Marx vs. Hayek, conscious action vs. utopianism

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Mon Oct 31 20:38:51 MST 1994

Almost at the beginning of the recent discussion on utopianism versus
conscious action, Chris Sciabarra wrote:

>     And this is an interesting point.... for if human beings
>will NEVER be able to transcend epistemic strictures, then
>ANY ATTEMPT to actualize the Marxian vision will be doomed to
>fail.  Remember that Marx projects a two-stage development
>toward communism.  Since it is only in the SECOND stage that
>people will transcend unintended social consequences, it is
>quite possible that those who try to actualize Marx's vision
>will NEVER master the unintended effects of their implemented
>political plans.

At first sight, Chris places a very concrete objection to the possibility
of conscious action. Still, is it a concrete objection or just an
accumulation of abstractions?

All "political plans" are but concrete forms through which the regulation
of the human social metabolism process takes concrete shape. Therefore,
they are themselves this regulation in action. It is the specific necessity
of this regulation they actualize that appears in their own specificity,
making them be gradual or violent attempts of social change. No matter how
radically a revolution may appear to be changing the form that the general
social relationship takes, the moment itself of that revolution is not
alien to the process of the regulation of human life, but it is this
regulation in action.

As Marx shows, there are three historical stages through which the
regulation of the social metabolism process, that is, the general social
relationship, develops.

"The relations of personal dependency (...) are the first social forms, in
which human productivity develops only in a restricted ambit and in
isolated places. The personal independence based upon the dependency _with
respect to things_ is the second important form through which a general
social metabolism system,  a system of universal relationships, of
universal necessities and universal capacities is formed. The free
individuality, based upon the universal development of individuals and in
the subordination of their collective, social, productivity as a social
heritage, forms the third stage. The second stage creates the conditions of
the third one." (Grundrisse, Dietz Verlag, p. 75)

When someone says (as Chris affirms that Hayek does) that capitalism is not
eternal but, at the same time, that the conscious regulation of human life
by the therefore freely associated individuals is not necessarily the form
through which capitalism supersedes itself, a question immediately emerges:
as conscious regulation and autonomous regulation through the valorization
of value are both ruled out from the beginning, which is going to be the
general social relationship, i.e., which is going to be the general form of
organizing human life in the supposedly new society? In other words, in
which way the total capacity of society to produce its life would be
allocated into its multiple concrete forms, in which way the multitude of
individual human metabolism process would be coordinated to form the social
metabolism process?

According to Chris, what he calls "barbarism, totalitarianism,
corporativism, guild-socialist or neofascist statism," are not some of the
most developed forms of capitalism but post-capitalist societies. If this
is the case, they should be a specific fourth form, unseen by Marx, in the
historical development of the general social relation. But, then, Chris
should have started by showing us with which specificity the regulation of
the social metabolism process is realized through them.

Instead he tells us that, in these societies,

>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

Capitalism produces human life according to the necessities that the
process of capital accumulation determines. The potentiality of capitalism
to revolutionize itself into the conscious regulation of human life does
not arise from its ability to produce use-values for the capitalist to
consume, but to produce use-values for the sake of production itself in
pursue of the multiplication of relative surplus-value, as the material
production is in itself the production of the general social relationship.
But as soon as capitalism is declared gone and capital hypothetically
replaced as the general social relationship by the will of the "ruling
elite," the necessity for such continuously expansion of social production
and labor's productivity goes together with it: this expansion does no
longer materialize the production of the general social relationship. As
the "ruling elite" is left only with the maximization of the production of
use values for its own pleasure (material or spiritual, including its
empowerment, "the state's 'despotic inroads'"), the supposed new social
organization will have not gone beyond capitalism's potencies to
appropriate nature, but felled behind these potencies. How could it then
impose itself upon capitalism?

Does it? Actually, Chris himself tells us it doesn't.

>... the market is gone, prices
>are gone, and economic calculation is suddenly "solved" by
>advanced computer technology.  Hayek would say that the
>result will be calculational CHAOS

So "unintended social consequences" will necessarily arise. How would they
be solved?

>... but the world will go on as
>before, and the workers whom they intend to benefit, will
>resort to buying and selling on all of the black and gray
>markets that proliferate in such "command economies," markets
>that deliver the goods which technocratic leaders almost
>always fail to provide.

The picture is complete. Only if the "ruling elite" puts the means of
production and the labor-power under its direct rule to produce according
to the necessities determined by the accumulation of capital, and insofar
as it concentrates a mass of those means and labor-power beyond the reach
of any more restricted private capital,  it will acquire the power it needs
to impose itself upon the private capitalists. But then, the will of the
"ruling elite" would not be other than the "will" of the capital it
personifies, as it happens with any capitalist. And, of course, inside the
operation of an individual capital, however much owners it might have,
there is only place for the direct conscious regulation. Beyond the
boundaries of this capital, the autonomous regulation goes on imposing
itself as the general form through which, in the last instance of planning
correction or the production by other private capitals for the black
market, society's total capacity to labor, and therefore, to consume, is
allocated into its concrete forms. This is not a fourth specific stage in
the development on human society; it's only just a specific form of capital
accumulation. Therefore, to present this specific form of capitalism as if
it were the negation of capitalism itself, is to assert capital's

In brief, the social process that takes shape in the voluntary attempt to
plan social production and from which unintended consequences arise is not
just a failure in the attempt to consciously regulate human life. It is,
above all, a specific form of the autonomous (therefore unconscious beyond
appearances) regulation of the social metabolism process that takes its
necessary shape though the apparent consciousness of those who had
performed the action in question concerning their own necessity.

Both, the necessity of the "failed attempts" to consciously regulate human
action and the necessity of the conscious regulation to supersede capital,
exist today only because they are concrete necessities of the autonomous
regulation of social life through the valorization of value, capitalism.

Marx, and Engels, clearly point out that the transformation of the world at
stake is the production of the conscious regulation of human life. Chris
reflects this fact in the many quotations he presents in his posting dated
10/10. But he wants them to say what they don't when he says:

>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.

There is no resort whatsoever to "ruling elites" in Marx or Engels
concerning the development of the conscious regulation of human life;
rather, as the quotations that Chris himself presents make it clear, they
see in this conscious regulation the annihilation of all elites. The
reference to ruling elites is just Chris' own invention. Maybe he
introduced them unintentionally, but we all very well know how conveniently
for the apologetics of capitalism some "incidental" changes in what Marx or
Engels said can evolve, in this field of political action where the
scientific consciousness concerning the potency of capitalism to supersede
itself is at stake.

Hayek manages to create the appearance that capitalism can be taken to its
end without being transformed into the free regulation of social life by
presenting all the concrete forms through which the accumulation of capital
necessarily develops (political action materialized in state regulation,
private and state concentration of capital, etc., that Chris exemplifies at
length  in many of his posts) as if they were alien to, and rather the
negation of, capitalism itself. Then he presents the abstraction that
remains, a capitalism emptied of its brutal forms but also deprived of its
potencies to overcome itself, "the market" and moreover, "free market", as
the only true nature of capitalism. In short, this is what has always been
the petite-bourgeoisie fantasy of enjoying capitalism forever without
having to suffer its necessary trends. Hayek's "capitalism" is therefore
just an utopian idealization and, consequently, just an apologetic
representation of capitalism disguised as a pseudo-criticism of its
necessary concrete forms, as Chris himself points out:

>If what exists today is
>degenrating into barbarism, it is not the fault of Hayekian
>free markets and free prices, for these exist nowhere on

On the contrary, Marx discovers how, in spite of its brutal real forms of
depleting human potentialities, or rather through these very real forms,
capitalism (the autonomous regulation of the social metabolism process
through the self-valorization of value) historically determines itself with
a specific necessity through the production of relative surplus-value: to
produce the material necessity (and therefore, the material conditions) for
the general conscious regulation of human life, thus annihilating itself
into this new society. He also discovers how capital accumulation
determines the proletariat as the necessary personification of that
self-annihilating, therefore revolutionary, process. And he discovers how
this process takes its most developed form by producing the proletariat's
transforming action that is conscious of its own necessity beyond any
appearance; that is, the human transforming action that is aware of itself
as a potency of capital, and therefore, as an alienated potency, that
personifies (in each concrete time and place and with the corresponding
gradualness or violence) the necessity of capital to take concrete form in
the conscious regulation of the social metabolism process, until making
this conscious regulation the general form of the social relationship, thus
reaching the annihilation of capitalism. So utopianism has no way of coming
into the determinations of this revolutionary action; on the contrary, as
Marx likewise discovers, utopias belong in the ideological negation of the
necessity of the present-day society to revolutionize itself. For the same
reason, there is no place for "writing recipes for the cook-shops of the
future" when the point is to reproduce in thought the real concrete
necessity of present-day revolutionary action as the necessary form of
consciously regulating this action, as Marx does.

"In its rational form, it [dialectic] is a scandal and abomination to
bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its
comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things,
at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of
its inevitable breaking up;" (Marx, Capital I, Prefaces, Progress
Publishers, p.20)

Now, what about the specific determinations of this cognition process
through which the conscious transformation of capitalism takes its
organizational shape? As Chris states it:

>Indeed, knowledge is BOTH quantitative and
>qualitative.  Knowledge is dialectically connnected to the
>knowing subject, and dependent upon that subject's context,
>values, "know-how," skills, and beliefs.  The market can make
>use of such personal, essentially dispersed knowledge in a
>manner that central administration cannot.  And because
>economic knowledge, like all knowledge, evolves through the
>interplay of many minds, it is that interplay, the dynamic
>market process, that must be preserved if it is to generate
>the kinds of information crucial to such decision-making.

In the first place, conscious regulation must not only "preserve the
knowledge involved in the dynamic market process" but it must overcome the
limitations this process has that prevent it from coping with the
increasing complexity of the social metabolism process as the human
productive forces are developed. The limited capacity of the market in this
direction (as it needs to spoil an increasingly significant part of
society's productive capacity given that concrete labor must be confirmed
as useful social labor after it has been performed and materialized into a
commodity) is precisely one of the basic determinations that forces
capitalism into the conscious regulation of the social capacity to labor
(thus determining concrete labor as directly social labor in the very
moment it is performed).

Just to begin with the simplest part of the problem, let's consider the
point of view of quantitative social determinations as such. When thirty
years were enough, for instance, to make a 64 Kb stand alone batch computer
that filled a room evolve into a 64 Mb note-book worldwide interconnected
in real time (and we are obviously still in the earliest infancy of
computing), it is quite clear that the overcoming of the limitations of
human capacity to manage the whole of quantitative social determinations,
not only as a centralized but, as a directly collective process can be
considered, so to speak, just a matter of time.

50, 100, 1,000 more years? It doesn't make a difference. What is at stake
are the roughly 1,500,000,000 that human life has at least ahead before it
will cease to be possible on earth. This magnitude is just a measure of the
extreme shortsightedness the apologists of capitalism as the eternal form
of human society in general, and specifically Hayek and his followers,
suffer from.

The same can be said concerning the development of computer based
communications as the material support for managing social qualitative
determinations as such in a directly collective process. As such directly
collective processes, these two processes (the management of quantitative
and qualitative social determinations) involve, without the ex-post forced
mediations through materialized labor, each "subject's context, 'know-how,'
skills," as Chris demands.

What about the "subject's values and beliefs"? For those willing to believe
that capitalism is the eternal form of social organization, values and
beliefs (not necessarily this or that one, but as such) appear as inherent
in human nature. They are not. Very briefly, beliefs are the mental
representations of one's own determinations, when one's cognition capacity
is historically determined not to go beyond the appearances of those
determinations, through which social regulation takes shape as a conscious
process limited to appearances. Values are one of the specific forms of the
autonomous regulation of social life, where the general social
interdependence of each individual takes shape in his/her apparent
primarily absolute independence. Values are then the specific forms in
which the social interdependence appears as the conscious acceptance of
social interdependency by each individual as she/he affirms herself/himself
in her/his independence. Therefore, both beliefs and values are historical
social forms that reach their end with the general conscious regulation of
social life.

Of course, as we ourselves are determined as personifications of human
potencies alienated as the potencies of capital to overcome itself and not
as individuals that freely develop their potencies, our own consciousness
is immediately determined to take shape through values. Therefore, the
cognition of our own necessity concerning each concrete revolutionary
action must unavoidably account for the determination of our consciousness
by values, until discovering the real necessity beyond their appearances.

"... the epistemic strictures that Hayek has so eloquently written about"
(Chris) are not absolute limitations to the general conscious regulation of
social life but some of the historical specific conditions confronting
which this regulation must begin its development.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at


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