- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Historical materialism (con't.)

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 07, 19100 at 10:34:27:

In Reply to: Couple of points for Barry posted by NJ on February 06, 19100 at 19:56:46:

: I agree that in some times and places, absolute morality ahs capitulated to a relative morality based on economic realities. But not everywhere, by any means. More typically, economics influences the circumstances and specific rules by which universal and absolute moral laws and rights incarnate. It doesn't DETERMINE them, and certainly doesn't DETERMINE morality itself. Remember again how great empires at the height of tehir power were brought down by the power of an idea. The Roman Empire by Christianity, the Gupta Empire by Buddhism, the British empire by the simple idea of freedom.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say 'incarnate,' but I sense common ground...

Perhaps you mean economic conditions determine how absolute values are interpreted and expressed.

This would permit you your faith in absolute values yet permits historical materialism its unyielding logic. And that would be a fair compromise. Actually, that would be better than a compromise.

To say that absolute values are absolute yet become interpreted and expressed relatively (according to the development of humankind's production) would be most dialectical.


: [F]reedom in a capitalist society cannot really exist, because people do what they have to to survive, not what they really want to do.

That's a very Marxist observation.

Reminds me of a famous statement by Khrushchev: 'Most people still measure their own freedom or lack of freedom in terms of how much meat, how many potatoes, or what kind of boots they can get for one ruble.'(1)

Freedom is the acknowlegement of necessity.

As long as an individual needs anything in order to live, then freedom is measured by those needs.

Socialist society too will limit freedom by confronting necessity. People in the socialist future will have to do what it takes to survive. And people do not survive individually---they survive by putting the increased productivity of socialized labor to task.

Socialism will better capitalism, however, in the pursuit of survival by putting to task socialized labor in a manner that will produce more FOR more.

The anarchy of the 'free market' with all of its attendant crises of overproduction will be replaced by a planned economy that responds to people's needs instead of profits (which encourage the production of irrational products). The class antagonisms accompanying the social division of labor will be quelled as usurping minorities become swept away and all citizens fully participate in production. The extravagence of the ruling class---especially the need for their state apparatus to oppress the working class---will become obviated as abundance encourages equality of production, distribution, and consumption. Labor returns to each worker as an activity of their own (instead of an activity mandated by bosses).


Man's own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history---only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom!(2)

Which means (very simply put): humans have, thus far, confronted necessity by putting socialized labor to task in order to master nature. Socialized labor has, through the centuries, developed and expanded in such ways as to produce more and more surplus (over the essential needs of society). The amount of surplus produced has determined the distribution of the surplus (the social relations of society)---and with this distribution the relative freedoms known by society. Only now---as industrial activity increasingly predominates---is it possible to produce enough surplus to do away with usurping minorities altogether and produce according to society's needs.



1. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, Little, Brown & Co. 1970, p. 457.

2. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, International 1935, pp. 72-3.


: My other question. Do you, barry, believe in the 'heartland' theory that my (Marxist) aunt once propounded, that no revolution anywhere in teh world can succeed unless it is accompamnied by a revolution in America, the heartland of capitalism.

I think Europe alone could provide enough of an industrial base for socialism to succeed throughout most of the world. Not that it wouldn't be great to have America as a communist country...

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