History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Relative transformations and DMNC…//’Capitalist Realism’ and the errors of academic Marxism

January 11th, 2018 · 1 Comment

I haven’t read Fisher’s book and his work may well illustrate the danger in our critique of Marx/Engels: throwing out the baby with the bath. Once you critique Marx you can end up in confusion.
But the fact has to be faced that marxism is not really a truly reliable guide to the question of postcapitalism and communism. Being dogmatic here is crippling the left. To speak of scientific socialism is and was a danger because theories are too often flawed instruments. To say that ‘class struggle is the motor of history’, etc…, is equivocal where an engaged empirical study of the question would work far better. Marx unfortunately produced a whole set of theories that are equivocal where his basic overall perspective is still very viable, in a rough sense.
Our emphasis here has been to use Marx/Engels as a saga, not as a set of theories. Theories about economic systems enter treacherous terrain, for marxists just as much as bourgeois economists (with their ludicrous fictional theories). One difficulty pointed to here many times is the fallacy of stages of production: feudalism leading to capitalism leading to communism. Capitalism isn’t really a stage of history, and was pretty well in existence in one form or another from the time of Sumer. It is possible, of course, to claim that capitalism somehow came into existence in the modern form in the early modern, or else most plainly in the Industrial Revolution. The point here is that capitalism develops continuously over history in a series of relative transformations. A relative transformation is very different from an historical epoch given over to capitalism, an idea that is a kind of marxist fundamentalism. If as noted (see quote below) theory without action is sterile, and action without theory is blind, we need to be very careful not to let ‘theory’ turn into a closed system of thought. We can be far more scientific about history via a simple empirical chronicle instead the layers of fallacy that animate Marx’s otherwise remarkable oeuvre.
This is the more unfortunate since the basic thrust of Marx/Engels is on the mark: the capitalist system that we see over the past two centuries is clearly for example approaching an endgame in the ecological crisis of climate change: we MUST bring an end to the current system of globalization and its catastrophic impact on the environment. Marx and Engels were not so much scientific as men with a premonition, now born out in the cliffhanger of ecological destruction.
But Marx, as Fisher notes, refused to be specific and one result was the confusion of the bolshevik phase which did NOT result in communism. And it was really a form of state capitalism, which was a misfortune. What are talking about when we use the term ‘communism’? We have two manifestos that try a different approach:
We take Marx/Engels as historical inspiration but take the question of economic epochs as up in the air: we must be very careful, as indeed Marx warned, as we reify a solution. But we must try, and we need to specify in advance what we project for the future.
We have a set of suggestions in our manifestos, but a basic idea is to ask if moving beyond capitalism is the same as moving beyond markets…? Markets can exist without capitalists…
We think in terms of relative transformations: our outcome in a basic projection is what we call experimentally democratic market neo-communism (DMNC) in a system with three broad sectors of planed, market and autonomous sectors: this is a relative transformation of the given historical system and it proceeds beyond capitalism but not necessarily beyond markets.
The key fundamental is the creation of a Commons, in a system where all have a stake in the general fund of wealth with economic rights in a system that is democratic, but with strong regulation of economic function. Private property as capital is no longer the key ingredient, but by the same token this is a relative transformation of the system in place now and it is very different from state capitalism.
The point here is that dogmatic adherence to marxist shibboleths is counterproductive at this point.

Fisher says that “one of the left’s vices is its endless rehearsal of historical debates, its tendency to keep going over Kronstadt or the New Economic Policy rather than planning and organizing for a future that it really believes in.”

In a certain sense, Fisher is right here; as Lenin said, “theory without action is sterile”, and we cannot allow ourselves to be side-tracked by interesting historical discussions simply for their own sake. We are not academics, but revolutionaries.

But that particular quote from Lenin continues: “action without theory is blind”. And it is this side of the equation that is Fisher’s downfall.

If, when considering how best to fight capitalism, he had taken a serious approach to Marxist theory, including questions of the State (as brought out by the issue of Kronstadt) and the balance of class forces on a global scale (as illuminated by the New Economic Policy), then he might have been able to suggest something practical for anti-capitalists to do going forward. As it is, this book offers the modern revolutionary nothing but confusion and frustration.

If you want genuinely revolutionary socialist ideas, stick to Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 nemo // Jan 11, 2018 at 10:14 am

    The eonic effect makes use of the idea of ‘relative transformations’ and this is a far more practical than the usual theories of history.
    Modernity for example is a relative transformation of the era that came before, etc…
    Communism might do better as a relative transformation of the complex of systems (not really capitalism) that came before, etc…

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