Re: [OPE-L] Charles Bettelheim

From: Allin Cottrell (cottrell@WFU.EDU)
Date: Fri Jul 21 2006 - 21:38:34 EDT

On Fri, 21 Jul 2006, Howard Engelskirchen wrote:

> Others on the list are more knowledgeable about the details of 
> Bettelheim's life and work, I'm sure, and I would welcome 
> their appraisals...

Thanks for the summary, Howard.  I learned some things I didn't 
know before.

There has been a debilitating presumption in the history of 
Marxism, against specifying "what socialism should look like". 
As a reaction against the detailed and idiosyncratic schemings 
of a Fourier or a St Simon this was historically understandable, 
but taken to the limit it is self-destructive.  It invites a 
caricture of Marxists as bent on the destruction of capitalism, 
in the faith that whatever emerges from the chaos is somehow 
bound to be better.  Most people just don't buy this.

My introduction to Bettelheim came in the early 1970s, when he 
appeared as one member of the "Althusserian wave".  But he stood 
out as someone ready to think and write about socialism itself, 
not just the Marxian critique of capitalism.  In particular, his 
books "La transition vers l'économie socialiste" (Maspero, 1968) 
and "Calcul économique et formes de propriété" (Maspero, 1971) 
were an inspiration for me (and I think Paul Cockshott too).
Bettelheim undertook to apply Marx's method of analysis to the 
Soviet system.

In the end, however, I don't think Bettelheim managed to resolve 
the issues he raised (how many of us do?).  In a much more 
sophisticated form than many others, he tended to fall back on 
the notion of a betrayal by Stalin and co., and more 
particularly on the (bankrupt, IMO) notion of the USSR as "state 

The latter notion attempts to ascribe the undesirable features 
of the Soviet economy and society to "capitalism", thereby -- in 
some notional sense -- preserving the virginal purity of the 
conception of socialism, unsullied by any connection with 

Allin Cottrell

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