Re: [OPE] questions re transition

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Sun May 31 2009 - 22:54:07 EDT

Hi Paul,

I agree that questions regarding the transition to socialism are quite open
questions. As you suggest, the evolution of capitalist industry showed
forces of production reshaped in function of the capital relationship. The
capital relation gets written in steel and stone. At first the capital
relation means nothing more than that the worker is subjugated to the
authority of the capitalist. then she is subjugated to the authority of the
machine. This is a theoretical point Bettelheim insisted on: the
development of the forces of production is shaped by the relations of
production. That is the significance of the domination of the relations of
production over the forces of production -- we would want some evidence not
just of material development of the forces of production but of transformed
social relations shaping material development. So at least that question
has been well asked -- to take Bettelheim seriously we have to explore in
what way socialist relations would alter the nature of the productive

Most fundamentally, we'd want evidence that the development of the forces of
production reflected a dynamic not of the accumulation of dead labor but
instead of the enhancement of living labor. And on that point one decisive
kind of reshaping that has to occur is to work out ways associated labor can
develop the productive forces democratically. There's no precedent for
this. That is, the most important productive force is living labor itself,
and I'd want to look to advances in forms of organization as well as to the
material transformation of things. We'd expect the discovery and
transformation of forms of organization to lead to the transformation of
material things. But forms of collective managment of production, forms
that draw on and develop from each according to ability, are significant in
their own right. Kimberle Crenshaw's attention to intersectionality argues
listen first to those at the intersection of multiple oppressions. As we
find forms of organization to do so we will have developed the forces of
production of living labor. That would be a measure.

I'm uncomfortable, though, with your treatment of the transition as a mix of
ensembles. I would want to speak of an articulated mix of structures or
relations: you suggest a mix of societies. Probably I misunderstand, but
what on earth could that mean? Perhaps you're saying the same thing, but
wouldn't it be clearer to say, as Bettelheim does, that immediately after
the revolution there is socialist political authority, but that the
structure of real appropriation remains capitalist? Thus socialist
political and juridical powers must be used to transform capitalist
relations of appropriation. Where socialist political power loses its
connect with the working population and a minority makes decisions that
reproduce the separation of productive entities from one another and the
separation of laboring producers from the conditions of production, then,
even though private property in a juridical sense no longer exists,
nonetheless social reproduction is dominantly capitalist. Formally
socialist but really capitalist. This will lead to interests and
irationalities (output measured in tons? make heavier chandeliers) that may
favor and eventually lead to overwhelming pressure (by the minority) and
sufficient acquiescence to restore traditional ownership forms. But in the
end the ownership form is secondary (though changes in forms of capitalist
ownership also can have significant and destructive effects, as we
witness) -- the main thing is that a minority in power, economically and
politically, functions in structures of real appropriation that reproduce
capital as a social relation.

The key then is to know what capital is and what its transformation would
look like. Marx refers to capital's "Kerngestalt" -- structural kernal --
and Bettelheim identifes this as the double separation. I understand this
as a causal structure -- real and relational, but underlying and not
empirical. So like a chemist manipulating elements to reshape a molecule we
look for its transformation and that is the way we measure the success or
not of societies in transition. That brings us to the questions you raised
in your earlier post. I'll take those up in another email.


howard engelskirchen
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 6:27 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] question re published letters Engels

>> But, the question that you ask is a good one. Both Khruschev and Lenin
>> (but not so much Mao - at least from the Great Leap Forward and after)
>> shared the belief that socialist relations of production would arise as a
>> consequence of increasing forces of production, but there is obviously no
>> necessary reason why this must be the case.
>> The Bolsheviks, especially in the early period, tended to somewhat
>> uncritically glorify
>> the empowering possibilities of advances in technology and
>> industrialization.
>> This romanticisation of industrialization could also be seen in the
>> constructivist
>> art of the period.
> Yes but if we take Bettleheim seriously we have to ask in what way
> would socialist relations of production alter the nature of the
> productive forces.
> If we model the transition between modes of production as a Markov process
> then in any given year there is a certain transition probablility P(c->s)
> for a society going from capitalism to socialism, there is also a
> transition probability for a society going from socialism back to
> capitalism P(s->c).
> If each probability is non zero we will end up with a population of
> societies that is a stochastic mix or capitalist and socialist states.
> Such a transition system has an equilibrium mix and does not show secular
> evolution.
> If we just characterise societies as socialist or capitalist in terms of
> social relations then the above argument is actually an argument about
> transtions between ensembles not individual states. One ensemble we
> characterise as capitalism and
> the other socialism. Within each ensemble or macrostate, there is a
> plethora of microstates characterised by different combinations of forces
> of production with the broadly socialist or broadly capitalist relations
> of production, and also by a plethora of variations of property and
> authority relations within the broadly capitalist or broadly socialist
> categories.
> To show a secular evolution of modes of production such that mode of
> production A is superior to B ( say A= capitalism
> B= feudalism ) then we have to have the property that the reverse
> transtion P(a->b) falls over time. In the capitalist case this was because
> capitalist agriculture and capitalist industry developed new forces of
> production whose operation under the old feudal relations of production
> was improbable. Thus the longer capitalism existed, the less likely a
> feudal restoration became.
> The question one has to ask is whether we can say the same thing about
> socialism. Is it the case that the longer a socialist society exits, the
> more it develops new modes of material production that would be hard to
> operate under capitalist relations of production?
> And if that is the case, does the existence of these new modes and
> techniques of material production reduce the probability of capitalist
> restorations?
> It seems to me that these are quite open questions. On the one hand the
> USSR clearly developed organisations and structures of production that
> were crucially dependent on the all union planned economy. When that was
> removed after the Yeltsin coup there was a wholesale collapse of
> production and a huge increase in mortality rates.
> So the USSR developed forces of production whose continued operation was
> not compatible with capitalism, but the mere existence of these forces of
> production does not itself seem to have been sufficient to reduce the
> transition flux P(s->c)
> towards zero.
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