From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Tue Oct 17 2006 - 05:34:36 EDT
Dear Jurriaan, thank you very much for your email. you raised some intriguing questuions. You wrote: 'While I wouldn't deny the merits of Robert Owen's (or other progressive utopist) ideas, what always puzzles me is why one would base a utopia on what writers in the distant past have said about it, rather than on the most advanced human relations and technologies created by capitalist development. It seems rather conservative.' Reply: My statemnt is just a plea for historical approach. It is not meant to ignore contemporary practical development and debates. It is one of the paradoxes of the history of ideas. Not everything that is past is past and not everything that is contemporary is actual. Lets take for ecample John Rawls. Some of his ideas are as old as Aristotle and others are overcome long time ago even before Marx. But courious enough he is contemporary. Or lets take F. A. Hayek and Thomas More. Hayek's work is a contemporary one and his ideas are contemporarily the dominating ones. According to Hayek market societies are the only foms of social relations which garantees individual freedom. But in the light of what political economy found out about market relations Hayek's claim is wrong because according to Adam Smith market relations are power relations. They are not about the garanteeing the freedom of the individual but the negation of it. This idea can be traced back to Hobbes and even with some imaginative power to Aristotle. Lets turn to More. His ideas are more than 500 years old. He describes market relations as teding to become autoritarian. He says: 'when everyone's entitled to get as much for himself as he can, all available property, however much there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small minority, which means that everyone else is poor.' (66)* More offers us here a different analysis of market exchange relations. He talks elsewhere about monopolistic and oligarchic structure of markets in which few dominate and determine everything. (48). Now compare Hayek#s and More's statements with the reality. Which of these theories about markets is more contemporary and has to say something about our reality. In short, I am not suggesting ignoring the present. I am just saying that when we want to analyse the present we should look at the history to see whether there are scholars who have to say something about our present. Our present is outcome of the history too. When we talk about the present we talk not only about its phenomenological aspects but also about its nature and More and Owen are only two of the scholars who have to say a lot about the nature of markets. *Th. More Utopia, Pengin Classics, 1965. You wrote: "Simply put, if a socialist society is to grow out of capitalism, this must imply that advanced capitalism generates many of the elements for such a society. By implication, capitalist civilisation cannot be "all bad", it contains also a lot of human progress, and it is precisely that progress that is necessary for transcending a social order which makes human development conditional on commerce. That progress ought to be utilised to the full, not denied." Reply: Progressiveness of capitalism must be seen historically. Markets are progressive compared to feudal institutions. From the view point of what is possible today in terms of improving the quality of life they are no longer progressive. Capitalism and markets are prerequisite for one another. By keeping markets capitalism cannot be oversome. In communist Manifesto Marx and Engels gave in view the best analysis of this issue. What needs to be rescued when overcoming capitalism are the means pof production - not its institutions. Your wrote: "What makes a lot of Marxist "anti-capitalist" discussion so unintelligible, I consider, is (1) the lack of an explicit social ethics (a set of values that can guide behaviour), and (2) the assumption that all market economy is "bad"." "As regards (1), a social ethics is precisely the link between a sober, scientific appraisal of objective reality (which does not necessarily imply any particular course of action) and (more or less utopist) social alternatives and impulses. Utopias are not per se progressive, they can be reactionary, and evaluating them inescapably refers to ethical norms. Vincent Geoghegan writes: "The distinction between utopian and scientific socialism has, on balance, been an unfortunate one for the Marxist tradition. (...) The historical experience of Marxist-Leninist vanguards has shown a strong tendency towards authoritarian utopianism - the formulation by party elites of one and only one vision of the future. This has involved disregarding the aspirations of most ordinary people" (Utopianism and Marxism, London: Methuen, 1987, p. 134-135)." Here you talk about many things at the same time. Engels' distinction of utopian and scientific socialism is a complex issue. It has to do with the question how to solve the IS/OUGHT dichotomy. Marx and Engels think that critical analysis of the present would suggest its alternatives. Their concept of immanent critique is in place here. If we separate OUGHT from IS we would not have any objective criterion to decide which of the alternatives are more reliable. Immanent critique I think provides us with some devices that enable us save us against this relativism. It is not correct to say that anti-capitalist discussions lack of social values. All anti-capitalist-discussions can be traced back morally to the concept of mutual recognition or respect. This concept makes up the core of social ethics of anti-capitalism. I would subscribe to your distinction of progressive and autoritarian utopia if I did accept your broad concept of utopia. But I think utopian thought has had aleways something to do with emancipation rather than suppression. Therefore from my point of view not every notion about the future is utopia. You wrote: "As regards (2), not all market economy is bad, though much of it also is, but the real point is, that market relations themselves imply no specific moral norms of their own, other than what is required to settle transactions. Markets of any complexity could obviously hardly exist without laws regulating contractual and property relations, but even where they are regulated by legally enforced norms, a range of possible behavioural norms exist. To the extent that one is "free to choose" in a market economy, this also implies the freedom to choose what *moral norms* to follow. In turn, this means that what happens socially or politically in a market economy cannot simply be blamed on the corruptive or corrosive potentials of markets or market coercion only - it has to be explained also in terms of the actually lived moralities of social classes, leaders and populations." Reply: I do not analyse capitalism merely in term of ethics but above all in terms of contradictions. It is not correct to say 'that market relations themselves imply no specific moral norms of their own'. Utilitarian concept of ethics provides the ethical foundation of commercial exchange relations. The establishment of market society requires the commodification of every thing. And the commodification of every thing requires the monopolisation of the means of production in the hands of the few. Without this there cannot be markets. This means that one is not free to choose in a market economy. There no free access of everbody to everything that is available. From More's (and from Marx's) point of view markets are autoritarian institutions as almost a negligible minority decides about the needs, consumption, live, lifestyle of a huge majority. This is the nature of markets. Negation of this can only be total emancipation from markets. Dogan.
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