Post-Capitalism

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  • see also the book: PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. By Paul Mason. Penguin, 2015


Discussion

'Post-capitalism', according to Alexander Bogdanov

Text: Socially Organised Society: Socialist Society , Alexander Bogdanov 1919

URL = https://www.marxists.org/archive/bogdanov/1919/socialism.htm

Source: Chapter X of A Short Course of Economic Science, 10th edition, 1919. English translation J. Fineberg, 1923; Transcribed: by Adam Buick ; suggested by Orsan Senalp


Alexander Bogdanov:

"The epoch of capitalism has not yet been completed, but the instability of its relations has become quite obvious. The fundamental contradictions of this system which are deeply undermining it, and the forces of development which are creating the basis of a new system, have also become quite clear. The main features of the direction in which social forces are moving have been marked out. It is, therefore, possible to draw conclusions as to what form the new system will take and in what way it will differ from the present system.

It may seem that science has no right to speak of what has not yet arrived and of what experience has not provided us with any exact example. But that is erroneous. Science exists precisely for the purpose of foretelling things. Of what has not yet been experienced it cannot, of course, make an exact forecast, but if we know generally what exists and in what direction it is changing then science must draw the conclusions as to what it will change into. Science must draw these conclusions in order that men may adapt their actions to circumstances, so that instead of wasting their efforts by working against the future and retarding the development of new forms, they may consciously work to hasten and assist such development.

The conclusions of social science with regard to future society cannot be exact because the great complexity of social phenomena does not permit, in our times, of their being completely observed in all details, but only in their main features, and for that reason the picture of the new system also can only be drawn in its main outlines; but these are the most important considerations for the people of the present day.

The history of the ancient world shows that human society may sometimes regress, decline, and even decay; the history of primitive man and also that of several isolated Eastern societies shows the possibility of a long period of stagnation. For this reason, from a strictly scientific point of view, the transition to new forms must be accepted conditionally. New and higher forms will appear only in the event of a society progressing further in its development as it has progressed up till now. There must be sufficient cause, however, for regression or stagnation, and these cannot be indicated in the life of modern society. With the mass of contradictions inherent in it, and the impetuous process of life which they create, there cannot be stagnation. These inherent contradictions could cause retrogression only in the event of the absence of sufficient forms and elements of development. But such elements exist, and these very contradictions develop and multiply them. The productive power of man is increasing and even such a social catastrophe as a world war only temporarily weakens it. Furthermore an enormous class in society growing and organising is striving to bring about these new forms. For this reason there are no serious grounds for expecting a movement backwards. There are immeasurably more grounds for believing that society will continue along its path and create a new system which will destroy and abolish the contradictions of capitalism.


* Relation of Society to Nature

The development of machine technique in the period of capitalism acquired such a character of consecutiveness and activity that it is quite possible to determine its tendencies and consequently the further result of its development.

With regard to the first part of the machine – the source of motive power – we have already indicated the tendency, viz., the transition from steam to electricity, the most flexible, the most plastic, of all the powers of nature. It can easily be produced from all the others and be converted into all the others; it can be divided into exact parts and transmitted across enormous distances. The inevitable exhaustion of the main sources of steam power, coal and oil, leads to the necessity for the transition to electricity, and this will create the possibility of making use of all waterfalls, all flowing water (even the tides of the oceans ), and the intermittent energy of the wind which can be collected with the aid of accumulators, & c. A new and immeasurably rich source of electrical energy, infinitely superior to all other sources of .electrical energy, has also been indicated, viz., atomic energy, which is contained in all matter. Its existence has been scientifically proved, and its use even begun, although in a very small scale where it automatically releases itself (e.g. radium and other similar disintegrating elements). Methods for systematically releasing this energy have not yet been discovered; the new higher scientific technique will probably discover these methods and united humanity possess inexhaustible stocks of elemental power .

With regard to the transmitting mechanism we also observe a tendency towards the automatic type of machine. Following this we observe an even higher type – not only an automatically acting, but an automatically regulating machine. Its beginnings lie on the one hand in the increasing application of mechanical regulators to present-day machines, and on the other in the few mechanisms of this type already created by military technique (e.g., self-propelling submarines and air torpedoes). Under capitalism these will hardly find application for peaceful production: they are disadvantageous from the point of view of profits as they are very complicated and unavoidably dear; the amount of labour which they save in comparison with machines of the former type is not great, because automatic machinery also dispenses with a considerable amount of human labour. Furthermore the workers required to work them must possess the highest intelligence; hence their pay also would have to be high, and their resistance to capital would be considerably greater. In war there is no question of profits, and for that reason these obstacles to their application do not arise. Under socialism the question of profits will disappear in production also; first consideration will be given to the technical advantages of self-regulating mechanism – which will render possible the achievement of a rapidity and exactness of work incomparably greater than that achieved by human organs, which work more slowly and with less precision, and moreover are subject to fatigue and error.

Furthermore, the number of machines, and the sum total of mechanical energy, will increase to such a colossal degree that the physical energy of men will become infinitesimally small in comparison. The powers of nature will carry out the executive work of man – they will be his obedient dumb slaves, whose strength will increase to infinity.

The technique of communication between men is of special significance. The rapid progress in this connection observed at the end of the capitalist epoch has been obviously directed to the abolition of all obstacles which nature and space place in the way of the organisation and compactness of humanity. The perfection of wireless telegraphy and telephony will create the possibility for people to communicate with each other under any condition, over any distance, and across all natural barriers. The increase in the speed of all forms of transportation brings men and the products of their labour more closely together than was ever dreamed of in the past century. And the creation of dirigible aircraft will make human communication completely independent of geographical conditions – the structure and configuration of the earth’s surface." (https://www.marxists.org/archive/bogdanov/1919/socialism.htm)


According to Kevin Carson's market anarchism

Kevin Carson:

"First of all, the erosion of “intellectual property” enforcement is hardly the sole crisis tendency that I pin my hopes for an end to capitalism on. I agree with Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation that capitalism depends both on artificial scarcity of information enforced through patents and copyrights, but also on artificial abundance (i.e. artificially cheap material inputs).

Capitalism, historically, developed through the extensive addition of cheap inputs rather than intensively, through the more efficient use of existing inputs. Under both colonialism and post-colonialism, the state facilitated looting the global South of oil and mineral resources, which enabled a growth model based on wasteful use of energy and raw materials. Capitalist agriculture took place on enormous tracts of engrossed or enclosed land, with subsidized inputs like cheap irrigation water, and pursued mechanized farming models that were efficient in output per labor hour but grossly inefficient in terms of output per acre.

This artificial scarcity and artificial abundance are both becoming unsustainable. Scarcity of digital information is becoming increasingly unenforceable — including the threat to patented industrial designs coming from potentially piratable CAD/CAM files.

At the same time, artificial abundance is unsustainable because it’s a basic economic law that corporations will pursue business models that economize on costly inputs and instead maximize reliance on extensive addition of inputs that are artificially cheap. Demand for subsidized inputs will outstrip the supply. So the economy is driven towards material input crises like Peak Oil, and crumbling infrastructure that can’t keep up with the needs of corporations operating over larger and larger market areas. States must socialize larger and larger portions of the total operating costs of capital in order for business to be profitable until, as neo-Marxist James O’Connor pointed out, fiscally exhausted states can no longer keep up with the demand.

On top of all this there’s the chronic tendency of corporate capitalism towards over-investment, underconsumption and excess capacity — a tendency that becomes worse over time and is exacerbated by technological advances in small-scale, cheap and ephemeral production machinery that requires less and less capital expenditure for a given level of output.

If they don’t consider these terminal crisis tendencies, it’s they who are unrealistic.

And the tendency towards small-scale production for local consumption is just that — a tendency. There will obviously be some forms of production — e.g. microchip foundries — that require larger-scale facilities than others. And there will be some need for transporting geographically limited raw materials from the areas where they’re concentrated to the areas where goods are produced.

But I suspect there are some unspoken assumptions at work here about “economies of scale,” rooted in the ideology of the Old Left, by which large scale and capital-intensiveness are inherently more efficient and progressive. And that’s nonsense, for reasons that are too long to go into here (but are discussed at length in my book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution)." (https://c4ss.org/content/46875)