Re: [OPE] questions re transition

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Mon Jun 01 2009 - 05:33:22 EDT

howard engelskirchen wrote:
> 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
> forces.
Verily, but the posing is not the answer thereof.
> 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.
Well I am all for democracy, and my advocacy of it is as radical any
that Bettleheim essayed, but I suspect that there is in your text an
element of wishful thinking. One must ask whether a democratic shaping
of the productive forces, would, of itself, yield a configuration of
productive forces and relations more or less amenable to capitalist
> 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.
But none of the above actually says anything about the productive
forces, nor about the development of labour productivity. It is all, and
rather vaguely at that, about social relations.
> 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?
The difference is that I am using the language of statistical mechanics.
One has to think of all of the countries in the world with a statistical
distribution of socialism and capitalism over them and a set of
transition probabilities -- how likely on a per annum basis are
revolutions and counter revolutions.
Further, one has to view this in terms of a distribution over a state
space, analogous to the phase space of Boltzman, but with axes given by
the political structure, the relations of production and forces of
production in each social formation. These axes for each social
formation correspond to Boltzman's x, x', y, y', z, z' for each atom. I
have identified 3 axes for each social formation but one could go to
greater detail. Thus when talking about transitions between socialism
and capitalism one is talking not about microstates defined on the 3
axes, but between two macro states defined by some sort of plane or
hyperplane. Each of these macrostates that we call socialism or
capitalism is compatible with a large number, or ensemble, of
microstates: different configurations of the political superstructure,
different degrees of industrialisation, different mixes of state and
collective or private property. Any actual transition between socialism
and capitalism or vice versa is actually a transition between two of
these microstates : eg Czechoslovakia in 1948 with a particular degree
of industrialisation, particular degree of prior seizure of the estates
of emigrants and rebels etc, to Czechoslovakia in 1950 with state
ownership, dictatorship of the proletariat led by the CP etc. There is
no general transition process. Thus any statistical probabilities we
have for transitions between social systems is
a sum over the ensemble of transitions between microstates.

> 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.
I definitely disagree here. This reduces political economy to judgements
about power politics and downgrades actual economic relations. He
misjudges derivatives over states with actual states. Thus because
according to the then fashionable Chinese line, Kruschov was allegedly
moving towards capitalism at the political level, the mode of production
is characterised as capitalist. This form of argument mistakes a
prevailing wind for a completed sea voyage.
It makes the huge transformation that occured in 88->92
incomprehensible, as the Soviet economy was, according to B, already a
capitalist one.
> 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.
Yes, but how do you overcome it?
Why is there no real engagement in Bettleheim with the ideas put forward
by different soviet writers of the 50s and 60s on the organisation of
the socialist economy?
> 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
> 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.
>> _______________________________________________
>> ope mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list

ope mailing list
Received on Mon Jun 1 05:35:14 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jun 30 2009 - 00:00:03 EDT