Paternalism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Thu Apr 13 21:11:41 MDT 1995


> >On Wed, 12 Apr 1995, Rahul Mahajan wrote:
> >
> >> It seems to me that the standard Marxist/revolutionary answer to the
> >> problem of paternalism is that this contradiction points clearly to the
> >> need to educate people into political consciousness.
> >
> J:Not Marx's answer, though. "Who educates the educator?" He asks Feuerbach.
>
> R: Although Marx obviously dealt with revolutionary movements, he didn't
> soil his hands with the common folk more than he could help.

Having just read through Mehring's and McLellan's Marx bios, I think I'm
in a position to say that you are mistaken. Marx was an organizer and
fighter as well as a theorist.

To understand
> this point in theoryu is not difficult, but what about practical answers?

Well, to understand Marx's practical answers to the questions he faced we
have to read what he wrote, e.g., about the problems of organizing the
First International, and also look at other information about the context.
Of course his problems were somewhat different from ours. Which isn't to
say we can't learn from him.

> > The flaw,
> >> unfortunately, in that conception is that it assumes that once people are
> >> properly "educated" they will necessarily come to the same point of view,
> >> at least assuming they come from the same class, material conditions, etc.
> >
> J:Why think that properly educated people in the same circumstances will
> >agree? Unless that's what you _mean" by "properly educated." But Marx
> >doesn't assume this. That's why he says that "the Communist have no
> >sectartian principles of their own to impose upon the working class movement."
>
> R:That's who I mean that they mean, they being the ones who I claim have
> this conception. Marx certainly said that, but why do you think I'm talking
> about sectarian principles? If Marx included general principles in this
> statement, then it was clearly disingenuous -- even the writings of Marx
> and Engels are full of complaints about how the working class has become
> satisfied with cosmetic improvements, instead of pushing forward for
> revolutionary change, etc.

Why's that a sectarian principle? Is the only nonsectarian thing to do to
accept whatever workers happen to have as their immediate goals, as
shaped, amomng other things, by capitalist propaganda? If workers vote
Republican, should we join the GOP?

 Lenin decried the "economism" of many segments
> of the working class (the outcome of the 1905 "revolution", as he calls it,
> being the primary case in point.) I'd have to say that Marx definitely
> didn't mean that statement in any global sense.

You mean he supported some imposition of sectarian principles on the
working class? I guess if you mean that he thought that socialists should
advocate socialism, he did.

> >>        Why do we need to tell everyone that socialism is in their best
> >> interests? It certainly isn't true for everyone.
> >
> J:Is thisz supposed to be news to Marxists?
>
> R:I would never claim to be able to enlighten any of the dazzling
> intellects on this list. However, I seem to have come across many
> statements that do not betray an understanding of this idea, viz. "how do
> we convince a worker who's just been made a foreman that his real interests
> lie with the workers"(not an exact quote).

Actually I was thinking about socialism not being in the interests of
capitalists. Foremen (forepeople?) strike me as cases of people who are in
what Wright calls "contradictory class locations"; they're exploited as
workers, but also exploit workers in a noncapitalist way (though by way of
helping capitalists exploit workers, include themselves,
capitalistically.) Still, as workers, socialism is in their interests.

 I would also have to include the
> argument about affirmative action. It is very much a phenomenon of
> capitalist meritocracy, and within that system white workers are certainly
> better off if they don't have to share those jobs with blacks. If one
> assumes the size of the pie for the working class remains constant, then
> the more that blacks and Hispanics can get of it, the less there is for
> white people. If you want to talk about enlarging their share, it seems to
> me that affirmative action is neutral with respect to that -- it's
> essentially redistributive

Well, that's Scott's point. We have to fight with Black and white workers
to take the share from the capitalists.

> >
> >] And what about inequality in the world? Would an
> >> equitable distribution of the world's resources leave the average American
> >> better off materially than she is now? I think not.
> >
> J:Well, there is a deed problem abvout a potential contridiction between
> >democracy and global justice. Two quick answers: (a) a world where we
> >could do something about global inequality would offer nonmaterial
> >benefits (freedom, self-determination) to American workers to compensate
> >for material losses. (b) Getting to that world would require international
> >working class solidarity of a sort that would reduce the tendency of
> >workers to think of themselves as Americans and increase their tendency to
> >think of themselves as workers who benefit when Mexican, etc. workers benefit.
>
> R:If we want to start talking about people benefiting when others benefit,
> even though they're losing materially themselves, then we've strayed pretty
> far from a material basis for our ideas. I agree completely with the first
> point, but it's not clear how much it means to most people as compared to
> the loss of a few luxury goods.

This is a narrow notion of a "material basis" for our ideas. We needn't
understand "materialism" to mean a narrow appeal to people's interests as
consumers, which is essentially what you are talking about. Marxists try
to get people, workers in particular, to think of themselves as producers.
>From that point of view their material interests--their colass
interests--include greater freedom. Incidentally, while I know that some
on this list are skeptical of survey research, such research pretty
consistently supports the idea that above a certain point of material
sufficiency, workers will trade money for time--that is, for freedom.
Moreover, workers in coops will trade self-determination and control over
the work process for money--a fact seized on in a cynical way by QWLC and
othyer capitalist "worker participation schemes" which offer a tradeoff of
money for an appearance of control. Data on request.

> > Furthermore, when we
> >> tell any given worker anywhere to join the cause, knowing full well, the
> >> likelihood of a genuine social revolution in the United States, we are very
> >> likely causing that worker to act against his own best interest by joining
> >> (the standard Prisoner's Dilemma-type argument from game theory -- if
> >> everyone cooperates, then society is best off, but you then stand to gain
> >> from defecting). So let's get off our objective/objectivist high horse and
> >> tell people to struggle because it's the right thing to do -- that's all we
> >> can say with surety.
> >
> J:WEll, my worry is how we can say it is the right thing to do--there's a
> >relativist problem. My agrument, which we've discussed on this list, about
> >a historical directionality towards increased emancipation, is supposed to
> >answer the relativist worry. But that argument does depend on
> >emancipationn being in workers' group interests.
>
> R:Sure, there's a relativist problem. But might-makes-right arguments like
> yours cannot resolve such dilemmas.

My argument is NOT a might makes right one. Socialism is not morally
better because it will win, on my account; it may not win at all. But it
will win, if does, because it is morally better--I argue that because it
embodies a reconciliation of interests necessary for justice which
capitalism does not that it will avoid the tendencies towards
destabilization which push capitalism towards socialism.

 The goal you're pursuing is as
> chimerical as Locke's trying to derive a democratic individualist morality
> from utilitarianism.

Locke is neither a democrat nor a utilitarian. He is an elitist liberal
who wants government by property owners and he's a rights theorist, not a
consequentialist.

 Why does the existence of a historical trend toward
> something mean that you should work toward that something? What about the
> historical trend toward destruction of the environment?

It's not because there's a historical trend towards emancipation that we
should support it, but rather because the historical trend shows that
emancipation succeeds and domination fails on terms each accepts.

> It's a fine thing to apply careful analysis to the evolution of societies.
> But why not emancipate yourself from that outmoded 19th-century goal of
> value-free social restructuring?

Who, me? I'm a realist about ethics who wants to give it explanatory
power--the historical tendency towards emancipation, on my account, is due
to its moral superiority,a lthough this superiority only emerges on the
basis of a complex argument. If anyone is using a fact-value distinction,
it is you, who wish us to support socialism "because it is right," though
how you know this you do not explain. Unlike me.

> Marx succumbed to it quite a bit, but it's
> clearly an idea much more consonant with views of society based on harmony
> of interests, with the main problem being to figure out how things work,
> rather than overthrow the class which exploits.

Huh?

 All choices of action are
> moral choices, and there are no God-given principles on which to base your
> morality. Why bother getting around relativism? It's not going to happen.
>
OK, for you, then, exploiters are right on their own terms to exploit, and
you have nothing to say to them, or anyone else, except, Let's Fight. What
makes that a moral choice, anyway, rather than a preference you happen to
have?

> J:The quick reply to the P-D/public goods problem is that socialism is in
> >workers' group interests, even if acting to get it isn't in
> >theirindividual interests. Note that the problem doesn't even purport to
> >show that socialism is not in their interests, but only that it's in their
> >interests to let other people bring it about. But PDs are soluable.
> >Collectgive action occurs. Public goods come about. That's what solidarity
> >means.
> R:That is not a reply to the PD problem. That is a statement of the PD
> problem.

Solidarity--getting people to act on their collective interests, is
certainly a solution to a PD problem.

 Furthermore, I haven't even insinuated that socialism is not in
> the workers' group interests. Of course action occurs in the real world,
> where things can't attain the pristine straightforwardness and rationality
> of game theory. It's simply that the PD leads to there being a very small
> amount of collective action, even though it's so obviously in the interests
> of the majority of people to do more.

No, it's not obvioiusly in their (individual) interests to do more. It's in
their interests that more be done--which is not the same thing. The PD/CA
problem is that it's in the interests of each worker that someone else do
what is (collectively) in the interests of all.

 Does anyone doubt that the workers of
> the U.S. could have a revolution with the greatest of ease if they were
> united (the main point in their favor being that the U.S. armed forces
> couldn't come and bomb them into submission)?

Point of this? (Except, maybe, Organize! Agitate!)?

--Justin Schwartz




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