Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ What Socialism Is About

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 12, 2011

Replying to Michael Laxer and Andrew Kloche, Seeking the democratic socialist in Canadian political life, posted at Rabble and blogged at The Ginger Project. Posted to, January 12, 2010.

As a long time New Democrat and socialist, I certainly agree that we should not stand content to have John Ivison or the National Post to define what we are.

That said, the attempt in this column falls far short of satisfactory as well.

I don't identify myself as a 'worker'. I want to be in favour of things, rather than 'fighting the destruction of the middle class', whatever that means. I want to reform corporations, not merely stand up to corporate crime. I want to help people create their own enterprises, not merely have them take over others. I want to define a mechanism for social support, not tie myself to social equity oiecemeal through certain programs. I want to manage for prosperity, not merely resist austerity.

I don't want to gather huddled under a big shield designed to pretect me from the evils of the world; I want to have the strangth and the means and the legislation that allows me to stand on my own. I don't want to be a part of some mass movement, as they just exchange one set of leaders for another; I want to be able to define my own movement, however small, and make my change in my own way. I don't want to be a part of an army, or engage in flighting, or to be resisting, I want to build, create, grow, and develop.

The NDP is successful only when it taps into that people want to be. People live and dream (and vote) with their aspirations, not their limitations of class or poverty. I want to define socialism in terms of what we want to be, not what we want to avoid.

-- Stephen Downes

(p.s. I hate my name 'Troll' but I can't seem to change it, and I'm not willing to simply create a new account, as I've had this one for something like six years, and even though I don't comment much, that still counts for something. Not like anyone's reading this disclaimer.)

Reply from M. Spector

Spoken like true entrepreneur and rugged individualist. This kind of condescending disdain for the concerns of the working class - i.e., the vast majority of Canadians - is a good example of what is wrong with the NDP.

My response

> This kind of condescending disdain for the concerns of the working class...

I said nothing of the sort.

If I have "condescending disdain" for anything, it's *your characterization* of the concerns of (what you call) the working class.

I am and have spent my entire life among (what you call) the working class. Nobody - NOBODY - talks like your 'alternatives'. What you are presenting is a made up dream.

We - what you call 'the working class' - talk about our hopes and dreams, what we want out of life and what we want for our children. We talk about having enough to make ends meet, making enough to buy a home or new car or entertainment system. About how to pay for college, how to access medical services and pay for prescriptions, about whether we can keep our teeth.

YOU are the one who wants to make us one big mass of undifferentiated anger and hostility. Sure, we're discontented, but that doesn't make us foot-soldiers in your army. We want a politics that serves our needs, wants, and interests.

That's what socialism is about. After all, what's it for, why do we do it at all, if not to achieve our aspirations, hopes and dreams? The people who (like me) may work for the union, negotiate for a better package, work on language all night - do you think they're doing it simply to "fight for workers rights", etc? No - the fight isn't the end in itself.

We want workers' rights (as you call them - I just call them 'human rights') because we are FOR something - we are FOR the ability of each person, no matter who they are, to be able to lead a rich and dignified life, to be safe in home and substance, to each lead their own lives however diversely they choose.

-- Stephen Downes

(still hate the name 'Troll' - I used to run a site called which is where the name came from - the site is long since history. But we had a good run.)

Reply Submitted by pjmora 

There is an alternative to party politics. That is, "Perpetual Direct Democracy", where parties become redundant because all political issues could be decided not by the Monarchy, not by the political parties, not by the politicians, but by the majority of Citizens via referendum.

A pilot project is demonstrated on, and when enough citizens realize the potential political revolution this system can bring, citizens will participate on this pilot project, or will adopt one of their own.

Canada Elections will try, on the next federal election, a pilot project of voting on line; BC Liberals and NDP Party will soon elect their leaders using the internet. It is just matter of time before we Canadians realize the potential benefit of participating on all political issues. In other words, shifting the power of legislation, not just form one party to another, but from the elite politicians to the citizens.

Tommy Douglas urged us not to shift our support from the white cats to the black cats, to the spoted cats, to Zebra cats,but to ourselves, the mice. Ovbiously He ment to promote the Labour Party then, but now we can go a step further, with the new computer technology, and promote peoples' direct governance, not parties.

My response

> by the majority of Citizens via referendum

There's merit to that suggestion, and I have written in the past in support of direct democracy.

My fear, however, is (to continue the analogy) that it's just another way to vote for cats.

You would think that, in principle, if people had the chance to vote for measures that improve their lives, whether at home or in the workplace, that they would do so. This, though, was also the premise behind representative democracy: that the will of the people would be served by allowing them to chose their representatives directly, rather than by having them appointed by a monarch.

It didn't work out that way; almost immediately, instead of representatives of the general population, we got cats. We got the choice between Tories and Liberals, with the voice of the alternative drowned out by one set of corporatists fighting another set of corporatists. Simply posing a question and having mass yes-no responses is no better than voting for Liberals or Tories.

I would like to see a system of direct democracy that is very fine-grained -- the more fine-grained the better, because the detail and diversity is what makes it increasingly difficult for the rich and powerful to purchase outcomes. I don't want to prescribe a precise mechanism -- I think this is something we would have to work with and learn how to do.

-- Stephen Downes

(You can see for yourself my socialist credentials in my articles, here which includes all of my NewsTrolls articles and much more. Not that I'm advertsing them or anything. But if people are going to talk of my 'condescending disdain' they should at least have some clue who they're talking about. Of course, all this belongs in the reply to the previous post...)

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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