2011/10/26

British vs French or incrementalism vs overnight change


Had an extensive debate with a fellow member of UFPJ-DVN on Facebook about his use of the term “Working Class,” he was using the term in its classical Marxian Das Kapital 1867 meaning, to denote those who work for, and get a wage from, those who own the means of production. I was using it to mean people who are wealthy enough to own homes as opposed to those who rent apartments.

The immediate, practical difficulty here is “What is going to work to advance our goals?” Is it going to help the movement to insist on Millennial goals, on trying to overthrow capitalism and to try and replace it with communism? I pointed out here that communism failed. Communism simply couldn't keep up with capitalism. Did it fall into the dustbin of history or, as Ronald Reagan and other right-wingers insisted, was it pushed by US military expenditures? My own interpretation is that it fell due to
the fact that it simply doesn't work for certain sectors of the economy. Government control works fine for health care and education as those two sectors don't act like markets, with competent customers making informed, unhurried decisions in a reasonably fair marketplace. When, on the other hand, one is purchasing shirts or houses or lawn mowers, markets work fine. Now, we saw with the Triangle Waist factory blaze that corporate capitalist enterprises simply cannot be trusted (Remember, the blaze occurred in 1911, many decades after corporate industrial capitalism began, so it's not like it wasn't given a chance to regulate itself) that the Federal Government must assume oversight of corporate enterprises to see that workers are protected.

I believe there is an inherent, inborn tendency towards wealth and property to concentrate, for a wealthy person with a lot of land to obtain more wealth and land. As the Bruce Springsteen song goes:

Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain't satisfied,
till he rules everything, ...

For those people with more modest means, they must occasionally struggle to keep what they have. These struggles started with the development of agriculture and I simply don't see them ever ending. In the Soviet Union, we saw the development of the nomenklatura, in China, they saw the Red-Hat Businessmen. In both cases, the group that had the most (In Marxian terms, they're referred to as the Ruling Class) morphed and changed shape and adopted new terms, but never essentially changed from what they always were. My own preference is for the term aristocracy as I consider that to be a more accurate and descriptive term.

So what's with the title of this post? As either a tween or as a young teen, I read a piece comparing what the author termed the “British” and the “French” method of social change. The French method was what my fellow member obviously prefers, a sudden, vast, overnight change from the old to the new. The British method, by contrast, was referred to as “muddling through.” It consists of moving incrementally, moving in a general direction as opposed to being focused on specific goals, trying one thing at a time, seeing how it works, modifying it if necessary and then moving again.

We all saw how the French Revolution worked, it very quickly resulted in bloodshed and empire and their defeat at the hands of foreigners and a return to the bad old days. The Netroots, on the other hand,
have been quite successful. Their electoral strength was shown first in 2006 by the defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary for Senator of Connecticut. It was very much a partial victory, one step forward, another step back, but Lieberman was no longer speaking with any credibility for the Democratic Party as Democratic voter had booted him out of the party. He was still able to do some damage to progressive goals, but not as much as he was doing before. The Netroots had handed over the day-to-day control of policy to our President, who went in a Blue Dog Democrat direction and promptly suffered losses in the 2010 midterm, but we're pushing back again with the assistance of the Occupy Wall Street people.

The anti-war movement has very definitely gone in the direction of incrementalism. We don't describe ourselves as being pacifists as that implies we have a fixed and rigid and unchangeable goal, but as people who oppose this particular war or that particular action. The ultimate shape of our proposed policies may resemble those of doctrinaire pacifists, but by showing how particular policies are bad or ineffective on a case-by-case basis, we build a far more credible case for the general public that we're taking a thoughtful, flexible approach to the issues of the day.

Our approach to economic issues is similar. We don't oppose the wealthy simply because they're wealthy. We oppose particular wealthy people because they're cheating and not following the “rules of the game.” England had to conduct several land reforms between the Norman invasion of 1066 and the switch-over to industrial society during the 1800s. Land had gotten too concentrated and was held by too few people, just as wealth today is far more concentrated than it should be, so land got broken up and moved into many more sets of hands. The redistribution of wealth that occurred after the crash of 1929 (Second chart on this page) was done in a far less conscious and deliberate manner, but resulted in many good things for people of regular income. What progressives today would really like to see is another version of land redistribution or a more conscious process of returning some wealth back to regular people, as was done via the Great Depression. Obviously, we'd like to do that without going through another Great Depression.

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