The meaning of "socialism"

m.lepore at m.lepore at
Thu Sep 1 16:21:00 MDT 1994

 Reply to Stephen Grossman sgrossman at in MARXISM Sep 1,1994

    >    You're changing the subject from Marx's definition of
    >    socialism to the cause of capitalist motives.

 My point was that the reforms which some people regard as
 "socialistic" (unemployment insurance, food and pharmaceutical
 regulations, etc.) are actually among the capitalists' own measures
 needed to save their system.  Therefore, in answering the popular
 misuse of the word "socialism", it becomes necessary to mention
 capitalist objectives in adopting these measures.  It is not their
 objective to eliminate the division of society into bosses and
 servants, and this isn't their result, and therefore these reforms
 are not examples of "socialism."

 To my knowledge Marx never defined socialism.  Marx usually said what
 socialism is NOT, by mentioning some things which socialism would
 need to abolish, such as as "abolition of all class rule" (IWMA
 Preamble), "abolition of the wage system" (_Value, Price, and
 Profit_) and "abolition of buying and selling" ( _Communist
 Manifesto_) and "abolition of the world market" (_German Ideology_ ?)
 Marx felt that his time would be put to better use by analyzing where
 we are and have been, so in writing such exhaustive works as
 _Capital_, Marx made it a full time career to explain the miserable
 operation of capitalism, and left it up to future generations to
 complete the job by discovering what to replace capitalism with.

 Engels was slightly more specific than Marx in proposing socialism -
 at least he wrote such things as "social regulation of production
 upon a definite plan, according to the needs of the community and of
 each individual...." (_Socialism: Utopian and Scientific_)  Still,
 this is not very specific - not enough to satisfy me.

 I personally prefer the approach of the De Leonist school of Marxism,
 which proposes a rather specific administrative structure, e.g.,
 management through intra-industry and inter-industry
 councils, in addition to an all-industry congress composed of
 delegates elected by occupational constituencies, and so forth.
 Without some details I don't know how one can know what alternative
 has been proposed.

    >    castes are stable; classes, in capitalism, are unstable.
    >    Around 1900, in a much more capitalist economy, it was
    >    common enough for businessmen to leave their businesses to
    >    incompetent sons

 So now they inherit a diversified portfolio instead of inheriting
 "the business." Either way, people who don't own capital have to be
 employed by people who own capital.  My choice of the word "caste"
 was imprecise, but not too imprecise  :-)

 The inheritors are not necessarily incompetant.  It's the opposite
 problem, the lack of any correlation at all between technical
 competance and the legal right to cast 100,000 votes for the CEO.
 Management by inheritance makes no more sense to me than the
 transition of Roman rule from Augustus to Tiberius to Gaius.  Maybe
 the new ruler is wiser than the previous one, or maybe less wise, but
 it's quite random.

    >    As I said and you have ignored,

 I said I don't understand a lot of what you're saying.  Not the
 same thing as ignoring it.

    >    Marxism is a perceptual economics in which only immediate,
    >    concrete, physical action is considered productive.

 An activity is productive if it does something specific that is
 recognized as necessary, e.g., a teacher helps people to learn to
 read, a nurse cares for the sick, etc.  But capitalism creates a lot
 of "work" that doesn't achieve anything that we can all recognize
 to be necessary, such as producing advertising to convince the
 consumer that I should buy a new pick-up truck so that I'll feel
 like a roaming cowboy, etc.  There's nothing productive in it.

    >    The conceptual mentality of capitalism is as alien here as a
    >    man from Mars.

 Capitalism was a necessary historical phase to move society from the
 agricultural age to the age of automated mass production.  Well,
 here we are: mass produciton exists.  Capitalism has fulfilled its
 purpose.  Now we can move beyond it.  When the broken leg is healed,
 we can throw away the crutches.

    >    My cat perceives my hands moving, perceives sounds,
    >    perceives light and dark patterns on the bright thing in
    >    front of him but he does not have a conceptual faculty to
    >    identify the use of a computer.  This is the limit of the
    >    knowledge of children, the insane, criminals, primitive
    >    savages, and Marxists about a capitalist economy.

 That seems a bit circular.  You're starting out by noting that
 Marxists have wrong ideas, and then concluding that Marxists have
 wrong ideas.  Instead, the argument should center around certain
 axioms and what you think is wrong with them.

    >    the absurd claim that production (for survival) is automatic
    >    so we should work to merely express our "individual" part of
    >    some alleged social consciousness.  Work as play!

 I partially agree with you there.  That's why I disagree with the
 Free Access socialists who believe in immediately abolishing
 money, and anything similar to money, and instituting unlimited
 access to all goods and services, without measuring and crediting
 personal work hours.  Because work and play are distinct, I believe
 that socialism would need the incentive of permitting an individual
 who works 15 hours per week to have twenty-five percent greater
 personal income than he or she would have by working only 12 hours
 per week.  This issue does not directly address capitalism versus
 socialism; it only has to do with preference for a particular form.

    >    Marx's species-being is mystical nonsense.  Only individuals
    >    are real.  Society is an abstraction.

 ... to be contrasted with:

      "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum
      of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals
      stand."                 Marx, _The Grundrisse_

 I expect that the truth is somewhere in between these two extreme

 There are situations in which potentials of things only appear in
 certain combinations with other things.  Oxygen and aluminum and
 uranium are made of the same kinds of particles, but put together in
 various quantities and structures, and therefore have different
 characteristics.  The difference between a living organism and a pile
 of chemicals is only one of structure.  With that as our general
 experience (the "transformation of quantity into quality", if you
 prefer to use the classical marxist words), I don't see any
 difficulty with supposing that there could be much variety in human
 behavior and experiences depending on how society is organized.
 Therefore I don't agree that "only individuals are real."

    >    Marx accepted the death of God but retained the religious
    >    morality of selflessness and thus hated the modern world of,
    >    above all, individual achievement.

 Examples?  I have never seen Marxism call for "selflessness" in any
 sense that I can think of.  And Marxism only limits "individual
 achievement" if you view such achievement as synonymous with the
 hoarding money by the few, to the great inconvenience of the many.

    >    Lepore makes mind (or the subsconsious) the creator of reality
    >    where exactly did I say a thing like that?
    >    Its the implicit, logical context of economic determinism

 I'm afraid you have lost me.  I think "economic determinism" and the
 belief that "the mind" is "the creator of reality" are quite
 opposite.  When Marx was in one of his more deterministic moods (his
 mood vascillated a bit), he wrote:  "It is not the consciousness of
 men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social
 being that determines their consciousness." (preface to _A
 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy_)  But some people
 think that the human body is a "container" which has a "spirit"
 inside of it.  You may hold either viewpoint, but virtually the whole
 right and left of the philosophical spectrum at least agree that the
 two viewpoints are opposed.

    >    Science is the creation of philosophy and stands or falls
    >    with it.

 Hmmm - I'll give you my definition.  Science is the collection and
 classification of observations, the formation of hypotheses to
 explain the structure and causation found in those observations, and
 the use of reason and additional experience to test the validity of
 those hypotheses.

    >    A is A.  Of course, you can value contradictions if you
    >    please and you can even guide your actions thereby.  But you
    >    are not free to avoid running into the metaphysics of
    >    identity.  Thats why socialism cannot create wealth but only
    >    steal it from capitalism.

 That's quite a leap.  The law of identity, A=A, and two sentences
 later, capitalism yes, socialism no.  Is that what they mean by a
 "syllogism" ?  :-)

 Now here's mine: 1+1=2; therefore, capitalism must be destroyed. :-)

 What a great way to debate.  A person can prove anything.

 on dialectics...
    >    does not enable anyone to distinguish between a true
    >    hypothesis and a false one.
    >    Then you are not a principled, systematic Marxist

 All hypotheses are independent and do not stand or fall with any
 others.  The parallel between social history and improvements in the
 tools of production, the class struggle as a lever of social change,
 the theory of exchange value, Marx's rebellion against his parents'
 religion, and Marx's love of eating seafood and reading the poetry of
 Aeschylus, are all various aspects of a writer.  There is no single
 thing called Marxism.  Science doesn't feature the sort of unity
 found in the teachings of the Catholic Church, all or nothing, in
 which you can live your whole life as a saint, but then see just one
 sexy movie and your soul must go to hell.  In science, you can be
 usually right and still say something wrong, or you can be usually
 wrong and still say something right.  Each hypothesis must be
 evaluated individually.

    >    Knowing a specific machine operation does not automatically
    >    provide the knowledge of anticipating and making practical
    >    use of _constantly_ changing ideas, values, inventions,
    >    trades, etc.  of customers, suppliers, and competiters.  The
    >    failure of most new businesses to make consistent profits
    >    proves, within a rational economics, that only a relatively
    >    few people can profitably manage production in the long-run.
    >    Cooperative labor is unproductive unless led by individual
    >    reason

 First of all, socialism doesn't need to be a good at the methods for
 fighting with competitors and making a profit, because it eliminates
 these objectives.  So if socialist managers will lack this sort of
 "talent", so what?  (Similarly, a bus driver doesn't have to know
 how to whip a team of horses.)

 Secondly, there is no need to wonder if it's possible to have people
 elect "relatively few" managers, because we already have elected
 management of a sort.  The management today is elected by owners of
 capital.  To be a capitalist is to have two things, (1) some money;
 and, (2) the knowledge of how to use a telephone directory to find a
 stock broker.  Every year they receive a proxy card in the mail and
 are called upon to vote.  The owners of the capital could be
 geniuses, or they could have the intelligence of a chimpanzee - it
 doesn't matter.  All that matters is that they install managers who
 know how to assemble and coordinate the departments of R&D,
 manufacturing, etc., and get the job done.  Now along comes the
 socialist who suggests that, instead of stockholders electing the
 management, one share - one vote, it would be better to have the
 workers elect the managers, one person - one vote.  Even if you're
 correct in saying that "relatively few people" can manage an economy,
 this still doesn't demonstrate that we need to extract profits and
 send the lion's share of the proceeds away to absentee owners.
 In what you have said there's no reason to dismiss the idea of
 production directly to satisfy social use instead of for private

    >    production is held down to the least competent so all will
    >    feel equal

 Where did Marx propose that?  (Name of book is sufficient.  Page
 number not necessary.)

    >    The material universe yields only to individual achievement,
    >    not warm communal feelings

 Fine, except it has been over a hundred years since capitalist
 opulence and luxury has been based on individual achievement.  If you
 only have one employee, you have to work yourself.  If you have three
 or four employees, you still have to work.  But when you get
 somewhere near a hundred employees, or a thousand, then you can
 simply say, "Take over for me.  Hire managers as needed.  I'll be
 relaxing on the beach.  I'll keep you informed of my current address.
 Mail me my dividends." Individual achievement, you say?  It sounds to
 me more like the workers tend to do all the work, while the owners
 tend to be parasites.

 I'll have to think for a while about your stuff about Plato and
 epistemology and so forth.  This is not my area of specialization.

 What is your usage of the word "secular" in describing socialists?
 I hope you're not saying that recitation of the Lord's Prayer should
 be required in school.

 Why do you call us "discontents"?  I thought you were also displeased
 with with the way things are.  (Hare Krishna.)

    >    Capitalism grows indirectly from the free will choices of
    >    individuals in a society, if those choices are based upon
    >    the metaphysically first human choice: to reason about
    >    reality.

 Perhaps, if we could all be blacksmiths and cabinet makers and so
 forth - i.e., if this were the year 1776.  However, most people
 today, in order to live, have to seek and obtain employment by
 someone else.  The experience is very degrading.  Like the comedian
 on TV said last week, "WORK is the only place in life in which
 someone can yell at you, and all you can say is 'Thank you.'"  I do
 not agree that "free will" has anything to do with the process.

    >    News reports are constantly filled with descriptions of
    >    individual businessmen _creating new_ wealth

 I know of cases in which wealth is produced by modifying the
 materials which the earth has provided, making something out of them,
 and delivering the results.  I also recognize many useful services,
 like the babysitter, the housepainter, etc.  But I don't know of
 anything socially necessary that arises from "business."

 There's an old joke...  I sell you a horse for $30.  You sell it back
 to me for $35.  I sell it back to you for $40.  The next day I find
 out that you sold the horse to someone else.  I ask you, "Why did you
 go and do that?  We were making a good living off that horse!"

 That's the essense of business.  It moves money around and promotes
 lots of transactions, and this creates the illusion that it's doing
 something useful.

    >    These discontents, pining for feudal stagnation, regard
    >    wealth as part of nature, like dirt and rain, rather than as
    >    products of volitional human action, action which may or may
    >    not be taken.

 Who said that?  (Whoever it was, that person sure was silly.)

                     Mike Lepore   mlepore at


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