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 Text coloring decodes as follows:
 Black:  Ken Ellis
 Red:  Marx or Engels
 Green:  Press report, 3rd party, etc.
 Blue:  Anarchist or SLP-related
 Purple:  Unreliable Info
 Brown:  Inaccurate quote, but true to intent of Marx or Engels

   Did you ever wonder why so many people are homeless, hungry and jobless in spite of the large size of the government; why economic growth is constantly promoted; why population growth accelerates; why so many advertisements bombard us; and why reasonable solutions elude us? If these issues concern you, read on.

Replacing Broken Socialist Dreams

   Poor people have lots of problems, and number one for many is unemployment, or its threat, in spite of the current [back in the year 2000] rosy unemployment figures. Some people propose socialism as the solution, but can anything as nebulous as socialism be in the cards? Its definitions vary considerably from one group or party to another. Socialism for the West usually means nationalization of industries with compensation, government benefit packages, and income distribution from the rich to the poor. Socialism for Asia and the ex-colonies, on the other hand, is often referred to as communism, and implies nationalization of industries without compensation after communists overthrew existing regimes, as in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc. The overturned regimes in Asia and the ex-colonies were varieties of despotisms that were critiqued by both Western and Eastern nations to some extent, making toppling them much easier than trying to topple stable Western democracies. Eastern and Western socialisms are the two major forms in the world, for they have been actually practiced.

   Some socialists are taught that feudalism replaced the system of slavery that was utilized in Rome millennia ago; capitalism replaced feudalism; and, though socialism was predicted by the founders of modern socialism - Karl Marx and Frederick Engels - to someday replace capitalism in the most industrialized countries, socialism has so far only achieved the status of an intermediary between feudalism (or colonialism) and capitalism in less-developed countries. They expected socialism to replace capitalism simultaneously in the most industrialized countries of Europe, for only there and in America did capitalism exist to any significant extent in their time, so, in theory, were the only places where communism could replace capitalism; but, highly developed countries of the Western hemisphere show no such inclination. The association of democracy with industrialized countries has always been the sticking point, for workers have not been willing to scrap their democracies for the sake of abolishing private property. When Europe failed to go communist during the upheavals of 1848 and 1871, Marx looked to a revolution occurring in Russia, which event was expected to spark more revolutions in Europe; and so it happened in 1917, though the lesser revolutions in Europe soon reversed themselves. The fact that Europe did not go communist before the less-developed countries of the world shows that Marx's theories had to have been fatally flawed right from the beginning, so it's little wonder that some countries abandoned communism from 1989 on. 'Communist revolutions in the West' had to have been based more on wishful thinking than on reasonable probabilities of what people in Western democracies could be led to do.

   Socialists have traditionally favored democracies. After the tide of democratic revolutions began moving East after 1776, revolutionaries wanted democratic struggles to develop into simultaneous socialist revolutions in many European countries. Their goal was to transform fledgling democracies into workers' republics, or 'a wide-spread proletarian dictatorship that would undo national boundaries and abolish private property'. The reason Marx specified socialist revolutions as having to be simultaneous was to prevent neighboring countries from perpetrating counter-revolutions on lone revolutionary countries, as played out for 9 weeks in France in 1871. According to Marx at an 1872 Speech at The Hague, it was because 'other European centers, such as Madrid and Berlin, failed to have supportive revolutions of their own', that French and German monarchists, and conservative republicans, were able to gang up on 'the Paris Commune' and crush it. After the Franco-Prussian War, retributions against supporters of the defeated Commune caused the river Seine to run red with blood. For its tyranny, the new French Third Republic was criticized by Marx as 'a republic without republicans'.

   A common communist concept of revolution calls for it to closely resemble democratic revolution. Some revolutionaries think that workers will replace capitalist governments (which also happen to be democracies in most cases) with communist states in a way similar to which feudal monarchies were replaced with democracies. Though force had to be exerted to create both democracies and communist states, vast amounts of force have to be constantly exerted to maintain communist states, which proves that communism and freedom are incompatible, and dooms communist revolution in the freedom-loving West to be so unlikely that it is advocated by only a small number who have deluded themselves and few others into thinking that people in the West might replace democracy with communism. Big joke on a few people, for government is a dirty word in the USA, which, for its 19th century lawlessness in its old Wild West, was regarded as a model of anarchy - the philosophical opposite of statist communism - by jealous Europeans, as noted by Marx himself.

   Early in the 19th century, democracies could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but struggles for democracy have since made tremendous strides. 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. In recent centuries, capitalism and democracy have proceeded hand in hand, extending democracy to a greater percentage of people than ever. Even today's Chile is far from the Chile of Pinochet's early regime. Conversely, starting with the 1917 suppression of the Kerensky republic in Russia, communists in power halted freedom of speech, censored media, and stifled individual freedoms. That is some legacy to live down, which is why people in the West generally don't want communism, in spite of communism's very real record of economically uplifting the lowest classes.

   Some American radicals go out on a limb and claim that 'we do not have democracy here'. If such assertions are good enough to convince some people, they then go on to argue for replacing what we have. According to some members of the News and Letters group, 'democracy doesn't really exist in the USA except in name', so, were our democracy to suddenly be replaced, 'no one would miss it'. If their brand of socialism didn't turn out to be so very democratic, they might add that 'no one should have much of a gripe, because we really didn't have much of a democracy here in the first place', but how do socialists expect such complaints to attract support when practically everyone knows that we have democracy? Since we don't have a king or queen, we certainly can't have a monarchy. Some revolutionaries claim that 'our government is a capitalist dictatorship', but it hardly matters if a few hundred, or even a few million revolutionaries claim that we don't have democracy, for what has always counted most is what average people believe, and, if they believe that we have democracy, then we have democracy for all practical purposes, and it becomes quite futile to argue otherwise. Ordinary people even get elected occasionally, and when billionaires try to buy their way into office, they sometimes get defeated, like Ross Perot in his presidential bids, and Huffington in California.

   In spite of the dreams of Western revolutionaries, nowhere in their writings did Marx and Engels advocate overthrowing democracies, as opposed to their enthusiasm for overthrowing the repressive feudal monarchies of their day, such as in Germany and Russia. Marx maintained that his International Working Men's Association - a red republican club - favored the creation of socially-controlled democratic republics, much of which sentiment corresponds to the term 'Social-Democracy'. In Volume 3 of the 'Minutes of the General Council of the International Working Men's Association', Marx said in essence, 'We want a democratic republic that is socially controlled', as opposed to controlled by only the rich, such as when property ownership requirements limit people's right to vote, as in the early USA. Marx later wrote to the effect that 'the democratic republic is the only form of state in which the battle between worker and boss can be fought to a finish'. In 1891, Engels stated as a certainty that 'the working class and its party can only come to power in the form of a democratic republic', which he regarded as 'the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat'. Engels also wrote to the effect that 'Workers in England have a good-enough democracy to get what they want'. So, where's the sense in smashing that which is 'good enough', and where's the sense in smashing the platform for the final battle?

   The fact that Marx and Engels favored democracies is history that revolutionaries can't bury quickly enough, for it interferes with the livings they make promoting allegedly Marxist theories of the need to overthrow democracies. Revolutionary leaders often find a few people to support them and their fringe notion that 'democracies have to be replaced so that the rich can be divorced from their property', as if changing governments and/or property relations would automatically do the lower classes a lot of good. Many people have already figured out that those activities in themselves don't necessarily translate into food on the table, a real issue in a country in which millions go hungry, in spite of its reputation as the richest country in the world. The perversion of urging Western workers to overthrow democracies appears in the writings of Lenin and Stalin, however, and extended to American Communist Party policy in the 1920's and 30's, though that policy faded as unity against Fascism became a popular cause.

   There are three major ways in which to be a socialist, as in reformer, anarchist and communist, but few are prepared to clearly articulate the pros and cons of all three, and to deal in a civil manner with those who would collectivize ownership using other methods. Reform socialists support seamless continuations of democracies with legislation in the interests of the lower classes, while revolutionaries would replace existing governments with new regimes mandated to abolish private ownership of property, and nationalize property without compensation. Communist revolutionaries want to create workers' states, or 'proletarian dictatorships' that are theoretically scheduled to 'wither away as class distinctions dissolve'; while anarchist revolutionaries would 'abolish the state (or political government) upon victory, common interests to be overseen by a classless, stateless, and non-political workers' organization'. Some zealots are so wedded to their particular brand that they are willing to kill fellow reds so that their particular socialist scheme might have a chance to dominate. In the 1930's, sectarianism led to tragic incidents during the Spanish Civil War, when communists executed anarchists over ideological differences, even though both were fighting to protect Spain's fledgling republic against Franco's fascism. There's an old saying that goes: 'The left forms its firing squad in a circle'.

   Socialists don't have adequate solutions to ideological and sectarian differences, and never will, because there are many ways in which to be a socialist, all are problematic, and many are mutually exclusive. Workers in developed countries are not going to scrap their democracies for the sake of implementing property collectivization schemes run by people who wouldn't be able to agree on having a communist or an anarchist revolution, or whether to settle for reforms. The left is so at odds with itself over precisely what to do that it will never organize a successful revolution, but it isn't much of a mystery why revolutionaries don't just abandon plans that will never be agreed upon. As long as a few people can be found to buy ideas, others will sell them. In a world in which it's not easy to find work, people get by any way they can, even if their endeavors represent net losses for society.

   It is a happy fact that 'revolution in the West' is a sorry mess. Because Marx and Engels had no interest in wrecking democracies, 'revolution in the West' is often based on willful distortions of their writings. One anarchist distortion leads people to think that the founders of socialism were indiscriminate state-smashers, but, revolutionary party leaders with more experience inventing and/or defending lies - rather than refuting them - have little interest in facts. If leaders are apathetic toward facts, then so also are their followers. Most of the left could care less about the fact that 'divorcing the rich from their property was feasible after overthrowing monarchies, or after liberating colonies, but wasn't feasible after socialists won elections in Western European democracies'. Why is that? Because, after overthrowing regimes, communists had the power with which to confiscate property, whereas winning mere elections in the West never bestowed the requisite levels of power to do so. When some industries were nationalized after European socialists and communists won elections, compensation accompanied nationalization. This comparison between East and West proves that communism is based upon force - not freedom, and thus will never be popular in the West.

   Because Marx never fully elaborated his theories of revolution, such as never telling us whether more force would be needed to convert fledgling democracies into proletarian dictatorships, there is room for a lot of guesswork about what exactly is supposed to happen, when and where. If, in a single place in Marx's works, socialists could find out how to proceed in every revolution, there would be little excuse for sectarianism, for any scholar could easily correct errant ideologues, but there is no such single place. Because 'forcefully socializing property ownership' was never a logical option for human progress, a single authoritative guide could never have been written anyway, which is why socialism was doomed to remain a muddle of options that are popular mostly with people looking for quick fixes. Because some socialist leaders understand that 'communism and anarchism are out of the question for the West', the only thing left to do was to turn them into businesses. Accordingly, some scholars examine the entire scope of works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and others with little intent other than to appropriate diverse trains of thought out of context in order to justify particular shades of sectarianism.

   In socialist theory, the notion of 'inevitability' is hard to get away from. Marx wrote about the inevitability of a workers' victory, and, in the Index to the 45 volumes of Lenin's Collected Works, there are roughly 100 references to the alleged inevitability of socialism. If inevitable, then socialists in the West can afford to be laid back about working for socialism, so instead work on issues that are less objectionable to average people. Many socialists think that: 'Such activities build socialism anyway; and, besides, when conditions get bad enough, people will revolt, overthrow their governments, and institute socialism'. The Socialist Labor Party (SLP) teaches that 'a conspiracy of silence prevents more Americans from turning to socialism', and this in a country in which all sorts of radical presses are delivered to people's homes by the U.S. Post Office, and where all shades of political thought are free on the Internet. In Russia before the revolution, socialist presses had to publish underground; and yet, in spite of the monarchist repression, Russia went communist, while freedom of speech in the West yields democratic capitalism.

   These paradoxes speak to the futility of the struggle for any form of socialism, which futility is not lost on all leftists, for it causes a certain amount of demoralization. Some sectarians compensate by becoming overly proud of whatever socialist identity they enjoy, and declare themselves to be the true inheritors of traditions of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, De Leonism, Trotskyism, etc., and fiercely uphold their sectarian principles by denouncing other groups, and by expelling dissenters within their own ranks. Because their product is so untenable, woe be it to participants who dare to question prevailing party lines, for even mild exhibitions of courage sometimes yield expulsions. Leftist groups are often managed undemocratically, and feature bureaucracy, nepotism, censorship, secrecy, states of denial, and personality cults.

A Reasonable Alternative

   Communism was a niche opportunity in less-developed countries on their way from feudalism or colonialism to democratic capitalism. If doing something positive for the poor is the rationale for introducing communism to the USA, there is a way to help the poor without introducing the heavy hand of an oppressive state. In his 1845 book about "The Condition of the Working Class in England", Engels described how to end the domination of the rich (p. 255):

   "The active resistance of the English working-men has its effect in holding the money-greed of the bourgeoisie within certain limits, and keeping alive the opposition of the workers to the social and political omnipotence of the bourgeoisie, while it compels the admission that something more is needed than Trades Unions and strikes to break the power of the ruling class. But what gives these Unions and the strikes arising from them their real importance is this, that they are the first attempt of the workers to abolish competition. They imply the recognition of the fact that the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based wholly upon the competition of the workers among themselves; i.e., upon their want of cohesion. And precisely because the Unions direct themselves against the vital nerve of the present social order, however one-sidedly, in however narrow a way, are they so dangerous to this social order. The working-men cannot attack the bourgeoisie, and with it the whole existing order of society, at any sorer point then this. If the competition of the workers among themselves is destroyed, if all determine not to be further exploited by the bourgeoisie, the rule of property is at an end. Wages depend upon the relation of demand to supply, upon the accidental state of the labour market, simply because the workers have hitherto been content to be treated as chattels, to be bought and sold. The moment the workers resolve to be bought and sold no longer, when, in the determination of the value of labour, they take the part of men possessed of a will as well as of working-power, at that moment the whole Political Economy of to-day is at an end."

   To Engels in 1845, competition between workers for scarce long-hour opportunities to make the rich richer resulted in poverty. For him to later sneer at struggles for shorter hours as 'diversions to workers, who should organize more for socialism than to try to solve their problems within a capitalist framework' (to paraphrase some of his mature thoughts), was as indicative of his socialist fallibility as is the tendency of present-day socialists to sneer at arguments for sharing work through shorter hours. In Volume 3 of his most famous work entitled 'Capital', Marx roughly stated that 'shorter hours are the prerequisite to freedom', but also indicated that struggles for shorter hours would be better pursued during the envisioned socialist era of proletarian dictatorship.

   People listening to socialist arguments who could think independently might instead say: 'If poverty is the result of fighting over scarce long-hour opportunities to create enormous profits, then the solution to that problem is not for workers to try to change property and government relations - the solution, rather, is for workers to unite to create an artificial shortage of labor that would enable everyone to find jobs'. Such united action would also drive wages up, enable workers to laugh at thoughts of unemployment lines, minimum wages, and degrading government handouts; and would solve the biggest problems they face, including the lack of workers' control.* Revolutionaries have to be able to afford to disregard civil thinking like that in order to promote extreme measures, and many can afford to 'dabble' in revolution. For many, the revolution is little more pressure-ridden than any other 'good cause' or harmless hobby, and their meetings good opportunities to get together to raise money so that leaders can continue to mislead followers. The price people pay for hiring others to think for them is that they often receive faulty products in return.

   * Workers' control is largely absent all over the world. Workers desperately competing for scarce low-pay and long-hour jobs can't possibly boycott rotten or destructive ones, such as land-mine manufacture, or clear-cutting old-growth forests. Do workers in China enjoy carving up live dogs so that Americans can wear 'nice' furs? That story was recently on TV. It's the kind of gruesome toil that many would have to be 'hard up' to accept, but, when times get rough, people do awful things to get by, no matter who or what gets hurt - the environment, people, animals, or all of the above. That is one reason why we live in such an immoral society. As long as workers get paid, they endure; hence, many are forced by economic circumstances to do anything that pays, no matter how destructive. Some are also very good at keeping quiet about the damage they do, often in full knowledge of the consequences to blameless parties.

   We can create a moral society, but, will the initiative come from rich people who suddenly get religion and campaign for work to be equitably shared? At the rate revolutionaries are going, the rich just might beat them to a chance to do something of lasting value. Turned loose on the world with a more reasonable agenda, many revolutionaries are well-enough intentioned to do an awful lot of good work, but, few have come close to admitting that they were wrong about the possibility of a revolution in the West. They usually don't even allow themselves to think about such things, believing that they are the good guys who are bound to win their quest, even if the revolution's popularity hasn't improved much since the days of the Depression, when people avidly examined many plans touted as solutions.

Dubious Social-Democratic Programs

   Look at what happens when the Social-Democratic 'tax-and-spend' agenda is followed ad infinitum: First, a better machine is introduced into a factory and some workers get laid off because they aren't allowed to reap the benefits of increased productivity in the form of shorter work hours. With strong Social-Democratic (S-D) programs in place, laid-off workers collect unemployment compensation, and if not all of them can find new jobs, a strong S-D government wouldn't hesitate to put the unfortunates on welfare or make-work for as long as necessary. Victorious socialists would smile and reflect on how different the situation was compared to 'when Democrats and Republicans were in control, and their adamant refusals to take care of the poor finally caused a humanitarian populace to elect us socialists to power'. Sound like a socialist dream come true? Hold on, there's more.

   The replacement of labor by technology continues. More workers get laid off and move into programs, but someone has to pay for them, so taxes go up. True to form, socialists raise taxes on the rich instead of on the working poor, but bosses then move production to other countries for the benefits of minimum tax burdens and higher profits. 'Good riddance', say socialists in unison, as they scramble to raise taxes even more. But, increased taxes hasten the outflow of capital, unemployment and welfare rolls soar, and the nation gets caught in a spiral of taxing companies out of the country, forcing laid-off workers to turn to government programs, in turn forcing taxes to be raised on remaining companies, which move offshore if at all possible. In the end, the USA acquires the status of a second-rate country. Such is the result of a Social-Democratic agenda run rampant. Anyone happy with that? Not many are, so few would vote to implement it. That's why we are no more socialist than the rest of the West.

   If we instead decide that 'what little work that remains to be done by humans should be equitably shared', so many social problems would diminish that government could be trimmed significantly, no matter which party was in power, but a good portion of the left treasures Roosevelt's New Deal and thinks that: 'The government is too small as it is, so more agencies should be created and expanded to provide for the poor and put people to work'. Some may consider that to be a logical approach to social problems, but look at where else the logic leads to: Technological progress doesn't stand still. Think of how different things are today compared to a century ago - telegraphs and newspapers the main means of communication; half of the population still farming because tractors have yet to be introduced; horses, trains and boats the main means of transport; no airplanes or airports; scanty regulation of industries, long work-weeks in sweatshops; child labor rather normal; no radios, TVs, computers, or robots, and barely any electricity.

   Look at a prediction of how glaringly different things could be a century from now. According to an article in a trade journal called Electronic Engineering Times, new technology could replace all physical labor by 2086.* Considering how primitive robots are now, it's easy enough for any of us to just rear back our heads and laugh at that notion, the same way people a century ago would have laughed at the thought of a Wright brothers creation getting to the moon. Robots need to go a long way before they'll be as capable as people. But, laughter may not be the most applicable response, for we just examined how different things are today compared to a mere century ago, when flight was still experimental. People back then might have derided notions of space stations and moon walks within their lifetimes, but today they are facts of life. Since technology advances at a geometric rate, the abolition of physical labor a century from now isn't so far-fetched. It doesn't matter, either, whether it happens one, two, or a dozen centuries from now, for it's a safe bet that the abolition of physical labor will happen, and society will have to evolve to be able to handle that eventuality. So, we need a plan, for we can't just let technology run away with the whole show without our control. We can't just 'innocently' stand by and watch more and more people go homeless and hungry while workers escalate competition over dwindling numbers of long-hour opportunities to make the rich richer, or, as evidenced by the boom in prison construction, to make the government more oppressive to those who get caught in the squeeze, and who sometimes turn to illegitimate means of making do. If unemployment were abolished by sharing work equitably, a lot of crime would be eliminated, more than enough to make the program worth it. Crime and unemployment rates closely parallel one another. Both rates could easily be made negligible.

* 2002 note: More recent credible predictions peg the abolition of labor no later than 2030. (End of note.)

   Productivity constantly improves. By one estimate, we are now 40 times more productive than we were 200 years ago. Coincidentally enough, that figure corresponds to our agricultural progress. Two hundred years ago, 80% of the population farmed the land, whereas only 2% do now, another ratio of 40 to 1. If 90% of the people produced necessities of life 200 years ago, an almost absurdly small percentage do so now, probably less than 10%. Technological advances constantly shift people from producing necessities to producing non-necessities. Up until relatively recently in the human experience, the purpose of work was to help our ancestors to stay alive, but now its purpose is to make the rich obscenely rich, while the purpose of our lives is to fight among ourselves over dwindling numbers of long-hour opportunities to make the rich richer.

   With that in mind, let's look again at a Social-Democratic solution to unemployment known as 'work creation'. But, considering the bounty we already produce, a program to create even more work is an unsettling thought. 'Well, not if it puts bread on the table' would be a predictable S-D response. Still, considering the possibility that we could all get by with each worker putting in a single hour per week, the value of artificially creating even more work is dubious, at best. A lot of people are working too many hours per day to make the rich richer than their wildest dreams, but many others can't find long-hour opportunities to do that. A Social-Democratic solution to that problem is to enslave unfortunates to 'make-work' in the name of 'getting homeless people off the streets', 'raising human dignity', etc. Socialists might be unpleasantly surprised to learn that, in the view of many poor people, socialist salvation differs little from the 'workfare' that thousands of poor people have already come to hate.

   Next, step into the time machine and proceed to the year 2100, by which time all physical labor could be abolished, if we first don't cook our gooses with global warming, which may be at least a partial result of squeezing every bit of work possible out of both human flesh and the resources we consume. Future work will also be multiplied by vastly more productive capacity, meaning that each worker will dispose of far more resources than at present, if, at the rate we are going, any resources will still be left. Wasted resources in the quest for profits, aided and abetted by Social-Democratic short-sightedness, all fueled by selfish and careless agendas.

   One of the reasons for the left's apathy toward sharing work may stem from a misunderstanding of the concept of 'surplus value', even though some may actually use that Marxist term while explaining profit creation. But, socialists - starting even with Marx - illogically apply the 'big picture' lessons of surplus value. Many socialists teach that work-days are divided into 2 time segments: During the first segment (known as 'necessary labor'), workers create the value of their wages, which they mainly spend on necessities of life. During the second segment (known as 'surplus labor'), newly created values accrue to employers so as to expand capital and take profits; to pay dividends, rent and taxes; to advertise products and services, etc. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and because of constant increases in productivity, the ratio of surplus to necessary labor has increased dramatically, hastening the figurative arrival of the moment in the work-day when workers stop working for their wages and begin working for their bosses and the government (until the end of the day). Hence, as productivity improves, an ever smaller proportion of newly-created wealth accrues to workers, while an ever larger proportion accrues to owners and/or to government. Astoundingly enough, the upper 20% now receive 98% of what's produced, while the lower 80% receive only 2%, a very drastic reduction from 200 years ago, when the vast majority of goods remained in the hands of producers. Another way of looking at this situation is to compare it to the arrival of 'tax-freedom day', which arrived in the USA on May 10 of '98, and arrives at later and later dates every year. If supporting the government takes such a large chunk out of the first part of the work-year, then 'boss-freedom day' may not arrive until much later in the year, after which workers may finally begin to work for themselves, but only until New Year's Day, when they start working for others all over again.

   A typical socialist response is to deplore enormous surplus value as a tragedy to cry over, and as something that will never be resolved, except by replacing capitalism with socialism. A common argument runs, 'Workers create enormous surplus value under capitalism; therefore, the solution is to replace capitalism with socialism'. Plain and simple, isn't it? To revolutionaries, the problem is never with the degree of profits and surplus value, as in 'more being worse than less'; rather, the problem is escalated into a matter of black and white, to the effect that, 'If black exists, it must be replaced with white, and no shade of gray will satisfy'. The SLP, e.g., allows none of its members to even think about tampering with the amount of profiting, because they believe that 'profiting will be abolished on the same day on which capitalism and the state are abolished', a day SLP members live for, but few ordinary citizens will support their plan. The logical solution to the surfeit of profits (admittedly caused by long hours) is to legislate shorter hours of labor, higher overtime premiums to discourage overwork, longer vacations, more paid Holidays, etc., but how many socialists would be caught dead promoting 'less work' as the solution to 'huge profits at the expense of a reasonable economy that works for everyone'? What makes them socialists is the fact that they promote 'wealth and property redistribution' as the solution to huge profits, not 'work redistribution'. The socialist answer to huge profits doesn't follow from the premises. Trying to fight exorbitant profits with more work (by means of government programs) is as logical as trying to fight fires with gasoline.

   One recent report indicates that the American work-week for full-timers grew from 43 to 47 hours from 1980-1999, a trend enjoyed by owners. And yet, average yearly hours of labor decreased from 3,000 in 1870 to less than the 2000-hour benchmark for a year of 40-hour weeks (with a 2-week vacation). In spite of the overwork of full-timers, average work-years get shorter because of the rise of part-time work. Even though we know it isn't possible, consider what would happen if workers could suddenly start working 24 hours a day and 7 days a week: Owners could then lay off many workers while still getting equal production; but, due to increased competition for scarce jobs, desperation would force workers to eventually accept lower wages as the labor market adjusts, so hourly wage rates would decline, which would boost surplus value, enabling profits to rise. There is considerable financial incentive to keep workers on the job non-stop, while a weak overtime premium like time-and-a-half (when available, or when Labor doesn't bargain it away in exchange for other benefits) often fails to sufficiently discourage overwork. Airline pilots, railroad engineers, truck and bus drivers and others in whom we entrust our safety should not be allowed to work for very many hours at a time, but, if society takes it easy on them, others would feel left out, and a movement would soon arise that would displease bosses.

   One recent defeat for California workers was the overturn of regulations that once provided time-and-a-half after 8 hours per day, and double time after 12 per day, both of which discouraged a lot of overwork. Near the close of the public meeting of the Industrial Welfare Commission where the damage was done, a worker spoke eloquently against the overturn, but then astonished us by pulling out a gun. He spent some time in jail, and later committed suicide. He may have been the first casualty of California's retreat to the weaker Federal standard of time-and-half after 40, but not the last. California really didn't need to lose its protective rules, but, can misguided workers be expected to unite in great enough numbers to protect their best interests?

   More economics: if Labor could have had it their way during the Depression of the 1930's, what with their demand at the time for a 30-hour work-week to put everyone to work, surplus value would have been kept down to a more reasonable level, work-sharing ideology would have survived to this day, the work week would be down to 20 hours by now, and our social problems small enough that 'revolution in democracies' would have been rendered even more of a curiosity than at present. During the century from 1820-1920, technological progress pressured bosses to lay off redundant workers, but workers often successfully foiled unemployment by striking for shorter work-weeks in order to share the remaining work; but, as noted in Prof. Hunnicutt's book "Work Without End", bosses were fed up with profit-sapping work week reductions by 1920, so determined to hang tough and no longer give in. As a result of the unnecessarily long hours, production out-paced demand, so commodities remained on shelves*, which led to the stock market crash of 1929. Labor created lots of wealth, but didn't want to create wealth that couldn't be used. Labor would rather have worked fewer hours and had more free time, but the bosses said no, and government at the time had never before utilized high levels of spending to put people to work, so the country went for what was described as 'a socialist experiment', a major factor in the events that got us to where we are today, which can be a dismal place if money is hard to come by.

   * Ways in which overproduction can be absorbed include: advertising to promote consumption, population growth, market expansion into new territories, and government intervention, such as by taxing and spending. This last measure has only been public policy since the Depression of the 1930's. Serious doubt exists as to whether what got started then was real progress, or the denial of Labor's agenda in favor of the socialist one represented retrogression that set the stage for the lost times we presently find ourselves in, as the fate of the poor is increasingly left to chance, charity, or the 'benevolence' of a government that can sometimes appear as though it delights in cutting people away from needed social services, an impression inspired by the way welfare benefits in Massachusetts were cut - just before Christmas of '98. During the Depression, socialists managed to put a lot of people to work by inflating the role of government far beyond what Americans had ever experienced, but, just where did their 'Social-Democratic' programs get us? To where we are today, which is why Americans distrust big government and socialism as much as ever. Our country is more Social-Democratic than what many people are willing to admit, especially those on the left who think that the government doesn't do anywhere nearly enough for the poor.

Good Programs, or Bad Jokes?

   What satisfaction would the left derive from divorcing the rich from their property? Once the property was in the hands of a different class, the newly propertied class could do with it what it wanted, but one of the problems associated with radical programs is that of explaining just how the program promotes the welfare of the poor. To speculate: First, revolutionaries come to power and proceed to divorce the rich from their property. Problem #1 is: Can it be accurately determined who's rich and who isn't? There may not be a particular level or type of wealth that could qualify as a precise dividing point. If not, then that could be a significant point of contention, conflict over which could waste a lot of energy.

   If their first hurdle is successfully cleared, socialists come to another major question: The transfer of property from rich to poor has to be completed, but exactly how? Figuratively, as in 'the abolition of private property'? Or literally, as in 'each poor person becoming owner or part owner of something'? Or, by 'nationalizing property ownership'? Since workers nowadays produce mostly surplus value, as in the upper 20% of the people receiving 98% of what is produced (while the lower 80% receive only 2%), what would become of the surplus? The biggest proportion of newly produced wealth isn't necessary to sustain life. Would victorious workers shift production to luxuries to try to live like the rich, but with no time to enjoy their luxuries? Or, would they instead conserve resources and reduce their burden of toil? In democracies, workers could take it easier at any time they are willing to organize to do so. Forming new governments to alter property relations is a trickier matter, especially when reformers, anarchists and communists will never agree on a common way of doing it, so will never get around to realizing their panacea.

   A good question is: 'What motivates the revolutionary left?' Pure humanitarianism, or revenge? If motivated by pure humanitarianism, they might be more inclined to see that what little work that has yet to be taken over by machines and computers was equitably shared, placating the economic concerns of every worker, but they don't seem to want people to work happily in a capitalist system. Since revolutionaries subscribe to the theory that 'it takes suffering to incite revolution', reforms that work so well that revolutionary sentiments decline are not on their agenda. But, in their confusion, revolutionaries do not differentiate between political and economic adversity, and resist becoming conscious of the fact that revolutions are incited by political tyranny, while economic hardship has so far only bred reform. Since sharing work is easily effected by means of reform, revolutionaries will have little to do with it. For the sake of their revolution, 'workers have to become mad enough to smash the state and abolish capitalism'. To get workers mad enough, then, revolutionaries would have to insist that 'what little work that has yet to be taken over by machines and computers had better not be equitably shared, because placating the entire working class with jobs at high wages will diminish their revolutionary fervor'. Such humanitarianism!

   Another good question is whether 'desire for revenge' prevents revolutionaries from learning an important lesson from our American Civil War of the 1860's. Few people were ever comfortable with slavery. As machines and technology improved, and peasants were gradually freed from the soil to labor for wages in industry, wage-labor bitterly competed with slave-labor. As new states formed and rejected slavery within their borders, the South lost influence in the U.S. Senate and feared losing the legality of slavery altogether, especially after Lincoln and the new Republican Party were elected. If the South was willing to fight to the death to preserve as immoral a form of ownership as slavery, as well as impose it on the rest of the country by means of dictatorship, then how hard would people today fight to preserve private ownership of non-human means of production? The degree of force required to radically change ownership of land and factories just isn't available to small communist parties, or to any number of them banding together. Our country stands such an infinitesimal chance of having a socialist revolution that most revolutionary parties are in decline, especially since the events of 1989 and subsequent years.

   If reformers were willing to think logically about social problems, they would question the idea of attaining social justice by taxing and spending, simply because the program fails to take into account technology-driven productivity increases, for 'taxing and spending to create more jobs' aids and abets wastes of natural resources. Similarly, revolutionaries brought around to logical thinking would laugh just as hard at the idea of attaining social justice by redistributing property, for property relations have too little to do with joblessness to have an effect on it. Some people are not jobless because other people are rich, rather, joblessness exists because workers have yet to learn to share work. But, to much of the left, 'the rich are to blame for most, if not all, of what's wrong with the world'. From 1984-99, New Bedford lost over half of its manufacturing jobs. Labor leaders couldn't blame that loss on their own inability to even consider work-sharing, so, in a recent report, instead blamed politicians for 'letting jobs slip out of the region', as if the replacement of labor by machines had nothing to do with the scarcity of jobs.

What to Do

   If rich and radicals alike are reluctant to support work-sharing, then who will? If someone would bother to lead them there, the poor would instinctively understand that the very simple device of sharing work would put food on the table, while a revolution, by itself, can't do that, so why bother? For various reasons, the left stays the course and markets a variety of programs (some of which aren't even remotely feasible), but a societal conversion to work-sharing is an environmentally-friendly answer to the replacement of many more workers than ever before - both mental and manual - by far more advanced machines, and as every other program fails to contain chronic social problems for very long.

   The movement to share work can advance along different lines, and the nice part is that all are complementary aspects of the campaign. The components of the campaign do not compete like little sects that are at each other's throats in desperate competition to gather the most support for programs that are mutually exclusive, as are communism, anarchism and reformism. Those who are interested in higher overtime premiums wouldn't have the slightest interest in impeding the progress of those who work for longer vacations - unlike the communists and anarchists who were at each others' throats during the Spanish Civil War. Activists could also work for higher overtime premiums, such as double time after the standard work-day or week; they could work for a 7-hour day, or a 35-hour week; on legislation to bring all workers within the purview of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); they could work for longer vacations, as enjoyed in Europe; earlier retirement, as in Norway; sabbaticals; they could work for laws to prevent unions from bargaining away rights to overtime pay in exchange for other benefits; etc. These reforms would all make labor scarce, which is what's needed to prevent 'the slide to the bottom'. If labor makes itself scarce, and people can once again find jobs within their communities, auto pollution and increasingly lengthy commutes to work could be reduced, and resources saved.

   It may seem charitable to think about anyone other than ourselves, but working for the interests of the entire working class will soon become more of a necessity than any gesture of altruism, as all physical work probably becomes obsolete before the 22nd century, along with a good deal more mental labor. We had soon better decide whether work gets shared equitably, or it'll soon be every person for themselves, and let the devil take the hindmost, a recipe for interminable dog-eat-dog social conflicts.

   Our failure to recognize 'the necessity of cooperating to share what little work that remains for humans to do' is the origin of most of our social problems. We are wrecking the planet with unnecessary activities, but the planet won't tolerate our foolishness forever, and few will want to be around when the final straw breaks the camel's back. The big question is: Will we be smart enough to prevent the arrival of that day? The 40-hour week with lots of overtime, 2 weeks of vacation per year, and retirement at 65 are not matters of immutable principle, and the sooner people educate themselves to that, the sooner we can begin to permanently solve our problems. During times of disaster, people tend to cooperate instantly, whereas cooperation to share work is long overdue. Better than anything else we could do, beefing up regulation of hours of labor would show that we truly care about one another's long-term welfare.

Ken Ellis, June 22, 1999; Revised 02-22-00, and 10-22-02

 

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