Friday 20 April 2018

Predictions About Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

“Professor Schumpeter, as many tart phrases reveal, has little love for socialism, and none at all for socialists.” Joan Robinson reviews Schumpeter’s 1943 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy for the Economic Journal issue of December 1943.

I found plenty interesting stuff while searching for information on the Revisionist Debates. Among other things, four very different books.

Road to Serfdom in cartoons. [A]

For all of Eduard Bernstein’s conviction that capitalism and with it liberal democracy had won a decisive victory (or, as Francis Fukuyama put it a century later, humanity had reached the End of History), his fellow petty bourgeois intellectuals spent the next half-century -- at the very least -- worrying themselves sick about the survival of capitalism and/or liberal democracy. After its inevitable victory, capitalist democracy looked a lot like a greenhouse flower: unless heroic countermeasures were urgently taken, any deviation would lead as inevitably to chaos.

Things started to go seriously pear-shaped with Bernstein’s prophecy in 1917. That year the impossible happened: the Russian Revolution.

The 1929 Great Depression shook stable global capitalism to its core, WW2 and its direct aftermath brought dark omens about liberal democracy. A literary genre blossomed around prophecies of a forthcoming apocalypse.

Perhaps the best-known author in that genre is Friedrich Hayek (The Road to Serfdom, 1944): a work of let's say political philosophy (it's hard to define its genre), in it the welfare state (Staatssozialismus, for Christ’s sake!), beloved of the liberal/leftish intelligentsia, was little by little corroding the framework of Western capitalist liberal democracies. The rusty, decrepit, structure seemed about to collapse.

George Orwell was impressed by Hayek. His vivid political fiction descriptions in Nineteen Eighty Four (1949) may well have been inspired by Nazism and Stalinism (of which he only had second-hand accounts), but Nazism and Stalinism weren’t Orwell’s only sources of inspiration. Like most fiction authors, Orwell knew how to draw from his own life for inspiration (one day I might write about that). He preferred to leave the details of the backstory of Oceania foggy (like Hayek, it seems, Orwell also knew that petty bourgeois intellectuals’ exceptional courage has a limit); but IngSoc was no Marxist Socialism. His propertarian admirers, free from this particular liberal/leftish blinker, are right on something: Big Brother had a Fabian face.

Road to Serfdom in cartoons. [A]

Another author in that genre, former journalist John T. Flynn, was more candid (and paid a hefty price for that, too). In As We Go Marching (1944), Flynn eschews Hayek’s generic “totalitarianism” and writes openly about Nazi/Fascism. He highlights the parallels between Nazi/Fascist economic policy and Keynesianism, but he went farther. Unlike Hayek and Orwell, he wasn't coy when it came to naming names. From Churchill and Roosevelt down to John Maynard Keynes and Alvin Hansen, one finds a veritable who’s who of the Western liberal intelligentsia, who, in Flynn’s views, were building Anglo-American Fascism, consciously or not.


Ultimately, of course, those prophecies didn't come to pass; but, absurd as Hayek’s, Orwell's, and Flynn’s fears may sound to us now, they didn’t sound so absurd to them and those like them back then. But we’ll leave that for another time.

Suffice it here to say that I suspect Engels himself wouldn’t have been surprised liberal/leftish protestations of faith in liberal democracy would have sounded as hollow to the Anglo-American bourgeoisie as the SPD’s protestations of unconditional parliamentarianism sounded hollow to the German bourgeoisie:
“My view is that you have nothing to gain by advocating complete abstention from force. Nobody would believe you, nor would any party in any country go so far as to forfeit the right to resist illegality by force of arms.” (Engels to Richard Fischer, March 8, 1895. MECW vol. 50 p. 457, emphasis in the original)
Nor were enlightened SPD reformist politicians immune to panics when something threatened sacrosanct capitalism. Unlike Hayek, Orwell or Flynn however, they could do, and did, something about it.

March 1919 Revolutionaries
after summary execution. [B]

Again, I think Marx and Engels wouldn't have been surprised:
"Should Berlin ever be so uneducated as to stage another March 18, it would behoove the Social-Democrats not to take part in the fighting as “louts besotted with barricades” (p. 88) but rather to “tread the path of legality”, to placate, to clear away the barricades and, if necessary, march with the glorious army against the one-sided, crude, uneducated masses". (Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1879. Circular Letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Wilhelm Bracke and Others, my emphasis)
Capitalism had not reached a stable stage, nor democracy had discarded political repression, as Bernstein had prophesied:
"I do not regard the mobilisation of the whole people as a socialist ideal. Fortunately, we are increasingly becoming accustomed to settle political differences in ways other than by the use of firearms". (p. 162)
It's not injustice that explains why Bernstein and Preconditions had been forgotten, Matt. It's undeserved charity.


Last but by no means least, is a fourth item in this apocalyptic literature I’d like to mention. Published originally in 1943, Joseph A. Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1994, London: Routledge) preceded the books mentioned previously. Together with As We Go Marching, Schumpeter’s book is the best of the crop, in my opinion.

Schumpeter, too, was convinced liberal democracy (indeed, capitalism) was doomed (ironic, isn’t it, when anti-Marxist critics adopt “deterministic” predictions). It would fall victim to its own success, largely because the petty bourgeois intelligentsia would undermine it. He, however, unlike the other prophets, didn’t see a totalitarian regime as inevitable outcome of that process (nor did he agree on the prophecies of inevitable economic chaos).

However less dramatic, that wasn’t a perspective he celebrated, anymore than Hayek, Flynn, and Orwell did. But his failed prophecy is not what caught my attention. The book has five sections, the last of which deals with a historical sketch of socialist parties in Europe and the US. Given the subjects I’ve been writing about, it makes sense I paid that section some attention.

Although Joan Robinson was right to say Schumpeter had little love for socialism and none at all for socialists, I found it instructive and amusing.

Of course, as is usual with Robinson, always eager to be witty, she ends up missing the nuances. Schumpeter may have had no love for socialists, but he didn’t dislike them equally. Moreover, he is knowledgeable and attempted to be objective.

Schumpeter, predictably, reserves the harshest words for Russian socialists (“Slavs”). To my surprise, Austrian and German socialists, including the SPD, came out relatively well, without avoiding all of Schumpeter’s barbs (Chapter XXVI, Section V). It’s worth noting that he knew personally leading Austrian Marxists (apparently also some German SPD members), and had some professional contact with them.

That's why his references to Bernstein and the Revisionist Debates are important. His assessment is, predictably as well, different from what a Marxist would make; he didn’t consider as many facts and events as one could; those he does consider, however, seem to coincide with what I’ve been writing about.

But it's not even that what I'd like to focus on here. I’d like to quote an interesting fragment from the Prologue to Part V:
“All non-Marxian socialist groups are more or less like other groups and parties; only Marxists of pure persuasion consistently walked in the light of a doctrine that to them contained all answers to all questions. As will be seen, I do not admire this attitude unconditionally. It may well be called narrow and even naïve. But the doctrinaires of all types, whatever their practical disabilities, have certain esthetic qualities that raise them high above the common run of political practitioners. Also they command sources of strength which mere practitioners will never be able to understand.”
After writing about “a special claim to attention and a dignity all its own that is both intellectual and moral” that Marx and Marxism have, Schumpeter evidently cannot bring himself to equate what his peers call “doctrinaire” with what he himself might have called “principled”, nor is he blunt enough to call those non-Marxian socialists “opportunists”.

It amused me that he carefully avoided the term “philistine” in Chapter I, where he describes the Fabians with unsuspected wit, curiously reminiscent of Robinson.

Image Credits:
[A] From The Road to Serfdom in cartoons, "[O]riginally published in Look magazine. Reproduced from a booklet published by General Motors, Detroit, in the ‘Thought Starter’ series (no. 118)"
[B] March 1919 Revolutionaries after summary execution. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00539 / Groß, Alfred / CC-BY-SA. Wikipedia.

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