From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Jul 19 13:49:16 2000
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 20:27:12 -0400
A Note on The Importance of Radical Marxist Views for Contemporary Caribbean Societies
By Clarence F. Ellis, The Rodneyite Quarterly Journal, 30 March 2000
Facing up to the failure of what he calls Communist Party-directed socialism or what Noam Chomsky referred to as state socialism, Thomas E. Weisskopf noted that social malformations in Russia and Eastern Europe were worse than "most of us had previously been willing to admit." (Weisskopf, 1992). The English speaking Caribbean societies accordingly are now reluctant to embrace either Marxist philosophical goals or socialist objectives especially as two of their members-Guyana and Jamaica-fared badly with roughly hewn socialist experiments and also because they are aware that their physical, social and intellectual capital is still very undeveloped. This latter factor makes them, in economic terms, very dependent on the metropolis.
The consequence has been an embrace of market forces as the basis for development. Generally the embrace has been inspired by the association of democracy and the market as the condition for releasing the energies of the people and therefore for ensuring economic growth and development. This association has been emphasized as the basis for prosperity in the metropolitan countries and has emerged as the consensus that underpins the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that provide assistance to the Caribbean countries.
The weakness in the democracy / market embrace has been first the uncritical application of economic theory, even mainstream theory, to the development efforts of the Caribbean countries and, second, the reluctance to examine closely the nexus between political and economic relations as they exist in the Caribbean
The point of departure here is the stress made by Noam Chomsky that the major political issue of our time is the democratic control of industrial society. (Chomsky, 1970) The subtext of that imperative is the need to institute arrangements to ensure the democratic control of the corporate sector which has become a behemoth that determines economic opportunities and fashions social values.
Western industrial society portrays itself as democratic without assessing the relative weaknesses of political power in relation to the growing dominance of the economic systems of private power and private empires. The dominance is associated with structural features that Chomsky highlights.
The first is the authoritarian cast of mind that is induced in large parts of society that accept, often uncritically, acts taken in the people's name. While much of this acceptance is the result of the complexity of modern decision making, modern education is inadequate to the task of preparing people for participation in decision making. The second is the fact that in practice, only a narrow range of decisions is subject to democratic control. Excluded from democratic control are the institutions of commerce, industry and finance. Decisions in relation to the operations of those institutions are matters for the closed sessions of corporate boards.
Perhaps most important is the third factor which is Chomsky's portrayal of the power of corporate media to influence political decision making. Radical critiques of authoritarianism and board room power are weeded out by a culture that does not tolerate deviant reporting. Editorial board rooms do not instruct what should be written. They just ignore material that does not conform. An upcoming journalist quickly comes to realize what will determine a successful career.
A similar process takes place in the discipline of economics. Mainstream economics emphasizes neo classicism and constrains enquiry within the domain of that paradigm. Dissenting economists are dismissed as unscientific and woolly.
The influence of private power over political decision making is further reinforced by financial control over political organizations. This is evidenced in the contributions that corporations make to political parties and in the constrained behaviour of governments to avoid offending corporate interests. Corporations also supply personnel to the political system who wield (because of the authoritarian cast of mind referred to above) much more influence than their numbers.
In the 1980s, after the oil crisis had threatened the expectations of the corporate sector, a fourth feature of the political and private power relations surfaced. It became necessary to reduce the size of government, asserting classical libertarian principles for freedom in an economic and technological environment that no longer has the conditions for the flourishing of classical libertarian ideals. The private economic system is concentrating power into fewer and fewer firms. E-commerce which gives the appearance of encouraging open competition is restricted to a technological elite and prospers on a bubble of so far unrealized expectations.
It is this reality, extended to the corporate domination of the globalisation agenda, that threatens democracy in the Caribbean. Banana production in the Caribbean is being replaced by production of bananas by corporate giants in Central and South America. Technologies for the survival of small farmers and other small producers are not developed. The viability of sugar production in the Caribbean is intimately tied with the preparedness to continue to subsidise European and American farmers. In the meantime, traffic in, and production of, narcotics bastardise the power relations by subverting both political and private systems of power with shortened time horizons for achieving wealth.
It seems appropriate to revisit socialist goals despite the colossal failure of state socialism in the 20th century. Weisskopf's presentation is appealing and non-threatening to commonly held values.
He outlines the following goals:
1. Equity: egalitarian distribution of economic outcomes and opportunities.
2. Democracy: economic democracy that enables people to exercise control over their own economic fate.
3. Solidarity: promotion of solidarity among members of communities extending from the neighbourhood to the whole of society-encouraging people to develop the sense and reality of themselves as social rather than simply individual beings. (Weisskopf, ibid)
The critical factors here are the requirement to exercise control over our economic future and the stress on community dimensions. The latter raises the notion of the values of the cultures in the Caribbean which are similar but not homogeneous. Jeremy Rifkin's inclusion of civil society in the social framework is relevant here. (Rifkin, 1996). Also relevant are the restoration of African and Native American belief systems.
Radical Marxists offer a method for achieving a synthesis between Weisskopf's polar opposites of homo economicus and homo socialis, a participatory community person. William Dugger and Howard Sherman outline the approach in the following:
methodological level, critical Marxists do not agree with the individualist methodology of neoclassical economics. Neither do they agree with the collectivist methodology, used by Hegel to discuss the state as if it were alive or by official Marxists to discuss a class as if it had a will beyond its members. Critical Marxists use a moderate relational or holistic view in which class relations are quite real but must be supported by observations--not assumptions--about the individuals in those classes. (Dugger and Sherman, 1994)
The search here is for rigour in methodology which is available in the inspiration that Radical Marxists drew from classical liberals who were concerned with the imposition of the state to interfere with the ability of man to enquire and to create. Truly human action, they argued, is what flows from inner impulse. Man should love labour for its own sake. In the highest form of society, labour is the means of life and also the highest want in life (Chomsky, 1970).
Willis Harman and John Horman have noted that "within.....a few centuries, the focus of interest shifted from the inner world to the outer world-(from inner impulse to outer impulse my paraphrasing). All but one of the [seven deadly] sins, sloth, was transformed into a virtue. Greed, avarice, envy, gluttony, luxury and pride were the driving forces of the new economy." (Harman and Hormon, 1990, p.47 ). What the authors go on to argue is that the world's problems are, in part, the result of the successes of the Western industrial paradigm that thrived very blithely on the "six" sins.
This paradigm is associated with the patriarchal society that is dominant in the West. It was not always so. Before then agricultural societies were more MOTHER centered-more egalitarian, more democratic and more peaceful. Also they were more reliant on the psychological force of influence than on the power of domineering institutions. This observation of history points to the fact that the cultural factors cannot be omitted from the analysis. Feminism is broadened into a wider matriarchal panorama.
Radical Marxists combine this attachment to the inner impulse with an opposition to the organisation of production by the state. In contradistinction to state owning socialists, they perceive liberation from exploitation as the goal of the working class but it is a goal that cannot be reached by a new directing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie.
The goal can be realised only when workers themselves form workers' councils to organize their activities. (Chomsky, ibid) Radical Marxists are very apprehensive of management by elites "however dripping with soulfulness" those elites may be.
For the underdeveloped Caribbean countries, leads in this respect in the industrial world are helpful. Developments in this respect have begun. William Waters observes that:
"Democratic principles are being extended to workplace participation and economic democracy. Economic democracy is worker ownership, a position pushed mainly by European theorists. This requires considerable restructuring of the economy-a task improbable but not impossible as evidenced by the exciting social reconstruction in the Basque country of Spain.........
Five principles may be drawn from this Mondragon experiment:
(a) Firms are structured for net job creation and local economic development, not for individual or company gain.
(b) Labour has priority over capital....The ranking of the four ingredients of a business firm,........capital, management, product and workers is reversed.
(c) Worker participation in production is collegial. Each worker is a member of a cooperative team. It is more difficult (but not impossible) to apply this principle to privately owned firms than to co-operative ones such as those in Mondragon.....The key idea in the firm, as in the economy generally, is cooperation not competition.
(d) The firm enjoys an autonomy with regard to public owners. Both government and private corporations pursue aims in honest collaboration with each other.
(e) The firms' aims are subordinate to the demands of the common good...........
Illustrations of collegial participation and economic democracy range from a typical large Japanese firm to the highly developed team control concept used in the production of Saab automobiles in Sweden. Two American examples, the Olga Company, Inc. Van Nuys, California, and the Rex works, Inc. Milwaukee are cited. (Waters, 1988)
American firms continue to be successful with worker ownership arrangements. The size of the American economy does not require any restructuring to accomodate these experiments. The point to be made here is that democracy in the sense of having the capability to affect one's future is progressing gradually without any major revolution. Caribbean economies must necessarily tread carefully in this direction, taking advantage of worker participation in production whenever the possibility exists. Radical Marxists who follow in the tradition of Classical Liberalists consider that freedom and variety of experiences are the preconditions for human self realization. Rosa Luxemburg argued that only the active participation by the masses themselves in self government can bring about their spiritual transformation from conditions which have been degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule. The errors committed by a liberated class are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest central committees, she argued.
The importance of Radical Marxism in the Rosa Luxemburg tradition is its revolutionary vision which will inform the relations in the political system to develop similar participatory arrangements. To the extent that the views - incorporate the classical liberalist emphasis on inner impulse, the "six deadly" sins are eschewed. This is crucial. To be an anarchist, Bukharin once said, one must first be a socialist.
Similarly Radical Marxists must aim at bringing about changes in human values and behaviour. If the influence of matriarchy causes the dominance of patriarchy to give way to gender equity, the psychological value structure changes and participation in companies and councils becomes less destructive. As the intrinsic features of the diverse cultures in the Caribbean are allowed to flower, bigotry will subside.
The quote on methodology by Dugger and Sherman reminds us that all this is in embryo conceptually. We know too little. Hence we should explore these ideas a lot more, assured of one assumption-we are all the same.
Clarence Ellis is an economist. He is a former Deputy Governor of Guyana's Central Bank and Executive Director at the World Bank. He is currently an Indepedent Consultant and frquent commentator on Guyanese and Caribbean political and economic issues. >
Chomsky, Noam, Government in the Future, Audio Forum Sound Seminars, Jeffrey Norton Publishers, 1970
Dugger, William M. and Howard J. Sherman, "Comparison of Marxism and Institutionalism" in Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. xxviii, No.1 March 1994. Reprinted in David L. Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree, State University of New York Press, 1998.
Harmon, Willis and John Horman, Creative Work: The Constructive Role of Business in a Transforming Society, Knowledge Systems Inc., Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1990.
Waters, William R., "Social Economies: A Solidarist Perspective" in Review of Social Economy, Vol 46 No. 2, Oct. 1988. Reprinted in David L. Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree, State University of New York Press, 1998.
Weisskopf, Thomas E., "Toward a Socialism for the Future, in the Wake of the Demise of the Socialism of the Past," in Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol.24 No 3&4, Winter 1992. Reprinted in David L. Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree, State University of New York Press, 1998.
Copyright (c) 2000 Guyana Caribbean Politics.
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