THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Four Faces of Socialism: The Essence of Socialism

No, this is not a discussion on the various types of socialism, such as Marxist, Georgist, Relgious, or Democratic (especially since there are many more than that), but on four key aspects of socialist thought itself.  We will have to look briefly at a couple of the different forms of socialism, but that is not the main point here.

Aristotle: difference between being and essence.
As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the question is who or what has a natural right to be an owner.  This is important when looking into the origins of modern socialism, because in order to confuse the issue, or because they have not thought the matter through logically, many socialists separate out aspects of socialism and declare they are not socialist for one reason or another.
They are absolutely correct . . . but not for the reason(s) they suppose.  A thing is not defined by its characteristics (its form), but by its essence (substance).  A characteristic taken alone and by itself is not the thing, and you can separate a characteristic of a thing from the thing and it still remains the thing, but claiming that the thing does not have that characteristic and is therefore not the thing is a bad argument.
For example, human beings have arms.  An arm taken by itself is not a human being, but that does not mean that a human being without arms is not, therefore, a human being.  Human beings are defined by their “substance” or essence, which is the capacity to acquire and develop humanness or “virtue.”
Karl Marx meant property, not ownership.
Similarly, when Karl Marx declared that socialism (specifically his brand of scientific socialism he called communism) could be summed up in the single sentence “the abolition of private property,” he was absolutely correct . . . but only if you understand that private property is a natural right.  Marx gave the substance of socialism in the form of an example that many apologists for socialism have taken as a statement about a characteristic of socialism.
What Marx meant — and which is precisely what he said — is that the essence of socialism is the shift of natural rights from the human person to the collective.  That is the “substance” of socialism, that it makes the possession of rights and thus personality (“personhood”) dependent on something other than mere existence as a human being, e.g., a declaration by the Supreme Court of the United States.
What socialist apologists have done is reinterpret what Marx said to mean “the abolition of private ownership” — which is not what he meant at all!  That way, they can change the issue or question by declaring that Marxist communism and their form of socialism are completely different because they would permit private ownership, or that the meaning of socialism has changed because many forms now permit private ownership (showing they don’t know their own socialist history), that the Catholic Church’s condemnation of socialism either no longer applies or was misinformed in the first place, or, or, or, ad infinitum.
George would abolish property, not ownership.
Marx permitted private ownership, even as he abolished private property.  So did Henry George and the Fabians, for that matter.  Legal ownership — title — is irrelevant, however, if it does not carry with it the rights of ownership, that is, private property, as a natural right.  George’s plan for abolishing private property in land, in fact, depended on separating title (ownership) from the rights of ownership (property).
Thus, as George explained his proposal in Progress and Poverty (1879), anybody could own land by having legal title, but such ownership would be utterly meaningless due to the fact that the one holding legal title had no right of control or to receive the fruits of ownership.  It would all be paid to the State in the form of “the single tax,” which consisted of all rent or any other profit from land ownership.  As George explained his proposal,
What I, therefore, propose, as the simple yet sovereign remedy, which will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights, is — to appropriate rent by taxation.
In this way the State may become the universal landlord without calling herself so, and without assuming a single new function. In form, the ownership of land would remain just as now. No owner of land need be dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land any one could hold. For, rent being taken by the State in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood, or in what parcels it was held, would be really common property, and every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.  (Henry George, Progress and Poverty.  New York: The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1935, 406.)
What modern socialist apologists have done in many cases is to take some of the characteristics of socialism, confuse them with the substance or essence of socialism, and claim either that socialism never should have been condemned, or that what was condemned wasn’t socialism.  Specifically, socialist apologists have tended to focus on four characteristics of socialism that they claim are not what was condemned, is not really socialism, or that socialism has changed:

These characteristics (which we take from an analysis of the thought of Robert Owen) are not themselves socialism.  They are, rather, characteristics or "accidentals" that have been applied in ways that conform to the essence of socialism, i.e., the shift of rights from the human person to some form of the collective.

It cannot be stressed enough that none of these characteristics are themselves socialism.  Every one of them, even the abolition of private ownership (in a sense and under very limited conditions) is either a good thing that socialism has twisted or distorted, or is an unintended evil permitted under the principle of double effect to deal with an emergency.  The problem is that even a very good thing, such as philanthropy, can turn into something not so good if used improperly or turned into a mandate, e.g., the voluntary surrender of wealth for the common good by the philanthropist that is done to avoid confiscation, or is considered the solution to the growing wealth and income gap when all it is, is a temporary stopgap.

·      Philanthropy, or voluntary redistribution of one’s wealth for the good of the community or mankind as a whole (a virtuous act that socialism considers mandatory),
·      Communitarianism, or a concern for the common good (an essential virtue that socialism distorts by subsuming all individual natural rights into the collective),
·      Reform of Religion to focus on, emphasize, or exclusively work for temporal ends (continual reform of religion is essential, but not in a way that changes the nature of religion itself as the socialists demand), and
·      Abolition of Private Ownership (an allowed expedient under the principle of double effect in an emergency that socialism considers mandatory in all cases, disconnecting private ownership completely from the natural right to be an owner.
We will look at each of these in future postings on this subject.