Sunday, February 26, 2006

Socialism Will Smash the Capitalist World-Economy

While it is necessary for a socialist economy to be run for the benefit of the vast majority of the people rather than for a small aristocratic, plutocratic, or capitalist class in order for it to be considered “socialist”, its use of markets is not “unsocialistic”. In fact, socialist economies must adhere to the laws of the market as much as any other economy without being capitalistic. Therefore, a socialist economy can operate without contradiction or the risk of undermining its principles within the global market economy. It should therefore be understood that Venezuela’s exploitation of its only comparative economic advantage—oil—in the global capitalist markets is not a contradiction of principles. It would, however, lack socialist principles if the wealth generated from its oil failed to benefit the majority of its people. Most importantly, socialist countries such as Venezuela—unavoidably intertwined in the modern world-economy which is capitalist—must look to export its ideas above all else and help lead the systemic destruction of global capitalism. Backed by the momentum of Venezuela, global access to information and destabilizing societies across the world, socialism has reached an historical turning point and it must lead the way in shaping a more socially just and democratic world.

Capitalism and the World-Economy

One possible way to better understand socialism is to distinguish it from the capitalist system that dominates the world-economy. A capitalist economy gives priority to the endless accumulation of capital. However, if we say that a system “gives priority” to such endless accumulation, it means that there exist structural mechanisms by which those who act with “other motivations” are penalized in some way, and are eventually eliminated from the social scene, whereas those who act with the “appropriate motivations” are rewarded and, if successful, enriched.

According to economist and historian, Immanuel Wallerstein:

World-economy and a capitalist system go together. Since world-economies lack the unifying cement of an overall political structure or a homogenous culture, what holds them together is the efficacy of the division of labor. Historically, the only world-economy to have survived for a long time has been the modern world-system, and that is because the capitalist system took root and became consolidated as its defining feature.

Fortunately, the biggest weakness of the capitalist system is that it cannot exist within any framework except that of a world-economy. A world-economy with so many strikingly conflictive interests is too tumultuous for capitalism’s long-term survival, especially considering the explosion of readily-available and accessible information that is reaching more people in more manifold ways. Capitalism demands a very special relationship between its capitalists and the holders of political power. If the latter are too strong, their interests will override those of the economic producers, and the endless accumulation of capital will cease to be a priority. So what would this mean for capitalism if political power were held by an increasing number of people, the working class, or a “rogue” nation such as Venezuela? Another weakness of capitalists it that they require not only a large market but they also need a multiplicity of states that are willing to work in favor of “their interests”. This means that capitalists must work incessantly and exert massive efforts to maintain “their interests”. So how do capitalists ensure their future?


Even in the modern world of mass information, households still serve as the primary socializing agencies. They seek to teach us knowledge of and respect for the social rules by which we are “supposed” to abide. They are of course seconded by state agencies such as schools and armies as well as by religious institutions and the media. But none of these come close to the family in actual impact. What however determines how the households will socialize in their members? Largely the way in which the secondary institutions frame the issues for the households demonstrates exactly how to socialize one’s family members. It also cannot be understated the how defenseless overworked and fractured families are to the effects of oppressive secondary institutions.

Of course, the powers that be in a social system always hope that socialization results in the acceptance of the very real hierarchies that are the product of the system. They also hope that socialization results in the internalization of the myths, the rhetoric, and the theorizing of the system. Although this does happen rather comprehensively in highly nationalistic countries such as the U.S., it never fully takes root (thanks to dialectical dissonance). On the other hand, there are some families that socialize their members to be rebellious, critical-thinking and self-reliant. To be sure, up to a point even such antisystemic socialization can be useful to the system by offering an outlet for restless spirits as long as the overall system is in relative harmony. In such cases, it is predictable that such anti-establishment socializations will have only a limited impact on the overall system. However, when the historical system comes into structural crisis (viz. 1960s) suddenly such antisystemic socializations can play a profoundly unsettling role for the system.

There is little question that across the globe today, people are more fully aware of the political issues that affect their personal lives then at any time in the past. They are more aware, more willing to struggle for their rights, more skeptical of the rhetoric of the powerful. More importantly, one not need look any further than Venezuela to see the effects of political power that is shifting into the hands of the masses. Venezuela’s example is a serious threat to the global capitalist system and this can best be observed in the extent to which corporate forces and secondary institutions are going to prevent there being genuine political democracy. As a socialist revolution, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution could be the source of a paradigmatic shift away from a world-economy that “gives priority” to the endless accumulation of wealth.

One must remember that history is not at its end, and that every time elites have claimed some “golden era” which was reflected in their satisfaction with the status quo, events followed shortly after that highlighted the ridiculousness of those claims. Remember the decades that followed the “Roaring 20s” or the 1950s? Perhaps more salient to this discussion, can we all recall the victory dances of 1990s when grand pronouncements were made that socialism was forever dead, and capitalism has proven its superiority? So as we get closer to a point when the majority of the world is vastly more aware of the oppressive power structures and the capitalist system that is rushing us towards destruction, perhaps we will be able to think in terms of building a political economy based on systems of cooperation, equality, self-government, and individual freedom.


troutsky said...

This idea of "beneficient markets" presents a problem for me, as you already know, both on an intellectual level (as a Marxist) and on a practical level(what i saw in Venezuela) The Bolivarian Revolution does not directly address the tricky issues of productive property or markets, attempting to negotiate a path between social-democratic capitalism and endogenous development models but I feel the inherant contradictions may need to be confronted sooner rather than later.

In a labor market, people sell their different and unequal skills, talents and abilities which inevitably creates a hierachical structure of wealth and power.In a commodities market, people are selling image, perception, brands and other distorted information to gain comparitive advantage. Neither one of these market distributions can be justified on a moral basis in a system where values of solidarity and equality are promoted.

The same issues arise when we are talking about individuals owning the means of production where they can extract profit. The only way capital is accumulated, even with a socially conscious tax structure, is through exploitation of productive capacity and this leads to class conflict.

For now these issues are being neglegcted as people concentrate on wealth re-distribution (in Venezuela) but eventually the concept of cooperative enterprise and worker controlled enterprise will run headlong into state run or private owned enterpise.Also, outside capitalist economies will work ceaselessly to undermine all systems of collective ownership leading to stresses.

What is the structure for decision making at PDVSA? When will the "doctor vs Garbage collector" schism cause ruptures? Some questions.

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