[Marxism] Collective wisdom

Craven, Jim JCraven at clark.edu
Sun May 23 14:19:46 MDT 2004

James Surowieki wrote:

Generations of advertisers and business gurus have banked on the
premises of Sigmund Freud's ''Group Psychology and the Analysis of the
Ego,'' a slender volume with a big argument: when people assemble en
masse, all the raw material making up the individual psyche (libido, 
aggression, whatever) is also present, but on a gigantic scale. And the
power for rational thought is thereby dwarfed. The crowd is considerably
dumber than its smartest members. This explains, for example, Britney
Spears, irrational economic exuberance and the occasional episode of
public yearning for an authority figure to do the superego's job,
whether by seizing state power (the fascist dictator model) or by going
on television to say ''You're fired'' (the reality TV version).

Response Jim C: Here we can get into what the bourgeois economists
call--and only lightly touch on if at all in most textbooks--"social
capital" (institutions, power structures/relations designed to foster
trust, hope, social cohesion, allowable forms of cooperation and
"values" of the dominant class "shared" on mass levels, etc.) so that
under capitalism for example: a) individual forms and levels of
competition do not aggregate to socially destructive levels and forms;
b) individual propensities--biological and social-- are harnessed and
utilized to produce manageable, predictable and "optimal" forms and
levels of behavior--on individual as well as mass levels--from the
perspective of expanded reproduction of the essential elements of the
whole system and the system itself; c) individuals and groups buy into
the system and buy into the notion that anyone can make it in that
system with "right and requisite" values, attitudes and behaviors;
d)core values, survival imperatives, myths, traditions, power
structures/relations, institutions etc will be seen as natural and
inevitable--and superior to any others--rather than products of the
historical level of development and specific mode of production dominant
in the social formation of a given nation; e) human
behavior--individually and collectively--is more manageable,
predictable, controllable and changeable from the perspective--and in
accordance with interests--of the dominant class; f) the types of values
and personality-types necessary for mass markets, profits for power and
power for profits, saving, investment, mass consumption, etc (Homo
Oeconomicus) on the one hand and yet--and contradictorily--the type of
"social person" who can be counted on--and manipulated--to join-in
collective jingoistic nationalism and mass participation in
pseudo/anti-democratic processes and institutions; etc.; g) individual
and mass acceptance of the notion of the destiny and "natural order" of
global hegemony and dominance by a particular social formation or mode
of production;

Social formations undergoing socialist transformation and construction,
especially when surrounded by other social formations dominated by
capitalism or monopoly capitalism or imperialism, especially when
integrated into a global economy run on capitalist
principles/relations/institutions, especially when relatively poor and
having to develop productive forces rapidly to handle myriad accumulated
social needs and to be competitive in global markets, will inevitably
have to make some concessions to capitalist-based activities and
forces--domestic and global--to survive, trade and develop.But such
capitalist-based institutions and forces, and their accompanying and
requisite social capital, will inevitably constitute subversive and
corrosive "weeds in the garden" of socialist construction; "The lamb can
only lie down and 'coexist' with the lion if the lion becomes a

Within any given social formation, with remnants of old modes of
production and embryonic forms of new and emerging modes of production,
capitalism and socialism cannot ultimately "co-exist.". It is the nature
of real socialism, dictatorship of the proletariat, and in order to
survive, to seek and attempt to progressively extinguish all remnants
(weeds in the garden) of capitalism as they are fundamentally
inconsistent with socialist construction, "social capital", relations
and institutions; similarly, it is the nature--and requirement of
expanded reproduction of capitalism as a system and those who run it--to
regard all non-capitalist relations, values, institutions and practices
as inherently subversive, threatening, contradictory and inimical to
capitalism and to seek to subvert and destroy such whenever possible.

Markets are not simply [potentially] "value-free" or "purely technical"
systems/mechanisms for posing and determining the answers to the "What
How/For Whom" questions in the course of price determination, signaling
and information, resource allocation, rationing, clearing surpluses and
shortages and generalized commodification. They require certain
requisite "social capital" characteristic of capitalism in order to
function. The types of individuals or personality types that are the
most profitable to have as customers under capitalism (selfish,
self-absorbed, egoistic/egotistical competitive, fad-driven,
ultra-individualist, narrowly "rational", calculating, materialistic,
unable to delay gratification or sacrifice for a higher cause, predatory
for maximum profit/utility potential, etc) represent exactly the
opposite of the types of individuals or personality types necessary for
sustained socialist construction and all the sacrifices that will be
necessary in a social formation surrounded by hostile capitalist social
formations and integration into a global economy run on capitalist

In Woodward's book "Plan of Attack" on page 12, he notes that Bush was
given his second briefing in office detailing the "three major threats
to American national security": Osama bin Laden and Al Quaeda;
increasing proliferation of WMDs; rise of China, especially its
military--a "problem" seen as 5 to 15 years away. Why would China, a
nation that has never initiated any form of aggressive action against
the U.S. ever (but was threatened repeatedly with nuclear weapons) be
seen as a threat to U.S. security? I would argue that the U.S. has a
clear sense that socialism and capitalism can never co-exist anywhere
for any sustained period of time--domestically in a given social
formation or on a global level. And for now, the U.S. has opted to allow
trade and other relations, imported mass consumerism and other elements
of the requisite social capital of capitalism to penetrate Chinese
society and soften-up/subvert socialist construction by progressively
implanting elements of the social capital of capitalism to "co-exist"
with the requisite social capital of socialism--like placing the lion
next to the lamb without the lion becoming a vegetarian." Meanwhile we
get more and more reports of young Chinese latching on to American fads,
getting into mass consumerism, watching more mindless TV and reading
less, subject to more malaise and apathy, yearning to leave their
homeland for the bogus promises of the West, etc. 

When some of the demonstrators at Tianmen Square did their protest and
produced a replica of the Statue of Liberty (suggesting the U.S. as a
bastion/beacon of human rights and promoting the U.S. system as one that
is desirable for China, etc) I, as a Blackfoot Indian, was in rage and
sick to my stomach--they had no idea what bullshit they were peddling no
matter what the merits of any of their grievances; and I have said the
same to Chinese students here in my classes.  

Jim C.

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