Re: “Socialism or Barbarism”

This is a sketch idea still taking form, but it occurs to me that Russia’s shattering of (what we thought of as) the post-Cold-War world order may be the era’s most popular argument against the accompanying exploitative economic policies. This may have long-term significance, but in the short term I mostly just have to marvel at the historic joke that (at least in the US) the socialists want nothing to do with this argument.

I’m not sure how much time to spend on something which possibly no one besides me would appreciate, even if they read it.

But, Democratic Socialists of America has, I guess, for some time called for the US to withdraw from NATO. DSA has actively reaffirmed this stance since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, along with finding other reasons to bothsides the unprovoked invasion which is turning into a spite campaign of plain destruction. I regard this as gross, though not really more stupid or disqualifying than all kinds of more mainstream politics and culture. I would basically just “whatever” it.

Except that as I start thinking about the prospect of a long-term disconnection of America’s and allies’ economies from Russia, and the re-engineering which ought to accompany that, it occurs to me that the proximate motivation to “stand up for Ukraine” amounts to a very popular argument against capitalism.*

It’s very possible, I think, that the Cold War and its end had unappreciated deep and lasting influence on politics and economics ever since. Here, for multiple generations, was the ultimate argument against “socialism.” First it was the system of the enemy, and then it was a failure. I do not think it’s entirely unrelated that for three decades since, much of the world and especially the US has treated as a natural law the empowerment of private capital above basically everything else. The post-Cold-War world removed the major national security argument for e.g. industrial policy and opened up the alternative of unbound global trade. There always were and are other incentives, some good and plenty not so good, for empowering private capital. But these were major shifts.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the coordinated economic response has shattered that conceptual model, whether or not people realize it.

The world has retreated from “the end of history” and there’s no credible case to suppose this is just one temporary anomaly. National security and the empowerment of unfettered capital definitely have conflicts, and they are serious. The presence of McDonald’s in two countries does not, after all, rule out one attacking the other.

Seemingly, this could be a popular argument for public policy and against exploitative capitalism which has been missing throughout my adult life. I’m old enough to remember activists protesting against “globalization” in the 1990s, as well as Occupy Wall Street, and recent years’ embrace of the term “socialism” by a new generation of malcontents. Compelling arguments have always been there, in my opinion at least; look around us. But here is, it seems so far, a popular argument. That could well change, but for now here it is and it’s astounding.

The socialists’ official organization wants nothing to do with it.

There ya go, history plays us in weird ways. No telling what will come of them, ultimately; in many cases it proves not to be that much eventually.

I just can’t help thinking, though, about all the times in recent years I have seen people (who favor the first of the options) flourish the phrase “socialism or barbarism.” Here, if ever, is the moment. Despite the popular opinion of many Americans that the hammer-and-sickle is still the emblem of Russia (and the few doofus Russian soldiers who seem to agree with them), Putin’s Russia is a fucking oligarchy. Admit it or no, Russia is a champion of the empowerment of private capital. Sure, the corrupt oligarchs will absolutely use the puppet state against lesser players, but that’s where empowering private capital leads. The state, itself, is just one more resource available on the market for the winning bidder. As are other states, to a large extent, at least if they subscribe to compatible models of unfettered global trade. (Look at the holdout Western businesses still in Russia, chief among them Koch Industries. Not coincidental.)

So here it is, as black and white as you could ask for, at least. Socialism or barbarism. But not according to the socialists.

* Despite all the above, I cannot take entirely seriously most arguments about “capitalism” against “socialism” for these reasons.

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