In Defense of Socialism
The administered world has lost control. From north to south, from east to west. The welfare state has been disorganized. The Soviet system has collapsed. The developmental state no longer holds together. From the ideological point of view, the decline of these structures, which have been associated with progressive practices, suggests at first sight, the overwhelming victory of conservative thought, which has always condemned them to failure.
However, it should also be recognized that a certain Marxist tradition, which has not been very evident politically, but which theoretically is the most sophisticated, never imagined human emancipation would be the results of the experiments, which are now falling apart. It is quite true that the loss of control of the administration of the world was never on the horizon of this tradition. But should one not consider it from its own perspective and not just from that which today is hegemonic? Does not the process which is now taking place bring together with it possibilities which can enable the reorganization — right from scratch — of those which believe in the positive surpassing of the reigning order?
The Legacy of Marx
Curiously, on the strictly economic level, Marx’s theory was flexible when formulating the general laws of the capitalist system. Every economic Marxist law admits important counter-tendencies. Taken as a whole, the work of Marx, at the same times it shows the thesis of the growing pauperization of the non-propertied classes, relativizes it when contemplating the possibility that the class struggles result in distributive effects. At the same time it proposes the thesis of the proletarianization of the old social classes, it points to the emergence and the possible growth of the middle strata of society as the result of the development of the system. At the same time as it reveals the tendency of the rate of profit to decline, it admits its inevitability through the cheapening of the means of production as the result of technical progress.
However, on the institutional level, Marx believes that every evolution, from universal suffrage to shareholding companies, are presages of the new socialist order and are not improvements which will give the system greater possibilities of adapting to social and technical imperatives. This deficiency is certainly not due to a limitation of Marx’s thought, but rather to the limitation of his own times that did not allow him to prove the full scope of the negativity of his dialectic.
The same type of reasoning can be applied to the so-called primitive accumulation of capital, “an accumulation which is not a result of the capitalist form of production, but which is its starting point.” Marx correctly saw that capitalism would even destroy the walls of China, and that all peripheral peoples, under the penalty of perishing, would adopt the bourgeois form of production.
But the way this took places defied all forms of logic and “historical law.” In the same way that the American liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were able to preserve slavery with the vision of accumulating the necessary means to guarantee the future conditions of the capitalist order, the Soviet Stalinists of the twentieth century were able to increase Oriental despotism with the same goals.
Capital appropriated all the past of humanity, took hold of its institutions as if they were empty capsules, and filled them with new content, functions, and designations. It gave birth to modern slavery and modern Oriental despotism which keep the appearances of its predecessors without inheriting from them a single gene.
All roads lead to the Rome of the finally worldwide capitalism, but in the past each nation adopted its own rhythm and path and each had its own fable to narrate and should do so without forgetting, quite naturally, that the period of transformation through which it passed should not be judged from its own conscience but rather from the real contradictions and constraints of material life. It is of little importance what the Founding Father and Big Brother thought of doing if they kept the fetters even though it was in the name of liberty.
Everything was going as had been foreseen, until a phenomenon of huge importance, which was just taking shape in the last century, took over the scenario, particularly after World War II: the transformation of science into a factor of production. Marx was the first economist to declare that “the bourgeoisie can only exist if it can continuously revolutionize the instruments of production.”
In the 1850s Marx went much further when he stated that, as large industry developed, even though the position of social labor in the form of the opposition between capital and labor remained the last development of the value relation, the creation of real wealth would come to depend less on labor time, but would come to depend more and more on the general state of science, the progress of technology, and the application of this science to production.
In the nineteenth century no other classical or neo-classical economist has insisted so much on the idea that technological progress was inherent to the logic of the self-expansion of capital, or rather it was simultaneously a premise and result of capitalist reproduction. And the superiority of Marx’s approach was so great, it was this impassive critic of capitalism who foresaw with the greatest precision what “the material victories” of this mode of production would be: the improvement of the instruments of work, the constant progress of the means of communication and transport, the emergence of large urban centers and the emptying of the countryside, the suppression of the dispersion of the means of production, which would be concentrated and centralized in huge corporations.
All this was seen and, in a certain way, foreseen, by Marx, who could be considered a visionary, if it were not for the rigor of the method that allowed him to make such discoveries. Decades passed before a conservative economist felt obliged to recognize the obvious, although he adopted different premises from Marx.
However, it was the same economist who, in the 1940s, observed that a change in production would play a key role in contemporary society. The process of self-expansion of capital ends up by making the production process of science and technology endogenous through the creation of research and development departments in capitalist companies. This modification, which can be focused on exclusively from a perspective which is internal to the logic of capital, could count on factors which were external to it, but derived from it for its full development.
The adoption of Keynesian anti-cyclical policies, which, against common sense, unleashed the process of the centralization of capital, the sharpening of the inter-state disputes for raw materials and finance, which fattened the scientific research budgets for military and space research programs, which were further benefited by the advent of the Cold War, the universalization of basic education and, in the central countries, of public and private higher education. All of those events prepared and fertilized the ground for the radical transformation of the production process.
Super-industry thus causes a peculiar process of internationalization of the economy, which is rather imprecisely called “globalization.” The technical base of this operation is telematics, a dearly beloved product of super-industrial capitalism. Telematics firstly makes the optimal scale of production of an infinity of commodities grow at a rate which is much higher than the growth of national markets. The expansion of internal markets is no longer a guarantee that a given economy can absorb more and more industrial plants for certain products. The inter-state policy of forming common markets and the inter-enterprise policy of mergers and acquisitions becomes an imperative of the dynamics of accumulation.
On the other hand, telematics, through management and monitoring capability, allows the centralization of production of components of certain commodities in a number of countries, producing a new version of the law of comparative advantages, which favors sub-contracting and flexible accumulation. These practices began in the far east in the 1950s and are widespread today. The production of less sophisticated components can today be concentrated in those countries or regions which offer low wages and little social protection to their laborers, with the result, very convenient for capital, that the formation of economic blocks looks towards those areas. Finally, telematics, through the total integration of the world’s financial markets, allows an easier and more speculative process of external financing of internal public debts which paid, in the previous period, for the military and social expenses of the First World and the expenses of the industrialization of the semi-peripheral Third World.
In the expressive-aesthetic dimension, there is empathy between the innovative agent class and the declassified, on one hand, and dominant and working classes, on the other. The positive activities of the two latter classes practically exclude them from this dimension whereas the position of the innovating agents and the declassified is strongly affected by negativity. The declassified are productive forces which are transformed into destructive forces. They mimetize the destructive effects of the technique even without considering the rational nucleus of the mimesis which, originally, in dealing with nature sought productive results. On the other hand, in the case of innovating agents, the negativity of technical and scientific activity is, firstly, in its destructive effect, a consequence of its creative character.
But this is not the only way in which the innovating agents approach the declassified. This relationship is to a great extent mediated by a certain type of work of art. Although art and technique cannot be confused — it is impossible not to recognize the positional value of the sciences in the empirical reality which aims at the dominance of nature — it should be recognized that both art and technique are strengthened in superindustry.
For the first time in history, the agents which bring science make up a class, but at the same time, as a class, they are intellectually subsumed by capital. And as certain works of art denounce the irrational character of capitalist reality, the behavior of the declassified is an expression of this irrationality, which immediately frightens and repels all social sectors. But once this irrationality is mediated by certain works of art, it appears, to the eyes of the innovating agents, as a type of reflection in the mirror. They can recognize themselves in it.
The proposal of class theory, therefore, though it maintains, on a more general level, a certain dichromatic vision which places proprietors on one side and non-proprietors on the other, will always highlight the heterogeneity surrounding non-proprietors, dividing them into productive, destructive, and creative forces whose unity of perspectives, though possible, is not automatically guaranteed. And as non- of the non-proprietary classes specifically contain universal interests the only way of constructing an alternative project for society passes through the elaboration of a common discourse which contemplates the peculiarities of each of the classes, but which also launches them beyond themselves.
Socialism, in order to awaken the enthusiasm of these social players, cannot be aggressive in any of the three aspects which have been mentioned. If the opposite happens, it will never be possible to isolate the dominant classes at one pole and the remaining classes at the other, a necessary condition to overcome the capitalist order. While this does not take place, neoliberalism puts us at the mercy of technocratic, authoritarian, or fascist governments, depending on the social forces that the dominant class manages to gather. However, one thing is certain: the idea of a universal class reconciliation in the new political boundaries seems, at the moment to the moment, to be pure fantasy.
The transition of present-day shareholding-company capitalism for a kind of cooperative capitalism would demand: 1) a stimulus towards the cooperativization of non-proprietors through the implantation of new productive units under this regime, of the technical and financial stimulus so that workers in companies take over their control, of the democratization of the management of pension funds, whether they are public or not, directing their resources towards projects of this nature and of fiscal stimuli; 2) progressive taxation on property and its transfer inter vivos and causa mortis, 3) a progressive centralization in the hands of the democratic state of the process of financial intermediation, guaranteeing, through credit control, resources for the cooperativization of non-proprietors and the possibilities for the monitoring of the business cycle for which classic Keynesian policies have been ineffective.
Without the need to expropriate anyone, credit is an efficient mechanism for socialization. The cooperative which it finances, whether it is agricultural, commercial, or industrial, has considerable competitive advantages in relation to shareholding companies. Although it must pay interest to the financier, just as much as the shareholding companies must distribute dividends, it can dispose of that which will be the “profit of the entrepreneur” to amortize “capital,” to invest, or to increase wages, which will be as flexible as the working day must be. In addition, a moving scale of wages and a moving scale of the working day would make the cooperative more able to compete with the shareholding company mainly in crisis periods during which flexibility is a invincible trump.
What seems not yet to have been sufficiently explored is the emancipating potential of the discursive form of psychoanalysis in politics as a counterpoint of marketing. Although critical theory has never stopped recognizing the individual character of the psyche, rejecting the revisionist efforts to socialize the individual, it never let out of its sight the fact that both the force of psychic eruptions and its own content were conditioned by the logic of material reproduction. It has always recognized that a set of features, the essential nucleus of the psychological structure of the majority of members of a group, developed as a result of basic experiences of the ordinary way of life.
For Marxism, the individual has strictly not even been able to constitute himself historically as the class character of society has fixed each person at the stage of a mere generic being. Marketing, in a certain way, recognizes this, but as a “deteriorated psychoanalysis” which is worried about the “welfare of the client” and not about his “cure.” A radical change from this position would pass through the stage of taking non-proprietary voters as an active subject who, individually, are disposed to make their emancipating impulses, which are mainly ordinary, known, and release them. The challenge is in how to find the discursive form which unifies this disposition and respects the existing differences between the three dominated classes.
The Workers’ Party (PT) in Brazil manages to achieve this feat to a certain extent in the 1980s. Though it had no definite program and was acting in a semi-literate country, it grew enormously and gained an amazing social prestige merely by the way it presented itself to the electorate. It had no ready formulae, but observed the more daring social movements, organized their agenda, and eventually managed to generalize particular demands.
Where there was a breath of creative social life, the PT was there, learning to listen. It methodically extracted from the experiments in which it took part that which had a transforming power, it was almost voted into power. Even without being able to elaborate a truly socialist political platform, it was almost voted into power.
No one knows for certain what a national PT government would have been like if the PT had won, but from the form rather than the content of its discourse one could see it had growing support from the three non-proprietary classes, which were finding a compatibility of views through the party. In the nineties, the PT had wrongly decided to attribute its electoral failures to its virtues. Today, the party which worked as a kind of “social psychoanalyst” is itself in need of good theory.
Socialists should never disdain the PT experience of the eighties. And even a social government should not forger this learning as it is through it that the way towards the liberation of all kinds of state social coercion of society will be found: this is the only plausible meaning for the expression vanishing state. In order to do this, it is necessary for socialists to revitalize the enfeebled representative democracy, which, in the present context, is the best form of defense of the non-proprietary classes and of accommodating their various interests.
But, if everything is successful, as soon as the coercion is seen to be unnecessary, political representation itself could be surpassed, with the reduction of the state, which would have no political content, to a mere provider of public material cultural goods. It would then no longer be a detached body which hovered over society, but would be part of it. And in place of the present competitive national states, one would finally see the beginning of a true international community.
At a moment when the socialist movement was ebbing, Marx was reminded by a comrade that, in one of his workers. Hegel had observed immediately before anything qualitatively new appears, the former state recovers its original essence, in its simple totality, surpassing all the differences that it had abandoned when it was feasible.
This might be, more exactly, the case of “the new order” which appears as the definite proof of the superiority of a determined social formation when it would really be the simple announcement of its historical exhaustion. It is not through this that, together with neoliberalism, there is also a passionate compulsion to announce the death of socialism and of critical thought? Might not all this be a celebration, but why so much hurry to finish it off, tension on the faces of the guests?