More on Marx and the USSR

donna jones djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Oct 4 11:50:38 MDT 1994


Chris,

I have very much enjoyed the debate which your posts have inspired. Many of
your provocative arguments need  to be further discussed: that prices do
not create shortages, only reveal them; that communism can only arise out
of and exclusively within  advanced capitalist nations; that the Great
Depression was brought on by government manipulation of the banking system
(is this what you argued?); that the Third World is not subject to
"capitalist oppression"; that Soviet success against Nazism can be
attributed to the importation of  Western technology simply as a thing, not
the Soviet ability to assimilate it and deploy it; that whenever people
attempt consciously to change their circumstances, the outcome is worse
than the status quo ante.

I am not sure if these are your claims. This is what I have understood from
your arguments, as I can now recall them. I am interested here in your
assertion that Marx and Hayek share a similar understanding of the
historical process:


>     Paradoxically, both Marx and Engels would agree with
>Hayek that history is the product not of deliberate human
>design, but of unintended social consequences.  Out of the
>various conflicting intentions, something usually emerges
>that is not merely unforeseeable, but sometimes entirely
>OPPOSITE from the original plans of human actors and social
>movements.  Indeed, this was one of Marx's most insightful
>criticisms of the utopians.

I shall leave aside here what Marx criticized as utopian--here you give the
impression that Marx dismissed as utopian any attempt to make history
consciously...on the grounds of a law of unintended consequences

 I can readily agree however that Marx did argue that under capitalism
outcomes could not be forseen: individual capitalists do not understand
that  the very means by which exploitation is enhanced leads over time to a
drop in the average rate of profit; and through their own alienated
activity, workers  sustain the accumulation process by which the demand for
labor (themselves) drops at the very best relatively.

All Marx is demonstrating here is that only unintended consequences are
possible under capitalism (this is part of his critique of capitalism) and
that these consequences are summed up in the general law of accumulation
which Juan developed in a recent post.

>From this, I do not see how it follows that Marx's theory  banishes
conscious human subjects from making history. Of course Marx emphasized
that while people can make history, they cannot do so under circumstances
of their own choosing.  And as John Mepham argued in a sympathetic essay on
Althusser, people may be powerless to effect change unless they sense their
powerlessness as individuals and learn how to act collectively.

But  these "qualifications" are not meant to banish people from conscious
intervention into history, which is then to be left to the mysteries of the
Market and God.  "The anti-humanist posture of the historicist standpoint
is sceptical about the potential that men and women possess for influencing
their destiny.  This belittling of the human potential is not unconnected
from the sentiment that the attempt by humans to control their destiny is
not only unrealistic but also very dangerous.  Attempts at any form of
social expermimentation are often condemned as unnatural.  It is suggested
that it is far better to leave things to work themselves out than to
intervene and upset things.  The rejection of the human potential human
potential is coupled with the fear that this potential may be exercised in
the project of change....For example the collapse of Stalinism is used to
prove the futility of the project of social transformation.  At a more
domestic level, the disease AIDS was deployed to discredit sexual
experimentation; some suggested that it was God's way punishing the sinner.
 Whatever the specifics of the argument, the underlying theme is that of
human limitations and the danger that through experimentation the situation
will become worse....The sense of change has as its precondition a
confident view of the scope of reason and of the human potential.  Once
knowledge and science are seen from this perspective then the conclusion
that human beings can solve the problems thrown up by history makes sense.
Human consciousness now grasps that at least to a limited extent the world
is of its own making.  Or more to the point, it can alter the
circumustances within which it lives.  A consciousness of change, a sense
of the transience of social arrangements, implies a human-centered view of
the world....By questioning tradition and criticising history, people set
themselves up as the sole authorities for their own action."

 Frank Furedi, Mythical Past, Elusive Future, 1992, p. 269ff.
d jones



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