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Dialogue on Economic Self-Rule

A Socialist and Worker Debate the Democracy in Politics, Society, and Economics

By Punkerslut

Image: Photograph by E Wayne, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License

Start Date: February 17, 2013
Finish Date: February 17, 2013

"The proletarian revolution is not simply the vanquishing of capitalist power. It is the rise of the whole working people out of dependence and ignorance into independence and clear consciousness of how to make their life."

--Anton Pannekoek, 1936
"Workers Councils"

Socialist: I offer this proposition and this proposition alone: the people should govern themselves in regards to economy as much as they should in regards to the social and political spheres of society. I ask for Democracy of industry, just in the same manner as all freedom-loving people ask for Democracy of political institutions and Democracy of social institutions.

Worker: So, you believe in Socialism?

Socialist: The proposition I suggested is the shortest description that fits the phrase Socialism.

Worker: What kind of self-government of economy are you expecting?

Socialist: That is precisely the issue -- I expect nothing, except that the people themselves shall make the decisions that determine how much bread is baked, what hours they should work, and how land should be divided and used to the greatest social benefit.

Worker: And so, within Socialism, will there be lots of baked bread, or little?

Socialist: It depends on the people within that Socialist system and how they choose to govern themselves. In Paris, the workers may demand plenty of bread, baguettes, and pastries, but on the tropical islands of the Pacific, the workers may demand a type of fruit called "Breadfruit." The Baghdad workers may love their flat bread just as much as Japanese workers love their rice and noodles. No one of these cultures is superior to the other, but cultural differences are going to lead to differences in decision-making. The economic Democracy of Germany won't be organized the same way as the economic Democracy of South Africa, just as there are differences in the decision-making of their social and political bodies.

Worker: And within Socialism, will there be long hours or short hours?

Socialist: That, too, is an issue for the people to make themselves, as Democracy means that the decision-making power is held in common, just as the right to vote within government is considered to be held in common by all. Some laborers prefer to work long hours for only a season, while resting for the next season, although this may also be something dictated by the climate in extremely cold or hot regions. Some communities, like those that build up in and around cities, may want to focus on the reliability and availability of their goods, having standard eight-hour shifts that cover all twenty-four hours of the day. And then there are villages and those living the farm life where all work begins with sunrise and ends with sunset. Socialism is not about creating a single standard that governs the lives of all working people under one common form -- it is about empowering working people to control their work themselves, without orders from a boss or mandates from a state.

Worker: And then there is the last matter you mentioned, the division of the land. If there was Socialism and people wanted to live according to Socialism, just how would you actually divide the land?

Socialist: Again, that is an issue for the workers to decide. In agricultural and regions that are traditional to farming, the laborers would probably see the utility in combining small farms into large stretches of land, where farming tools, irrigation, and fertilizing would be done with greatest efficiency. But in cities, however, we may see the exact opposite tendency. Workers would join together in their offices for handling all types of different work, from mail delivery to information technology to software development to long-distance customer service. The high-rate of specialization with probably compartmentalize workers into small, self-governing bodies of workers, with each place of work maybe being just a single floor on an office building. While villages socialize acres and acres of land into the hands of a few farmers, cities would socialize just a single manufacturing plant or a small office area. It is up to the people to decide for themselves.

Worker: You have given me no definite answers to any of my questions. I have asked about whether there will still be bread in Socialism; I have asked whether there will still be work hours that pay enough, and whether there the land will be divided in a reasonable and productive fashion. But all of your answers have been to admit that you do not know and that only "the people" can decide. You have no answers.

Socialist: Democracy varies. That is how it works. Do you believe in Democracy of politics and society?

Worker: What do you mean, "Democracy of Politics and Society"?

Socialist: In terms of lawmaking and the organization of society's defense, cooperation, and community, the people should have an equal voice in the decision-making process, right?

Worker: Of course.

Socialist: That is political Democracy. But you also believe in Social Democracy, correct?

Worker: And what is that?

Socialist: Social Democracy is where society itself is organized along democratic principles. You are not required to join any organization or group, you are not required to befriend or before any individual, you are not required to have feelings of hatred or love for any idea or thought -- in all social terms, you are free to join any social group and every social group has a right to reject any potential member. You believe in Social Democracy, don't you?

Worker: Certainly.

Socialist: In a Political Democracy, will the communities' defense be organized with a large security force or a small security?

Worker: That is for the people to decide.

Socialist: And the laws that the government makes, will there many of them or few of them?

Worker: That is for the people to decide.

Socialist: And the enforcement of these laws, will this be done with trials with twelve jurors or with twenty jurors?

Worker: That is for the people to decide.

Socialist: So, you see then, that Democracy is open to variability and change, conflict and cooperation, correct?

Worker: Yes, that is true.

Socialist: What if someone told you that they could fix the size of the army, so that you wouldn't have to worry about it. What if someone told you that the people didn't have to concern themselves with civil defense, because the whole issue was handled by a king, his administration, and his forces? Would you abandon the uncertainty of political Democracy for the certainty of political Authoritarianism? Would you trade your fears and your right to decision-making for the absolutes and power structures of a king?

Worker: Of course not.

Socialist: And why not?

Worker: There are two very obvious reasons. First, the king is a human being with vested interests, ceaseless tastes, open prejudices, unrestricted passions, tremendous vanities, and every type of human weakness. If the military was controlled by the whims of a king or queen, then they would use their military to commit every type of disgrace to humanity imaginable. Thousands of years of monarchs prove this; and that is why Monarchy has ceased to be a popular trend in politics.

Socialist: What is the other reason?

Worker: Second, when the military and army is busy crushing a revolt of natives against the colonization of the empire, then the civil defense is not doing its job -- protecting the common people. The training, the arming, and the culturing of the military in a Monarchy is one done not to guarantee the protection of the civilians. It is done to allow the Monarch to control the local population while at the same time to either defend against or invade neighboring nations. In the first instance, the so-called "civil defense" is nothing more than the personal army of mercenaries for the king, who act not for the people but for the king. In the second instance, when the people do need to be defended, they are defended by soldiers were trained to repress people and not to repress foreign armies -- they are defended by those cultured to serve the king and to disregard the people.

Socialist: And what about Social Democracy. What if someone told you that they found a new way to increase your happiness by deciding who your friends should be, what organizations you should join, and who you want to live the rest of your life with. What would you say if Absolutist Authoritarianism offered to improve your life by eliminating any rights of Democracy within society?

Worker: I would say the same things as if someone told me that they could improve my life by depriving me of political Democracy. First, the decisions of society's master would be done in the self-interest of that ruler, and not in the interests of the people, no matter carefully such a master is chosen. And second, if I found a social group that would make me happier, then I wouldn't be able to change. If I was a member of a religious organization when this church didn't fit my tastes, then I wouldn't be able to change. I could not choose the friends I would want to walk with me throughout my life, if it turned out that my assigned friends were terrible at being friendly.

Socialist: So, for the first reason, any master of society or politics would act in their own interests and inevitably against the people's interests. And, for the second reason, if the people found a better way to live, they wouldn't have the right to change to the new way of living. For these two reasons, you are opposed to absolutist control in politics and society, correct?

Worker: Certainly.

Socialist: And what if there was just one leader whose decisions were better than yours? What would happen if, throughout the history of failed and terrible leaders, one was actually to emerge who was motivated by truth and justice? What would happen if there was just one good king?

Worker: Then I wouldn't be able to fix them when that king's successor brings me unhappiness with their decisions, whether I was dealing with a master of society or a master of politics.

Socialist: So, then you wouldn't be swayed from liberty's side if someone tells you that they can guarantee you better political and social organization by giving up Democracy?

Worker: Of course not.

Socialist: So, then, why do you flee from the side of freedom when it comes to economics?

Worker: What do you mean?

Socialist: Well, you do not run from liberty when it is the Democracy of politics and society. So why then are you terrified of the freedom you'll have when given Democracy of industry and economics? What is it that truly makes you quiver about the people managing the mines, the factories, the forests, and the rivers for themselves and without investors or capitalists?

Worker: I don't know.

Socialist: Isn't your fear of Economic Democracy the same as the fear of Political and Social Democracy? When revolutionaries asked peasants to rise up and overthrow their kings and queens, weren't the peasants too afraid to wield real social and political power for themselves? They were told, "You shall be able to make laws for yourselves instead of having laws crafted for you by someone who knows nothing about you or how you live." And they responded, "But if the common people make the laws, then there will be uncertainty about how we shall live; and I prefer the security of a master to the insecurity of unbridled liberty." How is your response different?

Worker: Revolutions are terrible and fiery things. They split families just as easily as they can split entire peoples, leaving each side with feelings of either vengeance or hatred toward the other. They come with new leaders who want to be the new kings and political parties who foster nothing but admiration and worship of powerful authority. The Bolshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union is a great example of this. At first, the people genuinely wanted nothing more than to establish Democratic Socialism, but the Bolsheviks destroyed Democracy and forced everyone into top-down, authoritarian Communism. With the Revolution for Economic Democracy, the people never achieved their goal, and instead were met with bloodshed.

Socialist: What was the first true revolution in favor of political Democracy?

Worker: Well, there is no doubt that it must be the French Revolution of 1789.

Socialist: And were there excesses of power that resulted in many oppressed or executed by the authority of the new so-called Political Democracy?

Worker: Yes, certainly. Our historians have even named the violence by the revolutionaries as the Terror, and it was certainly a grievous chapter in human history, full of suffering, pain, prisons, and inhumanity.

Socialist: What was the exact ideal of this revolution?

Worker: Political Democracy, of course. The revolution was one against Political Monarchy, or the rule of the king over the common peasantry.

Socialist: And what happened to this revolution?

Worker: It's authoritarianism and terror became so excessive that the revolutionary movement rolled back into itself, all of its followers and believers became disenchanted and disillusioned, and a new form of absolutist Authoritarianism from the ancient past was resurrected to recreate the despotic powers of a vengeful government. Basically, the French Revolution's brutality made the perfect conditions for the traditionalists to say, "You see, if a king ruled, there wouldn't be any of the uncertainties that lead to killing fields." And so, the idea of Political Democracy died for a long time, but it continued. We continue to believe in it.

Socialist: Don't you think that the idea of Economic Democracy died with the Russian Revolution in the same manner?

Worker: How do you mean?

Socialist: Isn't it true that both the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were motivated by positive, good ideals, those which would create a peaceful, prosperous, happy society today. And both of these revolutions failed, because the revolutionaries believed in authority. Once a revolutionary movement came along that was against authority but believed in Political Democracy, then and only then did Political Democracy expand at all. But both of those events, the French and Russian Revolutions, are in the past. There is no point in justifying them, but there is every reason to learn from them. Even if the first revolutions of political Democracy were full of mass killings and despotic masters, would you give up political Democracy today just for that?

Worker: Of course not.

Socialist: So how can you give up on the Economic Democracy of Socialism when its first revolution was full of the same blundering and cruel mistakes?

Worker: There are still Socialists, though, who believe in the authoritarianism of the Communist Party and its Chairman.

Socialist: Just as there are still Liberals and Conservatives who believe that their social policies ought to be enforced with brute and unflinching force. If we truly believe in Democracy of all realms of society, in making the laws and in organizing the economy, then we should oppose those who want to do this with a powerful authority, correct?

Worker: That seems reasonable. But even if we fight the Authoritarian Communists and Conservatives like they were the same enemy, Economic Democracy must face a bigger problem -- the fear that people have to new ideas.

Socialist: And the fear of Socialism and Economic Democracy will be overcome just as the fear of a society organized by people themselves was overcome. By suffering the cruelties of bosses of the workplace, just as peasants suffered the cruelties of kings of the palace, the people learn the important lesson of the value of freedom. It is the task of the revolutionary to direct that learning away from the authoritarianism of power mongers and toward true forms of Democratic, self-control within society.

"...the production of wealth, in the evolution of industry, from being an individual act a half century ago has become a social act. The tool, from being an individual tool, has become a social instrument. So that the tool has been socialized and production has also been socialized. But the evolution is yet to complete its work. This social tool, made socially and used socially, must be socially owned."

--Eugene V. Debs, 1905
"Revolutionary Unionism"


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