Monday, November 21, 2011

OccupyBristol workshop reveals Dictator-friendly Communist Position

I went to #OccupyBristol last Saturday for a workshop on the "Crisis of Capitalism".
There were about 12 people there, and it was led by a guy I think by the name of Eric, leading a group of 4-5 allies, (they were not occupiers per se) who gave a textbook old-school Communist analysis: Capitalism is totally evil, and must be replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Three or four of us put forward the view that the word "capitalism" needs to be defined, and that we are against crony-capitalism, greed capitalism, and free market fundamentalism. We are not against the liberty of an individual to use his or her own money to meet a genuine need in society, and to take a fair and reasonable profit from success. For instance, we are not against the freedom of  individuals to use their redundancy money to set up a business in providing insulation for domestic property.

This was all overridden by the insistence that Capitalism itself is totally wrong and must be overthrown, by violence if necessary.

This black/white, right/wrong analysis is exactly what we find in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which looks at the belief systems that underpin individual psychological dysfunction. People who carry these absolute distinctions end up with trouble relating to reality, because much of their psychic energy is taken up in reacting to perceived absolutes, either trying to live up to impossible standards, or in reacting to perceived absolutes found in every aspect of the established economic order.

Absolutism negates any single practical reform, or set of economic reforms. There are no policy changes to be requested; only a complete replacement of the whole system from top to bottom, and replacement by the dictatorship of the proletariat, will suffice.

It emerged that Eric approved of Stalin, Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and AhmediNajad of Iran.
Four bloodstained dictators.

It is very clear that the entire global #Ocupy movement is against dictatorship. We may in the UK have one of the weakest forms of democracy going, where participation is limited to the use of an inefficient and unrepresentative FPTP electoral system every four years, to elect a government that will be substantially in thrall to the trans-national corporations. But even this defective system is better than outright political dictatorship, because it gives us the power to turn out one set of individuals every four years, even though it means replacing them with another set of individuals with substantially the same policies.  The advantage is that if an individual or party is in power for too long, power goes to the head, distorting thinking, abolishing humility and care for anything other than the interests of the ruling party.

I know that the workshop was non-representative of the #Occupy movement as a whole, but it does show the problem posed by the designation by the media of Occupy an anti-capitalist movement, rather than an anti-inequality movement.

If we are to own the label "anti-capitalist", the term needs to be rigorously defined as free-market capitalism, neo-liberal or neo-conservative capitalism.  We are not against individual freedom to trade and create work that benefits society and environment.

In particular, I think there is a need now for the influential eco-socialist group within the Green Party to build a clear firewall between their position and the position outlined above by Eric, by insisting that they are against all dictatorships, even dictatorships that may have taken up a position antagonistic to Western Mega-Capitalism.


Belette said...

> If we are to own the label "anti-capitalist", the term needs to be rigorously defined as free-market capitalism, neo-liberal or neo-conservative capitalism

Wiki says (

"There is general agreement that elements of capitalism include private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit, competitive markets, and wage labor"

Do you disagree with any of those? You appear to be against "free-market capitalism". That sounds like you're against free markets.

Again, wiki says "Free market capitalism consists of a free-price system where supply and demand are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by the government. Productive enterprises are privately owned, and the role of the state is limited to protecting property rights."

Obviously we don't quite have that, although I think it would be nice if we did.

DocRichard said...

Hi Belette

If that means 100% private ownership of the means of production, I would not agree. There is a case for the state to own hospitals through the NHS for interest.

I wholly reject free-market fundamentalism, with its cumbersome baggage of individualism (a non scientific ideology if ever there was one) and libertarianism.

No market can ever be free. There are physical constraints, as well as ethical and social constraints.

So society will inevitably guide all markets, but given the scientific knowledge we now have about impact of production on our environment, we need the market to be guided by our knowledge of its impact on "externalities".

So in summary, I subscribe to the social market (good old mixture of public and private) and a Guided Market.

Steve said...

Aren't you bit black/white and right/wrong about anthrogenic climate change?

I do agree with you about climate change but I can see that some might point it out...

Steve said...

Sorry Richard, I meant anthropogenic of course.

Belette said...

> There is a case for the state to own hospitals through the NHS for interest.

Looking at the defn I posted, the NHS isn't covered by "means of production" (since it doesn't produce goods), creation of goods ditto) or services for profit (since it doesn't make a profit, or try to).

> I wholly reject free-market fundamentalism

Unfortunately I don't really know what you mean by that. FMF is probably more of an insult to be flung against people (analogous to "warmists" perhaps). The FM is entirely compatible with imposing externalities via, for example, carbon taxes.

Anonymous said...

Doc, it does seem you're just out to trash Occupy Bristol, on the basis of this 'Eric'. I don't know who that is (a shaven-headed guy with glasses down there was prattling along similar purist Marxist lines when I visited).

Also, I don't know if Marxist twonks like Derek Wall support Imadinnerjacket, Gaddafi or the others you mention but he's a big Castro fan and supporter of the rather unsavoury Hugo Chavez.

Perhaps the Greens should get their own policies sorted and deal with their own Marxists. I liked the party better when it was staunchly pro monetary reform - I was delighted to find many people clued in about the curse of debt-money at Occupy Bristol

DocRichard said...

Wow. Turn my back for a second, and a queue forms up.

@Belette: George Soros coined free market fundamentalism, afaik.

By FMF I mean the ideology that posits that the best of all possible worlds will emerge from allowing men to compete against each other in pursuit of lucre.

Re hospitals &c - whatever. I just have no ideological objection to the state owning stuff, including means of production.

Anon and Steve: innabit. Except I am not out to trash #occupy. Made that clear in post.

DocRichard said...

Steve, Science is not ideology.

It is based on a cycle of observation, hypothesis, testing of hypothesis, modification of or abandonment of hypothesis.

Ideology is based on reasoning from an idea that is considered to be fundamentally true.

It can be argued that everyone has some kind of ideology. In that case, mine is based on the belief that it is not a good idea for humans to destroy the system that supports our life.

DocRichard said...

Anonymous, I do not much care for pejoratives, and I would be grateful if you could withdraw it. Sorry to be pedantic, but Derek is a friend and colleague, and we go back a long way.

I'm pretty sure he does condemn all dictators, including Gaddafi. I'll check.

Derek is (or was) an enthusiastic supporter of Chavez, as indeed I was, but he (Chavez) is definitely on the slide. Showing symptoms. Doing the Kagame Cakewalk. Delusions of Dictatorship.

I do find it puzzling that Derek has never clearly stated that it is wrong for the privilege of money creation to be the monopoly of large private corporations.

Anonymous said...

Derek Wall does have some 'odd' views on a few people that I find unsavoury, and is always ready with a quick line on the 'zionists' (anyone who supports Israel it seems). He certainly puts people off the Green Party.

RobB said...

Anonymous in my opinion Israel is acting unsavoury in its apparent desire to make the Palestinians live in occupied territories for ever or until they leave, if they can, so understand Derek. He does not put me off the GP. I quite admire Cuba and Chavez though try not to see them through rose tinted glasses.

Gatesben said...

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giles said...

Just for the record, I’d like to say that issues raised in the capitalist crisis workshop at Occupy last Saturday were sufficiently compelling to draw a sizeable number of people into lively and productive discussion, ably facilitated by a sister from Occupy Bristol. Richard’s jaundiced view of the event does not square with reality.

So far as “dictatorship” goes, what “Eric” (Giles actually) said was that we are living under the permanent unelected dictatorship of capital in Britain, imperfectly camouflaged by the trappings of a parliamentary democracy in which nobody’s interests are represented other than those of the capitalists. In this time of massive overproduction crisis, capitalism has one overriding interest: to cut production costs, wipe out surplus capacity and push down the conditions of existence of ordinary working people. This will fail to end the crisis, merely reducing still further effective demand in the economy, deepening the world slump and accelerating the drive to war. (Sadly such wars will always find some people ready to believe that they are justified because they are against “dictators” and “mad men”.)

The only alternative to this grim scenario is socialism, with the “1%” that own the means of production as a form of private property expropriated by the “99%” who have no say in the matter. Proletarian dictatorship, which Richard would like to use as a communist bugbear to frighten small children, is about the working class majority asserting the welfare of the many over the profits of the few.

Well done Occupy Bristol for opening up a public space for such debates as these. For anyone that’s interested I believe there’s a workshop on what imperialism is up to in Somalia, 1pm this Saturday.

Anonymous said...

And anyone who disagrees will be shot

So it goes

North Somerset boy said...

It seems to me that Richard has a bee in his bonnet regarding the socialist politics.

Firstly there's a 'reds under the beds' style headline, then there's the straw-man caricature of 'eric', who it is claimed, approves of blood stained dictators.
And finally, because of this red scare, which is nothing to do with the Green Party, a demand is directed towards socialists in the Green Party requiring that they disassociate themselves from a policy of dictatorship which, no doubt, they have never supported.

It's all very odd. Just as the Occupy movement is winning support from all quarters, just before next week's momentous November 30th challenge to government policy, with Occupiers and Trade Unions establishing common ground, we have this possibly illusory and potentially divisive outburst.

DocRichard said...

The essence of what i am saying is this: dictators are dictators, no matter what political colour or flavour they come in.

Dictators lose touch with reality, since they are surrounded by yes-men who filter the political reality happening in the country, to the ordinary people.

Anyone who supports dictators is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In the West we have a dictatorship composed of the plutocrats, a corpocracy. To suggest that we should substitute this dictatorship with dictatorship of the proletariat is simply not helpful.

We need a set of specific changes to rebalance the needs of the people along these lines:
Ahd this :

It is the difference between having a specific set of demands, rather than a single demand that we move from one form of dictatorship to another, even if it is the polar opposite of the present set up. It is the difference between democracy and dictatorship. I stand for democracy, as does the #Occupy movement and all those who are exposing their bodies to state-sponsored in Egypt, Syria, Iran and many other places in the world.

NSB, it is not my "claim" that Giles approves of dictators. He admitted it.

Steve said...

Sometimes the Greens and particularly those of you above calling yourself 'socialists' seem to me to be frequently pretty intransigent and hardline often with loony ideas that China should be supported and respects workers' rights or that Chavez is the saviour of human rights. The sort that once they get into power are soon lining people up against walls if they don't agree. Usually they're actually quite well off and kicking against something in their background. Thankfully they're utterly without popular support

Give me some proper socialists who really care about people any day. Richard Lawson obviously does and I'd take his ideas and many of those of the Greens over the dictatorship of the proletariat.

DocRichard said...

Steve, thanks for the support, although I do not much care for calling anyone's ideas "loony".

It is much better if we put argument to argument, and better still, find what we agree on. I believe we all want to see a more equal society. The problem is that if we start to discuss measures that need to be taken, doctrinaire Marxists come back with "Mere reformism, leading to repressive tolerance. We have to get rid of capitalism lock stock and barrel".

Now equality is something that is pretty consensual, and smashing the whole system is not. If we got consensus on equality, we could get mass mobilisation, which is what get things changed in the Middle East. If on the other hand we insist that smashing the system is the only way forward, we are isolated from the mass of the people, and the only activity for us is to evermore perfect our "analysis" of how things got this way. In other words, talk.

I want action, not talk. Action needs the masses, and that needs consensual thinking around ideas like the virtues of equality.

Anonymous said...

the black/white divide is getting greyer...

DocRichard said...

Anonymous, this is interesting, but off-topic. I will post on it. If Belette is still reading, his thoughts will be welcome.

DocRichard said...

Done it. Here:

Raimo said...

I am from Finland. I have read many things from internet sites only, which TV and newspapers don’t tell. Actually censorship in the mainstream media makes my country a dictatorship, ruled by the political and economic elite.

Finland is a corrupt country. Nobody can have a public post without being a member of a political party. In Finland all high-ranking officials, who earn 5000 euros a month or more, are members of political parties.

No one can criticize the elite in the mainstream media. Any one who criticizes leading politicians, will lose his or her job.

Finland as well as neighboring Sweden and Norway are dictatorship countries.

Tim said...


Can I just point out, there isn't anyone called Eric who is in the Communist Party in Bristol. I'd like to disown his reported comments and point out that we certainly don't support any of the dictators listed.

Tim SW District - Communist Party of Britain

DocRichard said...

Hi Tim
I already learned form the comments above that it was Giles.

Delighted to learn that CPGB is not in favour of dictators - but what about the dictatorship of the proletariat?

The key point is that the Marxist position seems to be that the whole system has to be changed in its entirety in a total upheaval of some kind - probably involving physical violence.

The alternative that Greens envision is that the system will probably crash under the weight of its own internal contradictions - as you would say - and can then be rebuilt in a new model that takes ecological realities into account.

The practical difference is that we can campaign for things like Tobin Tax and global closure of tax havens as individual items. They are part of a huge paradigm shift. The difference is that Marxism seems to require the paradigm shift before the changes, and we do not - for us, the paradigm shift arises as an emergent property of the changes and the aggregate state of consciousness of the people.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs - but it is the support for dictators that creates a distinct choice. Glad to hear your position is clean of this unacceptability.

DocRichard said...

Glad to see that CP can do poetry. There is hope.