Why Choose Socialism?

This is Section c of Chapter 5 of Beyond Classical Marxism.

     Let us envision a conversation with a fully cognizant liberal or social democrat, with values compatible with ours but unwilling to supersede (U.S.) capitalism.  She/he argues:

“Sure, you’re absolutely right about the terrible harm which capitalism does to so many people, both at home and abroad.  Our goals are the same.  But look at what results have been obtained when people try to overthrow capitalism.  In Russia in 1917, communist revolutionaries overthrew nascent capitalism in that overwhelmingly peasant country, and in time established a brutal dictatorship over everyone including the working class which it was supposed to represent and enable politically.  Its organizational success was repeated elsewhere (Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam) as outright one-party dictatorships, although Cuba at least has a government which well serves the needs of its people.  Anti-capitalist revolutions naturally tend toward personal control by ‘enlightened’ leaders, as seen not only in monsters like Stalin and Pol Pot but also in the ‘vanguard parties’ which arose in the U.S. in the ferment of the 1970’s, such as the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist).  And these unassailable leaders often make major political mistakes.

“If you can claim, or hope, that all will better in a truly socialist society, I can just as well claim that it will be possible in time to overcome these deleterious effects of capitalism, although I realize that we are now in danger of the establishment of a highly authoritarian, even fascist, government through Trumpism.  People are mainly irrational, and collectively they can – and do – establish highly brutal societies in contradiction to what we both want.  Decent, reasonable people like Paul Wolfowitz and Joe Lieberman indeed can do great harm when in a position of power – Lieberman even did voter registration in the South during Freedom Summer – and it is imperative to avoid the concentration of power which a socialist revolution naturally provides.  As Winston Churchill once remarked, (bourgeois) democracy is the least oppressive of the possible organization of society.”

     I might respond by relating the manifold ways in which capitalism oppresses people, but she/he is already generally aware of them, so it would do no good.  And in fact this argument in favor of maintaining capitalism is cogent, something which I might well have accepted as a budding academic had it not been for the unconscionable Vietnam War.  But I can’t accept it, not because the argument is faulty (which it isn’t) but because I cannot tolerate the oppression which capitalism visits upon people – that is just the way I am, and this is an expression of the usual primacy of emotions over rational thought, as depicted in the figure for dialectical materialism.  (And I’m not suggesting that I am in some sense morally superior to my interlocutor.)  The fact is that, starting with its atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II in 1945, the United States has functioned as the world’s main bulwark of oppression; there is no way that I can abide this.  So it seems that, so far as rational thought goes, we are at a standoff concerning the need for socialism.

     But in fact, there is a rationally compelling reason for seeking the overthrow of capitalism:  the impending environmental catastrophe caused by anthropomorphic climate change.  Capitalism by its very nature must produce more and more goods, unrestrainedly, and through its political domination of society it can and will ensure that there are no major barriers to its economic activity.  Under capitalism there is no hope for our future, and the only alternative is to supersede it with socialism.