fresh hot Slavoj

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Fri Apr 14 07:39:26 PDT 2000

>>> Carrol Cox <cbcox at> 04/13/00 09:30PM >>>
Gordon Fitch wrote:

> What would be the point of the surplus? If people had enough
> (their "needs" in the formula), then what would they continue
> to labor for? Labor itself? This is not a rhetorical question.

There of course is a technical need for a surplus (not of surplus value, which is anothe matter), as a reserve in case of difficulty (such as a disastrous year in agriculture, whatever), and productive forces must be renewed. If the population is increasing, that has to be allowed for. If it is decreasing, that too may well demand a reserve. But in general I think you are right. Under socialism, even in its fairly early moments, there would cease to be any *necessity* for a surplus, and there may well be for ecological reasons a strong need to reduce not only the surplus but even many forms of consumption.

As to "labor," I think Hannah Arendt's distinction between labor and work is useful. There will always be a need for work as an end in itself. Labor will be reduced to the absolute minimum, even if that means reducing consumption.


CB: I very much like Carrol's discussion here. I would add that recent medicine teaches that a certain amount of physical "exercise" enhances generally the quality and quantity of an individual's life. This seems in part a residue of an instinct to labor to produce in the individual. At any rate, with a standard of toil or excessive "exercise" as an outer limit to be avoided, physical activity for physical activity's sake does seem to be an instinctive need we have, both as work and play (sport, dance, frolic).

Further, decent work which contributes to society and the fruits of which the worker has satifactory control/influence and use resonates with the human individual. The human individual is a social individual, and fulfills herself by her social labor and physical participation in society. This form of labor satisfactory for the individual is thwarted by capitalism ( though the labor remains highly social in capitalism with a capitalist Robinsonade myth concealing the reality), and is aimed to be fulfilled in communism.


But -- such speculations re socialism should never be considered as providing motives for *becoming* socialist. That would be millenarianism or utopianism. One becomes a socialist out of a need to fight against capitalism, *not* out of hope for a future world. There can be no certainty of achieving that future nor that those who have it will find it desirable. We only know that capitalism must be destroyed or it will destroy us. The only reason to try to work out a rough conception of a classless society is to provide a historical perspective on the present -- to understand capitalism better.


CB: I agree with Carrol that this must be our major ,sober attitude, given that the world revolution has entered an ebb, after flowing for most of the previous two or three generations. However, we must also be on guard should objective conditions suddenly become favorable for the final flow to socialism, and putting capitalism completely in the grave in the current generation. Revolution is characterized by a relative suddenness and quickening of the historical pace.

Charles Brown


P.S. I haven't digested the Zizek passage yet, but on first blush it looks like another effort to mock human desires and human struggles in the name of a mystical Desire. I have just been reading Eagleton on Schopenhauer, and learning a bit more about the bizarre ideological twistings that led to the Freudian invention of Desire.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list