Albert Rejoinder to Callinicos, #2


You say your justice norm justifies what in parecon are two independent norms of remuneration, one for those who can work and one for those who can’t. But suppose someone says it is fine for society to have some people earning $30,000 a year and other people earning $400,000 a year if each had the same opportunity to get the higher paying job. If you reject that, how come? If it’s because the high paid person will access more items, how does your justice norm permit people to get higher pay for working longer or harder? Finally, what other remunerative norms does your value permit.

That you agree with using participatory planning for all allocation it can handle including investments means we agree about allocation because I accept that if participatory planning cannot handle some allocation, it must be amended, augmented, or even replaced.

You ask, “…what…mechanisms produce decisions about the global allocation of resources?” If you mean the allocation between investment and consumption, the proximate mechanism is likely a flexible initial choice followed by negotiation until the end of planning. Certainly, each actor will weigh their desire for more consumption against their desire for investment benefits. Methods are conceptually the same as for the rest of planning including the offering and examination of proposals by affected producers and consumers considering full social costs and benefits and utilizing information summaries prepared by facilitation boards. I don’t have room to describe the full process and I agree that neither you nor anyone else should be convinced by a short presentation. The most we can agree to here is that if participatory planning can viably do all kinds of allocation it ought to. Interested folks will hopefully examine longer parecon presentations to evaluate its viability.

You say “I’m afraid I still feel deeply unthreatened by your theoretical criticisms of Marxism. They come down to the oldest charge in the book: economic reductionism.”  But why would finding a weakness be threatening? Wouldn’t it be an opportunity for advance? Yes, I claim Marxism is weak vis-à-vis the sex life of teenagers, the spiritual inclinations of Catholics, gay culture, the dynamics of power, adjudication, and the position of women in society, and yes, this is at bottom, a claim that Marxism mistakes its attentiveness to economics for attentiveness to all sides of social life.

If this were my only problem of Marxism, the solution would be what socialist feminists do, writ larger. Take Marxism’s conceptual toolbox and augment it with a conceptual toolbox highlighting kinship and gender, and then rethink both sets of concepts to incorporate insights that the other reveals. If we also add from the toolboxes of multi-culturalism and anarchism, and refine all the concepts in light of insights from the rest, we could arrive at concepts that equally highlight race and cultural identification, gender and sexual orientation, power and political hierarchy, and class and economic relations.

You say Marx defines his objective as “human emancipation” including “all the different forms of oppression.” But what does the “all” embody? For me to be comfortable you would have to show that there are Marxist concepts that highlight sexuality, gender, race, and power at the same level of priority as Marxist concepts highlight economy and class.

You say “Marxists aren’t only interested in economics,” but I never said they were. I say Marxists are poorly equipped when they venture beyond economics, unless of course they add to their conceptual toolbox before doing so. Marxists see economic phenomena far more deeply than sexual, gender, cultural, or political phenomena. One result is that in Marxist revolutions we repeatedly find homophobia, patriarchy, socialist realism, homogenized communities, and political dictatorship.

You say “To give the removal of class exploitation a particular strategic significance isn’t to deny the distinct character, quality, and logic of each different form of oppression.” I agree — but lacking concepts for even perceiving much less highlighting those other realms does relegate them to less attention.

You ask “are we to conceive patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism … as autonomous of capitalism?” Fair enough. No, we aren’t. But the feminist can equally claim that while having patriarchy along with capitalism can impact the defining relations of patriarchy, so too having capitalism along with patriarchy can impact capitalism’s defining relations, and likewise for culture and politics. Each of the four systems can emanate influences that impact the others — rather than only capitalist economics doing so.

You ask, “can we understand what you call ‘patriarchy’ without taking into account, for example, the commodification of women’s bodies in late capitalism?” We can understand abstract patriarchy without assessing that feature, but you are right that we cannot fully understand contemporary patriarchy without that feature. But, reciprocally, can we understand contemporary capitalism without understanding the imposition of a sexual division of labor and even gender defined work roles on it? I don’t think so.

You next ask, can we understand “racism without looking at the historical inheritance of slavery and empire and capitalism’s continued reliance on immigrant labor and on divide-and-rule.” No we can’t, I agree. But nor can we understand capitalism without understanding the imposition of a racial division of labor and even racially defined work roles on it.

Marxist concepts facilitate seeing how economic dynamics impact society’s social relations. But Marxism’s concepts don’t facilitate seeing how kinship, cultural, and political dynamics impact society’s social relations, including the economy.

You say, “Isn’t the basis of the present movement a growing realization that we confront … a single system?” Yes, I agree that we confront a single entwined and multiply connected system, which nonetheless also has specific key parts. But if we named that big system patriarchy, as some radical feminists would like to do, or we named it racism as some nationalists might propose, or we named it power/government as some narrow anarchists might suggest — even if the person applying the name said that they meant it to incorporate “all the different forms of oppression,” wouldn’t you feel that the ensuing analyses would exaggerate the social dynamics directly related to the name selected and neglect other social dynamics? I feel that way about naming the whole system with an economic concept, capitalism.

Beyond all the above, which, as you say, is about economism, and arguably requires only that we  augment and refine Marxism, my main critique of Marxism is its economic inadequacy.

You agree that “roughly 20% of the workforce in advanced capitalist societies monopolize empowering conditions, tasks, etc., and that by virtue of this, they enjoy far more control over their lives than those below.” We both see this group, but you “don’t see these people as a homogeneous class but rather as a spectrum of social strata that differ in the precise mixes of the properties of capital, labour, and even in some cases the petty bourgeoisie that they combine.”

This 20% (who I call the coordinator class) are certainly not a homogenous group, I agree, but neither are capitalists or workers homogenous groups, of course. The 20% get their power and status from monopolizing empowering conditions and tasks and from the associated knowledge and skills. This is not how capitalists, petty bourgeoisie, or workers get their power. What sense does it make, therefore, to say that this group is some kind of amalgam of aspects of those other groups?

I think we should say the 20% is a class because this group’s features are imposed by their economic position and because the group is critically important for addressing economic change. Not being homogenous doesn’t deter me a bit. I think that just as an agenda can broadly elevate capital or broadly elevate labor, so too an agenda can broadly elevate this coordinator class – and I think pursuit of markets or central planning plus public or state ownership plus corporate divisions of labor constitutes a coordinator-elevating agenda.

You seem to want the concept class to derive only from differences in ownership relations. This strikes me as topsy turvy. The reason I find ownership important is because it tends to produce divisions into groups with different self images, consciousness, agendas, and potentials to become a ruling class. But if we agree that there is another demarcation that gives 20% of economic actors different self image, conditions, and potential to be a ruling class, shouldn’t we highlight not only that additional group, but also the economic structures that define it? Shouldn’t we call it a class and say classes are therefore demarcated from one another due to their positions in economic structures including relations to both ownership and the division of labor?

I say the 20% that exists between labor and capital is a class because calling it a class propels us to keep our eyes firmly on this group, to realize there are two types of post capitalist economy, and to realize that a movement can be anti-capitalist but not pro-working class.

Finally, you mention that you think the ruling class in Britain is about 1% of the population because you reserve the label “ruling” for capitalists who have immense power due to owning the largest firms in the nation. I usually use the number 2% for the U.S., but we are both fudging something in this. There are more people who are to some extent capitalists, but who own smaller units, or just pieces of units. Nonetheless, we don’t qualify our words every time we say that the capitalist class is the ruling class or that getting a better economy entails eliminating their position, because when we make such statements we do mean getting rid of the entire range of private ownership. The same goes for a coordinator economy. The ruling class is the coordinator class, though some members have more power and income than others. I should say, though, that I think in coordinatorism, especially without a Stalinist political overlay, the range of income, status, and power of all those in the coordinator class is far narrower than the range between owners of huge capital and owners of small capital in capitalism.

Still, whatever we call the 20% who reside between labor and capital, if you agree that it can become a ruling class, then presumably we also agree on a mandate for conceiving a better economy. Our economic vision must have production, consumption, and allocation relations that eliminate the distinction between this group and more typical workers so that this group doesn’t rule more typical workers. The only avenue to this end that I have been able to discern is replacing corporate divisions of labor with balanced job complexes and replacing markets and or central planning with participatory, or, if you prefer, horizontal planning consistent with self management. If we can agree on this and therefore also on the need for strategy to aim for classlessness and not coordinator rule, I think we have accomplished something.



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