[OPE-L:2087] Re: Re: *What will happen in the 21st Century?*

From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 16:34:24 EST

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Claus wrote:
>Isn't it true that, theoretically, if socialism means the abolition of
>private property of means of production, there can no longer be a market,
>since this implies the sale and purchase of commodities, hence a commodity
>producing society. Things that are sold are private property.

Two points deserve to be made here. If you abolish private property in the
means of production, they become state ownership, but not necessarily
socialised (public) ownership. That depends a great deal on the nature and
quality of democratic arrangements that you have. But whatever the case,
there still remains a market for labour-power (sold as a commodity) and for
consumer goods/services (bought as a commodity). We can perhaps invent
arrangements which partially "decommodify" these things, distribute them
free, or "socialise" them to an extent (as Elson suggests) but a
(regulated) market remains all the same. You can, and have to, combine
economic planning with market mechanisms, but it is not true that you can
eliminate conflicts between the two. (This is phrased in classical Marxist
terms by Ernest Mandel). The real issue, the real theoretical problem is
not, and has never been that you have to combine planning and markets, or
that conflict exists between the planning principle and the market
principle; the theoretical and practical problem is how you can best
combine them, to minimise the conflict and maximise efficiency within the
framework of socialist democracy (see e.g. Catharine Samary, "Plan, market
and democracy", an IIRE Notebook). We can debate whether such a "mixed
economy" should be called "socialist" or "transitional" etc. but that is
only a question of names.

>The market is the capitalist mechanism for the distribution of use values,
>but it is also the way through which social labor is distributed. Once
>there is no longer a market, this means that the distribution of social
>labor and of use values has to be made in another way, i.e., through
>previous planning of production and distribution.

This is not necessarily the case at all. As stated, state or socialised
ownership of the means of production does not imply a market for labour
disappears. Supply and demand for labour still has to be related in a way
which allows workers a good choice. Further, all kinds of labour markets
are imaginable; i.e. the arrangements for hiring and firing workers could
take all sorts of different forms, taking into consideration ethical,
political and juridical criteria, and taking advantage of modern
information technology in the context of minimal "business secrets".

 If we admit that the
>market should still have a role in the distribution of commodities,
>shouldn't we also admit the same role for the distribution of the labor
>force? This would imply wage labor .... Or not?

It would imply wage labour of a sort, but various types of
arrangements/institutions and various criteria are conceivable for paying
out disposable income. Amounts of disposable income received need no longer
be directly related to the work done in an enterprise (it could for
instance be related to housework as well, or to participation in public
affairs etc.). A "basic income" could be guaranteed, with additions made
according to various other criteria. The compulsion to work from a certain
age could be subject to various qualifications and exceptions, and so
forth. This already happens to some extent in The Netherlands (although
many workers don't like the existing system so much).

>I think Lenin wrote something about this - maybe it was in State and
>Revolution -, arguing that in order for socialism to exist, there has to be
>a previous development of the techniques of social accounting of needs and
>distribution, and that this is something for which the development of large
>scale production and distribution in capitalism prepares the ground. This
>may be connected with Duncan'sr mention of the "Menshevik scenario", which,
>in the terms in which he put it, seems to me to be Marx's point of view

Marx says only that no social order is destroyed or superseded before it
has developed all the productive forces which it can contain. This would
seem to be almost an historical tautology however. While generally seeing
capitalist industry as the starting basis for a socialist society in
Western Europe, Marx had no clear, specific and substantive political
prescriptions for the transition to socialism, and he carefully limited his
political perspectives to Europe. At one time, he thought that Russia could
jump over the capitalist stage and build socialism on the basis of rural
village communes, a possibility which Engels later discounted.

The "menshevik scenario" was that the working class in Russia might
participate in a bourgeois democratic government, which would presumably
preside over the development of a democratic capitalism (i.e. "let's stop
at February 1917"). But this scenario was based on a poor understanding of
Western imperialism and its real effect on Russian society. Moreover, as
Trotsky had analysed many years earlier, it was politically flawed. The
Russian bourgeoisie was too weak to assume power, and could not address or
effectively solve the problems of the working class. On the other hand, the
urban working class was highly concentrated and organised - and unwilling
to subordinate itself to the policy of the bourgeoisie (for instance the
Putilov steelworks in Petrograd was among the largest, if not the largest
steelworks in the world at the time). Nor was the bourgeoisie able to
address and solve the problems of the peasantry at the time. The bolsheviks
saw the seizure of power in Russia, with the slogans "bread, peace and
land" and "all power to the soviets" only as the "trigger" for a socialist
revolution in Western Europe, particularly in Germany where a revolutionary
upsurge did indeed briefly occur. Even then, Lenin doubted whether the
bolsheviks and the soviets could hold on to power. This matter was resolved
only through the civil war, involving substantial imperialist intervention.
All this is amply discussed in the literature of the Fourth International
and its various offshoots, and by the less ideologically blinkered

I don't think the essential dillemma is between Marx and revolution, or
between menshevism and stalinism. It is between reformist Marxism and
revolutionary Marxism; or, if you like, between reformist socialism and
revolutionary socialism (or even between reformism and revolutionism, since
socialist ideology is not necessary for reforms and revolutions to occur).

For reformist Marxism, there is in reality never an appropriate time for
revolution, because the relationship of forces is always unfavourable (a
classic case of this was the phenomenon of eurocommunism). Even within the
bolshevik party, there were many currents and leading personalities
completely opposed to the seizure of state power in October 1917 (some even
went to the press to disclose details of the planned insurrection). For
revolutionary Marxism, by contrast, a revolution is appropriate when you
can make one, when you have the opportunity.

For instance, reformist Marxists, if they are consistent, must argue that
the Sandinistas or the Castroists should never have taken power
(revolutionary Marxists naturally supported their seizure of power from the
beginning). Reformist Marxism rejects thinking about alternatives unless
they can be practically implemented in the status quo. Revolutionary
Marxists support thinking of alternatives which go beyond the status quo or
indeed against the status quo. I suppose we could invent an additional
category for "centrism", in between revolutionism and reformism, for those
who are revolutionary in theory but reformist in practice, which would
include many of us !).

What is really left out of the "menshevik scenario" for the 21st century is
the uneven and combined development of capitalism on a world scale, and the
reality of the domination of the world's resources by North America, Europe
and Japan (you can call that "imperialism" or "globalisation" or the
"North-South" division etc.). To appreciate what this means for hundreds of
millions of people worldwide, you could consult the Human Development
Report of the UN. This gives an indication of the disparity of wealth and
poverty in the world, and what it means for people's lifestyles.

Thus, revolutions may nevertheless forcibly occur in countries which are
not officially stamped as "ripe for revolution" in the Menshevik agenda,
simply because conditions have become intolerable. That is, the dynamic of
permanent revolution originally identified by Trotsky and Alexander
Helphand (alias Parvus) might well continue, far into the 21st century,
even if the revolutions do not succeed due to foreign intervention and lack
of international solidarity.

Regrettably most of what happens in the socialist camp seems to be
crystall-ball gazing. I haven't seen one serious, empirically grounded
socialist prediction come out yet even for a five year period. The
socialists seem to be outflanked here by the pragmatic modelling of
statisticians, mathematicians and ideological guru's employed by various
private, government or university thinktanks.

In soldarity


PS - in writing this stuff I use the term "revolution" in the sense of the
social process outlined in a previous post; I wasn't thinking of that U2
song "with or without you".

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