A Review of “The Socialist Alternative”
October 24, 2012 By Radical Notes
Michael A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, Monthly Review Press & Aakar Books, 2010
This book is part of Michael Lebowitz’s larger project of demonstrating the ever-existing necessity of a socialist transformation as the revolutionary resolution of class struggle in capitalism. It builds a theoretical foundation for such revolutionary praxis in the specific objectivity of the 21st century. Lebowitz’s previous book, Build it Now, captured and described the specificities of socialist praxis and possibilities in the Bolivarian experience of Venezuela. The Socialist Alternative can be seen as building a coherent model of an alternative by gathering and arranging the elements that are found scattered in that experience.
Like the previous one, this book too is a result of Lebowitz’s rigorous and critical engagement with the ‘socialist’ experiences/experiments of the 20th century. The author clearly critiques the stagist and statist conception of socialism that was based on an ‘uncritical’ takeover of the State and the subservience of the self-activities of the labouring classes to the purpose of strengthening the State. It was this statism that defined the socialist praxes of the 20th century.
Lebowitz also critiques the dwarfish (yet important) experiments of cooperatives and the Yugoslavian practice of workers’ self-management – where, apparently, we find an inversion of the top-bottom approach, and also a kind of workers’ control. Yet this managerial structure failed to develop a “solidarian society” that countered the segmentation and competition among workers, as the logics of commodity production and profiteering continued at the base of those experiments.
The socialist alternative that Lebowitz posits is a process – it is “the path to Human Development” constituted through self-organisational and self-emancipatory practices of the working class. The democratic, participatory and protagonistic activities would reconstitute our everyday lives in this process. “Through revolutionary practice in our communities, our workplaces, and in all our social institutions, we produce ourselves as other than the impoverished and crippled human beings that capitalism produces.” (22) After all, “revolutionary practice” is nothing but “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of the human activity or self-change”, as Marx defined it in one of his theses on Feuerbach. Thus, even though ownership over the means of production still remains critical for building socialism, social solidarity and active participation of every human being based upon “the elementary triangle” of social property, social production and satisfaction of social needs are central to Lebowitz’s socialist imagination. It is this centrality of solidarian revolutionary practice that emancipates socialism from its relegation to statism and productivistic technocracy. This is the vision of the “good society”, which put simply is an association where “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.
Read the entire review on Radical Notes