Two models of "socialism" presently prevail. They are
Social Democracy and Bureaucratic Collectivism. Both the former
with its concentration on the welfare state and state intervention
in the economy and the latter with its plan attempt to administer
society according to a bureaucratic plan or plans and attempt to
fulfill the needs of their societies for ever more capital and consumer
goods. In both these societies there is a hierarchy that is not
hidden by the formal democracy in Social Democracy or the rhetoric
of Bureaucratic Collectivism.
Against these two models of society Libertarian Socialists have
upheld the principle of self-determination which means not only
the control of impersonal economic processes but the collective
administration of society by all its members. This is not to be
confused with forms of "workers' control" which decide
how to implement decisions arrived at from above. Instead it means
the democratic determination as well as implementation of the goals
of a society.
Why is this important? Not because of any abstract democratic dogma.
The collective self-management of society is required if certain
needs suppressed in this society are to be realized. In general
these needs can be described as reconciliation with nature both
inner (desire for immediate gratification) and outer (the sensuous
Capitalism requires the endless accumulation of capital goods. Hence
any object is a potential instrument for the creation of other instruments.
Any quality it has that cannot be employed in the accumulation of
capital is abstracted from or even forgotten. Thus capital accumulation
requires a repression of outer nature -- it can have no worth of
its own, it must be simply a source of tools and raw materials.
This in turn requires a repression of inner nature -- urges to enjoy
the sensuous outer world must be repressed.
Along with continuous capital accumulation occurs the production
of consumer goods market but this doesn't result in the satisfaction
of repressed needs. The consumer must be encouraged to be dissatisfied
with the present supply of goods so that he/she can buy more. Thus
the existence of an infinite possibility of fulfillment of consumer
wants results in an endless dissatisfaction with the goods already
possessed. And of course the consumer will have to continue his/her
laborious toil to buy these goods.
This repression of needs must continue as long as capital accumulation
remains unchecked. For under such a system it will not be possible
to think of the objects produced except as tools to make tools.
As objects to be used rather than enjoyed.
Furthermore the endless accumulation of capital reduces that shortening
of the working day which Marx called the basic precondition of freedom.
Thus there is a very basic connection between the form of Libertarian
Socialism -- self-management -- and its content -- the satisfaction
of basic needs through the reconciliation with Nature. Only through
the self-management of production will it be possible to produce
objects to satisfy needs for enjoyment. At present these repressed
needs are expressed in art and play.
In this society play and art have no utility as independent activities
-- a source of freedom and a limitation. Art abandons any claim
to shape this society for the freedom to create its own world where
freedom and sensibility are united in an aesthetic form according
to its own proper laws. The conflict that exists between a reason
bent on domination and sensibility which must serve as a mere raw
material is replaced by harmony. The aesthetic form is not imposed
upon sensory experience but instead allows it to express truth that
is suppressed in daily existence. However Art remains a contemplative
activity for most people especially with its enshrinement in museums.
Play however is something that all can participate in at least in
its early stages in childhood and in this period it is egalitarian
as well. Each player in the simple childhood game takes his turn
or plays in a circle. And like art play is performed for its own
sake according to its own rules. However, to a large extent it is
devolved as trivial, made into a contemplative activity (spectator
sports) or comes to reflect a repressive society (card games are
played for money and schools compete in hierarchically organized
teams that vie for rewards.)
However play is a reconciliation between reason and sensibility.
There are rules but they have no other aim than to provide enjoyment.
Both these activities prefigure a new society -- one where rules
are freely chosen by those to whom they are applied and reason and
sensibility are united. It is now more possible than ever before
to construct such a society. It would mean that play could come
into its own and be taken seriously for its own sake. The conflict
between freedom and necessity would disappear as work could be performed
as an enjoyable activity. In fact enjoyment of work would become
a need. It would be performed in accordance with needs for objects
of beauty and enjoyment as well as mere utility.
For such a society to be realized there must be a revolt against
the present system whereby needs are reduced to the need for objects
of mere utility in the cause of infinite capital accumulation imposed
by hierarchical plans. In short there must be a revolt against bureaucracy
-- the predominant trend of societal organization. While there is
no evidence of a mass movement against bureaucratization, still
we can observe the following trends:
1) The attempt to reduce all facts to a system of deductive equations
is ultimately self-defeating. It can't be done even for natural
scientific subject matter, is less possible for societies and is
impossible under a dynamic capitalist economy where means of production
are constantly changing.
2) Thus it is necessary to summon the resources of those who were
to be administered in order to deal with shortcomings that must
necessarily arise in the plan.
3) To do this throws the system of hierarchical domination into
4) Therefore the informal groups that are formed in factories, neighbourhoods,
and all other places where it is necessary to respond to bureaucratization
must be crushed but can never entirely disappear.
5) Any revolts against bureaucracy that have been internalized can
create the conditions for a higher level of consciousness later.
Revolts against monopoly capitalism led to the welfare state. Now
this cushion against unemployment has led to a revolt against work
and labour discipline.
6) This revolt against bureaucracy can become more universal as
bureaucratization expands. Thus not only the industrial worker but
the housewife, tenant, student must respond to bureaucratization.
The revolt can encompass all aspects of daily life.
It should be pointed out that there is no guarantee that anyone
group in this society -- including the proletariat wherever and
whatever it is -- will necessarily be the bearer of the universal.
The World Spirit owes us no favours. All that bureaucratization
implies is that more and more the critique of anyone's particular
condition can if pushed far enough lead to the critique of society.
Published in Volume 2, Number 1 of The
Red Menace, Summer 1977.
See also: What
Is Libertarian Socialism?
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