Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Reply to Phil Sharpe

It was almost inevitable that Weekly Worker would eventually draw to a close my exchanges with Phil Sharpe but sadly they gave Phil the final word and chose not to publish my last reply (no hard feelings, they have been extremely generous with their space). 

So here it is, just for the record.

Phil (WW 15 Dec) repeats his mis-labeling of capitalism as socialism with the assertion that the allocation of resources requires a prices system and that value continues in his “socialism”, as does production for profit, although the standard socialist view is that the law of value will be abolished and production for profit replaced by production for use.
 
 According to Paresh Chattopadhyay: "The problem of rationally allocating productive resources in an economy is common to all human societies at least as long as these resources remain relatively limited compared to needs. However, there is no need to assume that this allocation could be effected rationally (if at all) only through the exchange of resources taking the value (price) form."

As Engels originally explained: “The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will, in the end, determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted "value"… As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value.”
 
Phil confuses the rational allocation of resources as such with the allocation of resources unique to the price system. The allocation through the value form of the products of human labour is only "a particular social manner of counting labour employed in the production of an object.” (Marx)
 
 As for Phil’s “industrial democracy”, workers still have to go out into the market-place in search for a slice of the profit pie, and that slice will have to be extracted from other workers. Social ownership is not about competing enterprises where every worker is vying with all the others.  
 
Phil says my "moralistic reference to conspicuous consumption seems to suggest that distribution could occur in authoritarian terms in his future socialist society.”

What I wrote was, “much of what we falsely consider to be essential to our well-being - the pursuit of status via conspicuous consumption - will be rendered totally meaningless. In socialism, the only way to gain the respect of your fellows is through your contribution to society and not what you take out of it.” 

Capitalism drives us to consume and it has created an entire advertising industry devoted to the psychological manipulation of our desires. But Phil turns it topsy-turvy by insisting freeing ourselves from such mass techniques of emotional blackmail is an authoritarian act. How Phil can reach his conclusion is beyond me. In a voluntary society such as socialism, there would be no group which will possess the political leverage of the control over the necessities of life by which to dominate others, which has been the feature of all private-property, class-based societies, because there will exist free access to goods and services which denies that power of exclusion over others. 
 
There is no reason to correct the assessment that Phil is no socialist. His defence that he simply revising Marx possesses no merit, for he is rejecting the core fundamentals of Marxism yet still holding on to a spurious entitlement of being called a Marxist and that is being unprincipled, in my opinion. 

alan johnstone