- Capitalism and Alternatives -

If I believed in Historical necessity, I might be a Marxist

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on February 02, 19100 at 13:51:27:

In Reply to: Historical necessity posted by Barry Stoller on February 01, 19100 at 10:42:43:

I'm going to try to take this bit by bit....

: In the social production of their existence, men inevitable enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production.

'Independent of their will'? Yes, I suppose that's fairly accurate. Grape pickers in California aren't there because that's their dream job, of course.

:The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

I don't know about that. It seems to me that 'social consciousness' is plastic enough that a wide variety of different ideologies can exist in tandem with a private proeprty economic structure. I mean, Jimmy Carter was significantly different than Pinochet, if you get my drift.

:The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but the social existence that determines their consciousness.(1)

: Or to put it in soundbite size... again, Marx:


: Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.(2)

I agree with that last part, but again, I can't agree with the idea that social consciousness is DETERMINED (though it is certainly INFLUENCED) by economic (material) existence. Max Weber once suggested that the opposite was sometimes true, that values and beliefs could sometimes determine the econmic path that individuals or society took (that whole business about Calvinism being corellated with Protestantism in Germany).

I don't know how true that is, either, but there' one example which intrigues me. When the big estates were broken up during the early '60s in Kerala, India, and redistributed among the people (yes, sorry, Barry, the CPI(M) was into peasant socialism, so I think they left a lot of indicvidual plots) one could excpect a major backlash and class warfare. True, it was only a REGIONAl governmnet and not a NATIONAl government that was expropriating land, but still, a country need not experience socialisation or class warfare as a whole, it may do so in parts, as happened in Italy or China.

In fact, there was little class warfare; the Brahmin and Nambudri elite essentially stood by, some of them complained passively, but they did little to prevent the democratization of the eceonomy, to protest the loss of spurious 'rights' or to try and bring down the Communists. Part of this may be due to the fact that they were, as in all of historic India, a tiny minority with no chance against the lower classes in terms of numbers. But part of it, it has been claimed, was due to religious factors. The downgrading of material wealth, the disapproval of violence, and the general 'fatalistic' attitude, all fetaures of their Hindu re;ligion, may have played a part and discouraged the Brahmins from retalitatory violence. After all, they could rationalize their loss in the following ways, 1) it was only material wealth, which isn't that important anyway, 2) well, I oughtn't to fight the peasants in retaliation, because violence is very wrong, 3) what's going to happen will happen anyway, so why fight it. This peharps ecxplains the lack of almost anyway by the Brahmin elite in Kerala to the loss of their hereditary supremacy.

There are many other examples in which ideology, and particularly religion, has conditioned a society's repsonse to teh economic or political conditions of their existence, where religion has become directly involved in the strugle between nations, classes, or factions, and has been an explanatory factor explaining hwy peopel do, or do not, take up arms. The Buddhist resistance in Tibet and South Viet Nam, Liberation Theology in brazil and Central america, Vodoun as the governing ideology of Duvalier's Haiti, the list continues. Economics doesn't explain everything. If the Tibetans weren't devout Buddhists, I suspect that the Chinese occupation might have gone over a lot more smoothly with them. If the Catholic Church hadn't existed in Brazil, the peopel would have lost a strong ally in their batle against the elite and the military. If Vodoun hadn't been widely practiced in Haiti, Duvalier would have lost a valuable tool of spreading terror and repression. the Quakers' pacifism and religious views about equality, not some 'economic necessity', was one factor precipitating groups like the AFSC towards a kind of soft socialism or, in some cases, communism. Beliefs do matter. Religion, with apologies to Marx, is not a mere epiphenomenon.
: As the mode of production (socialized labor) comes into conflict with the social relations attending it (private ownership of the socialized labor), resolution becomes historically required. The resolution is to take the socialized labor that is controlled by individual ownership it and turn it into socialized ownership. This historical evolution produces ideological expression: individuals who advocate that the means of production become socialized.

: Thus revolutionaries arise from economic development itself, not from some asomatous, ahistorical morality.

Not necessarily. Was there much capitalist economic devlopment in Kerala, or Vietnam, or Africa? Hardly. Revolutionaries in these countries picked up ideas about the rights of man, and evidently decided that such rights did NOT need to wait for the flowering of capitalism to come to fruition.

: Engels:


: If society has a technical need, that helps science more than ten universities.(3)

Not true. Faraday's discoveriny of Electromagnetic Induction was probably last century's most important discovery, because it paved the way for electric generators. But at the time, it had utterly no practical application. Tehre was no 'technical need' to know that magnetic fields induce a current at the time, and it wouldn't find application in technology for a long, long time. the Queen aparently asked Farady what the sue of his discovery was, to which he answered, "Madam, of what use is a newborn baby?"
: Why you and not someone else?

: Again, Engels:


: There is an interaction of all these elements [political, legal, philosophical, religious], in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (i.e., of things and events whose inner connection is so remote or so impossible to prove that we regard it as absent and can neglect it), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary.(4)

: So! Your autonomy is preserved in the deal as well.

Yes, but that skirts the question. What IS it that inclines me to socialism? What SHOULD incline me to socialism? If not a desire to be doing 'the right thing'?

: : If Worker X was really interested only in his own self-interest, he wouldn't support communism; he would support a hierarchical system in which HE was the capitalist or the bureaucrat.

: And that is a great threat because in times of class crisis the bourgeoisie will offer just that promise (fascism) to sections of the proletariat.

And? Do they accept? Typically not. Fascism is dead or dying most everywhere. Most right wing dictatorships haven't ruled with the consent of workers at all, but rather through an elite. Anyway, the real question is not DO they accept, but SHOULD they? If self-interest is the only arbiter of morality, why the hell not?

Is it right, or wrong for the workers to want THEMSELVES to be on top, as opposed to their CLASS. I suspect you will say it is wrong. In that case, what makes it wrong? Why is it wrong for teh workers to merely follow their (narrow) self interest, if any pursuit of self interest is equally 'moral'?

: Nevertheless, self-interest always motivates actions.

See above for my rejoinder.

: You may choose self-sacrifice for yourself (morality) but you choose your own sacrifice (x hours here, y hours there).

That's a very good point. But I think it proves more that autonomy and free will, rather than self-interest, are necessary foundations of altruism and socialism.

:Your sacrifice gives you recompense (a sense of moral superiority) for what you sacrificed.

Now you sound like Gee, arguing that every action is ultimatley selfish. A bit degrading to humanity, don't you think?

: : Can you REALLY argue that the socialist people's democracy will be no more righteous than General Motors?

: A socialist people's democracy will NOT be 'righteous' for General Motors.

Maybe not to GM, if only bvecause GM's very existence today is predicated on capitalist abuses and dominance. But many individual capitalists, although probably not the board of GM, can and will be converted by the socialist gospel. Remember Henry Wallace, or C. Lamont, or Guevara, or the many small businessmen in Burkina Faso who were won over by Sankarist rhetoric. Individual members of the borugeois, and even capitalists, can be converted to socialism if they can be macde to see that social need outweighs their own self interest. You don't believe that';s possible. I believe that's not only possible, but it's happened many times before; such was the basis of most religions (subverting selfish desires for a higher good) as well as socialism.

: I will never change their opinion of that, so sorry, not in a million years.

Not so. If you changed my opinion, me beinga memebr of the privileged class in America, why can't you change that of other bourgeois individuals.

:And I won't bother.

Please bother. You're losing a valuable wepaon here. OR fine, don't bother, but I will bother.

: All I will be concerned with is that a worker's state WILL be 'righteous' for the workers.

It will be 'reighteous' for the people who can see clearly what 'righteou' is.

: I'm not as philosophical as you, my friend (although I'm glad someone is).


: _______________

: Notes:

: 1. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress 1970, pp. 20-1.

: 2. Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, International n.d., p. 13.

: 3. Engels, Letter to H. Starkenburg 25 January 1894, Selected Correspondence, International 1934, p. 517.

: 4. Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, 21 September 1890, ibid., p. 475.


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