[Marxism] Capitalism: the sorcerer's apprentice

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 16 17:44:45 MDT 2019

Germany's great writer Goethe wrote of a sorcerer's apprentice who 
learned a magic formula to carry in more and more water to scrub the 
floor, saving him the work. But alas, he did not know the second half of 
the formula, how to end a menacing overflow. Only the sorcerer's return 
in the nick of time brought the magic words and prevented a catastrophic 
surplus. In a fairy tale of the Grimm Brothers there is a similar 
overflow, again thanks to magic words, but of sweet porridge. The mother 
knows only the words to produce more and more. After a while the whole 
village swims in sweet porridge. Again, just in time, the daughter 
returns with the word to end overproduction. The villagers are saved but 
must now eat their way back into their smothered cottages. Such stories 
might remind us of melting polar icecaps; I see them as omens of 
technological advances deluging the world with more of everything, 
except vital jobs for humans. Science and technology have moved far too 
swiftly, while the achievement of a decent society is too slow in 
arriving. And what are today's magic words?

Perhaps the more easygoing GDR [East German socialist state] 
alternative, if paired with sufficient discipline and order, is better 
in the long run for bones and tendons, for blood circulation, and 
especially for nervous systems. People spend so much of their lives at 
the workplace. Why should they be happy only when they can go home and 
forget their job? Or fear losing it? might have said to the engineer in 
Cambridge that some aspects of life may be more important than 
productivity, or asked him whether it was harmful when jobs are made 
more pleasant. For example, when plant employees pay birthday visits to 
pensioned workers, tell them plant news, or gossip and bring flowers, 
sweets, and a little cash present. My father-in-law looked forward to 
every such visit.

Victor Grossman, "A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee"

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