Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Andrew Kliman — Not by Politics Alone: Thinking Through a Post-Capitalist Future

I believe that the central problem faced by people struggling for freedom today is the widespread acceptance of Margaret Thatcher’s TINA – the belief that “there is no alternative.” The main things that have led to the acceptance of TINA are the collapse of the state-capitalist regimes that called themselves “Communist” and the widespread failures of social democracy to remake society.
The struggles for freedom do not stop because of this, of course. Yet the acceptance of TINA acts to confine the struggles. They become self-limiting. In the perceived absence of an alternative, it is perfectly sensible that social struggles stop short of even trying to remake society totally. As Bertell Ollman has argued, “Why bother to struggle for a change that cannot be? … people [need to] have a good reason for choosing one path into the future rather than another.”
People need to have a good reason. That’s because they are rational. It is rational to engage in struggles to change what can be changed, and it’s rational to refrain from struggling against what cannot be changed. People who do not want to hear about socialism because of the failures and horrors of what they believe to have been socialism are making perfect sense. On the other side, of course, is a new global justice movement, part of which identifies itself as anti-capitalist, and which has raised the slogan “Another World is Possible.” This slogan, too, is eminently rational, if one interprets it, as I do, as a call to think through the possibility of another world and to prefigure another world.
But ultimately, the rationality of struggles that are not only struggles against injustice and exploitation, but struggles for a completely different, non-capitalist, human society rests on whether another world is indeed possible. At the present moment, I believe, no activist or theorist can really answer with confidence that it is possible.
I do not think this is a reason to despair. The effort to work out how another world might be possible is really just beginning. This problem received almost no attention throughout most of the last century. Until the collapse of so-called communism and living proof that social democracy is a futile dream, almost everyone on the Left simply assumed that socialism was possible, because it actually existed. Some were willing to critique Russia, China, Cuba, etc., to varying degrees, but they too tended to think that the actual existence of these countries was proof that socialism was possible. As they saw it, the defects or evils in these countries didn’t flow out of their mode of production; they were essentially political. What was needed was political change – “socialism and democracy” instead of socialism without democracy, or “socialism from below” instead of socialism from above, etc. And other people were confident that effective political action would enable the achievements of social democracy to be sustained and gradually extended to encompass more and more aspects of social and economic existence.
So it is only in recent years that any significant theoretical attention has been paid to whether another world is possible. I believe that this is the central problem of revolutionary thought today. Exposing the evils of capitalism is an insufficient approach when the question being asked by tens of millions of people is whether there is any alternative. Nor is it sufficient to focus on organizing or movement building, or to leave everything up to spontaneous action alone. Freedom struggles will no doubt continue, because the impulse to change things, the felt need to change things, arises spontaneously out of the defects of existing society. But again, the struggles will not reach for a wholly different future as long as such as future is perceived as pie-in-the-sky....
The left has generally been either too pessimistic, and as a result, too willing to compromise, or else too utopian to be convincing. Moreover, diagnosis based on identifying and removing symptoms ad hoc is insufficient for a lasting cure. Cure requires diagnosis that identifies causes and treats the dysfunctionality by addressing causes.
And again, such perceptions have arisen for rational reasons, largely because of the failures and horror of the last century. So it is likewise insufficient to simply affirm that another world is possible, or to remain contented with an ungrounded hope that it is possible. The possibility of another world needs to be shownAnd this can only be shown by showing how it is possible to break with capitalism and how such a break could be sustainable....
With Sober Senses
Not by Politics Alone: Thinking Through a Post-Capitalist Future
Andrew Kliman | Professor of Economics, Pace University, author of Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital,” defending the Temporal Single System Interpretation of Marx's labor theory
Editor’s note: This essay is a corrected and slightly revised version of the author’s presentation, entitled “Not by Politics Alone,” during a panel on “Thinking Through a Post-Capitalist Future” that took place at the Left Forum conference in New York City on March 11, 2006.

1 comment:

Andrew Anderson said...

Here's an idea: Since fiat is, or at least should be, only created to advance the general welfare while bank deposits are created to advance the private welfare of the banks themselves and the welfare of the richer as more so-called "credit worthy" than the poorer, mightn't one think that the citizen's use of their Nation's fiat be promoted and the use of bank deposits de-privileged by abolishing in a just, responsible manner such things as government provided deposit insurance?