Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Economic Democracy or dictatorship in another guise

Once again on my net travels i came across this idea.
David Schweikart, After Capitalism, a review of his book here

An outline of the economic model by him here

Very briefly
"worker self-managed market socialism...has three basic features: 1) each productive enterprise is managed democratically by its workers; 2) the day-to-day economy is a market economy: raw materials and consumer goods are bought and sold at prices determined by the forces of supply and demand; 3) new investment is socially controlled: the investment fund is generated by taxation and dispensed according to a democratic, market-conforming plan."
More details at the link

Applying a Marxian approach and see that all the fundamental categories that define capitalism - generalised wage labor, commodity production (means of production were bought and sold between enterprises as well as final goods), money , profits, capital accumulation, class monopoly of the mean of production etc etc - were also to be found in the Economic Democracy. A democratised version of capitalism is what is required. Well actually that would still make it a class-based exploitative capitalist society in which the prusit of profit was paramount - only a nicer, more cuddly, version of capitalism That is that makes it capitalist and not socialist Once more we see an attempt at squaring the circle, making capitalism work in the interest of the community by "improving" on Yugoslavian-type workers councils and Mondragon-type co-operatives and introducing banking reform to finance it all. Within this model wage labour would still function and it follows that so too would capital. Capital accumulation out of surplus value would be the overriding imperative of his system. He wants to humanise capitalism and the wage labour-capital relation. A utopia. Capitalism needs inequality to function properly on its own terms. Egalitarian capitalism is a contradiction in terms.
He may think he is talking about a socialised economy, but the reality is that he is mimicking a capitalist economy involving workers self-exploitation and their competition against eachother.

And when they fail , pray tell us the difference between this "If a firm is unable to generate even the minimum per-capita income, then it must declare bankruptcy. Movable capital will be sold off to pay creditors. Any excess is returned to the investment fund, while fixed capital reverts to the community both processes mediated by the affiliated bank. Workers must seek employment elsewhere." and what happens these days. It doesn't matter essentially who pockets the profit enterprises make in your system which enterprises, it would be "held accountable" and would compete in the market in pursuit of profit.

Work-places won't be owned by the workers nor will it be controlled by the public, the power resting in the banks. The "public" will no more "own" than the workers "control" since they are still slaves to the market.

At the end of the day what we have is just another class-based society parading as one in which the means of production are purportedly publically-owned but actually owned by the state-apparatus and from which with a wave of a magic wand has expelled all those disagreeable little things about capitalism like class struggle, exploitation and so on. Schweikart's fallacy is that he believes the words "economic democracy" have a magical power; that saying it's so, makes it so. But there has to be a content, a material basis, for worker-managed socialism, that is to say there must be the reproduction of a social relation that does away with the organisation of labour as a class activity specific to workers.

Labour power IS a commodity by virtue of being exchanged for a wage. It remains a system of alienated labour which Marxists identify with capitalism. In fact it isn't socialism if the working-class exists at all.

There are many cases where workers take over, or start up, businesses themselves. This was described Marx in Capital Vol 111 where he referred to the role of worker co-operatives.

"The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour."

There is a tendency for worker co-ops to resemble more and more over time the conventional capitalist business model and the case of Mondragon - the largest worker co-op conglomerate in the world - would seem to bear this out. Over time, as it has grown, it has departed more and more from its original egalitarian principles and Mondragon has been noted for employing heavy hand tactics against its own workforce.

What about those who cannot work? The very young , the very old, the sick and the disabled? Are they not going to get anything? If they are going to get something where is this going to come from except out of the revenue generated by the wealth producers in the form of a taxation levy?.

The point is that we should not make a fetish out of worker ownership of industry. While it operates within the framework of a system of commodity production it will suffer from the very real shortcomings that capitalism inevitably imposes. It is only through the struggles of workers coupled with the spread of socialist consciousness and the idea of a socialist alternative to capitalism that this embodies that we can ever hope to transcend capitalism through the self abolition of our class and hence the elimination of class society itself.

More could be said about Schweikart's market socialism and its flawed conclusions but perhaps for another day

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