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The Socialist Imperative

The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to Now

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Socialist Imperative
    Book Description:

    In a little more than a decade, economist Michael A. Lebowitz has written several major works about the transition from socialism to capitalism: Beyond Capital(winner of the Deutscher Prize),Build It Now,The Socialist Alternative, andThe Contradictions of "Real Socialism."Here, he develops and deepens the analysis contained in those pathbreaking works by tracing major issues in socialist thought from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first.

    Lebowitz explores the obvious but almost universally ignored fact that as human beings work together to produce society's goods and services, we also "produce" something else: namely, ourselves. Human beings are shaped by circumstances, and any vision of socialism that ignores this fact is bound to fail, or, at best, reproduce the alienation of labor that is endemic to capitalism. But how can people transform their circumstances in a way that allows them to re-organize production and, at the same time, fulfill their human potential? Lebowitz sets out to answer this question first by examining Marx'sCritique of the Gotha Programme, and from there investigates the experiences of the Soviet Union and more recent efforts to build socialism in Venezuela. He argues that socialism in the twenty-first century must be animated by a central vision, in three parts: social ownership of the means of production, social production organized by workers, and the satisfaction of communal needs and communal purposes. These essays repay careful reading and reflection, and prove Lebowitz to be one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of this era.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-549-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. 7-10)

    Change the system, not the climate!” More and more, this demand has emerged in response to the overwhelming signs of environmental destruction around us. It reflects a growing understanding of the incompatibility of capitalism and life. However, many people concerned about what is happening to the planet think that regulations that check the destructiveness of current patterns are sufficient. Measures that try to limit carbon emissions by offering big carrots and small sticks, that propose taxes to encourage rational economic actors to choose less harmful options, that offer subsidies for forms of power generation deemed less harmful to the environment—...

  4. Building Socialism:: Ideas and Experiences

    • 1. The Capitalist Nightmare and the Socialist Dream
      (pp. 13-41)

      In the beginning is the dream, the promise of a society that permits the full development of human potential, a society in which we relate to each other as human beings and where the mere recognition of the need of another is sufficient to induce our deed. In the beginning is the vision of a society where the products of our past activity serve our own need for development and where in working together we develop our capacities, our needs, our human wealth.

      Capitalism is not that dream. Rather, as David McNally has illustrated, it is a world haunted by...

    • 2. Understanding the Critique of the Gotha Programme
      (pp. 42-75)

      TheCritique of the Gotha Programmeis not like other writings of Marx. It is not a completed work prepared for publication like theCommunist Manifestoor theCivil War in France. It is also not a work such as theGrundrisse,which, although not intended for publication, is the result of a sustained process of reasoning. Very simply, theCritiquewas, as Marx described it, “critical marginal notes.”

      And that has several implications. As with all marginal notes, the content is dictated largely by the document that is the object of criticism; both the order and the chain of...

    • 3. Transcending the Crisis of Socialist Economy
      (pp. 76-88)

      At this point in the history of early socialism, it is apparent that barriers have emerged that challenge the further development of socialism. No longer is it opponents alone who speak of crisis within socialist economy. Now discussion of shortages of raw materials and labor, declining rates of growth, inefficiency of investment, lagging productivity of labor, and unemployment can be found in the literature of socialist economies themselves. It is appropriate, then, to turn our attention to these questions at a gathering with the theme of “Socialism on the Threshold of the 21st Century.”

      Let us consider two distinct models...

    • 4. Contested Reproduction and the Contradictions of Socialism
      (pp. 89-110)

      Why did “real socialism” and, in particular, the Soviet Union fall? Let me note a few explanations that have been offered. With respect to the Soviet Union, one very interesting explanation is that it’s all the fault of Gorbachev. And not simply the errors of Gorbachev but the treachery. Those who offer this explanation rely in particular upon a document that is sometimes described as his “confession.” This document begins:

      My ambition was to liquidate communism, the dictatorship over all the people. Supporting me and urging me on in this mission was my wife, who was of this opinion long...

    • 5. Proposing a Path to Socialism: Two Papers for Hugo Chávez
      (pp. 111-133)

      Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the 21st century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.

      To transform existing relations into the new productive relations, we need first of all to understand the nature of those existing relations. Only then can you identify the mechanisms by which the new relations can be introduced. At this time, there is a great...

    • 6. Socialism: The Goal, the Paths, and the Compass
      (pp. 134-140)

      There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there. As I’ve said on many occasions, this saying is mistaken. If you don’t know where you want to go,noroad will take you there. In other words, you need an understanding of the goal. You need a vision for the future.

      Marx had a very clear vision. It was a vision of a society that would permit the full development of human beings, a society that allowed all people to develop their potential. And that would occur not because...

  5. Struggling to Build Socialism Now

    • 7. What Makes the Working Class a Revolutionary Subject?
      (pp. 142-145)

      What makes the working class a revolutionary subject? Not Hegelian mysticism—that it is the universal class or the vulgar copy of the Absolute Spirit. Nor is the working class a revolutionary subject because of its physical location—that it is strategically placed to stop the wheels of industry.

      From the sublime to the crude, there can be little surprise that these explanations convince few. Of course, there are some who had better explanations as to why the working class was revolutionary but who now say that the working class’s time has come and gone. Once upon a time, capital...

    • 8. Three Perspectives on Democracy
      (pp. 146-155)

      Everyone agrees that democracy is a good thing. But democracy means something different to different people. How those views differ depends on particular premises. I want to identify three different general premises and then to consider democracy in light of these perspectives:

      1. The individual’s freedom to choose is the value to be maximized.

      2. The coordination of individuals should be maximized in order to advance the interests of all efficiently by avoiding disharmony and dysfunction.

      3. The development of human capacities is the value to be maximized.

      I call these three perspectives consumer choice, the orchestra conductor, and human development, respectively.


    • 9. The Concept of “Fairness”: Possibilities, Limitations, Possibilities
      (pp. 156-175)

      A specter is haunting the working class—the specter of communism. For the working class, that frightful hobgoblin is a society of little freedom, a society of workers without power (in the workplace or community), and a society where decisions are made at the top by a vanguard party that views itself as the sole repository of truth. This was not what communism meant for Marx and Engels, nor, indeed, for Lenin. For the visionaries of the nineteenth century, communism was a society that would foster human development, a society, in Marx’s words, in which “objective wealth is there to...

    • 10. The State and the Future of Socialism
      (pp. 176-202)

      We are in the midst of a class war. That’s not unusual. There is always class war in capitalism, although sometimes it is hidden and sometimes there is the interlude of an apparent Carthaginian Peace. But the class war has intensified because of the crisis in capitalism, one rooted in the overaccumulation of capital. And, in this crisis, capital has intensified the class war against the working class. Austerity, cutbacks, and the need to sacrifice are the demands of capital as it calls upon workers to bear the burden of capital’s own failures. This is a war conducted by capitalist...

    • 11. End the System
      (pp. 203-232)

      In 1989, Herman Daly and John Cobb Jr. wrote that “at a deep level of our being we find it hard to suppress the cry of anguish, the scream of horror—the wild words required to express wild realities. We human beings are being led to adeadend—all too literally. We are living by an ideology of death and accordingly we are destroying our own humanity and killing the planet…. Before this generation are set two ways, the way of life and the way of death. May humanity choose life!”¹

      A quarter of a century later, it is...

  6. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-238)
  7. Notes
    (pp. 239-259)
  8. Index
    (pp. 260-264)