This small book, Amar Shomajtantra by A R Khan, has been well received in Bangladesh, but one cannot be sure what it indicates. Is it a sign of some dormant desire for socialism, some hope that despite the tragic demise of socialism in the USSR, the East European Socialist Block, and privatization in China, Vietnam and possibly in Cuba in near future, someone has found some new perspective to make this much debated, discussed, condemned, ridiculed, etc., idea worth reconsidering?
Perhaps it is the very involvement of a prominent economist in this matter, who, although is considered a progressive but not necessarily a Marxist economist, that makes it so attractive? We are not sure, and he does not indicate that he has had any association with any Marxist organization. The possessive nature of the title is curious: is this his own invention or is it his version of an already existing theoretical framework. His discussion of Marxism in early chapters is indicative of his awareness of the relevance of Marxism to discussion of socialism. It is a mistake to discuss socialism in isolation, not noting that there is no free-standing theory of socialism. Marx-Engels were not theoreticians of socialism, and did not leave behind any recipe on how to prepare socialism. It remains a grey area and a source of confusion. In Marx’s social evolutionary framework, what follows capitalism is communism. Socialism is an intermediary stage that becomes necessary when social revolution happens at a time and in a society, that is not prepared for transition to a communist society. The terms for a society to be able to make that transition are succinctly articulated in the “Preface” to “A Contribution to Critique of Political Economy” Marx, 1884), which was the start of his inquiry in political economy. Among the necessary conditions for transitioning to communism, broadly speaking, are highly developed productive forces (that is capable of meeting society’s need for goods and services);dominance of the working class in the relations of production; their increased capacity to manage system of social collective production; and existence of a highly developed democracy with extensive public intervention. This is contrary to what occurred: production was placed in the care of the bureaucracy, state and the party. Marx, Engels, Lenin all recognized that the state is an institution of class domination, one which serves the interest of the dominant class. In a society that is not victim of exploitation of the working class and other poor people, there is no need for such a repressive instrument and the state must “…wither away…” as antagonism subsides or made to subside. Handing over the economy to the bureaucracy is not a formula for withering away of the state; contrary is what we have seen in the now no longer socialist countries. It is understandable if one is confronted with situation of find oneself in power and state and party are the institutions of exerting power to implement policy, one must work with it. But not to be alert at the tendency of all institutions tendency to consolidate itself is a mistake.
Marx-Engels were theoreticians of communism. It is difficult to understand his work without this recognition. It is even more difficult to critique Marx by a-priori rejecting the theory of surplus value.
Knowing fully well the implication of the answer to the question, where wealth, value, capital etc. come from, bourgeoisie have long been engaged in reactionary intellectual fraud, in direct service to the capitalist class, obfuscating thievery involved in capital accumulation, by trying to disprove its source in the labor performed by the worker. Marx unequivocally demonstrated that human labor is the source of all material value, including capital. And the capital generated by workers are also what is used for their further exploitation. Progress requires resolution of this internal contradiction, but that is possible when society, especially the working class have attained the capacity to own the surplus they produce and deploy it for social good. It must attain the awareness of its role in the economy, understand the necessity of its leadership in the affairs of the society, find and operate the mechanism for democratic social control and retire the state ; the bureaucracy. Getting to this stage is the goal of a socialist society, and it must be based on increasing easing of exploitation of the working and other poor segments of the population. How this is achieved in different societies will depend on the unique history of these societies. And none of these are outside the sphere of influence of what occurs outside their boundaries.
Marx identified the following necessary, but not sufficient steps for the purpose of stopping private ownership of capital: (1) ban hereditary ownership of wealth with potential for becoming private capital;
(2) eliminate money – without which capital formation is not possible; and, (3) account for all labor performed in terms of socially necessary labor time (SNLT) expended doing work and use it as the currency for exchange. In addition, markets will be redesigned to become nodes of distribution of goods and services, but not for realization of value produced by private capitalist. Whereas individuals producing their own consumption, if no hired hands are asked to work, it appears harmless. But production encourages over production, exchange, trade and accumulation. Allowing this in the USSR resulted in the formation of an underground parallel economy and it played a role in subverting the national economy. In a socialist society, savings are discouraged; however, there must be goods and services worth spending money for; that was not the case in the USSR.
Given that communism is the goal, we should know what did Marx had in mind it would offer? The answer from Marx may seem frivolous, but it is not! Not in the world we live in today, about which Marx had a surprisingly cautionary prediction! He wrote: “Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like bonipatresfamilias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition”. (Capital Vol III, MECW Vol. 37, p:765) Capitalism which can only survive if able to make profit, and because of competition, to do so requires continuously expanding production, it is bound to bring the planet to the precarious stage we find ourselves in. However, if consumption-obsessed life style is not the goal, we can avoid the dire consequence we face. And here is what Marx had in mind for the “Shangri-La” he is often accused of promising: “… finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of the fact that, as long as man remains in naturally evolved society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the division of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; whereas in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherdor critic.” (sounds like a Bengali intellectual, just exchange “adda” for hunting, fishing and shepherding!)
The purpose of socialism is capacity development & acquisition of competence by the society to reach the state when and where “…society regulates the general production…” to make it possible for citizens to pursue their individual goals. This would finally end our sense of insecurity that originated in the constant struggle that has shaped our onto-genetic evolutionary history and became integrated in our social evolution. This insecurity drove us out of Africa, directed us to invent agriculture, industry, literature, art…civilization, etc.
Prof. Khan’s “socialism” is a narrow-minded project: recipe for a welfare state repackaged as socialism. Only about 20% of investment in Sweden is publicly owned, and capitalism dominates. Result? Listen to a little Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg: https://www.youtube.com/embed/FWsM9-zrKo?autoplay=1&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://www.bing.com&rel=0&_sm_au=iVVRTW5F1T1S8v23 But there is no point blaming him for this: in the defunct socialist societies, from what we can gather, the same was practiced and the effort to connect the present to the future was sporadic, and when attempted, not honest. Narrow vision can afflict socialist as well, as can dazzle the glamour of capitalist consumerism. Socialist endeavors so far have been attempts at reproducing capitalist production without much thought about transition to communist system.
Consequence of this approach has left behind monstrous disasters such as Chornobyl, Aral Sea, Moscow River, etc., to name a few! In all fairness, we cannot avoid reality that progress will be limited until a few major industrialized countries make the transition. They can do, as far as readiness of their forces of production is concerned. With weakening organized labor and similarly marginalized communist/socialist organization, chances of changing the relations of production do not seem nowhere near ready.
Given the state of affairs inside as well as internationally, for Bangladesh, a welfare state + garden variety democracy would not be so bad!
(Dr. Siddique writes from Washington, DC)