An answer to critics....

SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
Mon Oct 10 19:49:25 MDT 1994


     In this posting, I'd like to deal with some of the
criticisms to my post, "More on Utopianism."

     First up... Paul Cockshott.  Paul argues that my
"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."  He claims
that I implicitly accept the thesis that communism depends
upon "material plenty, and that only industrial capitalism
could lay the basis for this."

     I agree with Paul that the political practice of Marx
and Engels provides some evidence that would contradict this
thesis.  They were both convinced (wrongly) that socialism
was imminent.  It is also true that Marx didn't project
comprehensive socialist blueprints, and that he recognized
the need to understand varying historical conditions.  Any
adherent to the materialist conception, he warned, should not
accept its precepts in a formulaic manner.  Despite these
qualifications, I think it is nonetheless true that Marx did
view communist society as an outgrowth of advanced capitalist
material conditions.  I think there is more than enough
evidence in Marx's writings to justify this claim, and I
certainly won't repeat all of this here.

     Paul argues however, that in my claims "to be an anti-
utopian" I have judged "historical socialist societies by
concepts that predate the existence of these societies," and
that this practice "is absurd.  It is only when a mode of
production comes into existence that we can know it. . . .
The idea that Russia or China had to meet up to some pre-
existing philosophical definition of socialism is a relic of
utopian thought."

     For the most part, Paul is correct.  But I have NOT
judged "historical socialist societies" by philosophical
abstraction.  I have merely claimed that twentieth-century
socialist incarnations are not what Marx projected in his
broad materialist conception of history.  As for myself, I do
not even BELIEVE that communism MUST arise from capitalism.
I have merely presented one possible interpretation of what
Marx said.  Indeed, I am perfectly willing to judge
"historical socialist societies" on their own terms.  And
Paul, on their own terms, these societies have been MISERABLE
failures in a variety of ways:  hampered production, new
class power relations, state terror... you name it.

     As for presenting statistics that would show how the
U.S. helped the Soviet Union during World War II, let me say
this:  Nobody is denigrating the courageous Russian people
for their ability to fight the Nazis.  Many fought, and more
died than in any other country.  And I have no doubt that the
Russians were adept at producing arms and military machines.
(That's about all that state socialist societies are good
at.)  I have merely acknowledged that without Lend Lease,
without infusions of Western money and food, without a two-
front war, the Soviets would not have been as fortunate as
they were.  Of course, Hitler might have been defeated - like
Napoleon - by the Russian winter.  But even if the Russians
could have defeated Hitler SINGLE-HANDEDLY, who cares???  I
do not believe that the ability to defeat an adversary in war
is PER SE, proof of one's virtue.  In my view, Stalin and Mao
are probably shaking hands with Hitler on the Ninth Circle.

     Also in response to my posting, Philip Goldstein argues
that in the communist era, the ruling elites will not have to
master the unintended consequences of their actions.  Well, I
do not believe that ruling elites CAN master the unintended
consequences of their actions, but I do believe that Marx and
Engels strongly suggest that such will be the case.  Engels
reminds us that "up to now" history has evolved
"unconsciously, that is, the events and their further
consequences have not been intended; the ordinary actors in
history have either wanted to achieve something different, or
else what they achieved has led to quite different
unforeseeable consequences." (Letter to Sombart, 3/11/1895).
After the achievement of socialism, this changes.  In Marx's
words, socialism achieves the "direct and conscious control
of society."  By implication, conscious control involves
intended consequences, or as Hayek would say, that "every
action would have to be judged as a means of bringing about
known effects."

     Consider Engels again, from ANTI-DUHRING, a work that
was conceived, written, and published while Marx was alive.
(It was a work that met with his approval.)  Engels writes:
(in all cases, emphasis added):

     "But with the taking over by society of the productive
forces, the social character of the means of production and
of the products will be utilised by the producers with a
PERFECT UNDERSTANDING of its nature, and instead of being a
source of disturbance and periodical collapse, will become
the most powerful lever of production itself.

AND...

    "ACTIVE SOCIAL FORCES work exactly like natural forces:
blindly, forcibly, destructively, so long as we do not
understand, and reckon with, them . . . But when once their
nature is understood, they CAN, in the hands of the producers
working together, BE TRANSFORMED FROM MASTER DEMONS INTO
WILLING SERVANTS."

AND ....

     "With the seizing of the means of production by society,
production of commodities is done away with, and,
simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer.
. . . THE WHOLE SPHERE OF THE CONDITIONS OF LIFE which
environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now COMES
UNDER THE DOMINION AND CONTROL OF MAN, WHO FOR THE FIRST TIME
BECOMES THE REAL, CONSCIOUS LORD OF NATURE, BECAUSE HE HAS
NOW BECOME MASTER OF HIS OWN SOCIAL ORGANISATION.  THE LAWS
OF HIS OWN SOCIAL ACTION, hitherto standing face to face with
man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, WILL
THEN BE USED WITH FULL UNDERSTANDING, AND SO MASTERED BY HIM.
MAN'S OWN SOCIAL ORGANISATION, hitherto confronting him as a
necessity imposed by nature and history, NOW BECOMES THE
RESULT OF HIS OWN FREE ACTION.  THE EXTRANEOUS OBJECTIVE
FORCES THAT HAVE HITHERTO GOVERNED HISTORY PASS UNDER THE
CONTROL OF MAN HIMSELF.  ONLY FROM THAT TIME WILL MAN
HIMSELF, WITH FULL CONSCIOUSNESS, MAKE HIS OWN HISTORY - ONLY
FROM THAT TIME WILL THE SOCIAL CAUSES SET IN MOVEMENT BY HIM
HAVE, IN THE MAIN AND IN A CONSTANTLY GROWING MEASURE, THE
RESULTS INTENDED BY HIM.  It is the humanity's leap from the
kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom."

AND...

     "The notion that the ideas and conceptions of people
create their conditions of life and not the other way round
is contradicted by all past history, in which results
constantly differed from what had been desired and in the
further course of events were in most cases even the
opposite.  ONLY IN THE MORE OR LESS DISTANT FUTURE CAN THIS
NOTION BECOME A REALITY IN SO FAR AS MEN WILL UNDERSTAND IN
ADVANCE THE NECESSITY OF CHANGING THE SOCIAL SYSTEM, ON
ACCOUNT OF CHANGING CONDITIONS, AND WILL DESIRE THE CHANGE
BEFORE IT FORCES ITSELF UPON THEM WITHOUT THEIR BEING
CONSCIOUS OF IT OR DESIRING IT."

     Now, I am not saying that theorists as intelligent as
Marx and Engels would hypothesize human omniscience.  But
their projections come damn close to such totalizing
knowledge of the social process.  Marx himself suggested
(and Critical Marxists have expanded on this proposition) -
that socialism ends the dualism of knowledge and labor, of
articulated knowledge and "know-how."  Marx suggests a social
transformation that is deeply dependent on a profound
epistemic transformation.  People will be, according to Marx,
far more efficacious under socialism, than they have been
under all previous historical conditions.  Perhaps this
doesn't mean that every action must be understood in terms of
ALL of its consequences... but, as Trotsky later observed,
man, in the future society, "will raise himself to a new
plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you
please, a superman."  Sorry, guys... I'll leave Supermen and
Superwomen to DC Comics.  It ain't gonna happen.

     Finally, a comment on Louis N. Proyect's posting.  Louis
asks if I judge the "bourgeoisie" by the same stringent
standards as I have the state socialists.  Your damn right I
do!!  You won't find in me a flag-waving, gun-toting,
America-love-it-or-leave-it mentality.  I fully recognize
that primitive capital accumulation depended extensively on
all sorts of state-sponsored and state-legitimated terror
across the globe.  There is no doubt that in the evolution of
a neo-mercantilist, neo-colonialist, international system,
there has been massive violence.  Revolutions have, in the
past, and will, in the future, probably include violence.

     You may call me a utopian, if you wish, but I would
prefer a future in which violence is not the ultimate
panacea, for when people rely on violence and the coercive
state, they cannot transcend these means to their own
projected `non-violent' and `non-statist' ends.  Using the
coercive state to transcend the coercive state is a
contradiction in terms.  I fear that in the absence of full
conscious control over society (something which is not
possible), the state's "despotic inroads" have become ends in
themselves.
                              - Chris
=============================================================
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at acfcluster.nyu.edu
  BITNET:  sciabrrc at nyuacf
=============================================================


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