[Marxism] discussion of my book by Zoom group

michael a. lebowitz mlebowit at sfu.ca
Sun May 7 14:15:59 MDT 2017

Walter Daum posted the following comment in relation to the group which 
is reading and discussing my Contradictions of "Real Socialism": the 
Conductor and the Conducted (Monthly Review Press, 2012):

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.

Firstly, note that Marx used the metaphor about the necessity of the 
conductor for /every/ socially combined labour process on a large scale 
and, further, described as the "special work" of the conductor "to 
secure a harmonious cooperation of the activities of individuals". I 
talk a bit further in Ch. 8 in my subsequent book, The Socialist 
Imperative (Monthly Review Press, 2015) about how this conception in 
practice in "real socialism" can produce at best "consultative 
participation" which provides an opportunity to improve the plan of the 
conductor.  In contrast, if he reads further in Contradictions, he'll 
come across Chapter 7, "Toward a Society of Associated Conductors".
     With respect to Walter's second point, he should read what I've 
written about Venezuela, starting with Build it Now: Socialism for the 
21st Century (Monthly Review Press [again], 2006) where he'll see that I 
have identified the existence of germs of protagonistic democracy there  
(eg., communal councils, communes, workers control in state industries 
and recovered factories) with no illusion that the struggle to nurture 
these would be necessarily successful (despite Chavez's hopes); there 
are no guarantees when it comes to class struggle. The communal council 
and commune experiences have been mixed because of competing tendencies 
and streams of top-down and bottom-up; and, despite Chavez's assertion 
that without workers control there is no socialism, from what I saw when 
there those exciting new shoots of worker management were effectively 
stomped out  by a motley cast of actors including statist conductors, 
corrupt bureaucrats and economistic Chavist trade unions (cf the Alcasa 
story). But the struggle continues.
     in solidarity,

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Home:   Phone 604-689-9510
Cell: 604-789-4803

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