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Albert Reples to Callinicos 2


Alex,

 

 

 

About values, your criteria for remuneration still confuses me. Who decides whether my estimate of what I “have reason to value” is right? What stops me from saying I value a rich existence with lots of leisure to justify working way below average and consuming way above average?

 

 

 

You say, “everyone should have equal access to resources but it is up to each individual how much he or she makes of this opportunity.” I and Mozart can have the same access to a piano and lessons, but not to talent. Likewise, we can’t all be producing the most valuable items. We can’t all be using the best technology. We can’t all be farming the most abundant land. Does equal access mean we have a mad dash with equal odds of success for the best farmland and tools, and from there on we get what we make? Does it mean Mozart will earn way more than me, or someone using better tools, or farming better land? Or do we agree remuneration should be for only effort and sacrifice?

 

 

 

About capitalism, we disagree. You feel that the term “capitalism,” should apply to any economy in which the means of production are controlled by a minority while the majority works for a wage subject to that minority’s control – and firms compete. I use the same term, capitalism, only for the economies you call capitalist that also have private ownership of the means of production.

 

 

 

Your choice leaves you calling today’s U.S. and the old Yugoslavia capitalist, and apparently also the old Soviet Union. To me this conflates different systems under one label.

 

 

 

If a class exists between labor and capital that monopolizes empowering work and can become a ruling class via anti-capitalist struggle leading to coordinatorism – then your terminology is misleading because it pushes important reality out of view. If you are right that all of that is non-existent, then your choice is viable.

 

 

 

On vision, you say ”I agree with much of what you say in expounding parecon,” but then add that you think I resist calling participatory economics ‘socialism’ “on the basis of…just a stipulation that socialism can’t consist in the kind of council democracy.” In fact, I resist calling participatory economics socialism because socialism in practice and in textbook models also, has always had defining institutions that I reject, and those institutions (and worse) are what the word connotes to virtually everyone who hears it.

 

 

 

Regarding strategy, as to our movements not being congenial much less empowering to working people, you reply to my claim that it is because our movements are more coodinatorist than working class in their internal culture and structure, that “If by coordinators you mean managers, then I don’t see many of them in the movement.” I do mean managers, but I also mean lawyers, doctors, engineers, and the whole set of people that monopolize empowering tasks, as well as young people aspiring to such positions and even workers, who, by virtue of their position in the movement (or in unions) come to identify as coordinator. Mostly, however, I highlight movements embodying coordinatorist attitudes and structures as the culprit, not their having coordinator members.

 

 

 

Regarding strategy, you say, “the basic idea behind Leninism is that those on the left who share a revolutionary socialist perspective should form a common organization with the aim of winning over the majority to the idea of overthrowing capitalism.” Given your meaning of the word socialist, this would make most anarchists Leninists. It would make me a Leninist. It would make coordinators seeking to elevate themselves to ruling status Leninist. In other words, the feature you indicate is certainly common to Leninists, but it isn’t what distinguishes them.

 

 

 

Saying the aim is overthrowing capitalism rather than overthrowing capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism –harks back to my concerns about over-emphasizing the economy and under-emphasizing everything else.

 

 

 

You say the party should help movements “develop the strategic focus required actually to replace the existing structure of society with a better one.” This sounds okay — a group coming together to try to provide useful insights and other assistance — but again, it seems to miss what distinguishes Leninism from other approaches. If a Catholic says they pray, he is certainly describing an aspect of being Catholic, but not the distinguishing aspects.

 

 

 

You say we need to organize against [elites], “without reproducing the hierarchical and authoritarian structures characteristic of capitalism.” I agree with you about this and so do anarchists, feminists, etc. But they aren’t Leninists, nor am I. And I don’t think Leninists, in practice, have your view.

 

 

 

Then you say “revolutionary organization needs to be ideologically coherent.” I agree that we need movements that have shared vision and strategy, but at the same time I think our movements need healthy internal debate or they will most certainly stagnate. Does desirable coherence come about and continually get replenished by having a tight knit party that imposes positions on its members and then on movements? I expect you will agree, no, of course not. But I think Leninism operates in just such ways, at the expense of diversity and self management.

 

 

 

“Leninists believe that the Marxist tradition is the best basis on which to achieve this coherence.” You know my problems here. I think that the Marxist tradition doesn’t provide us the concepts we need for understanding racial, religious, gender, sexual, ecological, and power issues in their own right (which points to a need to augment Marxism). And I think the Marxist tradition saddles us with concepts that deny the existence of the coordinator class while generating coordinatorism (which points to a need to transcend Marxism).

 

 

 

You say “democratic centralism comes down to a rigorous application of the majority principle.” Really? This is what you think Lenin was doing? And Trotsky? And communist parties through history? Even if it were the case, what happened to the more flexible logic of self management?

 

 

 

You say your tradition doesn’t “see democratic centralism as the organizational model either for the present movement or for the future society.” In that case, I think you are in a small tradition whose desires get trampled the minute Leninist movements have the wherewithal to act consistently with their inclinations.

 

 

 

I hate to do this – because it is not what I wish to focus on – but — how do your claims square with the following quotes?

 

 

 

Leon Trotsky, says that the social rule of workers over society “is expressed … not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered.” That is, Trotsky felt it would be fine to leave the usual factory hierarchy in place so long as central administrators like himself ruled “in the interests of workers.”

 

 

 

As to why Trotsky championed “one-man management” in the factory we need took no further than his cynical view of human nature: “It is a general rule that man will try to get out of work. Man is a lazy animal.” Naturally comrades at the apex of society must sometimes coerce “lazy animals” for their own good.

 

 

 

Finally, Trotsky added: “I consider that if the Civil War had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management much sooner and much less painfully.”

 

 

 

In other words, Trotsky didn’t reluctantly accede to coordinator structures out of necessities compelled by the Civil War, as his admirers maintain, but because he preferred them. These sentiments defined Trotsky’s coordinator agenda in which central administrators would appoint “one-man managers” who would rule over “lazy workers” in the workers’ own interests, of course.

 

 

 

Lenin evidenced his own coordinator orientation when he argued: “It is absolutely essential that all authority in the factories should be concentrated in the hands of management.” He followed this logic to its conclusion, noting that “any direct intervention by the trade unions in the management of enterprises must be regarded as positively harmful and impermissible.”

 

 

 

Whereas Trotsky appealed to a cynical view of human nature to justify coordinatorism, Lenin appealed to technological necessity. “Large scale machine industry which is the central productive source and foundation of socialism calls for absolute and strict unity of will… How can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.”

 

 

 

Apparently for Lenin, like Trotsky, it was sufficient that the “will of one” be well motivated, an analysis Stalin no doubt appreciated and which in my view paved the way for him.

 

 

 

In response to workers who didn’t accept his self-serving analysis and demanded more say over economic policy, Lenin thundered: “A producer’s congress! What precisely does that mean? It is difficult to find words to describe this folly. I keep asking myself can they be joking? Can one really take these people seriously? While production is always necessary, democracy is not. Democracy of production engenders a series of radically false ideas.”

 

 

 

Why, I wonder, would a person who advocates self management want to identify with this heritage?   

 

 

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