The Mandel vs. "socialism" debate -- a good way to hide from reality

Mike Friedman mikedf at
Wed Jan 1 22:45:02 MST 2003


If you read the initial comments on the Mandel piece, the starting point of
the discussion (for me, anyway), was Mandel's comment that, "[...] the
economic record shows that a market economy, for all its ups and downs and
unfairness and cruelty, brings a higher living standard to  than does
Marxist socialism." While the subsequent discussion, particularly Mark's
and your comments, have contextualized his discussion, making me realize
that perhaps -- perhaps -- the entire historical experience of the former
Soviet Union was at the back of his mind when he made that remark.
Nevertheless, he made that remark while discussing the Cuban revolution.
Contesting that statement, I believe, far from "hiding from reality," is
actually pointing to reality, because  virtually every revolutionary
transformation has resulted in a higher living standard than the social
order it replaced. In part, the debate hinges on how Mandel defines (he
doesn't say) "Marxist socialism" and what he means by "larger proportion of
the people" (which people?). Because "a larger proportion of the [Cuban]
people" enjoy "a higher living standard " than they did during Batista's
times, a "a larger proportion of the [Nicaraguan] people" during the
Sandinista revolution enjoyed "a higher living standard " than they did
during Somoza's times,  and, I would argue that -- except for the years of
war and imperialist invasion -- "a larger proportion of the [Russian, etc.]
people" enjoyed "a higher living standard " during the Soviet period than
they did during the Czar's time (I'm not arguing that there wasn't
stagnation and decline in the living standard of Soviet working people, and
of course, this wasn't measured by soviet masses against the Czars, but
against western european workers and soviet bureaucrats). Mandel's comment
is factually wrong and it denies the rationale for making a revolution in
the first place.  My reading of Mandel's remark is that maybe it shouldn't
brand him as another Hitchens, but it is certainly another reflection of
Margaret Thatcher's "T.I.N.A.," although perhaps of a despairing leftist
rather than a triumphalist imperialist.

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