More on Utopianism

Paul W. Cockshott cockshpw at
Sun Oct 9 16:47:36 MDT 1994

Chris's basic argument against the USSR is a repetition
of the old right social democratic hypothesis that socialism
was going to arise first in developed capitalist countries.

What justification was there for this hypothesis, it seems
that two could be put forward.

1) That it was only the proletariat, a class with nothing in
   this world but its chains, who would have an interest in
   communist revolution, and it was only capitalist production
   which would produce this class.

2) That communism depended upon material plenty, and that only
   industrial capitalism could lay the basis for this.

These two theories are quite different in their implications,
since the development of capitalism creates an impoverished
proletariat before it produces a highly developed industry.
The great proletarian masses of the world, the hundreds of
millions of the impoverished and dispossesed are in the less
developed countries. These are the people with nothing to lose,
the people with the incentive to make revolutions.

Chris implicitly adopts the second theory, that communism
will evolve peacefully out of advanced capitalism, and projects
this back onto Marx. Whilst it has something in common with
the Marxism of the right of the second international, the political
practice of Marx and Engels contradicts this. They were active
in the communist movements of the 1840s that tried to bring about
communist revolutions in Germany and France.

Consider the level of industrialisation of these countries at
that time, by modern standards their labour productivities were
at third world levels. Would it not therefore have been better
according to Chris's theory for Marx to have urged the French
and German proletariats to cool it and wait a century until
capitalism was developed enough?

Of course this is not what he did, on the contrary he urged
revolution in permanence, turning the bourgeois revolution
into a proletarian one in which despotic inroads into the
rights of private property would be made. Following this
revolution the means of production taken into the hands of
the state which would promote the development of large scale
industry and agriculture - measures broadly the same as
those that communism victorious carried through in China and
the USSR.

The argument from plenty is convincingly dealt with by Nove
{ Economics of Feasible Socialism  , pp 15-20 } , I can give
a brief summary of its problems here.

Consider the standards of life of the working classes of Europe
when Marx or even Lenin were writing. Now consider what the
conception of abundance would have been then:
 adequate and nutritious food, warm clothing and good dry shoes,
 houses with good heating and sanitation, access to education,
 culture, literature and leisure, an 8 hour day, free medical
Given the conditions of life of the 19th century
British proletariat, or the workers in Czarist Russia this
would have seemed abundance {It would still be abundance to
most of the worlds population. It is easy to forget,
living in the US or Western Europe, that the norm for the
world capitalist economy is Mexico city rather than Berlin,
Lagos rather than Stockholm.}. Cars, televisions, home video
cameras would not have featured.

By the standards that the workers movement  originally had in
mind, the workers of East Germany, Czechoslovakia and to large
extent the USSR were already entering into an age of abundance
by the  '80s.  Whilst for significant sections of the population
even a rich  free market economy like the USA fails to provide
abundance of  such necessities as universal health care.

Despite this these economies were still clearly in the thrall of
scarcity. This was true whether the measure of scarcity was the
presence of  queues, the budgetary constraints faced by the
government or the  aspirations of the population for
oriental luxuries like video recorders.

The advance of technology had given rise to new aspirations which
had yet to be met.  In any technically advancing world this is
bound to be the case. Newly developed technologies open up
possibilities that can not immediately be met in unlimited
quantities. It may well be the case that in market economies
advertising artificially stimulates these needs, (which is the
case against advertising), but even in the absence of adverts
there was no lack of demand on the black market for Sony
products in the USSR.

Beyond this, it is an open question as to whether the current
living standard of say France could be extended to the whole world
population given the ultimately limited resources of the globe.

It is even questionable whether the establishment of a socialist
world economy would, in the short run at least, have been helpful
in alleviating scarcity in the USSR after the '60s. Although its
national income per head was below that of the leading imperialist
countries, it was well above average by world standards. As such,
it might be expected that it would  have to make substantial aid
contributions to socialist countries in the third world. The
contributions that it  made to Vietnam, Cuba, Angola etc, were
already a subject of some popular resentment.

Chris claims to be an anti-utopian, but the very idea that you
can judge historical socialist societies by concepts that predate
the existence of these societies is absurd. It is only when a
mode of production comes into existence that we can know it.
It was this realisation that made Marx reluctant to specify in
detail such ideas as he may have had about socialism. Any definitions
that could have been made in the 19th century before any socialist
revolution could only have been speculative. The idea that
Russia or China had to meet up to some pre-existing philosophical
definition of socialism is a relic of utopian thought.

By the way since Chris seems to believe that the Red Army
fought the battle of the Kursk salient etc with Shermans
rather than T34s, can he come up with some statistical evidence?

What proportion of tanks and self propelled guns used by the
Red Army were made in US, what proportion of field artillery,
rocket launchers and heavy mortars, what proportion of aircraft
rifles submachine guns etc?


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