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A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"

A recent article on what "socialist health care" will be like illustrates both the strength of and the weakness of progressive agitation in a period of theoretical crisis
how the cargo-cult ideology cripples agitation:

A comment on the CVO's article on "socialist health care"

Recently the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) published an
article on "socialist health care" [1]. The article describes
the current crisis in health care in which many in the U.S. have
no health insurance and even those who do are faced with
escalating costs and service cutbacks of all kinds from their
employee health plans. The social-democrat, Michael Moore, made
a well known documentary, "Sicko", on this topic. But the CVO
article goes further and not only supports the many existing
proposals for universal health coverage -- but makes an effort to
describe the essential difference between (1) the proposed
reforms of the health care system and (2) the health care system
as it will exist when the working class runs society.

Today the demagogues of right-wing talk radio attack proposals
for universal health care as "socialized medicine". The liberals
cringe defensively at such accusations. The CVO article, in
contrast, makes an effort to show what health care would really
be like under "socialism".

The CVO article is quite useful and describes and exposes many of
the shortcomings of both the existing health care system and the
many proposals for how to reform it. But the strongest point of
the article is where it contrasts these with how health care will
work when workers run the show.

Unfortunately, the strongest point of the CVO article (ie: the
comparison between health care as it currently exists under the
rule of the capitalist class and how it will exist under workers'
rule) is also, at the same time, its weakest point.

It is a strong point because there is a great need, today, for
articles of all kinds which point to the problems of capitalist
society (ie: imperialist war, poverty, racism, social crime, a
culture of ignorance and isolation, ecosystem destruction and
global warming, etc) and which point out how these problems can
only be resolved when the working class throws off the rule of
the biggest capitalists and runs society in its own interest.
Articles like this can help to encourage other articles which
explore other crises of capitalist society and make clear to
readers that nothing fundamental can change as long as the class
of big capitalists, the bourgeoisie, run society.

However this central theme of the article, its strong point, is
also at the same time its weak point -- because the article makes
several blunders which tend to reinforce the worst prejudices
about how society will function when it is run by the working
class.

----------------------------------------
theoretical weaknesses undermine
the main strength of the article
----------------------------------------

The combined effect of these blunders is to present a picture of
"socialism" as a fantasy -- an unrealistic pipe dream that can
never be realized because any attempt to bring it into the world
would only make things worse -- would simply bring about a police
state with low productivity characterized by bureaucratic rule, a
lack of democratic rights and an unbridgeable chasm between
official utopian propaganda and a dismal reality of shortages for
the many and privileges for the few.

It is useful to point out and correct the blunders the CVO makes
in this article. The problem in the CVO article is not that it
attempts to compare how health care currently works (ie: when
society is under the rule of the biggest capitalists) with how it
will work (ie: when workers run society). The problem is that
the article does this poorly and surrenders to all the usual
mythology which equates working class rule with the rule of a
single organization (ie: a police state with rampant hypocrisy,
repression, fear, stagnation and shortages).

Attempts in the 20th century to create "socialism" (ie: the
former Soviet Union, China, etc) are well known. These attempts
created many good things for hundreds of millions of people but
they have all failed in what was supposedly their main goal: to
place the working class in power. A lot of economic development
took place because of these social revolutions but they
ultimately produced (1) social systems that denied essential
democratic rights to workers and (2) stagnant economies unable to
compete with the Western imperialist economies. The CVO article
is unable to come to terms with the failures of these attempts
and evades dealing with the need for the working class to have
the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in
order to resist corruption, safeguard its rule and create a world
of abundance for all.

Better would be an article which has the strengths of the CVO
article but which avoids the blunders and the evasion which
weaken it. The goal of workers' rule is destined to be the great
central, unifying goal of everything that is healthy in the
progressive and revolutionary movements. The CVO article helps
us to understand this. But if we take this goal seriously --
then we must struggle to understand it in a scientific way. We
need articles which deal with workers' rule. And what is worth
doing at all -- is worth doing well.

----------------------------------------
a gagged and blindfolded working class
cannot create abundance and equality
----------------------------------------

The main problem with the conception of workers' rule presented
in the CVO article is that it mixes up features of workers' rule
that would never be able to coexist: an absence of fundamental
democratic rights on the one hand and, on the other hand, a
highly developed economy and social system.

Let's look at this more carefully:

----------------------------------------
The rule of a single party:
primitive and unstable
----------------------------------------

The article states that workers' rule (which it calls "socialism"
even though this word today means little more than sharing a bit
of the wealth of society and centralizing authority and tends to
be a "weasel word" most often used by charlatans and cultists)
will be characterized by the rule of single organization.

This is the key weakness of the article so it is useful to
explore this more carefully.

The article describes how the working class will rule "through
its own political party". Note well: this is a single party --
not a system of parties which openly compete as well as cooperate
with one another. The article also mentions, in the same
sentence [2] that there will also be "mass organizations of the
entire working population" but it is clear that, in the CVO
description, these "mass organizations" will not be _independent_
of the single ruling party. Instead, these "mass organizations"
will be _subordinate_ to it (ie: exactly as "mass organizations"
were/are subordinate to the ruling party in the Soviet Union,
China, North Korea, etc).

The main problem with the rule of society by a single party is
that, in practice, this means that the fundamental democratic
rights of speech and organization will be denied to the working
class.

This follows from the simple fact that, if the working class has
the democratic rights of speech and organization -- then it will
create organizations which are independent from one another (and
from the ruling state) and these organizations will openly
compete for (a) influence among the working class and masses and
(b) control of the workers' state. And, in such conditions, no
single organization would be able to maintain a monopoly of
influence among the masses or complete control over the workers'
state.

----------------------------------------
why there will be multiple parties
----------------------------------------

Contradictions will continue to exist after bourgeois rule is
overthrown and the working class runs society. These
contradictions will be larger than the scale of individuals and
will involve differing material interests and ideological views
on many key questions of social, economic and political policy.
For example: there will be a contradiction between consumption at
the present time and investment in the future. Social production
capacity and resources will not be infinite. Do we build, for
example, a factory that creates consumer goods we can use right
away -- or a factory that creates infrastructure that will allow
us to build more factories in the future? Revolutionary society,
of course, will engage in both consumption and investment -- but
opinions will differ concerning the ratio of resources put into
each -- and there will be organized forms of struggle as opposing
schools of thought attempt to influence the masses and effect
social policy.

Many other examples could be given (see my appendix
"Contradictions in Society" below) of contradictions that are
likely to result in schools of thought and political, economic
and cultural organizations that will struggle against one another
for influence. No one can predict, of course, the precise nature
of the issues that will most engage the attention of the masses.
But we can say that there will be open struggle between
organizations with different views and agendas. This is the
vital principle for which there is no room in the CVO description
of what it calls "socialism".

----------------------------------------
the need for clear language:
socialism vs. proletarism
----------------------------------------

Revolutionary activists need to understand questions related to
our goal of workers' rule because there is enormous confusion
concerning what this goal is. The author of the CVO article,
Joseph Green, even admits this directly and says that "there is a
great deal of confusion about what socialism really is". The
problem is that Joseph (with his conception of "socialism" as
being a society ruled by a single organization which denies
fundamental democratic rights to the working class and which has
the ability to suppress the voice of its opponents) is in no
position to provide clarity on this question.

In the meantime, the confusion continues. Yesterday, the local
paper here in Seattle, for example, headlined the recent effort
of Chavez in Venezuela to revise the constitution as a "bid for
socialism" (and this language is being used by Chavez himself to
describe his goal and is also used by nearly all political trends
in the rest of the world). Now the struggle which Chavez is
leading in Venezuela against the local oligarchs (as well as
against the influence of US imperialism) is positive for the
working class and masses and deserves support. But the working
class is not in power in Venezuela and Chavez will not bring the
working class to power (although he will improve its conditions).
And the Chavez "revolution" will remain vulnerable to the long
list of counter-revolutionary intrigues and various forms of
economic and social pressure.

This highlights the key problem with using the word "socialism"
to describe the rule of society by the working class. The word
"socialism" is no longer used in that way by hundreds of millions
of people and it now means something else: it describes a
political system where the working class remains largely passive
and dependent on benefits from a political system tied to and
part of the bourgeois world.

And the political trends, like the CVO, which claim to uphold
"socialism" would not be able to explain what "socialism" means
if their lives depended on it. There is no one to uphold this
word. There is zero.

I advocate a decisive break from this word and am in favor of the
proposal by Russian revolutionaries (who organized underground
groups of workers to struggle against the abuses of the Brezhnev
regime) to use a new word, "proletarism", to describe our goal:
the historical stage in which the proletariat runs society [3].
The analogy here is how, in 1914, Lenin advocated abandoning the
phrase "social-democracy" as hopelessly corrupted in the eyes of
workers after nearly all the social-democratic parties supported
the mutual slaughter of worker against worker known as the first
world war. The terms "socialism" and "communism" are, similarly,
after many decades of unimaginable corruption, something of a
lost cause.

Groups like the CVO (which are among the _best_ under current
conditions of a confused, demoralized and largely corrupt left)
can only talk about "socialism" or "communism" in empty words
that are essentially indistinguishable from propaganda from North
Korea. Talk about "revolutionary communism" or "a new way of
life for the entire population" is nothing more than meaningless
hot air without recognition that the working class will need the
fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization in order
to exercise its rule as a _class_. The inability of the CVO to
deal with this shows that they are unwilling or unable to
recognize the crisis of theory that has paralyzed the
revolutionary movement and brought it to is knees.

----------------------------------------
The CVO is confused about the
distinction between party and state
----------------------------------------

The CVO description, by itself, reveals a conception of workers'
rule in which a single ruling organization controls the state
(ie: is essentially merged with and identical to the state) and
suppresses its political opponents.

Now such an arrangement is called "socialism" by both (a) the
ruling bourgeoisie and its mouthpiece media and (b) progressive
political trends that are based on a religion that I call
"cargo-cult Leninism" [4]. In my writing I am careful never to
equate such an arrangement with the rule of society by the
working class. The reason for this is simple. Such an
arrangement is not the rule of society by the working class but
the rule of society by a single organization which, in order to
preserve its rule, must deny to the working class the fundamental
democratic rights necessary to run the show (ie: if you don't
have the ability to know what is going on you will not be able to
really run things and if you don't have democratic rights then
pretty soon you will only know what the ruling organization wants
you to know).

But leaving aside semantics (and the use of weasel words like
"socialism") such an arrangement might possibly represent (in
some possible and unlikely circumstances) an embryonic step in
the direction of workers' rule. But if we recognize this -- then
it also becomes important to understand why such an arrangement
could only correspond to a primitive, fragile and inherently
unstable society.

----------------------------------------
The need for an "immune system"
to oppose corruption
----------------------------------------

Without fundamental democratic rights (and the independent
political organizations which are inseparable from such rights)
the working class will lack the kind of functioning immune system
which it will need in order to effectively oppose and defeat the
kind of incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption in people or
policies which will inevitably emerge even within their own state
-- because "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts
absolutely". If the working class does not have the essential
weapons of independent speech and organization -- then corruption
will inevitably win.

What are the circumstances under which it might be to the
_advantage_ of the working class to have its democratic rights
restricted? Some might argue that in the aftermath of a possible
civil war accompanied by large-scale economic destruction,
hardship and dissatisfaction -- that the social forces which
represent the interest of the working class would not have the
support of a stable majority of the population -- and for this
reason -- would need to restrict democratic rights in order to
maintain power long enough to improve conditions so that
dissatisfaction was lessened and democratic rights could
eventually be introduced. (This was essentially the
circumstances of Bolshevik rule in Russia in 1921.) Whatever
else can be said about this -- it should be clear that such a
situation would not correspond to a workers' state having the
support of a stable majority of the population (ie: because if it
did -- then the workers' state would have little need to suppress
democratic rights).

----------------------------------------
A developed economy and social system
----------------------------------------

The CVO article claims that under "socialism":

(1) there will be no significant distinction
between rich and poor or between
exploiter and exploited and

(2) there will be no major suppliers to the
health care sector that will be based
on "profit" (ie: private capitalism)

While both of these goals are achievable under workers' rule any
serious study or investigation of this will conclude that such
features would not be achieved overnight but could only be the
result of years (if not decades) of political and economic
development under workers' rule.

And this is the key contradiction which the CVO presents to us as
what it calls "socialism". We are presented with an image of a
highly advanced social and economic development that will take a
number of years (if not decades) to achieve in the circumstances
of the stable support of a majority of the population. And we
are told that this highly developed social and economic system
will be ruled by a single party (ie: that could only maintain its
monopoly of power by suppressing the voice of its opponents --
something that makes no sense if the workers' state has the
support of a stable majority).

If we want readers to understand, after reading an article, that
an alternative to continued capitalist rule is really possible --
and this this alternative would be _better_ (and not worse) than
capitalist rule (ie: not be a police state with shortages and low
productivity) -- then we must give readers the ammunition they
need to stand up to the immense ideological pressure which the
bourgeoisie directs against the concept of working class rule.
Readers need to understand, for example, that, under workers'
rule there will be successful open struggle (by groups that are
independent of their own workers' state) to overthrow the
inevitable incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption that will come
up in people or principles. Readers need to know that there will
be open political struggle and competition. And readers need to
know that that economic competition will also be organized to
defeat bureaucratic bottlenecks, stagnation and empire-building
in economic sectors. Competition under capitalism means a "race
to the bottom" as workers compete against one another for the
worst wages and conditions. Competition under workers' rule will
take place in circumstances where the essential means of life and
happiness are guaranteed to all.

----------------------------------------
the struggle for integrity
----------------------------------------

The theoretical weakness of the CVO article on the decisive
question of workers' rule can be understood as a result of the
crisis of theory that flowed from the decay of Lenin's revolution
and the degenerate political and economic system that became the
model for revolutionaries in China and elsewhere in the decades
that followed.

This theoretical weakness is the most important reason that the
concept and realistic goal of workers' rule is not at the center
of the progressive and revolutionary movements and that a
revolutionary movement that is deserving of the respect of the
working class can hardly be said to exist. Without a clear and
realistic understanding of our goal we will never be able to
build a conscious revolutionary movement.

But theoretical weaknesses can be overcome. No person and no
organization is infallible. We all make mistakes. What is
important, for revolutionary activists and revolutionary
organizations -- is to be open to criticism and to take a stand
for scientific attitudes and integrity, even if this can be, at
moments, painful. I am asking Joseph to either publish my
criticism of his article in his journal or to provide a link to
its web address [5] -- in order to stimulate discussion of the
decisive theoretical question of workers' rule [6].

Ben Seattle
 http://struggle.net/ben/

----------------------------------------
footnotes:
----------------------------------------

[1] What would socialist health care be like?
 http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/40cCompare.html
and chart of different health systems
 http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/40cChart.html

[2] here is the key sentence:

> The government and politics won't be run
> by a rich elite, but by the working class,
> through its own political party
> and through mass organizations
> of the entire working population.

[3] See: "Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism
for the 21st century" at:  http://proletarism.com

[4] See: "Cargo cults and cargo-cult Leninism" at:
 http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/cargo-4-cults.htm

[5] This article is posted, together with a form
for comments from readers, at:
 http://struggle.net/ben/2007/1118-CVO-healthcare.htm

[6] More exploration of these decisive theoretical questions can
be seen in:
"What does victory look like?" at:
 http://struggle.net/Ben/2007/909-Ben.htm
which includes:

* Lenin on a Bolshevik "two-party system"

* The DP vs. the DP-embryo: a chart across 8 dimensions

1. Who rules?
2. Majority support?
3. Weak or strong?
4. Democratic rights of speech and organization?
5. Multiple organizations?
6. Separation of party and state?
7. Development of immune system against corruption?
8. Relationship to our goal?

========================================
Appendix: Contradictions in society
========================================

excerpt from: "Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show" at:
 http://struggle.net/alds/essay_153_content.htm

1) Consumption vs. investment

What proportion of social resources should be consumed to benefit
the population at the present time--as opposed to investing in
areas that will only bring a benefit decades (or generations)
later? Some people and groups will tend to favor shifts of
resources in the direction of more consumption in the present and
other groups will favor shifting in the direction of greater
investment in the future. This will be a complex question and it
includes, for example, questions related to investment in
education and culture--which return wealth to society decades or
generations later.

2) Local vs. international development

Trade-offs will exist between the kinds of development that raise
the standard of living in the home country vs. internationalist
aid to less developed countries. This will be a particularly
important issue for countries like the US and in Europe which
have profited immensely from the rape and plunder of Asia, Africa
and Latin America and which have both a huge historical debt--as
well as an internationalist duty--to the workers in the rest of
the world. Furthermore, the genuine development of the rest of
the world is necessary for the most rapid possible development of
the world economy as a whole.

3) Ecosystems vs. development

Some kinds of economic projects may diminish some of those
remaining ecosystems that have not been totally destroyed during
the period of capitalist development. In some cases opinions will
differ as to what are legitimate trade-offs and what are not.
Ecosystems are immense treasuries of future scientific and
cultural knowledge and so the imperative to preserve them can
also be considered a subset of the first contradiction
above--between present consumption and investment in the future.

4) The "gift economy" vs. other sectors

The fundamental way to escape an economy ruled by the laws of
commodity production will be the development of a "gift economy"
that does not make use of money or exchange and which will
pioneer new "relations of production" (ie: the relationships
between people who work cooperatively to create goods and
services). However this sector of the economy will initially be
small and will likely require many years of subsidies that will
in effect tax the rest of the economy. Differences will exist
regarding how aggressive to be in trying to develop this sector.
(This contradiction, like # 2 and # 3 above, can be considered as
a subset of the first.)