Thursday, June 30, 2011

Measuring Marxism: The Centralization Myth

This post is part of a series attempting to quantify Marx's theory of Socialism.

Marxism is largely a method of accounting and interpreting the mechanisms of economic power. While political power is understood to play a role, it is largely considered subservient to the role of economic motion. In times of stagnation, wherein technological changes often do not correspond with expanding markets and economic power is uniquely centralized, contemporary nodes of power are entrenched, and their social relations tend to become apparent. In such times, the condition of civil society becomes increasingly apparent, with all its nuances and relations to these power structures. Gramsci notes of this phenomenon:
"when the state trembled, a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. ... Hegel's conception belongs to a period in which the spreading development of the bourgeoisie could seem limitless, so that its ethicity of universality could be asserted: all mankind will be bourgeois. But, in reality, only the social group that poses the end of  the State and its own end as the target to be achieved can create an ethical state - i.e. one which tends to put an end to the internal divisions of the ruled, etc., and to create a technically and morally unitary social organism."1
Here we have defined what may be the most succinct representation of all the progressive-liberal political programs. The range of equality of access to the political system determines the makeup of the ruling class - differences in the de facto governance of each class create a generally ossified hierarchy with a nomenklatura representing each higher class. Indeed, this is consistent with past and future political models - Marx's own proletarian class seeks a a paradigm shift in its own ascension to power, culminating in the subsumption of the bourgeois class into the working class. Even the corporatists and propertarians have their brand of civil-social-uniformity, which is so akin to Hegels as to appear predicated on his doctrine. Chayefsky stylized its adherants in the 1976 film Network:
"We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the swine. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression of brutality - one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused." -Paddy Chayefsky: Arthur Jensen in Network
Regard Quixotic Reveries of Ownership

The obvious problems with the relevance of a profit motive in such "corporate" societies can be understood as having the same defects as Mutalists' quixotic regard for property and equilibrium. To the Mutualists, all the problems with accumulated capital are seen as progressively easing (despite heightened accumulation of power for the past 50 years), while some Mutualists argue that constant competition among economic "equals" will never resolve into real "winners" and "losers."

The profit motive is founded on the conditions of competition and inequality. Competition requires a winner to uphold its incentivization process, and inequality is required as a model of what can be achieved or lost if you triumph or fail in competition. Finally, winning requires the inequality of access to tools in the process of political or economic power. This is succinctly understood in terms of access journalism (wherein individuals pay to get "access" to journalists who run favorable stories - such as Time and the Washington Post for the CIA), but there are more traditional models like socially necessary labor time (the falling value of hand-made products when the process becomes mechanized) and the accumulated power of the executive branch of industry, that is the owners of capital or the pre-eminent executive officers of capitalist enterprises.

The corporate structure gets some attention by Hegel, but he describes it as a representation of civil society rather than political society - here placed in opposition to the state. What is lost on Hegel, and probably many of the bourgeois Mutualists, is the important processes of incentivization, profit and exploitation upon which the corporate structure hinges. The very nature of a corporation as a node of power places it in the same position of the state in our analysis: the representation of interests among its constituent stake-holders (those subject to its economic impact) is only as expansive as the civil society managing and propping up the enterprise. This more than anything else might explain the bizarre clamoring for liberty and equality under the law in the nascent Slave-reliant U.S. regime.

In much the same way, a largely agrarian Russian or Chinese society could not expect a truly exhaustive civil society to define the movements of power in the Soviet and Maoist regimes. Kronstadt may have been the last stand for worker's democracy in the early stages of the U.S.S.R.; indeed, the revolutionary careerists relied on a narrow class of Russian society subsumed into the executive, repeatedly purged under Stalin, which expanded and became transposed on U.S.S.R. society at large as a bureaucracy. Rather than confirming the Soviet program, Marx's theory once again clashes with the traditional "wisdom" about his influence:
"Taxes are the life source of the bureaucracy, the army, the priests, and the court – in short, of the entire apparatus of the executive power. Strong government and heavy taxes are identical. By its very nature, small-holding property forms a basis for an all-powerful and numberless bureaucracy."2
"Small-holding property," is mortgaged land, which Marx contends becomes a collective good within socialism. If that wasn't a direct enough criticism of bureaucracy:

"But at the very heart of the bureaucracy this spiritualism turns into a crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of trust in authority, the mechanism of an ossified and formalistic behaviour, of fixed principles, conceptions, and traditions."3
Finally, Fromm confirms our suspicions:
"Marx expresses here all essential elements of socialism. First, man produces in an associated, not competitive way; he produces rationally and in an unalienated way, which means that he brings production under his control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power. This clearly excludes a concept of socialism in which man is manipulated by a bureaucracy, even if this bureaucracy rules the whole state economy, rather than only a big corporation. It means that the individual participates actively in the planning and in the execution of the plans; it means, in short, the realization of political and industrial democracy."4

Don't Socratize Marx

Marx, the so-called visionary behind the Soviet and Maoist regimes, is embarrassingly inconsistent with the real and imagined worlds of the Soviet-NATO paradigm. But this is to be expected - after all, who doesn't tweak their ideological predecessors? We learn, and we adjust what we know. This is precisely Chomsky's criticism of self-described Marxists:
"What I don't like about it is the personalization. Interesting ideas are
virtually always a collective enterprise.  Early Marx, for example, draws
very extensively from the Enlightenment and Romantic thought of the period.
No criticism.  It's just gives the wrong impression to personalize these
things, I think. ... I should call myself a Cartesian, Adam Smithite, Humboldtian, Rockerian, Einsteinian....  I just don't see the point.  Some of Marx's ideas are valuable, some are wrong, etc."
- Noam Chomsky - Personal correspondence, 2005
But this isn't an issue of simple revision. The line taken by mainstream academia, political and media groups in the 'socialist states' and abroad has been that Marx legitimizes the very structures which accumulate power into the hands of a few - in stark contrast to the decentralization of power demanded by worker management of the means of production and civil-social unity. Much like Socrates, we are expected to think all sorts of things about Marx without reading anything he wrote. Unlike Socrates, we can validate his authenticity and read his own words.

Next: The Democratic Ideal in Marxism

1Gramsci: State and Civil Society

2Marx, Karl: 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Online
3Marx, Karl: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right Chapter 3 Online
4Fromm, Erich: Marx's Concept of Man

1 comment:

  1. This is a very helpful NPR podcast regarding US debt.


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