[Marxism] Reply to Tom on the meaning of capitalism and state capitalism

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Wed Dec 15 10:32:03 MST 2004

As far as I can see, I did not "insult" Mahmood. He flatly dismissed what I 
said on spurious grounds, applying some unargued for claims about Marx's 
theory, and I indicated I didn't feel like replying to it. At least Tom does 
argue his case, but the problem with Tom's definition of capital is that he 
doesn't appropriately distinguish between capital and capitalism, plus it's 
rather vague - basically he defines it as a social relation such that the 
direct producers are dominated by their own products as an alien power. 
Since however the direct producers can be dominated by their own products in 
various modes of production as an alien power, this neither captures the 
specificity of capital nor of capitalism, qua mode of production.

If disagreeing with a list-member and pointing to absurd consequences of a 
position being taken constitutes an "insult", then obviously I shouldn't be 
on this list. I am rarely vitriolic, but obviously I am not wholly 
indifferent to stupid innnuendo's.

The basic points I have made in various posts are that if (1) capitalism is 
to be opposed, we ought to be able to define what it is, and if we cannot, 
this is a Quixotic quest (2) the position that capitalism does not contain 
any human or social progress is false, and has nothing in common with Marx, 
who depicted capitalism as a highly contradictory social system containing 
both progressive and regressive tendencies, i.e. progress does occur, but 
often at a terrible price, (3) that a positive concept of socialism is 
required as an alternative to capitalism, (4) not all social, economic, 
cultural and physical problems of humanity can be attributed to capitalism.

As regards (3), the socialist movement has always argued for the social 
ownership of society's productive assets, in contradistinction to private 
ownership of those assets. If Mahmood then argues that private ownership has 
nothing to do with the definition of capitalism, this runs counter to the 
whole socialist tradition and, I might add, the thinking of owners of 
private capital themselves. The substantive argument Tom offered is that 
state ownership of means of production (nationalisation) is not necessarily 
anymore emancipatory than private ownership. There I agree with him, as I 

But from this is does not follow that if all the means of production are 
state-owned, society remains capitalist on the ground that  "the direct 
producers remain dominated by their own products as an alien power". The 
simplest reason is that such domination does not necessarily require any 
capitalism, but could occur under a variety of forms of social organisation 
or modes of production..

The challenge therefore is to devise forms of organisation, association and 
social systems which maximise freedom, equality, justice and so forth, and 
to support progress where it really occurs. But I don't think we really get 
anywhere with that, if (1) all we have to say about previous attempts at 
social ownership or socialist alternatives is that it is "just a form of 
state capitalism", or (2) if alternatives are dismissed because they are not 
consistent with the letter of Marx said. In that case, we are just dealing 
with some kind of religion.

I think I've said my piece for now, and I will sign off - I have to take 
care of the rest of my life, and Marxists or Marxmail don't help me with 
that. Mostly, they just offer complaints.



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