- Capitalism and Alternatives -

RD's Candy-coated Marxism

Posted by: Barry Stoller on December 21, 1999 at 11:15:36:

Although I have much admiration for RD, I do have some objections to his recent statements regarding socialism.

One objection involves job rotation.

Let me recap my position (for those who never bother to read links).

Job rotation is the idea that: EACH CITIZEN should be required to perform an equal amount of unskilled work (preferably unskilled work of their choosing); EACH CITIZEN should be allowed to study for and then perform a specialized field that each citizen shows aptitude for---as well as enjoys; plus EACH CITIZEN should perform an equal amount of state administration work to insure that the state always remains in the hands of the people.

No one will be 'forced' to become a brain surgeon. No one will be denied a chance to excel at whatever (specialized) task they are capable of doing. No one will ever miss out in participating in society.

That said, I have found RD to minimize the importance of the social division of labor in perpetuating inequalities in work and state.

Upon mentioning Engels' famous facetious declaration, 'It is a fine sort of socialism which perpetuates the professional porter!' RD stated:

I agree entirely with that quote, what I disagree with is the enforced, and positive systematization and enforcement of job rotation...

Very well (more on that later). YET later in the same post, RD stated:

['Liberty in the workplace'] implies that ad hoc division of labour may occur (i.e. that someone may porter for the day, as needed, rather than have to take turns at portering...).

Which attenuates his 'entire' agreement with Engels.

And, finally, RD stated:

Socially divided labour still retains the fullness of human engagement with life-activity, a professional porter - such as worked at our college halls - is a multifaceted and skilled task, that engages mind and spirit, particularly if the subject is willing.

Now, THAT obliterates Engels' statement.

Perhaps I would be more inclined to believe that portering, as a profession, was a 'multifaceted and skilled task, that engages mind and spirit' if a professional porter was telling me so. However, a recent English literature graduate is telling me that cleaning toilets, mopping floors, and emptying trash barrels 'engages mind and spirit.' How would he know?

I have a STRONG objection to RD's uncertain stand on the social division of labor.

I believe RD's views are based on Morris' artisan ideal of socialism. RD, in this post stated:

The point about division of labour, is that it denies people to invest their whole person into their life-activity, as would have, say, an artisan, involved in using many different skills as part of a production process.

What RD refers to is the detail division of labor of the shop, NOT the social division of labor. Indeed, arguing against the former (as he should), he argues FOR the latter. And to do so CONTRADICTS Marxian socialism. The artisan, after all, cannot be found in this view:

[I]n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.(1)

The other objection I have with RD's recent statements concerns 'voluntary' labor.

Responding to a query about socialism, RD stated:

Some people [the WSM] would hold that socialism is a society without money, where labour is entirely voluntary - in the tradition of William Morris' "News From Nowhere" (Check it out).

Voluntary labor is a key Marxian idea. Indeed, Lenin once said:

Communism... is the name we apply to a system under which people become so accustomed to the performance of public duties without any specific machinery of compulsion, when unpaid work for the common good becomes the general phenomenon.(2)

He is referring to the HIGHER PHASE OF COMMUNIST SOCIETY, not the first phase, however! Indeed, Lenin mentions voluntary labor THROUGHOUT The State and Revolution---in the higher phase.


Does RD?

Or does RD, in his haste to 'sell' socialism, LEAVE OUT the ENTIRE IDEA of the first phase?

This is my objection.

Imagine 'selling' socialism with the promise that---after the revolution---everyone can do whatever job he or she wants to do. Everyone even has the option to do nothing, letting other people do the work. Lovely!---who wouldn't want to go along with THAT? But: How can that be?

RD stated here:

When you base your premises of socialism on abundance, and not scarcity, then the compulsion to force everyone to work is lost - indeed, a classic work of socialism is entitled 'the right to be lazy'- I think that's what we're fighting for, everyone's right to be lazy.

Yet how can such abundance be accomplished IF the detail division of labor in the shop is abolished (a premise RD has supported)? Would it not require MORE work to make things and provide services if the mind-numbing repetition so characteristic of detail division of labor was removed from people's jobs? After all, an artisan's work is characterized by requiring MUCH MORE TIME than mass-produced, assembly-line labor requires. Indeed, if work becomes more satisfying, more personal, then the very ultra-high productivity of the industrial revolution must perforce be REDUCED.

And that's NOT necessarily a bad thing at all.

But to promise the end of the detail division of labor AND to promise voluntary work for all---with abundance---is to promise incompatible qualities.

As expected, RD falls back on an old socialist cliché to solve this glaring contradiction: '[M]echanize that job out of existence tout suite.'

Yet to 'mechanize,' to automate all unpleasant work REQUIRES the very sort of industrial detail division of labor (associated with the factory) that is ALREADY ABOLISHED under RD's utopian scheme.

You can't have both. You can't have the sort of industry that cranks out robot porters AND do away with the sort of monotonous work that the production of robots necessitates. Industrialization = boring work, the sort of work no one would ever volunteer to do.

Thus, in order to 'sell' socialism, RD omits the entire concept of the first phase / higher phase distinction PLUS invents a robot workforce ready to do all the unpleasant jobs that 'ad hoc' voluntary 'liberty in the workplace' would throw upon society.

Why not simply be forthright in the FIRST PLACE and tell working people that, in order to bring socialism about, people will need to work and, in order to make work equitable for all, rotation will be required?

Sure, my honesty may turn off listeners...

But RD's 'selling job' can only lead to utopian promises sure to DISAPPOINT expectations after the revolution. When a lot of the jobs that society requires are left undone and everyone asks 'where's the robots?' I trust RD will come up with some new 'selling points.'



1. Marx & Engels, The German Ideology, International 1939, p. 22.

2. Lenin, Appendix three to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, International 1938, p. 97 n. 13.

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