- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Yes, Barry, they're arbitrary.

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on November 08, 1999 at 09:24:52:

In Reply to: 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.

Nice quote there. Sounds like a pickup line at a free-love commune.
But I'm not buying it, although Id' like to be able to reel it off; I simply don't believe it. If socialism means "common democratic ownership of teh means of production" then an economy in which 50% are sttae controlled is 50% socialist.

: Nikhil has put forth the idea of a socialist paradigm that leaves space open to partial private ownership of the means of production.

Barry, to avoid the risk of plagiarism, I must defer the credit. I don't knwo who the hell thought this idea up, but it wasn't me. This idea of the state 'controlling the commanding heights of the economy' was prommoted as the official goal of neutralist states like India, Yugoslavia and Nicaragua, and was in practice what happened in many eastern Bloc countries as well. The only difference is that I would be willing to accept this as an indefinite state of affairs, rather than stating like the Soviets that this was merely a transitional stage.

: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.
Not only do they not exploit the work of others, but many of tehse people couldn't really thrive in a collective enterprise. People's temperaments vary. Some are individualistic, some collectivistic, some genial, some moisanthropic. I don't think we can require everyone to work in a socialized manner. What we should do instead is make public sector employment more attractive. make it so that you can prosper more by working in socialiszed labor than in private enterprise (God I choke oin that word).

: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.

Yes, Barry, they're arbitrary (DUH!). The fact that the year begins in January is also arbitrary! Does this mean that we shouldn't celebrate a New Year? Come on! The eight hour week, as DDn pointed out above, is ALSO arbitrary. Does this eman that we should be machines working twenty four hours a day? The 'all or nothing' approach won't stand up. Are you seriously advocatibng that I work all my productive time for the communbity, and none for myself?

Look, Barry, right now I'm writing a short story about an evil capitalist. Suppose I live in a community where no one else is interested in this use of my time, and they don't want me to work at this. Does that mean I shouldn't be able to take some time aside and write the story? Evn if I have to make sacrifices to do so? Hell, I don't want anyone placing THAT great demands on my time!

: 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.

OK, Barry, Cards on the table. I'm a studnet in the hard sciences right now. I worked as a lab assistant this summer. Scientific research (even from the pitifully little experience I've had with it, I knwo this much) is an essentially non-collectivistic, non-indivifdualistic enterprise. There isn't much room for individualism, but tehre also isn't much room for large groups; most of teh tiem research si done in small groups of a few people who hash out plans together and then carry them out. The amount of exploitation is probably fairly minimal. Most labs that I know of can't exactly afford to hire a large army of workers, even at the minimum wage, and so scientoists do a lot fo teh dirty work themselves.

It would, I think be very difficult to run science in a centralized, 'social' manner. For this reason. Scientific progress depends largely on hunches, blind alleys, interpretation and re-interpretation of experimental results, creative thinking, etcetera. Of course, input from others is helpful because it helps generate new ideas. But when it comes to testing out ideas, designing experiments, which is teh meat and bones of science, to socialise the whole enterprise would be, I think, countreproductive. You'd need a committe representing the whole society to preside over teh decision of how many controls to use in an experiment. (How many representatives? sinec we all believe in democracy, woudl the whole community participate? Would the 100,000 residnesnt of acmbridge vote on every experimental proposal? Would Cambridge really vote on whether to use 50 species or 45 in an experiment on leaf pigments in maple leaves?)

To do this would slow science down. This is not to say that science cannot be funded or promoted by the state; after all, it was Soviet scientists who built sputnik and discovered the Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction. It was Cuban scientists who discovered the cure for menningitis described below. It was Indian scientists who made a whole slew of discoveries in avrious different fields. But still, scientists must be free to amke their own decsisions, in teh last analysis. They should not be under the thumb of big business (oil and tobbaco industries in America), reactionary class biases (Cyril Burt's hereditarianism) or ideological fanatics (T.D. Lysenko, Arthur Shockley).

:alize 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.

Question, Barry. Does a small peasant who works his own land really exploit the albor of others? In what way? If you're about to say that communism postcedes capitalism, and capitalism does away with peasants anyway, I respond, oh BS. That assums that capitalism must first be forced on pre-capitalist societies to pave the wya for communism. guess what? Marx said teh same thing about teh British in India (to an extent). And though British colonialism may indeed have paved teh way for communism in Kerala and Bangla, it didn't cede powet for two hundred years, during which it found plenty of time to murder and degrade millions of people. tell the 400 civilians murdered by teh British at the Jallianwalla Bagh that their deaths were a necessary paving stone for socialism....

: 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?

Yes! Science is devoted to teh pursuit of objective truth, not to teh bolstering of elite OR working class power. That is what allows us to say that Cyril Burt's hereditarianism was objectively false AS WELL AS immoral.Not only was hsi statement taht IQ is 80% inherited copmpletely immoral, but it was also teh product of a baldfaced fraud. he made up the sets of twins he used in his head.

If there is no objective standard that is the sole master of science then why the hell was what Cyril Burt did so wrong? Granted, it was immoral by any standard. But don't you see, my criticism of Burt is stronger than yours, if you don't accept that science is objective and extra-societal. If science is merely societal, then what Burt did was merely immoral, not necessarily false. And if morals are a class / social construct, as soem say, then his conduct was neither immoral nor false. My argument is stronger, because I can argue taht he was both immoral AND false. But to do that, I have to first accept that 1) morals and 2) scientific standards are objective and not subject to the desires of classes or societies.

More on the objectivity of morality in another post....
But here's another question. If scince merely serves the interests of society, rather than pursuing objective truth, then how come Galileo challenged the Inquistion?

oh, yes, I forgot; he represented the liberal-secualr bourgeoisie class displacing reactionary feudalism. Kind of like the French revolution, only a few centuries too eraly. Silly me.

: 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?

No, but science is a self-correctinbg enterprise- and I don't belive taht ALL science should be free of state control and restriction, certyainly not abominations like human cloning....but come on, how is a hypothetical fringe issue like human cloning relevant to science as a whole. to say that one must be severely repressed by teh state is not to say that all science should.

: 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?

Create whatever ideology you want. Why not? I'd laugh at you, and maybe have contempt for such artists, but I wouldn't prevent it. Anyone can create art, after all.

: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.**

I knew it! Anti-clericalism reares its ugly head! How about this question. Why have priests been a necessary function in all societies, regardlkess of their mode of production; tribal, feudal, monarchic, democratoic, socialist, capitalist.

: 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.

Yes, but I never got a relaly good answer to my querry as to how scientist can be expected to make any scintific rpogress working in their labs one day a week. is this really what you're advocating Barry? Mauybe, given my hard sciences background, I'm biased here- but still, I don't see how anyoen can think this is possible!

: 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?

Scientists become senators? How is taht going to happen? Actually, I would MUCH prefer engineers running the economy of this country than the current crop of philosophy or business grads. I think that lkarge scale economic industries should alrgely be controlled by engineers and otehr technology experts, who collaborate with democratic representatives of teh workers.

: 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.

Yes, but how undue? Do you really think taht a small caste of rainforest ecologists is going to take over the country? Most of those guys don't even WANT power.

: 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).

Science (pure, not applied), serves objective truth. What ahppens when 'social' needs do not coincide with objective truth. Of course, tehre must be SOME restrictions, but science must still be given a mostly free hand.

: 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.

Nice conspiracy theorism by Skinner above. But as I said, most scientists are not interested in power. And while it may not be your definition of socialism, that's OK; as long as it's not Dr Cruel's or Gee's version of capitalism, it's about ten steps forward.

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