Ser Scot A Ellison

Were Mao and Stalin Actually Socialists? (No True Scotsman)

202 posts in this topic

3 minutes ago, MerenthaClone said:

 Because the others all run into the problem of "leader starts program of nationalization, immediately gets dead".  

 

It's funny because it's true!

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3 hours ago, Manhole Eunuchsbane said:

 Went looking for a Stalin/Mao meme centered on the Surfin' Bird lyrics (you know, Pappa uma Mao Mao, papa um Mao M-Mao) and was sorely vexed to find nothing. 

Closest thing I could find...

Needs Poppa Joe accompaniment on the Poppas

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7 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

So a "Socialist" Revolution that is successful but doesn't have the support of the majority of people in a given state, by your definition, cannot be socialist regardless of the ideals the successful revolution espouses.

Is no longer socialist. Socialism cannot exist without collective decision making. Which means majority decision making. Once you remove majority decision making (either through representative or direct democracy) you no longer have socialism, because the state no longer controls the means of production, only a faction within the state who claims to be the state.

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Posted (edited)

I see no ambiguity with Stalin being a socialist. He definitely was.

Mao is more a matter of semantics. For his iron production idea, when people were to make iron in kilns in their houses: that's one of his many ideas where people were expected to privately finance their own contributions and then sell them on a market.

He had many socialist tendencies, but I also think he lacked a coherent economic narrative that truly represented anything more than a selection of ideas that appealed to him on a whim.

Socialism is a spectrum, rather than a binary, term. Stalin was hard-core socialist (and we can all agree a hardcore horrible person) whereas Mao was kind of a socialist with capitalist tendencies.

Also, I've seen a lot of people mentioning that the state owns the means of production in socialism - that's true, but also bear in mind that the state itself can vary. You could have a very open collective democratic government where everything is communally owned and it would be socialist. You could also be Stalin, who was the exact opposite of democratic, and it is still socialist.

Just as capitalism can be within a very totalitarian or very democratic state, socialism can, too. And most societies adopt elements of both ideals anyway.

Edited by Yukle

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12 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

This is done by advocates of particular political philosophies in order to remove the people they dislike, in this case Mao and Stalin, from the subset of people who are adherants to or advocates of that philosophy, in this case socialism.  So... were Stalin and Mao actually socialists?  I think they were they enacted polices that made the State the official owner of the "means of production" for their given States.  They also did nasty stuff and were in no way actual advocates of egalitaranism.  I think their economic policies put them pretty squarely within the socialist definition.  

So, are people going to attempt to define away those of a given political philosophy because they dislike what that person did?

You are well over a century late to the "What is Socialism?" debate. :) It's not just the enemies and apologists of socialism debating the No True Scotsman fallacy, but also among actual socialism debating what constitutes socialism and what doesn't. For example, you may have heard the Russian Communists referred to as Bolsheviks. This word translates to roughly the "Majority-ists" as distinguished from the Menshiviks ("Minority-ists") and they're called that because they won, respectively, the majority and minority of the votes at a certain point in the Second Party Congress. The two groups disagreed on what the socialist party should be like and, after the revolution, the Bolsheviks declared that the Menshiviks aren't really socialists at all and therefore the latter were subject to the usual repressions. Similar splits later happened within organizations in the USSR, China and other socialist countries.

Thus, there isn't really a universal definition of socialism as, even leaving aside the No True Scotsman fallacy, closely related groups often refuse to recognize each other as socialist -- and these were fairly classical socialist groups who would almost certainly be extremely confused if they were brought back to life and heard somebody like Bernie Sanders call himself a socialist. That said, here's a very brief and extremely incomplete summary of the differences between the various socialist figures leading up to the two you mention:

The initial version by Marx and Engels included a dictatorship of the proletariat and a subsequent transition to a stateless society, but it did not specify how exactly this would happen -- it would just sort of arise (almost certainly with the assistance of violence) spontaneously when the concentration of capital and oppression of the working class reached a sufficiently high point. They also didn't specify how long it would take to happen and it did not appear to be happening any time soon so Lenin came up with his innovation (now the basis of Leninism or Marxism-Leninism): instead of simply sitting around and waiting for a class consciousness to develop, dedicated revolutionaries could form a vanguard party which would lead the transition. It worked for him in terms of creating a revolution, but not in creating a dictatorship of the proletariat -- maybe Lenin could have done it, but he died... which brings us to his successor.

Stalin was a socialist of the Marxist-Leninist variety, but instead of a dictatorship of the proletariat, he implemented a plain old dictatorship supplemented by a cult of personality centered on himself. Mao adopted both Marxism-Leninism (somewhat modified further) with Lenin's idea of a revolutionary vanguard and, later, Stalin's cult of personality (also modified). So yes, they were adherents of socialism -- but, as with nearly all socialists, not everybody will call them that because even Leninism is quite divisive.

6 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I'm trying to figure out what he means when he claims that Western Democracies "really aren't that democratic".

As was pointed out, the vast majority of them are not actually democracies so much as representative republics, constitutional monarchies and the like. However, this is not the important part. What matters is that they're actually oligarchic plutocracies with imperialistic tendencies masquerading as democracies and republics.

For a socialist example of political masquerade, consider the 1936 Soviet Constitution. In principle, a faithful execution of this document would result in a nearly utopian society: it included not just the usual freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, the press, etc., but also government sponsored education, assistance in old age, health care for the sick and the like. It also gave all power to the local councils (the origin of the word "soviet" is the Russian word for "council") and instituted direct elections with universal suffrage, secret ballots and the right to recall delegates who were not performing as expected. If you take out the references specific to the USSR of the 1930s, that Constitution could easily serve as a draft for something like the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek... but of course, in reality, it was followed by the Stalinist repressions of the late 1930s. Western Democracies aren't that deceptive, but they also look a lot better on paper than they do in reality.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Yukle said:

Also, I've seen a lot of people mentioning that the state owns the means of production in socialism - that's true, but also bear in mind that the state itself can vary. You could have a very open collective democratic government where everything is communally owned and it would be socialist. You could also be Stalin, who was the exact opposite of democratic, and it is still socialist.

No, the state doesn't own the means of production, or that would eliminate Proudhon and Bakunin.  

e:  And since people seem to still be hung up on "dictatorship of the proletariat", Marx pointed to the Paris Commune as an example of something that may be said to be that.  

Edited by MerenthaClone

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Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, MerenthaClone said:

No, the state doesn't own the means of production, or that would eliminate Proudhon and Bakunin. 

Yup, it's about the producers/workers controling the means of production, so it only works if the state is controled by the workers. Which is why socialist parties are often called "labor" parties in Europe. QED.

And this is where it's getting interesting. I think what Altherion and I are showing is that the core tenets of socialism remained the same for most of the 20th century as well. What changed was what "demoracy" or "control" meant. Just as the idea of democracy degenerated in our Western societies into our "representative" farce, so did the idea of control in Russia or China. Instead of direct control by the workers, you now had the twisted idea that an "enlightened ruler" (*cough cough*) could wield power in their name.

So, in effect, anyone calling Stalin or Mao a socialist is indirectly subscribing to their argument that an enlightened ruler (or dictator, if you want, especially in the original meaning of the term, which includes the idea of a temporary rule) can be legitimate.
In effect, you're proving yourself to be an anti-democrat.
An therein lies the fallacy.

 

Edited by Rippounet

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I just have a few things to say to the original question of Stalin.

No. Stalin was a malcontent,dissident and a revolutionary looking for trouble and thrills. He was the editor of a major journal leading up to both the failed revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution and published many pamphlets.  He supported Lenin early on, and then turned on him when Lenin arrived from exile after the February revoltion in '17. Then reconciled when the October Revolution looked like it would succeed.

He supported Lenninism and Social Democracy in the beginning as a way to get involved with the revolutionaries, but he was mainly used as an organizer and a bully. Even his intellectual side was crass bullying with ideas he didn't fully grasp, which is why Trotsky and others discounted his ability to rise through the ranks. 

He was first and foremost an opportunist. He played the winds and changed sides in Soviet meetings as fast as the crowd would change. But he always found himself on the winning side. 

I won't bother analyzing his actual political economics, because they are just a hodgepodge of autocratic edicts with very loose ties to the actual economics being debated by real economists. And from there he became a typical General/Dictator. 

Just my thoughts as a "buff" of Russian History, but primarily a student of Russian Literature. 

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Speaking as someone who considers themselves a democratic socialist, I actually do consider Stalin a socialist (Mao is more complex). The point though is irrelevant to any wider consideration of social democracy, democratic socialism, anarchism, syndicalism, non-Leninist Marxism, or basically anything other than the subset of authoritarian Marxist-Leninism codified by Uncle Joe - Stalinism is part of the wider socialist ideological family, but that doesn't say anything about the rest of that family.

To draw an analogy: Hitler and Ser Scot were/are both Christians. Can we find out anything about Ser Scot by looking at Hitler, or vice versa? No, we can't. As such, I feel no particular need to throw Stalin out of the socialist ranks - I don't need to, since I don't advocate for Stalinism.

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Nicely done, RBPL.

All known thread science informs us that a thread containing Stalin=Socialist? and Hitler=Christian? will attain critical mass and collapse into a superdense black hole of infinite disputation within 1.704 posts. In the interests of science though I must wonder what transformations this reaction would undergo if I raised the possibility that World War Two might have been prevented in its entireity if Germany had compulsory voting...

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5 hours ago, Altherion said:

However, this is not the important part. What matters is that they're actually oligarchic plutocracies with imperialistic tendencies masquerading as democracies and republics.

Yes, but because of this we must constantly bash some strawman (today socialised = socialist healthcare, tomorrow Guantanamo, eh, the Gulag) or be reminded that other political systems were worse and especially even more dishonest than ours.

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5 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Yes, but because of this we must constantly bash some strawman (today socialised = socialist healthcare, tomorrow Guantanamo, eh, the Gulag) or be reminded that other political systems were worse and especially even more dishonest than ours.

The best way to manufacture consent is to produce scapegoats. Look, a communist! Look, a terrorist! Look, an immigrant! Hate them, blame them, burn them! If they survive, we are all lost! And while you do that, don't forget to vote for Mr Dickbutt, he'll cut your taxes to make you rich (but me first).

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17 hours ago, MerenthaClone said:

I can think of Venezuela.  What other examples do you have?  Because the others all run into the problem of "leader starts program of nationalization, immediately gets dead".  

 

Sorry, I might not have been clear here. I was referring to ideologically democratic socialist parties in established democracies, such as the UK or Germany.

 

Venezuela wouldn't fall in this category. Chavez came to power as a left populist and only later decided on socialism, without a commitment to democracy. And in any case, never implemented any coherent policies.

 

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13 minutes ago, Stalker said:

Sorry, I might not have been clear here. I was referring to ideologically democratic socialist parties in established democracies, such as the UK or Germany.

 

Venezuela wouldn't fall in this category. Chavez came to power as a left populist and only later decided on socialism, without a commitment to democracy. And in any case, never implemented any coherent policies.

 

I thought Chavez was something of a darling to the Left?  Is that no longer the case?

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9 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I thought Chavez was something of a darling to the Left?  Is that no longer the case?

The left is famously monolithic and lockstep with their opinions.  

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4 minutes ago, MerenthaClone said:

The left is famously monolithic and lockstep with their opinions.  

As is any group of people. :)  

I believe it was Levendis and perhaps a few others who primarily acted as an apologist for Chavez around here.  I do like the emphasis on the consent of the governed among those advocating socialism in this thread.  That, as you note up thread, hasn't always been the case.  

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Just now, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

As is any group of people. :)  

I believe it was Levendis and perhaps a few others who primarily acted as an apologist for Chavez around here.  I do like the emphasis on the consent of the governed among those advocating socialism in this thread.  That, as you note up thread, hasn't always been the case.  

By who, Stalinists?  Ripp's right when they say that every early socialist writer required that.  I only consider Stalin and Mao socialists because I think that you can fairly say that a position descended or evolved from another is part of that broader position unless it is directly antithetical to its parent position.  It might be wildly different from the others under that umbrella, but I think that they count. Its an issue of grouping. I think Stalinism is part of socialism as a broader group of thought.  I don't think Stalinists have really any claim to being part of the ongoing socialist tradition and are certainly very distinct from other socialist groups, but I think they are socialist based on their origins.  Its just an disagreement over what "are" means and how broadly you're willing to allow for deviations from the starting conditions.  I think an-caps count as anarchists, too, though barely.  

To answer your question about Chavez, I think he's a leader who has been unnecessarily demonized by the US government and probably unnecessarily lionized by others as a form of ideological pushback.  Beyond that I don't know enough to comment.  But I definitely don't speak for "the Left."

39 minutes ago, Stalker said:

Sorry, I might not have been clear here. I was referring to ideologically democratic socialist parties in established democracies, such as the UK or Germany.

 

Surely that's an issue of those parties having to work within a larger political body that is designed to force compromise between representative groups?

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I do like the emphasis on the consent of the governed among those advocating socialism in this thread.  That, as you note up thread, hasn't always been the case.

It is an inevitable point of division. Everyone can agree that in the Star Trek style utopia that serves as Marxism's version of heaven on Earth, there will be consent of the governed -- it's easy to achieve because everyone has everything they want and no amount of demagoguery is going to get anyone to budge from the status quo. The problem is, how do you get to that society from the one we have now? Wait for a class consciousness to arise... due to what? Technological progress? It doesn't seem very plausible.

What Lenin and Mao and their fellow revolutionaries in smaller countries chose is a mix of force and propaganda aimed at converting the uneducated and the contemporary equivalents of the "woke" into not merely consenting socialists, but enthusiastic ones. Unfortunately, the use of force as a political tool never really stopped after that.

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5 hours ago, Altherion said:

The problem is, how do you get to that society from the one we have now? Wait for a class consciousness to arise... due to what? Technological progress? It doesn't seem very plausible.

That's the million dollar question. If there was a simple answer to that, we would probably have found it by now.
I can imagine many ways for socialism to come about eventually, but over a considerable length of time. I'm thinking a century at the very least, assuming the state of our Western societies doesn't deteriorate - which is far from certain.
Socialism, or at least the original ideal of socialism, simply has too many requirements to be implemented in a human lifetime without losing some of its principles in the process. The main problem I see is that collective ownership of the means of production requires an educated citizenry to function. Large-scale implementation would require decades of preparation/education, which would mean you have a willing, motivated -and patient- population in the first place.
It may be pretentious of me to say this, but I think the mistake that was made in the 20th century was to believe you could transform economic and political systems almost overnight and that people would then evolve into the ideal socialists. As it turns out, I'd say it's the other way around: you need a population to be prepared to take over the means of production and -logically- government, and only then can you hope to transform the economic and political systems.
Except none of us were ever educated to be our own masters. Many of us believe they are, or could be, but this is a delusion. Even if we were magically transported in an ideal society, it would take us years to adapt to it and some of us would probably not even be able to, because contrary to what many believe, socialism demands a significant participation from every individual in their daily life. To put it differently, a socialist utopia would demand a huge amount of hard work (at least in its initial stages), since the people would suddently have to manage all aspects of public affairs. And I'm saying this because I have spent some time in a small-scale socialist society, and know for a fact that's it's no place for lazy individuals.
Moreover, in order to avoid some other pitfalls of utopia, you want to build a society that eventually replaces the struggle for survival with other incentives and objectives. To take the pop-culture reference, let's not forget that the people in Star Trek are far from idle: they constantly strive to better themselves through science and culture. In such a utopia, each man becomes his own tyrant. In our world, outside oppression and alienation allows us to be rather indulgent with ourselves. At present we are no Jean-Luc Picards... We're much closer to Romulans.
In a nutshell, socialism may be a utopia for ideal men. My two cents on this would be that the issue is actually not how to build a better society, but how to raise better humans. Enlightened, educated individuals should then be able to transform their society more easily than us, who tend to be too self-centered and violent to achieve a collective system of governement. We can't hope to see an ideal world in our lifetime ; at best we can hope to prepare one for our grandchildren, with great sacrifice.
And the resistance and obstacles to such projects, in our day and age, are quite simply overwhelming.

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Socialism is actually a flawed response to the inequality that results from the manifestation of greed and selfishness in our economic lives and their presentation as virtues necessary for economic progress.

Ultimately an utopian society is one where taxes are very low, govt is small because the demands on govt are small, i.e. low crime = smaller police force, fewer prisons, fewer courts, judges and lawyers, and most importantly fewer victims. Peaceful relations with other countries = lower military spending. Healthier people, happier people meaning much less demand for healthcare, and so on. The corporate mandate is a balance between increasing shareholder value, social responsibility and profit sharing with employees, which could include, for instance tying executive pay to the pay of the lowest paid employees.

An utopian society is not socialist, but rather based on core principles of justice, equality, fairness and actually caring about the wellbeing of other people. Socialism might be a stepping stone to that society. But it may not be necessary at all as part of the evolutionary process. Certain elements of socialism need to be implemented to knock the hard edges of an economic system that promotes greed and selfishness. Like socialised healthcare.

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