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

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Wed May 04 2011 - 21:39:33 EDT

Hi Paul,

Suppose we call it attentionism rather than abstentionism. There are
underlying themes here that should not be ignored. Attention to realism in
the philosophy of science, a turning from empiricism and the assumption that
there are only two kinds of stuff in the world -- either palpable things you
can touch or ideas -- has far reacing consequences for political theory and
practice. I insist on calling attention to underlying mechanisms. It is
not abstentionism to do so. I reject the idea that the project of
revolutionary transformation should be driven by empirical detail to the
neglect of underlying mechanisms. By all means a political party must enter
the struggle to contend for political and economic change, and there is
nothing in what I say to suggest abstention from this. I do doubt the claim
sometimes suggested that if only people saw a proper model of socialism they
would get it. My argument is that on the ground proposals responsive to
real circumstance can be tested by whether they advance the struggle to
overcome capital's separations or not. With that question a very wide
spectrum of engagement can be addressed. There must be attention to it.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Wednesday, May 04, 2011 3:49 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] market - and other kinds of - socialism

> Howard, this sort of abstentionism only makes sense where the working
> class does not have a communist or social democratic party that seriously
> contends for power. Where that exists you can not abstain from the issue
> of what political and economic changes the labour movement is to aim for.
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of howard engelskirchen []
> Sent: Wednesday, May 04, 2011 4:23 AM
> To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
> Subject: Re: [OPE] market - and other kinds of - socialism
> 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.
> howard
> ----- 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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