[OPE-L:2169] socialism in a single moon?

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sun Jan 16 2000 - 08:54:36 EST

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Re Steve K's [OPE-L:2165]:

> Finally, a read of a bit of fiction might be in order: Ursula le Guin's
> "The Dispossessed". For those who don't know it, it's the tale of an
> anarchist moon orbiting a capitalist planet, and the theoretical
> development of the physics of "simultaneity". The point for this
> discussion is that this ideal anarchist society develops its own
> conventions which stifle innovation, leading to one group forming the
> "syndicate of spontaneity" to disturb these conventions. Well worth a
> read for anyone hypothesising about how future societies might overcome
> the deficiencies of historical ones.


1) Socialism in a single moon?
   Perhaps the above can be interpreted as a critique by an anarchist
   (LeGuin) of the possibility of an anarchist community developing
   "side-by-side" with a capitalist world. If that is part of her implied
   critique, then it seems to me that it has a lot in common with Marx's
   rejection of "Utopian socialism". Or, expressing it in the language of
   the 20th Century, is it possible to have socialism in a single moon (or
   country) that falls within the orbit of a capitalist planet (world)?

2) Re innovation and spontaneity in capitalism and socialism

   a) There are a lot of myths surrounding the process of innovation under
      capitalism. To begin with, it tends in practice not to be a very
      "spontaneous" process. Rather, decisions by corporations concerning
      whether one should move from invention to innovation tend to be very
      deliberate. Indeed, there are many inventors and artists who
      complain bitterly that corporations are often afraid to take
      chances, depart from SOP, and innovate. Moreover, if one considers
      the diffusion curve for new innovations (especially in means of
      production) then one sees that it tends to be a much more
      protracted process than is commonly appreciated. Of course, it could
      be argued that capitalists have an incentive to innovate. Yet, firms
      also have an incentive not to take unnecessary risks. I.e. while the
      failure to innovate can lead to a reduction in individual profit
      and the risk of being driven out of the market, a descision to
      innovate which is proven _ex post_ to be unwize can have the same
      result! Furthermore, most of the assumptions commonly made about
      spontaneity/innovation tend to assume highly competitive markets
      (even "perfect competition") rather than oligopolistic markets in
      which product differentiation rather than technological change
      becomes the primary way in which rivalry among firms in the market
      takes place. And oligopolies tend not to be very "spontaneous"
      organizations! Finally, the very process of invention tends within
      the context of modern corporations not to be very "spontaneous" at
      all -- hence the allocation of large sums of money, planned for
      years in advance, on R&D.

  b) One could also argue that socialism has the capacity to promote
      innovation in ways that capitalist firms can not. For instance,
      capitalist firms only innovate when it is believed that the
      expected (individual) rate of profit will increase. Thus,
      innovations which are socially beneficial or useful but are not
      profitable are averted. Then there is the whole patent system which
      makes an invention (and hence the capacity to innovate) private
      property. These institutional constraints that arise from the nature
      of the commodity-form would not exist under socialism.

  c) Finally, there is the issue of spontaneity for the working class.
      What kinds of ways is working-class spontaneity limited and
      represssed under capitalism? What are the ways in which the working
      class, on the other hand, can act spontaneously in our own interests
      (and even define and re-define those interests)? Also: aren't there
      ways in which spontaneity is presumed under socialism (even if, in
      practice, it might have to be continually fought for, possibly even
      including the formation of a "syndicate of spontaneity")?

In solidarity, Jerry

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