[OPE-L:8421] Re: Socialism

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 11:47:14 EST

-------- Original Message --------
Betreff: Re: [OPE-L:8410] Socialism
Datum: Sun, 02 Feb 2003 17:28:37 +0100
Von: Michael Eldred <artefact@t-online.de>
Rückantwort: artefact@webcom.com
Firma: http://www.webcom.com/artefact/
An: clyder@gn.apc.org
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Cologne 02-Feb-2003

Re: [OPE-L:8410]

clyder@gn.apc.org schrieb Fri, 31 Jan 2003 11:43:48 +0000:

> Quoting Michael Eldred <artefact@t-online.de>:
>  > > The landowning class in scotland - all 1284 families of it, are
> > > aghast that the new Scottish Parliament has just passed a land
> > > reform bill. They characterise this mild measure as the tyranny
> > > of the majority and intend to appeal to the European court.
> > >
> > > One should be very chary of accepting liberal constraints on
> > > democracy.
> >
> > There can be no acceptance of liberalism at all, which is based on the
> > principle
> > “Government has no other end but the preservation of Property”, a man’s
> > property
> > being “his Life, Liberty and Estate”. Dissociated private property is also
> > the
> > basis of the mode of human being called individualism.
> Yes I agree, that is why revolutionary socialist movements
> are typically anti-individualistic.

Then it is an issue not of economic gain but of the way in which people
want to
lead their lives. And, on a deeper, philosophical level, there is the
question of
human being as such, its historical possibilities and the adequate
relations in line with these possibilities. The feminist movement, for
is essentially an individualist movement borne by the striving of women
to come to
stand as self-determining individuals, free of traditional ties and

Individualism should not be confused with egoism or capriciousness,
which often
happens. In the West, the notion of the individual has deep historical
roots which
go back further than the modern age of human subjectivity to -- you
guessed it --
to the Greeks. The distinction between the _idiotaes_ (private
'idiot', some who 'owns himself') and the _politaes_ (member of the
polis) is
fundamental for Greek thinking on social life. _idios_ means 'one's own,
pertaining to oneself, peculiar to oneself, private'. An _idiotaes_ is
someone who
is 'his own person', independent, who belongs to him/herself and not to
another or

The very notion of private means a deprivation of access of the public
into a
protected sphere of life in which the individual has his or her 'own'.
The private
sphere is a protected sphere of life into which the member of society
can withdraw
and whose existence is sanctioned by society as protected. The
_idiotaes_ has 'his
own' in his sphere of privacy, his _ousia_, i.e. his belongings, estate.

The ancient Greeks (and not just the Greeks) saw that the greatest
danger for
humans is represented by other humans in all sorts of ways, not least of
all by
virtue of the public opinion held about an individual or a class of
people. In
allowing a distinction between private and public life, a possibility of
withdrawal is granted and guaranteed for the individual.

In particular, everything which cannot present itself to average
understanding as
comprehensible is endangered by public opinion, which tends to make
short work of
what it cannot understand, be it art or philosophy. Only that which
seems useful
to average understanding in some way and can justify itself in such
terms is then
secure in its existence. The reign of the reproduction of mediocrity is
established. Art and philosophy become political, i.e. they degenerate
into a
position of dependancy on average understanding with its political
etc. Those exceptional individuals with something in mind which is
strange and
scarcely comprehensible for others and who may therefore carry the germ
of an
alternative possible future, in which the world is cast in an other
way,  lose the
sanctuary which private life affords.

> > I take it that socialism is not based merely on brute political power play,
> > but
> > claims a superior notion of (social) justice.
> Of course it will, but appeals to superior notions of justice
> have very different impressions on different social classes.
> Supporters of the landowners are making some of the sort sof
> arguments you advance in the English press at the moment.
> They appeal to the ideas of a 'property owning democracy',
> in fact of course they are defending the rights of the
> feudal class against democracy. The general mass of the population
> here gives little credence to these appeals.
> Any class attempts to universalise its interests in the
> ideological sphere, but we should see beyond these
> appeals to the interests that underly them.

I can't comment on the Scottish situation, but the appeal of individual
liberty is
not merely a disguise for economic class interests of the better-off.
The appeal
of individual liberty is that of a way of living in itself.

> > If some sort of socialist government expropriates private property owners in
> > some
> > more or less radical way, justice being some notion or other that the goods
> > of
> > social living are allotted fairly so that "each has his own" (Plato,
> > Aristotle),
> > is this justified on the basis of:
> >
> > a) The majority wanting to have more (_pleonexia_) and enforcing this with a
> > majority vote (De Tocqueville's tyranny of the majority)? or
> >
> > b) The majority wanting to have more and justifying this by demanding
> > quantitative
> > equality of distribution of wealth throughout society? (levelling principle)
> > or
> >
> > c) The majority wanting to have more and justifying this by claiming that it
> > is
> > exploited directly or indirectly by those wealthier through the extraction
> > of
> > surplus-value? (LTV justification)or
> >
> > d) The majority wanting to have more and justifying this by claiming that it
> > is
> > unjust that it has to work under the command of a hierarchy based on private
> > property rights? (oppression justification) or
> One would expect all of these different arguments to be
> used to justify socialism in one way or another.

The question is then whether they stand up to scrutiny, and whether, in
particular, those with less material wealth wanting to have more at the
cost of
those with more is an adequate conception of justice. All these
arguments should not be regarded simply as rhetorical or propagandistic
weapons in
political struggle implemented to sway public opinion, but must be
examined more
deeply to see whether they are true.

> > If socialism is based on an appeal to the (shifting) majority getting more,
> > then
> > those with more in any respect have to live with the constant danger of
> > being
> > expropriated at any time, as soon as a majority is mobilized politically
> > against
> > them. In particular, there cannot be any such thing as markets based on
> > exchange
> > between free parties, because trading inevitably leads to inequalities in
> > the
> > distribution of wealth.
> That is why Owenite/Marxian socialism has historically been oposed to
> an economy based on market exchange between free parties. The whole
> of Marx's Capital is designed to show what you say above.

So the question is whether inequalities in the distribution of wealth is
essential hindrance to the members of society as a whole living well
materially) and whether the attempt to politically enforce equality in
distribution of wealth does more harm than good for society living well
on the

Consciously associated economic activity, as opposed to economic
activity sociated
in a reified way through markets, implies, as you say, a primacy of
political and
a suppression of the individual as such. It is no historical accident
that also
the historical attempts at socialism and communism have been extremely
In societies where a private sphere is no longer respected, the claims
of the
social realm become totalitarian.

> > On this view, socialism is based, like capitalism, on the striving for more
> > (the
> > Gewinnst, the gathering of all opportunities for gain), but with different
> > (and
> > perhaps constantly shifting, political-power) rules of play.
> > Since private property is abolished, no individual can ever be secure
> > in
> > what he or she owns. Instead, political power itself (instead of money)
> > becomes
> > the medium through which wealth is acquired and held onto. Doesn*t this
> > sound familiar?
> In Althusserian terms, socialism is characterised by the
> primacy of the political/ideological instance in distinction
> to capitalism where the economic is primary.

This schema is in line with Marx's 1859 Preface with its distinction
economic base and superstructure. But the historical materialist schema
must be
regarded as programmatic -- programmatic namely for Marx's projected
system for a
theory of bourgeois society. of which he carried out only the first
part, on the
economic base.

Attempts have been made in various ways to continue Marx's project of a
theory of
bourgeois-capitalist society as a whole, and there has also been
attempts in the
other direction to go back into the foundations of Marx's social
critique and
reassess the value theory.

I now think that it is more important to loosen up the foundations and
uncover, in
particular, the conception of human being itself which implicitly
underlies the
value theory. The conceptions of class struggle, oppression and
exploitation of
one class by another, etc. are, to my mind, tainted with envy, malice
resentment and also a naive conception of the innocence of those who are
materially not well off. But human being as such is ineluctably exposed
to the
difference between good and bad. Good and bad are not subject to a
class distribution. That is what makes Marxism so naive on the one hand
violent on the other. With its proposal of levelling differences in
wealth, socialism is the natural place of gravitation not only of those
who have
less materially, but also of those who feel themselves short-changed by
life in
various, mostly diffuse ways.

> > > > > Similarly with property redistribution. You have to appeal
> > > > > to the immediate self interest of people.
>  > >
> > > That has a bit of Christian moralising tone to my ears. I doubt it is
> > > practical politics.
> >
> > The appeal of the underdog majority getting more is just as Christian in its
> > justification.
> A fair point if we take Kautsky's view or the origins of Christianity.
> >
> > > You can not both have socialism and keep pension schemes based
> > > on the stock market. This just illustrates what I was saying about
> > > there being real contradictions within the category of employees
> > > vis a vis socialism.
> >
> > Indeed. In fact, all kinds of pension and superannuation schemes are tied to
> > the
> > stock and bond markets in some way. Only the (socialist) state, with its
> > monopoly
> > of force, can change those rules of play for saving up wealth for old age.
> Not true.
> Only funded superannuation schemes have this character. There exists
> another class of superannuation schemes that are common in the public
> sector here were pensions are paid out of deductions from the wages
> of those currently working.

Yes, this is the 'instantaneous heater' model of social security (as
opposed to
the 'storage' model), which has its specific dangers. 'Transparency' --
yes, in a
certain way, but also living from hand in mouth. Savings allow more room

> These have the advantage of transparency in the sense that in the end
> all pensions have to be met out of currently produced income. The idea
> that they can be funded out of the stock market is ultimately an
> illusion, and one which in the current state of the stock market
> is currently collapsing. The entire private pensions sector in
> the UK is hovering on the edge of insolvency through the fall
> of the market.

In Germany currently, the state pension scheme, based on the
flow-through system
of deductions from workers' wages you describe above, is inexorably
through demographic changes and chronic high mass unemployment and low
rates paid on the reserves.

Why an illusion? As long as capital makes profit, all stakeholders can
and do
benefit. That risk is inevitably involved is in line with life itself
willingness to take a risk. The notion of the welfare state as a social
cocoon is
itself an illusion insofar as leading one's life is an open project.
Human life,
both individually and socially, is dangerous, subject to risk. Without
risk-taking, human being itself becomes poorer and degenerates -- its
complacent, self-satisfied and at the same time anxious and fearful.

> > > > I think, in this regard, that we have to show to workers that socialism
> > will
> > > > be _far more democratic_ than capitalism for socialism to win mass
> > support.
> > > > This means building democratic institutions in every community and work
> > site
> > > > including workers' control in industry.  Here again, though, there may
> > be
> > > > conflicts between the 'general' interest and the interest of individual
> > > > groups of workers.
> > >
> > > I agree.
> >
> > The question is whether "_far more democratic_" in the end means 'far more
> > tyrannical', the tyranny residing in the notion of "general interest", which
> > is an
> > infinitely malleable, fictititious, political variable.
> >
> As a good Aristotelean you should know that democracy is no
> more than the despotic rule of the poor. Why else should it
> be supported?

I haven't found that in Aristotle.

The majority composed of those with less material wealth than average
therefore dissatisfied (assuming a distribution of material wealth
skewed towards
the top) have their leaders who are able to sway public opinion
skilfully this way
and that. It is these leaders who gain and wield power, not the
'masses', not a

If it is decreed that social wealth be distributed equally, this is also
the end
of any private sphere, for there cannot be any private life without
material goods to which society or the 'majority' is deprived access.
How people
can live is then socially regulated. There is no longer any private
business that
is nobody else's business, especially not society's or the majority's.

Moreover, decreeing equality of wealth is easier said than done. The
striving of
individuals to have more cannot be eradicated so easily. If market
activity no longer provides opportunities for gain, acquiring political
certainly does to many different degrees, on both grand and petty
Outlawing individual striving for gain only makes it socially
illegitimate -- it
does not eradicate it.

The only good Aristotelean is a critical Aristotelean. Everybody else is
uncritical, unwitting Aristotelean, because Aristotele is a founding
thinker of
the Western world and his thinking infuses _everybody's_ thinking,
unknowingly, to the present day. Only reading Aristotele allows one to
i.e. to make distinctions and decisions and thus distance oneself from
unconsciously adopted ways of Aristotelean thinking. Those who imagine
Aristoteleanism was overcome with the start of the modern age and the
rise of the
mathematical sciences are deluded about the depth and compass of the
reach of the Greek beginning.

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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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