Re: [OPE-L] Robert Owen

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Thu Oct 19 2006 - 15:15:22 EDT

"Well, a historical approach - historical thinking which traces the  origins
and development of things - is important and useful, I have no  disagreement
there. It is important to know that "things were not always this  way, and
will not always be this way" and that we can contextualise our lives  in this

Am I correct to read in this statement that you discard your claim that my
approach is 'conservative'?

"It is just that I think market relations  should be understood dialectically
in the sense that they imply both autonomy  and coercion. Precisely because
there is this contradiction, you get plenty  of ideologies about markets and
their functioning."

I am not interested in what plenty of ideologies say about markets. Rather  I
am interested in the question what they are in temselves and think that the
best analysis of them is given in the first chapter of the Capital by  Marx.

"And "realistic" utopias should, I think, base themselves more on  what is
maximally achievable within the society that exists. But you are  correct, in
some stormy periods of the past people had much bigger and bolder  ideas
about what human beings could achieve."

Even in not 'stromy# times it is essential to combine short and long term
aims. This means that in our aim to change the world we should combine quantity
and quality,  in Hegelian terms or reform or revolution in Luxemburgian
sense. Only that would enable us to achieve the 'maximum' - even in capitalist

"I wouldn't say so generally that "Markets are progressive  compared to feudal
institutions" - in some ways, e.g. a serf who was tied to  the land could be
better off than a propertyless proletarian. Moreover there  were plenty
markets in feudal societies as well. If we view markets  historically, we can
also see that markets themselves have changed a lot over  time, in terms of
what was traded, how it was traded, and under what  conditions."


I think you must give here more reason to enable me to understand  you.

"You argue: "All anti-capitalist-discussions can be traced back  morally to
the concept of mutual recognition or respect. This concept makes  up the core
of social ethics of anti-capitalism." I am not sure if that is  true.
Anti-capitalism in my experience can be motivated by many  diffferent
factors, some more honorable than others."


I agree with you. There can be economic, cultural, political, ethnic etc
factors. My statement was ment to reply to a particular question you  raised.

"You think utopian thought has had always something to do with  emancipation
rather than suppression. But how about the Zionist utopia? It  seems to me
that it contains both those elements. It has been argued e.g.  that Zionism
is a reactionary utopia insofar as it tries to build a Jewish  home over the
corpses of Palestinians.
Or take Stalin's utopia of  "socialism in one country" etc. or Hitler's Third
Reich. Indeed there are  authors who have argued that utopianism contains the
seeds of  totalitarianism. This is obviously going to far. But I think I am
correct in  believing utopias need not be progressive or emancipatory  for


The term utopia is sanctioned by Thomas More's introduction of the term in
social political philosophy and it definitely emancipation. Reactionary notions
 about future are not utopian in Morean sense. They are positivist statement
enlarging the present into the future.

"You argue that "Utilitarian  concept of ethics provides the ethical
foundation of commercial exchange  relations." But what is your proof? I
travelled in quite a few countries, but  in each country you find different
postulated ethical foundations for the  market. To engage in trade requires,
to be sure, some basic behavioural norms  such as consistency and reliability
in making transactions, promise-keeping  and so on. Otherwise there is no
trust, and the trading system breaks down.  But no specific ethical
principles are implied by trade itself, other that  what is required to
settle transactions. Hence markets are compatible with  all sorts of
religions and ethical systems, and indeed all manner of property  relations.
If for example you compare the trading behaviour of the Dutch and  the
Moroccans, there are enormous differences, a world of difference,  even
although essentially the exchanges are of the same type."


Here again I am relying on Marx's analysis of commodity and commercial
exchange relations in the first chapter. I saw many countries and different  social
formations too. To me it is not important how people justify their  exchange
of commodities on the markets but what it realy means to human  relations.
Marx's analysis says that commercial exchange relations are  necessarily

"As long as people pay their bills and do not  cheat too much, it does not
matter what their precise ethics are for the  purpose of trade. That is the
basis of liberal philosophy, you can choose how  you will live. Moreover an
historical approach will show that perceptions of  market ethics are subject
to change with the evolution of markets themselves.  Two hundred years ago it
was perfectly acceptable to trade in slaves, now it  is not. Happiness of the
greatest number?"

Markets have their own laws and these are utilitarian. If you do not stick
to them you will come out as loser. It is not market ethics that chnage but
subject of exchange - the deep and extend of commodification.

"The  establishment of market society requires the commodification of every
thing."  I am not sure about this either. In truth, market society is
dependent on a  lot of non-market activity to exist at all. If this
non-market activity  disappears, the society breaks down. A market society
that reproduces itself  on the basis of the economic laws of the market
requires only that certain  critical resources are commercially supplied. In
Europe, this was the result  of a long process of evolution and revolutions,
through which obstacles to  market trade in critical areas were gradually
broken down. If strictly  everything in life becomes commodified, however, it
is likely society breaks  down simply because we ordinary mortals cannot
afford to buy it all. I am  talking about a situation where e.g. everything I
do, experience and consume  depends on a commercial transaction.


Yes I agree. Market societies depend on a lot of non-market activities. But
this shows the limits of commodifications. For the rest I would like to refer
to  Marx's chapter on original accumulation in the Capital.

I hope these make a sense. For further discussion I like proposing that we
take one subject and go into deep and then go on to the next one and so on. How
 do you think about this? You can choose the subject. I thank you very much.


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