- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Nikhil's 'Partial' Socialism, and why it wouldn't work

Posted by: Barry Stoller on November 07, 1999 at 22:31:09:

An economy cannot be a little bit socialist any more than a woman can be a little bit pregnant.
---Ernest Mandel.

Nikhil has put forth the idea of a socialist paradigm that leaves space open to partial private ownership of the means of production. His description of ideal socialism puts public ownership of the means of production at 'about' 80% - 90%---leaving 10% - 20% of the means of production in the hands of artists, scientists, and other (so-called) direct producers who (ostensibly) do not exploit the labors of others. Furthermore, Nikhil, in this post, envisions a socialist paradigm in which a person is required to perform (only) 8 hours of socialized work or (only) one hour of 'community' labor per week.

Aside from his essentially arbitrary numbers (Fourier anyone?), Nikhil's vision of partial socialism is untenable.

Here's why.

Nikhil labors under the mistaken assumption that 'direct producers' actually produce directly. This is to assert that scientists not only develop, say, medicines, but they test, manufacture, and distribute them as well. This is to assert that artists not only create say, Beatles records, but they publicize, manufacture, and distribute them as well. In this mistaken assumption, scientists and Beatles alike man assembly-lines, stock warehouses, drive interstate trucks, and operate cash registers to finalize the realization of their 'independent' products.

Of course, this is not possible. And neither is Nikhil's assertion that scientists and artists do not employ others.

Moving on...

Nikhil also asserts here that, by way of example, science labs should be independent from 'the state'---yet receive their funding from 'the state.' (In a socialist society, of course, 'the state' is but a formal description of 'the proletariat.') This is also untenable.

Here's why.

Can science exist outside of the society that it purports to serve? An independent science---or art---could easily detach itself from the interests of society and claim the primacy of its own interests, advocating a privileged income or status or authority. Would one be comfortable allowing scientists---say, Skinnerians who believe that human behavior should be controlled by Skinnerians*---the independent control of all scientific means of production?

Again, the same threat is possible with the artist. Would not an artistic elite, freed from all social accountability, be tempted to create an ideology that asserted that artists should be granted special exemptions and rewards for creating art? This is not exactly a novel idea: according to Veblen, the 'inchoate priestly class' that usurped surplus in early tribal societies had their basis in the division of labor---beginning with the creation of art.**

The existence of a separate sect of scientists, artists, etc. presupposes a firm social division of labor which, as I've pointed out here, would invariably lead to hierarchy, privilege, and abuse of power.

Why advocate a separate sect of scientists and artists---but not separate sect of 'planner/managers' or 'senators'? And what would prevent the former from becoming the latter if their specialized means of production were privatized?

The issue is private ownership of the means of production.

If any portion of the means of production---especially a specialized section of overall production such as science---is left in private hands, then it is wholly possible that such a monopoly would engender a new caste able to exert undue influence upon the rest of society.

Socialism---let us NOT forget---presupposes a planned economy. Putting 10% - 20% of the means of production into private hands puts that much of the social product outside social planning. An important part of the economy would be permitted to withhold itself from social needs---unless and until its demands were met. This, of course, is monopoly---private monopoly, itself an indication that capitalism continues to flourish (and with it, hierarchy, exemptions, and abuse of power).

In summation, I trust it is now obvious that the idea of a 'partial' socialism---a 'partial capitalism' is another way of putting it---is NOT socialism. Indeed, Nikhil seems to want to expropriate the land owners and the industrial monopolists only to install in their place scientists and artists (and other 'direct' producers). And that, I am afraid, is merely a petite-bourgeois form of 'socialism.'


* 'The scientist is usually concerned with the control of nature apart from his personal aggrandizement. He is perhaps not wholly "pure," but he seeks control mainly for its own sake or for the sake of furthering other scientific activity.' (Skinner, 'The Design of Cultures,' Cumulative Record 3rd edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts 1972, p. 48.) Feel reassured?

** See Veblen, The Instinct of Workmanship [1914], Norton 1964, pp. 135 & 155.

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