An Alternative Socialism

This is the same article which I wrote in 2009. The only difference with the earlier writing is that this one has received some minor editing. It was easier to simply publish the edited article as a new post than to attempt to edit to old article within the blog. I am publishing this now because a friend has expressed an interest in knowing a bit more about my views on Socialism and I thought that referring her to my blog articles would be the best way to do this.

Glenn

While the headline in a national news weekly recently started with an article entitled “We Are All Socialists Now,” the reality is obviously quite different. From all appearances Capitalism has won the ideological war against socialism which began when socialism took the world stage during the first half of the 19th century. Capitalism of some sort seems to most people particularly within the United States to be the natural destiny of humanity. However while capitalism won the war against the brutal perversion of socialism called communism and while the great social democratic parties of Europe seem to have given up on any socialist vision greater than that of a mixed social democratic economy, the instinct for social justice, human equality, community, and freedom that socialism historically has tried to realize has not died. The sparks of socialism still survive within small groups and within individuals in the United States and many other parts of the world. As the current world recession, energy, ecological and global warming crisis show; world capitalism’s future is not assured. Socialism could ultimately win the last war.

However a precondition for that victory must be a rethinking of the socialist vision. Most Americans and in fact most of the world’s people still imagine that socialism is primarily about the power of the state being utilized to dominate or control the economic direction of societies. This certainly has been the dominant conception of the Marxian and Fabian forms of socialism. Both European Social Democracy and Soviet Communism envisioned future socialist societies as being based on statist models of governmental ownership and control of all of the economic activities of society. Little if any role existed in either model for private enterprises or for companies which were directly owned and managed by workers themselves. The primary difference between these two was that Communism supported the totalitarian communist state and Social Democracy supported the western liberal democratic state. These are important differences.

However historically other powerful minority forms of socialism have existed which envisioned alternative none statist models of a socialist future. The Socialist movement of 19th century France was dominated by “associational socialism” which foresaw a future socialist society in which workers themselves through their labor associations would ultimately take control of society. The economy of this future socialist society would be dominated by worker owned and managed cooperatives / companies. Latter in the late 1800s and early 20th century this associative or cooperative socialism transformed into revolutionary anarcho syndicalism. Anarcho syndicalism still held the same basic socialist vision of a free society directly controlled by workers themselves however. Spain and Italy were also dominated by anarchist ideals which also rejected the vision of socialism in which the state / government would hold absolute power over the economic institutions of society. In stead the socialists of these nations advocated a socialism of free producers or associations as did the French.

In the United States the socialist movement dominated by the Socialist Party of America reached its high point of influence in the early decades of the 20th century. Early American socialism seemed to take an intermediate position between the purely statist concept of socialism and the more syndicalist forms of socialism. Out side of the American Socialist movement during the 19th century at least two movements one dominated primarily by American farmers and the other dominated primarily by American workers developed ideas similar to that of Southern European socialism. These were the Knights of Labor one of the first and largest national labor unions that developed during the 19th century and the other being People’s Party the agrarian party of reform which represented the interests of the impoverished farmers of the American South and West. Both of these movements before they collapsed in the 1890s held a strong belief in economic cooperatives as the solution to the “wage slavery” of workers and the poverty of indebted small farmers. Both typified the desire of workers and farmers for an economic system that would incorporate the values of economic democracy and worker self management.

In France the anarcho syndicalist movement reached its height during the first decade of the 20th century and then disintegrated. The anarchists of Italy fell together with the socialists before Mussolini’s fascists in the 1920s. The powerful anarcho syndicalist Spanish labor unions and anarchist dominated villages fell before General Franco’s fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. From that point in history it appeared that the alternative socialist tradition had been cast into the dust bin of history.

However the vision of a worker self managed society or of economic democracy while it ceased to be embeded in powerful political movements continued in another form. Large numbers of workers and reformers beginning in the 1800’s while avoiding politics and revolutionary rhetoric worked hard to develop various forms of worker owned and managed businesses / cooperatives which have been economically successful though out the world. These businesses if they were small often are operated on principles of direct democracy by their worker owners. If large they are commonly governed by workers councils elected by worker owners. In general the worker councils of large cooperatives often having hundreds of workers will hire a team of professional managers which instead of being to accountable to stockholders are ultimately responsible to the worker owners of the company.

Today thousands worker owned cooperatives through out the world successfully compete for markets and customers. These cooperatives which are of many kinds agricultural, consumer, producer, service, etc have not become the dominant economic sector in the modern world. However many have become very successful in competing in the hostile environment of capitalism, Some examples are the strong worker cooperative movement in the Emilia Romagna area of Northeast Italy. Of the 7500 cooperatives in this area over two thirds are worker owned. Over 10% of the work force in the region is employed by cooperatives. In Switzerland two of the largest supermarket chains Migros and Coop are in cooperative form. In Japan over 14 million citizens are members of the consumer cooperative movement.

However the most successful example of worker owned cooperative success is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation head quartered in the town of Mondragon Spain. In 1956 five workers who had been trained at a technical school founded by the Roman Catholic priest Don Jose Maria Aristmendi developed the first worker owed cooperative ULGOR to produce kerosene stoves. The company initially employed 24 worker owners. Now the world wide Mondragon Cooperative Corporation employs over 85,000 workers in various industries in nations such as Brazil and China through out the world. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation includes a united system of self managing banks, insurance companies , a university and many other economic enterprises. Currently the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is the 7th largest corporation in Spain. The example of the Mondragon and other successful examples of worker ownership and self management give the lie to the commonly held belief that workers simply do not have the ability to manage their own workplaces and companies. They give evidence that a different form of civilization is possible.

As this brief historical summery shows the statist form of socialism which is in fact what most Americans think of when they think of socialism has never been the only form of socialism. Other alternative forms of the socialist vision have also existed. I would argue that it is from these alternative vision of socialism with which the future of the Socialist movement lies. This is not to suggest that the anarchists, the syndicalists etc had all the right ideas. The political strategies developed by these movements were extremely flawed thus causing their ultimate dismiss. Social Democracy in the form of the German Social Democratic Party, the France Socialist Party and the British Labor party were strategically much wiser in their overall championship of reforms which would help workers immediately. However I believe that the basic motivational vision of socialism lies in its vision of a free and just society in which workers themselves own the means of production. This is the liberatory vision of the alternative socialism in which the future lies.

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Betrayal, Obama Style

Earlier this month I wrote a post in which I stated that I planned to write no more articles for this blog in the immediate future. I then wrote a post explaining the reasons for changing its name to Toward a Radical Center. Last night I spent about a half hour beginning to work on another post outlining some of the tendencies which for me represent a “radical center” in politics. What all this adds up to is that the moratorium is off. While most of my writing efforts in coming months will not be of a political nature, I do want to again do some writing on the political, economic, and ecological issues which I believe are significant. The number of such writing will be few perhaps only one a month. However I will also be introducing and linking to articles from established scholars who I believe should be heard.

As any one who has read this blog during the last two years should be aware my interest for several years has been focused around the foreign policy issues of the United States in the Middle East. I am very aware that for most persons these issues are of marginal interest. For me they are of deep significance and are some of the most compelling moral issues of the day. For example over 200,000 people have died in Syria during the past four years and no end to that struggle is in sight. And the United States under the leadership of Barack Obama has done little to nothing to enable the Syrian people to throw off the oppressive Assad regime. This to me is shameful. And yet most of the people of both the Left and Right simply ignore the horrible consequences of the Obama administration’s Syrian policy. So yes these issues are of central concern to me and I will continue to write to remain people that something is horribly wrong with US foreign policy.

Of course it is true that other issues are also of deep importance. Among these some of the most central are the ecological issues of global climate change and ecocide which could ultimately cause the destruction of this civilization. Another important ongoing issue are the decline of meaningful work in the modern world caused primarily by advancing technologies which destroy the need for human labor. So yes I would like to discuss these types of issues in future posts. But at least for the next few months I suspect that the focus of this blog will remain on the issues of foreign policy.

Enough said. I now want to introduce an article “Betrayal, Obama Style” by the Lebanese journalist scholar Hisham Melhem. Mr. Melhem is the Bureau Chief of the Washington DC branch of Al Arabiya News. He is also an expert for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Within this article by Mr. Melhem I think that he both passionately and brilliantly exposes the cynicism of the Syrian policy of the Obama administration

Note that for those who think that because I am opposed to most aspects of President Obama’s foreign policy that I must ally with the Republican Party, I do not! On most domestic issues, for example, I agree with the broad social democratic tendency of Obama’s domestic policies. I even support some of his foreign policy positions. For example I think that he is right not to support Republican sponsored legislation to place more sanctions on Iran. I also do not believe that the United States should in a major way send US military troops back into Iraq to fight ISEL. Enclosed is introduction to the article.

Glenn King

Betrayal, Obama Style

At a time when Russia and Iran, the biggest supporters of the Assad dictatorship in Damascus, are on the ropes economically because of steep declining oil prices, the Obama administration, mostly by inaction but also by design, is practically propping up the Assad regime.

One could see the contours of a hellish Faustian deal in the making. To put it bluntly, the Obama administration today, almost four years after the Syrian people began their peaceful uprising against the depredation of an entrenched despotic rule, is desperately relying on Russian ‘diplomacy’ and Iranian ‘muscle’ to extricate it from its disastrous policy in Syria.

Iran now for all intents and purposes, as one astute Iraqi Kurd told me, is ‘leading from behind’ the ground war against the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, while the U.S. is leading the air campaign. In this new strange, but not brave Middle East, the hapless Iraqi government is more than happy to play the role of the useful mailman/middleman, delivering and receiving messages among the three frenemies. click to continue

A moratorium on writings

During the last few months I have thought that I might have the time and energy to begin thinking about political life and its issues more creatively. Therefore I could begin writing on them. It is clear to me now that is not going to happen soon. Perhaps it will happen sometime this year but that is by no means certain. There is of course much that is happening now in the world and I could attempt to get into the conversation. But for what reasons? I really do not want to get into the mobs of both the Right and the Left to simply pursue the game of shouting insults and condemnations toward the other side. Neither would I contribute anything by doing so. I do of course favor one side over the other. However in this thing even the side I am some what closer to does not impress me that much.

I am more interested in exploring the root principles of politics in an attempt to place it on a ground of solid meaning from which politic activities can arise, naturally, with real energy and moral direction. That grownd I believe must ultimately have some basis in basic concepts of political philosophy and yes religious thought and practice. Unfortunately outside of a few practitioners, present Pope being one of them, its seems very little real thought has gone into this from any but the most barbarous ways. The right wing brutalist ideologies of ISEL, the Taliban, the Israeli and the American Christian rights do not deserve to be considered as being decent bases for moral political action. Neither am I all that impressed with the Proggresive Christian left which seems to me to be an echoing chamber of the Democratic Party base.

Certain other small groups do have more credibility. The more left leaning persons of the G. K. Chesterston style Distributist movement no doubt are worth studying. Unfortunate at this time I do not have to time to study even these more intelligent forms of thought. Right now I am still working out my own practical religious life and thealogy from a De’anic perspective. Until that is much more solidly established than it currently is, I will remain inactive on this blog. The only action that I might take in the next few days might be to rename this blog. I no longer think its present title is all that useful even though Ma’at / ma’at is central to my current thinking and devotion.

Glenn

the same problem

I am having the same problem that I always have in balancing my desire to write about the political subjects that are important to me vs my need to express my religious points of view which are of even more significance to me. At this point of time it is impossible do both effectively. I am not a rapid writer. Thus I inevitably have to choose between them.

While I plan to continue to post here, my primary focus are going to remain with my religious writings at least during the next few months. Therefore I will be writing here only occasionally. Hopefully at some point of time I will be able to develop my political view points her to such a degree that they actually begin to take on a degree of effectiveness. Unfortunately that time is not now.

Glenn King

An Army to Defeat Assad

While I wish to see the destruction of ISIL (ISIS) I do not want to see their defeat at the cost of supporting the murderous regime of Bashir Assad in Syria, a regime whose actions have caused the deaths of over 190,000 people. Furthermore while I support the cautious use of US air power to support the legitimate opponents of ISIL such as the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Syrian Free Army I do not believe that the US in any way should attempt to defeat ISIL through the use of US ground troops.

I have just completed reading Kenneth Pollack’s article in the Foreign Affairs magazine called “An Army to Defeat Assad.” It presents the best proposal which I have yet to read regarding what the proper US response to both ISIL and the Assad regime should be. The article link is
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141848/kenneth-m-pollack/an-army-to-defeat-assad

Glenn

Syria is a hard one. The arguments against the United States’ taking a more active role in ending the vicious three-year-old conflict there are almost perfectly balanced by those in favor of intervening, especially in the aftermath of the painful experiences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cons begin with the simple fact that the United States has no interests in Syria itself. Syria is not an oil producer, a major U.S. trade partner, or even a democracy.

Worse still, intercommunal civil wars such as Syria’s tend to end in one of two ways: with a victory by one side, followed by a horrific slaughter of its adversaries, or with a massive intervention by a third party to halt the fighting and forge a power-sharing deal. Rarely do such wars reach a resolution on their own through a peaceful, negotiated settlement, and even when they do, it is typically only after many years of bloodshed. All of this suggests that the kind of quick, clean diplomatic solution many Americans favor will be next to impossible to achieve in Syria.

Nevertheless, the rationale for more decisive U.S. intervention is gaining ground. As of this writing, the crisis in Syria had claimed more than 170,000 lives and spilled over into every neighboring state. The havoc is embodied most dramatically in the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, a Sunni jihadist organization born of the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq. After regrouping in Syria, ISIS (which declared itself the Islamic State in late June) recently overran much of northern Iraq and helped rekindle that country’s civil war. ISIS is now using the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria to breed still more Islamist extremists, some of whom have set their sights on Western targets. Meanwhile, Syria’s conflict is also threatening to drag down its other neighbors — particularly Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where the influx of nearly three million refugees is already straining government budgets and stoking social unrest.

Go to the above link to read rest of article

New Directions

In my most recent post, I stated my intention to resume posting within this blog and to change its name. I also discussed some pf the reasons for these decisions. Within this article I will describe much more specifically the direction in which I plan to take this blog.

From its beginning in 2008 the purpose of this blog has been to provide a space in which I could articulate my own ideas regarding the political economic issues that have been of importance to me. At that time I attempted in several posts to present the vision of a long-standing minority tradition within the historical socialist movement which was variously represented in the forms of Associational Socialism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, and English Guild Socialism. While there were clearly differences between these traditions of socialism they all had clearly a very similar stance against the dominant statist form of modern Socialism. I chose to call this tendency Cooperative Socialism. I also attempted to point out the connection between this form of socialism and the vision of the kingdom of God held by Jesus and other important figures within Christianity. Little of this made any impact.

More recently since the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2010 my focus has shifted to issue of US foreign policy particularly in its relationship to the nation of Syria. I have been a passionate supporter of the Syrian oppositon’s struggle to end the Assad dictatorship and to replace it with a more democratic, less oppressive polical system. I have been very disappointed by the policy of the Obama administration of refusal to provide military support and aid to the moderate Syrian Free Army in its battle againt the regime. This has consequently led to the slaughter of over 170,000 Syrians and to the raise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or as it is also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Clearly a better nominclature.

This support of a US foreign policy which actively supports the stuggles of peoples and nations against genocide and their brutalization by their own governments has been a dominant aspect of my political life at least since the 1990s. During the Bosnian War of the first half of the 90’s and the Darfur War of the mid 2000’s I worked with groups of people within Columbus Ohio in hope of defending first the Bosnian people against genocide and latter to defend the people of Dafur against the same. Unfortunately these campaigns neither at the local nor larger national level did much to change national policy.

While most people of the left would rather take on “progressive” domestic issues and ignore the struggles of peoples particularly within the Islamic world, I happen to believe that the existential battles of life and death of whole peoples have a much greater moral significance than have many of the often purely tactical political fights between this nation’s right and left. I believe that one of the most significant aspects of a politics of justice should be to support the peoples in nations such as Syria and Iraq in their struggles against their own brutalization and destruction.

As stated above I initially attempted to articulate within this blog a radical vision of what I call “cooperative socialism” within a religious context. While one of my articles called “God and Socialism” over the years has garnered many views, it has received little real response. Most of the other articles within the blog have received much less response. This has reinforced my view that “socialism” has essentially died as a motivating ideal within the West and within the United States in particular. Still I believe that the ideals of a cooperative socialism are sound. They are in fact the values of the kingdom of God (Thea within my religious faith). I also think that many of details of the concrete reality of this form of Socialism have been worked out brilliantly within the Mondragan Cooperative Corporation and other cooperative enterprises. All of which show that cooperative socialism can work within the real world and not just within the world of ideas. Therefore I hope to again begin articulating this vision within future posts within this blog, even if I have to utilize an alternative vocabulary to better articulate these visions of a just society.

I am perfectly aware that perhaps such writing will have little positive impact, however I feel that this is what I am perhaps called to do. I think that it makes more sense to write about what passionately interests me than to follow what every one else is doing. I do of course have an interest in issues that are more mainstream and domestic in nature and I will probably comment on them here as well. But in the more immediate future they will not take priority status.

Religion also will continue to be a part of the mix. This blog is not be a theological blog. But to the degree that religious authors write on subjects which relate to issues of justice and to the degree that religious ideas impact positively on the political, economic, and cultural issues of the day, I will discuss them here.

I of course am perfectly aware that any attempts in modern political discourse to interconnect the issues of politics and religion is viewed with deep suspicion in the West and particularly within the secular Left. Many in the West of course reject religious belief in principle and believe that it should play no role in public life. Many religious persons also reject it because they believe that religious belief and spirituality is primarily a private, apolitical, purely spiritual thing which is not really properly related to the concrete political, economic world.

Such a belief is a falsity. Traditional Islam on the contrary has always believed that the laws of Allah (Sharia) should rule not only over the lives of individual believers but over the life of society as well. The Jewish tradition historically has seen the Torah as having a similar authority over the Jewish Nation. And even within Christianity it has been believed that principles of justice to the poor and oppressed within society have been mandated by God. Confucianism, certain forms of Taoism, and Buddhism also traditionally held that religious belief does and should have worldly social consequences.

The idea of a complete separation of religious principles from a primarily secular society has been an unfortunate interpretation of the enlightenment vision of the principle of the Separation of Church and State which was first developed within the Protestant world of the Netherlands, England, and the United States. The separation of church and state was a positive response to the wars of religion that raged over Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries and religious tyranny which reigned over much of Europe through out its history. The extreme idea that religious principles have no right to any role in political discourse or influence in society is radical modernist premise of a radical secularism which seeks to end any role for religion in society.

As an American I believe deeply in the Constitutional separation of Church and State and reject all forms of religious intolerance. However I also believe that religious believers have the moral right to attempt to support legislation and laws via democratic means which they believe are in accordance with the will of God. Of course within this society the Christian Right has been most famous for its ability to channel its religious passions toward political agendas. While I reject almost all aspects of the politics of the Christian Right, I have not problem in principle with their attempts via democratic means to push their political agenda.