- Capitalism and Alternatives -

More for Stoller

Posted by: Stuart Gort ( USA ) on December 06, 1999 at 11:05:55:

Barry: Once upon a time the dominant mode of production was the handicraft mode (artisan); which was displaced by the manufacture mode (division of labor in one workplace); which, in turn, was displaced by today's dominant mode of production---the factory mode: industrialized, rationalized, automated production.

The social relations between people have changed with each mode of production. More or less: the handicraft mode of production was characterized by feudal relations (lord, serf); the manufacture mode of production was characterized by mercantile relations (master, apprentice); and today's factory mode of production is characterized by capitalist relations (boss, employee).

Class struggle refers to each set of relations as they have changed along with the mode of production that characterizes each era. For example, the bourgeoisie (using the muscle-power of the proletariat and the peasant, to be sure) overthrew the feudal lords in the 'advanced countries' around the 1800s and made dominant their mode of production, capitalism. Marxist theory posits that, one day, the proletariat will overthrow the capitalists in order to establish yet another dominant mode of production, socialism.

The mode of production prevalent, again according to Marxist theory, contains the necessary prerequisites for the next. Indeed, 'socialism calls for a conscious mass advance to greater productivity of labor compared to capitalism, and on the basis achieved by capitalism' (Lenin). Socialism requires the industrialization, rationalization, and automation of capitalism---only what will change will be the social relations. Boss and employee will give way to a classless society where all people are workers with a piece of the action.

Furthermore, the mode of relation often finds that the social relations attached to it are constricting the progress of the mode of production. Capitalists often prevent the fruits of R & D to emerge because they hoard technology until their fixed capital is used up. Capitalists put potential investment (which would produce more consumer goods at cheaper prices) into personal consumption (or other fields yielding higher rates of profit) instead. And so on...Thus, social relations become a fetter upon the dominant mode of production's potential growth (and usefulness for the majority of people).

Dialectical materialism in a nutshell...

Stu: Where's the nut? Presenting dialectical materialism as empirical fact suggests that there is a moral imperative to revolt against capitalism and establish your utopian vision of socialism. Handily omitted from your vision, however, is an analysis of why people are motivated to create businesses and even whole industries in a socialist system. I don't see any persuasive argument to suggest that the profit motive (which worked for me) can be replaced with an altruistic motivation and continue to produce wealth. I firmly believe, on the basis of all heretofore implemented collectivist ideas, that productivity will decrease when the profit motive is gone.

Furthermore, capitalism certainly creates a class society (as you say) but this is no caste system (as you need to imply). The moral imperative to establish this egalitarian ideal presumes a rigid caste. Believing all men are equal was a basic belief of our founding fathers and is the underlying principle of socialism today. The difference is the context in which "equality" is discussed. The eloquent writings of our founding fathers were offered in the context of the friction created between the men and their tyrannical monarch. Socialism seeks to equalize the natural inequities that unarguably exist and will always exist between men. I mention all this to point out the tendencies of collectivists to borrow moral imperative (and wealth) from strangers without asking or ever repaying. I believe capitalism harnesses the inequalities that exist naturally between men and forces them to work for the common man. This proves out when comparing the average standard of living in this system with all others. Any socialist example you supply as rebuttal will have established its wealth with capitalism but is not viable in the long term under socialism.

Barry: Freedom is a matter of perspective. The proletariat's freedom (economic equality) will perforce abridge the capitalist's freedom (economic inequality). Once the capitalist class is gone, however, the freedom that remains in society will be equitable TO ALL under the new social(ist) relations.

Stu: You don't have the luxury of redefining the word "freedom" according to perspective, Barry. Your definitions, if allowed to stand stigmatize freedom on one hand and ennoble it on the other. This, of course is only more subtle moralizing to perpetuate the idea that there is an intractable caste system present in American culture today. That is pure nonsense and if pressed I'll start listing all the wonderful statistics there are on the overwhelming percentages of millionaires in this country who started in the lower and middle classes.

Stu: Stock can be purchased and owned by anyone at all.

Barry: And 'anyone' can win the lottery as well. Only we KNOW that the idea of the lottery is that only one person wins while everyone else loses (supplying the winnings).

Stu: Now, Barry. That was pretty juvenile - don't you think? You've equated an activity that requires financial discipline and prudence with one that promotes exactly the opposite. You could just magnanimously concede my point but then you'd have to conclude that your implied caste system is nonsense too. I wish you'd be a bit more intellectually honest in your posts.

Stu: I encountered no law, social moiré, or any external pressure that blocked my way in my travels.

Barry: Again, your individual story. And, again, my stubborn statistical break-down: 71% of households own no shares at all or hold less than $2,000 worth in any form, including mutual funds, 401(k)s, and traditional pensions.(1)

Stu: I've never disputed that stat but in looking at it, I question how it is derived. The Wall Street Journal says that 51 million Americans own stocks directly. The last census puts those people over 30 years of age (an age before which few people would be expected to consider matters of retirement unless you want to use the fact that children and young people don't own stock to bolster your argument) at 185,000,000 (68% of the population). This lines up with your statistic of 71% not owning stock. But the Wall Street stat excluded institutional investors such as, "investment companies (including mutual funds), pension systems, insurance companies, universities and banks". This puts an extraordinary percentage of Americans indirectly owning stock and taking advantage of our stock markets through the above mentioned entities. In light of this fact, your statistic isn't quite as stubborn as you think. The success of the American markets are positively affecting quite nearly every American regardless of the statistical games of socialists.

Barry: You insist that 'anyone' can get a piece of the means of production. You insist that only 'human nature' prevents some people from doing so. This would be FAR MORE CONVINCING if, say, education was equally accessible to all members of the population. But it's not: only 23% of the population can afford education (2), which is just as well because only 25% of the jobs in the country require any skill above a high school level (3)!

Now if you want to counter this by saying that 'anyone' can get a piece of the means of production WITHOUT higher education, then you are ignoring government data that unequivocally shows that those without higher education have average incomes of UNDER $20,000 annually.(4) And those folks don't have a piece of nothin'.

Stu: In this you insist that freedom based capitalism does not provide those who aspire to more than $20,000 a year with an opportunity to do so. You are wrong. I stand as proof of that. As a very young man with no college degree, I took $1000 I saved in a job that paid $19,760 per year (Douglas Aircraft - $9.50 per hour) and bought a printing press. That business failed two years later but it exposed me to a trade in which I could apply my talents and achieve something. I studied the industry to find out which high end printing companies had the finest reputations. I discovered George Rice and Sons printing company in east L.A. I pestered the manager of their pre-press department to hire me by calling him every three days like clockwork, mailing him sketches and various crafted artifacts of mine until he couldn't stand it anymore. He hired me at $10.00 an hour and within three years I was making $23.50 an hour. I saved and invested my money and eventually bought the means of production I currently own.

Your dismissal of my "anecdotal" story trivializes my solid work ethic and ignores my aspirations, Barry. Success is only freely handed to a precious few. Most people that succeed do so through a very grueling trial of fire that even they wouldn't submit themselves to if they were apprised of the ordeal ahead of the experience. In my case, I had so much invested that I couldn't quit for fear of losing it all. You might say to me that it was capitalism that made it so hard and I'd say to you that life is hard and it's time for you to get used to it. I expect you'll be shoving this back in my face later and I'll wager that you'll never accept the inconsistencies of natural life. Note that in every historical mode of production that has previously existed there was a dominant/subservient relationship that existed. State why, if all previous social relations were characterized by that relationship, it isn't an intrinsic characteristic of mankind.

Barry: Now, let us take this debate a bit further. You asseverate that the American way of life enables 'anyone' to have success. This would infer that the mode of production is INDEED prepared for socialism because the capitalist mode of production has a high enough productivity to create abundance for everybody. Right?---you do insist that 'anyone' meaning theoretically everyone can make a lot of money and have control of their own life?

Stu: Again, this is at best sophomoric. I only suggest that one has the freedom to try to achieve. I come no where near saying that all will take advantage of it. I suggest quite plainly that there will always be pump jockeys and soda jerks but some pump jockeys (I worked at many gas stations in my youth) want more than that. You say people need interesting work and I say lots of people like to have a predictable life and will choose the drudgery of common labor to the inconsistencies of entrepreneurial life any day. I will say quite clearly that less taxation and forced socialism combined with free market principles and prudent investment will render ever so much better results than the nanny state can hope to accomplish. Money that is taken from productive people and given to unproductive people reduces production. High production translates into high standards of living for average citizens.

You should also answer the question; When did my labor cease to be mine during the course of my business investment and growth? I notice you skip this every time I ask the question because it forces you into a quandary of jargon juxtaposition. My noble labor became odious capital at some point with you and I want to know exactly when that happened.

Stuart Gort

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