[Marxism] Reply to Melvin on basic socialist economic theory

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Wed Mar 24 13:53:11 MST 2004


Melvin,

Haven't got time just now to write about the transition to socialism. I
meant to write a book about it, but since my life was messed around with so
much by too many patronising meddlers without my consent, I haven't
got round to it and couldn't find the peace to write it.

Personally, I have zero income at the moment and debts, and only
a tiny bit of pension. So as for me, my earnings
have to start yet, I have to somehow get the cash together yet. Sometimes I
think I cannot be bothered anymore, stuff this rotten, demeaning life, but
anyway that's the challenge. All I can do here is make a few short remarks.

It is very easy to show through a bit of simple logic that

(1) entitlement to access to resources for the purpose of use or
consumption, must involve ownership rights and obligations, and that

(2) as long as people must have something (to produce, use or consume) in
order to be something, you cannot escape from socially accepted rules for
entitlement to resources of any kind. If you don't have those, civil society
is impossible.

Of course, you could call ownership rights and obligations something else,
but as soon as there are disputes about the effective control over resources
then this forces the adoption of a norm of some kind. Hence the idea of the
abolition of property is just wrong.

If you argue that "any form of property is domination by definition and
reinforce a social position" this is both false and contrary to Marx's
argument. If any form of ownership entitlement is domination, socialism is
impossible and communism is impossible to achieve.

The socialist argument is essentially that

(1) bourgeois ownership relations, while undeniably developing human
relations of increasing cultural sophistication, are based on, and create,
entitlements (claims) pertaining to the production, distribution and
consumption of resources which are morally indefensible from the standpoint
of the total effects they have on people and their environment,

(2) these ownership relations create a very severe misallocation of
humanity's resources, causing millions of preventable deaths, millions of
cases of ill-health, escalating criminality (immoral behaviour), escalating
ecological destruction, as well as constant conflicts and wars which are
unnecessary and preventable.

(3) these ownership relations make it impossible to truly realise a basic
moral code beneficial to all people on the earth,

(4) these ownership relations will cause the ruination of the human species,
unless they are changed into something better and more socially responsible,
and

(5) the negotiation of these ownership relations themselves escape from
control by the community as a whole, making a conscious and wise allocation
of resources by the whole community difficult if not impossible.

(6) The transition to socialism therefore involves a transformation of
ownership relations which changes the conditions of access to resources, by
means of new rules of entitlement, the benefits of which must be
demonstrated logically and practically through participation in the
democratic process.

(7) Socialism by no means totally abolishes all private ownership, either of
means of consumption or means of production, it merely redraws the
boundaries of private, semi-private, semi-public and public ownership
(collective ownership) in order to establish a more efficient, effective,
healthy and morally acceptable allocation of resources, through a
combination of regulated markets and direct distribution of goods and
services.

(8) It is possible to realise socialism because the knowledge, technology
and productivity exists to realise it.

If I am in favour of socialism that is not because of a sentimental reason,
but because an egalitarian society makes possible a reduction in crime
through higher economic growth and better distribution of resources. There
already exists irrefutable statistical proof of this, and that means, that
realising an increase in morally sound behaviour is conditional on an
increase in egalitarianism.

When you say "Affirmative action cannot alter a historically evolved
intractable social position" this is false, because it can change that
position, only not very much, because it presupposes a redistribution of
resources which corrects a previous misallocation of resources, without
however abolishing that misallocation of resources itself. Therefore the
condition which produces the misallocation of resources is not removed, only
mitigated. But that does not make affirmative action wrong, it might be
necessary to use affirmative action just to clear up a misallocation of
resources in the future.

When you say that "one cannot legislate out of existence the law of value"
this is false, because legislation which prohibits trade or exchange in
resources abolishes the law of value in respect of the allocation of those
resources. What you cannot abolish, however, is the necessity to balance
production costs and consumption requirements, since, as Marx says, "people
can no more cease to produce than they can cease to consume". If trading
occurs in such a way that real human needs are not appropriately
acknowledged or recognised, then there is an argument for abolishing them,
and replacing them with another distributive principle specifying different
rules for entitlement. If on the other hand trading relations promote human
welfare from the social point of view, then they should be retained.

You ask: Why should this growing class - which is not just black, work to
eat? Why should they have to work to have housing, medical care, education
and public transportation?

>From a socialist point of view, they should work to eat, because otherwise
there's nothing to eat. The whoring economy still presupposes that some
people produce goods and services that others can consume. Hence the whoring
economy is ultimately parasitic on the producers on material goods and
services. The real question is how much people should work - what allocation
of work duties is acceptable and necessary. If people work more for others,
they are entitled to more, if people work less for others, they are entitled
to less. But if people are prevented from working by ownership relations, or
if those ownership relations cheat people out of the proportionate reward
for their work, then the ownership relations are unjust and should be
changed.

You say: The genesis of the breach within man or his alienation from himself
resides in consumption or what he
literally eats... Science solves the question of nutrition.

There is some truth to that, you are what you eat. But science does not
solve the problem of nutrition, it shows only how it can be solved, because
it cannot force anybody, to eat anything that they do not want to eat. They
have to want to eat well, but science can only provide reasons or a moral
imperative for eating well. The real breach is the incapacity to reconcile
the individual with the social totality of which s/he is a part, i.e. the
existence of contradictions between self-interest and social interest, which
must be constantly mediated. The way that mediation occurs in modern society
makes things better in some ways, but a lot worse in other ways, such that,
globally, the effect is that it makes things worse. If trading processes are
deregulated, then the allocation of resources that results will favour the
strong (those who already possess resources) and disadvantage the weak (who
lack buying power). Consequently, socio-economic inequality increases, and
that has effects for every other area of human life: health, human
development, culture, happiness, etc.

I don't want to discuss Christianity and christianism in depth at this
point, apart from saying that Christianity provided a basic moral code which
historically had an important civilising influence (as well as causing
deaths) by regulating human needs and desires through a basic moral code.
But moral codes must change and develop in accordance with the stage of
human development and civilisation which people have really reached, and so
old texts may no longer be sufficient to provide a guide for new realities
which people experience.

The relation of Christianity to imperialism is ambiguous and ambivalent: on
the one hand, Jesus says "render under Caesar what is Caesar's", on the
other hand Jesus was quite happy to throw the money-changers out of the
temple. This implies a partial acceptance of imperialism as an unchangeable
reality, yet on the other hand protests against its "excesses", i.e. the
intrusion of commerce in areas where it does no belong.

Christianism  however is an ideological practice which involves the
exploitation of human gullibility for the purpose of justifying imperialism,
and justifying ownership entitlements (claims to resources) which permit the
few to enrich themselves at the expense of the many, disguising this by
throwing scraps and crumbs at the poor and calling that charity.

Jesus was certainly revolutionary in proclaiming in the Beatitudes "blessed
are the poor, because they will inherit the earth" (this was subsequently
mistranslated as "the meek", "the poor in spirit" etc.) but socialism simply
was not possible in the time that he lived, because an insufficiently large
productive capacity and surplus-product existed that could make an
egalitarian distribution of resources possible. Quite simply, if there is
not enough to go around for all (absolute scarcity), it cannot be shared
equally either. You cannot share something that you haven't got to share
out.

This does not dismiss or disparage those Christians who seek to feed the
hungry, clothe the naked, and defend their human and civil rights, which is
morally healthy. It just means that this tends to take place in a situation
which contains contradictions and ambiguities, which create the possibility
for very dubious motivations for doing it. If you are unable to establish a
healthy, workable balance between caring for yourself and caring for others,
you ought to ask first of all why that is, and not think simply that caring
for others will solve everything or that "spreading the love of Jesus"
solves the problems. Helping people is fine, but a moral evaluation based on
the facts of experience requires profound knowledge of why exactly you are
doing it, what the motivation and the context is. If that is not clear, you
might help people into hell, and you might be better off not helping them.

It's easy to be a Christian when you have things you can give away, so that
you can prove your "love of Jesus". But if you haven't got anything you can
give away, you cannot eat the love of Jesus, because Jesus died on the cross
2000 years ago. So really the Jesus ideology is propagated by people who
already own stuff and want to show their goodwill. But a socialist would
ask, "how did you get to own that stuff in the first place ?".

It's back to bed, I'm still ill.

Jurriaan










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