The Two Socialisms


When I was in college, the selling point of socialism, communism, revolutionary activism, all of that, was something called “participatory democracy.” That’s what the mighty SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) stood for. That’s what the neo-Marxists stood for. That’s what all the “community organizers” stood for. The idea, endlessly reiterated, was that “decisions must be made by the people affected by those decisions.” No one talked about Medicare for all, or government-funded preschools, or government-mandated revisions of the environment. The idea was that centralized “state capitalism” was wrong, not primarily because it was inefficient, or even inequitable in its effects, but because its decisions were not “democratic.” They had not been made by the people affected by them. If it was inequitable or “slow” (i.e., inefficient), that was why.

Now we are witnessing an immense revival of “socialism,” led by Democratic Party opportunists and hacks. And it is all about laws that need to be made to increase the power of the centralized state. It is about giving professional politicians sole power over healthcare, housing, education, transportation, employment, qualifications for voting, and the possibility of self-defense — and all this without the tiniest hint that anyone except the Philosopher Kings who compose the Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives should be consulted. Participation? What’s that?

American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism.

I have to be honest. I am a foe of “participatory democracy.” I do not believe it is optimal, in any sense, to give power over the individual’s existence to whoever happens to be a coworker, a fellow student, or just a guy who happens to turn up at a meeting. I find myself unable to decide whether a regime of little Red Guards is more repellent than a regime of Bernie Sanders bureaucrats arrayed, rank on rank and cube on cube, to decide what the width of my bathroom door should be.

But I think it’s worthy of notice that American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism, constantly twisting in response to the whims of the politicians but always determined to enforce those whims.

I wonder whether any of the socialists have noticed this. Perhaps they are as ignorant of their own traditions as they are of economics or sociology, or respect for anyone except themselves.

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I must say I was not really aware that this particular approach to promotion of socialism was used here but now that I am enlightened, I get the sensation similar to reading about a discovery of a missing evolutionary link. Something that we knew must have existed, in order for us to get here from there, but was heretofore just a speculation. In another words, it makes perfect sense.

Imagine that your head is just bursting with all these great ideas of how society, always imperfect, could finally be properly organized and run and you and other smart guys just like yourself are ready to take on the burden of making it happen , but somehow your unenlightened countrymen can’t let go of their primitive, selfish superstitions of self-reliance and personal responsibility and repeat ad nauseam that, to you self-evident, nonsense, about how those particular values built this country. So what do you do in such an atmosphere, where people are more likely to smack you than listen to your collectivist ravings? Obviously you have to customize your delivery to what the unprimed audience is capable of at least tolerating, if not digesting and, if possible, something that is hard to oppose outright and might even get you some sympathetic nod. And who can be against “people participation”?

But such a cautionary step of placing a foot in the door should never be mistaken for the ultimate goal whether its actual proponents, at any given moment, actually believe that to be the case or not. For the socialist mindset, it is the art of the possible, not a shift in direction. An evolutionary step. Which is not to say that socialism is immutable. There were some shifts and we can perhaps look at some to try to see if they have some common thread and what the socialist future might bring us.

And so, if you are of socialist bent, at the beginning, to be able to proselytize your collectivist fantasies in the first place, you might have to first fight for a good thing - freedom of speech and earning some bona fides of someone deserving respect in the process, no matter how dishonest your intentions. You might even believe in what you are saying yourself, but, in the final destination, freedom will be defined only as “Understood Necessity” and not even as “freedom from want”.

Then perhaps you will fight for workers’ rights, just wages, overtime pay, better working conditions, shared prosperity, the whole shebang. But when you will own and run the factories, it will be expected that workers will contribute their free time over the weekends and after work for voluntary, unpaid work and to tough-it-out in suboptimal conditions in order to bring about the shiny tomorrows, to fulfill the five-year plan or once and for all bury the evil capitalists shamelessly exploiting the toiling masses. Or, should it be decided that some adaptable capitalists are convenient to keep around for some extra wealth creation, then shared prosperity will mean that the burger flipper is going to share his prosperity with endless supply of those from around the world, who are willing to do it for less and the ruling class will share with the now richer fat cats the luxury condos and second homes. Alternately, you might even discover, that capitalism is the true socialism after all (perhaps one with some peculiar characteristics) –as long as it is properly leashed and muzzled and you are in charge to properly harness it for the good of the people who gave you their 99.9 % approval to do so. (That is, of course actually an improvement, but we are talking about shifts here.)

At other times, it might be vitally important for various reasons to fight for the separation of church and state, because nobody should ever be confronted, without his express wish, with even a glimpse of what guided our lives for centuries and you will decry every and all instances where someone dares to judge people by their behavior or expects some standards from them, until, of course, you are in the position to do so. But should pandering to some other competing religion suit your plans and help ensure your grip on power, then their public manifestations and almost everything else that is contrary to what you were preaching before will, once again, be a protected right, even if only for them, Thus, for example, Christian bakers will be sued for not baking a cake to a very exacting specifications, but, by pure coincidence , nobody ever thinks of asking the bakers of some other completely peaceful religion to bake a gay wedding cake and so there is no need to bring a lawsuit against them.

And if all goes according to plan the professed social safety net, in an effort to fight parasitism, will be transitioned into mandatory work requirement, proof of which will have to be stamped in everyone’s ID book to be carried on person at all times (whether you want to work or not, or cleaning toilets is suitable work for engineers and doctors). Of course, it means no payments for idleness i.e. no welfare of any kind and failing to find a job- again, any job- will carry a prison sentence. (This always happens when you are starting to run out of money). The “participation”, will be very real though. So real, in fact, that insufficient “participating” could spell doom for the entire family for generations. But it is good to have the term “Participatory Democracy” finally cleared.

The family itself may, once again, go from something you have great respect for ( when you “kinda” have to say that), to being a vestige of bourgeois society to be deconstructed and back to being the foundation of the state , when the disaster you wreaked will threaten the very survival of the society you want to rule.

Then there is the shifting use for the nationalism and patriotism and many other things, but I think that you are catching my drift here already.

And how to explain any of this?

Well I could never do better, and perhaps nobody could, in explaining a big part of this than Czech columnist, dissident and former communist himself Ludvik Vaculik in one of the most insightful and illuminating political quips – at least in my opinion - ever made and I hope that the one or two people who will read this will agree with that:


Don’t you recognize a lot of American political actors in that statement? The one thing not quite captured in it, although implied by the logic of the statement , is the underlying collectivist mindset behind it.

I think that for nice people (most Americans, but not the leftists) and for libertarians in particular it is hard to imagine that for certain “people of A Special Kind” (communists actually called themselves that) and their collectivist siblings (all leftists, fascists ,neo-Marxists, progressives, and the whole slew of present day activists- which is why I don’t normally bother to distinguish between them ) their philosophy -if it can be called that- isn’t a quest for logic and consistency, a sincere attempt to explain and understand this world, but rather it is , as suggested, a mentality. A sum of arrogance and ignorance, conceit and intolerance, a power hunger and messianic complex all rolled into one. Reasoning with such people is fruitless, because they really only have one position- they know it all and therefore they have to stay in charge, regardless of the havoc they wreaked - and everything else is merely the means to that end. If in doubt, their icon V.I. Lenin said so himself: “Philosophers were just trying to explain this world , but what is important, is to change it!” – or something to this effect. Need I say more?

In either case, once you think of socialism and most of the other ‘isms as mentality, proclivity or predisposition rather than a fixed set of principles, the world will become a whole lot clearer to you and you will save yourself a lot of trouble trying to understand the un-understandable and its transformations and somersaults will make more sense to you too. And hopefully, you will also take the danger a bit more seriously, rather than as just an amusing curiosity.

We have a reptilian brain and we have a hunters & gatherers collectivist brain and no matter how much the circumstances change, we can’t get rid of either of them. They are here to stay and we just have to fight with them. (And I don’t think it is a coincidence that the place most resembling a hunters & gatherers society in today’s world, the college campus, is a hotbed for socialism but that is a different subject.)

Thomas L. Knapp

Direct from the House version of the "Green New Deal" resolution ...

"... a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses ..."

"... ensuring the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization ..."

"... obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories ..."

So no, the "participatory democracy" talk hasn't gone away.

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