SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
Build it now. Socialism for the twenty - first century de Michael Lebowitz, 2006, Monthly Review Press, New York, pp. 127. Construyámoslo ahora. El socialismo para el siglo XXI, 2007, Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas, pp. 115.
Víctor Isidro Luna.
The objective of this book is to show a kind of socialism in which the affected people provide the fundamental decisions as in politics as in economics in a manner that is as desirable as possible. Socialism is a real alternative to problems that are caused by Capitalism, for example exploitation, poverty, inequality, discrimination and environmental destruction. The author states that the key purpose in capitalist society is to get a private profit without considering the harmful effects on human beings and nature. In a socialist society, on the contrary, the main objective is founded in building “the full development of all human potential” (p. 13). This kind of alternative is being applied in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela above all in the last 9 years. Thus, in order to hold his proposal the author unfolds the following points:
1. The capitalist economy is based on exploitation. The key objective is to get a private profit while neglecting human needs. Capitalists realize profit by exploiting workers. This exploitation is carried out in the production of goods, which is characterized by two actors: a) the capitalist, the owner of the means of production and b) wage-laborers, without means of production. People lacking means of productions in order to survive are compelled to work for the capitalist . In exchange for their labor-power, capitalists pay the workers the equivalent of their means of subsistence. If we consider a worker’s daily total amount of labor, one part of the work is devoted to produce the means of subsistence. Another part is the surplus labor to the capitalist. As the author says: “Capitalist has no interest in a situation, where the workers work long enough only to maintain themselves. What the capitalist wants is workers to perform surplus labor exceed the level of necessary labor. The ratio between necessary surplus labor and necessary labor, Marx has defined it as the rate of exploitation” (p.18). In order to achieve profit, capitalists must require a surplus of labor without considering the living conditions of the people. He can do this in two ways:
i) Extending the workday, reducing wages, increasing the intensity of the
ii) Reducing the time in which people produce the necessary means of their
subsistence, the capitalist can do that incorporating technology and thus
2. The key purpose in the capitalist society is to get a private profit without considering human needs. A variety of economic theories support this. First, the neoclassical theory states that the most important things are private property and self - interest in the individuals, the society is a sum of the individuals that through the market (rid of all restrictions) produces the best possible results. The Keynesian alternative - based on public spending - achieves great results - above all from the Second War World to 1970s - relate to human needs like better wages and the supply of both health and education services, but its key objective is to prevent another economic crises like that of 1929 and not the full development of all human potential.
3. In capitalist society human beings are treated as commodities, so price is the only relevant component, rather than the lives of people.
The author tells us that in a socialist society two forms of knowledge are essential. They are:
a) It is important to know the needs of people in order to develop their full potential and to avoid exploiting them. So the author comments: “Think about another kind of knowledge - a knowledge based upon recognition of our unity, knowledge based upon a concept of solidarity. It is a different knowledge when we are aware of who produces for us and how; when we understand the conditions of life of others and the needs they have for what we can contribute. Knowledge of this type immediately places us as beings within society, provides an understanding of the basis of all our lives. It is immediately direct social knowledge because it cannot be communicated through the indirect medium of money” (p.46).
b) Knowledge is not private poverty. In place of this, it should be free to benefit the whole society.
4. But the author set the following questions: Is there an alternative to capitalism? Is there an alternative to the exploitation and misery? Does an alternative exist to the situation in which human beings and nature are treated as a means to achieve profit?
He responds that since the capitalism’s origin there was opposition to the changes caused by this. He talks about Tomas Moro’s Utopia, of the attempts to build cooperatives in the nineteenth century - where the construction of a socialist island amid a sea of capitalism was the main objective - until Karl Marx’s idea of a free association of producers:
«In the society of associate producers that Marx envisioned, the all-sided development of the people would be based upon “The subordination of their communal, social productivity as their social wealth”. Here the increased productivity would not come at the expense of workers. But, it would translate both into satisfaction of needs and also the possibility of free time - which “corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc. Development of the individuals in time set free and with the means created, for all of them” (...) Al the spring of cooperative wealth would flow more abundantly, and the products of this society of freely associated producers would be human beings able to develop the full potential in a human society » (p. 58).
In addition, the way in which we can achieve such society is:
«Look to what working people is doing, Marx argued, through their own struggles to satisfy their needs (...) they reveal that the battle for a new society is conducted by struggling within capitalism rather than by looking outside. In those struggles, workers come to recognize their common interest. They come to understand the necessity to join together against capital. It was not simply the formation of a bloc opposed to capital that emerges out of these struggles. Marx consistently stressed that, very process of struggle was process of producing people in an altered way; in struggling for their needs, “they acquired a new need - the need for society - and what appears as means becomes and end”. They transform themselves into subjects capable of altering the world» (p. 58 y 59).
5. Socialist thought must go into practice, and in order to accomplish this, the following must be considered:
a) To gain control of the state through democratic means (as this was the case of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela)
b) The negative effects caused by capitalism on society are not changed immediately; at the beginning, the socialist society will have defects like self interest and racism
c) Those negative effects must be removed through a new man and woman
d) Those men and women are only built through their own activity
e) We must change the meaning of producing; ‘produce’ is not only to produce commodities. But rather to produce the full development of human beings
f) Socialism in each country must be built according to their particular characteristics, i.e. their different correlation of forces, their different historical characters, and so on.
6. In socialist society, participation in decision-making and management of enterprises by workers are primary features. However, that does not mean problems do not exist. The author addresses the problems that have occurred in the self-management of enterprises in the former Yugoslav 50 year ago, such as the division of labor, competition among enterprises, business efficiency, responsibility to the unemployed, pensioners, etc.
7. One can find several points that have been addressed in the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where the full development potential of every human being is the main goal, where new men and women are building a new kind of knowledge:
«Here too, was a vision of the new Bolivarians subjects producing themselves - both in the political sphere ("the participation of the people in forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective"), and in the economic sphere (" self - management, co-management, cooperatives of all forms, including those of a financial nature, savings funds, community enterprises and other forms of associations guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity "). This is a constitution that demands a "democratic, participatory and protagonistic" society, a constitution whose principle is the full development of human beings as subjects is based upon their “active, conscious and joint participation in the processes of social transformation embodied in the values which are part of the national identity "» (p. 89)
Michael Lebowitz also points out the way Venezuela has accomplished this for the past 30 years. He says that the Venezuelan economy is based on oil, the enjoyment of oil revenues by political parties , the imposition of neoliberal reforms in the 1980s, and the popular rebellion named Caracazo, until the democratic election of Hugo Chavez in 1998.
The author speaks too about Hugo Chavez’s belief of a third way, about the coup’ etat in 2002, the general lockout in 2002-2003, the recall to the referendum in 2004, until to say that the Venezuelan society through the own fighting has been transformed herself:
"And this radical endogenous development was further understood as involving a radical transformation of the relations of production of the society. With new relationships based upon the principles of cooperation, solidarity, protagonistic democracy, and collective poverty, poverty would be defeated. You can not end poverty, Chavez regularly repeated, without giving power to the poor”. (p. 101)".
So, socialism during the twenty-first century must be based in a communal system of production and consumption. In this, production is represented in companies of Social Production (EPS) and the Commune Councils. President Hugo Chavez says:
"We have to create a communal system of production and consumption, a new system... Let us remember what Archimedes said, ‘You give me an intervention point and I will move the world.’ This is the point from which to move the world today.” (p.108)