Cargo-Cult Leninism vs. Information War
Workers' Rule:
Is it Dead or Alive?

The question that we cannot escape concerns the degeneration of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions of 1917 and 1949.
If these revolutions appeared to be successful and then degenerated -- does this mean that future attempts at establishing workers' rule will inevitably suffer the same fate?
Appendix A:

Comments from
readers
Alex and Paul
Appendix B:
What Does Victory
Look Like?

A chart comparing the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (embryonic vs. with immune system)
across 8 dimensions
Appendix C:
Who will control the gift economy? Does planning require a central authority? Do we need a single plan for the entire economy? Will we use carrots and sticks -- or our internal compass? Who is the ultimate authority?
Appendix D:
Ben answers three of Eric's questions
Finding Marx's endorsement on a piece of toast One party to rule them all?
How to Build the Party of
the Working Class

We need mass democracy
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand

The Media Weapon community (and POF email lists)
more from Ben Seattle

 

Appendix C:

Who will control the gift economy?

 

Eric, you have also replied to me concerning how the economy of a classless society, with no money or markets, will be organized.

 

I will not attempt, in this reply, to respond to every single point that you make. It is my intent to be responsive to you--but I cannot do everything at once. I also understand that readers, also, have limited time and want me to keep my response to you shorter than a book. So I will reply here to what may be the most important issues related to your comments on this topic. And in the third chapter of my reply (please see below) I will offer some suggestions for how we may be able to continue our conversation in such a way that both of us can be accountable (ie: responsive to one another and to the expectations of our audience) within the practical limitations of our very limited time.

 

There are two main points you raise in criticism of my views on the gift economy. You assert that, without a hierarchical system of centralized planning and control capable of making decisions which everyone must obey (ie: "binding on all") the self-organizing gift economy:

 

(1) would have no effective way for various production units to plan and coordinate their actions over time and distance.

 

(2) would fall prey to corruption as various production units asserted ownership over what they produced--and then combined together on the basis of quid pro quo exchange (ie: which would inevitably lead back to a system of commodity production and all the evils of the capitalist system).

 

The basic flaw in your arguments is that you begin by first making the assumption that you intend to prove. And the assumption that you intend to prove is, essentially, that workers will never be able to self-organize (ie: plan and coordinate their actions) without a central authority that they must obey.

 

Does planning require a central authority?

 

You give a number of examples of coordination which are supposedly impossible without a centralized authority. You discuss migratory species, birds, wetlands preservation, flood-control policies along the thousands of miles of rivers, global warming and the need to monitor greenhouse emissions. You conclude with this stirring conclusion:

 

> 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.

 

And, of course, your statement above is completely correct.

 

None of these things can take place without planning.

 

The problem is that you are assuming that planning cannot take place without a central authority that everyone is required to obey.

 

But an assumption is not the same as a scientific argument.

 

Individuals and self-organizing groups will establish their reputations and inspire respect--and work to plan and coordinate actions on the local, national and international level. On the most important questions a clear consensus will usually emerge over time (and sometimes after struggle that will engage the emotions of many people). This will be easier in a classless society than it is now because (1) society will not be dominated by ignorance and the bourgeois ideology and (2) the level of consciousness and experience in organizing things will be much higher than it is now.

 

Classless society will have many methods and mechanisms by which authority will exist. However this will be distributed authority. And individuals will choose to recognize this authority (or to select which authority to recognize when the authorative people or organizations disagree) on the basis of their own conscience (which, for each person, will be the highest authority).

 

None of this requires a single central authority that can resolve disagreements.

 

You appear to be preoccupied with how "backward workers" will screw everything up and need to be told what to do. But a preoccupation is not a scientific argument.

 

Yes, there may always be some people who are backward. But the scenarios you put forward of workers resolving their disagreements by beating the shit out of one another would not be common and would be relatively easy to deal with. Lenin once described [C-1] how (in a classless society without a state or an organized police force) people will occasionally still get into fights. But these fights would not require calling the cops. Rather, there would be a call to the common sense of other people around who would break up the fight.

 

Just as people will be able to break up a fight without a need for a central authority--they will also be able to plan and coordinate actions--even over thousands of miles.

 

Do we need a single plan for the entire economy?

 

Of course centralized authority in some forms will always exist. You cannot, for example, build an airplane or a freeway without a central plan which many producing units must follow. But what is not needed is a single plan for the entire economy. For example, a producing unit analogous to Boeing could have its plan and Airbus could have a competing plan. Both Boeing and Airbus planes would need standardized communications equipment so they could talk to air traffic authorities and so forth. And they might have some common suppliers so other things would be standardized. But there would be no need for a single planning agency that makes a plan for all the planes that Boeing and Airbus build. Much less would there be a need for a central authority that plans the production of all airplanes and automobiles, almonds and apples, aspirin and antihistamines, antennas and amplifiers, apartments and aluminum alloy axes, applications and animated cartoons (not to mention everything made by Acme--and everyone else).

 

Joseph Green wrote a sixty-thousand word essay [C-2] where he speculates on how this might all work using the method of "material balances": essentially you make a big spreadsheet where the columns and rows correspond to everything that is produced and consumed and where it comes from and where it goes. Of course you do not track every little 6 millimeter left-handed titanium screw--you deal mainly in broad categories in order to avoid the need for millions of rows and columns that would break your spreadsheet and would also deprive production units of the initiative to choose whether to produce a big screw or a little screw. Joseph has clearly given these kinds of questions a lot of thought.

 

This method did not work so well in the Soviet Union, Joseph notes, but that was because the Soviet Union was a class-divided society and the various production units were in competition with one another and everyone attempted to hide information and cheat the system. Joseph suggests this method would have better success if used to run the economy of a classless society.

 

And something similar to the method of material balances (called input/output charts) may sometimes be used today by large factories or as part of analysis of some industrial sectors (for example: mining or heavy industrial equipment)--or for products for which there is a shortage and very high demand -- and this may continue in the future. But why should an entire economy be run on such an unwieldy basis? There is no need for this.

 

I discussed this in March on the pof-300 list [C-3]:

 

> In an future workers' economy without a single point of

> control there are likely to be large plans covering major

> portions of the economy. These plans would be developed

> by a collective process. Independent producing units that

> strongly disagreed with these plans would probably simply

> opt-out of these plans--and subscribe to (or develop)

> alternate plans in order to remain useful to society and

> to demonstrate that plans based on different principles

> may be better.

 

Will workers sacrifice their children to a pagan god?

 

Eric's other argument is that without a centralized authority the gift economy would inevitably fall victim to corruption:

> 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.

I replied to this argument in 1995 in paragraphs 238 - 247 of "Why is Joseph Afraid of the Masses?" [C-4] where I described these corrupt alliances as "Joseph's Islands":

 

> [238]

> What is the kind of corruption

> that the masses would oppose ?

 

> [239] Any step in the direction of production for exchange

> rather than consumption would represent corruption of the

> first order. Any production unit that treats its products as

> "property" would lose mass support and not be able to

> survive in competition with other units that enjoy mass

> support. And this would be a fairly sensitive process. Even

> very small steps in the direction of treating products as

> property could elicit a huge reaction from the masses. This

> is the amplification effect that would give the communist

> economy such steady direction and enormous power .

 

> [240]

> Force "like gravity" would be resisted

> by actions of the masses

 

> [241] In the early period of classless society there

> would still exist substantial and powerful remnants of the

> self-centered ideology and thinking created in previous

> society. Under these conditions the tendency toward

> corruption would assert itself as an inevitable force,

> like gravity, that could only be resisted through the

> actions of the masses. Any tendency, by a production

> unit, towards asserting "ownership" over what it produces

> -- would be exposed and smashed up by the masses -- who

> would regard this as similar to a parent asserting

> "ownership" over his adult children.

 

> [242] Joseph describes how giant alliances and networks

> may come into existence as part of the political and

> economic struggle within a communist economic-political

> system. And yes, such alliances might come about (but not

> monopolies -- because this is another form of corruption

> that the masses would not permit -- because the potential

> for abuse is extreme -- just like it is with the monopoly

> of allegedly "non-political" political power that Joseph

> advocates with his "von Neumann single point control

> theory"). But such alliances would likely be short-lived

> in a fast-moving and shifting economy and in any event

> would be battered into quick disintegration should they

> engage in the open tit-for-tat exchanges of products rather

> than to make their products available to all on the basis

> of "wise use".

 

> [243] The masses are capable of grasping the necessity

> of the principle of production for use . The alliances

> described by Joseph are different than alliances formed on

> the basis of political principles such as developing the

> economy and serving the people. Joseph may not be able to

> distinguish between healthy and corrupt alliances . Joseph

> may not be able to distinguish between giving a product to

> a production unit in exchange for (a) its wise consumption

> (ie: consumption beneficial to society) and (b) another

> product. But the masses will .

 

> [244] The masses will support (with their labor, with their

> consumption, with their voice) those production units and

> production alliances that do the most to serve the people.

> And vice versa -- those units which do less well at serving

> the needs of the masses will not inspire the hard work and

> play that will allow them to expand and reproduce

> themselves and their hallmark traditions and methods. This

> sounds like ruthless "social Darwinism" to Joseph but it is

> actually fairly simple: if the music is not good -- people

> will not dance to it.

 

> [245] Joseph's Islands

 

> [246] The corrupt alliances described by Joseph, should

> they come about, would be quickly isolated. I propose

> calling such formations "Joseph's Islands" in honor of

> Joseph, who has theorized their existence. And what would

> be the fate of Joseph's islands ? Such islands would end

> up diminutive within an ocean of economic activity. They

> would enjoy rapidly dwindling mass support. They would

> likely evaporate or shrink to insignificance. It is

> difficult to conceive of self-sufficient islands able to

> survive in a vast interconnected economy because

> interaction with and support from the rest of the economy

> would be a condition of the existence of any production

> unit of real significance.

> [247] Consider the matter. Why would anyone want to work

> for a production unit that is corrupt ? In a communist

> economy no one needs to work in order to eat and live.

> It is the other way around. People live in order to work

> and this means that they would no sooner want to work for

> an outfit that is corrupt than they would want to sacrifice

> their children to a pagan god. So if Joseph's island is

> based on commodity production then the redivision of

> labor (the cleavage into classes with antagonistic material

> interests) would eventually assert itself and the workers

> would have a problem with the way things are done. What is

> to prevent the workers from saying adios (and taking with

> them the most important and decisive element of production:

> their skilled labor) ? There would be plenty of other

> places where people could work for free and be appreciated

> and be part of a community based on the principle of

> serving the people.

Yes, it is true, as Eric notes, that economic laws override the individual will. But the problem with Eric's argument is that he assumes that an economic law emerging from commodity production has already become dominant. But this can only happen when exchange and commodity production are already well-established.

 

The masses in a classless society have a powerful material interest in preventing a return to commodity production. And for this reason they will act decisively to crush corruption if and when it emerges [C-5].

 

Speaking of corruption--Eric's hypothesized hierarchical central planning authority would have its own problem whereby people at or near the apex of this excessive concentration of authority would face unnatural and insincere relationships with anyone interested in a favorable ruling. They would be flattered: told that their farts didn't smell and their bad jokes were funny. And this is (supposedly) the future of humanity until the end of time.

Will we use carrots and sticks -- or our internal compass?


This brings us to another problem with Eric's view that the gift economy will be run on the basis of central planning that will create plans "binding on all". What if someone does not agree? Since all labor will be voluntary--why would that person work on something he is convinced is wrong? What would motivate him to do so? Eric cannot argue the guy would do the work for a wage--because he has already acknowledged that no exchange would exist (ie: labor power cannot be a commodity). Of course if the disagreement is relatively minor then the guy might do the work anyway out of respect for the opinions of others and the democratic processes which led to the binding decision. But in cases where the disagreement was major--then there would be no means of enforcing the supposedly "binding" decision.

 

And this leads us to the profound relationship between enthusiasm and labor productivity. Workers' convictions in the validity of what they are doing (ie: the nature of the goods or services they are creating or distributing and the principles or methods which guide their work) will be inseparable from labor productivity and from individual and team initiative.


The basic issue here is simple: motivation must come from _inside_ rather than from some external source. People will act and work on the basis of their convictions and will be guided, not an external carrot or stick--but by their internal compass.

 

Will Dixie's Barbeque need permission from planners?

 

Eric says that planning authorities would not be overly intrusive into how production units are run. He gives the example of a restaurant that would be able to change its menu without the need to first seek approval from a bureaucratic national decision-making body. That's cool. Nobody wants to stand in the way of people who take the initiative. But at what point does approval from planners (either local or national) become necessary?

 

There is a well-known restaurant in the local area known as Dixie's Barbeque. People who are really into barbeque say that there are many better places--but Dixie's remains the most popular. One of the complaints against Dixie's is that it is so busy you have to wait in line a very long time to get served. The place is built on something of a gimmick. A large and very imposing black man, named Gene, walks around the place with what he calls "the man" (ie: a small bowl of ferociously hot sauce and an extremely tiny silver spoon). This guy places a single drop of this fiery substance on whatever kind of food you have in front of you and then, in a booming and commanding voice, orders you to eat it. I am not sure what people remember the most--Gene's commanding voice or the nuclear heat of "the man". I can only speculate on what combination of psychological factors make the place so insanely popular. When I was there, I did as I was ordered, of course. I did not even want to know what would happen if I refused. A friend of mine once asked Gene if he had tried the sauce himself. "Of course not", Gene replied, "do you think I'm crazy?"

 

Now why do I bring this restaurant up? Am I going to compare Gene to Eric's central planning authority? Not at all. Rather, my point concerns the history of this place--where a cute gimmick has become a well-known tourist attraction. Dixie's started out as an auto-repair shop. Gene, the owner, was also the main mechanic. To make a little extra money his wife would bring in sweet potato pies and sell them to customers. The pies were popular and so Gene's wife starting bring in more kinds of food--like barbeque. Readers will guess what happened next: soon the food was bringing in more money than the auto-repair. Cars and equipment were taken out of one part of the shop to make room for a little lunch counter. After a while the whole place became the restaurant it is now. And the mechanic, Gene, came up with his little show in order to have something to do.

 

Such unforseeable transformations of production units will also take place in the gift economy. Will these production units need to petition a bunch of bureaucrats (whether local or national) for permission to change from fixing cars to serving food? Why should this be necessary? Can't these decisions be made by the people directly involved in connection with the community where they live and work?

 

But if permission from central planners is not necessary to shift from axle grease to pork fat--then when does it become necessary? For example: if you and your friends want to build wings for large aircraft--how would you make this happen? You would need to find and hook up with some outfit that builds large planes. And you would need to have connections and arrangements with lots of producers and suppliers of good and services. And you would need the help of a lot of people with experience and skill. And you would need to establish a track record and a reputation. The groups of people who build the big planes would need to know you are reliable, and so forth.

 

Does any of this require a hierarchical centralized planning agency that controls the entire economy?

 

No. It does not.

 

So why would an extra layer of bureaucracy be necessary?

 

Who is the ultimate authority?

 

Eric:

 

> 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.

 

Both Eric and I see production in future classless society as being under social ownership and control. Our difference concerns whether this ownership and control requires formal structures and mechanisms that can force workers to take actions that go against "what they want".

 

This is the heart of the matter. Will workers be conscious and highly motivated? Or will workers be lazy and ignorant and need to be given a swift kick in the rear and have a carrot dangled in front of their nose--until the end of time?

 

Who tells a great artist what he can draw? People may, of course, make suggestions or requests--but the authority of the artist is final. Of course in capitalist society, there is an additional constraint: the artist may be faced with the choice of obeying the demand of the market or starving. In classless society there may be constraints or factors of a different kind: like social status or the respect, appreciation and admiration from friends, neighbors and larger audiences. But who makes the final decision?

 

Co-workers, friends, neighbors, various communities of people, other producers of similar products, consumers, fans, everyone affected in one way or another--all will have some interest (large or small) in what the worker does--and the worker will weigh all these opinions--but how will this weighing process work? Who determines that such-and-such expert gets greater weight than the lady on the other side of the globe who wrote a comment on the topic in her blog? Will some central authority tabulate and count up votes? Or will the worker decide what she or he does?

 

Dialectics (a word I usually avoid because it is so often misused by bullshit artists) tells us that the basis of change, development and motion is always internal. And this suggests that the ultimate authority concerning a workers' actions will also be internal: there will be no authority higher than his or her conscience and consciousness.

 

Notes for Appendix C

 

[Note C-1] Lenin in "State and Revolution":

 

> We are not utopians, and do not deny the possibility and
> inevitability of excesses on the part of individual

> persons, or the need to suppress such excesses. But, in

> the first place, no special apparatus of suppression is

> needed for this; this will be done by the armed people

> itself []"

 

[Note C-2] "Labor-money and socialist planning", parts 1, 2 and 3

at http://CommunistVoice.org

 

> Thus the problem of factories producing the wrong

> assortment of products, or using wasteful production

> methods, stemmed from the class structure of Soviet

> society, from the fact that it was a state-capitalist

> society with an exploiting ruling class, and not from

> some supposed inability of an economy to be planned

> in physical terms. No plan could specify every last

> detail of production, nor would it be desirable for such

> a thing to occur: it would squash the initiative of

> enterprises at the base, and their ability to innovate.


[Note C-3] "one big factory" vs. planning in parallel (reply to Alex)

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pof-300/message/1946

 

[Note C-4] "Joseph's Islands", see:

http://Leninism.org/stream/95/cRed-80.htm

 

For a short summary of the article above, see:

"How the masses would oppose a return to capitalism"
http://Leninism.org/some/80x.htm

[Note C-5] "crushing corruption", see the related passage from:

http://Struggle.net/alds/part_7.htm

 

> In the course of biological evolution the gene pools of

> most animal species underwent a process of selection for

> a strong aversion (and repugnance) to eating waste matter

> (which caused sickness and disease). This is why, in the

> most literal sense, shit stinks: genes were selected that

> caused the smell of the sulfer compounds to sicken and

> disgust us.

 

> Similarly, future generations, with their more highly

> evolved senses, will consider the exchange of living

> labor for dead labor--as something that is unnatural

> and disgusting--as a practice that inevitably leads to

> wage slavery (ie: a form of enslavement of human labor and

> human beings). If labor is to be truely autonomous--then

> it must be controlled by the inner compass and conscience

> of each laborer rather than by any form of external carrot

> or stick.

 

<>

Cargo-Cult Leninism vs. Information War
Workers' Rule:
Is it Dead or Alive?

The question that we cannot escape concerns the degeneration of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions of 1917 and 1949.
If these revolutions appeared to be successful and then degenerated -- does this mean that future attempts at establishing workers' rule will inevitably suffer the same fate?
Appendix A:

Comments from
readers
Alex and Paul
Appendix B:
What Does Victory
Look Like?

A chart comparing the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (embryonic vs. with immune system)
across 8 dimensions
Appendix C:
Who will control the gift economy? Does planning require a central authority? Do we need a single plan for the entire economy? Will we use carrots and sticks -- or our internal compass? Who is the ultimate authority?
Appendix D:
Ben answers three of Eric's questions
Finding Marx's endorsement on a piece of toast One party to rule them all?
How to Build the Party of
the Working Class

We need mass democracy
Real organization cannot be built
on a foundation of sand

The Media Weapon community (and POF email lists)
more from Ben Seattle