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Vision First & then the Mode of Production

August 24, 2021

Liberal democracy, the defining mythos of the United States, is collapsing. What is the root cause of this collapse and how should we respond?

Most on the left attribute it to the ‘mode of production’ we call ‘capitalism’ but I don’t see that as helpful. This is because it needlessly complicates what is essentially a simple picture and leads us to solutions that fail to target the essential issue. The sickness is far simpler than most Marxists lead us to believe. The problem isn’t the mode of production per se nor is it ‘economic’; the problem is political to its core and we can find it in the oxymoronic term ‘liberal democracy’.

Merriam Webster defines ‘oxymoronic’ as ‘a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness)’. Liberal democracy IS cruel kindness, or more exactly cruelty propagandistically disguised as kindness. It is the anti-democratically cruel rule of wealth disguised as kind democracy.

It’s the incongruence of this oxymoron that drives our historic collapse. Society can’t survive and will ultimately always collapse if it’s ruled by and for the interests of a tiny minority and this is so even if there exists formally democratic elements. The root problem in other words is the depravity of power—the cruelty—that is always the essence of material inequality. This is a very old problem going back thousands of years to the very beginnings of civilization.

What then should the left propose as a solution? The standard Marxist answer is socialism but this is too vague. It’s a ‘mode of production’ / economic answer that makes sense only if the root problem is in fact a mode of production. But isn’t socialism by definition egalitarian? No. Except for a vision of utopian communism in the far-off future, many and perhaps most socialists either support the continuance of some level of inequality or ignore it as irrelevant to what they insist is the prime issue—the mode of production.

But inequality is of fundamental relevance because that is what the problem is. The problem, restated, is class society and you can’t eliminate class by simply defining it away in mode of production terms. A society with inequality of income or wealth is a class society by any reasonable definition. Imagine a new socialist mode of production entailing just two proletarian groups, one making twice the income of the other. The mode of production called capitalism has been overthrown but this new world in my view is clearly unjust and unstable. Not only that, both history and the logic of power suggest even small inequalities quickly institutionalize and become just another version of the same old pattern.

The final few decades of our collapsing ‘liberal democracy’ is widely called ‘neo-liberalism’ which aptly highlights the driving cruel element in the oxymoronic term. The left should focus now on applying the neo to the democracy element and initiate a fundamentally new era of humanity—neo-democracy. An egalitarian democracy rooted in equality, sustainability, cooperation, and collective prosperity. The vision first and then the mode of production.

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