Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
The Humanists' Choice: Capitalism or Socialism

From a discussion at

V. S. Bogoyavlensky
I am asked: Are you humanists for capitalism or socialism? I will reply as well as I can. I want to hear your answers.

V. A. Kuvakin
How can one reply to this question from the point of view of contemporary humanism? First, of course, it needs to be stressed that humanism is a way of looking at the world which gives no preference to any political system and therefore to decide by oneself politically is a matter of a citizen's personal choice. But this does not mean that humanism is foreign to politics. It is a democratic world view which condemns all types of dictatorships and authoritarianism, both religious (theocracy) and secular (for example, Stalinism or fascism). The criterion for such an assessment is human freedom and the observance of its fundamental rights to life, liberty, development, and access to the blessings of civilization. A number of other human rights are the right to freely participate in sociopolitical and cultural life, to participate in free and fair elections, as well as the right to civilian government at all levels.

But all the same, what of the concepts of capitalism and socialism? The strangest and even improbable thing is that there is no common opinion or definition of these phenomena among scientists of even one type of world view or attitude toward these words. It turns out that these are quite general, abstract terms which have never actually been realized. In reality such a thing always arose which could not be defined. This is especially correct with respect to socialism. When it began to stagger and collapse in the USSR a great dispute arose among Soviet scientists about what it was and what we had built? There were many opinions. It was said that in the USSR there was "real socialism" (that is, what was in reality, but this was not an answer because one then needed to say what this reality was), they spoke of "barracks socialism", about "state socialism", about "nomenklatura socialism", about "bureaucratic socialism", about "state capitalism", and others. Insofar as I remember, they halted on the concept of an "administrative command system". All attempts to understand what we had created in 70-plus years of Soviet power essentially halted at this point. I personally sometimes use the concept "greenhouse socialism", bearing in mind that the state did not allow citizens to be really free and enterprising, and all social benefits "trickled down" through the bureaucratic Party-state system. A person without initiative and responsibility becomes like a plant in a greenhouse. But this was doomed as soon as the "winds of wild freedom" blew (it could not be enlightened any other way. Where would it be obtained?), the "plants" - the Soviet people - began to get sick, they could not adapt to new conditions, and they, to use the contemporary criminal lexicon, were "hookwinked", and at the end of the '80s and in the '90s were doomed to terrible conditions of survival. (I note in parentheses that the increase in the country's standard of living is not the result of the "fatherly concern" of the government for the people but those pitiful people were "bought off", essentially gifts which the ruling class throws to the people in the form of the cost of "splashes" from the oil and gas pipelines. So it is easier and safer for them to steal the national wealth. But the previous government so raised us to be so undemanding of ourselves and the government that this seems like "manna from heaven" to post-Soviet people not being accustomed to prosperity). So the "socialist greenhouse" was doomed to great misfortune for the population. And even up to the present time there is this passive and even parasitical psychology in society. It is the heritage of our "real" socialism.

All this does not mean that socialism is bad and that capitalism is good. Even at the level of theoretical models there are both pluses and minuses there. Socialism is good in that it protects the principle of social justice (unfortunately, we did not have it; only after the war were the peasants permitted to have domestic passports and they could leave, although it wasn't easy to leave. A residence permit was a serious, almost political matter). Capitalism is good in that it encourages free initiative and allows human capabilities to be more broadly exhibited. It creates competition, which is a stick with two ends - it is a stimulus to increase the efficiency of production and labor, but the cause of bankruptcy and unemployment.

If I were allowed to dream then I would say that the best alternative is to take the best from capitalism and socialism and create a society of "universal prosperity". This is a utopia. Having been in many countries I have come to some simple truths: it is good there where people work well and have even a minimum of civil rights and liberties which are sufficient for the fruits of their labor not to be taken away by someone (the state, a capitalist, the bureaucracy, a Mafia, etc.) Well-organized and skillful labor is the basis of national wealth and in a normal democracy, the welfare of the average citizen, first of all. But only a well-educated person, although a minimally educated and conscientious citizen, can work this way. That is, as you see, I again am inclined to humanism. This is a platform for the creation of oneself as a citizen of the highest quality.

Of course, I have not fully answered the question, but I have expressed my opinion. The problem is not what one calls the optimal social system. At a minimum society should be democratic and free, heterogeneous and law-based, hard-working and enlightened. All this rest is secondary.

S. A. Mozgovoy
I read your opinion with interest. However, without looking at the real practices of capitalist countries and "real socialism" it nevertheless seems to me that capitalism as a system of a different kind of relations cannot in principle be humane and socially just. If one analyzes the comparatively small history of socialism (against the background of world history) then it seems that not one of the good theoretical intentions of socialism could be realized because of the existence of capitalism, which declared war on socialism and waged this war. In reply to the Peace Decree they unleashed a war on us, in response to the Decree about separation of church and state they have unleashed on us the resistance of those clerics who have now unilaterally achieved a religious restitution for themselves, etc. As you understand, I do not approve the persecutions religions which started in the '30s but I, and it seems, all of us, understand why they began just as we should understand why our country was turned into a military camp. Unfortunately, at that time it turned out that there could not have been a historical alternative, including those which the classics of Marxism-Leninism described about socialist society. I think this was of course a historical tragedy which was practically impossible to avoid at that time due to the low level of development of social relations, but the main thing was because of the international situation, world politics, and the underdevelopment of social science. This was very difficult in the '20s. Do we have the right to judge those Bolsheviks if philosophers, sociologists, and social scientists did not end up on top during the years of perestroika? After 70 years of Soviet power social science just could not rise to the level of the problems to be solved. What is there then to say about the practices? We can criticize the Party leadership of the USSR and it possibly even deserves this, but we ought to honestly recognize that science could only not offer adequate solutions and recommendations but even make an objective analysis of the processes. In this case I am not speaking of official science, which was under censorship and the heel of the Party leadership. I am talking about the philosophers who had the opportunity to write, even if for the desk, but they did not do this.

And what now? There has been no Soviet power and Party censorship of ideology for 20 years and things haven’t changed…In this case I am talking about those questions to which I am close, namely the development of the concepts of secularism and freedom of conscience. The idea of these concepts in philosophical literature is on a 19th-century level, at best the beginning of the 20th century. I will not develop this idea in this note, I note only that during all the Soviet years atheism was identified with the secular nature of the state. Many atheists and humanists now think that this, although it was not so. A secular state is one with a neutral world view. In a secular state freedom of conscience is practiced. This was not the case in the Soviet Union. This was not the case and not only in the Soviet Union, but nowhere in the world…

I think that in the USSR socialism just wasn't built, although its basis, its foundations were laid. But the PERSON remained an appendage of the state and this was no longer socialism. This has direct relevance of the problem of HUMANISM. And at the same time there was more that was humane in the USSR than in many other countries, including the developed countries of the capitalist world in which there was racial segregation and colonialism even to the second half of the 20th century, and in some countries until the last quarter of the century.

So, if capitalism by definition cannot be just and humane since this was built into its nature (theory and practice) then socialism in theory might be humane. I am confident that the future is for socialism if, of course, humanity survives to this future and does not perish from a nuclear or other catastrophe.

And another thing in favor of socialism…In my view, competition, which promotes the development of capitalism and some "victories" in competition with real socialism, cannot be considered an achievement or human progress. Rather this is a repression of humanity if one recalls what occurs as a result in the environment. The production and overproduction of cars, sandals, etc. are killing the planet, exhausting resources, etc. etc. All this cannot be considered a blessing for humanity. And this is the result of capitalist relations, competition, and overproduction.

S. S. Peruansky
The strange answers thereabouts of what is capitalism and socialism - "these are quite abstract terms, never embodied in reality" are no accident. Absolutely all scientific categories are abstractions, and therefore there is nothing new in stating the abstract nature of what is being discussed here. One can say that civilization too is an abstraction and was never embodied in reality whenever we hear from time to time about cases of cannibalism.

As regards capitalism and socialism Lenin explained that there are no systems in the pure sense and each system contains in itself traces of all systems. This became an accepted truth for me when a colleague of Kazan University who had been in Sweden or perhaps somewhere else told how there was free medical care there and a free system of education. A person can choose: if you want, you can go to a free hospital or, if you want, you can pay. This was a shock to me: the main attributes of socialism under capitalism? Much later I understood that capitalism regularly generates socialist values in its depths inasmuch this is ADVANTAGEOUS to the capitalists. Unlike the pseudo-Marxists in the USSR they comprehended Marx's rule that the main productive power is man, and therefore investments in increasing the level and quality of life of the workers pay for themselves. Accordingly, humanists might advocate socializing capitalism, but this would be a weak position.

Colleagues, do you know the definition of the highest development of society given by Marx? I'm afraid that a majority if not all would say: of course, communism. But the ideologues of the CPSU gave us a one-sided idea of Marxism. According to Marx communism was to be dialectically removed, transforming itself into positive humanism. What is positive humanism? As long as it begins with itself then obviously this is a social system initially guided by the principle of "everything humane is rational, everything rational is humane", but this is a principle of social humanism. And here is the answer to the question under discussion: humanists are for positive humanism (for social humanism, if you want). But if humanists are not for a humanistic, but for some other political and economic system, then these not positive humanists (not social humanists) but philosophical, theoretical humanists.

There is the paradox of philosophical humanism, that "humanism is a world view which does not give any preference to any political system". Accordingly, this is a damaging, quite limited, purely abstract world view. Philosophical humanists (for brevity, I'll call them philosophers from now on) are not capable of understanding that humanism needs to be viewed not only as an abstract world view but also as a political and economic system basing itself on the principle of "everything humane is rational, everything rational is humane". Of course, philosophers are for a political system in which human rights would be observed but that someone else should create such a system without their participation. Philosophers don't even think about who is it who is to create a law-based state. To vote in elections, that's all their participation in political life. What then should they engage in as humanists? "Humanism is a platform for the creation of oneself as a citizen of the highest quality". Philosophers are engaged in themselves, yes, even in calls for everyone else to follow their example (an example of literature with humanist appeals were the May 1st Appeals of the CPSU CC). Offer them power in the country to create a system of positive humanism and they'll say, God help us! All sorts of careerists and demagogues will get in on our act and compromise us innocent humanists (and we need to be apart from specific matters in order to maintain innocence). So, it is not our business to engage in positive humanism, our business is to explain humanist values. Yes, and we know what this humanism is as a social system: this is Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Pot-ism, etc. Therefore "the problem is not what an optimal social system might be called". If only this system were not positive humanism, since then philosophers would no longer be involved, having lost the monopoly on humanist appeals. That is, the main thing is that the concept of humanism be factored from society's everyday practical activity. "All the rest is secondary".

V. A. Kuvakin
It is too bad, dear Sergey Serafimovich, that we are beginning a dialog of two deaf people. By no means do I pass over the humane emotional color of your opinion (believe me, only Bolshevism can be repeated in such emotions). Worse for me is that I can not explain to myself why, in spite of generally accepted language, you stubbornly call humanism a political and economic system? (However, you are not alone; G. V. Givishvili also is inclined to this view). Why deny humanism the right to be a world view? (Which G. V. does not do). But even if you insist on this (which no one has the right to refuse you), then why do you not see at least for formal reasons that you do not end up in a place that is more logical for you. Imagine that you have gone to a greengrocer and ask for beef cutlets. They will politely tell you that this is not a butcher's but a greengrocer's. But you are stubborn, for 10 years, you demand an ideology, but they tell you: excuse me, this is not a political party but, according to the Charter, a philosophical, science education organization.

For the RGO the essence is its chartered activity, to study the past and present of the ideas and values of humanism, disseminate knowledge about humanism as a world view containing common human moral, intellectual, and other common human values. This is what our Charter has in mind. The Russian Humanist Society, it is written in it:
"1) performs educational activity in accordance with its subject matter;
2) promotes the dissemination and defense of the values of humanism - liberty, non-violence, human dignity, charity, equality, and social justice;
3) promotes the uniting of people who share the ideas and principles of humanism; and
4) promotes the development of science and educational programs cultivating common-sense thinking and psychology, a scientific character, objectivity, and humanity…"

The word "world view" irritates you very much. And you continue to make up labels. Now, it turns out, we are "philosophers".

One thing you have understood well is that humanists ought to be engaged themselves. However, this perturbs you, but excites me. And that is why do government, politicians, ideologues, the mass media, advertising, and much of all other kinds of scum, who most of all fear that we will think about ourselves and the environment, that we will be independent citizens, and really and not insincerely civilly active members of society and not stupid "soldiers" of the Party, "ideologically correct" like-minded peoples, "staunch fighters", and devoted supporters of "the Party general line", primarily deal with us too much.

To be a humanist means to be a mature, independent personality, understanding at the same time the need for political parties, ideology, party contention, and politics, and in the name of self-preservation of oneself as a person, one's liberty, and dignity it is necessary to have a well thought-out world view, to act freely, responsibly, and with knowledge of matters. But this is impossible without serious knowledge, self-knowledge, scientific and critical thinking, and ethical maturity, that is, without a world view. It is not necessary to erect artificial barriers between the humanist and the person who participates in political activity, including in the struggle for power of "his" party. It is also not worth confusing the question of education with appeals. It is in this that parties engage in forms of agitation and propaganda. A philosophical organization should help people find themselves, obtain self-knowledge, and dignity so that a person can become and be himself. No party ever did this nor will do this. One thing is that it puts RGO in a special position, imposes much greater responsibility on it than any, even the most starry-eyed and utopian party, can take on itself.

Any party is relative as a world view in comparison with humanism. Its goal is a means to improve the lives of the public and the individual, just as the purpose of a world view is man and his positive resources, which humanism teaches to use to the maximum. As we see, these are different things. Parties are instruments and programs of current politics. There should be many, and they have to change in power by virtue of people's simple ability to be not only good but also, especially while in power, to be bad (that is, to become corrupt). Not a single humanist (if he is not an anarchist) will deny the unavoidability and necessity of political parties. But they cannot deify and expect too much of them.

They are variables, whereas a PERSON is a great constant, always concrete, alive, and inimitable.

A. G. Kruglov
I do not think that "socialism" is a nickname. This is a completely specific phenomenon. This is such a social system in which, if one speaks with maximum kindness, the interests of the society have absolute superiority over the interests of individuals…with which it might be possible to barely agree, but these interests of society naturally determine its government in the person of a secretary-chairman; by definition, these personalities are NOT elected…

Under socialism there cannot be non-socialists in views; this clearly means that this is an ideological system, precluding the possibility of different opinions, different parties, etc.

Thus, this is a system in which power is total (totalitarianism) and in principle incompatible with the very idea of "human rights". And the main thing, the characteristic guarantee of this total power, is the socialist mechanism, its right to intervene in property issues: what a person can and cannot have (even if he earns it). As is well known, under socialism a person cannot have the means of production. To distinguish what might become such a means and what is not is precisely impossible and the government decides this capriciously (and by force). But the main thing here is this: since the means of production end up in the hands of the government, then not one person will be able to produce, let's say, a journal of the type of Zdravyy Smysl [Common Sense], but such a journal that this government wants will be able to exist. That is, the government's ability to deprive an individual of property (socialism) is the fullest expression of totalitarianism.

Well, hence it is completely clear that such "fine fellows" as Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot were no accident under socialism, but absolutely natural. Every general secretary could kill however many millions of people, if he wished and had a personal blood lust. Of course, in the name of the interests of some no longer understood society.

What is capitalism. The very word is not a concept, but a nickname, an insult. Probably some kind of "individualism" might logically be opposed to socialism. This is a system in which personal rights, including the right to property, are guaranteed; this is simply a "law-based society" (a synonym: bourgeois - translated to Russian - civil [society]). And here we encounter the fact that a majority of individuals have not become full persons (this remained in potential), for their tastes and their level became determined in society. Those who have ended up with the means of production do not have any other interests except unrestrainedly devouring and consuming. Now no one (legally) interferes with the publication of Zdravyy Smysl, only its circulation is not comparable with the circulations of all sorts of garbage and nonsense. The face of the public, which "pays for the music and calls the tune", if one imagines that someone likes what is being shown on television, for example a depraved nine-year-old moron. Television is a burst sewer pipe which spurts directly to the apartment. Well, so on and so forth.

So, if communism is the rule of brutality, then democracy is the rule of banality. Choosing the lesser of two evils, the humanist chooses the latter. But this does not mean that he likes this banality. He does not "favor" it, he is for humanism.

Translated by Gary Goldberg