Stalin, determination, chaos

Howie Chodos howie at
Mon Mar 27 09:49:02 MST 1995

Some semi-random questions that occur to me regarding three recent posts:

First, Justin Schwartz wrote:

>I find the questions about determination theoretically quite interesting
>but of limited practical relevance here. Sure, I like the aphorism that
>Men and Women Make Their Own History, But Not Just As They Please. When I
>taught Marxism, I used to say that that was the theory in one sentence or
>less, the rest was commentary. It's not inconsistent with the Social Being
>Determines Consciousness (and Not Vice Versa) slogan--that's the Not Just
>as They Please part.

My question is whether this means that the only way to interpret the first
aphorism is in light of the second? In other words, if I agree with the
first one does that imply agreement with the second? I can accept that
Justin interprets it the way that he does, but it still seems to me that it
is plausible to see a tension bordering on incompatibility between the two.

Second, Tom Condit wrote:

>Stalin's basic crime, of course, was adopt the position that
>socialism (or something which his supporters would come to call
>socialism) could be created by force and determination in the
>Soviet Union, and to subordinate the entire world communist
>movement to that position.  We're living with the consequences.

I agree that we are living with the consequences and that Stalin did
subordinate the world revolution to his own definition of the needs of the
Soviet Union. What I am less clear about, as I suggested in a previous post,
are the implications of identifying his "basic crime" as socialism in one
country. Are there lessons for future socialisms here? In other words, would
a socialist state that rejects the doctrine of socialism in one country do
things differently in terms of internal policy as well as in terms of
support for international revolution?

Third, Ron Press wrote:

>  A rigid complex system fails to satisfy the demands for its self
>  preservation. It suffers from internal and external pressures
>  which leads to the breakdown of its organisation. The system
>  boarders on chaos. It has a choice relapse into complete chaos
>  and selfdestruct or a new system emerges from the borderline and
>  reestablishes a system which can survive.
>  If the new system is inflexible and again unable to survive the
>  pressures it too relapses into chaos.  And the process repeats.
>  The arrow of time implies that the first system is replaced by a
>  second and subsequently a third.
>  However the ideas of non-linear processes and strange Attractors
>  allows for the possibility that the first system is followed by
>  the second but theat the third system is a variant of the first.
>  For first read Capitalism, the second socialism, the third
>  communism.

My question is how two features of the human condition fit into this
account. First there is consciousness and intentionality, and second there
is the malleability of human needs. I guess what I am confused about is the
nature of the "pressures" which lead to the collapse of existing systems and
pave the way for their supercession by new systems. Can we ever say that
there is some bottom line that will oblige people to act to change the way
society is organized, some horror so great that it compels us towards
radical change, some spectre of chaos or barbarism so horrific that we will
embrace any alternative that promises an improvement no matter how marginal?
In other words, is capitalism really heading for chaos, or does it still
have a lot of life left in it as long as there is not a superior alternative
on the horizon?

Howie Chodos

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