- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Continuing from Piper's post

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on February 04, 19100 at 14:02:36:

SDF: Continuing from Piper's post:

: Piper: Well, what can i say to that but 'Yup. Just one thing though, i thought stoller would have held marxism to be scientific, after all it is in the gospel, so to speak.

SDF: If we can distinguish sectarian Marxism from the theory of historical materialism for a moment, we can see that Marx's theory in the volumes of CAPITAL provides the basis for an empirical investigation into the workings of actual capitalist societies. A philosophy of social science known as "critical realism" sprouted a whole school of research critical of capitalism, mostly in the UK I think -- go to your local college library and try to find stuff by John Urry, Russell Keat, Andrew Sayer, Scott Lash, or Martyn Hammersley, for instance. Then of course there are also the social scientific projects of the Frankfurt School, though they are vulnerable to the criticism leveled at them in Axel Honneth's CRITIQUE OF POWER: that they use an oversimplified psychological model to explain human behavior.

My point here, in this regard, was that any serious Marxist social science that wished to address Marx's theory of the revolution, a theory distinctively colored by Marx's extremely overoptimistic assessment of the possibilities for revolution in his time (as the World Socialism site argues, Marx and Engels thought the revolution would come in 1852), would have to address the relation between the historical development of capitalism and the potentials for revolutionary mobilization. In this regard, Craig Calhoun showed that E.P. Thompson's history of the English working class reveals a DECLINING state of revolutionary mobilization and an ASCENDANT reformism.

The point being made is that revolution does not flow "naturally" from the factory shopfloor. The optimism of religious exhortations from the Communist Manifesto such as

The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

appears as a religious incantation in our own time. Not only is the victory of the proletariat not inevitable. The combination of workers on the factory shopfloor could, as Calhoun argues, just as well be reformist, since the working class need not risk life and limb to transform society when a two-week strike might net it a pay raise and better union benefits. Or the "combination" of workers could be replaced by homework, as is notoriously the case with the production of silicon chips (for instance) in the computer industry. Or worker outrage could just as well lead to support for fascism (1933 Germany etc.). Or the factory shopfloor might be the sort of design that attracts the misplaced love of the working class, since it offers the ideological discipline necessary to appreciate the pabulum of industrial entertainment that fills the industrialized world today, as Horkheimer and Adorno argue in Dialectic of Enlightenment:

The consumers are the workers and employees, the farmers and lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the decieved masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. The misplaced love of the people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is stronger even than the rigorism of the Hays Office, just as in certain great times in history it has inflamed greater forces that were turned against it, namely, the terror of the tribunals. It calls for Mickey Rooney in preference to the tragic Garbo, for Donald Duck instead of Betty Boop. The industry submits to the vote which it has itself inspired.

So if Calhoun etc. are right, the late-capitalist social tendency moves us further away from, and not toward, revolution with each passing year. The fact that the so-called revolutionaries are stuck on their analysis of Russia in 1917-1920 doesn't further an objective analysis of modern society's tendencies to revolutionary mobilization. Bickering about such above revolutionaries won't do it either.

I argued and argue, in this regard, that any revolutionaries wishing to deal with the real historical-materialist state of affairs would either have to 1) show a real (and not merely imagined) revolutionary trend contrary to Thompson/ Calhoun's observation of traditional revolutionary movements as slowly-fading precapitalist objections to capitalist oppression, and/ or 2) knuckle down to a temporary alliance with reformists. Sectarian Marxists may instead choose to blinker their eyes and stopper their ears while chanting "Marx, Engels, Lenin" as some sort of mantram, but this problem in historical-materialist analysis won't go away.

Indeed, the biggest problem facing historical materialism today is in how to face the conflict between the continued "development" of the capitalist system and the carrying capacity of the planet. As Farinata once pointed out, for the rest of the world to be able to conform to the "American Way of Life" would require a global 550% increase in the global use of natural resources, and the globe simply doesn't have the resources for such an increase in their use. Is this mentioned in the German Ideology anywhere? Nope. Is it a necessary aspect of historical materialist analysis of the tendencies of capitalism? You betcha. The longer the capitalist system remains in power, the further away any post-capitalist possibility will be from Marx's cornucopian fantasy of the "Critique of the Gotha Program".

Let's be clear about it -- merely arguing that "reformism is OK" is, in the long run, another form of mass suicide. So the historical-materialist project can't be dropped. It has to point to more, however, than the energy death of the current form of civilization.

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