Re: [OPE] question re published letters Engels

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 17:42:25 EDT

 Hi Paul,

Thanks for the link below to the critique you and Allin offer of Bettelheim.
I promised I'd comment on this. I think it's fair to say you do not do
Bettelheim justice. Overall you accuse him of a lot of handwaving -- he
does not present a coherent economic theory of socialist society, or the
laws of motion of communist society (!), or an account of capitalist
ownership as a social rather than a juridical category, or an account of the
contradictions the USSR failed to resolve, etc. But your attentions are
different and you miss the force of his analysis.

For one, B would cheerfully agree that he was no bourgeois hero of theory
riding in with a six shooter to set everything to rights. He thought of
himself, I'm sure, much more as a theoretical worker engaged with others in
making provisional advances in function of facts on the ground on what was
largely unplowed ground. By all means correct and revise. But a
methodological point or two if you're to understand what he's about. Like
Marx, he's pretty explicit about being engaged in a project of what we'd
call today 'scientific realism' -- he wants to locate underlying relations
beneath surface manifestations that can both reveal and conceal. This goes
also to the form/content point: an apple has the form of an apple; if a
given form has new content, then you must specify how the underlying
relations say Bettelheim specifies have been transformed. This kind of
thing can be done, for example, with either the feudal forms of rent or
contract -- in both cases the term came to refer to a quite different set of
social relations than was the case in the middle ages.

So Bettelheim looks past capital as a juridical category -- and socialist
titles of ownership too -- to underlying social relations. What are they?
He's explicit but you don't follow him there. Capital is characterized by a
double separation -- the separation of productive entities from one another
and the separation of direct producers from the conditions of production.
This entirely shapes his account. It defines his idea of what the
transition to socialism must accomplish. Socialist revolution means a
seizure of power and a transformation of forms of ownership. It is much
harder for it to mean a stable transformation of the social relations of the
double separation, and thus socialist relations can be dominant but not
consolidated. There are patterns of behavior that perist and do not
spontaneously disappear. They take conscious, political transformation.
(You seem to miss the significance of the political in his account.)

Real social appropriation, the result of a long historical process, means
working people taking immediate and common control over their processes of
production and their results. He's looking for evidence that moves in that
direction. He wants evidence of socialist cooperation as an indication of
efforts to transform the separation of productive entities and evidence of
workers participating in management as evidence of overcoming the separation
of laboring producers from the means of production. He's looking for
evidence of a new unit of production -- capitalism replaced the feudal manor
with the industrial enterprise; socialism will replace the enterprise.

With the formal subsumption of labor to captial, all capital did at first
was step into a relationship of authority. The same here. Social
appropriation is formal. You have the opportunity to use political power to
transform the two separations so that workers actually begin to take control
over the production of their common wealth. But the material foundation of
this opportunity is a complicated ensemble of social relations, old and new.
The reproduction of the double separation persists. Both consciously and
without any real consciousness of the matter agents/traeger of that
reproduction can form themselves into classes that function to block efforts
to transform capitalist forms of reproduction. A minority can appropriate

Whatever its successes, and they were considerable, Bettelheim suggests that
the USSR did little in the way of moving to a real social appropriation.
Rather than the continuation of class struggle designed to transform the
persistence of capitalist structures, the USSR announced that socialism was
consolidated. But managerial authority was top down and concentrated in a
minority. Workers did not participate in management. Enterprise relations
were largely external and conducted by contract; it was rarely a matter of
workers connecting with workers. There was little in the way of political
initiatives whereby the masses of workers monitored effectively either
political or economic managment.

By the way you are wrong to suggest that Bettelheim was dismissive of
planning. He argues that the efficacy of socialist transformation depends
on it. You confuse this point with his challenge to examples of planning
that mimic or anticipate the market. Without doubt such parallel planning
is possible, can make capitalism more efficacious, and is possible during a
period of transition. But putting a plan in place does not in itself ensure
a transformation of social relations in the direction of a real social

Also, in Economic Calculation he defines a socialist mode of production in
footnote 20 to chapter 2: "the domination of socialist relations of
production over the productive forces;" the precision presupposes an
ensemble of competing structures where, though not fully consolidated,
socialist relations are dominant.


howard engelskirchen
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: <>; "Outline on Political Economy mailing list"
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 5:26 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE] question re published letters Engels

>I can not speak for Jurrian here, who is evidently very able to express his
>own views, but I must say that my own opinion of Bettleheim went down over
>time. I was impressed with him as an undergraduate, but as the 70s
>progressed and successive volumes of his work on the USSR came out and
>seemed to tell me little that I did not know from other sources, and as he
>showed the same obssession with the very early years as one gets with
>Trotskyist historians or with Carr, I became disenchanted. I had been
>hoping for a good historical treatment of the 40s to the 60s and found very
>little of substance.
> Allin and I made some brief criticisms of him in our critique of Ambedcar
> B.R.Bapuji wrote:
>> While referring to Charles Bettelheim and Paresh Chattopadhyay, Jurrien
>> used certain expressions which should not have found place in the
>> discussions of the list. While recognizing the fact that he has the right
>> to differ with any one including Marx, Jurrian should not have used such
>> expressions as 'Marxists Priests', 'Intellectual tyrants' and
>> 'ideological rubbish'.
>> If Jurrien wants to dismiss the analyses of Bettelheim or Chattopadhyay
>> he should demonstrate, not simpy assert, how they went wrong in their
>> analyses.
>> Without doing so, if Jurridian resorts to such unwarranted comments, the
>> said expressions will only apply to him.
>> We would like to register our protest against such comments.
>> Ranganayakamma,
>> Bapuji.
>> B.R.Bapuji, Professor ,
>> Centre for Applied Linguistics & Translation Studies [CALTS] ,
>> University of Hyderabad, Central University post office,
>> HYDERABAD-500 046. (Phone: 040-23133655,23133650 or 23010161).
>> / Residence address: /
>> 76, Lake-side Colony, Near Durgam Cheruvu, [End of Road opp:Madapur
>> Police Station] , Jubilee Hills post, Hyderabad-500033.
>> (Phone: 040-23117302)
>> --- On *Sun, 5/10/09, Jurriaan Bendien /<>/* wrote:
>> From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
>> Subject: [OPE] question re published letters Engels
>> To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list"
>> <>
>> Date: Sunday, May 10, 2009, 11:25 AM
>> I cannot trace a bona fide source for this quotation from a letter
>> Engels wrote
>> to Kautsky. Joseph Green who cites this quote
>> also cannot locate
>> its source.
>> The letter by Engels to Kautsky of 20-9-1884 available in the MIA is
>> about a
>> completely different subject.
>> Charles Bettelheim is not a reliable guide to Marx and Engels, and
>> for example,
>> like Paresh Chattopadhyay, he retrospectively suddenly changed his
>> mind about
>> the nature of the Russian revolution, so that what he had previously
>> described
>> as a proletarian revolution, in one fell swoop became a full-fledged
>> "bourgeois" revolution, even although the Russian bourgeoisie was
>> expropriated and disempowered, and in not a few cases exterminated.
>> These
>> Marxist priests are intellectual tyrants, and if reality does not fit
>> with their
>> moralistic and spiritual schematism, "reality has to take a hike".
>> Personally, I don't want anything to do with that sort of ideological
>> rubbish.
>> But suppose that Engels really did say what he allegedly said in that
>> letter,
>> then it would certainly be very close to what Marx believed (cf. Cap.
>> Vol. 1,
>> pp. 171-173 Penguin edition) except that for Marx, there were many
>> gradations
>> of evolution from "value fixed by custom" to "value fixed by
>> abstract labourtime" and "value fixed by conscious collective
>> decision". These subtleties are of course lost on the vulgar
>> Marxists.
>> Apart from a few mostly rather trivial differences in formulations,
>> in my
>> judgement the views by Marx and Engels on value were in substance
>> exactly the
>> same - both of them however spoke of value and its forms rather
>> loosely, on
>> quite a few occasions. Presumably Marx would never have entrusted
>> Engels with
>> the challenge of editing his manuscripts, if he had not believed that
>> Engels -
>> an intimate friend through four decades - was competent to do an
>> excellent job
>> on them, in the intended spirit.
>> Substantively I think what Marx means is, that with the development
>> of
>> commodity production, the value-content of the product of labour,
>> namely the
>> quantity of abstract labour it represents, becomes an objectified,
>> autonomized
>> economic force, which begins to organise and regulate the labour
>> (this is a bit
>> different than jabbering about "the market").
>> In that case, it is not that the organisation of work has to conform
>> to the
>> (personally held) values of human beings, but rather that the
>> structuration of
>> work and its valuation has to conform to impersonal, objectified
>> economic value.
>> Work becomes just work, a quantity of hours which indeed may not have
>> anything
>> to do with the worker in a personal sense, and exists as an abstract
>> object,
>> independently of the worker.
>> The point of the distinction between "value" and "exchange
>> value" is, that for Marx, "value regulates exchange value", even
>> although it observably seems to be exactly the other way around.
>> It seems to the "valueform theorists", for example, that "the
>> market" dictates the nature of labour activities, but in reality, it
>> is the
>> sum total of labour activities of society as a whole, which dictates
>> the
>> particular labour activities, via market-exchange as the intermediary
>> or nexus.
>> If commodity exchange is abolished in favour of other allocation
>> methods, this
>> objectified force of value disappears, and therefore exchange value
>> can no
>> longer be regulated by value. But this does not mean:
>> (1) that human beings stop making value comparisons between products,
>> (2) that they no longer think that their products have (customary)
>> values.
>> (3) that exchange value necessarily disappears completely.
>> It just means that the conscious value judgements people make "about
>> the
>> allocation of economic resources of society as a whole" begin to
>> control
>> the allocation of society's resources directly. Valuation does not
>> become
>> less important in this, but becomes more important, albeit in a
>> different form:
>> instead of a reified, objectified value exerted on subjects, a
>> socially aware
>> valuation by human subjects themselves.
>> Friedrich von Hayek knew all this very well, but his criticism is
>> simply, that
>> if you remove the "objectified force of value asserted through
>> markets", goods will be misallocated and human beings malformed,
>> because
>> self-interested economic actors are incapable of allocating goods
>> such that
>> their self-interest and the social interest are reconciled; the only
>> objective
>> criterion of social utility is market demand, and the only just
>> rewards and
>> penalties for economic action are delivered by the market.
>> The result of non-market allocation will be all kinds of uneconomic,
>> oppressive
>> and bureaucratic relationships which can only be repaired, if you
>> "let the
>> market pick the winners". You need that market discipline, because if
>> you
>> don't have it, people will just pursue self-interest at the expense
>> of
>> society.
>> But scientific economics (as distinct from ideological economics,
>> whether
>> Marxist or Hayekian or American) is very aware that the misallocation
>> of
>> resources can occur equally because of market allocation, or because
>> of
>> non-market allocation methods, and indeed that what is regarded as a
>> misallocation, is itself partly an ethical judgement, linked to a
>> (class-determined) perception of economic purpose.
>> The conclusion of all that is, that reconciling self-interest and
>> social
>> interest is simply not something that can be achieved by economic
>> engineering
>> alone, at best economics is an "aid" to it.
>> All this is lost on the "valueform theorists" and the
>> fascist-parasitic New Marxist Exploiting Class, who want to "smash
>> value" and destroy markets, in order to impose their bureaucratic
>> dictatorship over the proletariat. These tyrants seem rather benign
>> imbeciles,
>> while they are just waffling about "commodity", "value",
>> "dialectical materialism" etc. but they become brutal dictators when
>> they acquire real power. Consequently, we must be very much on guard
>> against
>> these Marxist enemies of human progress, and cut them down before
>> they get real
>> power.
>> Jurriaan
>> You say you'll change the constitution
>> Well, you know
>> We all want to change your head
>> You tell me it's the institution
>> Well, you know
>> You better free your mind instead
>> But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
>> You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
>> - The Beatles, "Revolution"
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