Left-wing neo-conservatives:

The reflection of neo-conservatism

in socialist thinking -- part one

by Joseph Green

(CV #4, September 1995)

. The following article from Communist Voice was condensed from the article by the same name that was circulated on e-mail as Detroit #74 (Jan. 28, 1995) and that appeared in issue #6 of Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal (Feb. 10, 1995). Some typos have been corrected. The term neo-conservatism is used in these articles to describe what is more commonly called neo-liberalism.


The abandonment of communism
The magic of the marketplace
The marketplace and the environment
Ben and the marketplace
Anarchy of production
What replaces the invisible hand?
Ben pictures capitalist society
A crippling framework


. Ben, of the Revolutionary Socialist Study Group (RSSG) of Seattle, has trumpeted his views that the future society will be a "cooperative anarchy". He writes that it will be

"nothing but the most marvelously efficient cooperative anarchy in which the actions of many independent, conflicting and parallel processes will somehow be coordinated to create fantastic amounts of amterial and social wealth without the necessity for any clumsy, burdensome and inefficient bureaucracy". (1)

, These articles from Ben show his view of eternal capitalism. Oh yes, he talks about communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat and a future classless society, but he pictures the future as having such features of capitalism as separate enterprises in anarchic competition with one another.

. Fred (RSSG) has a similar picture, but he no longer calls it communism. As well, he praises today's imperialism as having overcome the reactionary features of the past and become an era of "unprecedented economic growth and political and cultural transformation of regions" which has "transcended the old social contradictions and struggles of the past. "(2) And we shall see that Fred's "socialist" theorizing amounts to projecting various features of today's capitalism into the future.

. From an eternal anarchy of production to imperialism transcending the class struggles of capitalism: the RSSG has been trapped by the neo-conservative mood of our time. The RSSG pride themselves on the "realism" with which they fight revolutionary illusions. But the increasing poverty and misery, the growing environmental dangers, and the never-ending national conflict present a somber picture of what the rule of the capitalist marketplace means for the majority of the people of this planet.

. No, it's not reality that gives plausibility to the pictures of Ben and Fred and Jason. It is simply the pressure of triumphant neo-conservatism, which is imposing its views as the new "common sense" of our period.

. For quite some time, the mainstream ideology of the American bourgeoisie was liberalism. Whatever the bourgeoisie did, no matter how many Vietnamese it napalmed, no matter how many black activists were murdered, no matter how many strikes were smashed, the main bourgeois ideologues trumpeted their liberalism. Today liberalism is the "L" word; even the liberals are rushing to embrace conservative themes; and the magic of the marketplace is the alpha and omega of bourgeois wisdom.

. It's not just Newt Gingrich who expresses this conservatism, but liberals. It is not just liberals, but would-be radicals who can see no further than the tip of their noses. On the left, reformism has always capitulated to dominant bourgeois ideology. So it's not surprising that today it reflects neo-conservative thinking.

The abandonment of communism

. The spread of neo-conservatism has gone so far that communism and socialism are suspect in the eyes of many or most members of the RSSG. Although Ben is a RSSG member, he himself refers to this. He writes that

"Neither Fred nor Jason seems to consider himself a communist at this point. This is fine with me. I don't consider them communists either."(3)

. Referring to other members of the RSSG, Ben says that they "consider talk of going beyond capitalism to be 'fantastic' ('fantastic' not in the positive sense but in the sense of being outside the realm of matters which are possible to intelligently discuss)." (Ibid. , the parenthetical remark is Ben's)

. And Ben points out that "from now until the end of time 'MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO 'ROUND' " seems pretty reasonable to many RSSG members. (4)

. A funny "revolutionary socialist study group", the RSSG is. In it we find "revolutionary socialists" who regard any talk of going beyond capitalism as stupid, idle chatter. They polemicize against class organizing.(5) And they think money makes the world go round, now and forever. Maybe the RSSG should be called the neo-conservative coffee klatsch.

The magic of the marketplace

. When did such ideas first get expressed?

. As the MLP carried out a program to study Soviet history and see how and why the proletarian revolution got diverted into revisionist state capitalism, the concept of socialism was restudied.

. Given the overall atmosphere of the times, it is perhaps not surpising that some comrades ended up accepting marketplace ideas as the only alternative to revisionist state capitalism. Fred ended up laying stress not on the class and ownership relationships in a society, but on its efficiency and "rationality". He alleged that the Soviet Union had not abandoned Marxism for revisionism, but that it had implemented the Marxist views on eliminating capitalist ownership--and look at the mess that resulted.

. This led him to scorn workplace leaflets because the task was to put forward a more efficient way to restructure industry. He began to sneer at phrases denouncing profiteering. Instead he wanted plans for making industries more competitive in the world market and for making value calculations (the setting of prices) more rational. (6)

. Fred held that a better society would be run on the basis of a more accurate calculation of the value of the things it produced--value being the number of labor-hours that went into the production of them. It was wrong calculations that led to inefficiency and economic crisis. And, he hypothesized, inadequate communications technology might be the key to the existence of class division. (7)

. How times change. At one time Fred wrote that "value itself must be abolished", but now he believes that proper value calculations are the key to the future. (8) Yet the labor theory of value isn't a theory of the most efficient way to produce goods, but an explanation of how capitalism works, and how exploitation takes place. The prices of most (not all) commodities oscillate around their value, and Marxism analyzed what that value was under capitalism. Value explains how the marketplace operates under capitalism, not the way to build a new society. (9)

. I will go into more detail on this in later in this series. For now, it suffices to note that Fred's theory that value rules the world--and that value will do so even more strictly in a future society--means that, in essence, the economy would continue to be run by money and the marketplace.

The marketplace and the environment

. As Fred developed his theories, he was led back repeatedly to capitalist solutions. He wrote that

"One thing that strikes me is the fact that the Western model has many features which seek economic rationality and therefore continue to advance society . . . . This rationality is sought indirectly as a by-product of sectional profitability, . . . "(10)

. Of course, Marxism has always analyzed the dynamism of capitalism compared to past exploiting systems. It has pointed to the rapidity and global scale with which capitalism develops--and the rapidity and global scale with which it commits crimes and rapes the toilers and the environment. But the way Fred saw it, he had discovered a new world--the "rationality tendencies" in capitalism.

. What are these "rationality tendencies"?

. Fred held that

"credit and speculation seeks planning of future changes in economic activity, such as research or pollution control. Exchange value calculation [setting prices--JG] seeks to balance the relative benefits of expanding allocation to this or that product. "

. So here we have it. Financial speculation supposedly spurs on pollution control. The correct setting of prices (calculation of exchange value), backed by the wisdom of the credit markets, will protect the environment. This is chapter and verse from the late Warren Brookes' neo-conservative columns in the Detroit News. Not that Fred read these columns of course--but his new standpoint led him to the same idea.

. And what a concept! What careful observation of reality! In a world where the marketplace, with its scale of operations multiplied manyfold by credit and speculation, is stripping Brazil, East Asia, New Zealand, etc. of their forests! In a world where more and more untested chemicals are put into production each year! But don't worry. Just calculate the price for timber correctly, and the environment will be protected.

. This was no passing fancy for Fred. He returned several times to this theme.

. For example, consider his criticism of Frank's mini-pamphlet on Pacific Northwest timber that appeared in the last Workers' Advocate Supplement. Frank wrote that a socialist society would seek to protect the environment and that "Such decisions are not based on what yields the highest rate of profit,. . . "(11) But Fred protested that all decisions had to be based on the highest rate of return, properly and rationally calculated. He wrote that

"It is not accurate to counterpoise social and cultural demands of the people to overall economic efficiency, . . . A socialist society would want to utilize all its labor resources, . . . to produce the maximum amount of social wealth. Conservation would not contradict this, since in the long run conservation would yield more useful wealth for humans than exhausting resources."(12)

. Such reasoning reminds one of the usual neo-conservative arguments that corporations, if properly led and free from do-gooder interference, will protect natural resources because it is more profitable to do so.

Ben and the marketplace

. Ben however claims to be a Marxist and that his future society will transcend money and the marketplace. He claims to be above Fred and Jason and their followers.

. But his differences with Fred and Jason are mainly cosmetic. When you look at the content of Ben's views, they are close to Fred's. In fact, he gives the same example of the marketplace and the environment. Unlike Fred, he doesn't talk about value. No, he talks about the competition of the independent production units. But does this mean he has departed from the marketplace ideology? Not at all! Both competition and exchange value are different features of the same marketplace. Ben simply praises the market mechanism directly (without "formally" calling it the market mechanism).

. He writes:

. "Consider an example. Two similar products are available. One tends to use resources that endanger an ecosystem and the other requires more labor. Or, similarly, the production of one or the other may indirectly affect the living conditions of people in Bangladesh  . . . . The decisions of the masses, as consumers (as individuals or via organizations that choose products), as workers (as individuals or via organizations similar to unions) and as shapers of public opinion (again, as individuals or via participation in economic, political or cultural organizations) would determine the proportion of the two competing productions which accumulate to the public wealth. "(13)

. So let's see. One product poisons Bangladesh but can be produced easily, and the other is safe, but uses up more "public wealth". Should the Bangladeshis be poisoned? Let the consumers decide! If 50% of the consumers are concerned about safety, then the Bangladeshis will only get 50% of the poison; if only 10% care, then 90% of the poison will do its ugly work.

. Ben has put the marketplace in charge of poisoning. Note that he isn't talking of the people voting to decide whether to clean up their environment. For him, that would be bureaucratic super-centralism and Stalinist tyranny. No, he is talking of the "proportion" of two products being decided by, for example, the choices of consumers as they ask for one or the other product. The marketplace will decide.

. So Ben's example is based on neo-conservative marketplace ideas. Neo-conservatism blames all the ills of capitalism on "big government". They say the collapse of "communism" (referring to the state capitalist regimes) proves that the unrestricted market must reign supreme. Environmental bans are among their targets.

. And Ben ends up with a similar solution. He is at pains to find a way to protect the environment without administrative action of any sort. And he looks back to the marketplace. (14)

. Even under capitalism, they don't always do things this way, although the neo-conservatives would like to. Various poisons are straight-out banned for domestic use. (But American corporations may still manufacture them in Bangladesh as an exercise in the chauvinism of money-making--"we only care about the health of our own nationality"--and an exercise in imperialist bullying of poor countries.)

. Take the poisoning of inner-city children by the lead in house paints. Even in the U.S., whether to use lead-based or lead-free paint isn't left up to the consumer or to the factory producing paint. Lead-based house paint is simply banned. (Oh, what horrible "Stalinist super-centralism", and right in the U.S.! Or, as the conservatives used to say when I was young, "creeping socialism".) Of course, the capitalists dragged their feet for decades on this issue, but eventually they banned such paint.

. But in Ben's utopia, there would be a certain proportion of houses still getting fresh coats of lead-based paint unless absolutely everyone said "no".

Anarchy of production

. In general, Ben envisages communist economy as consisting of independent economic units which are in competition with each other. He has no understanding of how a planned economy can be anything but "Stalinist super-centralism". He can see central planning agencies only as busybody tyrants, directing absolutely everything, smashing local initiative, and preventing the trying out of different approaches or the discussion of differing ideas. He is afraid of any formal authority in a socialist country, or even of the administrative apparatus that remains in a communist country.

. But how then for society to run production as a whole? And without that, there is no socialism.

. Well, there is no way.

. Ben himself calls his system of independent competing "production units" a "cooperative anarchy". But he goes bonkers denying that this is the same thing as the anarchy of production. No, he says, he envisions anarchy, but it is "cooperative anarchy". He thinks you have changed something when you have renamed it.

. When Ben first made this claim, Mark in reply pointed out that Ben was idealizing capitalism. Adam Smith claimed that the clash of private interests gives rise to public good through the "invisible hand" of market forces. Ben says that the anarchy of competing production units gives rise to "fantastic amounts of material and social wealth" by being "somehow . . . coordinated". But coordination that just "somehow" happens is nothing but another name for Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

. But Ben swears that all his "cooperative anarchy" has in common with the anarchy of production is the word "anarchy".(15) What about the concept of anarchy, Ben? Doesn't the word refer to a concept?

. Ben's "cooperative anarchy" refers to the relation between "production units" (factories, enterprises, etc. ). What else is anarchy among production units than the anarchy of production? Isn't a red sweater the same as a sweater that is red?

What replaces the invisible hand?

. Yet Ben shouts that the brains of his critics are addled by Stalinism. Trumpets blare; and he explodes into verbal fireworks denouncing the me and Mark as enemies of freedom.

. But wait a minute. If Ben claims his "cooperative anarchy" isn't the anarchy of production, then how does he see this anarchy giving rise to cooperation? He has ruled out planning. But he also claims that he is not relying on the unplanned result of competing forces, Adam Smith's "invisible hand". Very well, what takes the place of the "invisible hand" of the marketplace?

. In Seattle #68, where Ben put forward "cooperative anarchy", he only told us that cooperation takes place "somehow". That's not much to go on in building socialist society. Until he explains it a bit better, he is dancing to the tune of his own mindlessness.

. Well, Ben returns to defend his "cooperative anarchy" in Seattle #72, in which he numbers each section. But it takes Ben until paragraph 98 before he feels safe to get around to this key point. He finally asks the 64-million-dollar question:

"What might assist production units in a communist economy to coordinate their activity into a harmonious whole?"

. Finally, the key question. Does Ben's "cooperative anarchy" (his idea of "communist economy") rely on Adam Smith's "invisible hand", or not?

. So what's the answer?

. Ben has no answer.

. In paragraph 98, Ben raises the question only to evade it. Instead of answering the question, he gives a one-sided description of capitalist crisis. Well, Ben, we're waiting.

. In paragraph 99 Ben gives his view of how revisionist economy works. He carefully avoids any mention of the class domination and ownership by a privileged elite in that society and attributes the problems of state capitalism solely to bad planning. (16) So what's his alternative to revisionist tyranny? He simply contrasts the bad revisionist economy to "'free-market' capitalism" and "marketplace mechanisms".

. That's clear, isn't it? The one clear, concrete answer Ben can give is the marketplace. But as to anything else, we're still waiting.

. In paragraph 100 he tells us the masses will decide. But he doesn't tell us how they will decide and implement their decisions.

. No, wait, he does have one suggestion! In some particular industries at some particular times, there will be "central planning bodies".

. Thus his only concrete example in this paragraph is "central planning bodies", which he otherwise regards as Stalinist super-centralism, repressive, incompatible with mass initiative, typified by the miserable Soviet bureaucratic tyranny, and worthy only of "religious sectarians"--his name for Mark and me. He was supposed to be describing how "cooperative anarchy" is superior to central planning, and so far its only method to achieve cooperation is--central planning, but not for the whole economy.

. Let's look at this further. Either these central planning bodies are compatible with mass initiative and promote it (and even require mass initiative as the precondition for their successful work), or they aren't. If this type of central planning is compatible with and promotes mass initiative, then why not have it for the economy as a whole? But if these central planning bodies are enemies of mass initiative, why have any of them? Where does Ben think he will find, from among the liberated, free worker-intellectuals of the future, those who will consent to slave away in the repressive, Stalinist industries run by bureaucratic central planning agencies, while watching all the other worker-intellectuals living a free and happy life in the section of the economy under "cooperative anarchy"?

. So we're still waiting for Ben to describe any method of coordination other than either Adam Smith's "invisible hand" or some form of planning.

. In paragraph 101 Ben tells us "There are other ways of involving the masses in the economic life of society. "

. Well, finally! Let's look at them. Ben lists several ways to involve the masses:

. a) as consumers;

. b) as producers;

. c) as shapers of public opinion;

. d) in mass organizations which wield "no formal authority whatsoever". (Ben's emphasis)

. But suppose all these different ways of making economic decisions clash. For example, suppose public opinion wants a factory to be run one way, but the workers at that factory insist on another way? What happens? Ben is silent.

. Suppose workers at two different factories disagree. Who decides then? Ben is silent.

. And isn't saying that the "consumers" decide another way of referring to market forces? Remember Ben's example of how to decide whether Bangladeshis are to be poisoned by a bad product?

. Or again, if there is no body with formal authority, exactly how does public opinion manifest itself? It isn't sufficient for a lot of people to simply think the same thought in unison. But Ben is silent here too.

. So here too Ben has evaded the question.

. Paragraph 102 simply elaborates paragraph 101, this time with examples. This verifies what we have said about Ben's views. This is where Ben gives the example we discussed above that the marketplace will decide how to deal with a product whose production poisons Bangladesh. How many Bangladeshis die will depend on how many consumers buy the poisonous product. Heaven forbid that a communist society might actually ban a product that poisons Bangladeshis, or that the Bangladeshis might ban it themselves. This would be taking away the freedom of consumers to have their pound of Bangladeshi flesh. It would be super-centralism, bureaucracy, and every other violation of the anarchist-technocratic utopia. What's a few hundred thousand poisoned Bangladeshis in exchange for the freedom of the marketplace?

. But onwards.

. Paragraph 103 says that "there might be different and opposing" economic planning bodies. You see, Ben isn't opposed to central planning, so long as there are a multitude of conflicting plans in operation at the same time.

. But who decides when the "different and opposing" planning bodies disagree? Ben is silent.

. Or then again, Ben says, there might only be a single agency, but it would be in a constant state of civil war between "opposing or competing political, economic or cultural philosophies". He says that "competing material interests" might operate in the agency, even in the early stages of a communist society. Well, once again, how do decisions get taken? Which side predominates at any time?(17)

. And why does a repressive, Stalinist agency, as Ben envisions planning agencies, become efficient and socialist just because it has internal conflict?

. In paragraph 104 Ben tries another approach--a big dose of charlatanism. He goes in for a lot of big fancy phrases, hoping people will think "he must be profound, because we can't understand any of this. " Actually he is whistling in the dark.

. For example, he assures one and all that his idea of coordination makes "the action of the marketplace under capitalism" look "infinitely crude", and Ben puts "infinitely crude" in BOLDFACE. Wouldn't it be better if he simply told us how this coordination was to be achieved and let us judge for ourselves how infinitely wonderful it is?

. But no. That's not Ben's way. Instead he makes grand pronouncements. Why, he says, "economic, political and cultural struggles would be utterly and completely merged and indistinguishable from one another. " Or at least, Ben's ideas about them would be utterly and completely merged and indistinguishable from utter nonsense.

. And finally, in paragraph 105, Ben comes up with yet another answer. This is his last, his final answer. Coordination will be accomplished through "consciousness". It seems that you don't need institutions to express this consciousness. You're not allowed to ask how the consciousness expresses itself. Just trust in "consciousness". Apparently this is a spiritual touch--the great universal consciousness will come down and reveal itself through its prophet Ben. And just as believers think the Church is higher and purer than the world of mere material concerns, so Ben assures us that "consciousness would also be the primary, the highest and the ultimate form of wealth." (Ben's emphasis)

. Moving on, there is paragraph 106. (Sorry, Ben never has a final answer. The fast talk just goes on and on.) This time he tells us that it is all in his article "On the Transition to a Communist Economy". However, he won't show us this article. He has kept it under wraps. We can imagine why.

Ben pictures capitalist society

. Insofar as Ben's picture of "cooperative anarchy" describes anything, it is a glorified picture of today's capitalist society.

. Ben describes "central planning agencies" that only plan particular industries, while the overall economy remains unplanned. That's just modern monopoly capitalism, where the giant multinational corporations plan vast empires, but the overall result is determined by the marketplace.

. Ben also says that consumers, employees, public opinion, and mass organizations have some input on economic decisions, but don't have "formal authority". That's an idealization of what happens in any developed capitalist country. There are a lot of organizations and sectors with some input, "formal authority" for most is restricted, and the dollar rules. Of course, under capitalism, sometimes mass organizations do have a bit of formal authority--for example, unions can negotiate binding contracts. But there can be no binding labor rules of any type under "cooperative anarchy", because there can be no binding rules of any type.

. Or take Ben's idea that some central planning agencies will be internally divided by competing interests. Here Ben has inadvertently described the state planning boards of revisionist countries. Far from the revisionist countries running their economy as one smoothly running machine, as Fred and Ben imagine, instead the revisionist economies were split into rival interests. This internal rivalry in the revisionist countries didn't give rise to dynamism and progress but to the various absurdities and stagnation of revisionist economy. We mentioned this briefly above.

. So Ben just can't get beyond capitalist ideas. The more he tries to elaborate his views concretely, the more we come back to modern capitalism. He believes that cooperation will arise through the conflict of independent producers. In this, he is simply paraphrasing Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. When Ben wrote that Marx isn't dead, he apparently meant to say that Adam Smith isn't dead. Didn't Marx think highly of the classical authors of bourgeois political economy including Adam Smith? Now there's a part of Marxism that even neo-conservatives can identify with.

A crippling framework

. We will return to these questions later on in this series. This will take us into the study of some Marxist economics including such questions as the meaning of value, and the relations of large-scale production to freedom, and of diversity to planning.

. For now, however, let's look at how neo-conservatism enters the RSSG. Fred and Ben and the RSSG are not capitalists or even accountants. Fred and Jason, who praise imperialism, are not executives or stockholders but part of the working intelligentsia. Ben, who tends more to a Jeffersonian-democratic view of small-scale independent ("parallel") enterprises competing with each other, is not a small businessperson. But the collapse of revisionist state capitalism and the growth of the world economy means, in their eyes, that there is no alternative to the basic mechanisms of capitalism and bourgeois democracy.

. Marx pointed out the activists of the petty-bourgeois democratic trend in mid-19th century France were also not simply motivated by self-interest. He pointed out that their demands against the ruling monarchists, no matter in what revolutionary phrases they were formulated, were for "a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie." But why could they see no further than a purified marketplace of small proprietors, which they hoped to rid of class struggle, rather than take the stand of organizing the class struggle? Marx explained, presumably talking about the best of these representatives of the petty-bourgeois, that:

". . . one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petty bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. " (Italics added)(18)

. r "socialist" neo-conservatives thinkers do not wish to serve the capitalists, and some of them pay lip-service to the class struggle (although Fred has gone way beyond that and Jason polemicizes against the call for revolutionary class organizing). But they have lost faith in any alternative to the marketplace and bourgeois politics. In their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the corporations and bourgeois democracy have in practice. Their viewpoint is that of the reformist petty-bourgeoisie, dazzled by capitalist growth but complaining of the crises and struggles that "somehow" just keep erupting. And so whether they are being "realistic" in drawing up plans for the development of Palestine (Jason)(19), or letting their fancy soar in dreams of the future information era (Ben), they simply embellish the current neo-conservative "common sense" of capitalism.


(1) See "Ask Comrade Science" (Seattle #68, December 11, 1994).

. Mark replied, challenging Ben to release his articles on the subject and adding that

". . . Let's see, a society of independent producers who, despite conflicting with one another, 'somehow' produce a heaven on earth. Ben's 'cooperative anarchy' is just another way of describing capitalism, another way of praising the 'invisible hand' which unites the independent, conflicting entities. Socialism must overcome anarchy of production, it must overcome independent processes that are somehow coordinated. Ben is right to be upset about the bureaucracy that developed in the former Soviet Union. But opposing bureaucracy without opposing anarchy of production is fitting for the Chamber of Commerce, not a socialist. And no matter what Ben imagines, his anarchy will, like in all other capitalist societies, give rise to a repressive bureaucracy--no matter how many computers exist in that society!" (Detroit #69, "Ben loses his nerve", Detroit 17, 1994. )

. Ben replied in Seattle #72 ("How Mark Uses Stalin's Theory .  .  . ") with page after page of abuse against Mark. He also went into pages of praise of "cooperative anarchy" which, however, neglected to mention one little thing--how cooperation and efficiency emerges from the anarchy of independent production units. Either there's a planned economy, or there isn't. But Ben wants it both ways. It's anarchy, but it's cooperative. (Return to text)

(2) Fred's view of the dynamic new imperialism can be found in his article "What can be learned from the bloodbath regarding approaches to investigation" (Seattle #41). I commented on this in my article "Censorship, imperialism and revisionism" (Detroit #28). Both articles are in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal #2, March 30, 1994.

. Fred returned to the subject in part 3 of his "bloodbath" article. In the first endnote he eulogizes imperialism, denies that it is still in the "basic capitalist framework", and says it has transcended the old social contradictions. See the CWV Theoretical Journal #4, Sept. 1, 1994. I commented on his denial of class struggle and revolution in "Plebeian class consciousness and socialist revolution" (Detroit #31) in the same issue of the CWVTJ. (Text)

(3) "How Mark Uses Stalin's Theory. . . ", Seattle #72, paragraph 24. (Text)

(4) Seattle #72, paragraph 96, Ben's capitalization. (Text)

(5) See the debate on Palestine carried in the CWV Theoretical Journal #3, June 1, 1994 and #5, Dec. 1, 1994. Jason and Mark's latest replies are in CWVTJ issue #6, Feb. 10. (Text)

(6) See Frank's article "For Proletarian Socialist Revolution" in the CWV Theoretical Journal #3, June 1, 1994. This fine article criticizes Fred's replacement of class struggle and revolutionary agitation with a program of structural reform. It dwells at some length on the preparation of a leaflet on the Northwest timber industry, thus dealing with environmental issues. Fred had edited Frank's mini-pamphlet on timber in order to produce the RSSG's only leaflet. It turned out that Fred was upset about Frank's denunciation of profiteering. He wrote a letter to Frank in which he stated that

"One could assume that the alternative to profits and competition is losses and monopoly, and there is a strong logic in the experience of state capitalism to back this up."

. Frank soon left the RSSG for political reasons. The former MLP circles in Seattle split into two groups. (Text)

(7) In a letter to me of April 25, 1993, Fred hypothesized that the lack of good communications technology caused the development of Soviet bureaucracy. He summed up that:

"It may be the case that a socialist economy is simply impossible without a digital infrastructure. "

. I replied later that year to Fred. I hope to publish the complete text of this exchange later in this series. (Text)

(8) Fred's formulation appears in his article "Rough thoughts on Pete's notes on the speech, 'The technical and cultural basis for workers' socialism in the modern world' " (the Workers' Advocate Supplement, Feb. 20, 1992, vol. 8, #2). I criticized it in "Some notes on theory" (Supplement, May 20, 1992, Vol. 8, #5). I said that value isn't abolished, but "whether it is a real and meaningful concept depends on whether the system is still capitalist, or has communist ownership by society as a whole." Value can neither be abolished by government decree, nor resuscitated by 100,000 economists laboring "to assign a numerical rating to every useful article in sight." (Text)

(9) Indeed, as capitalism develops, prices oscillate not around the labor-value of a commodity, but around a related but different measure. A certain correction is made to the labor-value -- although this correction averages to zero when taken over the whole economy. This is explained in Volume III of Marx's Capital. This confirms that value is not the "rational" measure of a product, but the description of a social relationship that exists only at a certain point in human history. (Text)

(10) This is again from Fred's letter of April 25, 1993 to me, as are the next few quotes from Fred.

. Fred also said that the Western model "has contradictory tendencies too" and not just rationality tendencies. But he saw these backward tendencies mainly as resistance to proper calculations. He wrote

"somehow there appear to be delays in adjustment to rational policies, resistance to adjustment, and adjustment through crisis which interrupts economic development. "

He overlooks that capitalist growth and capitalist crisis are two sides of the same process of capitalist rationality. No, the bad things just "somehow" appear. (Text)

(11) Workers Advocate Supplement, Aug. 10, 1993, p. 31, col. 2. See the lead article "Capitalist profiteering and capitalist competition are at the root of layoffs in the Northwest timber industry: Save all the old-growth! Make the government and industry fairly compensate unemployed timber workers!" (Text)

(12) See the discussion of this in the section "Fred on political economy" in my article "Some miscellaneous points", Detroit #14, Nov. 18, 1993.

. Note that Fred himself admitted that

"We might not be able to measure this wealth [environmental values--Jph. ] in the same terms as the immediate use of resources, but that is another issue. " (Seattle #20, point c)

He thus admits that there are two separate measures. If he took this seriously, he would see that Frank was right to say that the protection of the environment could not be based on preserving the highest rate of return. But having admitted that environmental values can't really be measured by their labor-value, he nevertheless insists that they should be anyway. This is an example of how neo-conservatism is not based on reality, but is imposed against reality. (Text)

(13) Seattle #72, paragraph 102, Ben's emphasis. (Text)

(14) Another capitalist solution is to put a dollar figure on the environment or on human life, and then decide what is most profitable. Some U.S. regulatory agencies have an official value for a human life. This is essentially Fred's solution of readjusting value calculations. (Text)

(15) Seattle #72, paragraph 86. (Text)

(16) In my article "Some notes on theory (2)" in the Workers' Advocate Supplement of July 25, 1992, I put forward a more realistic picture of the Soviet state capitalist economy. Ben gets his idea of Soviet economy from the "common sense" of the West--i.e. from the stuff of hack anti-communist editorials. Thus he ignores the role of the class interests and competing individual interests of the bureaucratic ruling class. (Text)

(17) Note that Ben assumes that politics will exist forever. He doesn't have a hint of what Engels meant when he pointed out that economic decisions, in a classless society, would lose their political character and become the mere administration of things, not people. (Text)

(18) See Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, midway through section 3. (Text)

(19) Jason enthused over the PLO-Israeli mini-state deal and opposed "certain long-held assumptions about international aid, as well as the role of Zionism" and also the "role of imperialism". He debunked the tasks of revolutionary class organizing. Instead he looked to the improvement of people's lives and a vigorous economic development of the mini-state through Palestinian cooperation with Israeli capital and IMF money. See the debate on Palestine carried in the CWV Theoretical Journal #3 (June 1, 1994), #5 (Dec. 1, 1994) and #6 (Feb. 10, 1995). (Text)

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May 16, 2006.
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