Transparency, democracy, and the problem of internal and external opposition
Hello guys, this is my first post so I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Yusuf, I am 21 years old, and I am currently a first year student of Informatics based in the Netherlands. I have a strong interest in economic planning, logistics and I am looking to specialize in data science and engineering. My main motivation is that in the future I hope to contribute to the materialization of a socialist mode of production that puts an emphasis on digitization and automation. I have a math deficiency and I am still trying to learn a lot so please take that into consideration when engaging with me. I am currently reading Towards a New Socialism by Paul Cockshott to learn more about cybernetic planning.
One thing that excites me about a cybernetically planned economy is that it theoretically has the potential to facilitate the most egalitarian and democratic society to have ever existed. This is because we could prevent and fight corruption by tracking data related to production and distribution of goods, but also because it could potentially allow us to quantify the social consequences of given decisions with regards to the strategic planning of the economy more rationally. So theoretically we could achieve a truly egalitarian society and hold elected officials accountable more effectively. However this is only IF there is a complete transparency of the data and technology used to plan the economy. One of my concerns is that if all economic data and decisions are public, there could be some government officials who could argue that it's necessary to hide all of this information to prevent a counter revolution, or to hide sensitive information during times of war. And if that happens it seems that nothing would stop us from ending up in a totalitarian dictatorship like the Soviet Union. What are your thoughts on this?
FYI: Yes I am strongly anti-authoritarian, democracy is non-negotiable to me.
This is a problem I've been thinking of as well. Ideally we'd want maximum transparency, but in a transitionary period transparency in the military side of the economy is obviously problematic. It might be that we have to accept the military being largely a black box, or one giant workplace. This is not without its own problems, and certainly a thing that would be struggled over.
Calling the USSR a "totalitarian dictatorship" is a bit much tbh. It had many problems for sure, but we should keep in mind that democratic participation in the USSR was better than in say the EU at present. Democracy is a constant struggle, one that certainly gets more difficult without transparency. Corruption can be viewed as a threat from within.
This is also something that I have given a lot of thought to. I've had a lot of discussions with people and I want to provide the synthesis of all of them and get your response. (I'm a Marxist and an Anarchist, just stating my biases)
1. Capitalism can't just be abolished overnight. There are systems and material relations in place that will reproduce the same relations unless we reform or abolish them. I think Engels made some really good points (tho not perfect, by any means) in his "On Authority"
2. Socialists and Communists largely believe that getting rid of these unjust hierarchies and coercive institutions will be a process. Anarchists, by contrast, often believe it can be done right now. Often by simply acting as if you are already liberated. (This is likely why communists spend all day arguing over revolutionary strategy and anarchists spend all day arguing over revolutionary tactics).
3. The socialists and communists say that the playbook should be to
1 - establish a state in which only the workers are allowed to hold power,
2 - use the state to begin socializing the economy and removing the capitalist economic system (welfare programs, job guarantees, universal healthcare, universal housing, universal education, universal daycare, etc.),
3 - over time, the material basis for all these unjust hierarchies (patriarchy, racial hierarchy, settler hierarchy, capitalism, etc.) will be gone. this is the "stateless society" so often talked about.
4. The USSR, like all revolutions from the CNT-FAI to Rojava to Nepal to China, is filled with contradictions. This is just human. But undeniably, over time, a bureaucratic class emerged that began running the USSR and eventually lead to the neoliberal reforms which abolished it. What happens in the post-Kruschev USSR and what is happening in capitalist countries is largely the same. Even the unions are becoming polluted with these middle-management type people. administrators are exploding in size. This is explored amazingly by David Graeber in his short http://www.strike.coop/bullshit-jobs /" target="_blank" rel="noopener">"On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" and much more fully in Bullshit Jobs: A Theory
5. When talking about the coercion and injustice in the USSR, i think it breaks down like this
1 - there are capitalists who hate that actual social programs were implemented and actual work towards socialism was done and so will vilify the government and workers there.
2 - there were actual inhuman crimes against humanity done by the USSR government. but, these are often focused on more than comparable crimes in other countries and exaggerated by fascist sympathizers to make the nazis more palatable
3 - there are horrible, horrible crimes against humanity done by liberal democracies to their own people and other people in their colonies, etc. these are largely ignored as accidents or not inherent to the system.
4 - every discussion becomes a whataboutism contest. where anti-USSR people bring up some crime against humanity and the pro-USSR people bring up some comparable crime in the liberal democracies and then each justifies their own side. it's pointless.
6. All the Leninist revolutions have been the ones that succeeded long-term and all the anarchist ones (save Rojava) have failed long-term. All the Leninist revolutions have also become revisionist and bureaucratic.
All of these things considered, as someone who deeply cares about abolishing unjust hierarchy and moving toward a society in which everyone is cared for and respected and can live as free, autonomous, and happy a life as possible, i don't think one can be dogmatic. there are people on the anarchist side where nothing is ever good enough for them (mandatory schooling is somehow an unjust hierarchy and yet they think a revolution can be un-authoritarian) and there are people on the communist side who will excuse anything w worker's revolution does (we had to kill these people and spy on everyone to protect the revolution).
I think what you have to do is focus on specific institutions rather than entire countries or systems. the USPS is a fantastic service and would likely change little under communism. the Cuban healthcare system is world-class and unrivaled. But the US government is horrible and authoritarian and the Cuban government operates prisons. But why on god's green earth do we even have to talk about those? they have nothing to do with the Cuban healthcare system or the USPS.
Sortition and a Worker's Party are the answer i have settled on. A worker's party takes state power and then immediately begins filling government ranks with randomly chosen citizens. School boards are random students, teachers, and residents. Local governments are random citizens. The national government is random people from every region. At this point, where exactly would the counter-revolution get a foothold? And where would the coercion and crime inherent to states of both socialist and capitalist variety come about? The plan can be a guideline and adapted locally to various conditions and problems (a wave of flu shuts down a town, a drought causes a crop failure, etc.) with a government made up of randomly chosen people, you get the efficiency and coordination abilities of a state but minimize the ability to use it for harm. the state can be "un-reigned" in a way because with randomly chosen members, people are just as soon on the outside of the state and the receiving end of its actions.
In terms of democratic structure take care when reading the Chapters in Towards a New Socialism about participatory democracy and sortition; in my opinion these a the most important aspects to a durable and egalitarian society
The main idea is that there exists a feedback loop between participatory democracy and sortition.
Sortition is means of socializing representative government, in that by choosing parliament by lottery (randomly) the various superstructural apartheids harnessed by capital (income, gender, age, education, race, religion, sexual orientation etc.) are circumvented.
Participatory democracy is a means to ratify and modify the policy of the "Sort". Any legislation drafted by the Sort would have to be ratified by plebiscite before becoming law. The Sort is refreshed at regular periods and can be withdrawn by plebiscite as well.
In your studies it is always good to contextualize your work with a project; I would suggest some app or interface that facilitates participatory sortition.