Re: [OPE-L] Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz.

From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@GN.APC.ORG)
Date: Tue Aug 14 2007 - 17:25:22 EDT

I attach my contribution to the jungewelt series on marxism in 21st century
which came out along with Michaels.

Quoting glevy@PRATT.EDU:

> ---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
> Subject: Fwd: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or  more
> scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz.
> From:    "michael a. lebowitz" <>
> Date:    Mon, August 13, 2007 4:48 pm
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Hi Jerry,
>          In case you haven't seen this--- it was written for Junge
> Welt, a German left daily,
>   in advance of a Berlin conference on Marxism for the 21st
> Century:
>          in solidarity,
>            m

> >Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2007 13:03:39 -0700
> >From: "Marx Laboratory" <>
> >To: "Marx Laboratory" <>
> >X-ASG-Orig-Subj: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool
> >or more scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz.
> >Subject: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more
> >scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz.
> >
> >
> >Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more scholasticism?
> >
> >  'We need to return to Marx's premise - the vision of a society
> > of  the 'rich human being', one in which there is the 'absolute
> > working out of his creative potentialities,' the 'complete
> > working-out of the human content,' the 'development of all human
> > powers as such the end in itself'. In short, we need to embrace the
> > vision of 'socialism for the 21st Century'.
> >
> >Radical Notes
> >Monday, 13 August 2007
> >
> >  Michael A. Lebowitz
> >
> >'Save me from these so-called Marxists who think they have the key
> >to history in their back pocket! Save me from disciples like those
> >who followed Hegel and Ricardo!' Few people understood better than
> >Marx how a theory disintegrates when the point of departure for
> >theoretical work is 'no longer reality, but the new theoretical form
> >in which the master had sublimated it.'
> >
> >Happily for him, Marx was spared the spectacle of disciples
> >scandalized by the 'often paradoxical relationship of this theory to
> >reality' and accordingly driven to demonstrate that his theory is
> >still correct by 'crass empiricism', 'phrases in a scholastic way',
> >and 'cunning argument'. Lucky Marx who (if Engels is to be believed)
> >was before all else a revolutionary whose 'real mission in life was
> >to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist
> >society' - he missed the affirmation by 20th Century scholastics
> >that what the working class really needs for its emancipation is
> >proof that he was right all along about the transformation of values
> >into prices and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall!
> >
> >How can we today follow Marx's mission and contribute to the
> >overthrow of capitalism? How can we help the working class become
> >'conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the
> >conditions of its emancipation'?
> >
> >In a talk several years ago, subsequently published in Monthly
> >Review (June 2004) with the title, 'What Keeps Capitalism Going?', I
> >stressed two main points. Firstly, if we understand anything from
> >Capital, it should be that capital tends to produce the working
> >class it needs - workers who look upon its requirements 'as
> >self-evident natural laws'. Why? The point is really simple: (a) the
> >wage necessarily appears as a payment for a quantity of labour,
> >thereby extinguishing every trace of exploitation; (b) all notions
> >of justice and fairness are based upon this appearance of an
> >exchange of labour for money; (c) capital, the product of workers,
> >necessarily appears as the independent contribution of capitalists
> >and thereby deserving of a separate return; and (d) workers, as
> >individuals within capitalist relations, really are dependent upon
> >capital in order to meet their own needs and, indeed, are dependent
> >upon particular capitals.
> >
> >Accordingly, in the absence of an understanding of the nature of
> >capital, even when workers struggle, these struggles are for
> >'fairness', for justice within capitalist relations but not justice
> >beyond capitalism - i.e., at best, they reflect a trade-union or
> >social democratic consciousness which does not challenge the logic
> >of capital. Given, then, that the spontaneous response of people in
> >struggle does not (and cannot) go beyond capital, the responsibility
> >of Marxists remains (as always) that of communicating the essence of
> >capital to workers and thus the necessity to go beyond it. But, it's
> >not enough.
> >
> >My second point was that 'For those within the grasp of capital,
> >however, more is necessary than simply to understand the nature of
> >capital and its roots in exploitation. People need to believe that a
> >better world is possible. They need to feel that there is an
> >alternative - one worth struggling for. In this respect, describing
> >the nature of a socialist alternative - and analysing the
> >inadequacies and failures of 20th Century efforts - is an essential
> >part of the process by which people can be moved to put an end to
> capitalism.'
> >
> >Can anyone seriously deny this second point? Given the failures of
> >'real socialism' and the success of capital thus far in the battle
> >of ideas - capital's success in convincing people that 'there is no
> >alternative', contributing to the overthrow of capitalism requires
> >us to demonstrate to working people that there is a socialist
> >alternative to the barbarism of capitalism.
> >
> >Socialism for the 21st Century
> >
> >There is a spectre haunting capitalism now. It's not the socialism
> >of the 20th Century - either real or theoretical. Rather, it is a
> >challenge to capital that starts from the needs of human beings. At
> >the core of the concept of socialism for the 21st Century is a focus
> >upon human development. Marxists need to understand this spectre and
> >its centrality to Marx's thought.
> >
> >The term, socialism for the 21st Century, entered general currency
> >with Hugo Chavez's declaration at the 2005 World Social Forum about
> >the need to reinvent socialism: 'We must reclaim socialism as a
> >thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a
> >humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead
> >of everything.'
> >
> >As I indicate in Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century
> >(Monthly Review Press, 2006), that vision - although not identified
> >yet with socialism - was already present in the Bolivarian
> >Constitution (1999) which talks about 'ensuring overall human
> >development', and about 'developing the creative potential of every
> >human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a
> >democratic society.' And, it was articulated when Chavez talked in
> >2003 about the nature of the 'social economy' which 'bases its logic
> >on the human being, on work, that is to say, on the worker and the
> >worker's family, that is to say, on the human being' - an economy
> >which 'generates mainly use-value' and whose purpose is 'the
> >construction of the new man, of the new woman, of the new society.'
> >
> >This is a vision which rejects the perverse logic of capital and the
> >idea that the criterion for what is good is what is profitable. It
> >rejects the linking of people through exchange of commodities, where
> >our criterion for satisfying the needs of others is whether this
> >benefits us as individuals or groups of individuals. Istvan Meszaros
> >expressed all this clearly in his Beyond Capital when he drew upon
> >Marx to talk about a society in which, rather than the exchange of
> >commodities, there is an exchange of activities based upon communal
> >needs and communal purposes. And, Chavez explicitly embraced
> >Meszaros' perspective in July 2005 when he said 'we have to create a
> >communal system of production and consumption, a new system.' We
> >have to build, he insisted, 'this communal system of production and
> >consumption, to help to create it, from the popular bases, with the
> >participation of the communities, through the community
> >organizations, the cooperatives, self-management and different ways
> >to create this system.'
> >
> >The concept of socialism for the 21st Century which has been
> >evolving in Venezuela combines three characteristics: (a) social
> >ownership of the means of production which is a basis for (b) social
> >production organised by workers in order to (c) satisfy communal
> >needs and communal purposes. (I develop this point in 'New Wings for
> >Socialism' in Monthly Review, April 2007.) At the heart of this
> >concept and permeating all its elements, though, is the essential
> >link between human development and praxis.
> >
> >That focus on practice was present from the outset in the Bolivarian
> >Constitution, which insists that participation and protagonism by
> >people is 'the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure
> >their complete development, both individual and collective.' and in
> >the identification of democratic planning and participatory
> >budgeting at all levels of society and 'self-management,
> >co-management, cooperatives in all forms' as examples of 'forms of
> >association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and
> >solidarity.' With the current development of communal councils
> >(representing 200-400 families in urban areas) as the cell of a new
> >form of state and with proposals for workers councils and worker
> >management, there is definitely a deepening of the commitment being
> >made in Venezuela to what Chavez called 'a new type of socialism, a
> >humanist one.'
> >
> >Yet, as I indicated in Build it Now, given the many obstacles (both
> >internal and external) to this process, it is not clear whether
> >Venezuela's attempt will succeed. Nevertheless, socialism is back on
> >the agenda, a socialism for the 21st Century which has at its core
> >Marx's concept of 'revolutionary practice' - 'the coincidence of the
> >changing of circumstance and of human activity or self-change.'
> >
> >All this should be recognized as a break with thinking about
> >socialism in the 20th Century. In that view, socialism was
> >considered to be the first post-capitalist stage - a society with
> >its own specific characteristics and laws, which was distinguished
> >from the higher stage, communism. Having passed beyond the
> >exploitation and irrationality of capitalism, socialism would ensure
> >the rapid development of productive forces and thus would prepare
> >the ground for the communist society of abundance.
> >
> >While this conception (and the resulting stress upon productive
> >forces) corresponded to the immediate concerns of societies
> >attempting to break with capitalism yet surrounded by more powerful
> >capitalist enemies, the separate stage of socialism was presented as
> >Marx's view of the necessary step that all people would have to
> >take. Marx's own comments about the inherent 'defects' of the new
> >society, further, were taken as a justification for building upon
> >the basis of self-interest - 'to each according to his contribution'
> >would have to be the rule until the development of productive forces
> >had created the society of abundance.
> >
> >But that wasn't Marx's perspective. Rather than two separate stages,
> >Marx understood that the new society necessarily develops through a
> >process - a process in which it transcends the economic, social, and
> >intellectual defects it has inherited from capitalism. And, the
> >specific defect that he identified was not that productive forces
> >were too low but, rather, the nature of the human beings produced in
> >the old society with the old ideas - people who continue to be
> >self-oriented and therefore consider themselves entitled to get back
> >exactly what they contribute to society. Building upon defects -
> >rather than working consciously to eliminate them - is a recipe for
> >restoring capitalism (as experience has demonstrated).
> >
> >In short, just as capitalism developed through a process of
> >'subordinating all elements of society to itself' and by creating
> >for itself the organs which it lacked, so also must socialism
> >develop. In place of the logic of capital and self-interest, the new
> >socialist society develops by inserting its own logic centred in
> >human beings; rather than taking self-interest as a premise,
> >associated producers work to develop new social norms based upon
> >cooperation and solidarity among members of society.
> >
> >Thus, building the new society stresses not the growing production
> >of things but, rather, creation of the conditions for development of
> >human forces - i.e., conditions which replace capitalism's
> >fragmented, crippled human beings with 'the totally developed
> >individual' and permit people to develop through their own activity.
> >With the 'all-round development of the individual,' all the springs
> >of co-operative wealth would flow more abundantly.
> >
> >This concept of socialism for the 21st century rescues Marx's
> >original idea of an 'association, in which the free development of
> >each is the condition for the free development of all,' a society
> >focused upon the 'development of all human powers as such the end in
> >itself.'  It embraces Che Guevara's stress in his classic work, 'Man
> >and Socialism in Cuba', that in order to build socialism it is
> >essential, along with building new material foundations, to build
> >new human beings. Thus, it rejects the practice of ignoring the
> >transformation of social relations and human beings in order to
> >develop productive forces - an unfortunate characteristic of the
> >top-down efforts at building socialism in the 20th century.
> >
> >Marxism for the 21st Century
> >
> >Is there a relationship between the Marxism of the 20th Century and
> >the errors in the attempts to build socialism in the 20th Century? I
> >think there are many. For one, Marxists need to assign the 1859
> >'Preface' (with its formulaic economic determinism) to a book of
> >proverbs and study instead the Grundrisse's insights into the
> >'becoming' and 'being' of an organic system, insights that will
> >permit a better understanding of process. Further, grasping
> >Capital's focus on how relations of production precede and shape the
> >character of new productive forces would help to reduce the worship
> >of technology and the development of productive forces.
> >
> >However, I think there is a problem in 20th Century Marxism that
> >flows from Capital itself. Why don't Marxists automatically begin
> >from the question of human development and the concept of 'rich
> >human beings'? Why do so many Marxists not grasp that Marx's premise
> >in writing Capital was his understanding that real wealth is human
> >wealth, 'the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its
> >production as in its consumption 'and that he wrote from the
> >perspective of a society in which the results of past labour are
> >'there to satisfy the worker's own need for development'? If Marx
> >did not have the socialist alternative clearly in mind, how could he
> >describe the situation where means of production employ workers as
> >'this inversion, indeed this distortion, which is peculiar to and
> >characteristic of capitalist production'? An inversion of what?
> >
> >The problem originates in a misunderstanding of Marx's Capital - in
> >the view that Capital is Marx's study of capitalism rather than an
> >exploration of the side of capital, conducted through the beginning
> >of a critique of the political economy of capital. When you fail to
> >understand the limits of Capital (limits that Marx himself pointed
> >out), it is not surprising that economic determinism, the view of
> >the productive forces introduced by capital as neutral, the
> >treatment of the proletariat as abstract, the inability to
> >understand how 'the contemporary power of capital rests' upon the
> >creation of new needs for workers, the failure to recognize the
> >'general and necessary' tendency of capital to divide and separate
> >workers and the effective disappearance of class struggle from the
> >side of workers all follow.
> >
> >In Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class
> >(Palgrave, 2003) and in the Deutscher Prize Lecture, 'The Politics
> >of Assumption, the Assumption of Politics' ( Historical Materialism,
> >14.2, 2006), I explore the implications of Marx's failure to
> >complete his epistemological project - in particular, the one-sided
> >Marxism that flows from the failure to recognize implications of the
> >missing book on Wage-Labour. Why didn't he ever write that book?
> >Marx was less interested, I proposed, in the completion of his
> >epistemological project than in his revolutionary project.
> >
> >Of course, as followers of Marx, we can do both. However,
> >scholastics and disciples for whom the point of departure is 'no
> >longer reality, but the new theoretical form in which the master had
> >sublimated it' can do neither. We need to return to Marx's premise -
> >the vision of a society of  the 'rich human being', one in which
> >there is the 'absolute working out of his creative potentialities,'
> >the 'complete working-out of the human content,' the 'development of
> >all human powers as such the end in itself'. In short, we need to
> >embrace the vision of 'socialism for the 21st Century'.
> >
> >And, as Marxists who live in this real world, we need to ask how
> >precisely can we help the working class of the 21st Century become
> >'conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the
> >conditions of its emancipation'? What are their needs? What are the
> >barriers that 21st Century capitalism has created to the realization
> >of those needs? What, given their actual conditions of life, are the
> >ways for workers to struggle against capital now? What, indeed, is to be
> done?
> >We need, in short, to understand the conditions which global
> >capitalism in the 21st Century has created. Obviously, they are not
> >ones which we would have chosen. But, they are the only ones
> >available in which we can make history.
> >
> >        *
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >No virus found in this incoming message.
> >Checked by AVG Free Edition.
> >Version: 7.5.476 / Virus Database: 269.11.13/946 - Release Date:
> >10/08/2007 15:50
> Michael A. Lebowitz
> Professor Emeritus
> Economics Department
> Simon Fraser University
> Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
> Director, Programme in 'Transformative Practice and Human Development'
> Centro Internacional Miranda, P.H.
> Residencias Anauco Suites, Parque Central, final Av. Bolivar
> Caracas, Venezuela
> fax: 0212 5768274/0212 5777231
> http//

Paul Cockshott

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