Bhaskar Sunkara: Socialism and Communism | Lex Fridman Podcast #349 | Summary and Q&A

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December 22, 2022
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Lex Fridman Podcast
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Bhaskar Sunkara: Socialism and Communism | Lex Fridman Podcast #349

TL;DR

Democratic socialist Bhaskar Sankara discusses the core principles of socialism, which include guaranteeing basic necessities for all and extending democracy to the economic and social spheres.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is socialism, according to Bhaskar Sankara?

Sankara defines socialism as providing basic necessities to all individuals and extending democracy to economic and social spheres. It aims to ensure that individuals can reach their potential and challenges autocratic control in workplaces.

Q: How does Sankara address the tension between helping the unlucky versus rewarding the hardworking?

Sankara believes in a balance where rewards for hard work and innovations are still possible, but extreme disparities in wealth and poverty are eliminated. He suggests that democratic decision-making and governance can help strike this balance effectively.

Q: What were the key successes and failures of communism in the Soviet Union?

The Soviet Union initially aimed for stability and gradually started industrializing. However, forced collectivization and industrialization led to millions of deaths and created an imbalanced economy. The lack of democratic checks and balances eventually led to an authoritarian regime under Stalin.

Q: How does Sankara propose preventing authoritarianism in a socialist system?

Sankara argues for a limited scope of state power and governance, as well as active democratic participation. He believes in creating a system where workers have control over their workplaces and investment decisions while maintaining checks and balances through democratic processes.

Q: What is socialism, according to Bhaskar Sankara?

Sankara defines socialism as providing basic necessities to all individuals and extending democracy to economic and social spheres. It aims to ensure that individuals can reach their potential and challenges autocratic control in workplaces.

More Insights

  • Socialism and communism share a common ancestor but have different historical outcomes, with socialism aiming to insert doses of socialism within capitalism.

  • Social democracy provides important social guarantees, but capitalists still hold ultimate power, creating inequality and potential threats to democracy.

  • Democratic socialism seeks to challenge capitalist ownership, promote worker control, and create a society where individuals have a stake in decision-making.

  • The tension between rewarding the hardworking and helping the unlucky can be balanced through democratic decision-making and good governance.

  • Socialism does not have to involve total state ownership or planned economies but can harness regulated markets and social ownership of production.

Summary

In this conversation, Bhaskar Sankara, a Democratic Socialist and political writer, talks about the definition of socialism and the core ideas behind it. He discusses the importance of guaranteeing core necessities of life to everyone and extending democracy into economic and social spheres. They also explore the historical context and differences between socialism, communism, and social democracy.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Bhaskar Sankara define socialism?

Bhaskar defines socialism as ensuring that core necessities of life such as food, housing, and education are guaranteed to everyone by virtue of being born. He believes this is the minimum requirement of socialism.

Q: How does Bhaskar Sankara differentiate socialism from social democracy?

Bhaskar believes that social democracy is about inserting doses of socialism within a capitalist system, while socialism goes beyond capitalism and aims to build a world after capitalism. He sees socialism as the touchdown after getting "within scoring position" with social democracy.

Q: What are the philosophical ideas at the core of socialism?

Bhaskar believes that at the core of socialism is the idea that every individual has intrinsic value and the potential to contribute uniquely to society. Socialism aims to create a society that provides collective guarantees, allowing individuals to cultivate their unique talents and contribute to future generations.

Q: Is there a tension between helping the unlucky and rewarding the hard-working in socialism?

Bhaskar argues that it is possible to reward people for their innovations and hard work while ensuring that there is not extreme inequality or people suffering in poverty. Socialism aims to find a balance between these two, where there are incentives for hard work without extreme disparities.

Q: How does Bhaskar Sankara view the implementation of communism in the Soviet Union?

Bhaskar acknowledges the complex and controversial history of communism in the Soviet Union. He believes that the Soviet experiment started as a way to hold a temporary position and stabilize the country, but it later turned into (under Stalin) an attempt to rapidly industrialize and build socialism through forced collectivization and five-year plans. He admits that many things went wrong, such as famine and abuse of power, but also notes that it brought about industrial development and put Russia on a different trajectory.

Q: What role does ideology play in the potential for authoritarianism in socialism?

Bhaskar argues that any ideology that appeals to collective goals or destinies, whether it is socialism or nationalism, can lend itself to authoritarianism. It is crucial to have a bedrock of civil rights and democracy to prevent authoritarianism and maintain individual freedoms.

Q: How does Bhaskar envision democratic socialism as a potential solution?

Bhaskar sees democratic socialism as a system that goes beyond capitalism by taking the means of production, where capital's power comes from, and making it socially owned. He believes that ordinary workers should have control over their workplaces and have a say in investment decisions. He does not advocate for total state ownership or a planned economy, but rather a system where markets are harnessed and regulated.

Q: How can a democratic socialist system prevent the slippery slope towards authoritarianism?

Bhaskar believes that limiting the scope of the state's power and creating a system with checks and balances can prevent authoritarianism. He emphasizes the importance of civil rights and democracy, where people have a say in the sacrifices asked of them, while maintaining individual rights and voice.

Q: Can socialism be implemented without making enemies of the capitalist class and resorting to violence?

Bhaskar suggests that socialism can be implemented by gradually shifting ownership to ordinary workers and providing them with incentives to participate in the economy. He argues that capitalists can still be compensated for their expertise and contribution in different ways without maintaining their ultimate power.

Q: What is Bhaskar Sankara's ultimate vision for socialism?

Bhaskar envisions a socialist society where the means of production are socially owned and workers have control over their workplaces. He believes that ordinary workers should be able to shape investment priorities and receive dividends from their firm's success. His vision includes a society without extreme inequality and with greater stake and democratic participation for ordinary people.

Takeaways

Bhaskar Sankara's perspective on socialism highlights the core ideas of providing core necessities to all, extending democracy into economic and social spheres, and ensuring individual value is recognized and cultivated. While acknowledging the historical challenges and controversies surrounding communism, he calls for a future implementation of socialism that goes beyond capitalism, where the means of production are socially owned and workers have a say in investment decisions. Bhaskar emphasizes that civil rights, democracy, and checks and balances are crucial to prevent authoritarianism and maintain individual freedoms.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Bhaskar Sankara defines socialism as ensuring that essential needs like food, housing, and education are provided to all individuals from birth, while also extending democracy beyond politics to the economic and social realms.

  • He emphasizes the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals and the need for social guarantees to allow everyone to reach their potential.

  • Sankara believes that socialism goes beyond social democracy by challenging capitalist ownership, promoting worker control of workplaces and investment decisions, and ultimately creating a society where everyone has a stake in decision-making.

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