Socialist Utopia

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Jun 29 21:52:10 MDT 1995

Jim's remark, quoted below, embodies a confusion Marx and Engels were
attached to in a deeply inconsistent way. On one han it is said taht the
choice between utopianism and scientific socialism is the same as taht
betyween socialism from above, imposed on the workers by an undemocratic
elite, and socioalism from below, proposed and developed by the workers
themselves. Now of course we can alla gree (I hope) that SfA is a Bad
Thing and SfB is the way to go. But to assume that the development pof
specific, clearly articulated models, with the assumptions laid out and
thae arguments filled in--obviouslya t some degree of abstraction, for
the purpose of thesting whether some proposed  alternative might work or
how it might or, ertc. is the same as proposong taht somne group of well
meaning elitists dictate the shape of a future society to the ignorant
and benighted is just a confusion. A desperate and terrible one, and I
would expect Jim to have avoided it.

Of course thew orkers will decide--we couldn't tell them what to do, and
make them do it, even if we wanted to. Which we don't. But that's not the
purpose of modelling utopias, that is, it isn't to dicate to thew orkers.
Reasonable purposes for socialist utopianism isnclude: exploring whether
certain models of socialist society (planned, market, etc.) might work,
and what it would take for them to work. That is, to make a case for
feasinility, or to identify problems with amind to specifying solutions,
etc. Practically, an important purpose of utopianism of thius sort id to
have answers when people ask you questions like, What's Your ALternative?
It Didn't Work In Russia. They will not be impressed by saying, Oh, well,
the workers will fix it all anyway when they come to it--I can;t be more
specific than that, That' isn't real persuasive, as we all know,
practically speaking. Third, although this point is somewhat more
removed, in facta  good deal more removed right now, the modelling work
will after all have to be done by a socialist government deciding on
policy. We might as well start now. Fourth, such work enables us to
address questions from the practical experience of the worker';s
movements, e.g., the effectiveness and limits of coops,w hat happened in
Yugoslavia or the FSU, etc. There are a lot of other reasons as well.

OK, I started by saying that Marx and Engels were inconsistent in their
anti-utopianisma nd their purported refusal to write recipes for the
cookshops of the future, and the above was On the One Hand. On the
Other, of course, they did write such recipes. They insisted on the goal
of a planned, nonmarket economy. They didn't say, taht's up to the
workers to decide. The thought this was built into History and
determined by the unfolding logic of Capital, moreover, they offered
very specific and, given their premises and targets, powerful arguments
against market models urgedf by Proudhon, Grey, Bray, etc. The altter I
think is just the sort of thing that we need to do--formulate and
critique models of possible alternatives. But that incl;udes planned and
nonmarket models too, the tenability of which must be shown before we
can accept this a reasonable, feasible goal. This especxially in view
not only of the collapse of the Stalibist style command economies but
also the impressive Mises-Hayek critique of generalized planning. (Paul
C. and Alain take this question seriously, good for them!) Butcause
after all, Marx was roght in a sense  on both sides:

1. It is up to thew orkers, and
2. We neeed models specificieda nd defended.

The problem with Jim;s traditional Marxist line, and Marx's too, is that
Marx's pro-planning line forgets the first, qhich leads him to slight
the second.

--Justin Schwartz

Jim said: In my reading, the point of utopianism for Marx and
Engels was  > for workers to figure out for themselves how to run society
> rather than to follow Noyes or some other utopian leader (David
> Koresh?) into the hinterland. Of course, the utopias that fit
> with Marxism are those that hope to embrace all of society
> (Bellamy for socialism from above, Morris for socialism from
> below, etc.) rather than some isolated colony.
> for socialism from below,
> Jim Devine      jdevine at
> Los Angeles, CA (the city of O.J.)
>      --- from list marxism at ---

     --- from list marxism at ---


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