The Third International after Lenin

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ernest Mandel on "progressive disalienation"

Very clear and informative book; just finished it. Only a few hundred pages. Very concrete examples and lots of context to make the subject more accessible to people intimidated by Marx's own economic writings.

From Ch 11, the final chapter:

....But the task for scientific thought is to analyze the social and economic sources of the continued existence of phenomena of alienation during the period of transition between capitalism and socialism and during the first phase of socialism, and to discover the driving forces of the process of disalienation during these historical phases. This means undertaking an analysis that begins by putting aside those factors reinforcing and aggravating alienation as a result of the bureaucratic distortion or degeneration of a society in transition, and then later on integrating these special factors in a more concrete analysis of the phenomena of alienation in countries like the U.S.S.R., the “people’s democracies,” and so on.

The general source of the continued existence of phenomena of alienation during the transition period and in the first phase of socialism is the inadequate level of development of the productive forces and the resulting survival of bourgeois norms of distribution. 16 The contradiction between the socialized mode of production and the bourgeois norms of distribution—the chief contradiction of the transition period—brings factors of alienation into production relations. The workers continue to suffer, even if only partially, from the effects of an objective and elemental social evolution which they do not control (the survival of the “laws of the market” in the sphere of consumer goods; the survival of a selection procedure for jobs which does not permit full development of all the aptitudes of every individual, etc.).

When to these circumstances we add the hypertrophy of bureaucracy, the lack of socialist democracy on the political level, the lack of workers’ self-management on the economic plane, the lack of freedom to create on the cultural plane, specific factors of alienation resulting from bureaucratic distortion or degeneration are added to the inevitable factors mentioned in the previous paragraph. The bureaucratization of the transitional society tends to aggravate the contradiction between the socialized mode of production and the bourgeois norms of distribution, particularly by intensifying social inequality. The generalization of a money economy works in the same way.

Wolfgang Heise makes a very subtle analysis of this problem. While collective ownership of the means of production and socialist planning in principle overcome social helplessness in relation to the evolution of society as a whole, this does not mean that this social helplessness is immediately overcome for every individual. It is necessary to take into account not only the ideological slag of the capitalist past, of the members of the former ruling classes who are still around, of the inadequate level of education of part of the proletariat, and so on; we have also to realize that this helplessness is overcome in practice only when individuals realize their identity with society through social activity based on a large number of free decisions. 17 This implies not only complete self-management by labor at the level of the economy taken as a whole (not merely in the production process but also in distribution and consumption), but also a withering away of the state and the disappearance of all human relationships based on constraint and oppression....

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