Capitalism as a historic necessity?

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Joined: 24-03-14
Jan 31 2016 11:05
Capitalism as a historic necessity?

I don't feel comfortable with the idea of capitalism as being historically necessary, in terms of creating a working class and making communism eventually possible, neither in terms of 'progress', in achieving higher living standards (for some people), greater scientific advancement and technology.

How do we deal with this?

boozemonarchy's picture
Joined: 28-12-06
Jan 31 2016 14:41

Never liked the idea myself either.

I think there is an argument to make that present conditions 'prime the pump' for communism. However, claiming it as a necessity seems out of line, particularly if one cites the reasons you've listed or takes a long view of the human phenomenon.

Horizontal organization (either its actual existence or the struggle to create it) seems to have always been a thread woven into human societies. It just so happens that we are in an historical moment where such a struggle would produce what we understand as post-scarcity communism. In other historical moments, that inclination saw horizontal hunter-gatherer organizations enjoy a particularly long run and much later, the occasional instance of post-Pleistocene \ pre-capitalist 'commune' like social organization. Neither are particularly relevant to the contemporary communist project - they just demonstrate that most important feature of humanity - great variability, flexibility and ultimately, success (for now wink ).

Who are we to say that if horizontal organization had been the dominant form of organization for large scale, sedentary societies 8,000 years ago that we would never have achieved the present level of technology, let alone Star Trek level awesomeness? Shit, if it had, the libcom admins might all be moderating debates aboard the Enterprise right now (place the banhammer on Capt. Kirk's skull for repeated misogyny for fucks sakes!).

While I'm not a fan of calling every shit argument a 'fallacy', surely citing capitalism as the well from which human society has drawn technological progress is the classic mistake of conflating correlation with causation? It can be said that horizontal hunter gatherer societies were conservative technologically (meaning they often stuck with the same strategies for millenia - mainly because the worked really well), these groups were ultimately responsible for what became agricultural technology and prior to that, continually innovated new strategies and material technology that saw humans colonize nearly every possible place that a living could reasonably be made. I'm a fan of placing the colonization of polynesia 4,000 years ago and the moon landings a few decades ago on the same pedestal of human achievement. When you take technological context into consideration (Polynesian explorers supported by small-scale horticulture/gathering societies and Astronauts supported by a huge global system) both are equally impressive in terms of the cleverness required in order to achieve them. I don't think we have a healthy view of the achievements of this era and the anthropological perspective can help.

I've got more to add, and sorry for deviating slightly from your query. I'll bring it around!

Pennoid's picture
Joined: 18-02-12
Jan 31 2016 16:00

I think it is and does. It doesn't mean it's inherently "good." If capitalism is specific set of social relations that incentive the re-investment of social surplus into labor-saving technology in order to produce more output per labor input then,

1) It necessarily is at *least* technically progressive

2) It is premised on waged-labor and capital both being "commodities" which implies tearing the peasants off their land/developing agricultural production technologically.

In fact you could argue (as Bordiga does iirc, and also Brenner and others) that the 19th and 20th century revolutions were fated to be 'bourgeois' revolutions; revolutions where the codifying the legal right to private property was based upon wide peasant demands for it, along side emerging professional classes and capitalists. In extreme cases like spain and russia, workers do their best to assert their particular interests as against the bourgeoisie, but they fail in no small part due to the lack of development of the forces of production and international isolation.

S. Artesian
Joined: 5-02-09
Feb 1 2016 02:56

Marx does not argue that capitalism is a universal historic necessity, when all human activity must produce, sooner or later, capitalism.

He does argue that it capitalism necessarily developed out of certain specific conditions, relations, of labor and property.

He does argue that it is a unique condition that has a "universalizing" tendency or impulse to reproduce itself on an expanding scale, but not that it is the universal condition, or the necessary condition of human social reproduction.

And where Marx is ambiguous on this, as he might be construed to be by superficial readings of the Manifesto, or some of his writings on India, he certainly corrects and clarifies that in the Grundrisse and his ethnographic studies.

Joined: 24-03-14
Jan 31 2016 16:25

So could we have gotten to where we are today and possibly further if say European society during the middle ages was communist, that people owned and managed land collectively, shared out the work, took equal share of the product from the land and only produced what they needed?

To me that sort of implies that society wouldn't 'progress' much in terms of level of technology/material comfort, people would be happy with the way things are, with the way they have always done things, there would be no competition, no drive to accumulate and increase productivity, thus besides other pressures like population growth, climate change and maybe a desire to reduce labour time it seems society would move slower, that there would be less incentive for change.

I really hate thinking like that though, and contradictorily think that if today there was a communist revolution, then giving freedom to the working class would unlock peoples potential, and society could progress forward massively.

Joined: 31-12-10
Jan 31 2016 20:20

What is it about the "idea of capitalism being historically necessary" that makes you uncomfortable? Isn't that just like saying that you're uncomfortable with the idea of a massive extinction being historically necessary for humans to arise (it was).

As S.Artesian says, capitalism is a historic event that arose out of a set of conditions and social relations; where we are today and where we go in the future is necessarily tied into the conditions and social relations developed by capitalism. Is it possible that society could've developed science and technology to the degree that ours has if capitalism never existed? I don't know, is it possible that dinosaurs could've have created a mass, technological civilization if the K-T exctinction event had never happened? Perhaps, but it's really impossible to know for sure and doesn't seem to have that much bearing on what we do.

Maybe, in another universe, there's a group of peasants living in pastoral communism arguing about whether feudalism was a necessary precursor to their society, or if communism could've arisen from monetized, slave-based Roman economy.

Joined: 24-03-14
Jan 31 2016 21:09

Because the development of capitalism entails the forced removal of people from their land, colonialism, genocide, slavery and subjugation of peoples, and all of this at the time was justified in the name of 'progress' and in more productive use of the land than the people they were taking it from.

To say that capitalism is historically necessary just seems to justify this process and make the same arguments that colonialists made.

Aside from that it denies the possibility of people to construct a better society for themselves without capitalism and all it entails. It views western society and capitalism as supreme above all other forms of society.

Lastly I guess I just have a big problem with anything being necessary inevitable outcomes in history, there is usually political agency behind claims like that.

Really I don't think this is a purely what if question, and I think we have to be careful around it.

The Pigeon's picture
The Pigeon
Joined: 16-06-15
Feb 19 2016 07:12
redsdisease wrote:
or if communism could've arisen from monetized, slave-based Roman economy.

Wasn't that what Christianity was trying to do in the style of our main man J-Z??

Joined: 24-03-14
Feb 19 2016 16:23

Actually given this a bit more thought and although I don't know a lot about them I came across Gerrard Winstanley and the diggers who opposed private property and advocated some form of agrarian socialism, so surely that people resisted enclosure, capitalism and that they had other ideas means that we don't have to view capitalism as a historical necessity, whose to say that there ideas wouldn't work, that we wouldn't 'progress' in a positive sense that doesn't entail the forced removal of people from their land, colonialism, slavery and etc, but where we have a higher standard of living, an egalitarian & ecologically sustainable society.