Socialism is the Best Medicine

Socialism is the Best Medicine

The Revolution Will Not Be Managed

March 6, 2024


We all want to make our own choices and resent others imposing their choices on us. Yet our lives are externally managed from birth to death. We are told who we must be and what we can and cannot read, think, say, and do with our bodies and our lives. This suffocating control is justified as necessary for a complex society to function. This is a lie.

While all societies require people to be organized, the need for external management is a unique feature of class-divided societies.

Organized Societies

Organized societies coordinate people’s activities for mutual benefit. For hundreds of thousands of years, people organized themselves this way. Indigenous leader John Fire Lame Deer explained,

Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no prisons, so we had no criminals. We had no locks or keys, so we had no thieves. We had no money, so a man’s worth could not be measured by it. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal property. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi, or blanket, someone would give him these things. I don’t know how we managed without prisons, locks, and money which we are told are necessary for a civilized society.

If someone didn’t like how their society was organized, they could convince others to change it, or they could join a different social group.

There were no national borders or walls to stop people from moving where they pleased. DNA analysis of ancient burial mounds finds that up to 90 percent of people buried together were not biologically related. They simply chose to live as kin.

The freedom to organize themselves resulted in an astonishing variety of early human societies. Some were egalitarian, some hierarchical, and some mixed the two. It was not unusual for foraging societies to be hierarchical during the hunting season and egalitarian the rest of the year.

Settled societies could also be hierarchical or egalitarian. Four-thousand year-old cities in Ukraine show little evidence of centralized control. In Turkey, a system of caves was transformed into a multi-level underground city large enough to house up to 20,000 people plus livestock. Carved-out rooms on many levels were connected by tunnels to create a massive subterranean network where people could live for extended periods of time.

In short, human beings display tremendous social flexibility. Whether our societies are small or large, simple or complex, nomadic or settled, we can choose how we organize ourselves.

Managed Societies

Managed societies are arranged in a hierarchy, where decisions flow from those with more power to those with less. This can be a useful option when freely chosen, for instance, to ensure the best outcome for a hunt that will benefit everyone.

There is no common interest in class-divided societies where a dominant class amass wealth and power at the expense of a subjugated class. To sustain this unfair social arrangement, members of the subjugated class cannot be allowed to rebel, move elsewhere, or choose a different social arrangement.

A boss and a worker will never agree on how work should be done. The boss profits by demanding the most output in the shortest time for the lowest wage, while the worker benefits from a slower pace and a higher wage. If workers were free to choose how they work, the boss-worker relationship would end along with the social order based on that relationship.

The business class trap workers in the boss-worker relationship by denying them any other way to provide for themselves. They partner with the State to ensure that the means of survival are privately owned, not shared, and protest is criminalized.

The Manager Class

No one would freely choose to work their entire life to make others rich. Workers vastly outnumber bosses, so why do they tolerate an oppressive social arrangement?

In 1977, Barbara and John Ehrenreich challenged the belief that there are only two social classes: a capitalist class who own or direct production; and a working class who are denied control over production and must work for a wage. They identified a middle layer, a professional manager class who are neither capitalists nor workers and also distinct from the traditional middle class of peasants and small-business owners.

The role of the manager class is to keep the working class too divided, confused, and unconfident to rebel effectively. On the job, they impose the will of the boss on the worker. In society, they impose the will of the capitalist class on the working class.

The manager class serve as a social emulsifier binding the capitalist class and the working class in the social arrangement of capitalism. Without this middle layer, capitalists and workers would battle openly for social control, and victory would go to the working class with their superior numbers and their hands on the wheels of production.

Whether members of the manager class are well or poorly paid, respected at work or treated badly, unionized or not, they wield social power over others. This distinguishes them from workers who have no such power. The manager class include:

  • workplace supervisors who tell us what to do and when and how to do it
  • social gate-keepers who restrict access to medical treatment, medicines, and financial and social support
  • police who control where we go and what we do
  • psychologists and psychiatrists who insist that we are the problem, not society
  • generals who send workers to war
  • judges who side with bosses
  • union officials who stop workers from fighting for more
  • social and political reformers who claim they can make the system work for us
  • academics and other ‘experts’ who insist there is no alterative

The manager class stand between the other two classes and are pulled in both directions. In times of social crisis the manager class will split, with one section siding with the business class and the other siding with the working class.

The manager class are opportunists; they monitor which way the political wind is blowing and act accordingly. As the working class gain ground, as they did during the 1960s-70s, the manager class lean left to promote more choice. As the business class gain ground, the manager class lean right to promote less choice.

Managed Suffering

Helping professionals are part of the manager class. Their role is to manage suffering, not end it.

While we experience suffering on a personal level, mass suffering is caused by a social system that deprives the many to enrich the few. To hide this ugly reality, suffering is portrayed as a personal problem that individuals can remedy with self-help or the intervention of helping professionals.

Blaming the victim shields the system. The belief that no one needs to suffer if they have the knowledge or skill to live right implies that sufferers cause their own misery and are responsible for ending it. The possibility that sufferers could organize themselves to end their misery is never considered.

Medical and social services are delivered on a charity model, where the ‘more fortunate’ help the ‘less fortunate.’ I spent 50 years as a helping professional. By the time I retired, there was more suffering in the world than when I began. That was a painful lesson in the futility of trying to solve a social problem at the individual level.

The professional manager class are trained to believe that their superior knowledge and skill entitle them to restrict people’s choices, ignore their wishes, and impose decisions on them ‘for their own good.’ Positioning themselves as social parents, they treat workers as children who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Consider the arrogance of self-styled saviors who campaign to rescue wayward females.

Since the 19th century, middle-class feminists have campaigned to eliminate sex work on the grounds that it debases all women. Modern-day demands to criminalize the sex industry do not protect sex workers but put them in greater danger.

The sex industry would be starved for workers if one could make the same kind of money doing safer work under better conditions. As it is, people with no hope of a well-paying job will turn to sex work to make ends meet. Many are immigrants who are viciously targeted in racist, anti-sex-trafficking campaigns.

Most sex workers do not see themselves as powerless victims in need of rescue. They want the same occupational rights and protections that all workers deserve. Overwhelmingly, they call for sex work to be recognized as work and demand that the sex industry be completely decriminalized.

Right-Leaning Managers

Right-leaning managers insist that the solution to all social problems is more personal responsibility, hard work, patriotism, adherence to religion, and strengthening of the two-parent, heterosexual family. They push to reduce social supports, deny reproductive control, and reject any challenge to traditional gender roles. They lobby for more police, harsher punishments, more prisons, and fewer migrants. They oppose affirmative action, are fiercely anti-union, and demand a government that reflects their values.

Right-leaning managers are generously funded by right-wing foundations that aim to strengthen the business class and weaken the labor movement. In times of social crisis, right-leaning managers join paramilitary, fascist, and counter-revolutionary movements in the belief that the political system is so corrupt they must defend their rights and values by force.

The basic difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is how best to suppress the working class. Trump is a right-leaning manager who wants to crush all opposition by force, while Biden poses as a left-leaning manager who relies on the union bureaucracy to contain workers’ demands.

Left-Leaning Managers

Left-leaning managers insist that the solution to all social problems is compromise. Convinced that society can be made to work for both classes, they appeal to capitalists to be more socially minded and workers to be more patient.

While left-leaning managers will condemn the unfairness and brutality of capitalism, their solutions are limited to convincing authorities to change course or electing different authorities.

These masters of compromise find a natural home in union bureaucracies and social-democratic parties that aim to advance workers’ rights through contract negotiations and legislative change — never through the organized power of workers themselves.

Union Managers

Regardless of what they personally believe, the role of union officials is to advocate for workers without disrupting the flow of profit. This is an impossible task.

Profit is the difference between what workers are paid and the value they create. The higher the wage, the lower the profit. The lower the wage, the higher the profit.

When pushed to the wall, employers cry that paying higher wages will make them less competitive and put them out of business. Fearing the loss of jobs, union managers convince workers to sacrifice for the ‘greater good’ of protecting the bosses’ business and the bosses’ system.

Consider the 2023 United Auto Worker strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. The resulting contract was widely praised as an historic victory, with UAW president Shawn Fain crowing that the union had “squeezed every dime” out of the corporations. In fact, the strike had no impact on the profits of the Big Three.

During the year of the strike, General Motors reported $22 billion in profit, a 15 percent increase from 2022. Stellantis reported profits of $20 billion, and Ford reported profits of $10.4 billion. Profits for both these companies were 11 percent higher than the previous year.

Over the past decade alone, profits for the three biggest auto companies have risen 90 percent. Compared with the early 1990s, auto-workers’ wages have dropped over 30 percent.

Like all managers, union officials think they know best what is needed and what can be achieved. The truth is, a union bureaucracy exists for only one reason – to prevent workers from organizing themselves as a class to defeat the bosses and their system.

Social-Democratic Managers

The Russian Revolution of 1917 inspired a global wave of working-class revolt. Threatened by the growing power of workers, the business class partnered with union officials to purge the labor movement of class fighters and limit union bargaining to economic matters only.

Having taken social issues off the table, union officials directed workers’ need for social change into the dead-end of the capitalist electoral process.

It’s difficult to convince class-conscious workers to vote for openly capitalist parties, but they can be convinced to vote for social-democratic parties or candidates that promise to deliver progressive social policies, for example, the Labour Party in the U.K, the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in the United States.

While social-democratic formations attract a base of working-class members, they represent the interests of the union bureaucracy and the left-leaning manager class. Instead of building the power of workers to challenge the bosses, they focus on winning legislation that makes it easier to form unions and win economic benefits for workers within the capitalist system.

Government elections offer no real choice, only a choice of manager. No matter which manager we vote for, all are committed to a for-profit system that is destroying our lives and the planet. All believe that civilization would collapse if ordinary people organized to make their own decisions and directed society to meet their needs.

The General Strike

If you take power away from those who have it and do not seize it yourself, someone else will.

Over the past century, working-class uprisings have come close to toppling capitalist rule on many occasions. When worker-discontent can no longer be contained, unions officials and social democratic parties mount limited general strikes to pressure the business class to deliver reforms and let workers ‘blow off steam.’

A mass general strike will stop production, paralyze the economy, and create a social crisis. There are two possible outcomes: either the strike is defeated and the existing order is restored; or the strike continues and must find a way to keep people alive.

A general strike of any length forms a coordinating committee or workers’ council composed of delegates from the striking unions, industries, and sectors.

During general strikes in Winnipeg in 1919, Germany 1919-1923, France in 1968, Chile in 1972, Quebec in 1972, Portugal in 1974, Iran in 1979, Poland in 1980, and Egypt in 2011 (to name just a few), workers’ councils directed sections of workers to produce and deliver essential goods and services.

By taking control of production and distribution, the workers’ council begins to function as an alternate government. The longer the strike continues, the more people turn to the workers’ council to meet their needs. This creates a situation of dual power. On one side, a crisis-ridden capitalist State. On the other side, a rising workers’ government. Only one can prevail.

On repeated occasions, the manager class has struck a last-minute deal with the business class and called off the general strike, insisting that nothing more could be achieved.

This will keep happening until workers organize independently of the manager class so they can press forward to take permanent control of production and build a worker-directed society.

Managerial Socialists

A fully managed capitalist society gives rise to socialist organizations with a managerial outlook and practice. Such organizations are typically led by academics, union staffers, and other members of the left-leaning manager class who position themselves as the rescuers of the working class and the only ones that can lead them to liberation.

The managerial concept of socialism is a top-down, centrally controlled society run by enlightened professionals. That’s why managerial socialists insist that any top-down centrally controlled society that calls itself socialist or communist must be so, regardless of workers’ actual conditions.

Like all managers, managerial socialists do not trust workers to lead their own fight, choose their own leaders, and build the world they want. Instead, they position themselves as authorities on what workers need and override workers’ demands “for their own good.”

We Don’t Need to Be Managed

Capitalist oppression is the root cause of human suffering today. Anything that helps workers organize and fight on their own behalf is a step towards ending that suffering

We don’t have to wait for some far-off revolution. If we had continued to build the 1960s and 70s rebellions, we could have ended the rule of profit.

As it is, we continue to suffer, and the manager class continue to insist that there is no alternative. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, historian Yuval Noah Harari expresses this pessimistic view.

We are well and truly stuck and there is really no escape from the institutional cages we’ve made for ourselves.

Anthropologist David Graeber and archeologist David Wengrow disagree. In The Dawn of Everything, they reveal how our ancestors constructed many different kinds of societies and changed them as their needs changed.

We do have a choice. We can allow professional managers to dominate our lives or we can organize ourselves to build the world we want.

Cooperative Creativity

The opposite of managerialism is not everyone-do-their-own-thing. Genuine freedom must be organized.

In a managed situation, people are told what the goal is and the steps to achieve it. The alternative is cooperative creativity, where people choose the goal and decide together how to reach it. The path is not laid out for them, so they must construct it, step by step. At each point, they make the best decision they can, then evaluate the result and change course as needed.

Human beings are the most creative creatures on the planet. We can analyze problems and devise new ways of living as conditions change. We are masters at organized improvisation. That’s how we constructed a global economy that connects every one of us. However, it’s not an economy that meets our needs.

The capitalist class block us from solving the social, economic, and environmental crises that threaten our survival. They confuse us with lies. They use racism, sexism, nationalism, and war to divide us against each other. They micro-manage us so we doubt our own abilities.

To free ourselves from capitalist rule, we must be highly organized, clear about our goal, and build cooperative, creative organizations that equip us to build the world we need.

The Revolution Will Not Be Managed

Late-stage capitalism is an extremely managed society. The more capital accumulates, the more inequality grows, the more people rebel, and the more social controls are imposed.

Social managers claim that if we build enough public pressure and get the right people in power we can return to a time when workers had good union jobs, housing was affordable, and social supports well-funded. This is a delusion.

Workers can only improve their conditions by fighting the boss and the boss’s system. As soon as we stop fighting, everything we’ve won is stripped away.

We don’t need rescuers to end our suffering. We belong to a powerful international class of workers that can fight for and win our own liberation.

The course of human history is not set in stone but filled with endless possibilities. The only limit is our imagination and our willingness to work together to make it happen.



  1. Yes, there’s lots of reasons why there is so much suffering in today’s world, and much can be done to reduce suffering and help those in need, but the fact we live on a planet with a diminishing supply of growth-limiting, easily accessible energy means it will become increasingly difficult to improve the quality of life for those that need help.
    We are living in a time of population over-shoot. We’re way beyond the planet’s carrying capacity and its ability to renew the stuff we need is constantly being undermined. Getting back to that point will be accompanied by unimaginable social upheaval. Working together means a willingness to use less and share. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    • You make two points that are commonly used to justify the way things are.

      As I explain in The Myth of Scarcity (1999), humanity already produces more than enough to meet everyone’s needs. The problem is not too many people, but that the goal of production is capital accumulation, which has no limit. As I wrote,

      “The belief that social and environmental problems are caused by too many people persists, not because it is true, but because it serves the ruling class. The unpalatable truth – that capitalism builds wealth for the few by impoverishing the many and destroying the environment – cannot be acknowledged. To do so would be to admit that what is good for the capitalist class is bad for humanity.”

  2. Very much to the point, Susan. No beating around the bush. Kudos.

  3. Thank you Susan. You discuss many ideas I have struggled with (and still do) on how we organize a socialist society that benefits and prioritizes the needs of all. I wrestle with our finding the proper role, design, and layout of that society so that it doesn’t calcify into an inflexible straight jacket controlled by a new emergent hierarchy.

    It seems your article points to our finding a flexibility within any new system we create that can and should reinvent itself as the need arises to face any unforeseen or unexpected challenges that arise. Somehow, this seems to be a key need.

    We might have to recognize we are involved in an experiment where the results might require creative restructuring to see that goals are met. We’ll have to learn to not be too attached to the raft when using it to get to the other side of the river.

    This has led me to think about what new ways we’ll have to organize so that people can freely utilize their time, experiences, and abilities in ways that get us thinking collectively while retaining our unique identities. To be less airy, what I mean is to make our work worthwhile enough that people want to participate in the ever changing creation of better world for all but not making the work seem a joyless drudgery but an exciting, vibrant one instead.

    I think my years as a union member made me always want to be part of a non-managerial, hierarchical system, what is known as “business-unionism.” Though I had great benefits and pay, the union membership was basically in the same position in relation to the union as it was to the company. It could be dangerous to upset either one, since agreement could be made to put you out on the street if you were too much of a squeaky wheel.

    This change you write about points to our need to overhaul existing systems into participatory organizations, democratic and with controls built in to keep them from becoming top down.

    I know too many of us have been conditioned by this capitalist system into an unhealthy comfort zone where too many might prefer the orders from above rather than the flying free into an unknown future where results are yet assured. But as the historical past you include presents, we can and need a new way of thinking that in fact removes the chains of years of hierarchical conditioning.

    Thanks for another thoughtful piece.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Michael.

      As you point out, we are conditioned by capitalism to be passive consumers of life, not the active producers we were in the past and can be again.

      Capitalism has reduced us to petitioning our oppressors for what we need and fantasizing about the heroes who will rescue us.

      When the left fail to save us, we look to self-styled rescuers on the right such as Donald Trump in the U.S. and Pierre Poilievre in Canada. They cannot save us, because we cannot be saved. We must liberate ourselves.

      The first step is to reject passivity and take collective control of our organizations. We need our organizations to serve as a training ground where we practice making decisions democratically, working cooperatively, and course-correcting as needed.

      We must guard against applying lifeless formulas and being trapped by structures that do not serve us. Conditions are constantly changing, so we must constantly rethink the way forward. The more we actively shape our organizations, the more we make ourselves fit to reshape our world.


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