marx and Engels on women’s and sexual oppression and their legacy” serves as an example that M/E were not blind to these issues and made very radical statements for their era.

    Certainly, there are limitations in Marx’s theories from the modern standpoint. One can hardly expect any thinker to predict all future developments in and requirements for the emancipation of women or any other program.

    In many cases however, as with the issue of the “metabolic rift” which we would now call the ecological rift or the ecological crisis, we can see that Marx and Engels did prefigure modern concerns and successfully predict the conflict between capitalist / technological production and nature (the biosphere and its systems).

    Changes in terminology have played a role in obscuring some of the radical and far-seeing aspects of Marx’s thinking. “Metabolic rift” theory contains all the essential insights of ecological crisis theory. “Dialectical materialism” – in Marx’s form not Soviet dogma form – contains all the essential insights necessary to develop the proto-theory of complex systems science. “Dialectical materialism” is essentially a prefiguring of materialist or physicalist complex systems science. At the materialist level “synthesis” is what we now call “emergence”. Marx’s work regularly discussed what we would call emergent phenomena an feedback loops. It is very clear that Marx’s theory of capitalism is a systems theory rooted in empirical observation. And it is clear that it encompasses interactions and feed-backs involving the natural world, humans (biological beings), inanimate machinery / technology and finally human institutions (e.g. ownership) and formal systems (e.g. legal laws and financial accounting).

  36. @Shane From Melbourne
    There’s a good chance I’ll be dead before 2050 and hence not around to mock at the failure of your predictions, but perhaps there’s somebody younger reading this who will do it in memory of me.

  37. @Shane From Melbourne
    Telling a woman who has just said she has three children that there is nothing personal about demography is one of the oddest responses I’ve seen. I’d use the dreaded word mansplaining but I know some people find that upsetting.

  38. @Curt Doolittle
    Sorry, but that is unintelligible. Some paragraph breaks would assist, and little less reliance on jargon. When people start throwing words around like that I am not convinced they know their meanings. 2/10.

  39. There are some interesting – and disturbing – references to dysgenics, eugenics and demography from a couple of bloggers above.

    When it comes to genetics, the idea that gene mixing, creating a larger gene pool and new gene mixes, would be dysgenic seems unscientific to me. Allowing more people in total to survive also enlarges the gene pool and the talents we derive from the gene pool. Gene diversity and absolute gene pool size would allow regional and global populations more chances of surviving a severe existential challenge. This is with the caveat there must be a upper limit to population size beyond which long-term species survival chances are reduced again due to habitat destruction.

    When it comes to demographics, the stated concern seems to be the world will run out of babies. That doesn’t seem to be the problem at the moment. It’s not impossible of course but the likely reasons are rather different than the alleged ones of factors of “feminism” and “dysgenics”. The real problems are general pollution and hormone mimicking chemicals which are causing a reduction in fertility in some regions. Despite this, over-population and over-breeding are probably still greater dangers than a lack of babies.

    What the dysgenic-eugenic crowd really seems to be worried about – behind all the fancy words – is a lack of white babies and all-white nations. Perhaps we can get them concerned about global warming by pointing out that a warmer world will select for more darker skinned people!

  40. @J-D
    I could be wrong. The successive waves of crises and system shocks could bring the whole system of systems to collapse. But one thing I am absolutely certain- it will not be business as normal by 2050. The trend lines are clear- to adapt to the stresses brought upon by climate change (including such effects such as food shortages, water shortages, mass migrations), demographic winter, the baby boomer bulge, peak resources, fiat currency collapse etc. etc. the state will become increasingly authoritarian and panoptic introducing such methods of population control as rationing, universal photo ID, facial recognition through CCTV, social credit, RFID and kill switches in cars etc. etc.

  41. @I am and will always be Not Trampis
    “I am interested in what industries should be nationalised”

    Water supply, wastewater treatment and disposal, health insurance, ports and airports, roads and railways – in short all the natural monopolies and failed markets. The old Labor policy of having a public competitor operating in other markets dominated by a few large players as a check on misbehaviour and abuse should also be revived.

    An apocryphal quote attributed to Marx notes that at a high enough rate of profit, there is no crime that capital will baulk at committing. The banking royal commission illustrates the truth of this observation. The stick of nationalisation needs to be available to enforce compliance with the law at least.

  42. @Val – “It’s a good article Ikon but it still seems to me typical of many Marxist scholars in refusing to face up to some of the limitations of Marx.”

    An excerpt of Paul Mason from The Guardian in 2015 below expanding on Marx’s “Fragment on Machines” without limits. He extrapolates from Marx to a future high tech connected utopian world* as astounding as any based on William Gibson’s 1984 “Neuromancer” cyberpunk dystopian projection.


    “The end of capitalism has begun

    …The scene is Kentish Town, London, February 1858, sometime around 4am. Marx is a wanted man in Germany and is hard at work scribbling thought-experiments and notes-to-self. When they finally get to see what Marx is writing on this night, the left intellectuals of the 1960s will admit that it “challenges every serious

    interpretation of Marx yet conceived”. It is called “The Fragment on Machines”.

    In the “Fragment” Marx imagines an economy in which the main role of machines is to produce, and the main role of people is to supervise them. He was clear that, in such an economy, the main productive force would be information. The productive power of such machines as the automated cotton-spinning machine, the telegraph

    and the steam locomotive did not depend on the amount of labour it took to produce them but on the state of social knowledge. Organisation and knowledge, in other words, made a bigger contribution to productive power than the work of making and running the machines.

    Given what Marxism was to become – a theory of exploitation based on the theft of labour time – this is a revolutionary statement. It suggests that, once knowledge becomes a productive force in its own right, outweighing the actual labour spent creating a machine, the big question becomes not one of “wages versus profits” but

    who controls what Marx called the “power of knowledge”.

    In an economy where machines do most of the work, the nature of the knowledge locked inside the machines must, he writes, be “social”. In a final late-night thought experiment Marx imagined the end point of this trajectory: the creation of an “ideal machine”, which lasts forever and costs nothing. A machine that could be built for

    nothing would, he said, add no value at all to the production process and rapidly, over several accounting periods, reduce the price, profit and labour costs of everything else it touched.

    Once you understand that information is physical, and that software is a machine, and that storage, bandwidth and processing power are collapsing in price at exponential rates, the value of Marx’s thinking becomes clear. We are surrounded by machines that cost nothing and could, if we wanted them to, last forever.

    In these musings, not published until the mid-20th century, Marx imagined information coming to be stored and shared in something called a “general intellect” – which was the mind of everybody on Earth connected by social knowledge, in which every upgrade benefits everybody. In short, he had imagined something close to the

    information economy in which we live. And, he wrote, its existence would “blow capitalism sky high”.

    Marx imagined something close to our information economy. He wrote its existence would blow capitalism sky high

    With the terrain changed, the old path beyond capitalism imagined by the left of the 20th century is lost.

    But a different path has opened up. Collaborative production, using network technology to produce goods and services that only work when they are free, or shared, defines the route beyond the market system. It will need the state to create the framework – just as it created the framework for factory labour, sound currencies and

    free trade in the early 19th century. The postcapitalist sector is likely to coexist with the market sector for decades, but major change is happening.

    Networks restore “granularity” to the postcapitalist project. That is, they can be the basis of a non-market system that replicates itself, which does not need to be created afresh every morning on the computer screen of a commissar.

    The transition will involve the state, the market and collaborative production beyond the market. But to make it happen, the entire project of the left, from protest groups to the mainstream social democratic and liberal parties, will have to be reconfigured. In fact, once people understand the logic of the postcapitalist transition, such

    ideas will no longer be the property of the left – but of a much wider movement, for which we will need new labels.

    This will be more than just an economic transition. There are, of course, the parallel and urgent tasks of decarbonising the world and dealing with demographic and fiscal timebombs. But I’m concentrating on the economic transition triggered by information because, up to now, it has been sidelined. Peer-to-peer has become

    pigeonholed as a niche obsession for visionaries, while the “big boys” of leftwing economics get on with critiquing austerity.

    In fact, on the ground in places such as Greece, resistance to austerity and the creation of “networks you can’t default on” – as one activist put it to me – go hand in hand. Above all, postcapitalism as a concept is about new forms of human behaviour that conventional economics would hardly recognise as relevant…”

    A critique by Frederick Pitts of Mason’s “Postcapitalism” arguing “that the Fragment’s reception runs contrary to Marx’s critique of political economy as a critical theory of society, with implications for left praxis today.”

    “Beyond the Fragment: postoperaismo, postcapitalism and Marx’s ‘Notes on machines’, 45 years on”

    “We must, therefore, beware the siren calls of those who seek to tear the Fragment from its context within the unfolding of a fuller theory of capitalism in Marx and the new readings of his work. Its misguided application to the present wields real political efficacy. Its popularity may relate to the reassurance it offers to two diverse

    audiences. To those interested in capitalism’s continuation, a soothing requiem to its immeasurable productivity and peaceful passage of progress. To those seeking otherwise, the promise of its imminent transformation. From a critical Marxist perspective, both thrive off false hope. … Via its media propagandists, Fragment-thinking

    wields real influence. Social democracy sits under its spell, with the possible next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn, imbibing the utopian aspirations of automated worklessness bubbling up from the youthful radicals that form his base.”

    *Indeed such a Marxian (?) future could have been desirable, but now it cannot be for coincidentally at about the same time in the 60s and 70s when Marx’s Fragment on Machines first appeared on the scene only lip service was being paid to agw climate change by informed world political leaders, all the way with LBJ, for one,

    while Big Oil, for one, began digging up real money to bury agw climate change information and prevent any timely action to forestall it.

  43. @Shane From Melbourne -” stresses brought upon by climate change (including such effects such as food shortages, water shortages, mass migrations) … introducing such methods of population control as…”

    nuclear winter, aerosol and orbital reflector wars, etc, etc. Two birds one stone – end of the line final solutions.

    By 2050? Maybe sooner.

  44. Lol, all these personal attacks from an intellectual discussion- I hope you are not my in law, mansplaining, you’re wrong (don’t tell me that I am wrong, tell me why am wrong and why things can continue as normal and where in the heck did eugenics and dysgenics come into a discussion on demographic winter?). If people want to discuss the issues I’m talking about and put up a countervailing viewpoint, no problem. Otherwise there is no point in me contributing. People can have their safe space.

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