Marx, Replicators and the Future of Communism

Karl Marx. There is a name that conjures strong opinion. And whatever your opinions are it is undoubted that his thinking has had a major effect on the world for the last 150 years or so. For good or ill. At various points over the last century something like one third of the world’s population lived in states influenced by the Marxist ideas of socialism and communism.
Marx believed that people should be equal. He argued that eventually society would evolve to a state of communism where people would live equally. This would be a society with no ownership and no money. It would work by the principle of ‘to each according to need, from each according to ability’. In effect this would mean firstly that people would be provided for – all our needs would be provided for free; food, water, shelter, clothing and anything we need. Secondly it means that people would work at what they were good at, not for money, but for the satisfaction that they were helping others. A more altruistic, less selfish society would emerge.
I know there are lots of arguments about whether this is possible or even desirable but the problem I want to explore is how it may be possible that we get to this state of equality or communism or whatever you want to call it.
For Marx, getting there is problematic. His route firstly involves revolution (bloody or otherwise). Writing in the nineteenth century he predicted that workers would become so impoverished that they would rise up and overthrow the bosses who were exploiting them. The workers would then run things collectively for the benefit of everybody. This you could describe as socialism. Of course this didn’t happen in England, where he thought it would happen first, because this was where the industrial revolution was happening. His ideas did however influence revolutions in many other countries long after his death (Russia, China, Cuba etc).
Now the problem really comes with the transition from a socialist society, with ownership, money and where the state runs things on behalf of the people, to a truly communist one. In a truly communist one there would be no state, no government and things would be run communally and, as I have said there would be no money or ownership. Marx didn’t really explain how this transition would take place. It’s almost as if it would just evolve somehow by itself as people realised that it would be best.
And I would say at his point that such a society hasn’t happened. The nearest we have come, some argue, were the Kibbutz communes in Israel. On the scale of a nation it hasn’t ever happened. Don’t be fooled when people describe countries like China or Cuba or North Korea as ‘communist’; these countries are not. They may have ‘communist’ parties but at the very best they are socialist. At worst they are cruel dictatorships or oligarchies masquerading as communist in order to maintain power and privilege in the hands of the few (hang on…that sounds like capitalism…).
If you want to read a good fictional account of a communist world try ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula Le Guin. A damn good science fiction read.
Anyway, my question is whether a true communist society as Karl Marx described it is possible in reality? And if so how will we get there?
Well, I think the answer lies in a science fiction idea. Many of you will have encountered the idea of self-replicating machines. Scientists argue that future space exploration may be possible through self-replication. Imagine sending a spaceship out there that can mine resources from asteroids and make more spaceships.
On Star Trek they have replicators that can reassemble matter and make anything you desire, from a cup of ‘earl grey hot’ (Captain Picard’s favourite tipple) to component parts of a new shuttle craft.
Such machines seem far fetched but the beginnings of them are already here. For example there are computer controlled machines that have been built that can actually replicate themselves. Look up ‘RepRap’ machines on Google. Now these are not autonomous machines but they can replicate themselves and are pretty nifty 3d printers, where you can put plastic waste in one end and any shape you design comes out of the other.
Now imagine the future. Where machines collect all our waste and take it to other machines that recycle/reform those raw materials into anything we need. And all we have to do is ask them to. Machines could grow our food, transport us where we want to go, run the power stations and repair themselves. And these machines could make more machines to do all of this for us.
In this scenario us humans would not need jobs. We would not need money and everything would and could be provided for us. Capitalism would be over.
Now this idea has been used in science fiction for some time (check out the ‘culture’ novels of Iain M. Banks, for example).
It is not inconceivable that a society where machines do the work could well become a reality in some not too distant future. Some argue that we would become bored and our lives become meaningless. That we would have nothing to strive for. Perhaps we would be fat and lazy like those people on the spaceship in the animated film ‘Wall-E’.
But I like to think that human beings are more imaginative and intelligent than that. In such a future communist world of equality wouldn’t we be truly free to learn and create? Instead of selling most of our lives to someone else for the necessity of wages we could actually spend our lives pursuing the things we love…
What do you think?

“Does my beard look big like this?”

© 2012 Simon Poore

Why the Government makes me unhappy…

So, it’s finally time I talked about politics on here. Apologies to those who don’t think a blog is the place for politics, or those who I offend with my views. I will declare that I am LEFT of centre with SOCIALIST tendencies. There I said it. I wonder how many of you are now put off?
Two things have made me think about this. Firstly I discovered a blog where it revealed to me where Governments borrow their money from. There is a lot of talk about the national debt of several countries (including the UK) and all of the ‘austerity’ measures that are ‘necessary’ to pay back this debt. No one ever seems to mention who we owe it to?
This week it was announced that UK government debt reached a TRILLION pounds. That’s £16,000 for each person in the population. This is affecting me personally. As a public servant I am subject to a pay freeze. No pay rise for me for a while. And my pension will cost more while I have to work longer to get it. I should say that compared to most, I am still doing ok, at least I have a fairly secure job (for now).
There are cuts in public services everywhere, including caps coming in welfare. Unemployment is rising sharply, particularly for young people. In contrast in the private sector, top executive pay increased by 12% in 2011.
I don’t want to seem like I am just moaning, but everyday something in the news depresses me, actually makes me feel unhappy and even angry. All of this seems to be happening because of the ‘National Debt’. So who exactly do we owe all this money to?
Well the Government issues ‘bonds’, known as ‘gilts’, and anyone can buy them and cash them in at a later date. So who buys these? It seems that the biggest investors are banks, insurance companies and pension funds. In the UK this means that the Government borrowed money from these institutions. Now here’s the fun bit. Some banks were in trouble, so the Government bailed them out with money they borrowed from the banks. Yes you did read that right. For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland buys gilts from the Government, the Government paid millions into the RBS to stop it going bust.
Is it just me or does that sound bonkers? And who is paying for all that? Seems like we are, all us ordinary folks.
The other thing I thought about was the language that is used to describe all of that mess. Firstly ‘SOCIALISM’ has become a dirty word, especially in the USA, but increasingly here too. For example Republican candidates regularly accuse President Obama of being a ‘Socialist’. I would argue there isn’t really any Socialism to be seen in the USA.
Socialism has varying degrees to it, it is not simply some failed or flawed political system from a bygone age. For example, in the UK we have the National Health Service. We all pay for it via national insurance and we all benefit from its services. We all own it, it serves us all. That is socialism. The NHS is a Socialist institution. Socialism is where the state (the taxpayer) owns institutions that work and provide services for all the citizens. What’s so wrong with that?
If we were more ‘Socialist’ we could nationalise banks like the RBS and make them work for EVERYONE, not just the rich few. The cuts and ‘austerity’ are talked about as if they are ‘inevitable’, as if we have no choice. Anyone who objects or complains is described as extreme, like Micheal Gove (UK Education Secretary) calling teachers like myself ‘Trots’ (Trotsky), as if we are somehow ‘loony left’ revolutionaries.
To cap it all we now live in a world where ‘financial analysts’ from New York (Standard and Poors) decide the credit rating of whole countries (they recently downgraded the credit rating of France for example). This affects whether banks will lend to countries or not. Which in turn affects ordinary citizens jobs and lives. My question is this; who elected them? What happened to democracy? Unelected banks, big business and financial institutions are more powerful than the ballot box. Something is wrong.
So, enough ranting, guess I just had to share it. I will freely admit that I am no financial expert, and have no doubt that some will criticise me for my simplistic analysis. BUT if there is any truth to what I say here and if you believe that Governments are there to SERVE all that elect them then it seems hard not to agree something is wrong.
Whether you agree with what I say or not, please simply think about this – the language politicians and the media use to describe things define what those things are. And they define them according to to certain agenda. What they say may not be true. What they say will NOT give a full picture of what is happening. Dig deeper, read wider, make up your own mind. Please…
As ever your comments are welcome…
If you are interested in these issues please visit SturdyBlog written by @sturdyAlex he explains in a most eloquent and witty way and I thank him for the inspiration for my thoughts…


© 2011 Simon Poore