Beyond Soviet “socialism” and the “triumph” of capitalism

Published on ZNet, by Chris Spannos, Dec 21, 2016.

Twenty five years ago the dramatic contest between the Soviet socialist system and Western capitalism reached its tumultuous end. Much has been written since about the failings of the Soviet state socialist model. But much less has been written about how the global “triumph” of capitalism has made extreme inequality and climate change worse. Even less still has been written about the possibility of an alternative to either system.

In the years leading up to the end of the Soviet Union, political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War would open the way to “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” But capitalism has failed to address the world’s most pressing problems and, in many ways, have made them worse … //

… Over the past 25 years, Internet and Communications Technology (ICT) has evolved to remove many of the technical barriers that may have once impeded alternatives to capitalism and state socialism. Debates in the 1920s and 1930s revolved between socialists who believed that a central authority could use all available knowledge to arrive at the best possible (in their minds) economic plan for society and those free marketeers who countered that, because the problems of modern society are so complex, economic planning is impossible and only markets could coordinate economic activity. These two positions framed other proposals too, that a necessary combination of markets and planning – “market socialism” – could provide a third solution. But the world has changed and there are new obstacles to overcome.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Technologists, academics, governments, journalists, Silicon Valley and others, are today excited by the possibility of the “Internet of Things”, “smart cities”, “smart homes”, “smart grocery stores” and how technology can enable all institutions of society to become more responsive to human needs, wants and desires. Even if internet access and net neutrality are important battles still being fought, mobile devices have made unprecedented inroads to populations previously disconnected. For many, the multidirectional explosion of innovations provides an ever-personalized everyday life and an intoxicating sense that all knowledge is available at our fingertips. Even if this sense is an exaggeration it is more true than ever before and it is possible to imagine a future where everyone is affected

We could be using today’s technology to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate everyone and medically treat those in need. Instead, capitalism, having exhausted many material sources of growth, uses technology to turn inward to the exploitation of people themselves – their personal data – as an effervescent commodity. Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School Shoshana Zuboff, has described how the evolution of computer processing power, complex algorithms, and leaps in data storage capability, combine to make what she calls “surveillance capitalism”. It is the process of accumulation by dispossession of the data that people produce … //

… Twenty five years after Soviet “socialism”, the “triumph” of capitalism has been a nightmare for the vast majority of people. But new technologically advanced and self-governing worlds – beyond capitalism and state socialism – are, technically, more feasible than ever. But a new contest must emerge between those who want this new world and those who hold on to their present power.

(full text).

(Chris Spannos is Digital Editor for New Internationalist based in Oxford, England. He contributed the feature Mass Surveillance and Smart Totalitarianism in ROAR’s December magazine. Chris wrote A history of Anarchist Economics as a lens to see the future in the AK Press collection The Accumulation of Freedom: Writings on Anarchist Economics (2012). He edited a previous collection for AK Press titled Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century (2008). More recently, Chris contributed the essay Dimensions of Crisis in Greece to The End of the World as We Know It? Crisis, Resistance, and the Age of Austerity, AK Press (2014). Chris’ Twitter handle is @cspannos).


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… and this:

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