[Marxism] Surplus capital - reply to Joe

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Mon Nov 15 11:52:20 MST 2004


Joe,
A quick reply to your criticism. You wrote:

Assuming that if all money tied up in debt securities is invested in
production there would follow a world of almost full employment and bliss is 
the
equivalent of stating that assuming my auntie had balls she'd be my uncle.

Reply:

I realize this kind of hypothetical thinking is hypothetical, and, of 
course, it's impossible to turn all capital tied up in securities into 
production capital. But, the proportions of capital tied up in securities 
and in stocks is I think a striking fact about the world economy at the 
moment. It is saying, there is a heck of a lot of economic potential there 
that's not being used, and if you want to know why, you have to study the 
social relations, the social fabric which supports this situation. For 
example, what is the reality which entrepreneurs are facing in a world where 
it becomes difficult to retain control of your own idea? To you this 
question may seem irrelevant, but if your aim is to build a new society, 
innovation is the most important thing. The working class secretes socialism 
like a silkworm secretes silk, but what happens to that socialism? If there 
is anything you can learn from revolutions, it is how much people innovated, 
not just unleashed creativity, but were forced into devising creative 
solutions to solve problems. So you need these innovators, and if you just 
deride these people, disparage them, then you just surround yourself with 
boring whingers who cannot change anything. If you cannot see the potential 
in this world for a better world, then you make a better world impossible, 
because it sure ain't going to fall out of the sky.

You wrote:

 Eh...a planned economic system designed to meet people's needs?

That sounds fine as a slogan, but now you have to develop a detailed 
understanding of what that means, based on an understanding of how society 
is right now (one of the Phds I wanted to write was on this topic, but I 
stuffed up).

You wrote:

It isn't a question of investing in production, whilst leaving intact the 
profit motive
involved in production under a capitalist system.

Reply:

I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with the profit motive, it 
plays a subsidiary role in socialist economics, what is important is the 
social function of the profit motive. A surplus product is produced in any 
society short of full communism or a survival state, but how the forms that 
it takes affects the allocation of resources, is another story.

You wrote:

 Rather it is a question of investing in that which meets peoples needs and
working to replace the existing system of human greed with one of human
solidarity (or at least trying to).

Reply:

I think that is a laudable objective, but you have to keep a clearheaded 
view of human nature. It is not just the "nasty capitalists" who can be 
greedy or asocial, you know. And investing to meet people's needs gets to be 
a huge
political problem, insofar as there are many competing claims to resources. 
You need a very strong ethical foundation to see your way through that, 
balancing the will and the understanding.

You wrote:

Finally, this habit of slandering a hundred years of socialist thought and
theory by some of the world's great thinkers as leftist sloganism speaks to 
your
fundamental distaste for socialism as a viable alternative to the status 
quo.

Reply:

It's funny how you sign yourself "respectfully" and yet impute the view to 
me of a "fundamental distaste for socialism as a viable alternative to the 
status quo". Why do you think I am on Marxmail anyway? As a sort of 
neoconservative gadfly? This kind of invective is not helpful. I am not 
slandering a hundred years of socialist thought, it's just that I don't 
think one should make a fetish of tradition or turn it into a "true faith". 
History is a rich store of ideas and studying it helps to relativise our 
present plight, put things in proportion. But connecting the past, the 
present and the future in a profound way, that is a much bigger challenge, 
yet that's what's needed. I don't say I am good at it, but I see that as the 
challenge. If a tradition becomes propaganda, that's a perversion, that's 
the way I see it.

You wrote:

 If that is the case, then perhaps you could outline your own idea for an
alternative. Seriously, I would be interested to hear it.

Reply:

Well my position is different from yours, because I have to make that 
alternative and I am still thinking a lot about it, eliminating cul-de-sacs 
and finding the best approach. You can read a lot of the old debates of 
course, and see the merits of them, but you also have to look at the big 
holes in the arguments and the presuppositions on which they are based. I 
meant to write a serious book on it, but like I said, I stuffed up, I have 
some personal limitations that I didn't understand very well. I don't like 
it but I have to acknowledge that side of being an ordinary human being. But 
in any case, it's not something I would discuss easily with just any Tom, 
Dick and Harry, and especially not with Marxist dogmatists who want to 
recycle the true faith at me. The problems are complex and require a lot of 
free thinking, and if you're just dealing with these phrase-mongering 
people, it is demoralizing and constricting rather than inspiring and 
motivating. Main thing I tried to convey, in this bit about surplus capital, 
is that the mass of capital in the world is much greater than people are 
currently capable of constructively utilising. You might say, it's a 
critique of capitalism, the decadence of capitalism, and so on. But I prefer 
to see it more as a question, rather than an explanation or an answer, this 
chasm between the actual and the potential. I could sort of tout 
generalities about it, but the thing has to be understood in its specifics. 
A lot of socialist economics has nothing to do with econometric equations 
for inputs and outputs, but instead with forms of organisation and forms of 
association. I think about it a lot, but obviously, if I bungle things up in 
personal life myself, then I am not in a position to pronounce all sorts of 
verities about it. You have to have the correct context to say things in, 
and I have had a lot of objections already along the lines of "talk left, 
walk right" (to borrow the title of Patrick's book). I get out of sync with 
myself and have these things that bug me and so on. When you get a little 
older, I think you have to learn not to flap out with many things and save 
them for a context in which they can be said. Maybe you think that's funny, 
on account of the posts I have done and so on, but generally I don't flap 
out so much, I do consider what I write and I do have certain rules for it. 
I think often I write too much, but you do need to write a lot to get 
better, quicker at it, practice makes perfect, ideally, you'd say things 
exactly as they should be said and not otherwise, that is a challenge there 
for me. And you have to learn to disregard discouraging factors that only 
make you morose. I think it is relatively easy to formulate alternatives, 
there are a range of issues where it's clear that things would be done 
better in such-and-such a way. But you have to be sure that it's really 
going to work, it is really feasible, and like I said, you have to find the 
correct context in which to say things. Ideally, probably, I'd prefer to be 
more like Anton Pannekoek and just make the occasional comment where 
pertinent, and basically I prefer just to be part of a group, like Marxmail 
or something like that, I am a bit wary of people scouting for talent, and I 
think it takes a group to make better solutions, we are limited in what we 
do, and a collective approach tends to work better as far as the political 
concerns of socialists go. It's a question of checking what somebody can do, 
and finding a place where s/he can do it effectively, as part of the bunch, 
knowing we all have our strong and weak points. But anyway I am rambling on 
a bit and I will stop here.

Jurriaan







More information about the Marxism mailing list