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Tuesday, May 18, 2021


I would like to respond to the comments of David Palmeter and “Marcel Proust” but I think they are too long to reproduce here so I will count on people who are interested to read them before reading this post. I agree with the thrust of both comments.


Let me begin by saying that the proper question is not “What will socialism look like when it arrives?” as though it were a foregone conclusion that something called “socialism” but rather “How should we organize an economy and society based on the collective ownership of the means of production?” now that such a state of affairs is for the first time structurally and organizationally possible. The word “socialism” is a placeholder, not an answer to a question, and as David Palmeter indicates in his comment, there are dangers to be guarded against as well as opportunities to be seized and questions to be answered.


Is it possible – or desirable – to maintain the explosive economic growth manifested by capitalism without private ownership of the means of production? What legal and political defenses can be designed to protect against tyranny or simply the inevitable desire of those in positions of collective leadership to protect and augment their influence? Can the freedom and independence of the press be maintained in some way other than private ownership of newspapers and television stations?  (Indeed, we might ask, is freedom and independence of the press maintained now by such private ownership?)


These are not rhetorical questions intended to close off discussion and leave us sadder but wiser with the conclusion that capitalism is the best we can do. They are genuine questions, answers for which would have to be developed and defended in an economic system grounded on collective ownership rather than private ownership of the means of production.


Would it be best to permit even very large accumulations of private wealth in the hands of those who themselves initiate innovations in production or distribution but then deny them the opportunity to pass ownership of that wealth to the heirs?


If I may raise in modern form an old question that troubled the Bolsheviks once they took power in Russia, can there be socialism in one country or would collective ownership of the means of production have to be a worldwide rearrangement of affairs?


I do not see these as questions that armchair critics like myself can answer after a bit of thought and study. Not even the wisest and most farseeing social observers in 16th century Europe could have anticipated the development of capitalism in sufficient detail to engage in anything remotely like social planning. The reason why I spend so much time emphasizing the tendencies now observable within capitalism and so little time speculating about ideal futures is that I think all of these questions can only be answered by the struggle and the effort of scores of millions of men and women working to make a better world for themselves and their children.


As for the comments of “Marcel Proust,” alas, I agree with them all too well. I have some confidence in my judgments only about the United States, where I can draw on eight decades of personal observation, and it is clear to me, as I have written on a variety of occasions, that four centuries of slavery and its aftermath have so darkened and distorted our collective social life that for scores of millions of men and women these days the desperate effort to preserve some measure of their white supremacy takes precedence over any consideration of economic justice.


A long time ago, in my writings and public speeches, I argued repeatedly that the secret to remaining politically committed and engaged was to find some way of fighting that one enjoys so that one would continue doing it even when the bands were not playing, the banners were not flying, and the folk singers were not singing our songs. Now that I am not too far from my 90th year, I am compelled to acknowledge that as good advice for my grandchildren because the fight for social justice will still be going on when they are my age.




Anonymous said...

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David Palmeter said...

If “genuine socialism” is an imprecise dream, then it would follow, I believe, that the best course is to work incrementally within the capitalist system that we have. There’s much to do that would improve the lives of millions: single payer health care, more progressive taxation, estate/inheritance taxes for starters. I’d also like to see a congressional investigation into college costs, which in the past half century have increased at a rate double that of medical costs. What would follow after all of this is accomplished remains to be seen. What it means in labeling terms, though, is that we aren’t Socialists or Marxists; we’re liberal Democrats a la Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

james wilson said...

Perhaps I’m wrong, but this, a critical commentary and commemoration of the works of Erik Wright—

—seems to have some bearing on the ongoing discussion here. Perhaps RPW but perhaps not DP will draw sustenance from it? In any case, it is an account of someone who never gave up the struggle, though how he struggled took various forms along the way.

PS. Yes, aaall, when Scots participate in elections for the British Parliament they do have to engage in a FPTP system. What is interesting wrt that is, I think, that even that Westminster-oriented participation now occurs on a national political playing field powerfully constructed by the consequences of the d'Hondt proportional system where elections to the Scottish Parliament are concerned.

marcel proust said...

for scores of millions of men and women these days the desperate effort to preserve some measure of their white supremacy takes precedence over any consideration of economic justice.

Actually, the point I intended with my #2 here was that "the desperate effort to preserve some measure of their white supremacy takes precedence over" many or most considerations of their own economic interests.

F Lengyel said...

Would millions of men and women struggling for a better world ever agree on what that better world is? Unlikely. Would they settle for sufficiency, as opposed to equality? Someone will have to come up with mechanism designs to enable the desired social outcome that millions of men and women are unlikely to agree to.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

First of all; I am not a Marx specialist. I have read "Das Kapital" and I think I can somewhat appreciate Marx's contribution as a clear-sighted analyst of capitalism. However, it would be arrogant of me to claim that I can judge which parts of his scientific work are still relevant today and which are not.

I think it would be less presumptuous to take a general historical perspective and claim that Marx as a man in the middle of the 19th century simply could not see or could only rudimentarily see certain developments of civilization.

Everything that could be called the "scientific-technical-economic complex" only came into focus at the beginning of the 20th century, and I have the feeling that we have not really understood the scope of these ongoing revolutions until today.

The so-called "nomothetic sciences" such as physics have driven technological development, which in turn has provided the sciences with new "tools" to measure even smaller, even more accurately, even further, even longer, even faster, even deeper. Perhaps quantum computers can calculate soon models for which nature needs millons of years of evolution.

I think it would have something of romanticism if one believes that Marx could see all this even on a small scale. But !!!

if one does not let oneself be blinded by the phantastich seeming development and looks a little more exactly, e.g. on the tomato fields of the European Union in the south of Italy, to Calabria e.g. then one sees on the today's day, those mechanisms at work which Marx analyzed crystal clear. Exploitation as you could not even see in Manchester around 1850. Yesterday a friend sent me a photo he had taken himself. 12 workers from Southeast Europe in a German meat factory in an apartment of 60 square meters with a kitchen and a bathroom, and each of them pays 20% of his wage for this accommodation.

So how current can Marx be?

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