Kevin Carson’s response to my critique
I want to thank Kevin Carson for his response, Jehu Eaves’ Critique of My Work, to my series, A critical examination of Kevin Carson’s Mutualism, in which I attempt to clarify Marx’s theory in relation to Kevin’s own mutualist theory.
As always, the attempt to find common ground across diverse communist trends running through Anarchism, Libertarianism and Marxism is confounded by differences in methods, focus and interpretations of historical events. Marx’s own efforts were singularly unique and often pose as much an obstacle to his would be followers as to his opponents. I am only coming to grip with his material myself by comparing his views with assertions made by others of those views, such as that offered by Kevin, and, particularly, by Marx’s alleged sympathizers among Marxists.
In examining Kevin’s argument, my desire was to remove, insofar as it is possible, the merely historical (that is, accidental or chance) elements of Marx’s own argument regarding social development to lay bare what is essential to his theory. This, of course, assumes, first, that I actually understand his essential argument; and, second, that I have grasped it sufficiently to paraphrase it in something approaching an intelligible fashion. I can honestly say each assumption is a work in progress.
When writing the series, I began with the working assumption that Kevin’s and Marx’s models did not differ as history. That, as a matter of actual historical facts, I would assume both agreed on all the basic material available for examination. Based on this assumption, I purposely set out to push this idea to its most extreme limits until I hit an obstacle that could not be ignored and would have to be directly addressed.
I felt confident that when I hit the point where Kevin and Marx actually diverged in their respective arguments, I would be dealing not with a matter of historical fact, but of theory. And, this appeared to me to be a well grounded effort because Kevin has such a grasp of history and the material under discussion that where the two diverged would likely be not a matter of the material, but its interpretation.
Moreover, once I read Kevin’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy it quickly became obvious to me that assuming Marx’s agreement with Kevin on matters of purely historical fact was in fact the antidote to much of the nonsensical trash that passes for Marxism today. Bluntly stated, it is far easier to get to the essential core of Marx’s theory by examining the writing of opponents like Kevin, than it is through study of most of those who claim to be his followers.
When stripped of all the purely historical material, Kevin unerringly identified the essential difference between Marx’s historical materialist theory and the three major communist trends:
In Anti-Dühring, Engels vehemently denied that force was necessary at any stage of the process; indeed, that it did little even to further the process significantly.
He quotes Engels’ offending statement from Anti-Duhring:
…even if we exclude all possibility of robbery, force and fraud, even if we assume that all private property was originally based on the owner’s own labour, and that throughout the whole subsequent process there was only exchange of equal values for equal values, the progressive development of production and exchange nevertheless brings us of necessity to the present capitalist mode of production, to the monpolization of the means of production and the means of subsistence in the hands of a numerically small class, to the degradation into propertyless proletarians of the other class, constituting the immense majority, to the periodic alternation of speculative production booms and commercial crises and to the whole of the present anarchy of production. The whole process can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state or political interference of any kind necessary.
This argument, put forward in its most profound and unapologetic form by Engels in Anti-Duhring, is the rock on which 21st Century critical theory founders. It is a rebuke, above all, to most, if not all, current iterations of Marxist theory, because it admits no compromise with even the most free and democratic State. Engels proposes that even if we assume a State founded on democratic control through the universal suffrage of a vast proletarian majority, such a state must, of necessity, still express in political form the actual subjugation of that population to the system of wage slavery. And, it must express this subjugation, since it rests, not on the abolition of wage slavery, but the proletariat’s utter dependence on it. For historical materialist theory, this must be true even if the capitalist class forms only a negligible minority of the population.
Democracy is not an ideal form of State to which realization communists must aspire, it is itself the very State that must be broken.