newbie on Participatory Economics

Gar W. Lipow lipowg at
Sun Jul 19 21:34:11 PDT 1998

Louis Proyect said


>...Their idea of a feasible socialism is beyond reproach, just as any
idealized schema will be. The problem is that it is doomed to meet the same fate as ancestral schemas of the 19th century. It will be besides the point. Socialism comes about through revolutionary upheavals, not as the result of action inspired by flawless plans.

How do the hell do you get a revolutionary upheaval without offering some hope that something better than current reality is possible?

>There will also be a large element of the irrational in any revolution. The very real possibility of a reign of terror or even the fear of one is largely absent in the rationalist scenarios of the new utopians. Nothing can do more harm to a new socialist economy than the flight of skilled technicians and professionals. For example, there was very little that one can have done to prevent such flight in Nicaragua, no matter the willingness of a Tomas Borge to forgive Somocista torturers. This had more of an impact on Nicaraguan development plans than anything else.

So the irrational is where we should spend the bulk of our energies?

>The reason for the upsurge in utopian thought is in some ways similar to that of the early 19th century: The industrial working-class is not a powerful actor in world politics. Engels observed that in 1802 when
Saint-Simon's Geneva letters appeared, "the capitalist mode of production, and with it the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, was still very incompletely developed."

>Isn't this similar to the problem we face today? Even though the
working-class makes up a larger percentage of the word's population than ever before, we have not seen a radicalized working-class in the advanced capitalist countries since the 1930s, an entire historical epoch. In the absence of a revolutionary working-class, utopian schemas are bound to surface. Could one imagine a work like "Looking Forward" being written during the Flint sit-down strikes? In the absence of genuine struggles, fantasy is a powerful seductive force.

If what has been tried in the past has failed, should we simply rule trying something new out of consideration?

The idea behind model building is not that socialism will come through rational persuasion -- but that working people are not stupid; given the failures of societies which called themselves socialist, they (quite rationally) need convincing that an alternative to both capitalism and past and present actually existing socialist states is possible. The belief in such impossibility is a drain not only on revolutionary fervor, but even simple reformism. No one is going to put a lot of energy into struggles they believe will lead to a Soviet style nightmare. And people generally sense that when they do things like go on strike, or fight for racial equality that they are going against the fundamental grain of existing society. If capitalism is believed to be inevitable --something to which no reasonable alternative is possible -- then the limits of struggle become very narrow indeed. No one circulates petitions "ABOLISH DEATH NOW" or "END OLD AGE IMMEDIATELY". It seems to me that condemnation of model building is itself elitist.

>Another cause of utopian thought is the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies. Except for North Korea and Cuba, there is not a country in the world that doesn't seem to be galloping at full speed into the capitalist sphere. As this anti-capitalist reality becomes part of history, it is tempting to create an alternative reality where none of the contradictions of "existing socialism" existed.

Or to find an alternative strategy.

>This is fundamentally an ahistorical approach and will yield very little useful new political guidelines about how to achieve socialism in the future. These answers will not come out of utopian fantasies, but in
further analysis of the historical reasons underlying the collapse of the USSR. In-depth analysis by serious scholars such as Moshe Lewin focus on the structural problems, not on statements made by Lenin and Trotsky made on management wrenched out of context.

That's the most productive thing you can imagine for activists and revolutionaries to do? "further analysis of the historical reasons underlying the collapse of the USSR"?

>The biggest problem, of course, is the socialist project itself. What sense does it make to think in terms of scientific socialism when the working-class as we know it is not the same class that created the Paris
Commune. If we had something like the Paris Commune in the last 50 years or so in one of the advanced capitalist countries, left economists would be thinking about ways that such an experience could be replicated. Since we lack such an example, we console ourselves with fantasies of a good society instead.

I have to think that there is plenty for us to do without waiting for a new Paris Commune to come along.

Carrol Cox said:

>Preliminary: Frankly, it seemed to me that Lou Proyect's statement on utopian socialism was one of the most precise and (though condensed) comprehensive statements on that question I have ever read. What I offer
here are footnotes to it and to some of the responses it triggered.

>1) The attempt to write recipes for the cookshops of the future is ALWAYS wrong, whether such an attempt springs from marxist or anti-marxist premises. And Lou put his finger on the core here: the moralism (and hence contempt for the working class) which inevitibly comes to dominate such projects.

I doubt the cookshops of the future will throw away any recipes without looking at them first. I doubt good ideas will be turned down regardless of source -- whether they come from the ancient Incas, utopian novelists or left-wing economists and journalists.

Rejection of any speculation on the form a future society will take is itself an elitist sneer at the working class or sheer mysticism. It either assumes that working people are not capable of expropriating the intellectual capital of the past when they finally succeed in taking over the physical capital, or that solutions will magically spring from the historical moment with no need make any use of ideas that came before.

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