A reply to Mr. Lebowitz…
“There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there. As I’ve said on many occasions, this saying is mistaken. If you don’t know where you want to go, no road will take you there. In other words, you need an understanding of the goal. You need a vision for the future.”
—Michael A Lebowitz, Socialism: The Goal, the Paths, and the Compass
Mr. Lebowitz makes an argument that, on the surface, sounds logical, however, what we actually are concerned with is the real movement of society, which is to say, the ultimate result of the capitalist process, whether this process is understood by the members of society or not. To understand why we refer to the real movement of society, rather than some goal or vision, requires us to understand the nature of capitalism as a form of social labor.
The United States Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, but as we know, it was penned by a man who was systematically exploiting and raping his slaves. Did this statement make men equal? Did this statement make the master-slave relationship into a voluntary association? Of course not.
So what is the significance of the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela? It has no significance. It is just a piece of paper. Even with all the workers’ councils, and all the workers’ participation and decision-making in the world, it has no significance. We have to state this clearly, so no one doubts that we are not enamored of our own fine words, as inspiring as they may be.
We know these things have no significance because we know the American worker – who imagines herself a member not of an international proletarian class, but rather, a member of some ill-defined middle class – is, through his or her actions every bit a participant in the real movement of society as any stalwart communist party member in Vietnam.
The real movement of society is what society is actually doing, irrespective of what it thinks it is doing, when it is doing it. It is the result of processes that are at work behind our back generated by our own action – which processes may or may not be apparent to us.
It is, therefore, possible to get to a goal without wanting it, or even knowing of it; and equally possible to have absolutely no idea where on the map you are, which direction you are headed, and how long it will take. This only means your car (society) is driving itself – it is a run-away. This, as you can imagine, makes it very dangerous to everyone.
Capitalism abolishes work. This is all it does. It is very efficient at abolishing work.
It does this by systematically converting work that is necessary to society into work that is superfluous to society. In turn, this ever expanding superfluous work becomes a condition for the expansion of society’s conditions of existence. Thus, capitalism is associated with an amazing amount of waste and inefficiency.
If socialists understood this, they would advocate forcibly ejecting this waste from the economic system by a simple means: reducing hours of work. This would not change the process, but it would accelerate it. And, it would subject that process to our control.