From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@GN.APC.ORG)
Date: Tue Aug 14 2007 - 17:25:22 EDT
I attach my contribution to the jungewelt series on marxism in 21st century which came out along with Michaels. Quoting glevy@PRATT.EDU: > ---------------------------- Original Message ---------------------------- > Subject: Fwd: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more > scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz. > From: "michael a. lebowitz" <firstname.lastname@example.org> > Date: Mon, August 13, 2007 4:48 pm > -------------------------------------------------------------------------- > > Hi Jerry, > In case you haven't seen this--- it was written for Junge > Welt, a German left daily, > in advance of a Berlin conference on Marxism for the 21st > Century: http://www.jungewelt.de/2007/04-21/027.php. > in solidarity, > m > >Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2007 13:03:39 -0700 > >From: "Marx Laboratory" <email@example.com> > >To: "Marx Laboratory" <firstname.lastname@example.org> > >X-ASG-Orig-Subj: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool > >or more scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz. > >Subject: Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more > >scholasticism? by Michael A.Lebowitz. > > > > > >Marxism for the 21st Century - a revolutionary tool or more scholasticism? > > > > 'We need to return to Marx's premise - the vision of a society > > of the 'rich human being', one in which there is the 'absolute > > working out of his creative potentialities,' the 'complete > > working-out of the human content,' the 'development of all human > > powers as such the end in itself'. In short, we need to embrace the > > vision of 'socialism for the 21st Century'. > > > >Radical Notes > >Monday, 13 August 2007 > > > > Michael A. Lebowitz > > > >'Save me from these so-called Marxists who think they have the key > >to history in their back pocket! Save me from disciples like those > >who followed Hegel and Ricardo!' Few people understood better than > >Marx how a theory disintegrates when the point of departure for > >theoretical work is 'no longer reality, but the new theoretical form > >in which the master had sublimated it.' > > > >Happily for him, Marx was spared the spectacle of disciples > >scandalized by the 'often paradoxical relationship of this theory to > >reality' and accordingly driven to demonstrate that his theory is > >still correct by 'crass empiricism', 'phrases in a scholastic way', > >and 'cunning argument'. Lucky Marx who (if Engels is to be believed) > >was before all else a revolutionary whose 'real mission in life was > >to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist > >society' - he missed the affirmation by 20th Century scholastics > >that what the working class really needs for its emancipation is > >proof that he was right all along about the transformation of values > >into prices and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall! > > > >How can we today follow Marx's mission and contribute to the > >overthrow of capitalism? How can we help the working class become > >'conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the > >conditions of its emancipation'? > > > >In a talk several years ago, subsequently published in Monthly > >Review (June 2004) with the title, 'What Keeps Capitalism Going?', I > >stressed two main points. Firstly, if we understand anything from > >Capital, it should be that capital tends to produce the working > >class it needs - workers who look upon its requirements 'as > >self-evident natural laws'. Why? The point is really simple: (a) the > >wage necessarily appears as a payment for a quantity of labour, > >thereby extinguishing every trace of exploitation; (b) all notions > >of justice and fairness are based upon this appearance of an > >exchange of labour for money; (c) capital, the product of workers, > >necessarily appears as the independent contribution of capitalists > >and thereby deserving of a separate return; and (d) workers, as > >individuals within capitalist relations, really are dependent upon > >capital in order to meet their own needs and, indeed, are dependent > >upon particular capitals. > > > >Accordingly, in the absence of an understanding of the nature of > >capital, even when workers struggle, these struggles are for > >'fairness', for justice within capitalist relations but not justice > >beyond capitalism - i.e., at best, they reflect a trade-union or > >social democratic consciousness which does not challenge the logic > >of capital. Given, then, that the spontaneous response of people in > >struggle does not (and cannot) go beyond capital, the responsibility > >of Marxists remains (as always) that of communicating the essence of > >capital to workers and thus the necessity to go beyond it. But, it's > >not enough. > > > >My second point was that 'For those within the grasp of capital, > >however, more is necessary than simply to understand the nature of > >capital and its roots in exploitation. People need to believe that a > >better world is possible. They need to feel that there is an > >alternative - one worth struggling for. In this respect, describing > >the nature of a socialist alternative - and analysing the > >inadequacies and failures of 20th Century efforts - is an essential > >part of the process by which people can be moved to put an end to > capitalism.' > > > >Can anyone seriously deny this second point? Given the failures of > >'real socialism' and the success of capital thus far in the battle > >of ideas - capital's success in convincing people that 'there is no > >alternative', contributing to the overthrow of capitalism requires > >us to demonstrate to working people that there is a socialist > >alternative to the barbarism of capitalism. > > > >Socialism for the 21st Century > > > >There is a spectre haunting capitalism now. It's not the socialism > >of the 20th Century - either real or theoretical. Rather, it is a > >challenge to capital that starts from the needs of human beings. At > >the core of the concept of socialism for the 21st Century is a focus > >upon human development. Marxists need to understand this spectre and > >its centrality to Marx's thought. > > > >The term, socialism for the 21st Century, entered general currency > >with Hugo Chavez's declaration at the 2005 World Social Forum about > >the need to reinvent socialism: 'We must reclaim socialism as a > >thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a > >humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead > >of everything.' > > > >As I indicate in Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century > >(Monthly Review Press, 2006), that vision - although not identified > >yet with socialism - was already present in the Bolivarian > >Constitution (1999) which talks about 'ensuring overall human > >development', and about 'developing the creative potential of every > >human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a > >democratic society.' And, it was articulated when Chavez talked in > >2003 about the nature of the 'social economy' which 'bases its logic > >on the human being, on work, that is to say, on the worker and the > >worker's family, that is to say, on the human being' - an economy > >which 'generates mainly use-value' and whose purpose is 'the > >construction of the new man, of the new woman, of the new society.' > > > >This is a vision which rejects the perverse logic of capital and the > >idea that the criterion for what is good is what is profitable. It > >rejects the linking of people through exchange of commodities, where > >our criterion for satisfying the needs of others is whether this > >benefits us as individuals or groups of individuals. Istvan Meszaros > >expressed all this clearly in his Beyond Capital when he drew upon > >Marx to talk about a society in which, rather than the exchange of > >commodities, there is an exchange of activities based upon communal > >needs and communal purposes. And, Chavez explicitly embraced > >Meszaros' perspective in July 2005 when he said 'we have to create a > >communal system of production and consumption, a new system.' We > >have to build, he insisted, 'this communal system of production and > >consumption, to help to create it, from the popular bases, with the > >participation of the communities, through the community > >organizations, the cooperatives, self-management and different ways > >to create this system.' > > > >The concept of socialism for the 21st Century which has been > >evolving in Venezuela combines three characteristics: (a) social > >ownership of the means of production which is a basis for (b) social > >production organised by workers in order to (c) satisfy communal > >needs and communal purposes. (I develop this point in 'New Wings for > >Socialism' in Monthly Review, April 2007.) At the heart of this > >concept and permeating all its elements, though, is the essential > >link between human development and praxis. > > > >That focus on practice was present from the outset in the Bolivarian > >Constitution, which insists that participation and protagonism by > >people is 'the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure > >their complete development, both individual and collective.' and in > >the identification of democratic planning and participatory > >budgeting at all levels of society and 'self-management, > >co-management, cooperatives in all forms' as examples of 'forms of > >association guided by the values of mutual cooperation and > >solidarity.' With the current development of communal councils > >(representing 200-400 families in urban areas) as the cell of a new > >form of state and with proposals for workers councils and worker > >management, there is definitely a deepening of the commitment being > >made in Venezuela to what Chavez called 'a new type of socialism, a > >humanist one.' > > > >Yet, as I indicated in Build it Now, given the many obstacles (both > >internal and external) to this process, it is not clear whether > >Venezuela's attempt will succeed. Nevertheless, socialism is back on > >the agenda, a socialism for the 21st Century which has at its core > >Marx's concept of 'revolutionary practice' - 'the coincidence of the > >changing of circumstance and of human activity or self-change.' > > > >All this should be recognized as a break with thinking about > >socialism in the 20th Century. In that view, socialism was > >considered to be the first post-capitalist stage - a society with > >its own specific characteristics and laws, which was distinguished > >from the higher stage, communism. Having passed beyond the > >exploitation and irrationality of capitalism, socialism would ensure > >the rapid development of productive forces and thus would prepare > >the ground for the communist society of abundance. > > > >While this conception (and the resulting stress upon productive > >forces) corresponded to the immediate concerns of societies > >attempting to break with capitalism yet surrounded by more powerful > >capitalist enemies, the separate stage of socialism was presented as > >Marx's view of the necessary step that all people would have to > >take. Marx's own comments about the inherent 'defects' of the new > >society, further, were taken as a justification for building upon > >the basis of self-interest - 'to each according to his contribution' > >would have to be the rule until the development of productive forces > >had created the society of abundance. > > > >But that wasn't Marx's perspective. Rather than two separate stages, > >Marx understood that the new society necessarily develops through a > >process - a process in which it transcends the economic, social, and > >intellectual defects it has inherited from capitalism. And, the > >specific defect that he identified was not that productive forces > >were too low but, rather, the nature of the human beings produced in > >the old society with the old ideas - people who continue to be > >self-oriented and therefore consider themselves entitled to get back > >exactly what they contribute to society. Building upon defects - > >rather than working consciously to eliminate them - is a recipe for > >restoring capitalism (as experience has demonstrated). > > > >In short, just as capitalism developed through a process of > >'subordinating all elements of society to itself' and by creating > >for itself the organs which it lacked, so also must socialism > >develop. In place of the logic of capital and self-interest, the new > >socialist society develops by inserting its own logic centred in > >human beings; rather than taking self-interest as a premise, > >associated producers work to develop new social norms based upon > >cooperation and solidarity among members of society. > > > >Thus, building the new society stresses not the growing production > >of things but, rather, creation of the conditions for development of > >human forces - i.e., conditions which replace capitalism's > >fragmented, crippled human beings with 'the totally developed > >individual' and permit people to develop through their own activity. > >With the 'all-round development of the individual,' all the springs > >of co-operative wealth would flow more abundantly. > > > >This concept of socialism for the 21st century rescues Marx's > >original idea of an 'association, in which the free development of > >each is the condition for the free development of all,' a society > >focused upon the 'development of all human powers as such the end in > >itself.' It embraces Che Guevara's stress in his classic work, 'Man > >and Socialism in Cuba', that in order to build socialism it is > >essential, along with building new material foundations, to build > >new human beings. Thus, it rejects the practice of ignoring the > >transformation of social relations and human beings in order to > >develop productive forces - an unfortunate characteristic of the > >top-down efforts at building socialism in the 20th century. > > > >Marxism for the 21st Century > > > >Is there a relationship between the Marxism of the 20th Century and > >the errors in the attempts to build socialism in the 20th Century? I > >think there are many. For one, Marxists need to assign the 1859 > >'Preface' (with its formulaic economic determinism) to a book of > >proverbs and study instead the Grundrisse's insights into the > >'becoming' and 'being' of an organic system, insights that will > >permit a better understanding of process. Further, grasping > >Capital's focus on how relations of production precede and shape the > >character of new productive forces would help to reduce the worship > >of technology and the development of productive forces. > > > >However, I think there is a problem in 20th Century Marxism that > >flows from Capital itself. Why don't Marxists automatically begin > >from the question of human development and the concept of 'rich > >human beings'? Why do so many Marxists not grasp that Marx's premise > >in writing Capital was his understanding that real wealth is human > >wealth, 'the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its > >production as in its consumption 'and that he wrote from the > >perspective of a society in which the results of past labour are > >'there to satisfy the worker's own need for development'? If Marx > >did not have the socialist alternative clearly in mind, how could he > >describe the situation where means of production employ workers as > >'this inversion, indeed this distortion, which is peculiar to and > >characteristic of capitalist production'? An inversion of what? > > > >The problem originates in a misunderstanding of Marx's Capital - in > >the view that Capital is Marx's study of capitalism rather than an > >exploration of the side of capital, conducted through the beginning > >of a critique of the political economy of capital. When you fail to > >understand the limits of Capital (limits that Marx himself pointed > >out), it is not surprising that economic determinism, the view of > >the productive forces introduced by capital as neutral, the > >treatment of the proletariat as abstract, the inability to > >understand how 'the contemporary power of capital rests' upon the > >creation of new needs for workers, the failure to recognize the > >'general and necessary' tendency of capital to divide and separate > >workers and the effective disappearance of class struggle from the > >side of workers all follow. > > > >In Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class > >(Palgrave, 2003) and in the Deutscher Prize Lecture, 'The Politics > >of Assumption, the Assumption of Politics' ( Historical Materialism, > >14.2, 2006), I explore the implications of Marx's failure to > >complete his epistemological project - in particular, the one-sided > >Marxism that flows from the failure to recognize implications of the > >missing book on Wage-Labour. Why didn't he ever write that book? > >Marx was less interested, I proposed, in the completion of his > >epistemological project than in his revolutionary project. > > > >Of course, as followers of Marx, we can do both. However, > >scholastics and disciples for whom the point of departure is 'no > >longer reality, but the new theoretical form in which the master had > >sublimated it' can do neither. We need to return to Marx's premise - > >the vision of a society of the 'rich human being', one in which > >there is the 'absolute working out of his creative potentialities,' > >the 'complete working-out of the human content,' the 'development of > >all human powers as such the end in itself'. In short, we need to > >embrace the vision of 'socialism for the 21st Century'. > > > >And, as Marxists who live in this real world, we need to ask how > >precisely can we help the working class of the 21st Century become > >'conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the > >conditions of its emancipation'? What are their needs? What are the > >barriers that 21st Century capitalism has created to the realization > >of those needs? What, given their actual conditions of life, are the > >ways for workers to struggle against capital now? What, indeed, is to be > done? > >We need, in short, to understand the conditions which global > >capitalism in the 21st Century has created. Obviously, they are not > >ones which we would have chosen. But, they are the only ones > >available in which we can make history. > > > > * > > > > > > > > > > > > > >No virus found in this incoming message. > >Checked by AVG Free Edition. > >Version: 7.5.476 / Virus Database: 269.11.13/946 - Release Date: > >10/08/2007 15:50 > > Michael A. Lebowitz > Professor Emeritus > Economics Department > Simon Fraser University > Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6 > > Director, Programme in 'Transformative Practice and Human Development' > Centro Internacional Miranda, P.H. > Residencias Anauco Suites, Parque Central, final Av. Bolivar > Caracas, Venezuela > fax: 0212 5768274/0212 5777231 > http//:centrointernacionalmiranda.gob.ve > email@example.com Paul Cockshott www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc reality.gn.apc.org ---------------------------------------------------------------- This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Aug 31 2007 - 00:00:10 EDT