Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

ZSplash Forums AskAlbert Asking About Parecon/Parsoc Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

Michael Albert

> I’m asking about the relative importance of the concept of class in analysing capitalism. For example for a pendulum we have to consider gravity or we get absolutely nowhere, but we can neglect friction for some important questions. For a Marxist class is like gravity, at least. I’m asking roughly if class can be thought of like friction once we understand the drive for profit and corporate power.

Class, if we want to understand capitalism, is certainly of immense importance. You say you understand what I wrote – but I think that that recognition flows from it. I should say however, that I am personally not interested in understanding capitalism for the pleasure or insight of doing so – like I am invested in understanding gravity or natural selection for the pleasure or insight of doing so – but only to change the economy to something new.

> Consider the statement “Corporations have to wreck the environment for reasons x,y and z,” an analysis that doesn’t say anything about class.

But it isn’t actually an analysis, and if it becomes one, it will, even if only implicitly, be in part about class. That is, what are x y and z. Turns out for example, they are short time horizon as well as skewed prices arising from the functioning of markets, desirability of pawning off costs on others – for example, polluting rather than spending to not pollute, as well as other factors

But now someone says, wait a minute, why markets, if they have problems – and why not regulate that. Why dump in a neighborhood – don’t they have the slightest human solidarity? It can’t be that everyone making decisions is a sadist, can it?

The answer is profit seeking and maintaining the conditions of being able to accrue the profits. Who, is that? It is the owners. That is class. If you say it is joe the owner of company x, you have no generalization at all. Just an isolated observation, important, perhaps, for prosecuting joe if he broke a law, say, but not much else. Now if you say, well, Joe is an owner and his position in economic relations compels him with incredible force to behave thusly, as it does all owners – you have a meaningful observation. But it is also about class…not an individual.

Suppose we ask, why does the government spend so much on military, so little on education, and a great part of that only on education for a small number, and so little on, say, welfare and unemployment insurance, and why is there so much opposition to these programs? Well again, this is hard to understand without taking into account implications for large constituencies – general patterns that pertain, and thus classes. Some kinds of government expenditures redistribute wealth down, other kinds up. More subtly, some kinds further empower those at the top, other kinds further disempower those below. The threat of being fired is a huge factor in weakening working people vis a vis employers. So if you reduce the potency of that threat – either with full employment, or with a very substantial safety net for those who are fired, the the threat to fire is weakened and the bargaining power of working people as a group rises, and then the distribution of the social product shifts more toward them. Does the government do so little for the unemployed because they are sadistic and callous to the individuals? Because they want to keep them in as much pain as possible. Or to avoid the implications that being humane would have, not specifically for those folks, but for the whole class? The latter.

> It seems almost like a second order concern to say there’s a particular bunch of people that relate to these corporations and in whose interests all this is, in a way that it’s not for the janitors (constrained as they all are by the institutions they relate to). What does that analysis add?

I don’t know what to tell you – if you don’t see it, I may not be able to convey it more than I already have. IF you have no general judgments about class, then in every workplace you have to assume the owner is just another nice guy and expect good behavior – if you do have a general understanding, then you know whether the owner is nice or not is beside the point. Suppose you are formulating a program – is it just neutral vis a vis owners and workers – and I would add coordinators in between – or do you want it to serve one, and not the others? If you don’t look at the circumstances of the groups – classes – you can’t really raise the question and certainly can’t discern what would serve one class as compared to another.

> You could restate the quoted statement in a round-about way using class concepts (Mr Moneybags and all that) but that doesn’t prove the concept is the best one to use.

What can I tell you – if you don’t like it, if it doesn’t seem to you to encapsulate insights that are of value and to point you toward paying attention to things that matter, don’t use it. But here is a little bet. If you were previously unfamiliar with parecon, I am betting you didn’t spend very much time when thinking about capitalism, much less how to change it, thinking about the nature of the relationship between doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. – and assembly workers, short order cooks, etc., much less the kind of organizational structures that produce those relations and divisions. I would argue that missing that relationship not only undercuts understanding how the system works, but even more so, critical issues of how it might be changed.

I really could go on endlessly, but I don’t think it would help, if what is already offered doesn’t help. A concept – word – is just the name for something that you think is important to keep track of, keep your eyes on, understand the relations of, etc. Take people. Woman and man, are concepts. They are a step beyond just using the concept people. If we simply don’t have words for women and men, only people, we are quite unlikely to talk much, much less intelligently, much less strategically, about eliminating sexism – which would itself be hard to even notice. It is pretty analogous.

With capitalist and worker concepts, practitioners see exploitation of a particular sort. But if they do not have the concept coordinator class – they are very likely to miss much of importance, or they may even be intentionally obscuring it Neocalssical economists, in service of capitalism, rarely discuss class, for that reason. Here is a big example of this kind of thing, on the left. There are many socialists who have the concept capitalist and worker, but not coordinator. So they think there are really just, ultimately, two types of economy. One in which capitalists rule. Another in which workers rule, but more accurately, there are simply no longer classes, on only one, workers. Okay, in that case, what was the old Soviet Union. Their answer: Some would say socialism – meaning worker rule. Some would say capitalism meaning owner rule. Some would realize each was problematic, and say it was state capitalism, or deformed socialism, and so on. Now, having the concept coordinator, one might take a look with that concept in hand and a conceptual inclination to pay close attention to it, and say, well, wait, maybe this is neither capitalism or socialism, but, instead, an economy that the coordinator class rules. Indeed, a perceptive which leaves out coordinator class as a concept – might be making an honest mistake, or might be obscuring reality in the interests of coordinator class rule.

> This often seems to be the case with the most important things that come up as an anticapitalist. Can you point to something that can only be explained with the capitalist class concept, or explained much better with it?

I think there are a great many things, and, again, if nothing I have already said works for you, and nothing here does it, then I think nothing will, honestly. It is certainly true one can dispense with the word, just as one could dispense with the word electron. Then, two possibilities. One keeps talking about the exact same content, just not using the word, but instead, constantly using a paragraph or two of description to be sure people know what you are referring to, or perhaps using a different word, or, instead, one simply doesn’t talk about the same content at all. For example, very few marxist leninists talk about coordinator class power and program.

> Individual campaign contributions?

Notice the word individual – class isn’t about individuals, though it give us a framework to understand much individual behavior, after the fact, or to even predict with high probability. It is about trends for a large group… shared interest of a large groups, common circumstances of a large group. If you want to know how Koch donates, I guess you research him. If you want to know, on average, how owners donate, you have to be able to discern who fits the category, and to be able to talk about them. A particular one may deviate from what the analysis says most will do. But, unless the analysis stinks, most will not deviate.

This reply from you has made no reference to my last answer. It is hard for me to know why that is, or why if you didn’t agree with what I wrote, that was true for you.

> Personal affinity between the big players in the corporations?

If I want to understand Joe or Sue, I should talk to or research Joe or Sue. But if I want to understand, more generally, the relations between, say, owners, and high officials and managers and such, and either or both and assembly workers – how each typically views the others, how each is remunerated, what powers they have, and so on – and how a movement might speak compellingly about it all to the workers, then I think understanding class plays a huge rule. If you don’t, so be it.

> The ease with which mobs of rich students can be motivated by big capital to fight workers, in Venezuela or 19th century Britain? These don’t seem that important compared to the quoted statement above, more like friction than gravity.

I don’t know what statement above you have in mind, but this type of material is very very far from unimportant to issues of social change. It may in fact be pivotal, there and in many places. What can one say to young people, or provide them, to prevent that kind of attitude from taking hold? Well, what is it about their view of society, and people in it, that leads to that type of view? These are class issues – and, indeed, I would suggest more about coordinator class aspirations than capitalist class aspirations, and are far from unimportant to working for social change. On the other hand, if you want to understand what ingredients are needed to produce rubber, say, or even why carbon spewing is problematic for the planet, then, yes, they are secondary, if that.

> As another example, is class a necessary concept to give a good reason to fight against capitalism?

Nope. But it is a necessary concept to do it well, and to have a chance of winning a new economy that is classless…

> Ask a Marxist for such an argument and it’s all bourgeois this and proletariat that. To me it hardly seems necessary to explain class in order to give such an argument. It seems like you can come up with pretty good reasons just by talking about the bad effects of the drive towards profit and the power wielded by big conglomerations of capital, and so on.

Sure. So? This is true, but honestly not relevant to your overarching question.

> The fact that it elevates certain classes over others need not come up as a root cause of the problems.

Let’s try a different tack – why don’t you want it to come up? You seem to agree that it identifies something that really exists. That is one reason, by the way, to dispense with a concept – if it refers to something unreal, dispense with it. Plogiston…was like that. Another reason is it just has no real utility – it doesn’t point us to something that really matters greatly for our agenda. Okay that is what you seem to think about the concept class. No point to have as a concept, class, capitalist, worker, coordinator – and who knows what else – because they don’t have utility for our agenda, trying to change the world and to communicate with others about doing so, etc. But, they do have great utility…

> Do you think that’s valid or is class more important than I am painting it here, and if so how?

What I feel is that I already answered, and now have done so again, and you have, honestly, as best I can tell either not heard what I offered before despite presumably looking at it, or you simply rejected it all but without addressing it, or ignored it. Whichever it is, it doesn’t give me any basis to continue, other than to repeat myself.

> My motivation comes from arguing about co-ordinator class concepts with Marxists. You can’t get started because there is so much baggage around the concept of class for them: how can co-ordinators rule if their interests don’t align with the development of productive forces… how can co-ordinators be a class when it says classes always have such and such a property in volume 3 of Capital..?

What they are doing is, of course, defending an ideology with out the slightest inclination to actually address what is being said. For them, their identities, years of their practice, are at stake, and defending that trumps reasonably understanding and responding. Very many people suffer this at various points, probably all of us – doing it and encountering it. But it in no way indicates that class concepts are useless, rather that a kind of political fundamentalism is counter productive. And, indeed, for this example, I was say class may well be very helpful to understand it. The resistance to thinking seriously about the idea of the coordinator class can itself be a manifestation of a class agenda – that of the coordinator class. Or it can just be attachment to a heritage…

> Countering this set me thinking about what exactly I *should* think about class, if I want to reject what they are saying and propose some other analysis (easier than unravelling the tangled yarn-ball of ideas they are referencing, which seems to have no beginning and no end to me despite many attempts).

Well, if you want to understand the framework that is bugging you, I can certainly give you references, etc. But, honestly, at some level, why bother. Instead, develop your own view, test it, become adept with it.

Interesting what you say about costs and benefits of imperialism in India — can you remember a reference (or maybe vague reference to a reference)?

I am afraid not, sorry…