G. A. Cohen Why Not Socialism?
As a teenager, Jerry Cohen was a counsellor in the Montreal Jewish socialist summer camp Kinderland, where, in the words of one of his young charges, “the sons and daughters of 1950s leftists spent July and August waging class struggle against mosquitoes and boredom”. These summer expeditions left a lasting impression: decades later, Cohen fondly recalled campfire songs from Kinderland at his inauguration as Chichele Professor in All Souls college chapel; and a camping trip serves as the prime illustration of the virtues of socialism in his latest and last work, a lively discussion of political morality.
While Jerry Cohen made a career out of intellectualising his personal journey from pro-Soviet schoolboy to doyen of Oxford political theory, it is in Why Not Socialism?—more than any other text—that we see as a whole his considered stance on justice. For this life-long socialist, socialism’s infeasibility does not entail its irrelevance, for its most basic merit lies in its encapsulation of an ethic of care for other human life. In a period when we are re-evaluating our economic priorities, this is a timely call for personal integrity—and a reminder that in necessarily compromising with self-interest, we must not lose sight of our ideals. Continue reading →
CARACAS, June 21 (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez has vowed to shake up the rules governing intellectual property rights on medicines and other products in Venezuela, the socialist’s latest move against the private sector.
“A song is intellectual property, but an invention or a scientific discovery should be knowledge for the world, especially medicine,” Chavez said late on Saturday.
“That a laboratory does not allow us to make a medicine because they have the patent, no, no, no,” Chavez said.
Chavez, who has nationalized many Venezuela industries and is critical of the private sector, ordered his trade minister to analyze the patent rules in the OPEC nation.
“Patents have become a barrier to production, and we cannot allow them to be barriers to medicine, to life, to agriculture,” said the minister, Eduardo Saman, who previously headed Venezuela’s patent agency.
“We are revising all the doctrines and laws related to patents, which should be compatible with the international treaties that we have signed and respect and honor.”
Chavez recently criticized Swedish packaging maker Tetra Pak, saying its patents on cartons were limiting production in Venezuela.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Vicki Allen)
“Initially we never had in mind workers control, we were just struggling for our jobs. We spent two years picketing at the gates before we decided to take it over. Through this process we developed political maturity very fast, not just through our own personal struggle, but the broader political struggles of the constituent assembly and the recall referendum” – Marino Mora, worker at self managed Venezuelan Factory
In Argentina’s recovered factories movement, workers took over control of the factories in which they had worked, commonly after bankruptcy, or after a factory occupation to circumvent a lock out. The Spanish verb recuperar means not only “to get back”, “to take back” or “to reclaim” but also “to put back into good condition”. Although initially referring to industrial facilities, the term may also apply to businesses other than factories (i.e. Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires).
English-language discussions of this phenomenon may employ several different translations of the original Spanish expression other than recovered factory. For example, recuperated factory/business, reclaimed factory, and worker-run factory have been noted. The phenomenon is also known as “autogestion,” which comes from the French word for self-management (applied to factories, popular education systems, and other uses).
Critics argue that this would necessitate consulting all employees for every tiny issue and so be time-consuming, inefficient and thus ineffective. However, as seen in real world examples, only large-scale decisions are made by all employees during council meetings and small decisions are made by those implementing them while coordinating with the rest and following more general agreements.
Autogestion was first theorized by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon during the first part of the 19th century. It then became a primary component of some trade union organizations, in particular revolutionary syndicalism which was introduced in late 19th century France and guild socialism in early 20th century Britain, although both movements collapsed in the early 1920s. French trade-union CFDT (“Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail”) included worker self-management in its 1970 program, before later abandoning it. The philosophy of workers’ self-management has been promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since its founding in the United States in 1905.
One significant experiment with workers’ self-management took place during the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939).
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, TitoistYugoslavia advocated a socialist version of autogestion, leading to a break with Moscow, which practiced central planning and state ownership of industry. The economy of Yugoslavia was organized according to the theories of Tito and – more directly – Edvard Kardelj. Croatian scientist Branko Horvat also made a significant contribution to the theory of socialism (radničko samoupravljanje) as practiced in Yugoslavia. With the exception of a recession in the mid-1960s, the country’s economy prospered under Titoist Socialism. Unemployment was low, the education level of the work force steadily increased. The life expectancy (which was about 72 years) and living standards of Yugoslav citizens was nearly equal to the life expectancy and living standards of citizens of “western” capitalist countries such as the United States. Due to Yugoslavia’s neutrality and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav companies exported to both Western and Eastern markets. Yugoslav companies carried out construction of numerous major infrastructural and industrial projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.
In October 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas (“Latin American Encounter of Recovered Companies”) took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with representatives of 263 such companies from different countries living through similar economical and social situations. The meeting had, as its main outcome, the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas’ Commitment); a vindicating text of the movement.
Throughout the 1990s in Argentina‘s southern province of Neuquén, drastic economic and political events occurred where the citizens ultimately rose up. Although the first shift occurred in a single factory, bosses were progressively fired throughout the province so that by 2005 the workers of the province controlled most of the factories.
In the wake of the 2001 economic crisis, about 200 Argentine companies were “recovered” by their workers and turned into co-operatives. Prominent examples include the Brukman factory, the Hotel Bauen and FaSinPat (formerly known as Zanon). As of 2005, about 15,000 Argentine workers run recovered factories.
The phenomenon of fabricas recuperadas (“recovered factories”) is not new in Argentina. Rather, such social movements were completely dismantled during the so-called “Dirty War” in the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora‘s first months of government (May-July 1973), a rather moderate and left-wing Peronist, approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.
Many recovered factories are run co-operatively and all workers receive the same wage. Important management decisions are taken democratically by an assembly of all workers, rather than by professional managers.
One of the highest difficulties such a movement faces is its relation towards the classic economic system, as most classically managed firms refused, for various reasons (among which ideological hostility to the very principle of autogestion) to work and deal with recovered factories. Thus, isolated recovered factories find it easier to work together in building an alternative economic system and thus manage to reach a critical size and power which enables it to negotiate with the ordinary capitalistic firms.
The results of the new survey of ‘Arab opinion’ conducted by Zogby International show that Barack Obama has a much more favourable rating than did his predecessor as US president. But when asked to name the world leaders whom they most admire, the participants put the President of Venezuela at the top of the poll.
The survey, which was conducted in April and May 2009, sampled the views of 4,087 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. According to the respected Zogby polling organisation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%. One of the questions put to the participants was “which two world leaders (outside your own country) do you admire most?” The most frequently named leader is Hugo Chavez, at 36%. Following Chavez in order of admiration are Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and former President of France Jacques Chirac (both at 18%), Osama bin Laden (16%), Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (15%) and the current French president Nicolas Sarkozy (14%). Continue reading →
Most politicians and journalists talk as though the only possible sort of democracy is parliament, so all we can do is patch up a decrepit system. The history of the socialist movement shows that there is a different tradition of democracy. Continue reading →
It is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous — and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed. What do we want instead?
It is time to take the power back? To do this we need a system where the workers are in control and the means of production are owned by the workers not by a rich minority of capitalists…
In a socialist society the means of production  are owned by the workers rather than by a rich minority of capitalists or functionaries. Such a system of ownership is both collective and individual in nature.
It is collective because society can control production unlike the economic anarchy of capitalism and because production is for the common good rather than for individual profit.
At the same time it is individual because workers are no longer a ‘collective’ mob of alienated non-owners employed by a minority of owners. Work becomes a free and self-affirming activity for each worker and they receive the full fruits of their labor. The capitalists and their servants no longer control production nor grow rich from other’s toil. Everybody is an owner. Socialism is genuine free enterprise.
The personally empowering and cooperative nature of socialist ownership underpins similar changes in other aspects of life. Socialism means far healthier individuals and human relationships. It means full participation by each individual in the intellectual, cultural and political life of society.
Socialism requires a revolution with three main stages: firstly the emergence of a workers’ movement committed to socialist revolution, secondly the achievement of political power and the expropriation of the capitalists and thirdly a period during which workers learn how to be owners and rulers and cast off the psychological and ideological dross of the past.
Socialism will not be an utopia simply created in people’s minds. It will be the product of economic and social development. In developed countries it is now possible for everyone to live a reasonably affluent life and be free of long hours of routine toil. This creates a better basis for cooperation and mutual regard. Historically, where equality would have meant shared poverty, it was inevitable that a minority would plunder, enslave and exploit the majority. At the same time rank and file workers are progressively acquiring through their experiences, the abilities to do without an elite. Their general level of education and training has advanced significantly over the last couple of generations. The work they do, while still totally oppressive, has an increasingly mental and conceptual content. And they now have extensive access to cultural and intellectual resources and the diverse experiences of living in a modern society. So while socialism was impossible in the past, these emerging conditions make it inevitable in the future.
Footnote . The means of production comprise everything, except labor, that is used in production, namely, factories, plant, equipment, offices, shops, raw materials, fuel and components.
It is time for the public to wake up. Time to open our eyes. The expenses scandal. The killing of Ian Tomlinson. Heavy handed police aggression during recent legitimate protests. The banking crisis. The Credit Crunch. The huge debts that have been put on future generations shoulders.
Enough is enough.
It is time for real change and to put people first. The only system that will truly do this is socialism.