Once again on Ben Seattle, planning, and the role of the proletarian party

By Eric, April 14, 2008


. The following letter from Eric to Ben Seattle continues the controversy over Ben's opposition to Joseph Green's article "What would health care under socialism be like". Ben upholds his own theory of "cooperative anarchy", has yet to take a direct stand on national health care, proposes to replace the idea of "socialism" with "proletarism", and opposes party-building.

Marx and the Proletarian party
Who controls the state?
The economic basis of planning
Exchange in your gift economy
Devolving accumulation to the individual
Planning and decision-making
Democratic rights under workers' rule

Ben --

. Your latest response comes across as a strange combination, on the one hand saying whatever you can to discourage people from reading Joseph's reply to you (it is supposedly so very long, and so very empty, and Joseph is so very deceptive), and on the other hand, gloating and crowing over supposed victories you have scored against him. What you fail to do is really deal with many of the issues that Joseph raises.

Marx and the Proletarian party

. In the final section of his reply to you, Joseph provides several quotes from Marx, in which I understand Marx to state clearly that the proletariat must form itself into a single unified party, and that workers must recognize that what binds them together as workers is more important than what divides them in disagreements over particular policies or stands. Marx argues that the class will remain impotent to effectively wage the class struggle if it does not do so. Marx wrote:

. "In its struggle against the collective power of the possessing classes the proletariat can act as a class only by constituting itself a distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes.
. "This constitution of the proletariat into a political party is indispensable to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and of its ultimate goal: the abolition of classes."

He also wrote:

. "Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. . . . This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, . . . this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests."


. "The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another. . . In this way, the great mass of the French nation is formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local connection between these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organization, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention. . . . Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above."

. You ignore this whole section in your reply, even though one would think it was a topic that was important for you to address, since it directly contradicts you entire scheme for the future. In your latest reply, you spend a lot of energy complaining that Joseph engages in word twisting and distortions.  Did Joseph distort Marx's ideas in this passage? If not, was Marx wrong in thinking that the proletariat must unite as a single class to overcome its domination by the exploiting classes? 

. Rather than addressing Marx's position directly, and admitting that you disagree with Marx on this question you claim that Joseph concedes to you on the question (!). You write:

    "Amazingly, only three paragraphs after saying this, Joseph turns
   around and contradicts himself -- and admits that his description
   of a single-party state may be mistaken. It is possible, he notes,
   that the working class will rule through several parties rather
   than a single party:
          "If workers can actually run the affairs of a country
        on a class basis, and if this is a stable rule, then it
        means that they have overcome their division and, in some
        sense, have formed a political party. That's what it means
        to act as a class on political issues. This party, or party
        in the broad sense, might be organized in a better or worse
        fashion, and might formally be divided into several
        organizations. "
     "Joseph also admits that, if the working class rules through a
   single party, that this party _might_ allow opposition parties to
           "But even if a single proletarian party maintains the
         stable support of a majority of the population, this doesn't
         necessarily mean that other parties, if they haven't risen in
         revolt against proletarian rule, will be suppressed."

. You claim that Joseph "agreed that my [Ben's] criticism of his article was accurate. Buried in seventeen thousand words of shallow abuse [Could you be a little more specific? Where is the 'abuse'? I read Joseph's reply closely, and I didn't see it -- EG] is his admission that the working class may rule by means of multiple parties."

. But is it really true that Joseph is conceding to your "theoretical advances", without admitting it? Let's look at the facts.

. 1) Neither Joseph nor anyone in the CVO has ever said that all other parties will be suppressed under proletarian rule, rule by the united working class. That is your claim. You are the one who insists that rule by the proletariat united in a single party is necessarily synonymous with the worst political repression characteristic of the revisionist countries, and with the outlawing of other parties. Other parties, specifically parties representing other classes, may be allowed to operate if they don't organize to violently overthrow the proletariat, sabotage production, or otherwise directly disrupt proletarian rule. So, far from agreeing with you on this point, Joseph is actually disagreeing with you.

. 2) When you are quoting of Joseph above, you choose to break at an interesting point. The full passage reads:

. "If workers can actually run the affairs of a country on a class basis, and if this is a stable rule, then it means that they have overcome their divisions and, in some sense, have formed a political party. That's what it means to act as a class on political issues. This party, or party in a broad sense, might be organized in a better or worse fashion, and might formally be divided into several organizations. But the most favorable circumstance is that most of the working class is organized behind a single class-wide party. There are many examples of classes which have been defeated because they were politically divided. But even if a single proletarian party maintains the stable support of the majority of the population, this doesn't necessarily mean that other parties, if they haven't risen in revolt against proletarian rule, will be suppressed. "

. I have italicized the sentences that Joseph wrote, that you left out in your attack. These two excised sentences turn the meaning of passages you quote around completely (and you have the gall to lecture your readers about Joseph's supposed "shallowness and dishonesty"!). With these excised sentences, the paragraph argues a position that is consistent with what the CVO has held all along. The workers, to rule most effectively, must be united into a single party. The working class is greatly weakened by being divided against itself.

. In sum, your position is that the optimal situation is multiple proletarian parties, "fighting it out" against each other. The CVO stand (and that of Marx, as is shown by the quotes above) is that of a single, united proletarian party. Once again, you crow that Joseph has shame-facedly agreed with you, when Joseph is actually disagreeing with you.

. 3) Where Joseph writes, "But even if a single proletarian party maintains the stable support of a majority of the population, this doesn't necessarily mean that other parties, if they haven't risen in revolt against proletarian rule, will be suppressed", in context, it is clear that Joseph is talking about parties representing other classes than the proletariat. After all, if they were working-class parties, in support of real, working-class rule, not the revisionist state capitalist rule that you pretend the CVO stands for, then why would they "rise in revolt" against it? You, on the other hand, are talking of a constellation of workers' parties, that is, your picture of several parties existing during working class rule and Joseph's picture are quite different. A third time, where you claim that Joseph is agreeing with you, the facts show that he is not.

Who controls the state?

. In your reply, you have a diagram labeled "Four scenarios for working class parties following the overthrow of bourgeois rule", and in the text you repeat again that all four are "scenarios for workers' rule" [my emphasis]. These descriptions include your 4th scenario, which you mark with a skull and crossbones. You describe this scenario in florid prose: "Internal struggles in the party are a secret. Workers must organize underground, in secret and in fear of arrest, imprisonment and torture (like the former Soviet Union or China today). " You, Ben, may consider China today, or the Soviet Union under Stalin and later, a "scenario for workers' rule", but if you have actually read what the CVO writes, you know that we do not. These were revisionist regimes, where the workers had no democratic rights, where you are correct, they were driven underground, etc. because the working class had lost its hold on power, and rule was taken over by a new state capitalist exploiting class. Far from being a "scenario for workers' rule" as you claim, it was a "scenario for bureaucratic state capitalist rule". You pretend that the CVO is the one that upholds Stalinist rule as working class rule, when apparently it is you who does.

. Under the above heading in your recent reply, you were forced to contradict yourself pretty directly. In the article you are replying to, Joseph wrote:

"the working class will have the increasing ability to consciously control the economy, both on a countrywide basis as well as workplace by workplace. Such control would be incompatible with your [Ben's] goal of a society without any planning."

. It is through such conscious planning that the working class, step by step, gains control over the economy. He continued:

"you don't see any liberating value in overall planning controlled by the working class . . . you don't believe that the working class can exercise overall control, as a class, of the state sector or of the economy as a whole."

. You refer to this as "empty words" and "meaningless phrases", phrases that "we have heard a thousand times from the Soviet Union, and even North Korea", phrases that "promote a lot of cynicism".

. Yet, later you write:

"Who controls the state capitalist sector? . . . Under working class rule, however, the working class will control the state. This little detail that Joseph overlooks makes all the difference in the world."

. So, when Joseph writes that the working class will exercise control over the economy through planning, this amounts to "empty words", while when you say that the working class will control your state capitalist sector, this is a great insight that "makes all the difference in the world".

. But this isn't just an inconsistency in your writing, and it isn't a matter of saying different things in different contexts. It is a contradiction inherent to your ideas.

. On the one hand, you demand that the working class be divided against itself. You directly equate the idea of the class being united and backing a single party -- the class as a whole seeing that their differences are less important than their common cause as a class -- with the oppression of Stalinist state capitalism. You even draw a helpful diagram, showing that a single party is poison, complete with skull and cross bones.

. On the other hand, you grasp that state capitalism, unchecked by the working class, develops its own class interests, different from, and against those of the working class. This is an insight first articulated by Lenin. On privately owned enterprises under the rule of the workers during a transition period (Lenin refers to a private sector under the control of the workers as a form of state capitalism), he wrote "The proletarian state may, without changing its own nature, permit freedom to trade and the development of capitalism only within certain bounds, and only on the condition that the state regulates (supervises, controls, determines the forms and methods of, etc.) private trade and private capitalism". Then, discussing state-owned enterprises running on a for-profit basis, he wrote of "the inevitable rise of narrow departmental interests and excessive departmental zeal", which "is bound to create certain conflicts of interests in matters concerning labor conditions between the masses of workers and the directors and managers of the state enterprises". He calls on the trade unions to police both types of enterprises to protect the rights of the workers. ("The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy", LCW v33, pp 185-6)

. You write as if worker control over the state is your own insight; one that Joseph "overlooks" (and yet you moralize at us about "honesty" and "integrity"). Insofar as you pretend to support working class control, your difference in this area with Joseph is not over whether or not the working class controls the state; it is over how the class controls the state, the mechanisms by which the class can effectively control the state.

. Where the working class is deeply divided against itself, and where its consciousness is at a sufficiently low level that large sections of its members do not see that their common interests override their differences, the working class is greatly weakened. In your scheme, this working class, forbidden by your skull and cross bones from ever uniting into a single party, is rendered helpless in its fight against the state capitalist bureaucrats. Your scheme gives the state capitalists all of the guns, and leaves the working class to fight with a stick -- and not only that, you condemn them to use that stick as much against each other as against the state capitalists. It is sad that you are trying to pass this off as a liberating theory.

The economic basis of planning

. Your reply is deeply confused about the relationship between planning and commodity production. You can only see two options for the future economy: any sector in it either operates on the basis of commodity production (whether private or state capitalist), or it is your unplanned, anarchic, "gift" economy. You lecture us about the need to "think outside the box", yet you cannot conceive of a planned economy that does not run on the basis of commodity production, because the planned economies of the revisionist Soviet Union ran on that basis.

. You say that "central planning is no magic solution", but you blur together planning in different economic systems, as if planning by revisionist bureaucrats or capitalists in a state- or market-capitalist society is fundamentally the same thing as planning in a socialist or communist society. They aren't, and each form presupposes a social, political and economic foundation. Real working class planning assumes vibrant working class organizations, strong working class consciousness, social ownership of the means of production, and so forth. Central planning is an essential factor, which allows the masses to supply raw materials where they are needed, and to overcome exchange and the law of value. Without planning, and without actual social ownership of both the means of production and the products, exchange will develop spontaneously. But central planning is only one form of social control of the economy. Other forms are mass involvement in local production decisions, mass concern and organization for the welfare of society as a whole, and so on. So of course, central planning by itself is no magic solution.

. You also distort what planning in a socialist society might look like. You say that "even the activity which is organized in accord with a big central plan is, in my view, a form of capitalist economy because most of the goods and services created by this plan will be exchanged for money". It is elementary Marxist economics that if a good is produced for exchange (any kind of exchange -- barter, mediated by money, or other forms of exchange), it is a commodity, and if the production unit that produces it is organized on a profit basis, then it is a capitalist enterprise. In other words, it is more than just your "view" that if goods are produced for money exchange, we are talking about a form of capitalist economy.

. However, the very point of planning in a revolutionary society under the rule of the proletariat is to replace production for exchange with production for the needs of society as a whole. Planned production would produce goods because they are needed by society, and deliver them to where they are needed, because they are needed there. This would liberate the products of human labor from their status as commodities; from their dual existence as both use values and exchange values. It would allow them to function as use values alone.

. One might even describe this as a kind of "gift economy", but it is most definitively not the nightmarish "gift economy" you describe. Rather than decisions being made via strikes and fights and boycotts "kind of like a war" (do you still stand by those words given the mass destruction wrought by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?), production and distribution decisions would be made by the society as a whole. The planners -- more on who that would consist of in a moment -- would make decisions via discussion, debate, voting, and possibly other mechanisms. In the end, after the fullest discussion practical, a decision would be taken, and the results would be binding on all.

Exchange in your gift economy

. You write that in your gift economy there will be "no capital, no money, no wages, no trade or exchange -- where everything was created and given away for free with no strings attached other than the expectation that what was given away for free would be used wisely [my emphasis]. " You talk as if this caveat is a simple, common sense proviso, which has no bearing on your assertion that there are no strings attached. This is a naïve picture of the implications of this "expectation".

. Elsewhere you make it clear that it is the individual producers who have, and enforce, this expectation, and they might do so brutally. You mock Joseph's statement that in your "gift" economy, "it is hard to image that such economic struggle might not spill over into physical struggle as well," but you are the one who enthused about "boycotts", "strikes", "fighting it out", "like a war". In capitalist society strikes become violent, and not only because the cops try to disrupt picket lines, but also because some more backward workers place their own individual interests above those of the workers in that factory or trade, and emotions run high. Some backward workers might act as provocateurs against the strike, but others (also backward) are simply shortsighted and don't recognize their class interests. Why wouldn't, in your anarchic vision of society, workers (who are too backward to recognize their common interests as a class) with equally deep disagreements about the correct policy, also resort to violence? Particularly when there are no other effective mechanisms to make a decision final? You don't answer this charge, you simply make a mocking reference to "poor, dumb workers punch[ing] out one another's lights".

. But that is a secondary point. Setting it aside, you make it clear that each individual production unit controls who consumes their product. In talking about how your dream world would deal with the production of toxins, you repeat, "the producing units which supplied raw materials to the unit that manufactured toxins could threaten to cut off supplies. And if the supplier units refused to take action -- then they also could be targeted and the struggle would escalate". Suddenly, your notion of "no strings" becomes its opposite. In fact, it is central to your whole scheme that whole sectors of the "gift economy" would attach all sorts of strings to their products. In this struggle, production units would certainly combine into blocs, seeking to maximize their power, both to get raw materials they need, and to strengthen their position in the never-ending fight with other production units with which they disagree. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see that quid pro quo arrangements between these blocs would spring up. After all, policy-making in this utopia is all about mustering all of the strings you can, to force others to adopt your way. This is your picture of utopia.

. But quid pro quo arrangements are just the first step, and they represent a kind of proto-exchange. It is easy to imagine more direct forms of exchange developing out of the very logic of your "gift" economy. Two production units or blocs of units might work out a tentative, uneasy alliance, because temporarily their positions on certain policy questions might coincide. They might also find that they could trade "no strings attached" rights to use each other's products. Or, a production unit in one bloc might sidestep an embargo by a supplier in another bloc, by making a trade: facilitate raw materials reaching that supplier in exchange for being supplied itself. Ultimately, direct exchange becomes the most potent "no stings" string. Why would anyone in this dog-eat-dog world of yours give anything away for free? Because of ideological loyalty to the "gift economy"? Marx showed that economic laws override any individual's will. Just as in the development of capitalist exchange, it is the logic of your world that exchange will arise, in spite of the will or consciousness of any individual.

. When you enthuse about these arrangements, it is clear that you assume that everyone will have the best interests of society as a whole in mind. You assume that because you call them workers, they will necessarily have the interests of the toilers uppermost. But in your scheme they are actually worker-owners, because in your scheme they clearly have a proprietary control over the factory where they work, regardless of the nominal/legal ownership. Where there is ownership of the means of production, there is also its opposite: those who do not own the means of production. Where there are property rights, there is also accumulation of wealth, and poverty. Where there is poverty, there is debt, and the need to work it off, and wage slavery.

. Even overlooking the actual class basis of your "workers" in the "gift" economy, there is no guarantee that everyone will fight for the best policy for society as a whole in your world, or that the policy benefiting society the most will prevail; there is only the guarantee that the most powerful bloc will win out. You also assume that all information will be freely available (it "wants to be free" after all). But why wouldn't a production unit that found it useful to use certain toxins want to keep that information from the public? Why wouldn't a production unit that invented an innovative new production process want to hide this, to gain an edge in this all-out struggle to control policy?

. My point here is not to speculate in detail about exactly how your "no strings attached" "gift" economy would devolve back into market capitalism if it ever got off the ground. My point is that, your saying "no strings attached", and your no doubt sincere hope that there would be no strings, does not make it so. Your perhaps sincere desire to end the worst abuses of capitalism does not mean that your scheme would be any different from capitalism.

. You pretend that Joseph has "silently retreat[ed] with his tail between his legs" on the argument that your scheme equates to capitalism, but pretty clearly, where individual production units control their product, the system that would develop on that economic basis would be indistinguishable from a form of capitalism.

Devolving accumulation to the individual

. In addressing Herr Duhring, Engels wrote against the notion, common among various utopian leftists, that the worker should be paid "the full value of his labor". In this discussion, he showed that the very notion of the "value of labor" was based in confusion, and that labor cannot have a value, because labor is the measure of value. For a moment accepting Duhring's assumption that workers should receive the full value of their labor, Engels traces out the contradictions in this notion:

"This however, gives rise at once to a very 'serious' hitch. The whole product is distributed. The most important progressive function of society, accumulation, is taken from society and put into the hands, placed at the arbitrary discretion, of individuals. The individuals can do what they like with their 'proceeds', but society at best remains as rich or poor as it was. The means of production accumulated in the past have therefore been centralized in the hands of society only in order that all means of production accumulated in the future may once again be dispersed in the hands of individuals. One knocks to pieces one's own premises; one has arrived at a pure absurdity."

. While you don't raise the slogan that workers should receive the full value of their labor, your scheme of a "gift" economy has the same pure absurdity inherent in it.

. This is an absurdity that wouldn't necessarily make itself felt in your scheme for several decades as you have mapped it out, because the "gift economy" would be living off subsidies from the other sectors until then, and the other sectors might manage social accumulation. But, as the worker-owners of any production unit control ("no strings attached") the full product of their labor, they get to decide the full disposition of their product. Some production units might well choose to accumulate. Others might not. But in your world, once the state capitalist sector had been eliminated (assuming that it ever was), there would be no mechanism for social accumulation, accumulation by society as a whole.

. But I forget, you aren't a "cargo-cult" communist, so you are freed from the inconvenience of dealing with scientific communist principles developed in the past. You can pick and choose which principles suit you in your current argument, and leave aside those that raise problems for your scheme.

Planning and decision-making

. Returning to the question of planning, you equate planning to "central planning" and then further equate this to a "command economy" (adopting without blinking the anti-communist term used by the bourgeoisie to slur communism as inevitably Stalinist). You write, "This [a command economy] appears to be Joseph's conception also (although he usually speaks of 'social planning', 'overall planning' or a 'general plan' or even 'conscious control' when he means central planning)."

. (As an aside, this is untrue. A google search of the CVO website for the phrases "social planning", "overall planning", "general plan", "conscious control" and "central planning", the term "central planning" comes up most frequently. You are fond of these unsupported -- and incorrect -- assertions implying that somehow Joseph is being dishonest, but isn't it you who is being dishonest?)

. But more importantly than how frequently each term is used in CVO literature, the ideas behind the terms are different. Central planning in a proletarian society describes a specific activity: projecting numbers of various products needed by society, the labor and other resources required to produce them, when they will be needed, and so forth. "Conscious control" is a broader term, indicating a series of processes (including central planning) by which the workers would exert control over production decisions: votes, improved accounting methods, open books, trade unions pressing for workers' rights against regulated capitalist management, and keeping a lid on the tendency of bureaucratic sectional interests to arise, and more.

. Then, after equating "central planning" to "command economy", you proceed to attack the "central planning bottleneck [which] would never have the ability to anticipate or respond to the many millions and billions of adjustments and changes of course to deal with rapidly changing conditions". In other words, you deliberately take the most wooden, stilted, bourgeois caricature of socialist planning and proceed to show that it is a wooden and stilted caricature, and then from there you claim that you have shown that no kind of planning by the proletariat will work.

. In a similar vein, you used to talk about the supposed requirement of central planning that all decisions in Soviet society were "in theory channeled through Stalin's brain", an idea that has echoes in your current formulation of a "central planning bottleneck". Years ago, in a conversation with me, you mockingly talked about how under this "command economy", individual restaurants wouldn't be allowed to decide what to serve on the menu, but would have to serve what was dictated to them by a bureaucratic national decision-making body. These are complaints that are made by the same neo-conservatives from whom you borrowed the phrase "command economy".

. In your current reply, you complain that Joseph argues on the basis of "because he said so", but nowhere do you back up your assertion that planning is inherently unable to respond to changing conditions.

. Just because you can't (or refuse to) imagine a mechanism by which planning decisions would be made that didn't have to be "channeled through Stalin's brain," doesn't mean that it is impossible to devise such a mechanism. I don't want to get drawn into speculating too deeply about what mechanisms might be devised, because at the time such innovations are needed, those in the midst of creating them are far more likely to see the situation clearly, and be far more creative than we could ever be from this perspective. But it is possible to sketch out a few possibilities, to show that the possibilities are far broader than you allow in your blind assertions.

. First, a couple of examples of environmental issues of importance to a proletarian society, that cannot be managed without planning, and can neither be managed under market capitalism or state capitalism, nor under your system: Migratory species often cover hundreds of miles in a season (in the case of some birds, even tens of thousands of miles round trip). Species preservation often requires preserving various environmental conditions all along their routes. Wetlands preservation likewise involves coordination across vast watersheds. The wetlands system at the mouth of the Mississippi is deeply affected by flood-control policies along the thousands of miles of rivers that empty into the ocean there. Also, global warming shows that certain local activities have profound effects globally, and even the task of monitoring greenhouse emissions worldwide requires coordinated planning (to say nothing of eliminating the 70 - 80% of current emissions, from literally billions of point sources, that needs to be eliminated in some industrialized countries to address the issue). A social system that aimed to address these widespread systems would need to coordinate across vast areas, and only through planning could that coordination be accomplished. The market and state capitalists cannot address these issues at the scale they need to be addressed, because their profit motives always override the social good. Capitalist states do sometimes enact regulations, but only after massive devastation or political upheaval has threatened all of their profits. Your "gift" economy likewise cannot address these issues, because there is no mechanism by which the disparate production units could coordinate their actions. Like the capitalists, your "gift" economy might eventually be able to coordinate on some policy, but only after self-interested production units (whose interests don't coincide with the interests of society as a whole) have bludgeoned each other into agreement.

. So, what might proletarian planning look like? Central plans might be very general, perhaps being somewhat more detailed for the most vital needs of society as a whole. Much of the planning activity might take the form of coalescing data -- which would be greatly assisted by modern technology -- and drawing some general conclusions from that data. For example, there are so many thousand tractors in the country, this percent are older than so many years old, we have this much tractor production capacity, and perhaps a recommendation that the industry aim to build some target number of tractors. Another example is tracking and planning reductions in greenhouse gasses mentioned above. The more vital sectors such as food production or addressing the environmental crises left us by capitalism might involve more detailed plans, while less vital sectors of the economy might be planned in less detail.

. These plans would be devised to take into account social accumulation, replacement of equipment, expansion or contraction based on shifts in demographics, and so on. Then, in response to and in conjunction with these central plans, regional and local bodies (political bodies, production units, etc) might make those decisions that most affected their region or locality, and their own production.

. The whole of society could, and would be encouraged to, participate in making these plans at all levels. In other words, part of everyone's workday would consist in participating in this planning. Decisions that might affect several regions or localities would probably be made in consultation with all affected regions and localities. Certain parameters set at one level would guide and limit the decisions made at another.

. Certain aspects of planning might go on continually, and others might be more periodic. Over time, the working class would be able to sort out frequency and planning periods that worked most efficiently. Not only would the frequency and length of planning periods need to be worked out, but so would many questions about the interaction between different levels of decision-making, enforcement of plans, how strict the parameters are within which a region or locality might operate, and so forth. Though you assert that it would not, in fact there is nothing inherent in this sort of planning that would prevent it from being quite nimble and responsive to changes in conditions, changes in production processes, and so forth.

. These are just rough speculations. The point is that the working class as a whole would sort them out as time passed, adopting approaches more broadly that appeared to work well in one locality, adapting imported methods for local conditions, discarding practices that proved to be inefficient, adjusting them as needed.

. In the revisionist Soviet Union, planning was not for the good of society as a whole, but to further the interests of the bureaucratic elite, but they were still overall plans. These plans failed, and resulted in bureaucratic inefficiencies and stagnation. Likewise, planning in market capitalist societies (such as planning reductions in greenhouse gas emissions via market methods) is also extremely inefficient. But this is not a feature of all planning, it is a feature of planning by elites for their own competing economic advantage. You approvingly refer to how "Central planning plays an important role today in all capitalist economies", but the point is not planning or no, but what class is making and is served by the plans. And, although you seem to have no criticism of planning under capitalism, you do not explain how your scheme would handle central planning, when there is no mechanism for the working class as a whole to make those plans. Although you admit that planning is an important part of modern economies, under your scheme "planning" would be extremely inefficient. Warlike political conditions, embargoes, strikes, and so forth, would prevent even individual production units from efficiently executing their plans, and you describe no mechanism whatever for the working class as a whole to develop plans.

. The main difference with your scheme, Ben, is not "command economy" and "central planning bottleneck" versus the ability to "anticipate and respond to millions and billions of adjustments", it is that, with central planning, decisions are made within a formal structure, in the context of social ownership, and there is a mechanism for making a final decision and executing it, rather than just hoping that everyone doing what they want will result in a positive outcome.

Democratic rights under workers' rule

. You like to pretend that the CVO opposes workers' rights under workers' rule. Your argument behind this assertion is weak. You start with a logical fallacy: a) The regimes of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union from Stalin forward all claimed that their regimes were proletarian class rule, through what they claimed was a proletarian party. b) These were repressive regimes that denied workers' rights. c) The CVO supports proletarian class rule, and supports the proletariat forming a party to achieve this. d) Therefore the CVO would deny workers' rights and suppress all organizations other than those completely controlled by the Party. Strangely enough, you never cite anything that the CVO actually says to support your assertion that the CVO supports the suppression of all organizations not controlled by the proletarian party.

. You assert that CVO "doesn't say jack shit about the need of the working class for the fundamental democratic rights of speech and organization" under workers' rule. But, let's look at what the CVO actually does say on the topic. The CVO writings are deeply suffused with the idea of workers' rights.

. I could take quotes from any CVO article which addresses either the revisionist regimes, or the period of transition to socialism (or many others), but let's take Joseph's reply to you -- the very document to which you were replying when you wrote the above assertion that CVO says nothing on the topic. In the section "The question of mass initiative":

"[The health care article] points out that socialism 'doesn't just mean technocrats or party officials administering the system, even socialist technocrats, but that the working population as a whole must be increasingly involved in directing production and dealing with all the common concerns of society as a whole'. It points out that 'Step by step, the working class must learn how to control the economy, both as an overall whole and workplace by workplace'. This refers both to workers learning how to administer their own workplace, and learning how to unite in large regions and on a countrywide basis to give overall direction to the economy. "

. This passage focuses on the workers' economic power, but makes it clear that this power is bound up with workers' political power. It is absurd to think of a society in which workers' political rights are suppressed, but they are "step by step learning how to control the economy". This has been pointed out to you before, but you have never to my knowledge answered it.

. In the section titled "The difference between a transitional economy and your state-capitalism":

"Since you don't see any liberating value in overall planning controlled by the working class, you don't see what role a revolutionary state sector can play in moving towards the abolition of commodity production. . . . Centralism and overall planning are bureaucracy and tyranny to you. You take them as synonymous with every sort of oppression, while you take the lack of overall planning as synonymous with freedom. That's also why you don't see the liberating role of the proletarian party, because it involves having workers cooperate together in overall political planning."

. In the section titled "The question of party-building":

. "For you, parties are only sad necessities, and better yet, there should be only a 'trend of trends' or a variety of competing groupings, but a true communist party is a defender of the rights of the masses, and an essential tool for working class activity. Meanwhile, you prattle on and on about democratic rights in the abstract, you are the one who opposes them in the concrete. You're skeptical of the idea of elections, whether in your future goal of 'cooperative anarchy' or in a transitional regime; your future cooperative anarchy wouldn't guarantee any democratic rights at all; you support the ideas of the proletarists who are against the term 'democracy' as well as the term 'socialism'; and without realizing it, in your conception of 'workers' rule' you make the state into the ruling party, and free it from any effective supervision from the working class."

. In sum, these comments and others amount to a lot more than "jack shit" on the topic of workers' rights during the transition and socialist periods. It would be possible to honestly disagree with certain formulations in CVO writing, and possible to suggest better ones, but you deny that the CVO says anything at all about the subject. That the CVO does "say jack" has also been pointed out to you, but you don't let truth get in the way of your campaign. You claim to have read everything that the CVO writes, and maybe you have, but you must be counting on your readers' laziness to make such an assertion in the face of the facts.

. When it comes to rights for other class forces in the transition period, you thought you had caught Joseph in a contradiction on the question of suppression of parties other than a single proletarian party, but as I showed above, the only contradiction is between what Joseph says and what you assert he means. It is your assertion that the CVO believes that a single "working-class" party, along with a series of dependent sub-organizations that dance to the tune set by the ruling party, will suppress all disagreement among the workers. It is your assertion that this is the only possible political arrangement during the period of working class rule, if the workers are united in a single party.

. It isn't possible to lay out a single picture of the political landscape during working class rule. Conditions will determine what organizations arise during and after a revolution, and how these organizations interact. Yes, the Party, as the organ of the most advanced sections of the workers, will want to be in touch with whatever workers' organizations do come up, not to control them anti-democratically, but to better understand the thinking of the non-party sections of the class, and to participate and lead these organizations where possible. This leadership would not be by fiat and behind-the-scenes manipulation as you assert, but through open political struggle, seeking to analyze concrete conditions correctly, striving to understand the needs of the mass of workers, and putting forward a line that resonates with them. The extent to which the Party can do this is the extent to which it can lead.

. On the other hand, Joseph showed pretty clearly that in actual practice, your scheme would result in the denial of rights for most. You mock, but don't answer these arguments that he made.

. Your distortions, exaggerations, name-calling, attempts to discourage readers from reading Joseph's reply, and so forth, all reveal a real deep weakness in your position. You do your utmost to hide that weakness with strutting and hysteria, lies and distortion. Finally, your section "How can Joseph get away with such shallowness and dishonesty?" is sad. While you claim to have shown all sorts of terrible things about Joseph, to me, as someone who read Joseph's and your last exchange carefully, you seem to have failed to land a single blow. You talk about "whateverism" and conclude that "CVO supporters have a remarkable capacity for suspension of disbelief. " But you fail to take into account another possibility: that CVO supporters read what you write, and read what Joseph writes, and conclude that you have nothing to contribute but demagogy and anarcho-proto-capitalist ideology.

Sincerely, Eric <>

[Title and list of subheads added, and some typos corrected, by Communist Voice]

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