reviewed by MC5
We review these books together, because they complement each other nicely. They are important books to MIM, because their authors agree with MIM's third cardinal principle, the scientific truth that the majority of the oppressor nation workers are not exploited.
On the one hand we have Arjun Makhijani, who according to the book jacket is "President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research near Washington, has worked in India's villages, organized for nuclear disarmament in the U.S. and written widely on energy, environmental and economic issues. He has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Bombay and a Ph.D. from the University of California." Arjun Makhijani represents the most radical thinking of the Third World petty-bourgeoisie possible.
W. Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell are academics in computer programming and economics respectively. Towards a New Socialism contributes to overcoming petty-bourgeois thinking by discussing how advances in technology make centralized planning of the economy easier with every passing year. At the same time, the authors are internationalists, just not as thoroughly internationalist as Arjun Makhijani.
Arjun Makhijani does not claim to be Marxist, and for this reason he is a good friend of the people, because many people with similar views - Karl Kautsky for instance - would attempt to pass themselves off as Marxist.
Makhijani shares MIM's vision of internationalism, and we vouch for his staunch anti-imperialism and anti-militarism. He also has the factual understanding of the international class structure correct, often using phrases MIM has also used to describe it: "The well-being of the capitalist countries has been inextricably intertwined with exploitation of the Third World." (p. 74). Makhijani's program is identical to MIM's on opening borders as well (p. 104).
Pointing out that one-third of the world consumes 95% of all resources, Makhijani has a firm grip on conditions of the Third World. Makhijani also refers to "global apartheid" (p. x) and the opposition of oppressor nation workers to change. For this reason, we agree with Makhijani right down to the details of the political economy of the oppressor nation workers: "Even as Marx was writing Das Kapital, the mechanisms for the transfer of poverty out of the capitalist countries were operating in full swing"(p. 63). See also his contrast of the Third World and "the majority of Whites in their own countries" (p. 43).
Grasping the nature of superexploitation, Makhijani explains transfer pricing within multinational companies as a means of hiding profits obtained from the Third World (p. 14) - something that Cockshott and Cottrell fail to do in their calculations of the exploitation of workers in the United Kingdom. Makhijani also dedicates a considerable part of the book to the political (non-market) process which impinges on exchange rates among countries, thereby cheapening Third World labor. He then suggests a program of action to reform capitalism to radically improve Third World conditions without a program of redistributing existing industrial fixed assets.
Rejection of Leninism
Makhijani does not deny that the most important statistical comparisons show that Lenin's communist system defeated the capitalist system (pp. 74-75) and was only destroyed for reasons other than success or failure in terms of providing for the social good. On the other hand, Makhijani rejects "the violence of Stalinism" (p. 59), the vanguard party idea (p. 61) and the dictatorship of the proletariat (p. 136). Forced to hang his hat on the example of Kerala in India (pp. 132-137), Makhijani nonetheless correctly points out that communist-led socialism has been a less violent system than capitalism. (We leave it to our comrades in India to explain why they believe the Kerala example is a false road forward.)
Along these lines, Makhijani accepted that the communist system lost out in the race to provide consumer goods and turns it into a gender issue by saying wimmin were the ones who had to stand in line (unpaid) in the Soviet Union. Although Makhijani never addressed how far behind Russia was in the consumer goods race before the Revolution of 1917, the point will appeal to the historically ignorant or lying bourgeoisie that Makhijani is writing for.
"Human life is lived individually, in families and in the small structures of communities. The intimate decisions of everyday life are best made at that level, if only because the knowledge of what needs to be done is greatest at that level. The love and nurture that are needed in everyday life also cannot be dispensed by macroeconomic structures, but must necessarily be in the small structures of everyday life. Whether it is husbanding the land, bringing up and educating children in homes and schools, deciding where a sign for a deaf child should be put up on a street or what parts of a house or office need fixing, or any of the myriad decisions that people make every day, considerable control over property at the local level is essential. In that respect, capitalist theory is closer to what we need than Marxist theory" (pp. 109-110).
Makhijani agrees with MIM on the international class structure and many fundamental values while disagreeing with MIM on how the world works. The petty-bourgeoisie is the class most inclined to champion the efforts of the individual overcoming the obstacles placed by larger capitalists or the discipline of proletarian movements.
According to Makhijani, Lenin and Mao's successes came because they bowed to the petty-bourgeoisie in the countryside: "There were strong demands for a plot of land that the peasant could control, no matter how small" (p. 66).
Makhijani is able to explain the economic rationale underlying the petty-bourgeois position very clearly: "It is therefore incorrect to view the property of the poor peasant or small scale property held in a manner of a farmer in the same light as that held for profit. When earnings from such holdings are comparable to income from holding a job, it is more appropriate to view such forms of property as means for the control of one's labor and as insurance for hard times" (p. 108). MIM disagrees with this, because while the worker obtains income from a highly centralized and social process, the petty-bourgeoisie described by Makhijani can obtain the same income without an understanding of the rest of the world, and thus holds relatively parochial views incompatible with internationalism and world peace.
We must concede that there is a material basis for Makhijani's views in that studies show that in much labor-intensive agriculture, there is nothing more productive than small-scale farming. Such agriculture is not susceptible to improvement through capital investment, collective farming or centralization and a substantial section of the world's population still undertakes such farming - coffee-bean growing for instance.
Where MIM disagrees with Makhijani is that the type of farming best suited to the petty-bourgeoisie is not really typical of the global economy and is in fact becoming evermore irrelevant. We continue to support the land-to-the-tiller new democratic stage of revolution in the semi-feudal countries as Lenin and Mao did before us, but such a stage must be led by the proletariat, which is the class capable of looking toward the future. In contrast, Makhijani advocates that everyone have a small piece of property for which he or she is responsible. Makhijani does not see how tending to one's own plot of land or property or locality is blinding and leads to destructive anti-social behavior including the cut-throat economic competition that underlies the war and environmental destruction that Makhijani seeks to eliminate.
Like some in the First Nations and the petty-bourgeois environmentalists, Makhijani opposes large-scale production. Speaking of Leninism, Makhijani says: "Both of these problems have been reinforced by the uncritical acceptance of large-scale industrialism as the vehicle of 'progress'" (p. 61).
MIM disagrees with the petty-bourgeoisie's idealized view of how to restore nature to a mythical time when natural people lived on individual plots or areas of land. Every little farm having its own tractor or car is a perfect example of environmental waste but it would be classic petty-bourgeois thinking. Likewise, there is nothing more centralized or "large-scale" - and industrial - than public transportation, but that is crucial to protecting the environment.
True internationalism merges with environmentalism, because no locality should have the "right" to pollute more than is necessary with the most environmentally advanced techniques of production feasible. Self-interested communities that pollute the air, water and land used by others violate the principles of internationalism where all peoples are equal. Thus, in practice, there is no true petty-bourgeois internationalism or true petty-bourgeois environmentalism.
Centralized planning: Cockshott & Cottrell
Advances in computers make socialist economic planning more feasible than ever. According to Cockshott & Cottrell, socialist planning is possible using spreadsheet and database software already available in the capitalist world. There is no need for supercomputers, because even intermediate technology is plenty good enough for the task of replacing the marketplace:
"If there are one million products, then teletext should be able to broadcast revised labour values every 20 minutes. The products would be identified by their universal product codes. The personal computers listen in and update their spreadsheet model in response to any broadcast changes in labour values.
"If for any reason the personal computer in a place of work decides that the labour value of the product produced there has changed, it dials up the central teletext computer and informs it of the change. These changes might either be due to some change in local production technology, or a broadcast change in the value of one of the inputs. The whole system would be acting as a huge distributed supercomputer continuously evaluating labour values by the method of successive approximation" (p. 59).
In this system, people would be programming the computers to know when production techniques changed. Included in the possibilities of such a system are a computer-created equivalent of a market to account for demand quickly. "It depends neither on private property in the means of production, nor on the formation of market prices for the inputs to the production process" (p. 125). Hence, the question of whether to have a computer facsimilie of a market without exploitation or a system in which political leaders decide appropriations can be left for later. MIM believes that at least until we reach a more perfect stage of communism, the ex-imperialist countries will require centralized control in order to overcome past imbalances with other economies.
In the past, the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie have criticized socialism because socialist governments allegedly cannot act as quickly as a spontaneous market of millions of people. In capitalism, supposedly, if people buy Barbie dolls, the "market" wants them, and so on - which is faster than accumulating information and passing it on to a socialist planner to make a decision in an office far away. As Cockshott & Cottrell have proved, this may have been true in the distant past, but it is no longer close to being true. Today we have the technical capacity to disseminate economic information very quickly and much more thoroughly and extensively than the market has in the past. All that is lacking is the political will.
Note that this argument is just about the information/efficiency side of the debate. Socialism has been able to better provide for people already, but just making a few big correct decisions - such as making food instead of Barbie dolls, or satisfying needs at home before exporting luxury commodities to imperialist countries, and so on.
Back to information. In the past, thanks to private property, much economic information of corporations has been labeled "confidential" and other kinds of important information affecting the composition of production can be protected by trademarks. These elements of private property block the flow of information upon which the market depends. Such distortions of economic information created by the profit motive are removed under socialism. Petty-bourgeois views of local control seek to keep in place such barriers to the flow of information and indeed the petty-bourgeois view starts with the assumption of such barriers. As Marx predicted, petty-bourgeois views become increasingly out-of-date. "To establish the free and open flow of information demanded of a rational planning system will require not only the legal abolition of commercial confidentiality, but also the redesign of most of the installed computer software currently in use" (p. 128). In a system of economic cooperation, people don't hide information from each other to damage each other. The petty-bourgeois view presumes just such behavior, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Contrary to the petty-bourgeois line, centralization often creates important opportunities for the masses to gain access to the means of production and the process of production. In addition to the examples provided by Cockshott & Cottrell, nothing makes this clearer than the Internet.
The power of something like a "search engine" which explores everything on the worldwide web to find answers is available to any user and hence is a boon to the masses' scientific level. Software that makes computer power available to users without knowledge of computer programming is also progressive. To those who say the increasing use of computers and robots in production will obviate the labor theory of value, because it appears labor is unnecessary in production, we say the opposite: what could once only be done by science management experts is now far surpassed and available to the masses through computers.
The Internet is proof that where property relations are minimized, the gains in scientific advance and communication can be rapid. Feeble notions of "local control" pale in comparison. Already many people use the Internet as a cheap international telephone. For $20 a month and a local phone hook-up (which most in the imperialist countries already have) people can communicate for unlimited periods of time with people overseas. Those who would glorify local economy and control over such an advance make us doubt their connection and love of the rest of civilization. Such could serve as the definition of anti-internationalist chauvinism.
The Internet has demonstrated its capacity for stimulating internationalism more than any number of cultural exchanges more limited in scope. It will be our goal to hook up every village to the Internet with access for all. If it also carries such decadent and oppressive features as pornography, that may be attributed to the class and gender character of its creators and the societies in which it emerged.
Centralized solutions for imperialist super-exploitation
Makhijani designed his book to have some appeal to the internationalist imperialist bourgeoisie. What Makhijani offers the internationalist bourgeoisie is no less than a plan to undercut the protectionist sectors of the ruling class and labor aristocracy, a means to stimulate the global economy and a centralized and coherent way of stabilizing "free trade." As such, Makhijani's petty-bourgeois internationalist view picks up where the most left-wing flank of the internationalist bourgeoisie leaves off.
Makhijani's program appeals to the internationalist bourgeoisie as follows:
The ideas of Makhijani and his international finance partner Robert S. Browne are a challenge to the intelligence and especially the training of international bankers and economists. However, in the pinch, these ideas might yet prove to be the right ones at the right place and the right time for the internationalist bourgeoisie.
Stalled as it has been since Adam Smith and other economists published books in the 1700s and early 1800s advocating "free trade," the internationalist bourgeoisie is not strong enough to implement true free trade via NAFTA, GATT and the EEC or any combination of regional treaties. Hence, there is some chance that Makhijani's ideas or something like them may form the basis of an attempt at radical capitalist reform by the imperialist bourgeoisie in order to save its system from crisis.
Makhijani admits that the banking solution offered in the book seems to involve centralism of the highest level - a world bank (p. 124). We do not believe Makhijani succeeded in denying this. Instead, we believe that any solution to the world's global problems caused by a global class structure require a global understanding and action. The days when societies will live in autarky (distinctly apart from each other economically) are gone in the long-run. Those seeking to overcome the injustice of superexploitation have no choice but a globally centralized solution. We at MIM do not believe that such a system can be created within the context of private property.
The future of internationalism
There will be a choice between bourgeois globalism and proletarian internationalism. A third current of protectionism and oppressor nation fascist movements will seek to restore the past order of domination, but they cannot succeed either, because of the demands of all peoples for equality, self-determination and respect which all peoples back with military force. This third current can lead nowhere but to the end of civilization. The bourgeois internationalist option is where the action is for the system to sustain itself, but it too will prove unstable and liable to break down into the third current. A portion of the bourgeois internationalist current will discover in the upcoming crisis of bourgeois internationalism that "free trade" as an ideal can be preserved but only through implementation under communism.
The enemy of the environment and peace is not centralization or decentralization. It is property relations which seep into both centralized and decentralized systems. Tito's Yugoslavia pursued "local control" of enterprises and encouraged parochialism economically without a view for the overall production of commodities and appropriation of labor. The result is there for everyone to see - the most virulent and petty of parochial nationalisms and war. In contrast, Mao's view was correct during the Cultural Revolution: there was no choice for the masses but to understand the whole ball of wax. They must become red politically and expert in both science and administration.
The petty-bourgeois view is doomed to the trashcan of history, because communications and transport advances will make the local view of community obsolete. Already Internet communities put internationalism increasingly into practice.
In the squeeze between communist revolution in the Southern Hemisphere and protectionism within the imperialist countries, Makhijani's ideas may come to sound very good to the internationalist bourgeoisie. The Mensheviks of the world should at least get on board with Arjun Makhijani and stop trying to whip up oppressor nation nationalism amongst the workers - and stop trying to claim Marxism.
Buy From Global Capitalism to Economic Justice
Buy Towards a New Socialism
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