Shit, even I’d support this type of socialism

It is time to junk the cheap and facile propaganda that socialism is reducible to Stalinist depredations. In Ralph Miliband’s own anti-Stalinist understanding, socialism was about “the wholesale transformation of the social order” by giving ordinary people control over the economic system, fully democratising a political system in which ordinary citizens feel disenfranchised and helpless, and ensuring “a drastic levelling out of social inequality”.

Thing is, the British lefty intelligentsia never really has understood that it is markets which provide exactly that democratisation. We all get to vote on everything by our very actions. And the reason they don’t get it is, I’m sure, partly because Marx himself was deeply, deeply, wrong about markets and also that there’s a definite air of aristocratic disdain in said intelligentsia. Markets are just too close to trade, d’ye see?

29 thoughts on “Shit, even I’d support this type of socialism”

  1. >giving ordinary people control over the economic system,

    Lefties have been saying this sort of thing for as long as I can remember. We all know it’s a lie, because every time they get a sniff of power it’s them in charge of everything, and the ‘ordinary people’ are not even allowed to vote, let alone get a say in anything.

    (I can’t believe this sort of thing is raising its head again. Does anybody really believe this sh!t any more apart from a few die-hards?)

  2. They don’t “get” markets because they don’t want to. They are evil scum who want to lord it over others. They dress that up with sanctimonious bullshit but you only have to look at the ruin and the mountain of corpses they leave behind them to see what they are.

  3. Sadly I think Tank is probably right.

    It’s one of those words for which the Left has a special meaning; “democratic” means “controlled by the government”.

  4. Tank

    I am favouring the word leftyism over leftism which I feel allows it a gravitas to these people they shouldn’t have.

    Stalin was merely one of the revolting extremes of socialism.

    Amongst any rational people the great social experiment of the 20th Century was a total and utter failure that ruined the lives of millions, in many cases by exterminating them, but in many millions more by treating them as sub-humans and eliminating any vestige of what distinguishes us from mere animals.

    Socialism is only about control for a ‘greater good’. The means justifies the end and it will always end as it has done. That’s why they can’t show us a single example of good socialism or communism.

    Lefytism does the job for me. It trivialises the whole thing. Critically unthinking look-at-me I care goodyism that totally clashes with what socialism is about. I prefer and out-and-out socialist to a lefty. I know where I stand and I won’t see contortions as they try to theorise their way to utopia.

    Saves having to face up to the realities of their lives. A bit like unrepentant terrorists (we have plenty here). You have to be unrepentant because if you stop and think what you have done in the name of the greater good, you would have to blow your brains out.

    I enjoy asking my lefty friends (when they get on their high horses) to name a single material thing the Russian/Cuban/Chinese revolution brought us that we want. Eventually they get round to vodka and caviar, which one has to point out existed before.

    As Tim says we want want she describes and as you point out it ain’t socialism.

  5. Socialism is fundamentally unfree. Without markets, someone else has to choose what you do, when and how. And this someone is usually a Richard Murphy clone who thinks he knows best. If you innovate then you are rebelling and have to be put down sharply. And they will not let you leave since it is usually the smartest and savviest who wish to innovate and these people are too important to let leave.

    With markets we are all at the whim of the myriad decisions of others who are all trying to improve their lot. That seems much fairer and more benign. And if you don’t like it you can piss off to North Korea or Cuba.

  6. Tim: I consider myself a British lefty – tho not one of the intelligentsia – and I appreciate the importance of markets. Market socialism, which has many variants, is – to say the least – a plausible set of ideas, as John Roemer and colleagues have shown.
    In fact, if you’re looking for people who believe in central planning, you’ll find them among CEOs who think that huge companies can be centrally planned, rather than amongst lefties like me.
    The fact that we don’t have the media profile of the anti-market left doesn’t mean our ideas aren’t reasonable and serious – if anything, the opposite.

  7. Good old Grauniad.

    This trick was discredited years ago.

    Ask a bogus question and shoot down the straw man.

    Golly gosh, a devout (ohyes!) Marxist was not a Stalinist!


    The bit that beats me is that leftyism in all its forms has been tried and tested and found wanting. But time and again – and I’m looking at you Obama, and you Ed – history shows that people can still be bribed with their own money.

  8. @john miller ‘history shows that people can still be bribed with their own money’

    Actually, it’s usualy people being bribed with other people’s money. They’ve now gone way past the tipping point where this can ever be undone, and this country and much of the West is on the road to tyranny and probably revolution (though the technology is such now that revolution will be harder to achieve than it was in say Solidarity-era Poland).

    Chris – I am a fan of your work, but I cannot see how obviously highly intelligent and well-intentioned people like you (to distinguish you from most left-wing politicians and journalists) cannot see that actually we all pretty much want the same thing, and that free markets have been proven over and over again to be the best way to get there.

    The large company example is interesting but misses the point. It doesn’t matter what structure they use – though there are good and bad ones – beuse (say) Apple will go bust if it doesn’t create good products, whereas government never really goes bust (in that way).

  9. Always see socialism same way as I see religion. Lot of stuff about the meek inheriting the earth. Always ends up with bishops’ palaces.
    Socialism as practiced, as opposed to the theoretical variety, is capitalism triumphant.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    You have to remember that when a socialist uses words, they often mean the exact opposite of what most people think they mean. Now, I do not doubt that Miliband started out fooling himself before trying to fool us. But what he means is mass executions, mass graves and mass poverty. That is what he devoted his life to.

    And there is not a lot more to be said.

  11. It’s one of those words for which the Left has a special meaning; “democratic” means “controlled by the government”.

    Among the Proggie Left it usually means, “controlled by our corporate (third sector) groups and implemented by the State”. What they mean by democracy is corporatist voting blocs “represented” by groups like pressure groups, unions, etc. The State is just there to implement what these groups have decided the policy should be.

  12. @ Ian
    Why I like thinking of it as a religion. At the back end of all those groups, unions etc etc is supposed to be “the peeple!” of which they are the voice. So it’s democratic because “the peeple!” are being heard’ Just that they know so well what “the peeple!” would say if asked they don’t bother about asking.
    Sounds remarkably like the “Voice of God” to me.

  13. chris,

    In fact, if you’re looking for people who believe in central planning, you’ll find them among CEOs who think that huge companies can be centrally planned, rather than amongst lefties like me.

    The difference is that that’s only central planning within that business. It still faces the pressure of external competition, which is why markets work. And within a business, you need management. Jony Ive would be unknown without Jobs returning to Apple – he was making beautiful designs like the 20th Anniversary Mac that were too expensive for the market to sustain.

  14. Yep, democratic as in the GDR , or the union block vote.

    He may or may not have disliked Stalin, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t support mass forced collectivisation or the abolition of democracy.

    Opposing Stalin doesn’t make you a cuddly liberal.

  15. >Opposing Stalin doesn’t make you a cuddly liberal.

    Yes, it wasn’t just Stalin, they were all into forced collectivization and killing anyone who disagreed, even Trotsky.

  16. The conventional political spectrum (left-right) is near useless for determining someone’s political beliefs and terms like “liberal” and “socialist” so broadly defined and (mis)understood as to be essentially meaningless.

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    ukliberty – “The conventional political spectrum (left-right) is near useless for determining someone’s political beliefs and terms like “liberal” and “socialist” so broadly defined and (mis)understood as to be essentially meaningless.”

    Although not, as it happens, in Ralph Miliband’s case. Neither of those things is true in his case. It is clear he was not a liberal in any sense. Supporting a totalitarian cause. And he was, of course, a socialist by any definition. Not only was he a socialist, he was and is recognised as such by every other socialist under the sun – all of whom seem to feel a need to come out and defend his festering reputation.

  18. Some of the more intelligent socialists realised the devastting nature of Hayek’s critique of the impossibility of socialist economic calculation. So they tried to create a hybrid: “market socialism”, aiming to blend the best of both, as they saw it. The problem is that without the freedom that comes with several property, unfettered prices and so on, this breaks down, and you end up with arguably the worst of both.

    Of course, it might sound silly to denounce a mild sort of socialist as a “Marxist”; there are lots of doctrinal differences, and so on. But there remain a lot of similarities; and a lot of socialists today (and for that matter, the thicker kinds of Tories) still subscribe to a sort of labour theory of value, and to a kind of materialism that regards any work that does not involve a hammer as inferior (as can be seen at the sneering at speculators, or services, or banking)

  19. In fact, if you’re looking for people who believe in central planning, you’ll find them among CEOs who think that huge companies can be centrally planned, rather than amongst lefties like me.

    Yes, and they usually make the USSR look like a model of efficiency. I work for one of them.

  20. That property market ,where the biggest chunk of people’s money goes, that’s working a treat is n’t it?

  21. “We all get to vote on everything by our very actions.”

    Some of us get more votes than others in the market, though.

    Some of the left – people like Chris Dillow – have far more in common with you than you do with an awful lot of the right wing that claims to favour the market, but actually favours the rich and big businesses, not the disruptive small ones.

  22. “That property market ,where the biggest chunk of people’s money goes, that’s working a treat is n’t it?”

    It would be a lot better if it wasn’t for political meddling for political ends. And it would be a damn site worse if we let the socialists loose on it – have you been to the old Soviet block states? Indeed have you seen some of those estates in those socialist paradises of Liverpool or Glasgow?

  23. To say that Marx was “deeply, deeply wrong about markets” is quite a large claim.

    Would anybody here care to justify this assertion? (Please keep to economic theory – references to the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, etc, don’t count.)

    Tim adds: Sure. I’ve seen it from Brad Delong for example, Marx just not getting the role of markets in distribution and information setting (a rather Hayekian point).

    But to stay simple, with one thing Marx got wrong, he thought that a market economy would inevitably lead to monopoly…..monopoly capitalism in fact. And it don’t work out that way. We now know that it is precisely a market economy, specifically a free market economy untrammelled by too much regulation, which allows new entrants into said market and thus undermines monopoly capitalism. Most innovation comes from new companies (Schumpeter), almost all employment growth comes from new companies, large companies are job destroyers.

    The essential mistake Marx made was to be a classical economist (and, to be fair, at times a highly perceptive one) just a few years before the neoclassical revolution. Jevons, Marshall and the other bloke (Wicksell?) destroyed the basics of Marxism by pointing out that the whole thing is a process, where it’s what happens at the margin which is important.

    The static analysis of Marx has never recovered from that point. And, arguably, never will.

    Or if you want it boiled down to one single point. Marx got markets wrong by not understanding the power of disruptive new entrants into said markets.

    And it’s worth noting that markets that don’t allow new entrants do indeed suffer from many of the problems that Marx said the entire economy would do. Which is, of course, why I’m such an avid free marketeer: precisely because Marx was wrong about markets.

  24. Capitalism is a system based on greed, Socialism is based on generosity, however, you can virtually guarantee that people will be greedy to some extent, whereas generosity needs to be “encouraged”, it is of course this “encouragement” that leads us down that well-travelled road to serfdom.

    So, whilst Capitalism is nasty, vile, exploitive and greedy, it actually “works”, and Socialism doesn’t, never will, and never can.

    The grand vision of most lefties is that come the great red dawn all the nasty greedy people will mysteriously vaporise out of existence, they wont of course, they’ll be the ones doing the vaporisation.

  25. Marx’s entire theory is predicated on the labour theory of value, thus relying on goods having an intrinsic value. This is entirely and irretrievably wrong, and dooms the whole of the rest of Marxism from chapter 1, page 1 of Das Kapital onward.

    Tim adds: Absolutely correct. Smith’s (second) theory of value is use value. Which is pretty much what we end up with in neoclassical economics. Value is determined by the user, not by the labour that went into production. And thus is Marx over-turned.

  26. So Much For Subtlety

    Marx’s theory is also based on the idea that technology will top out. We will reach a stable state with no new developments.

    I think there is something to his idea that markets lead to a slow monopoly. It is certainly true that they push out the self employed in favour of larger companies. Look at doctors who are under going this process as we speak. The small private practice is being replaced by the larger clinic run by some centralised company.

    But two of these come together because he did not see that technological development is not predictable. Large companies do not do it well. Small start ups can and do destroy established giants. At least they do in the US where markets have more freedom to operate. So far it has not stopped either.

    But if innovation did stop, I think you would see the gradual evolution of a small number of very large companies. Which would be incompetently run of course.

  27. D’you know what bugs me about Marxist theory ? Surplus bloody Value. What a lot of arse !

    As a history student I was forced to sit through lectures as earnest academics explained how this was the apogee of political ( i.e. classical) economics and that Smith, Ricardo, Namur Senior, Mill etc etc were only leading up to this pinnacle of economic theory.

    And I looked at my Coke tin, with which no human ever came into contact in its production and whose contents probably cost a few pennies to produce but cost ( in those days ) 30p in the Student Union cafe and thought where’s the surplus value in that then ?

    Marx was a reasonable economic historian of the Industrial Revolution (even then he was wrong about primitive accumulation ) and he offers a nicely mechanistic theory of society which rather falls apart when people start using their brains rather than their hands at work.

  28. SMFS makes a good point about monopolies. If you take the Marxist notion of the market to its endpoint, you end up with somethimg akin to Rollerball, where the world is divided up by the Corporations and competition is represented by James Cann duffing up Japanese rollerskaters.

    What he failed to grasp is that
    a) there is always something new and that the pace of technological change could only accelerate.

    b) Governments would be brave enough ( T. Roosevelt ) to break up monopolies and cartels and ensure that the market continued to function.

    Anyway Schumpeter was right. Once the bureaucrats start running a company, it is finished.

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