Re: [OPE-L] Robert Owen

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.'


My statemnt is just a plea for historical approach. It is not meant to
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
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
But in the light of what political economy found out about market relations
claim is wrong because according to Adam Smith market relations are power
relations. They are not about the garanteeing the freedom of the  individual
the negation of it. This idea can be traced back to Hobbes and even with
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:
everyone's entitled to get as much for himself as he can, all available
however much there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small
which means that everyone else is poor.' (66)* More offers us here a
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
about markets is more contemporary and has to say something about our

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
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."


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

"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."


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.


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