Louis P., Tim W. and Socialist Utopia

TimW333521 at aol.com TimW333521 at aol.com
Sun Jul 9 13:53:11 MDT 1995


In response to Louis P.: Sorry about the "Tim W." listing.  That's AOL's
designation.  I'll try to remember to sign off with my full name in the
future.

I feel very strongly that the left needs to re-think its vision of socialism
in the light of the past 70 years of experience if it is to become
revitalized.  We may have some differences on this vision.  You may not
consider this kind of discussion an important task as it might give a
negative image to socialism.  Quite frankly the image is already there in the
public mind and it is not going to go away with pollyannaism.  Nor am I
convinced any contemporary "socialist" society -- including Cuba -- will
inspire the new generation to take up the socialist struggle.

My vision of socialism does have practical implications for the kind of
program the left ought to be fighting for today: e.g. Single Payer Health
Care,  welfare reform through real job training; a jobs creation program
(otherwise training has no meaning); a redistributionary approach to
taxation;  a strengthening rather than weakening of environmental protection;
massive cuts in the defense budget; etc.  Such a populist/progressive agenda
needs to be posed against the populist/reactionary agenda of Newt and Co. and
Clinton's capitulation to the latter.  A socialist society with a market
component can be posed within this context.

I don't really see much in the Leninist tradition which makes sense today
within the context of the very real threats and struggles which face us.

My view of Cuba is fairly well stated in my book.  I realize the Cuban
experience shaped you and many others of your generation though, as you know,
I was never an uncritical supporter of Castro.    I was impressed by the lack
of deep poverty, the extensive helath care system, as well as the spirit of
the people in the Cuba I visited ten years ago.  But, unlike other left
visitors, I did not ignore the stultifying uniformity of published material
in the place, the lack of consumer goods,  and the decay of central Havana.

I have no problem in pointing out the strengths of Cuba but we need to
differentiate ourselves from the one party structure.  I believe the left has
a real future in this country, but it still needs to shake itself lose from
rationalizations for repressive and undemocratic regimes.  Let's face it: in
time Cuba will also develop in a more market socialist direction and,
hopefully, also more democratic one.

On Gerry's comments:  my comments on Trotsky's critique of the Paris Commune
were based on his model of combining the "iron discipline" of a single party
dictatorship with the "soviet" political structure.  I gather you agree with
me that this is a no no.

I have elsewhere ("Transition to the Transition" in New Left Review  130)
commented on the inherently undemocratic nature of the "soviet" system.  To
summarize (1) its pyramid structure, where local soviets elect higher soviets
who elect the highest level, makes the election of those who wield the
greatest power -- the top -- highly indirect.  The direct election of the top
body would be far more democratic  (e.g. U.S. system or European system). (2)
the much vaunted fusion of legislative and executive functions into a single
group of men proved, even under the Menshevik-run Soviet, to lead also to a
consentration of power and less accountability. (3)  Under the Soviet
structure the leading decision making body only met briefly once a year so
that real policy making as well as implementation was conducted by a small
group which met on a daily basis, in reality very far removed from the
masses.  (4) the soviet structure, precisely because of its decentralization
and directness, works Only when the decisions that matter can be made on a
local basis.  In contemporary urbanized industrialized society the real
decisions affecting people's lives need to be made nationally rather than
locally.

That fourth point leads back to my main thought: there is a contradiction
between decentralized government and mass  industrialized society.  I believe
one would need to get rid of the latter to make the former work.

--Tim Wohlforth




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