Listen, Marxist! On Post-Scarcity by Murray Bookchin

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Paul D. Fernhout

Jul 25, 2010, 12:18:43 PM7/25/10
to Open Manufacturing
It's just about the fourth anniversary of the death of Murray Bookchin,
who wrote this:
"Listen Marxist" (excerpt)
... Our concern here is with those honest revolutionaries who have turned to
Marxism, Leninism or Trotskyism because they earnestly seek a coherent
social outlook and an effective strategy of revolution. We are also
concerned with those who are awed by the theoretical repertory of Marxist
ideology and are disposed to flirt with it in the absence of more systematic
alternatives. To these people we address ourselves as brothers and sisters
and ask for a serious discussion and a comprehensive re-evaluation. We
believe that Marxism has ceased to be applicable to our time not because it
is too visionary or revolutionary, but because it is not visionary or
revolutionary enough. We believe it was born of an era of scarcity and
presented as a brilliant critique of that era, specifically of industrial
capitalism, and that a new era is in birth which Marxism does not adequately
encompass and whose outlines it only partially and onesidedly anticipated.
We argue that the problem is not to "abandon" Marxism, or to "annul" it, but
to transcend it dialectically, just as Marx transcended Hegelian philosophy,
Ricardian economics, and Blanquist tactics and modes of organization. We
shall argue that in a more advanced stage of capitalism than Marx dealt with
a century ago, and in a more advanced stage of technological development
than Marx could have clearly anticipated, a new critique is necessary, which
in turn yields new modes of struggle, or organization, of propaganda and of
lifestyle. Call these new modes whatever you wish. We have chosen to call
this new approach post-scarcity anarchism, for a number of compelling
reasons which will become evident in the pages that follow.
The idea that a man whose greatest theoretical contributions were made
between 1840 and 1880 could "foresee" the entire dialectic of capitalism is,
on the face of it, utterly preposterous. If we can still learn much from
Marx's insights, we can learn even more from the unavoidable errors of a man
who was limited by an era of material scarcity and a technology that barely
involved the use of electric power. We can learn how different our own era
is from that of all past history, how qualitatively new are the
potentialities that confront us, how unique are the issues, analyses and
praxis that stand before us if we are to make a revolution and not another
historical abortion.
... Is it conceivable that historical problems and methods of class
analysis based entirely on unavoidable scarcity can be transplanted into a
new era of potential abundance? Is it conceivable that an economic analysis
focused primarily on a "freely competitive" system of industrial capitalism
can be transferred to a managed system of capitalism, where state and
monopolies combine to manipulate economic life? Is it conceivable that a
strategic and tactical repertory formulated in a period when steel and coal
constituted the basis of industrial technology can be transferred to an age
based on radically new sources of energy, on electronics, on cybernation? ...
As a result of this transfer, a theoretical corpus which was liberating a
century ago is turned into a straitjacket today. We are asked to focus on
the working class as the "agent" of revolutionary change at a time when
capitalism visibly antagonizes and produces revolutionaries among virtually
all strata of society, particularly the young. ...
The critical question we face is this: can we explain the transition from
a class society to a classless society by means of the same dialectic that
accounts for the transition of one class society to another? This is not a
textbook problem that involves the judging of logical abstractions but a
very real and concrete issue for our time. ....
The worker becomes a revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but
by undoing his "workerness." And in this he is not alone; the same applies
to the farmer, the student, the clerk, the soldier, the bureaucrat, the
professional--and the Marxist. The worker is no less a "bourgeois" than the
farmer, student, clerk, soldier, bureaucrat, professional--and Marxist. His
"workerness" is the disease he is suffering from, the social affliction
telescoped to individual dimensions. Lenin understood this in What Is to Be
Done? but he smuggled in the old hierarchy under a red flag and some
revolutionary verbiage. ...

That last paragraph is to some degree about open manufacturing, in the sense
of being about the "quiet" non-violent revolution currently ongoing where
people are changing from being workers and consumers to being people who
design and make their own stuff for their own needs (either by themselves or
in loose collaborations). This is ongoing in many areas, from gardening, to
cooking, to informing via the web via blogs etc., or to manufacturing, as we
see a renewal of interest in making things for yourself, your family, your
community, and for the world.

Sad that I did not think to go visit Murray Bookchin in the late 1980s when
I first saw his book on "Post-Scarcity Anarchism" -- even if I now think
that Manuel de Landa makes an essential point on all real systems being some
interaction of meshworks and hierarchies, which is an idea that goes beyond
what people normally think of as "anarchism". From de Landa:
"Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains
and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly
turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and
hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory
alone but demand concrete experimentation."

A couple points in Bookchin's 1971 analysis may be a bit out of date.
Despite what he wrote back then, there has been an increasing economic
crisis in the USA with decades of wage stagnation and now the Great
Recession. He did not predict the growing rich-poor divide, as he seems to
have assumed then that the policies of the 1940s-1960s towards sharing the
ever increasing wealth produced by industry with the workers would continue
(Marxian economist Richard Wolff explains how that stopped happening around
1980: ). The political state has indeed
also grown in many ways. It's interesting how meshworks can grow even as
hierarchies also grow. So, these are two issues he, understandably for the
time, dismissed back then, but otherwise I don't think weakens his overall
point that much, that we need better forward looking paradigms to deal with
abundance. It's still an excellent analysis of some key issues that open
manufacturing and abundance thinking connects with in contrast to ideology
built around scarcity thinking, especially the key point of having some
alternative theoretical framework related to abundance to present to those
otherwise flirting with Marxism etc..

One such alternative analysis by me: :-)
"Beyond a Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics"
Another, also by me: :-)

But there are others out there too. Or on this list. :-)

For something written in 1971, Bookchin's essay is really amazing stuff,
like Hogan's 1979 novel Voyage from Yesteryear was also amazing for its time
(or even now). The 1970s were underrated. :-)

As a personal anecdote about the 1970s, in his anthology "Before the Golden Age"
Isaac Asimov wrote in his introduction that every age when we first start
reading sci-fi is a "Golden Age" to us, and that he hoped he never lived
long enough to hear some rotten kid tell him about the "Golden Age of the
1970s". (Presumably he thought that most of the sci-fi written then not so
good?). When I read that (in the 1970s), I knew I would have to tell him
about something about the "Golden Age of the Seventies" if I ever met him
afterwards. :-) I bided my time for years. :-) I finally got my chance in
1980, at a robotics expo I was presenting at, and said to him as he was
leaving after giving a talk, "Oh, Dr. Asimov, I wanted to tell you about the
Golden Age of the Seventies." He was confused at first, until I told him
that I was disappointed that he had not risen from his wheelchair and hit me
with his cane, as promised. That was when he remembered what he had written,
and said with a smile, "Get out of here, you rotten kid." :-) But then I
added after that it was because of all the great sci-fi he had written then. :-)

Amazing what influence big and little different authors have on us.

--Paul Fernhout
The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of
abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity.

Paul D. Fernhout

Jul 25, 2010, 12:50:32 PM7/25/10
Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
> For something written in 1971, Bookchin's essay is really amazing stuff,
> like Hogan's 1979 novel Voyage from Yesteryear was also amazing for its
> time (or even now). The 1970s were underrated. :-)

Oops, that should be "Hogan's 1979 novel The Two Faces of Tomorrow" which
has a lot of stuff about robotics and manufacturing and space habitats.
"The Two Faces of Tomorrow"

Voyage from Yesteryear was published in 1982, which would put it in the
"Golden Age" of the 1980s. :-)

Alongside, say, the better parts of Star Trek: TNG. :-)

Like the episode "The Neutral Zone"; excerpts here, with someone's comments:
"Examples of Communism in Star Trek"
Ok, we got a couple clips here from the star trek TNG episode "The Neutral Zone"
the first one is simple meant to illustrate where America is in all of
this, nuff said
some background for these clips, the Enterprise found a derelict space craft
carrying 3 cryogenically frozen people from the 21st century(our time) The
clips show their reaction to the TNG era federation and its politics.
The Replicator scene: this is why communism works for them
and if you notice in the future people are very different.
Picard's speeches:
I think Jean Luc Picard Summarizes the situation quite well, but he is
speaking to the people from the 21st century and explaining the situation
when one of them inquires about his business investments and where all his
money went.

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