Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why do we need the capitalists at all?

From the essay "America Beyond Capitalism:
A Socialist Stew Prepared for Liberals and Conservatives

by Bertell Ollman

Gar Alperovitz's book, America Beyond Capitalism (2004), is of great importance to socialists, despite his casual dismissal of socialism, his equally off-hand use of the Soviet Union to represent the dangers of socialist planning, and his unwillingness to traffic in such stock socialist categories as "capital accumulation," "class," "class interests," "class consciousness," and "class struggle." So, what gives?

One of Marx's greatest achievements in Capital was to show that capitalists, understood as the owners of the means of production, do not make a necessary "material" contribution to the production of wealth, and, therefore, that production can go on without them. We do not need them, so there is no good reason that they should take—and that we should allow them to take—any of the wealth, power and status that goes with owning capital. Marx arrives at this conclusion through a detailed analysis of what goes on in the production process in capitalist society. Alperovitz makes the very same point that Marx does, but whereas Marx arrives at it theoretically, Alperovitz arrives at it empirically by marshaling a warehouse full of instances in the U.S. where production (and distribution and exchange) goes on without capitalists. There are few readers who won't be surprised by how often this happens or by the huge numbers of people involved as workers and consumers in this process, but, as we learn, even most of them do not know how widespread is the movement of which they are part. No one who reads this book will ever look at the American capitalist economy in quite the same way he/she did before reading it, and for that we all owe its author a hearty vote of thanks. It is true that Alperovitz is not ready to draw—at least explicitly—the obvious conclusion from all this (his own proposals for reform are rather modest), but his argument runs out in front of him, and many of his readers will be drawn to ask, "Why do we need the capitalists at all?"

Read the whole article here...