Tuesday, 30 October 2007

I know where the dinosaurs are hiding

When the media and the press talk about impending battles between the Left and Right within parties, they really are resorting to their comfort zones.

For one thing, dividing politics up into Right and Left is a tad narrow-minded. There are three distinct political traditions (socialism; conservatism; liberalism; with the possible addition of environmentalism as a fourth), and if one must divide politics along a single axis, that between authoritarianism and freedom is as germane as that between a planned or a spontaneous market.

But accepting that the press will never manage to handle something as complex as three – let alone four – dimensions, there is another reason why talk about great battles between Left and Right ring hollow. There really isn’t much of the old Left left.

At least that’s what I thought until I went to the Trades Union Congress to discuss child poverty.

The recent TUC event on the theme of “A Minimum Social Wage” was like a throwback to the 1970s. There were at least two speakers who argued that poverty was an essential tool of capitalism, necessary to force the labourers to work for their capitalist masters. They clearly had not heard of the four hundred million Chinese who were condemned to subsistence farming and occasional starvation under Socialism but who are now rich enough to know that they will never go hungry again. For these relics of a time thankfully past, the replacement of the Capitalist system with a Socialist alternative was something that we should all strive. I wondered whether any minute Tony Benn was going to appear, waiving a copy of the 1983 Labour Party manifesto and calling for the collectivisation of the commanding heights of the economy.The highlight for me, however, was when the representative of the National Union of Journalists addressed the audience. He stood to make a point of such crass irrelevance that it would have been silenced by any other Chair. Only in the TUC, in fact, could a speaker get away with beginning his remarks by reminding the room that pointing “This week marks the 25th anniversary of the murder of Comrade Che”.

And your point is? How exactly is the death of Che Guevara relevant to child poverty in the UK in 2007? Perhaps, just as Guevara shot those whom he suspected of treachery in the Sierra Maestra, and later led President Castro’s death squads after they came to power, the TUC would like to line those whom they blame for child poverty up in Bedford Square and finish them off. I don’t doubt for a second that many of the representatives at this conference would have been inspired by his period as Minister for Industries, during which he expropriated all private business (down to the smallest farm; the last shop). There is undoubtedly also a parallel between his luring thousands of young Latin Americans to their deaths in pointless revolutions, and the continued siren song of the hard-line socialists.

Fortunately, we have largely learnt to ignore these bizarre throwbacks to a bygone age. But we must still be on our guard. While their most extreme cohorts are too rabid to be taken seriously, the underlying themes they espouse are shared with more moderate voices that still affect the political discourse. Statism; syndicalism; paternalism; prioritising the collective over the individual; a willingness to use coercion to achieve their ends; the priority of equality at the expense of freedom: these trends are still dominant in our society, and it is the poorest that suffer, and their children who suffer most.

If we really want to help impoverished children, that might be a good place to start.

10 comments:

Kit said...

Good post but surely environmentalism is just a subset of socialism.

Tom Papworth said...

Certainly not, Kit, as you will understand when you read tomorrow's post on Liberal Environmentalism :o)

Kit said...

I will read tomorrow post with and open mind but "Liberal Environmentalism" sounds like an oxymoron;P

Eta said...

What all of you so called "liberals" are failing to understand is that freedom without real choice and without equal opportunity is just a joke.

And second, Guevara led death squads? What a gross lie! These were Reagan's practices, when people, through democratic elections(Nicaragua) did not choose a friendly government.

Tom Papworth said...

Eta,

Are you named after the Communist terrorists in northern Spain? Another bunch of socialists who are prepared to murder to achieve their ends. I'm sure Comrade Che was an inspiration to all of them, with his execution of 2,500 bound and gagged political prisoners.

What you illiberals fail to understand is that socialism offers in the choice in the same was as Henry Ford offered choice: Any colour you like, as long as it's red. As for equality, if it's equally bad (disease-ridden state hospitals; meagre state pensions; failing state schools) then it's not an opportunity but a trap.

eta said...

Actually it's the seventh letter of the greek alpahabet. It's the first letter of my name (btw i am greek, so don't blame me for poor grammar,syntax and vocabulary also!) It's a typical propaganda thing when you are trying to relate something irrelevant, like someone's nickname to a violent organization.

As for the "executions of 2500 political prisoners",I am waiting for a link to a non-biased source that backs your argument, and for the period that Guevara had a political position in Cuba. And as "political prisoners" that identifies nor Batista's torturers and killers, neither counter-revolution plotters, but for innocent people who were executed just for their opposition to the Cuban regime.

Secondly, characterizing someone as illiberal just because he does not shame your vision of liberty (which is just slavery to the political oligarchs and to the economic monopolies, btw)is another typical propaganda thing.

We are talking about "real choice" here, which means choice of politics and of forms of government "from the people, by the people and for the people" (all of them) based on human needs, not choice of products and services based on market criteria. The one is democracy, the other is capitalist junta.

I didn't expect a better definition of equality from you, you define equality with a negative sense, based on what you think the public sector cannot do. You don't say anything about opportunity and who will provide it, or nothing about the reasons for the failing public sector where it is observed. And even if your claim was true (and there are millions of examples, that is not the case, in various areas where public goods work)for some people, it's the only affordable choice.

Yes, society could be super-duper "liberal", if you could instantly eliminate the majority of the poor, the losers, the impoverished when their mission (providing the cheapest labor possible, in order for the minority to prosper) was over. But you can't.

Liberal policies all over the world have proven just that: Mega-riches for the elite, ever increasing inequality, despair and tears for the many who are left behind. The so called "progress" is flawed by a myriad of negative externalities.

The last propaganda argument you make is that socialism as an idea is to blame for the crimes of sovient tyrrants and for the failures of their distorted economic system (which was actually state capitalism coupled with political corruption). It's the same to blame christianism as a moral religion for the religious wars, the genocides of animistic populations, for the "holy exquisition" (i don't know if that's the exact translation).

The crimes of "liberal" governments are so numerous that it would take pages after pages just to mention...

Tom Papworth said...

Eta,

It's not a propaganda thing; just a dig. It is interesting, though, how many Marxist-Leninist inspired revolutionary groups turn to terrorism to achieve their ends. ETA, the PKK, Naxalites, the Nepalese Maoists... I can't remember the last time I heard anybody talk about a "Liberal terrorist group" or saw footage of a guerrilla training camp where the cadets were being taught to fire an AK-47 and read John Locke.

With regards to "a link to a non-biased source", it's too subjective. If you are a Che fan, you'll accuse all his detractors of bias, so there's not a lot of point. Other readers may want to consider this , this and this .

As for whether they were "Batista's torturers and killers" or not, I tend to prefer a bit of due process rather than just summary execution. I guess opposing arbitrary justice is all part of being a liberal.

On which note, I do not see why you limit "real choice" to politics and not to goods and services. Real choice is surely freedom to decide where one goes, what one says, with whom one associates (including with whom one trades) and so on. By comparison, infrequent elections are a sorry second best, and the power structures of communist parties and states not even a poor third.

As for eliminating the poor, the Chinese have done a good job over the last decade: 400 million poor "eliminated" by liberalising their economy and embracing capitalism. It's a lot better than the achievements of Mao; another socialist whom you are bound to disown.

Are there any socialist governments you are prepared to claim?

Socialism inevitably leads to one or both of tyranny or poverty. Anything else is just self-delusion.

Tom Papworth said...

I might add as a post-script that the murder of Che Guevara by a CIA-backed Bolivian militia was no more excusable than Guevara's summary execution of perceived traitors and opponents.

Extra-judicial killings are allways inexcusable. But to condemn one and deny the other is dishonest.

Eta said...

Tom,

Even the in the(strongly) biased articles that you mentioned above , there is not one mention about death squads but for fire squads.

There is a huge difference between a death squad and a firing squad. The later is an organ of execution, in order to impose a death penalty, which is based on a sort of legitimacy. It has been used from virtually every form of government at all times, even today it remains a legitimate form of ultimate penalty at wartime in almost all liberal democracies.

The death squad, on the other hand, is a group of paramilitants, who, often with the support of the official army, organize cold-blooded massacres in villages or even in the cities, mostly in impoverished countries of the Western hemisphere, in order to terrorize the local population when they threat to revolt against a tyrranic government (or when they make the "wrong" choice on free elections and are insisting on it). They have no legitimacy (but almost all of the times they have governmental support from their country and/or from a super power). Their "legitimacy" comes from established oligarchies, who are willing to train and supply them and ignore their crimes, if not reward them for these actions. A typical military organization based on death squads was the "Contras" in Nicaragua.

And on the contrary of what you mentioned, based on the sources you pointed at, trials have been conducted (of dubious fairness they say) , except in a couple of cases (and the source lacks proper evidence of claims, it is based on rumors). But even if those cases were proven as true, this does not consist an "execution of 2,500 bound and gagged political prisoners" by "death squads".

[the last article, and the most emetic, comes from the ultra right-wing Humberto Fontova, who is not even liberal as he is in clash with ACLU because he is supporting the banning of books]

(And btw, the reason there are not "liberal" training camps is because these institutions have been incorporated in the military system of the USA (and perhaps other countries as well). Why use poorly equiped camps when you can "educate" foreign army officers in torturing at proper military installations?)

As for the rest, the more interesting part of your comments, you still fail to answer about market failures, negative externalities, convergence to monopoly power and, ultimately, what happens to the billions of people that are left behind. (I guess nowdays there is also an "invisible foot",crushing them :-)

I don't limit "real" choice to policies, but policies play a major role in all other fields. These are the ones that create income for the people in order to have choice in goods, services, trade partnerships and the like. If local, state or worldwide policies condamn you in a life where you have to work all day for a handful of rice, giving you no way out of this hell (except suicide), I can't see how choice can work. It's the market view which is narrow, since you have no role to play without money(=power). If decisions about policies were really participatory, societies would never let these things happen.

As for the Chinese "model" which eliminates poverty, it does so by raising inequalities, by increasing the extreme poverty, by polluting the environment and, most important, by combining market capitalism with a autoritarian state politically. Do you think China would be such a goldmine for Western firms if the workers had the right to syndicate?

(Actually I am impressed that a liberal is even using China as an example - China is actually the biggest blow on western workers. You can never compete with the Chinese wages at their current level, a fact that puts heavy pressure to the western wages as well. In my opinion it looks more like a "deal" between western monopolies and Chinese bureaucrats. They both benefit from it. This will only terminate when China's people decide to fight for civil liberties.)

Finally, when did I say that I am willing to "claim" a government? So answer to me first: Which are the governments you are "claiming"?

PS. I strongly agree that extra-judicial killings are inexcusable in 99,9% of the cases. But there are exceptions like when one attempts to kill a dictator - in many (liberal)countries such an attempt can be justified as a defence of democracy and the Constitution.

Dishonesty starts when you create something out of nothing just because it suits your point of view.

Tom Papworth said...

Eta,

To distinguish between “death squads” and “firing squads” is sophistry. Guevara clearly oversaw the execution of (and sometimes himself executed) hundreds on the basis of show trials. That his appeal court at La CabaƱa prison did not overturn one of the hundreds of death sentences handed out by the show trials he led is deeply suspect; the account in his own diaries of his shooting Eutimio Guerra, Aristidio and Echevarria (and the callousness with which he writes about them) shows him to be sociopathic. You are right that not all the victims were bound and gagged, however; Paquito D’Rivera’s cousin “could hear from his cell in the early hours of dawn the executions, without trial or process of law, of the many who died shouting, ‘Long live Christ the King!’”

I do not believe that we mentioned “market failures, negative externalities, convergence to monopoly power and, ultimately, what happens to the billions of people that are left behind” before, but as you mention them…

Market failures, where they exist, are best dealt with through market mechanisms – pricing carbon emissions, for example, or road user pricing. Convergence to monopoly power is a socialist straw-man: market economies produce divergence and competition, as demonstrated by the dozens of car manufacturers trading globally, and the thousands of bakers trading in London or Buenos Aries – as opposed to the state monopoly provision in British healthcare or Cuban sugar. This competition results in higher standards and lower costs, which means that everybody benefits. The billions left behind are trapped behind in socialist countries – indeed, two billion of them were in Communist China and socialist India. Thankfully, both these countries seem to have woken up to the truth that their people will prosper if free to trade. A study of the Economic Freedom of the World project should prove instructive.

That inequalities rise may result is true (though the Economic Freedom of the World project finds there to be no definite qualification between free economies and inequality), but it is better to be relatively poor in an unequal but rich society than absolutely poor in an equal but poor one. Some may be living in penthouses in Shanghai while others sweat in factories, but under Communism millions starved (and not only in China – Guevara’s time as head of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform saw him oversee the introduction of food rationing in Cuba!).

China remains politically illiberal, of course, but as I noted elsewhere (I bet that one sets you off, as well!) rising incomes and standards of living lead inevitably to social and political upheaval and so reform. China will eventually go the way of Poland, and a happy day it shall be for all. But as regards it being a “blow on western workers”, this is more leftist-Syndicalist clap-trap. China has produced cheap goods which has held down inflation and reduced the cost of living: in the UK a parent can now buy a new school uniform for their child for £9. Viva free trade!

I apologise if you feel I accused you of “claiming” governments – though you seem keen to apologise for Cuba. Personally, I will cite any government that gives its citizens freedom to trade, travel and express themselves as a liberal alternative superior to those that use revolutionary terror or the police state to stifle business, ban free speech and kill those who try to flee. What about you, Comrade?