socialism

Anthem by Ayn Rand

I’m pleased to see Laissez Faire Books publishing a new edition of this book. I may be unusual in this, but Anthem happens to be my favorite of Rand’s four major works of fiction. It is pithy, pared down to essentials, and more poetic. This guest editorial was originally published as the editorial preface of the new edition. — GAP

Anthem by Ayn Rand

“The author does not understand socialism,” read the letter from MacMillan in reply to the submission of Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem. They turned it down. Actually, the publisher didn’t understand socialism. Hardly anyone did in 1937, when this book was written. Rand, however, did understand socialism. She understood it so well that she knew it would result in the opposite of what it promised and that its proponents would eventually come to embrace its grim reality, rather than repudiate the system of thought.

In many ways, this book is one of the best dystopian novels ever written because it puts the central focus on the key failing of socialism: its opposition to progress. How is that possible given that progress is a central slogan in socialist thinking? The problem is that by collectivizing private property, socialism removes the machinery of progress itself. It abolishes prices and profits and calculation and the incentive to create. It puts a premium on political control, and politicians resent the revolutionary implications of entrepreneurship. Therefore, a consistently socialist society would not only be poor and backward; it would revel in those features and call them the goal.

Think about it. This was the 1930s, long before the environmental movement and long before the primitivist streak in socialist thinking was to emerge as an outright agenda to be imposed by force. But as a child in the old Soviet Union, Rand had seen it in action. She had seen how entrepreneurship and creativity had to be sacrificed for the collective, and how this drove civilization straight into the ground. A totalitarian society would not be a world with amazing technology and flying cars, but would exist only at a subsistence level. And it would try to stay that way.

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Serenity
Joss Whedon at Comic-Con 2012
Joss Whedon at Comic-Con 2012

So disappointing:1

“We are watching capitalism destroy itself right now,” [Whedon] told the audience.

He added that America is “turning into Tsarist Russia” and that “we’re creating a country of serfs.”

Whedon was raised on the Upper Westside neighborhood of Manhattan in the 1970s, an area associated with left-leaning intellectuals. He said he was raised by people who thought socialism was a ”beautiful concept.”

Socialism remains a taboo word in American politics, as Republicans congressmen raise the specter of the Cold War. They refer to many Obama administration initatives as socialist, and the same goes for most laws that advocate increasing spending on social welfare programs. They also refer to the President as a socialist, though this and many of their other claims misuse the term.

This evidently frustrates Whedon, who traces this development to Ronald Reagan[.]

We have people trying to create structures and preserve the structures that will help the middle and working class, and people calling them socialists,” Whedon said. “It’s not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal […] it’s some people with some sense of dignity and people who have gone off the reservation.”

Whedon obviously can’t tell the difference between laissez-faire capitalism (i.e., free markets) and the state-regulated capitalism we have today. Or the difference between democratic corporatism and tyrannical absolute monarchy. As with most on the left, he directs his criticisms almost exclusively at the market and big corporations.

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  1. I’m a huge fan of Firefly and Serenity and enjoyed Dr. Horrible, Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and the Avengers. 

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The Stygian Conspiracy by Kodai Okuda

The Stygian Conspiracy by Kodai Okuda

The Stygian Conspiracy, by first-time author Kodai Okuda, is a bulky tome and quite an undertaking. The myriad pages are brimming over with a story of action, science fiction, and even some horror elements. It is a tale on a grand scale, both in time and space. Not content with a small moment or two with a libertarian flavor, the story tackles the big issues and concepts and makes no apologies, without forgetting that the plot and characters come first.

The story transpires in a future in which the human race has spread out through the solar system and taken some tentative first steps towards exploring other star systems. The population is roughly divided between the Eastern socialists and the Western capitalists, the latter of the two having newly emerged as a power again on the world, or better yet solar, stage. That description and its implicit chauvinism make me cringe even as I write it, but Okuda does much better with the characters, creating roles that defy the simplistic expectations set up by that line drawn down the middle. There are good bad guys and bad good guys and even, I think, a little room for debate.

It is a bold concept and a wild ride. There are space battles and daring personal missions, enmities and romances, betrayals and tough decisions. It lacks nothing of the right ingredients to leave a voracious reader with a satisfied feeling upon completion. If the reader wants nothing more than an epic tale of adventure with some characters to care about, he may well come away from The Stygian Conspiracy without complaint.

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BOOK REVIEW | For The Win by Cory Doctorow Thumbnail

Cory Doctorow’s latest YA novel, For The Win, just might be the Jungle of the digital age — a depiction of the plight of professional gamers and their struggle to unionize and extract concessions such as better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions (?!) from their employers through collective bargaining. Not being an avid gamer myself, much less a professional gold farmer, I’m left to wonder if it is as poorly researched and inaccurate as Upton Sinclair’s piece of socialist propaganda fiction. I expect left-libertarians will tend to like this novel but other libertarians will not. As for myself, I struggled to finish it and do not recommend it — as much because of the writing style and quality of writing as the subject matter.

For The Win opens with a gifted Chinese gold farmer — a working gamer who plays to collect game money and items to sell for “real” money to “rich,” lazy, mostly American gamers — in China who just happens to have the Western name of Matthew. He’s attempting to strike out on his own but is visited by Boss Wing’s goons and taught a lesson. Then we meet an American Jew in Los Angeles who goes by the Chinese name of Wei-Dong and moonlights, against his parents’ orders, as a gold farmer with some online buddies in China. Next, we’re introduced to Mala, aka General Robotwallah, a poor Indian girl with a talent for strategy and leadership, who is hired by a mysterious man to use her “army” to harass gold farmers in-game because they allegedly disrupt the game for honest, paying customers.

Before long we’re introduced to Big Sister Nor, a mysterious new figure on the scene who is out to organize working gamers into a union to fight corruption and improve their circumstances. As the novel progresses, we’re introduced to more characters, mostly in China and India, where the bulk of the action takes place. Perhaps the most notable is a female Chinese underground radio host who caters to the factory girls, giving them advice and urging them to stand up for themselves, while she dodges police raids, moving from safe house to safe house under a series of false identities.

One of the themes of the novel is how difficult it has been historically for workers to organize and how the internet (including social media and online games) provide game-changing tools for organizing labor. There is much truth to this, though I am skeptical that even the myriad tools of the internet can allow a voluntary global union to pull off anything like the ambitious scheme Cory’s protagonists endeavor to carry out in the novel. Although Cory has characters voice the usual skeptical objections to the efficacy of a voluntary global union, I don’t think he adequately addresses the difficulties such a union would face even in the digital age. Without state-backed coercion (directed at businesses, scabs, and their own members), how much power would a union really have, particularly spread out over the globe? Sure, gamers have an advantage in that they all work virtually in the same place — but still…

To Cory’s credit, however, he does depict a truly voluntary union whose leaders welcome freely competing unions in the market. The International Workers of the World Wide Web (IWWWW) or Webblies, as they call themselves,1 even eschew a formal hierarchy. The de facto head of the union at one point exclaims to her followers, “I’m not magic. … You all lead yourselves.” They also, admirably, do not seek compliance with their demands through legislation or regulation. Instead, they engage in self-help. Libertarians may find some of their methods questionable, however.

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  1. These terms were coined by Ken MacLeod, based on the real Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies), and borrowed by Cory Doctorow. 

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