[Marxism] Zoom update

Walter Daum foxcave at verizon.net
Fri May 5 12:59:32 MDT 2017

Hi Ralph and all,

Thanks for your recap. As I see it, Marx’s orchestra metaphor was meant 
to describe labor under capitalism, and I guess (because I’m still 
reading) that Lebowitz applies it also to labor under “real socialism.” 
Those are both exploitative class societies. But things would not be the 
same under Marx’s proposed society of associated producers (communism), 
where all share the decision-making powers of the conductor even though 
at any moment they may assign the leadership task to one person. If that 
is “protagonistic democracy,” then I think that’s what Marx advocated.

I have two basic problems with Lebowitz’s take. 1) If he believes that 
for Marx an imposed authority (conductor vs. conducted) applies even 
under communism, I don’t see where he finds that in Marx’s work. 2) Nor 
do I see how the desired protagonistic democracy can be attributed to 
Chavez’s Venezuela, where the first step towards communism – the 
overthrow of capitalist power – had not been taken. Even where there 
existed workers’ councils, industry and the state were not in the hands 
of the working class, so the workers did not have the power to set 
either goals or methods of work. Those were set by the laws of capital: 
profit, competition, etc., and in the end they were enforced by the 
still-capitalist state.

On one of Lebowitz’s main themes, I agree that “real socialism” (i.e., 
Stalinism) did not measure up to the standards of socialism or communism 
as Marx envisioned them. And of course, he is not the only one to have 
said so. I have not finished reading his book on The Contradictions of 
Real Socialism, so I cannot yet say how his analysis stacks up against 

But on another of his themes, I am mystified as to how he sees anything 
like Marxist standards being met in Venezuela. Chavez may have spoken 
beautiful words about socialism, and that may well have encouraged many 
workers in their struggles with their capitalist bosses, but he by no 
means consistently supported their struggles. He acted as if he was the 
sole conductor, not one of a democratic many.


On 5/5/2017 11:34 AM, Ralph Johansen wrote:
> I'm sorry that you didn't make it Sunday, and the next session is on 
> May 14, 10AM ESDT, not May 9 as I mistakenly had it. I did send this 
> message but possibly no follow-up, and we met on the 30th. Still no 
> recorded sessions online from David for you to review and catch up.
> At the last meeting we were discussing Lebowitz's chapter 8 page 149, 
> on The Orchestra Conductor, and we agreed to take it from there.
> Here, Lebowitz appears to tie this orchestra view to Marx, the 
> statement on coordination  to "insure a harmonious cooperation of the 
> activities of individuals" ( Marx) - his metaphor of the orchestra 
> conductor, for whom music is the only thing that counts - I am 
> necessary; without me, there would be chaos. In this perspective, the 
> right to participate collectively in discussions and to offer 
> suggestions to improve a predetermined course of action is permitted, 
> ie, democracy is collective participation, often considerable - not 
> participation in the development of the goal but rather to comment and 
> approve the plan of the conductor.
> So, the question for discussion is this statement and whether Lebowitz 
> correctly ascribes this view to Marx as opposed to his own view, and 
> if so whether we subscribe to Lebowitz's view - that for people to 
> transform themselves through their activities it is essential that 
> they fully participate in the planning and carrying out of 
> organization through "protagonistic democracy."
> So, what of Marx's view if true, and why did he go there?
>   On 4/14/2017 7:53 PM, Walter Daum wrote:
> >>> In my case the 16th poses no problem, but the 23rd will be on the
> >>> weekend of the Historical Materialism conference in NY, so I would
> >>> have to miss the zoom group then.
> >>>
> >>> Walter
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> On 4/14/2017 9:10 PM, Ralph Johansen wrote:
> >>>> So postpone a week?
> On 5/5/2017 6:33 AM, Walter Daum wrote:
>> Hi Ralph et al,
>> I missed Sunday’s meeting; I don’t think I got the Zoom invitation.
>> On May 9 I would like to participate. The Ghosh article looks very 
>> interesting – will that be part of the discussion?
>> Walter
>> On 5/5/2017 3:02 AM, Ralph Johansen wrote:
>>> In Sunday's meeting we discussed chapters 6 and 7 of Lebowitz's The 
>>> Socialist Imperative. For the next session on May 9 we will cover 
>>> chapters 8 and 9.
>>> Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy by Jayati Ghosh 
>>> http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2017/0317ghosh.html
>>> This is worth reading, whether or not one agrees that what he 
>>> depicts here spells the end of, rather than a wrenching shift in, 
>>> the go-along position of labor and the end of the social contract 
>>> which has bought class quiescence especially but not exclusively in 
>>> the advanced countries.
>>> For instance, and this has to do with our discussion Sunday, in the 
>>> face of climate change, energy and resource depletion and falling 
>>> profit rate that goes with a profit-driven, market-dominated, 
>>> increasingly capital-intensive, expansionary, highly competitive 
>>> capitalist world economy, with the prospect of multiplying goods and 
>>> services and two cars in every middle-class household's driveway in 
>>> China and India and Brazil and Mexico and who knows where else, how 
>>> long can capital continue to produce for and generate an ever-larger 
>>> world market through global rentier mark-up oligopsonies, 
>>> 12,000-mile supply chains and cheap labor, and all the shifts 
>>> entailed? As opposed maybe to the dominance again of domestic 
>>> production for domestic markets? Things seem to be moving ever 
>>> faster in less predictable ways.
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