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Walter Daum posted the following comment in relation to the group which is reading and discussing my Contradictions of "Real Socialism": the Conductor and the Conducted (Monthly Review Press, 2012):

As I see it, Marx’s orchestra metaphor was meant to describe labor under capitalism, and I guess (because I’m still reading) that Lebowitz applies it also to labor under “real socialism.” Those are both exploitative class societies. But things would not be the same under Marx’s proposed society of associated producers (communism), where all share the decision-making powers of the conductor even though at any moment they may assign the leadership task to one person. If that is “protagonistic democracy,” then I think that’s what Marx advocated.

I have two basic problems with Lebowitz’s take. 1) If he believes that for Marx an imposed authority (conductor vs. conducted) applies even under communism, I don’t see where he finds that in Marx’s work. 2) Nor do I see how the desired protagonistic democracy can be attributed to Chavez’s Venezuela, where the first step towards communism – the overthrow of capitalist power – had not been taken.

Firstly, note that Marx used the metaphor about the necessity of the conductor for /every/ socially combined labour process on a large scale and, further, described as the "special work" of the conductor "to secure a harmonious cooperation of the activities of individuals". I talk a bit further in Ch. 8 in my subsequent book, The Socialist Imperative (Monthly Review Press, 2015) about how this conception in practice in "real socialism" can produce at best "consultative participation" which provides an opportunity to improve the plan of the conductor. In contrast, if he reads further in Contradictions, he'll come across Chapter 7, "Toward a Society of Associated Conductors". With respect to Walter's second point, he should read what I've written about Venezuela, starting with Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (Monthly Review Press [again], 2006) where he'll see that I have identified the existence of germs of protagonistic democracy there (eg., communal councils, communes, workers control in state industries and recovered factories) with no illusion that the struggle to nurture these would be necessarily successful (despite Chavez's hopes); there are no guarantees when it comes to class struggle. The communal council and commune experiences have been mixed because of competing tendencies and streams of top-down and bottom-up; and, despite Chavez's assertion that without workers control there is no socialism, from what I saw when there those exciting new shoots of worker management were effectively stomped out by a motley cast of actors including statist conductors, corrupt bureaucrats and economistic Chavist trade unions (cf the Alcasa story). But the struggle continues.
    in solidarity,

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Home:   Phone 604-689-9510
Cell: 604-789-4803

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