- Capitalism and Alternatives -

the idea of inevitable historical progress is a myth

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on January 16, 19100 at 15:38:43:

In Reply to: A lesson in the dialectic of historical materialism (better) posted by Barry Stoller on January 16, 19100 at 01:44:59:

: : First of all, Barry, you deleted the important part of my post; the part where I offer evidence that teh agricultural revolution marked a step backwards in terms of average health standards. Why is that?

: Because yours is a foolish argument; the proof to support my claim is apodictic.

I don't know what apodictic means, so i'm just going to ignore it. Barry, i supplied reasons why I believe, with many hard-nosed scientists as well as hopeless romantics, that the idea of inevitable historical progress is a myth. Certainly, we all agree that in many ways we are better off today than people were in the past (due primarily to science and technology, not to improved 'techniques of production'....Nazi Germany produced pretty damn 'efficiently', but who wants to emulate them?). In some ways, however, societies that you breesily dismiss as 'primitive' have much to teach us. And don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about individual ownership. Many tradoitional societies, particularly in Africa- with apollogies to Marx- showed collective owenership of the means of production.. They didn't even have the concept of owning land, for God's sake. My defense of smallholders (to the tune of 10 or 20 percent of teh economy, no more) is a SEPARATE issue from my defense of traditional societies and their lifestyle. It stems from a concern for freedom. (Check that- actually, my defense of the rights of the Penan, the San and the Pygmies to choose their own lifestyle also is rooted in a concern for freedom.)

What my argument is, is basically this. On the average, humanity is better off today than in the (recorded) past. (I'm actually contravening the theology of my religion here, but let that pass). But the advance that Marx and the mdoern capitalists both crowed over is:

1) not universal to every society. Some societies have seen their standards of living drop, in some regards or in all, when they were forced to change their mode of production to obey teh laws of 'progress.' (Example: the San, or the Penan)

2) Not broadly distributed. Some, notably the poorest in Third World counrteis, often see tehir standard fo living drop in every possible way when they are forced to shift from a rural lifestyle to an urban, 'industrialized' one. Eaxamples of thsi are rife all over the world- check under 'urban dislocation'. HEll, even in America many African Americans today say that they wete better off in the rural south than in the capitalist meccas of Cleveland, New York, etcetera. An incerasing number of black parents are sending their kdis south to grow up in less urbanized surroundings.

3) Not temporally universal. Some 'advances' caused more suffering than tehy remedied.

4) Mixed blessings. "Primitive" soceities had certain features that were superiori, just as do "advanced" societies. While teh net effect may have been on balance positive, it would be foolish to forget what we gave up.

5) Not without cost. Environemtal destruction, fro example, also the average drop in health standards that accompanied the shift to agriculture.

Barry, you're only seeing teh overall global trend when you look at teh course of suffering, and refusing to see the fact that while the overall advance may be there, still there were many places and tiems when the course of historical progress brought more misery and suffering to people than they had previously experienced. The Aztecs in Mexico knew this. The hunter-gatehrers displaced by teh Agricultural Revolution knew this. The Tasmanains who teh British shot down like rabbits knew this. The Penan in Malaysia toady know this as loggers force them off their land in the name of progress. The Pygmies know this. The Khoisan knew this when the Boers fenced in their land and exhibited them in cages. The English workmen knew this when they smashed industrail machines. The peasants of MExico knew this eight decades ago when they took up arms against teh capitalism that had destroyed their peasant communes. The peopel in Africa and India who are determined to amintain the extended family know this as well. Historical progress is not monochrome. It has caused uncountable suffering as well as advances.

Now you may still not believe this. OK. You dismissed my evidence as foolish and refused to comment on it to explain why you thought Professor Diamond's specific allegations were "foolsih." That's your right/ No one can expect you to do otherwise. By the same token, you can't expect me to change what I believe, based on evdience I provided, if you haven't attempted to convince me that the evidence is fallacious.

What's the most-heralded exampel of capitalist "progress" today? Hong Kong, described in some recent BS article I read as combining the best productivity enhancing fetures of Anglosaxon and Confucian cultures. What does Hong Kong have to show for it? Old men, once venerated by Chinese society, are forced to live like animals in rabboit cages because they can't afford the rent, and because your vaunted 'progress' has eliminated any concern for the elderly and the unfortunate. The poverty rate is six times that in Peoples' China. I could go on.

: Compare the native Americans' (HG) mode of production with that of feudal Europe. Sure, the Native Americans worked less hours, sure they lived 'collectively' (within some definite hierarchal circumscriptions)---but that mode of production did not create enough SURPLUS to engender or support the next historical step, which was the agricultural revolution.

Surplus is a means to an end, not teh end itself, to paraphrase Nehru. If they had a good life, by their own estimateion (who else should nbe qualified to amek the sestimation? Me? You?)....

: Am I defending this mode of production and social relations? Only in that agricultural advances were necessary to create the surplus necessary to engender the NEXT historical step, capitalism.

: What---am I defending capitalism?

: Yes, over feudalism. And feudalism over 'primitive' HG society.

: Why?

: Because only industrialization (which arose from capialism but IS NOT capitalism) laid the material foundation for socialism---i.e. modern socialism.

: To want to reverse all this history and cozy up with some preindustrial fantasy is to deny REALITY. Your 'socialism' of individual private property wants time to reverse, NJ. That's not possible.

On the contrary. Time reversed itself in '79 in Iran. Time reversed itself when Lazsaro Cardenas reinstated peasant communes in 1940s Mexico. Time reversed itself when Cambodia became a Buddhist state again after twenty years of atheism. Tiem reversed itself with the collapse of Soviet Socialism. We can take what we liek from teh past- sometimes we've chosen the good, other times the bad.

: You think that individual private property is the highest form of social equality.

The fuck I do? I SAID that I think that private ownerhsip shoudln't top 10 to 20 %, and should be restricted in its power, and in the sectors of society where it's allowed to operate- and I think that there should be certain collective restraints on everypone, such as a labor tax of 8 hours per week (my concession to job rotation). I think that unskilled and semiskilled jobs should be rotated amongst everyone, no exceptions.

: Maybe it was---but capital nonetheless came along and transferred that individual private property into capitalistic private property (i.e. socialized production, but controlled by a minority). That's a fact. Because the primitive societies you idealize did not create surplus, they could not defend themselves from capital (for a host of reasons). That's another fact.

That something happened in hostroy doesn';t make it right. Shoudl we base our entire system of ethics on teh fact taht teh British "just happened" to murder entire nations in the course of 'civilizing' teh world? Can we just write it off as teh rpice of progress Or shouldn't we try and REVERSE the bad that capitalism did?

: Now, the dialectic of historical materialism posits that capitalistic private property---like individual private property before it---is a STAGE in the development of man's economic relations.

OK. But I still don't accept D/M, why woudl I accept teh implications. (Certainly I might accept SOME of its features, and I do agree with most of the short-term objectives of the Communist Party, etc.)

: Capitalistic private property---centralized, rationalized, abundant (but usurped by a minority)---engenders the NEXT stage of economic development, the next form of property: centralized, rationalized, abundant property BUT FULLY SOCIALIZED in its property relations.

: Capitalistic production is ALREADY socialized, it's the property relations that are not. And that is what communism aims to change.

You said yourself that 10% is still owned by smallholders. I want to preserve that, and socialize the rest. Just so we can have a window for teh loners, teh individualists, etc.

: Now, NONE of this is to say that capitalism didn't destroy another mode of production and an entire way of life. Some primitive communities were / are vastly more 'equitable,' 'fair,' 'less alienating,' than modern society---no doubt. On the other hand, much of the primitive was / is harsh: slavery, famines, etc., etc.

That's reasonable. I agree with you that modernization (the agricultural and industrial revoluntions, etc.) had good and bad effects, but that the balance was probably good.

:NONE OF THIS MATTERS HOWEVER. For history is not something we can reverse.

False. We can take what we like from the past, and reject teh rest. To paraphrase Mario Savio, histroy is something we (should) make, not read about. We aren't apssive partcipants in histroy. The future history of man will be what we choose to make it, nothing else.

: Your 'socialism' wants to reinstate individual private property again. That's regressive. Hence, Marxist terminology calls your beliefs reactionary. It's not an insult, NJ, it's just a technical term.

OK. I accept that. In certain respects, I suppsoe I am a reactionary. And I see nor eason, at this point, to change.

: You idealize the primitive, NJ. Many times you have claimed that primitive society is superior to modern society.

Not as a general ruel. In certain times, places, and contextx.

:Yet---as Frenchy has pointed out and not without good reason---you are attending Harvard here in the MOST 'advanced' country in the world.

Frenchy can go suck an egg. I'm debating with you here, and I don't see why you would agree with Frenchy. I SAID that modernization, on balance was good- but not everywhere, always, and in every way.

: Now why is that if primitive society is so great?

See above.

: _______________


: Note:

: 1. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, p. 764.

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