Re: [OPE] market - and other kinds of - socialism

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Tue May 03 2011 - 23:23:35 EDT

In the opening paragraphs of the conclusion to Capital as a Social Kind I argue against the idea that what is holding us back is a spelled out model of what we will put in place of capitalism.

That history is too cussedly convoluted might be one way to raise doubt. Ask instead what tasks are involved in overthrowing capitalism. What are the tasks history has presented?

Here is a really good example, not well enough emphasized, of what Marx thought the task presented was:

We should find this so-called Original Accumulation means nothing but a series of historical processes, resulting in the Decomposition of the Original Union existing between the Labouring Man and his Instruments of Labour. . . . The Separation between the Man of Labour and the Instruments of Labour once established, such a state of things will maintain itself and reproduce itself upon a constantly increasing scale, until a new and fundamental revolution in the mode of production should again overturn it, and restore the original union in a new historical form.

TASK: overcoming "the *Separation* between the Man of Labour and the Instruments of Labour," that is, "restoring the original union in a new historical form."

NOTICE: this task actually addresses both of capitalism's decisively defining separations: since the laboring person cannot fully exercise control over the instrument of labor in the process of production as long as she is subject to market caprice, this first task, carried to completion, will overcome the separation of producers producing independently for market as well as overcome the separation of the working person from the means of production.

BUT: what do we mean by 'new historical form'?

I've argued that since capitalism has made the means of production social, the task of recovering the union between the laborer and the conditions of production can only be achieved by discovering forms of association that are democratic. The transition to socialism is a matter of winning the battle of democracy at the point of production in the process of production; there cannot be full democracy in society short of that; there cannot be that without full democracy in society.

So we can break this down into two steps:

First task -- interpret the world: find out how it is that capitalism reproduces itself -- what are the underlying mechanisms, what accounts most basically for capital's ability to maintain itself as what it is; what is it that it must preserve in order to adapt to changes in its environment?

Second task -- change the world: those features of social life that account for the reproduction of capital must be changed and we must keep changing them until the task is carried through to the end.

I don't think we need a model to tell people that what the bourgeoisie celebrates is not the individual, but boundaries, metes and bounds, separation walls, and that we need to get beyond those separations that prevent us from associating with one another for our common benefit.

Get that idea across, model some behaviors that exemplify it, and people will be infinitely inventive about how to go about it.

By all means suggest examples, models, concrete ways forward, things to do right now -- whatever provokes initiative. Worked out details provoke; an inspired utopia may provoke. But it's the task that controls the agenda, not details of the model. We can shift attention from models to tasks. And the task presented is overcoming capital's defining separations.


  ----- Original Message -----
  To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
  Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2011 2:06 PM
  Subject: Re: [OPE] market - and other kinds of - socialism

  Ian, Paul B, Paul C, Dave Z and others:
  I had a curious experience reading what Paul B and Ian wrote: I found
  myself agreeing with the thrust of what both were saying and
  even realizing that I - at different times - made similar arguments.
  Upon reflecting on this further, I realized that the two kinds of arguments
  that you are making are NOT mutually exclusive.
  The key to understanding why is to realize that actually both sides in this
  discussion have valid points to make.
  For instance, I believe there is a legitimate danger associated with
  elites, especially technocrats, developing plans for future socialist
  societies. We have, after all, a number of historical experiences in
  which technocrats and planners made the decisions (often, predictably
  from a technocratic perspective) RATHER THAN working people. In that
  context, I think it is legitimate to say that ULTIMATELY working people
  in practice will be the ones who should make the decisions about
  the organization of socialist society.
  Yet, at the same time, I am sympathetic to Ian's argument that
  explaining the basics of how a socialist society would work is
  practically important NOW because working people will demand
  to know what they are fighting for - and how this will be DIFFERENT
  FROM some of the authoritarian, repressive experience that they have
  heard about and want no part of.
  The way to resolve this tension, I think, is to recognize that we should
  support the right of working people to ultimately make the decisions
  about how socialism will function in a particular context and at the same
  time raise for public debate now different possibilities and the dangers
  and opportunities associated with different conceptions.
  In some ways, I think this is similar to the debate between utopians and
  dystopians: if we make an attempt to understand the concerns of each group,
  we can see that both groups have legitimate concerns and that the
  divide between them is not insurmountable.
  In solidarity, Jerry
> > The point to remember is that capitalist societies will have a common
> > structure of exploitation and reproduction. Socialist societies that are
> > this able to run the show , ratehr than having the show run them, will
> > show a very great variation in structure and experiment, and this is
> > only to be discussed, by the working class itself, as they create such
> > societies.
> >
> > We can't have the answer before the answer, and we have to build it.
> I think your view is common but I don't think it makes sense, and (to
> be frank) I also think it creates a material barrier to the
> development of socialist consciousness.
> When working people are confronted with Marxist ideas they naturally
> ask what we intend to replace capitalism with. Answering along the
> lines of, "the class as a whole will work it out in practice during
> the revolution", isn't very convincing, even if some comments of
> Marx's seem to support it.
> The view seems to rely heavily on a black-and-white (non dialectical)
> categorization of historical time into non or pre-revolutionary
> situations and the revolutionary situation. Only when the situation is
> deemed to be revolutionary (by who?) is the issue "to be discussed"
> because -- presumably -- only in this situation can the theory be put
> into practice. But adequate theory is essential to good practice (and
> vice-versa). And plenty of practical activity can be organized today
> around ideas and projects of alternative economic organization.
> I have (in practice) always found this view deeply problematic. For
> example, as a member of the working class I have thought about and
> discussed alternative economic organizations (including learning from
> prior history and practice). I have been told by (some) socialists to
> basically shut up and stop thinking about it. I am certainly not alone
> in this. For example, whole generations of activists associated with
> certain socialist parties in the UK have been trained to *not think
> about these issues*. I think it's a crippling philistinism.
> In contrast, if socialist activists were theoretically armed with good
> answers to these kinds of questions (e.g., what will we place
> capitalism with? How will we organize an economy? Who will get what?
> etc.) I think they'd get a lot more traction with the working class.


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Received on Tue May 3 23:24:14 2011

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