[OPE-L] Socialism and markets

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jan 18 2006 - 15:37:24 EST


It occurred to me you might think that what I wrote was a bit tepid. Well
like I say it is often difficult to talk about these things in-the-abstract,
without seeming to vent a banality. I am well aware most socialist
revolutions involve expropriation of property, and where is the morality in
that? In passing tonight, I just talked to a bright woman who claimed she
was a Venezuelan petrol engineer, and she couldn't see it but she believed
in the wide-open globalised economy, and so on. Well I think there's several
points to consider.

Firstly, of course, expropriation occurs all the time WITHIN capitalism, and
where's the morality in that?

Secondly, socialist revolutions haven't occurred willy-nilly but typically
in response to brutal conditions. The Russian revolution for example was a
direct, defensive response to a world war that cost millions of workers
their life and limb, a war in which they had no interest whatever. Mr
Chattopadhyay may be a very erudite scholar who can teach us about socialism
as a theoretical category, but - if I may be permitted to say so - I think
his case as offered stinks. All very well to talk about the "sanctity of
property", until you realise that people will commit bloody mass murder to
keep the loot - never mind prattle about ethics and sound morals and the
good of humanity. The bourgeois will of course scream "more police" but part
of our job is to try making sure that more police aren't necessary, because
people put their brain into gear and remember who they are.

Finally, there are also ways and ways to go about that expropriation, come
to that - in a disciplined, countenanced way, or e.g. as a sort of
generalised vindictive robbery. In Chattopadhyay's defense, there is
obviously also plenty irrefutable evidence of the excesses of the Russian
communists, inspired by an exaggerated - and analytically baseless -
paranoia about the "class enemy". I have no crystall ball that can tell me
how things will go in the future, even if I have my hunches, but to my way
of thinking there is, come to that, always a distinction to be made between
a justifiable expropriation based on a clear moral code, and criminal
activity devoid of any moral integrity.

For these reasons, too, I do think moral discussion is very relevant,
whatever your socialist stance might happen to be, and it is very unhelpful
if Marxists dismiss it, by conflating lived morality and moral theory
simplistically with "moralism" and ideological delusions. There has to be a
clear and reasonable relationship between means and ends; if we measure with
double standards, it will rebound on us. That's why I think an experiential
ethics, based on verifiable facts, is essential if we are to make good moral
evaluations. I'm also well aware of Hegel's quip that "one can find a reason
for anything", but as for myself, I prefer the company of rational, thinking
people to loonies.

I talked to a old Trotskyist here once who said to me "do you know why we
established a base here [in Holland]? Because nothing ever happens here."
What a wonderful stance... actually, there is a lot happening here, even if
people aren't walking around with AK-47s. And I tend to think that the moral
debates occurring will have a decisive impact on the future; it so happens
that the armed conflicts actually solve less and less problems anyway, and
those problems include people being hoodwinked by insipid inanities such as
"the war against terrorism" and the "Iran nuclear threat". Benjamin Franklin
would roll over in his grave.

As an aside, BBC ran an interesting radio clip on the electricity supply
somewhere in South Africa, people were tapping electricity illegally and
they were spending millions of dollars trying to block illegal connections
(SA is often portrayed as a sort of AIDS-infested sexual jungle, i.e. though
apartheid was wrong, the blacks can't manage their own society). Call me a
"gas-and-water socialist", but I think if you want to talk morality, here is
a real problem socialists have to tackle somehow on the basis of what the
facts are, never mind odes to Lenin and Marx. I'd be interested to hear what
Patrick's ideas are.


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