Archive for June, 2009



11
Jun
09

Government Motors?

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the government takeover of GM. Some, such as members of the Obama administration, believe that this will save jobs and- eventually- revitalize the company. Others, such as Fox News’s Glen Beck, claim that this is an abomination and an “attack on Capitalism”.

So what is it really? Good? Bad? Apocalyptic? An attack on Capitalism or the US constitution?

From a Communist point of view, it’s hard to say.

We can determine that a government takeover, with the consent of the owners of the company (as is the case with GM, is not a breach of the Constitution. Those who would claim otherwise could technically claim that this is an infringement on the right to free enterprise, but considering that GM was handed over willingly, this would be a hard position to argue from. Apocalyptic? Hardly. Nowhere in any world religion is government ownership of car companies listed as a sign of the end of the world.

That leaves good or bad, and as I’ve said, it’s not easy to tell which is right.

From a Communist perspective, the government takeover has saved thousands of jobs for autoworkers- a good thing. At the same time, this decision was made more or less without the consensus of the public- a bad thing. All in all, we now have a government-owned car company, something that could be either good or bad- predicting which is going to be hard.

On one hand, state-ownership of transport hasn’t proven detrimental for many countries. On the contrary, state-ownership has often been beneficial for countries, providing an inexpensive form of transport for the general public. At the same time, we must keep in mind that this isn’t about taxis, busses, and trains- this is about cars. How will the government (or at least, a company heavily influenced by the government) make private cars? Again, it’s hard to say. Some postulate that a new generation of fuel-efficient “green” cars will be created, others claim that a car created by committees and bureaucrats will be costly and inefficient. All in all, the Communist perspective is more or less neutral, since this is neither an attack on Capitalism or a movement towards Communism.

It does, however, raise an important point in the difference between Communism and Socialism: the difference between public and state property.

Now one must remember that originally, Socialism referred to the socio-political aspect of Marxism (Communism referring to the economic-political aspect). However, like many words, the definition of “Socialism” has changed dramatically. Currently, Socialism is used to refer to a “middle-ground” between Capitalism and Communism. Essentially, Socialism is an economic system where large portions of the economy are owned or controlled by the state. Too often, this is confused with Communism- largely due to the USSR and other pseudo-Communist states replacing private property with state property, rather than public property. Simplified, the differences can best be explained by an example using land. In the US, there are three types of land-ownership, private, state, and public. Private property (in regards to land) is land owned purely by a single person for that person’s own use. State property is property which belongs solely to the state and whatever sub-department the land is run by. Public property is property that belongs to everyone, for whatever (legal) use chosen (streets and roads, for example, are public property). With GM, the US moves towards Socialism not Communism (though since the US government tends to regulate, rather than own, the US remains primarily Capitalist). There are even some who blame the fall of the Soviet Union not on corruption and dictatorship but on the fact the private property was turned into state property, rather than public property, as demanded in Marx’s works.

In short, even if the US is moving towards Socialism (and it still has a long, long way to go before that happens), it is important to keep in mind that this does not mean the US is moving towards Communism.

09
Jun
09

The Success of Capitalism

Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro commented “They talk about the failure of Socialism, but where is the success of Capitalism in Africa, Asia, or Latin America?”.

This is the topic that will be explored here.

At first, it would seem that Castro’s comment- made in 1991- is now outdated. After all, in Asia Capitalism seems to be doing extremely well. Japan has become a world superpower, China (a semi-Capitalist, semi-Socialist country) has one of the highest export levels on earth, and Thailand and much of South-East Asia has made massive profits off of tourism. All in all, it would appear that Capitalism has done wonders for Asia.

Or has it?

Japan, as the world’s second largest economy, has done very well for itself. In almost every respect, Japan has benefitted from Capitalism, depending on one’s definition of what is and is not beneficial- a question that will be addressed later. However, when compared with most other Asian countries, one might very well be led to conclude that Japan’s success is an isolated phenomenon.

Take China, for instance.

As previously mentioned, while China claims to be a Communist country, in reality China could be best described as a semi-socialist dictatorship with high levels of privatization. Quite simply, modern China, despite it’s cultural and political heritage, is Capitalist. And Capitalism has not been kind to China, as is clearly evidenced by the rampancy of sweatshops, child labor, and questionable marketing techniques (such as the notorious poisoned milk scandal in 2008, or lead-painted toy exports in 2007). While one might argue that this not due to Capitalism but to a lack of government regulations however one must keep in mind that Capitalism- pure Capitalism- is one without regulation, as repeatedly argued by Smith, Freidman, Rand, and so on.

And it’s not just China.

Sweatshops and child labor are present in most countries (though to varying degrees), but it doesn’t end at mere repeats of Dickensian nightmares. Though present in every country on earth, the sex trade is particularly bad in South East Asia, most notably Thailand. As described in the previous post, Capitalism is defined as the buying and selling of goods or services for profit- the emphasis on services being key here. Both voluntary and forced, prostitution is a widespread “industry”, for lack of a better term. While some might argue that prostitution is the “oldest trade in the world”, one must still question whether or not this makes it right. After all, it was once Roman practice to leave unwanted children out under bridges, but the fact that was practiced for hundreds of years doesn’t justify it. Or perhaps a person could argue that the sex trade isn’t a result of Capitalism, but if it isn’t, what is? Would these women be selling themselves for free? Would brothel owners auction off women and girls without the incentive of profit? Capitalism’s point is capital– profit. With the profit taken away, there’s not point in buying or selling goods or services- sex included.

And this is only Asia.

In Africa and South America, colonialism, or rather “neocolonialism” is still present, though in far more subtle ways. While sweatshops and sex-trade are present in both Africa and Latin America, Capitalists seem to be less interested in the profits they could make in the countries so much as the profits from what they take out of the countries. Ivory from Kenya, diamonds from Sierra Leone, minerals from Peru, wood from Brazil, and so on in an almost endless list. Corporations, mostly Western, suck Africa and South America dry of its resources in exchange for nominal pay. A person in the DRC could work in a mine for coltan ore in dangerous conditions for long hours and receive less than a dollar for his work- enough to keep him alive, but not enough to allow him to find better work. These conditions, if imposed on Western workers, would lead to riots, but in South America and Africa, corporations are capable of taking advantage of poor living conditions to create a almost limitless workforce of unskilled laborers and bleeding these countries of their natural wealth. An advocate of Capitalism could argue that a coltan miner being paid a dollar is better than the same person being paid less- that these countries are still better off with neocolonialism than without. To this I must ask whether a child is better off prostituting herself than starving. Just because a person, country, or continent is marginally better off doesn’t mean that its treatment is in any way justifiable.

While the world can talk of the “fall of Socialism”, I suggest that one cannot speak of the success of Capitalism either.

06
Jun
09

Capitalism Defined

While Communism may summon unbidden images of dictatorships, oppression, and poverty; Capitalism brings to mind images of freedom, wealth, and luxury. Like Communism, Capitalism does not deserve the reputation it has.

Capitalism, in its simplest definition, is this- a social system in which the end purpose of politics, labor, business (and indeed, life in general) is capital, i.e. money. When a person works, he or she works for the highest wages possible. When a business sells a product, the product is sold for the highest profit possible. When a government acts, it acts in such a way as to create the highest inflow of cash possible (though admittedly, Smith states that the best way for this to happen is for the government to stay out of economy altogether).

According to Capitalism’s advocates, this system creates a healthy, strong society where everyone is rewarded according to their individual efforts and intelligence. The inventive and hard-working move to the top while the stupid and lazy are left behind.

Now in theory this sounds like a good system, but how does it work when put into practice?

In reality, this system creates a survival-of-the-fittest that not even Darwin would’ve imagined possible. Individuals engage in brutal competition with each other for high-paying jobs, businesses war with each other to sell their products and services, and so on. Even Smith himself states that “But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them… Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so… Every man is… first and principally recommended to his own care… it is fit and right that it should be so.”. In other words, “let each and every person act in his own interests”.

“Harsh but fair.” you might argue, “it is a jungle out there and it’s only natural that the fittest survive.”

That’s all good if you’ve got a steady occupation and decent health- but what if that changes? If you suddenly were fired (maybe the company can make a better profit without you) then survival-of-the-fittest system doesn’t sound so great anymore. If you come down with some disease and the treatment is expensive, what are you going to do if you can’t come up with the cash? This is Capitalism- you can’t expect the doctor to save your life out of human compassion! Or worse yet, what if you’re born to a lower class? In that case, you’re stunted from birth- cursed with a worse education than your bourgeois and elite counterparts (after all, education’s a marketable service- the best educations go only to those who can afford it). You’ll be lucky to get a job at all.

Capitalism still sound great? It gets worse.

With all of this going on, now add on the fact that you yourself don’t count as a person in grander scheme of things. For the employer, you don’t exist as a person but as a source of revenue- a money-machine. If you “break down” or if an “upgrade” comes along, you can be replaced. That means in addition to struggling to keep your head above water in a system where you’re being squeezed for every penny, you have to fight tooth-and-claw with your fellow man for each and every opportunity. If you and a co-worker are competing for sales, what’s to stop the co-worker from lying about the product to potential buyers in order to ensure that the product is sold? He’s making money for himself and for his bosses and if the buyer’s a gullible enough to fooled, then that’s just Capitalism. The smart (or at least, those who could afford an education) and hard-working (or unscrupulous) move ahead and the stupid (or those who couldn’t afford college) and lazy (or those with mental/physical disabilities or those who simply won’t lie and cheat) are left in the dust. And what about cases where a profit can be made from direct exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, sweat-shops, and pure and simple slavery? Since the end goal is money, is is justified to con a person or to bribe a public official for profit?

Does Capitalism still truly deserve its reputation? I submit that it does not.

05
Jun
09

Communism Defined

“Communism”.

The word will probably conjure to mind apocalyptic visions of Orwellian police states and brutal suppression of dissidents. Sadly, this was indeed true of the Soviet Union and- to this day- China and North Korea. However, before one judges Communism according to the actions of these countries, let us examine whether or not these countries met what the founding fathers of Communism defined their system as.

Both of these allegedly Communist countries have been known for being dictatorships, yet Marx defines a Communist country as a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (i.e. pure democratic rule). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had clear social classes, with both the extremely rich and extremely poor. Marx, however, sets down in his Manifesto that a Communist society will be one devoid of any class other than the proletariat (working class). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had individuals with large amounts of private property, particularly in China, where privatization is rampant. Marx, on the other hand, describes a Communist society as having abolished private property.

And the list goes on, ranging from political issues to economic subjects to questions of personal freedoms and responsibilities, and in almost every aspect, Marx’s description of Communism and the reality of so-called “Communist” countries are diametrically opposed. In short, these countries have merely masqueraded under the facade of Communism, while in reality functioning as semi-socialist dictatorships. For that reason, one could no more blame Communism for the atrocities committed by the Soviet and Maoist regimes than one could blame Christianity for the horrors of the Crusades or Spanish Inquisition. Despite its depiction, Communism was not the USSR. Communism is not contemporary China or Cuba or North Korea.

So what is Communism then?

Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, defines Communism as a society where (1) private property is abolished in favor of public property, (2) the class system is abolished and a single, democratic class system is created instead, and (3) each individual works according to his or her talents for the greater good of the community in exchange for the community taking care of the individual’s needs. No reference to totalitarianism, work-camps, or nuclear weapons, imperialist expansion, or brutal oppression or any of the things commonly associated with Communism is included.

Nevertheless, Communism is still widely feared. For some- those who have experienced the so-called “Communism” of the USSR, China, North Korea, and Cuba- it is quite understandable why they would look down on Communism and its advocates (though as understandable as it is, it still isn’t right).

For others, ignorance is the source of their fear, being unaware of the difference between the Soviets/Maoists/Etc. and Communists. Once again, without knowledge of the difference, their fear is understandable (though not right).

However, there are those who are fully aware of what Communism truly is and yet still fear it. But how can someone who is fully aware that Communism advocates democracy, equality, and the abolition of class and property be afraid? It can only be that these people have something to lose. The dictator loses his power, the wealthy and elite lose their position and luxury.

These people have every right to be afraid of Communism.