[OPE-L:5854] Re: Re: Hello and Kliman's cat

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Thu, 18 Dec 1997 16:56:24 +0100

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Gerry wrote:

What develops "in the womb" is the proletariat -- the
> "gravediggers" of capitalism. Part of this process of development is
> quantitative (i.e. the increase in absolute and relative size of the
> working class that accompanies the concentration and centralization of
> capital). The other part is qualitative -- a recognition of that
> class of its own capacity for change and its class and revolutionary
> consciousness (of for those who don't prefer the term "class
> consciousness", you may substitute the term "auto-valorization").
> But Jurriaan and/or Allin might have had something else in mind. What is
> it?
My thoughts were more along the lines that it is exceedingly difficult to
create something out of nothing, and that we have to distinguish between
Marx's (and Marxist) rhetoric about socialism being born out of a decaying
capitalist society, and real tendencies anticipating or foreshadowing an
alternative mode of production.
If it is true that capitalist society
forms the (at least potential) basis for socialism, I think this must refer
to much more than the growth of a (potentially) revolutionary subject in
the shape of the modern working class. It must refer to the creation of
technologies and cultural forms under capitalism which, if generalised,
would begin to constitute socialism.
That is to say, for a level-headed perspective on socialism as a possible
future alternative to capitalism, we need more than rhetoric about having
confidence in the working class to build it. It is the task of socialist
intellectuals to try and specify what it would mean to build it, on the
basis of the socio-cultural and technological foundations laid by
capitalist development. You might want to argue that a theory of socialist
economy must 'develop hand in hand with the living class struggle' or
something like that, that "these things will be sorted out in the course of
the class struggles", but this is still rhetoric, it doesn't say anything
about getting on with the real intellectual task, which is to specify the
alternative to capitalism. You cannot build socialism "behind the backs of
the producers" (except in the sense that capitalism achieves an "objective
socialisation of labour" to use Mandel's concept). A clear consciousness
of what it is, what the goals are, is imperative.
Let me put the matter yet another way: it is a psychological law, that you
cannot achieve a goal unless you can clearly specify what it is. For
example, currently I am looking for a job that pays some money, but I have
a difficult time to specify exactly what sort of job I want, need or could
do and align that with what's on offer. Now if that is the case, if I
don't really know what I want, then it becomes difficult to find what I am
looking for, or for people to help me find one !
So anyway if you cannot specify in an acceptable way what socialism looks
like, then you cannot achieve it, and you cannot properly recognise
progressive tendencies within capitalist society, things we would like to
keep and encourage in a socialist society. And here is the greatest
in Marxist thought in my opinion. We are extremely good at critiqueing and
analysing capitalism, better than anyone else. But typically the Marxists
don't concern themselves with thinking about alternatives, but rather with
opposition, with "oppositionism". At the risk of crudification, the
attitude is "capitalism is bad, socialism is good". (incidentally this is
not K. Marx's own approach; he considers
capitalism both in its progressive and anti-human aspects).
So anyway we know why capitalism is bad, but why/how socialism is better
remains a bit woolly and vague. In fact Marxists engage typically in a
sort of negative thinking. Marxists are mostly not so much "pro-socialist"
(except in the rhetoric) but "anti-capitalist" and "anti-refomist". Very
few authors (such as Paul and Allin which is to their credit) have
actually tried to specify what socialism would specifically look like, how
it would work. Because of that lacuna I have mentioned (the absence of a
clear alternative) the reformists typically win hands down, because they
concentrate on feasible changes which really improve people's lives in the
here and now, "within the system".
A related problem is that these days it is the fashion to dismiss the
attempts at planned economy which there have been as "Stalinist
monstrosities" or to deny they were planned economies at all in any shape
or form (e.g. Ticktin, Furedi). If you go along with that sort of
argument, then then there is nothing to be learnt about socialism from
these first experiments with an alternative mode of economic regulation,
and there really exists no experience at all of anything approaching
socialist economy. It occurs to me that this is a normative, idealist view
to take. Now idealism is fun and personally rewarding maybe but it doesn't
give practical answers about the functioning of a different sort of
economy, a socialist economy that is really feasible. Rhetoric about
"workers power" etc. does not solve very much, as Alec Nove points out.
Socialism does not drop ready-made out of the sky. In the real world,
revolutionary change and a new way of regulating the economy come about
through deep crises and wars. This happened in Russia, China, East Europe,
Nicaragua, Cuba and so forth. It seems a bit facile to say like many
Trotskyists do "well these societies were horrible and they just weren't
socialist, so we don't have to worry or study anymore about what they did".
Rather, these societies in my view "at least in part" foreshadow the
socialist alternative of the future, to the precise extent that people in
these countries actually tried to grapple practically and intellectually
with the problem of macro-economic planning and introducing alternative
forms of association (however bureaucratically-inspired their attempts may
have been). I think there is something to be learnt from that for a theory
of feasible socialism. For example there are things to be learnt from
Preobrazhensky, Bukharin, Brus, Horvat to name only a few theorists
(undoubtedly many Trotskyists or left-communists will go frothing at the
mouth at this point !).
When Marx adopts a labour theory of value, this isn't just to prove how
capitalist society is a class society like before, or to prove exploitation
exists. The law of value is exactly what socialism has to overthrow. So
for me Das Kapital doesn't just critique capitalism. It poses the problem
of: how do you allocate labour and resources in a way superior to the
market mechanism ? That is the critical question of socialism and unless
there is a convincing answer to it, people will stick with capitalism or
semi-capitalist type of regimes.



PS - I generally agree with Paul (or was it Allin ?) about "mode of
production" except
that (1) I follow Marx in seeing a mode of production as a specific
combination of forces and relations of production forming an organic, and
more or less self-reproducing whole, (2) I don't think the
production/appropriation of surplus product is necessarily a defining
characteristic of "mode of production", since primitive modes of production
often do not produce any surplus (that's why they are "primitive"). Marx
of course concentrates on the major modes of production characterised by
class relations, but there have been many more forms of society where there
are no real class relations at all, and where the productivity of labour is
so small there is no real surplus product and no accumulation process. (3)
I don't think the National Health Service is "communist", because communism
involves more than just the "economic" side of things. I think what
Cockshott means is that the NHS exemplifies a practical application of the
principle "to each according to need" which is a communist idea, something
which runs counter to the logic of capitalism. I think the reason why many
Marxists would reject such a view as Cockshotts, would be because it plays
in the hands of left-wing reformists who might think they are "building
communism by building the National Health Service" and similar projects,
which would seem to be untrue.