Against “Democratic Socialism”
In a somewhat recent article in New Republic entitled “The Socialism America Needs Now,” there is a renewed discussion being launched over the future of “socialism” in the united $tates, and how one should continue to pursue socialist revolution from within the framework offered by the liberal establishment. Naturally, this article rejects Marxist-Leninist principles of the proletarian dictatorship and the necessity of international revolution. However, in an act of surprising transparency, the author calls for the application of a kind of “liberal socialism” in the spirit of the DSA and Bernie Sanders. For the author, this is a matter of practicality and the creation of a new economic model that better serves the “99%” in amerika, based on the achievements of social democrats in the post-WWII western/northern europeans states.
The majority of what the article has to say is basic left-liberal anti-communism, however there are a few points worth analyzing and dispelling for the sake of reaffirming a dedication to the communist project. Most interestingly among the author’s points is their indication that the economic system that has emerged since the second world war in the united $tates and western europe is now no longer compatible with the old communist analysis of capitalist society as it has not become post-industrial, lacking a large productive sector, but rather has become characterized by the information and service sectors. This point is very important, and outlines what has become a primary criticism aimed at communists by those pushers of “socialism for the 21st century” in the united $tates and europe, indicating that we have become “outmoded” by the development of the 21st century economy. Needless to say, that is bullshit.
The First Worldist and liberal social democratic platform of the DSA and its supporters reflects an outright rejection of the need for international revolution, or for communism at all. Obviously, they are chauvinists and anti-communists of the first water, but we must nevertheless work to disrupt their ridiculous propaganda, and defend and disseminate internationalist politics and political economy. If we are to confront the “socialism” that they have planned for the united $tates and europe, we must postulate how it is we intend to cope with the significant changes to the political geography before us. Otherwise what we are left with is the tacitly pro-imperialist elements of the so-called left, which organize almost exclusively for the common ownership of Third World surplus, extracted through the imperialist system. This is a project we must oppose, and one against which we must formulate a comprehensive program that starts by breaking down that forwarded by pro-imperialist social democrats.
The World-Economic Sectors
When one discusses the makeup of an economy, we are talking about 4 basic sectors of the economy: primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary. To really grasp the development of the world economy since the second world war, and thus the criticism that is laid out by the author of the aforementioned article, we must truly understand the importance of these economic sectors. Further, we must utilize this understanding to map the political and economic geography of the world today. This is made even more important in the era of imperialism and the international division of labor.
The primary and secondary sectors are the only two productive sectors, both of which are responsible for the direct accumulation of capital in the imperialist metropoles, and are conducted primarily in the global south, with the notable exception of the agricultural sector in the united $tates and europe. The primary sector is responsible for the extraction of natural resources and for agriculture. Traditionally, these activities were not considered especially “industrial”, although in the era of imperialism, they have certainly taken on industrial scales, significance and relations of production, and remain one of the few spheres of capitalist production that, by necessity, must hire productive labor left to the core countries. The primary sector ranges from oil extraction, mining, agriculture, logging and so on, and represents, by and large, the metabolism of nature into viable industrial inputs.
The secondary sector, or the manufacturing sector, is increasingly located in the global south, and has no restrictions as far as geography, climate or geological conditions, but does represent a necessarily physical location where the means of production have been organized by capitalist firms. Unlike the primary sector, the secondary sector is entirely exportable, and does not necessarily need to go where the raw materials are, and thus the mobility of this sector creates favorable conditions for the bourgeoisie in the course of class struggle in the globalized world, for if their “own” working classes are too unwieldy, unskilled or expensive, the capitalists need only export industry to super-exploited markets, where labor is kept in check by crushing poverty and brutal comprador regimes. Additionally, the wages of the workers of the core can then be padded with cheap commodities that provide more comfort for less money, thereby concealing or even reversing falling wage rates in the core in real purchasing power.
The vast majority of the world’s people are now either employed by the primary or secondary sectors, both representing the bedrock upon which all other relations are reliant, that is for the support of the tertiary and quaternary sectors that exist largely in the global north, which we will discuss momentarily. The primary and secondary sectors produce all value present within the capitalist system, around which the latter sectors are built and with which they are maintained. As Eleanor Marx, skillfully paraphrasing her father and mentor, once said, “Thus, all classes of society not composed of actual and immediate producers of wealth… live upon their respective shares of this surplus-value.”
At the risk of seeming repetitive, we must be absolutely clear on this: without the primary and secondary sectors, the tertiary and quaternary sectors could not exist. Both sectors are built upon the foundation of value that is ultimately derived from the productive labor of proletarians in the primary and secondary sectors. The tertiary sector is defined by the circulation of commodities and value within the system. Commonly known as the “service sector” the tertiary sector is built on advertising, services, and overseeing the exchange of commodities. It is the tertiary sector, along with the quaternary sector, that has come to define the First World economies, that have been transformed into the great marketplaces of the world. Within this sector you find firms like Walmart, Mcdonalds and various marketing firms, whose workers do not produce value, but are paid a fraction of the value extracted in the sectors whose commodities they circulate. As Marx says, “Since the merchant, as a mere agent of circulation, produces neither value nor surplus-value… it follows that the mercantile workers employed by him in these same functions cannot directly create surplus-value for him.” This sector, like the first two, is defined largely by the physical concentration of circulatory or commodity capital, whose capitalists merely realize surplus produced elsewhere. This sector is important to the bourgeois system because it enables the efficient transformation of surplus value into profit.
Finally we have the quaternary sector, or the “information sector.” The quaternary sector is relatively new as a distinct and hyper-inflated sector, controlled by the arbitrary recognition of proprietary rights over informations and software as a commodity in itself. This is by no means new, as the rights given to the bourgeoisie for inventions, designs and ideas (patents) has existed for longer than the bourgeois system itself, although certainly in a much different state. However, with the development of the internet and digital infrastructure, there is now an increasing emphasis on the development of new digital monopolies within the First World. The peculiar aspect of this sector is the overall lack of physical elements other than those locations where work is done and information is stored. Generally what is bought and “produced” in the quaternary sector is digital and does not meaningfully contribute to the expansion of capital and therefore has a parasitic relationship to the primary and secondary sectors, much like merchant/commodity/circulatory capital. Complex financial instruments, apps, data management, education, consultation, advertizing and many more faux frais constitute the quaternary sector.
The “Information Economy”
Current in left-liberal discourse, we find the notion of the “information economy”, the implication that, rather than producing things, the production of “ideas” and services has surpassed industrial production in importance, not just to the core economies, but for the whole world and for all time. The process of transformation of the amerikan economy from one predominated by heavy industry and the production of consumer goods into an economy predicated on services and “ideas” is a very real one, and although misunderstood, should not be written off as if it is not happening. There has been a dramatic reduction of industrial work found in the united $tates and in europe, as the practice of “offshoring” has become more prevalent as a way of increasing the productive capacity of industries looking to penetrate formerly non-industrial economies. The resulting explosion of surplus value entering the First World saw the exponential increase in the development of the tertiary and quaternary sectors that, besides producing new means of organization, entertainment and other use-values, represents a virtual sink of investment that relieves overaccumulation, the recurring morbid condition of capitalist production, and is therefore structurally necessary to late capitalism. The developments of the late 20th century saw the creation of companies like Walmart, commercial centers like malls, and online marketplaces; but also the Silicon Valley startup, the gig economy, and the app publishers.
Due to this shift, the amerikan worker is now predominantly unproductive, and working either in the lower service sectors or in the professions, firmly entrenched in the petty bourgeoisie. Further, the development of this unproductive geographic marketplace of Third World commodities also saw the formation of a new sector of professionals in the inflated quaternary sector. This quaternary sector, as previously described, became what the liberals began referring to as the “information sector” or the “digital sector” as it relied on the existence of the internet to provide for the explosion in demand for services. The “products” being devised here are similar in concept to that of an artist’s’ paintings, reproduced 1 million times without ever having been put to a press. The nature of the digital world, its design and presentation, is one that is almost entirely virtual and without physical substance. That is, it requires no machinery to reproduce and no labor time to expand or contract production.
The information categorized and sold, made available or unavailable, compiled and created by professionals working for various firms does not provide for the expansion of capital in any meaningful sense. Rather, it is a vacuum of capital, wherein the value produced by the primarily Third World proletariat is concentrated for the sake of a new emergent digital market. The two most important things to note here are: that this new “rentier” sector, despite the use of the term “production” and “development” cannot provide for the basic needs of human beings (food, shelter, transportation, etc.) nor can it provide for the expansion of capital within the current system. Yet, it is still the insistence of liberals that this “information economy” is, in fact, the future of the whole capitalist economy. Certainly it is for the First World, as it will likely grow to be a great proportion of the economy if unchecked and allowed favorable political/economic conditions. However, the very foundation of the capitalist economy, due to its need for accumulation and the gratification of basic human need, will be the primary and secondary sectors.
These, along with those of the tertiary sector, cannot be entirely phased out of the capitalist system simply because of the emergence of a new ultra-decadent sector that has now captivated the minds of the silicon-valley professionals, busily installing themselves as the new technocratic corps of imperial capital. What can happen (and has already to a great extent), however, is the development of those decadent heights of imperial capital toward a state of near-total domination by the quaternary and tertiary sectors. The mistake of liberals here is the belief that this is representative of the whole world economy, or perhaps that is the mistake of communists, for believing for a moment that liberals and “democratic socialists” would consider the whole world in any context. Nevertheless, while they talk about world progress toward a post-industrial economy, what they truly mean is the First World development toward a state of total domination of the industrial economies of the Third world. For the unproductive First World must, as the unproductive sectors do, depend on the value extracted from the Third World.
A Paradise of Consumption
For the DSA, however, their notion of socialism does not preclude the continued development of the imperialist heights of the economy. In fact, as the article suggests, there must be a system of collective benefit for the parasitic strata. They state, quite plainly, that there is no resonance in the political landscape of 2017 amerika for slogans like “seize the means of production” or “establish the dictatorship of the proletariat” and so forth. They point toward the fact that the economic system is just simply not geared toward it anymore, a fact that we affirm. However, that does not mean that these are politically irrelevant slogans simply because the “golden fifth” of humanity does not consider them practically relevant to their circumstances. These slogans remain entirely relevant, and will be indefinitely, for a vast majority of the world’s population that does not share in this professional, petty bourgeois paradise of consumption. For the global majority, for whom we communists are concerned, our slogans have a resonance that remains constant so long as the capitalist system remains dominant.
It is this obfuscation by the DSA and their social-imperialist counterparts that seeks to exclude the world majority from this collective paradise of consumption they wish to build. That is why their program (if one can call it that) does not preclude the existence of markets, and only implies indicative (and not central) planning as a force for the efficient and equal allocation of resources among the citizenry in amerika. For them, it is the fact that amerika exists right now as a global shopping mall that has inspired political slogans designed to increase the amerikan consumptive capacity. Rather than “seize the means of production” as a political slogan, outmoded in the First World due to the near-complete lack of such productive means, the slogan is now instead “seize the products”—a fittingly petty bourgeois demand, that does not immediately analyze from who or where these products issue. A more fitting mantra for this “liberal socialism” should be “from each according to their ability, to each according to their skin color.”
There is a degree to which the DSA and their allies are cognizant of this relationship, or at very least must be willfully ignorant of it. After all, this is the reason why their campaigns are so painfully amerikan, and why all issues are reduced to national ones. There is the national campaign for a 15 dollar minimum wage, and a parasite union, yet there is no demand for a global minimum wage. Even by the Socialist Alternative, who totes the achievement of having elected an Indian-amerikan candidate to office on a platform of democratic socialism in the seattle city council, has remained conveniently silent on the issue of global poverty in any productive sense. Rather, they seem determined to write off all attempts to apply an international standard to labor regulation and wages as “impractical.” As opposed to their highly “practical” demands of the overthrow of capitalism through the election of city council members and preservation of market elements. Indeed, whether overtly or covertly, the so-called democratic socialists have been quite united in their First World chauvinism, with the implicit belief that amerikans should make more than Third World proletarians.
The Global Division of Labor
The rejection of the communist project by so-called democratic socialists has come about as a response to this change in the First World economy, which they have erroneously conflated to a fundamental change within the world economy as a whole. Certainly they have continued to give communists the time of day to speak among their gatherings, even opportunistically utilizing Lenin and Marx where they feel they can be effectively stripped of their ideological content. However the broad base for this petty bourgeois deviation is ultimately in staunch opposition to communism, in part because it asserts, against the pink opportunists and the petty bourgeois negriists, the absolute identity existing between the affluence and vapidity of economic life in the core, and abject misery, productive industry and the death-export in the periphery. The First World is the only world that matters to the democratic socialists, who have claimed their constituency: the students, teachers, service workers and the new technocratic core reared on the “marketplace of ideas” on the internet.
For amerikans, it would seem reasonable to say that communism is dead, and this would be a great defeat if the fate of the world rested even in part on what amerikans say or do. Our position is that, for the great majority of the world, and for strategic elements still locked in the imperial core, the “old ways” have continued on, paving the way for greater and more decadent heights for the DSA and their supporters. The world proletariat still exists in agony, and despite the attempts by the ideologues of the quaternary sector, and the right-deviationists within the “socialist” movement, the lines of struggle are still fundamentally drawn over national boundaries, even where borders do not exist de jure. Imperialism is still relevant, ineed more so than ever, and it has opted to continue the ruthless exploitation of Third World people in order to fund the “retirement” of the productive sectors of the First World. So while it may seem that class struggle in the traditional sense has evaporated, it has only been displaced; conveniently moved “south” of the border. Entire national economies have now become dominated by the various “sectors” on the productive chain, creating a global division of labor.
As the capitalist system has developed, by way of imperialism, into its modern incarnation, with a global division of labor, the movement against capitalism must also be internationalized. Therefore the “socialism amerika needs now” is the socialism the world needs now, and the program of one cannot contradict that of the other. To reject the right-wing platform of the DSA, we must instead propose that any program for socialism in the united $tates necessarily includes the dissolution of the united $tates and its imperialist system. Further, it must understand and promote the international need for revolution and socialism, rather than calling on the bourgeoisie to increase the consumptive capacity of the First World, which they are capable of doing at any time, barring extreme crises. Such an achievement could certainly be won by the workers of the united $tates, but only at the expense of the world proletariat and with no possibility of internationalization. It is, in form and in essence, no different than the proposal of Belgian socialists in the early 20th century that they nationalize the labor of Congolese slaves.
Socialism for the World’s People
It goes without saying that we must move beyond narrow self-interest embodied in the kind of “socialism” extolled by the so-called democratic socialists, and toward something whose relevance extends beyond the confines of the First World. It is clear, by their own admission, that the primary focus of those who were taken by Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the rhetoric of the DSA is merely the more insidious form of “amerika first” chauvinism iterated by Donald Trump and his masses of reactionary followers in the white working class. For strategic reasons, we do not propose that the two are exactly the same, rather that there is a practical symmetry to be drawn between the right-wing populism of the Trump administration, and the “socialist” politics of the DSA and Bernie Sanders which focuses itself almost entirely on the parasitic popular will of the labor aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie. On the international scale, the world would have hardly noticed a difference, with the preservation of the colonial occupation of north amerika, and the imperialist transfer of value from the global south to the global north.
Our socialist program is ultimately aimed at the creation of a classless society, and the total suppression of the ruling classes to bring about the end of worldwide inequality. Concretely, this means the deconstruction of all institutions which reinforce and represent the international cartel of ruling classes across the First World, and the humiliation and overthrow of their Third World allies. In amerika, this program necessarily includes the decolonization, atomization and integration of the settler-colonial state, and the disenfranchisement of the former ruling class. Amerika does not need “socialism” in the Scandinavian sense, amerika needs to be destroyed, and socialism must come about only through the worldwide struggle for proletarian liberation. This of course would annoy the DSA or the “liberal socialist” author writing in support of them and their sanderite program. To them, amerikan patriotism and staunch western-centrism is key to the development of socialism: other nations may achieve what we have, but it can never be at the expense of what we have.
But it must come at the expense of what we have, because what we have has come at the expense of the world majority, and the proletarian engine of world-revolution. There must be a settling of accounts, and although in the “information economy” it has become hard to see past one’s own nose, as socialists we must look beyond election cycles and pay raises into the (hopefully vast) future of humanity as a whole. The redistribution of wealth must be global, and must be undertaken with the explicit goal of bringing about an end to class division, not just bringing about superficially “better” conditions to those experienced some centuries ago. Our world-socialist program must rely on the activity of the global proletariat and strive to bring about a universal class consciousness that can resolve, once and for all, the contradictions of imperialism and class society.
- Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012), pg. 99