The Promise and Peril of the Third
Wave: Socialism and Democracy for the 21st Century
(page 3 of 7)
By Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris
The Chicago Third Wave Study Group / May 1, 1993
is worse than the dangers posed by the third wave is the attempt
to ignore or stifle the information technologies fueling it.
This was a deep flaw in the structure of the "command
economies" of the Soviet bloc, which based their politics
on the centralized control and restriction of information.
The growth of the new technology requires open, accessible
and decentralized sources and outlets for the flow of information.
But this was hardly possible in societies that stationed soldiers
to guard photocopy and fax machines. Far from creating political
security, these measures were only effective in insuring the
economic backwardness of the societies practicing them. Relative
to information-rich production methods and products in the
West, the socialist factories were thus inefficient, wasteful
and, with few exceptions, produced outmoded or shabby goods.
fair, the feudal and capitalist worlds initiated these practices
of attempting to control politics by controlling information.
It was Hitler's propaganda machine that gave birth to the
term "totalitarian." The use of the state to control
and restrict the market in information, moreover, was simply
an extension of state intervention in the traditional economy.
Capitalist industries in the West have always tried to use
the state to "protect" favored industries from competition
with more productive, better-organized factories in other
countries. Trade unions have also tried to "protect"
obsolete jobs with featherbedding work rules. In the U.S.
auto industry, for example, both management and labor believed
that planned obsolescence was acceptable as a way to guarantee
future demand, growth and job security. Instead they guaranteed
stagnation and backwardness. The result was a huge opening
for Japan to take a larger market share with a better product.
that fails to base itself fundamentally on an accurate assessment
of the nature and direction of these developments in the productive
forces does not deserve to be called Marxist. At best, its
critique of capitalism and industrial society generally will
be limited to moralisms and will become irrelevant to practical
politics. At worst, it will propose bankrupt solutions to
the crises that will evoke a reactionary nostalgia for the
fetters of the old order.
no good, for instance, to call for a re-industrialization
of the economy along the lines of the blue-collar industries
of the past. While some industries can be retained and some
jobs can be restored--mainly those that were lost due to the
business cycle, mismanagement, or unrestricted runaways--most
of those jobs or industries eliminated by advances in technology
and industrial organization cannot be restored.
especially should not be calling for a retreat to less advanced,
more inefficient, more wasteful, and less skilled forms of
production that turn out poorer goods at higher prices. In
fact, it has always been part of our strategic critique of
the bourgeoisie that its interests and methods placed fetters
on the productive forces of society and produced a moribund,
wasteful and decadent system.
A New Look at the Lessons of History
this perspective, the failure of industrial "second wave"
socialism is part and parcel of the collapse and transformation
of second wave industrialism worldwide. In particular, its
earlier uncritical and dogmatic embrace of industrial patterns
as “scientific” or “progressive” regardless
of limitations or conditions hastened the socialist crisis.
wave industrialism concentrated huge productive forces of
machinery, labor, and capital. Working class communities surrounded
giant factories, where communist "concentrations"
were to be built as part of the newly massified neighborhoods.
Socialist political structure was to reflect the skeleton
of industrial organization and life. The whole working class,
for instance, was to be concentrated into one mass party with
a single strategy. Advocacy of diversified, multi-party systems
or strategies was frequently denounced as "liberal"
principle of concentration was carried forward into Soviet
economic and social planning. Whole new cities were built
around giant factories. As Lenin put it, maximization was
the "highest level of development." Bureaucracy
was the inevitable and natural organizational form when all
production and planning was to be concentrated under the state.
A diversified market was not only politically incorrect, but
supposedly went against the industrial principal of efficiency
party was to be built along the same centralized lines as
factory management; rank-and-file "Jimmy Higgins"
workers, mid-management full-time cadre, and the elite board
of trustees, or central committee. Just as industrial management
reflected hierarchical relations of power, socialist political
relations contained the same design.
centralism" that developed within this pattern was one
where democracy was always a secondary aspect to a centralized
and hierarchical leadership responsible for decisions and
control of information. This pattern of centralized power
was as true for capitalist monopolies, as it was for socialist
bureaucracies responsible for production. Within the ruling
party itself, Stalinism took this principle to its zenith
in its centralization of international political authority.
was also part of the second wave industrial code. The efficiency
of a labor task was seen in its specialization, which also
gave rise to the professionalization of work. For Lenin this
meant the professionalization of the cadre into a full-time
revolutionary, and later for Stalin as the "red expert".
Eventually this resulted in the separation and domination
of political and technical work from democratic input and
mass production also produced standardization. Everything
from time, weights, and products, to culture and ideas was
standardized. For socialism, the impact was a dogmatic standardization
of Marxism, the political line set by the one accepted center,
the Soviet Communist Party. Differences were not only suppressed
inside the USSR, but also even worldwide. Bolshevik organizational
structure became the standard for acceptance into the Third
International. And perhaps even more destructive, was the
idea that there existed only one economic model on which socialism
could be built.
emphasis on all the above elements was the product of industrial
society, and forms a fresh basis of criticism for a lack of
socialist democracy. Socialism, understandably, could only
function within the world to which it was born. When socialism
embraced the proletariat as the primary agency of progressive
change, it also tended to romanticize industrial society.
Socialism thus consciously or unconsciously integrated second
wave industrialism's intern designs and limitations into its
own theory and practice. More >>