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Text coloring decodes as follows:
Black: Ken Ellis
Red: Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.
Green: Press report, etc.
Blue: Recent correspondent
Purple: Unreliable Info
Brown: Inaccurate quote
Dear Ms. Smith,
Thank you for expressing interest in my essay. I'll be glad
a newer version in the required format within a few weeks, if my health
allows. I can also footnote at least some references and supply some
bibliography. It has been quite a while since I did my basic research,
and I no longer reside close to the Niebyl-Proctor Library, nor to the
libraries at UC Berkeley. I detected serious reservations about the future
acceptability of my submission, but I'll embark on the process for the sake
of enabling debate on the important issues raised in my essay, which I think
goes right to the spirit of 'Rethinking Marxism'. It would be wonderful to
get some scholarly review of my efforts. I hope that the essay will be
able to meet the requirements.
I became interested in socialism in 1971 and joined the moribund
SLP in '72,
helped move their National HQ from Brooklyn to Palo Alto in '74, became
their shipping clerk, discovered in '76 that their 'Socialist Industrial Union'
program was based upon anarchist distortions of theories of Marx, Engels
and Lenin, and quit in early '77 when they shut the door to debate. From
'82-'97, I worked as a broadcast engineer for Pacifica Network flagship
KPFA-FM. I remained an unaffiliated socialist until '92, when I decided to
write my memoirs about Party life. By '95, my efforts resulted in a 641-page
book for which I have yet to find a publisher. I became an elected delegate
from the East Bay Chapter to the founding convention of the new American
Labor Party in Cleveland in '96. From '95 to '97, I hosted a talk show
entitled 'Labor and the Left' on Free Radio Berkeley, a pioneer micro-power
radio station that was later shut down by the FCC. In '98, I returned to the
East Coast in order to care for my elderly parents. I am now battling an
undiagnosed illness and spend lots of time exploring alternative therapies.
I was very pleased to hear from you, and remain optimistic
that we will be
able to work together.
Peace to you and RM,
Many thanks for the latest edition of your newsletter. It contains
news that is important to me, but which I can't spare the time to look for.
The newsletter's arrival also reminded me that I promised an
article for you
which I put aside and never got around to sending. I have been spending all
of my time recently looking for remedies for my darned arthritis, which only
gets worse with age.
I admit that my little essay is a 'work in progress' which
I never seem
to be able to finish totally. A recent version was recently rejected by the
'Rethinking Marxism' people. It may have been a little too heavy for them.
I hope you enjoy the essay. Let me know what you think, pro or con.
Dear Honorary Mom,
We also find the presidential race very tedious. It looks like
it will be
between McCain and Gore. McCain will probably win because his
name is more acceptable to Americans than anyone with the name
'Gore' ever could, but he scares me with his 'Reagan Republicanism'.
Your Honorary Son,
I hope that you had a chance to read my essay about 'Replacing Broken
Socialist Dreams'. I look forward to a comment, positive or negative. The
essay may not warm the hearts of socialists, but I considered myself to be
a revolutionary socialist for 22 years, from 1972-94. I had to learn the hard
way, i.e., by actually being a socialist, and then wondering why relations
in the socialist community are such a shambles. When I discovered that
trying to change property relations was never a logical course of action,
then all of the problems of the left suddenly became comprehensible.
Please don't be afraid to tell me that I'm full of crap if
that's what you
really think; but if you do, then please also tell me why you think so, in
order that I might learn a little and we perhaps move to a higher synthesis.
Yours for a better world,
I don't know what the definition of socialized medicine is,
because that's as
fuzzy an area as the definition of socialism, but if it means that the whole
of society pays into a pool for the care of all of its members, then that's OK
with me. If it means a government-run system with lots of loopholes for
evading responsibility for providing health care, then it may not be worth
much. From my meager experience, I think that our present system is
more like the latter.
My comment on the hospice program is really part of a critique
of our whole
health care system, which goes: the pharmaceutical industry has a lot more
power than what it deserves. It determines the kind of care that people in
this country get to a great extent. The hospice aspect is just a part of the
grand scheme. People in it are more or less resigned to a certain fate, so all
that anyone has to do is simply wait for the inevitable. Alternatives are far
enough in the background in this country that most people have little idea
what alternatives could do for them, and the pharmaceutical industry likes it
that way just fine, and has lots of money to donate to politicians' campaign
chests so that they will continue to write the kind of legislation that will
help pharmaceuticals to maintain their virtual monopoly.
I think that you have a pretty practical guide to child rearing.
Summerhill was about an experimental school in England that just about
threw away the entire book of rules, except for maybe the golden rule.
At that school, just about anything was allowed unless it impinged upon
the rights or freedoms of others. I wonder if the school still exists.
Schools should teach that people are born free and have innate
rights to a
decent life because a lot of unfortunate kids are corralled in by adults who
tell them just the opposite. In order to survive socially, kids often adopt
false credos as their very own so as to be more readily accepted. There
should be at least some kind of positive influence in their lives. It can't
all be about preparing them for brutal labor in a mill, or a factory, or in a
barn milking cows, and yet it seems as though that's been a traditional role
for public schools, a brutal place to prepare kids to lead brutal lives, sort
of the way in which prisons are sometimes referred to as 'gladiator schools'.
In my day, we were taught to 'respect' the teacher, but it added up more to
learning to fear the teachers and administration. Unless one was a teacher's
pet, most forms of self-initiative were discouraged.
A lot of kids in abusive relationships grow up not knowing
that they have
any rights at all, as though all they are being prepared for is cannon fodder,
or mill fodder. Then the same kids try to find scapegoats, or to dump on
whoever they can find in their environments who might be lower on the totem
poles than they are. Often, the scapegoat turns out to be a younger sibling or
a family pet. Some parents consider their kids to be their private property.
A little knowledge of basic human rights would help kids to seek to justice
instead of being condemned by their miserable lives to become mere sociopaths.
Teaching kids about basic human rights isn't nonsense, on the other hand, it's
one of the best preventive antidotes to the violence of our society that I can
think of. Are you against this? Or, are you in favor of preserving hierarchies
that are based upon the ignorance of the downtrodden? If you can't imagine
everyone having innate rights to a decent life, then what do you think people
are entitled to when they crawl out of the womb? Hell on earth?
A few people use the phrases: 'the politics of inclusion' and
'the politics of
exclusion'. The phrases have become useful swords that are more often used
for ignoble ends than noble ones. Many fans of Affirmative Action refer to AA
as a prime example of 'the politics of inclusion', but I dispute that when I look
at the reality of the program, and see that it doesn't enlarge the resource pool,
but is instead entirely focused upon more equitably sharing what scarce
resources that already exist. AA advocates never campaign for jobs for all;
instead their program merely provides that women and minorities have either
an equal, or a more than equal, chance to get jobs and opportunities. Since
keeping the number of jobs fixed implies that white males would have to go
jobless so that women and minorities could get them, their so-called 'politics
of inclusion' really amounts to the 'politics of exclusion' for white males.
AA is also a pet program of the Democratic Party, which party is not at all
interested in creating the kind of artificial scarcity of labor that would put
everyone to work, for they are also a party of capitalist interests, which
includes maintaining job scarcities that ensure low wages and high profits.
The nice thing about the program of sharing work equitably through shorter
hours and higher overtime premiums is that it is the genuine article, the true
politics of inclusion because it excludes no one-no whites, no blacks, no reds,
no browns, no yellows, etc. It is not based upon wreaking revenge on any group.
At KPFA, I was surrounded by AA advocates who were intent upon putting
down white males, even me, who was as innocuous a white male as they were
lucky to find, and who for years gladly trained women and people of color in
basic electronics, and in the maintenance and alignment of tape recorders.
While I was going through socialist archives from the last
century, my limited
knowledge of French and German came in very handy. I often could tell by
scanning passages whether they contained something that I might want
translated more professionally. I had quite a few translated through the
Marxist library that I was lucky enough to live close to. At the end, I was
morally compelled to give the library a $250 donation for their help. I was
able to pay it off within a year.
I don't think that I ever wrote that I think that 'private
property will never go
away', though, if I did, I never meant it to be any more permanent than 'in
our lifetimes'. The point that I have always tried to stress about property is
that I think that it is useless for socialists to directly attack the institution
of private property, for it is akin to butting one's head against a brick wall.
If socialists could find enough people to join them with butting their heads
against the brick wall in unison, then there's a chance that they could all
jointly succeed; but, now that so much of the rest of the world has caved
in and has given up the struggle against privatization, sufficient interest in
the quest to change property relations will never be found. It's wonderful
to be able to make lots of assertions, but socialists have yet to logically
prove that the institution of private property is the cause of the
problems of the poor. Can you logically prove that it is?
If socialists ever give up their quest, and thus shed
their socialist skins* in
favor of uniting to share work equitably, then we could more quickly embark
on the project of making the length of the workday, week and year diminish
to zero as technology does more and more of the work, and we could more
quickly arrive at the point when no one will ever have to go to work for anyone
else ever again. Just getting over to people the idea of 'sharing work' and letting
them practice that virtue on the grass roots level will adequately prepare them
for 'sharing the product of industry' when the machines do all the work, and
we no longer have to lift a finger to get anything we want. That may not quite
happen by the year 2100, but it should definitely be here by 2200. We won't
live to see it**, but we can surely help pave the way for it now, if we can
become motivated enough.
* 2002 note: Shedding socialist skins wouldn't be necessary. Socialism
merely needs to be disassociated with expropriation.
** 2002 note: According to information via Ray Kurzweil and others, 2040
is not an unreasonable date for the abolition of human labor.
Socialists know, or should know, that it is only by human exploitation
the rich get richer, and that it isn't any figurative 'exploitation of machines'
that gets them richer. When people no longer have to go to work, then
the rich will no longer get richer off the labor of poor workers (who will
disappear as a class); factories, if there still will be entities so identifiable,
will run by themselves, people will have figured out how to share the product
of industry by virtue of their already having learned to share work, and the rich
will then acquire no additional satisfaction from their ownership of factories.
The failure of property ownership to satisfy 'the rich' will then filter down to
the rest of the people, who will end their struggle to acquire any property for
themselves, simply because the institution of private property will no longer
do anyone any good any more. That is roughly the process by which private
property will fade in importance, and that is the process by which private
property will slowly go extinct. To the extent that private property goes extinct,
so also will the state go extinct. Along with those two, so also perhaps may the
nuclear family go extinct. The kids who are trapped in abusive nuclear families
will certainly enjoy that development. So, you can see how much all of this
depends upon us both: discarding our broken socialist dreams, and learning
to do the intelligent thing which will come to be known as 'equitably sharing
what little work that has yet to be taken over by machines and technology'.
Don't worry, it will all come in time, because the consequences of our not
doing so are just too awful to contemplate. A certain amount of negative
consequences, but not so much that we irreversibly tip the ecological
balance, will stimulate our progress in the right direction.
That's not such a painful scenario, is it? Painful certainly
to the rich, who
may lose their property and social advantages in another couple of hundred
years, and certainly painful to dyed-in-the-wool socialists, who maybe
would rather die or kill than to forsake their useless socialist fantasies.
The classless and stateless end stage of socialism may come someday, but
it certainly won't come in a manner approaching the ways in which Marx,
Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Castro envisioned it. Their
scenarios all depend upon directly attacking the institution of private property
by means of the force of a grand workers' state, whereas I think that the end
stage of socialism will arrive only by directly and intelligently assaulting 'the
institution of ridiculously long hours'. Because my scenario for arriving at
the end stage of socialism is so very different than that of most others, I
would never use 'socialism' to broadly describe my scenario, for traditional
socialist scenarios are irrevocably wrapped up with the strategy of directly
assaulting private property, while my vision involves only an assault on the
length of the working day, week and year. And yet, the end result of mine
and the socialist, communist and anarchist scenarios is similar-classless and
stateless society. The final stage that I envision will also have to be workless
as well, for work beyond volunteer work is coerced by economic necessity,
which also involves exploitation, class division and state coercion. The
scenario of progressively reducing the length of the working day and year
would be a pleasant, humanitarian and feasible scenario for the working
class to embark upon. They could begin today, and with not a drop of
bloodshed. Why don't they? Because not enough people are promoting
this intelligent idea. Instead, there are a lot more people promoting stupid
ideas that it pays the upper classes to promote. It even pays the ruling class
to promote socialism*, because they know as well as I that socialism* will
never be adopted in this country, so they can afford to generously promote
it as the solution, which simultaneously makes finding more feasible and
intelligent solutions more difficult.
* 2002 note: The term 'socialism' often was used in the sense of 'expropriation'.
Differentiating the two terms didn't occur until many months later.
It's not easy to speculate on whether slavery would still exist
'if the South
had won the war', because I am one of those who can't imagine a movement as
backward as slavery fighting for supremacy in a republic and winning. With the
rise of wage-labor and the concomitant introduction of democracy to a greater
percentage of the population in the last century, slavery and democracy became
antithetical enough to prevent their continued mutual peaceful co-existence.
If the south had won the war, it would be debatable if slavery would still be
in existence today, but one thing that would be certain is that we would be
living under a military dictatorship instead of a democracy, unless another
civil war to restore democracy were to come between then and now. Reading
a little Marx on our Civil War indicates just how vile the slavery movement
really was. They were aligned with the monarchists of England, whereas the
North was aligned with the republicans of France, even though France was
still suffering under the last of its monarchies.
People still don't understand just how obsolete the slavery
movement is, and
continues increasingly to become, because we are still far enough away from
the machines taking over completely that few are the ones who can look far
enough ahead to see the day when all human labor becomes extinct, which
will also mean the total extinction of both slavery and wage-slavery.
I can see now that, looking at the issue from your perspective,
not have been historically correct for me to aver that 'it took a Civil War to
abolish slavery', because that statement incorrectly made the Civil War appear
as though it were fought to abolish slavery, whereas we know better; we know
that the North entered the War as a measure of self-defense against hostile
forces in league with the monarchists of England and Europe who would have
abolished our democracy as well as preserved the right to enslave others,
and might even have restored our subservience to the English crown.
(Horrors! No wonder we fought back.)
But, there is yet another issue. The experience of the Civil
War still proved
that there can be no political will in this country to make a move against the
institution of private property. Do you remember the post-war promise to
provide newly-freed slaves with '40 acres and a mule'? None of the freed
slaves got their promised goods, because providing them with 40 acres would
have required the partitioning of the southern plantations, which would have
violated the private property rights of the plantation owners. Even though the
South had been vanquished, and the North could have imposed any retribution
it desired, there was insufficient political will to demand as just a recompense
as what many would have considered 40 acres and a mule to be, so, no 40
acres, and no mules. If our unwillingness to change property relations in the
last century doesn't prove that the movement for socialism is a hopeless one,
then I don't know what would. Socialism is not in our bones.
The only way we can get unity around moving society forward
conscientiously discussing the ideas associated with moving ourselves
forward in a manner that is compatible with the inevitable changes of the
future. Income taxes, welfare and other annoyances will all fade away over
the years, but the robots will not, and will instead come to rule the workplace,
so, if we cannot take robots into account, or else stubbornly refuse to, then
we have only ourselves to blame for the suffering of society. We might as
well be seething and impotent Luddites. Don't be like the ones in 1900 who
laughed at the idea of putting men on the moon. We must debate and refine
our ideas about higher stages of society and how to get there. That to me
would be more interesting than griping about income taxes, welfare
cheats and other annoyances.
Communism in theory, and communism in practice, are two very
animals, because communism has the following major internal contradictions:
1: It was supposed to happen first in the most industrially
countries, but instead happened first in less-developed countries.
2: It was supposed to happen simultaneously in several countries
to avoid counter-revolution assisted by neighboring countries, but instead
occurred in only one country at a time, which opened the door to counter-
revolution aided and assisted by neighboring reactionary regimes, such as
what happened to the Paris Commune in 1871, whose overthrow was
assisted by the Germans.
Those are the main contradictions, and are not minor glitches,
for the failure
of communism to adhere to its original theories massively affected the course
of history. If communism had gone the way Marx wanted, the world would be
an extremely different place by now, and we'd doubtlessly be living under
communism in America as well as in the rest of the industrialized world,
which would be at peace both with itself and with the environment.
Communism may not have all that many major contradictions,
ones that I listed are so integral and severe as to be fatal to the ideology.
The communism envisioned by Marx and Engels was such an ideal system
that the only objections would have come from the very rich, but the
communism that actually materialized turned into a monster that
attacked the lower classes as much as it did the upper classes.
Communism is similar to socialism in that they both rely upon
the state, but
communism implies the smashing of the previous state, with its replacement by
a workers' state. Common socialism, on the other hand, implies reforming the
existing state to allow for the state to possess everything. If nationalization is
too radical for some socialists, then socialism can also mean relatively weak
social-democratic reforms that protect the lower classes, such as universal
health care, minimum wages, taxing the rich instead of the poor, etc.
Communism is similar to anarchism in that they both imply the
smashing of the
previous state. Anarchists abhor the idea of replacing one state by another;
they even abhor the relatively benign idea of replacing bourgeois states by
workers' states, so they instead advocate the post-revolutionary administration
of society's needs by means of non-political workers' organizations, such as
unions, co-ops, etc. Because communists and anarchists so ardently favor their
own systems over the their competitors', the two camps are at loggerheads over
issues. During the Spanish Civil War, communists executed anarchists over
ideological differences, which strained relations even more, thus sealing their
fate of never being able to cooperate to overthrow the present system.
I can't really find that much fault with Western democracies.
All of the world
is heading in that direction. At the beginning of the 1800's, the number of
democracies in the world could be counted on the fingers of one hand. One
hundred years later, there were roughly a dozen, now there are more than a
hundred, and 100 years from now, democracy may be just about universal.
It's hard to argue with success. I wouldn't want to try to pin the blame for our
problems on the march of democracy in the world. As I said in my essay,
"Media fuel desire for democracy, technological advances constantly improve
media, and competition forces technology to be constantly upgraded, so it may
not be long before democracy will be everywhere." Existing democracies share
lots of features, but still have differences that reflect the peculiarities of each
country's development. Those differences must not be a very big deal if the
forging of the European Economic Union is any indication.
The events of '89-'91 that I had in mind were all of the changes
Eastern Europe and Russia, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration
of the Iron Curtain, the opening of the region to privatization, and the decline and
fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and in Russia - in essence, the rejection of
communism by a good portion of the human race, maybe a billion people. At the
same time, look at what happened to the Communist Party of the USA around the
same time, what with the discrediting of its leader Gus Hall, and a good half of
the members splitting off into the 'Committees of Correspondence'. A lot of stuff
happened all over the world, and Berkeley was right in the middle of a lot of it.
What with the increasing marginalization of the forces of hard-line communism,
advocacy of 'isms has less credibility than ever.
On the other hand, because we can see robots marching in over
displacing more and more workers every day, that alone makes a more equitable
distribution and sharing of work inevitable, lest we regress into barbarous
competition among ourselves over declining numbers of long-hour opportunities
to make the rich richer, and the government more oppressive. If you want to
dismiss sharing work as something as unlikely as socialism, then you would
also have to deny either that the robots are going to replace workers, or
that people tend to help their neighbors in times of crisis, or deny both.
How far out on those limbs are you willing to go?
Robots are still pretty stupid in their present stage of evolution.
best neural network hasn't the intelligence of a common house fly. But, our
silicon brains are evolving fast, and they are predicting neural networks as
smart as a fly in 10 years, as smart as a cat in 15, as smart as a dog in 20,
and as smart as a chimp in 25. That doesn't leave much more time before
they'll be as smart as, or smarter than we are. No matter what the robots
of the future look like, just the fact that they will be very smart in a relatively
short period of time indicates that they will be able to command the resources
around them and put them to work for us more efficiently than we humans
ever could. Good-bye to garbage men. Are we going to let them starve?
Are we going to let the forces of raw capitalism turn this into even more
of a dog-eat-dog world than it is now?
I think that, at today's level of technology, a plumbing robot
an astronomical figure, like 8 billion dollars, so no plumber on earth would
want to hire one of those machines. But, let's not forget that technology is
evolving, and that, by the time 2050 rolls around, a cost-effective plumbing
machine is very likely. Just the way in 1955 we could never afford to have a
Univac or Eniac computer in our cellars, we can today have an equivalent on
our desktop, and it's affordable. Can't you begin to figure out some of this
stuff yet? You appear stuck in a horse and buggy frame of mind. I don't know
why you can't figure out that the only reason that space flight and so many
other things are feasible today is because technology evolved, technology
evolves, and technology will continue to evolve, and that the only thing that
sometimes won't change is our mode of thinking, which is even pretty close
to what Einstein said. Times do change. Just because people can't imagine
all of the details of the changes of the future, it doesn't mean that changes
aren't going to happen. It's easy enough to figure out that advances will
happen, because so many have already happened before. Deny that one.
It really is hard to predict with any kind of accuracy what
administrative bureaucracy people will live under in a couple of hundred
years from now, but I think that, because the anarchists, socialists and
communists all believed that we will someday reach classless, stateless
society, I hold out for and work for a similarly noble vision. It's hard to
have much regard for our fellow humans with people like Hitler and
Stalin fresh in our memories, but, I think that, under more favorable
circumstances, people will be capable of living far more humanely
than what is possible under our present dog-eat-dog circumstances.
You said "I see talking to you like
talking to a wall because you hold
as firmly to your notions as those folks who believe in socialism.
You'll always find an answer to any fault they find."
Isolating the first sentence, I don't think that you have been
attention. My 'notions' have changed considerably over the years.
First of all, I converted from nothingism to socialism, then I became
an anarchist who thought he was marketing socialism, then I became
a communist, and then I abandoned communism for sharing work
equitably. If that doesn't demonstrate a certain degree of flexibility,
then I don't know what does. Your first sentence could almost be
interpreted to mean that you aren't a socialist anymore. Could that be true?
By the way, were you a red-diaper baby, or did you adopt socialism
later in life? I'd like to hear about your conversions sometime.
Going postal may not be coming to Belle High School anytime
like I say, people in New Bedford were worried enough about Littleton to
hold a series of public meetings. Our area has one of the worst rates of
road rage incidents in the state. There's a lot of tension in the air. There's
little sense of pulling together with community spirit. This is all to be
deplored, and to do something about.
Now that Super Tuesday is done with, it looks for now as though
the race in
November will be between Gore and Dubya (or double U, or 'W', for George
W. Bush, as Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury cartoon fame puts it). If McCain
were to run on an independent or Reform Party ticket, he would have a chance
to win because people get excited about McCain like they can't get excited over
any of the others. If that doesn't happen, then the recent victory of Dubya in the
primaries will mean a certain victory for Gore in November, because Dubya will
increasingly appear to the public like an empty suit in the months to come.
Thanks for the insights into your psyche. If anyone ever tried
to put one over
on you, they'd have a tough time. You certainly keep me on my toes.
Yer olde pal,
I enjoyed the discussion of the economic singularity. Whether
out to be a 'good' or a 'bad' thing, the singularity appears imminent as many
more workers than ever get replaced by new technologies, vastly augmenting
productivity. Lower class life will increasingly become a race to the bottom
as workers hope to find and keep some of the last of the vanishing long-hour
opportunities to make the rich richer than their wildest dreams. Not a
pleasant scenario for the majority. What to do?
Dear Honorary Mom,
The presidential primary race certainly fooled me. I never
expected Bush to
beat McCain, but, then again, we are talking about Republicans, and it appears
that so many Republicans are to the right of Atilla the Hun that they want the
cave man Bush to represent them. I predict that Bush will alienate too many
voters to be able to win the presidency, so I think that Gore, unexciting as
he is, will win in November. I hope that I'm not going to be as wrong about
this prediction as I was about the primary. The prospect of having Bush in
the White House is more than frightening, and more resembles terror.
A lot of people are fascinated with what is going on in Miami.
and media attitude of wanting to send Elian back to Cuba against his wishes
bothers me, because I advocate for the rights of kids. He should be able to
stay in the USA if he wants to, and he did say he wants to stay here, but it's
hard for kids to fight big bureaucracies. So many people in the forefront of
leadership and in shaping public opinion wanted him to be reunited with his
father, probably in respect for tradition, perhaps as though his father has
some kind of property rights over him. That's a real old fashioned attitude,
but not one that I share. Now that father and son are reunited, the terror of
the forced reunion was yet another trauma that Elian didn't need. Naturally,
the government can afford to provide the reunited family with the seclusion
and privacy required for sane living, and at the same time they also point out
how superior his situation is now compared to life in little Havana under the
glare of the media spotlight.
Your honorary son,
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