Photo credit: Wikicommons / Vladmir Lenin in 1917
Capitalism is a system — to be blunt about it — for the few.
For the few individuals who either inherit the wealth, or steal the wealth, or make the wealth by dint of hard labor — that too. But [for the few] who distinguish themselves not by the work they did, [or] the quality of the work they did, but by the wealth they have amassed, and the power they have accumulated… That comes at the expense of everybody else and that produces a society torn a part by… envy, bitterness, rancor and anger.
–Richard D. Wolff
I have only seen one system, one world, one kind of reality. I have only seen Neoliberalism in my lifetime and I think that my bitterness, as a Millennial, as a young person, towards the system — the socioeconomic and the political — is a product of my destiny. I didn’t choose to be born in the most technologically advanced age in human history. In a time when 8 people have as much wealth as half the world’s population. I did not choose to be born in one of the most Democratic and Multicultural countries on Earth where I can speak out for injustice. I didn’t choose to have such a deep heart. I have chosen, however, not to blame anybody else for how the world is and I definitely don’t want to hurt anybody else either. I became a Marxist and a Socialist in my mid-20’s — not because I’m a greedy person and I want other people’s hard-earned riches, but because I’m ultimately too kind for this period in time. I do seem to care way too much about those people who are cast out of our seemingly perfect society — than I am with myself, or those made out to be some kind of oracles.
I can’t sit here in my free time thinking about how I can carry on profiting for myself, more and more — as a good Capitalist would — for me and for my family. What is that doing? What benefit am I providing to society by doing this? Because I feel like I’m already living and being a good citizen already. By joining into the system — by getting an education, a job, paying my bills and taxes, by fearing God, the universe and all of my “leaders” — I do go along with everything with a smile. I try to be nice to everyone I interact with. I already provide for me and my family. I’m already doing what I’m supposed to be doing but I’m left wanting more than what Capitalism can provide. I sit and perilously wonder: how exactly can I change the world to help other people? I get stuck in this thought… How can I make it so that everybody else, about 3.5 billion strangers — people I’ve never met — can have exactly what I already do here in Canada? I don’t see Capitalism, or whatever system we have right now, as the vehicle to do deliver that to those people. Even here, there are signs of systemic failure in my own country because there are people who are ignored by the system entirely, and that fact cannot be underestimated.
Sure, I could blindly focus on all the billionaires and millionaires that Capitalism has produced in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries — I could. It feels nice, like being high on cocaine, to look at entrepreneurs and celebrities, and imagine that that could be you one day… I get lost in that kind of thought all the time, but I can’t stomach it for too long. I eventually remember the famine and the destruction that’s in the 21st century, all that is left over from the past which has been a consequence of their creation. I can’t shun the few rare glimpses of the ignominy that I see on the internet, in movies, on TV or in advertisements — some people can… But those images are implanted in my memory, burned into my consciousness, like a scab on the sole of my foot. I can’t ge those faces of war and those bloated bellies of starvation out of my mind. I can’t get over the fact that there are only a few pockets that are isolated from the ruination of the real world. Some places that are protected like fortresses from the bombings, where ideas like Peace, Liberty, and Democracy can roam free… Where citizens are allowed to have choices and rights, even though it is not a perfect utopia in the West yet.
I can’t for one moment claim that those desperate people aren’t there — the poor in the West and the poor around the world. Capitalism may have got me and my country here, to this very expensive but safe and quiet place to think very hard… I can envision Western countries as these places where great fancy is being cultivated. A place where the people are safe from all of the war, even if they’re victims of corruption, and where the population is able to explore their minds — after work or whatever, and figure out a way to change the entire world. That’s why they’re being protected… Real Democracy — one person-one vote — gives us some character in the political theater to change what is happening to us economically. But now, is Capitalism what will bring this kind of materialistic luxury to the rest of the world? Will it provide to billions of more people what the West has — drinking water, food, clothing, shelter, education, jobs, and security? Capitalism is already ignoring them, so what’s going to change?
Our stars of Capitalism are not helping those people. The philanthropy — the kind of charity from the rich, from billionaires like Bill Gates, who alone controls 85 billion dollars — provides no real help those people. I may be a Marxist (a critic of Capitalism) and a Socialist thinker, but I primarily just want there to be a brand-new system. Does that mean progression of Democratic Socialism? Well, I don’t think that has enough impact. I don’t think that the NDP in Canada, or the Independents in the US, have any chance right now to make a real difference… The corporate forces are too strong. The hold that they have, and the power of the lobbyists on legislation, is a violation of Democracy. Therefore the people don’t have much control right now… Evidence of this is in the election of Donald Trump; how the Electoral College system is a way to prevent real Democracy. Neoliberalism has ensured, by privatizing everything in society, by disenfranchising a majority of voters — there can be no justice within this system anymore. Businesses are people, according to the law. Money is more important than life.
In some ways, more than just what is in this post, I see the current system as a total bust. We’re going in the wrong direction, and I don’t want there to be any violence either. My ultimate goal of my economic research is to: either find a better alternative from the past and elaborate on it, or I want to create (or adapt) my own socioeconomic theory. A system which will actually work for modern times. I do not think any of the contemporary systems have worked out in their application for the majority of people — not Capitalism, State Capitalism, Socialism, Democratic Socialism or Communism — none of them. Parts of them work, but they have never worked on their own. And of course, all of the historical systems like Feudalism, Slavery or Hunter/Gatherer did not work out either because their usage was merely phased out over time. Unlike then in those easier times centuries ago, as we all reflect on the past right now — when there are really big issues at hand that we must face — most of us quiver at true reality. Say Hello to Fake News because it’s a thing, and it is a force which must be resisted. Most of us rather seek out something nice to think about or someone to cast the shame on to, but it is only our own selves who are guilty. By ignoring the facts that are out there and allowing people to dupe you… You’re the guilty one.
Let us look for better ways of teaching problem solving and critical thinking to young people… New ways of doing things. At the root of humanity is economics — so we must look there first, and not be afraid of what we find. We can’t just choose one side, Capitalism or Socialism, and just hope that it will all work out in the end… It doesn’t work that way anymore. We can’t argue that anything else has worked in the past because it didn’t. Embrace that beautiful fact. Maybe Capitalism did work for a few White, straight people in the West, but not for the most of humanity. The struggle isn’t over, people! We must be willing to take on our history for what it is, from multiple sources, and our willingness to debate those topics is essential — since all they are, are just facts. They do not control our new ideas. Facts just inspire us: either with anger or with love. We must create ideas from watching, listening and reading the works of great minds. We must also create from the pictures of destruction that we see every day — all the suffering that we see. Even if it’s in Hollywood. We have to accept the times in which we are living. I want to make it clear that even though I am a Socialist, I do condemn the most widely used form of Socialism: Marxist-Leninism (or M-L.)
The one system
When I was only one month and two days old, the Berlin Wall came crumbling down. I have lived my entire life in Canada and I graduated high school in 2007. I got my first job quickly afterward… We can all, I hope, recall what happened the year after that. The Cold War was over economics and the obvious winner was Capitalism, for many reasons. The United States of America, representing the “Free World,” and the U.S.S.R., representing the “Communist states,” never had a direct battle. They instead competed in dozens of proxy wars, which were covertly supported and then armed by either side to attack the other… Petty warfare as it should be called. The massive arms race between the two superpowers — the nuclear and hydrogen bombs being tested every week, and the astronauts and cosmonauts who were being sent to the farthest reaches of the atmosphere and to the moon — were all showcases of power. The war also brought a lot of extra propaganda from both sides… The Red Scare was a period of Western hysteria that was directed towards anyone who was critical at the time — in other words, you didn’t have to be a Communist or a Socialist to be a traitor.
When most people think about this period around the Cold War, they think that it was a psychological war between Capitalism and Socialism on its own, however, this couldn’t be any farther from the real truth. Let us keep in mind that both of these systems are isms. There are many Capitalisms and Socialisms, neither of them is singular. The Cold War was a war over Capitalism yes — Keynesian until the 1980’s and then Neoliberal — but the Free World was against M-L Socialism. That must be clear. It was over one kind of Socialism: Marxist-Leninist Socialism. The government and media may have interpreted it as just plain-old Socialism, but it wasn’t. Thanks to the internet, people know this now. People can read the theories and see what is true and what is not. There are very big differences in forms of Socialisms, just like there are in Capitalisms.
Okay, one more quick point before I move on: not even a decade after World War II — after all those peace treaties were signed — there was war once again all over the world. In China, Greece, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, Israel/Palestine, Algeria, Egypt. The list really goes on and on. Ever since WWII has ended, the US has been at war with either another country itself, or it was supporting the combatant in a war. The US has been in perpetual war, in a permanent war economy ever since the 1940’s. Even now, after the U.S.S.R. has disappeared and the Cold War is over — the US is still at war. When it was the Reds, now it’s the Terrorists.
This war is the continuation of Neoliberal Capitalism introduced during the Cold War, the continuation of Manifest Destiny around the world, and however, you decide to look at it, it is arguably as vicious as the crusade of Marxist-Leninism. Capitalism and Socialism are considered to be dogmatic in their design and yet both of them express, at their true core, what is still wrong with our global human society: we still exploit others for profit — for money, and we still can’t think outside the box. We humans need to be limited in some way to prevent us from taking the action of exploiting someone else too far… Capitalism is limited by Democracy, within one country, but not around the world where are no limits on exploitation. Is Globalization of Capitalism considered an imperialistic force? It could be a new form of that… But Globalization is a just a wave of Capitalists fleeing the West: businesses are moving, or “offshoring” to places where they can make more profit from “slave labor.” Is Capitalism still helping out the West as these businesses flee our shores? We are a pretty barbaric species, we are still in our infancy, and our intellect and our technology have not won yet against our natural egos. Our greed and our pride prevent us from accepting our futuristic reality. The reality is that we are all the same thing, we all need the same things to survive… So why are we competing anymore?
These M-L parties of the 20th century, and the one’s that are still around today — have failed horribly to realize the true Communist society that Karl Marx and the countless others envisioned. In the Communist Manifesto: there are many instances which one would deduct that violent revolution is required in order to change the system… The initial reaction to reading that book is that immediate action is required by the Proletariat (the workers) to overthrow Capitalist society for the good of the majority… It is such a powerful piece of history and everybody should read it. However, both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published other works — the Critique of the Gotha Programme and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific respectively — that were not about violent revolutions at all. These works outline evolutionary transitions to overcome Capitalism rather than a violent overthrow, and they resemble Democratic Socialism of today.
I’ll say again, I don’t support Marxist-Leninist by any means, rather I would like to clarify some of its misconceptions… There is some good in it, but it is driven on the idea that Socialism has to control (or take from) others. This is where most of the animosity towards Communism and Socialism comes from… This misconception. This is where the whole idea that Socialism means limited free press, limited free speech and limited freedoms. M-L thinkers felt and feel like they need to enforce on society, and that there are sacrifices of freedoms which have to take place to do that… If we look at how leaders have perverted and abused the great Socialist ideas of the 18th century, in the 20th century, then this all becomes very clear. The propaganda really has worked.
People got excited about Marxism and took it in directions that we don’t want to go in again, and we have to learn from that. People have done that with almost any system of thought including the lovers of Democracy, the lovers of Capitalism — some of them did things in the name of that, that we don’t agree with and we want to learn what not to do. I think the Soviet Union, China, and so on — give us lessons in what not to do, but Marx was not a thinker about Socialism and Communism. He never wrote a book about it. His analysis was about Capitalism. He was interested in understanding what about it is positive, what about it isn’t so positive and how we can go further. It’s not a question about which one is right or wrong, but you want the understanding of the celebrator and you want the understanding of the critic. And I think it would only be better off if we had followed a little bit of that, so we would understand better the problems of Capitalism, we would handle them a bit better.
–Richard D. Wolff
The majority of Communist parties in the West — like the ones here in Canada — are Marxist-Leninist. This is a style of Soviet Socialism. It was coined by Joseph Stalin in 1938 and it considers both the ideas of Marx and Vladmir Lenin’s. There are about 24 countries which were M-L at one point in time. Currently, there are still 4 nations that use M-L’s ideology, these are China, Laos, Cuba, and Vietnam.
Break it down
Let us look at the definition of Marxist-Leninist to see what it really means:
The goal of M-L … is the development of a state into … a socialist state through the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard composed of “professional” revolutionaries, an organic part of the working class who come to socialist consciousness as a result of the dialectic of class struggle.
So, M-L ideology is meant to develop the state (the nation) into a Socialist state, but only through the leadership of a “revolutionary vanguard.” These leaders of the revolution will come mostly from the working class and they are the one’s who have become conscious of the class struggle. So, in other words, the people like me… Those people who notice cracks in the system, the critics, it doesn’t matter what century we’re in — they are the one’s that bring the revolutions. We build, with our voices and our ideas, the revolutionary vanguard. As professional revolutionaries, we are there to guide others to see the possibilities of a brighter future — to a future beyond Capitalism.
The socialist state … according to M-L represents a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, is primarily or exclusively governed by the party of the revolutionary vanguard through the process of democratic centralism, which Vladimir Lenin described as “diversity in discussion, unity in action.”
When a country is M-L, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is achieved by the leaders, and this democratic centralism is where the ideology starts to lose me intellectually. Because I feel like if there has to be a “leader” or party, or a dictatorship of the workers — then there must be authoritarianism or totalitarianism, in some form… This is fundamentally where the U.S.S.R. and where the 30 other states went wrong in carrying out Socialism. This centralism of power and the hand-in-hand Orwellian-style banishment of any kind of dissent, debate, free press or free speech — is where they all start to stray away from a Communist ideal… In my opinion only in Cuba is where there is true Socialism, but even there too, there is no longer a revolutionary wave progressing them towards a Communist society… That revolution died with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Fidel’s brother, Raul, is now doing for Cuba what Mao did to China, reform it to be State Capitalist instead of anything close to Socialist.
Phases of Socialism
Phase 1 is simple. With the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lenin’s Bolshevik (Red) party became the first to ever to seize the state, to accomplish Phase 1, from the Capitalists. Lenin then forced his party’s dominance on the Russian people, whether they wanted it or not, which arguably, he had to do to stay in control — to keep the ball rolling on to phase 2 of Socialism — but in doing so, in forcing their dominance, what they did was lost the connection they once had with the working people (or the peasants in this case.) Lenin’s Bolsheviks — the Socialists — had only seized the state. They only completed Phase 1. Phase 2 comes when the workplace and the economy have fundamentally been changed. When the organization of labor is Democratic and equal. This is a Communist society, one without a government or a political system. Phase 2 of Socialism means the workers have become the Capitalists. There has to be a transition in how people work otherwise no transition has been made, there’s just a new exploiter.
The poor, the desperate, the disabled, the elderly… these people will benefit from those who do the work. There won’t be any more competition over basic services like energy, water, food, transportation, shelter, education, healthcare — all will be provided free-of-charge by the Communist state. Would this state be a nation, a community, or the entire world? I don’t know that… None of these come within one lifetime. It has to start at a community level though, and all facets of that community must be prepared and willing to take on the international community too. There is already free healthcare for millions of people, there is employment insurance, we have 8 hour work days, welfare is already there for those who cannot work, social security for other disabilities is there too, and other benefits which Socialists have worked very hard to legislate into our society — shouldn’t be forgotten. Lenin, by 1918, knew that the struggle was not over. He knew they only made the transition from Capitalism to some form of State Capitalism… Phase 1. He knew the true revolution doesn’t come until all the Capitalist tendencies have been dismantled. But when Joseph Stalin took power — he claimed that everyone had already achieved Communism. They were not even close.
Through this policy, the communist party (or equivalent) is the supreme political institution of the state and primary force of societal organization. M-L professes its final goal as the development of socialism into the full realization of communism, a classless social system with common ownership of the means of production and with full social equality of all members of society.
The final goal of M-L is to develop Socialism into the full realization of Communism. Same as all other forms of Socialism. But as M-L has stuck around even after the U.S.S.R. has vanished, the issues within its ideology have not been worked out.
Other types of communists and Marxists have been critical of M-L. They argue that M-L states did not establish socialism, but rather state capitalism. They trace this argument back to the founders of Marxism’s own comments about state ownership of property being a form of capitalism except when certain conditions are met—conditions which, in their argument, did not exist in the M-L states. Marxism’s dictatorship of the proletariat is a democratic state form; single-party rule … cannot be a dictatorship of the proletariat under the Marxist definition.
M-L is a Socialist system but one that depends on a single-party rule — regardless of how good that may sound to workers — it still advocates for totalitarianism, for control. This is why when a Communist party usually gets in control of a government– it (as in the party) then will start to do what its predecessor was doing… It will revert back to the status-quo and it becomes the establishment. The party will stop being revolutionary and by using the waves of revolution from the people, it will find a way to profit for its own benefit. The leaders of M-L parties have, time and time again, took advantage of countless transitional periods in history. To claim power and wealth for themselves. That’s what Stalin did. All the gulags — all of the famine, the 5-year plans, all of it was about power, money, and ignorance. He was wicked in how he corrupted the Soviet. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin was on probably the right track to usher in a true form of Communist society… But when Stalin crept into the picture, the whole idea of an eventual utopia with a long struggle ahead of them — was instantly replaced with the assurance of instant gratification of already having achieved the Communist society.
This excerpt is from a speech Stalin made on December 11, 1937:
Our mills and factories are being run without capitalists. The work is directed by men and women of the people. That is what we call socialism in practice. In our fields the tillers of the land work without landlords and without kulaks [a category of affluent peasants]. The work is directed by men and women of the people. That is what we call socialism in daily life, that is what we call a free, socialist life.
Is it time to wake up yet? When will we stop killing each other, and our allies, for the benefit of our own egos? How much faster does our internet have to be? And when will our iPhone be small enough? How much more money can one guy make while leaving billions without anything at all? When will a system come about that will embrace what is good about us as a civilization, while excluding what isn’t? When will somebody figure out a way to let people live freely and take responsibility for everybody — while not forcing everyone into violent conscription? Humans have been around in this form for about two hundred thousand years, and there are twelve thousand years of recorded history… It all leads to modern day Capitalism and its shadow — Socialism. Either we invent a brand new system — one that isn’t inspired by French philosophers of the 17th century and people like Karl Marx, and we ignore all the good that Socialism provided Western countries in the 20th century — or we embrace Socialism for what it is and use it to inspire us to do better than just Marxist-Leninist parties.
The world can have Socialism and then become a true Communist society — without having a violent revolution or by destroying precious modern liberties and luxuries with austerity. How do we do it? We seek for and critically think about — with integrity and courage — all the great ideas of the past until we invent or adopt a new idea that will work for everybody. We can’t fall into a funnel of cynicism and disbelief. That is when the system is finally going to start working for everybody.