- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Recycling, reusing, and consuming less

Posted by: Stoller on October 19, 1999 at 17:37:12:

In Reply to: More utopia discussion posted by Samuel Day Fassbinder on October 19, 1999 at 10:59:25:

A utopia cannot function with [fair weather friends of democracy]. But: a utopia can function without them---so long as the utopia never challenges their property relations in the 'outside' world. This means utopia must remain small and 'under the radar.'

I don't see why a commune should never challenge the property relations in the outside world without admitting the bourgeoisie, much as I don't see why the Communist Party should admit the bourgeoisie to challenge the property relations outside its cadres...

Are we both the victims of infelicitous grammar here?

I'm saying that small communities cannot operate successfully with incompatible members. On the other hand, I'm observing that intentional communities can operate very well---as long as the intentional communities do not threaten the capitalist economy in any way.

I'm saying that intentional communities (such as Twin Oaks, certainly one of the most egalitarian of them all) do not challenge the property relations of the capitalist mode of production.

Remember Skinner's question: 'What do you do when, having gone back to the land to raise your own food, you discover that the farmers in the neighborhood are buying dressed chickens at the supermarket [because they are cheaper]?'(1) That problem is never resolved by a socialist economy as small as a Twin Oaks. The capitalist way of life, as Marx & Engels famously pointed out, breaks down all Chinese Walls.

Communities such as Twin Oaks have a very high standard of living---owing primarily to socialist rationalization. However, the things that define a high standard of living in America---such as VCRs, automobiles, comfortable housing, health care (all conspicuous examples of Twin Oaks' high standard of living)---are not made at Twin Oaks (or her sister communities, Eastwind or Acorn). These things come from the capitalist world.

Twin Oaks is dependent on that world for its survival.

Is that socialism---or quasi-socialism?

But...smallness negates socialism (as Marx has defined it)!

How important is centralism?

Again, consider Twin Oaks. After all, they surrender their surplus to Pier One (hammock business) and area restaurants (tofu business) all the time---in order to access all the important products they need but can not produce themselves. How much surplus do they surrender? To quote, Shaw, the hammock 'honcho': 'Too damn much!'(2)

I'm sorry -- did I miss something? Perhaps you showed somewhere on this BBS that the beneficial revolution scenario you advertise above is imminent? Or that capitalism is going to produce the necessary "abundance" for it to happen?

Obviously, the possibility of socialist transformation in America is not imminent---or likely at this time.

However, the capitalist abundance that makes a socialist transformation possible has already occurred! The wealth is all around us! (Ecological considerations are important, of course, and the socialist future will obviously have to address the lack of ecological considerations in Marx's projections.)

As I understand it, utopian socialism is socialism predicated by pacifism---or 'private-property socialism.' That's nice for small holdings like Twin Oaks (which distributes according to socialist precepts but produces by surrendering surplus to capitalists like Pier One, various restaurants in the Charlottesville area, etc.), but that is not real socialism, the socialism of harnessing the great means of production in order to produce according to need.

Analogously, we could argue that since the Soviet Union failed, communism will never succeed the way capitalism has succeeded. And we would still be wrong. Choosing a failed example to claim the disproof of an entire concept of society is logic worthy of amateur night.

But I'm not choosing a failed example, Sam. Twin Oaks is a successful example of communitarian society. Thus it reveals the limitations of such a small-scale 'socialism.' I stand by my statement above.

What's interesting, though, is capital's ardent desire to industrialize all of these [undeveloped] nations. The proletariat always accompanies the accumulation process. The revolutionary situation is generated again and again.

This needs to be SHOWN, not merely stated.

I thought Marx did that for us already.

Capital never rests---and neither does its problems!

Perhaps I should have added that capital never rests---and (seeing how socialism is predicated upon the capitalist mode of production) neither does its solutions!

If [revolution] is not imminent...then the point of discussing utopia and communes is to allow people to explore the relationships of people to each other and to things, i.e. to understand what Marx called "alienation."

No problem with that. I think intentional communities are a great improvement over individualist living practices. But I no longer think socialist consciousness is significantly forwarded by intentional communities.

By way of analogy, recycling, reusing, and consuming less is a great individual response to pollution, but it does little to challenge to current practices of (especially Dept. 1) industry.


1. Skinner, Foreword to Kinkade, A Walden Two Experiment, Quill 1973, p. ix.
2. Conversation with author, January 1998.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup