Centrist reason versus socialist reason: the principle of planning



One of the failures of the western Left is to let the language of reason and logic to be recuperated and dominated by  “centrist” types and  pro-market ideologues. Indeed, a common stereotype levelled against  the leftist is the one of an idealist whose heartstrings are easily pulled but who cannot come up with a realistic, empirical alternative. The label “centrist”, which is a broad, almost empty signifier that includes Justin Trudeau,  Obama, and   Youtube demagogues/cranks such as Peterson or Sargon de Akkad,   usually connotes  tempered and well-read individuals that oppose the backwardness of the conservative right but also the idealism of the left, and instead pose themselves as the pragmatic, empirically verified, scientific option.  Yet, these centrists are usually motivated by quite vulgar and ideological motivations, from defending the status quo as the best situation available for humanity, deploying liberal arguments about the naturalness of market relations, to hysterics about how “postmodern net-marxists” are threatening freedom of speech and science.  Centrists, by painting themselves as the reasonable, logical, and scientific option,  have more or less succeeded in portraying the Left at best as idealistic, at worst unhinged and irrational.  Furthermore, the Left has its own (quite valid and partially right) criticism of enlightenment, “instrumental reason”, and scientism, and this often makes the Left seem anti-modernist and skeptical of the possibility of a rational/scientific approach to politics.

Yet this perception of the Left as “irrational” and “hysterical” is simply the culmination of the century long ideological assault against the workers’ movement. Once upon a time, socialists elevated reason and science in order to oppose the spooks of religion, nationalism, and the anarchy of the market, and instead fight for the rational organization of society that would provide for everyone’s needs, as opposed to the capitalist system which is an irrational,  aleatory, blind idiot-god  that is not consciously planned and therefore unable to efficiently satisfy social need.  Modern leftist thinkers are right about criticizing this naive conception of reason – that there is an objective, technocratic truth that exists above and beyond politics and ideologies. Furthermore, this fetish of “reason” has been employed to plunder, annihilate and dominate peoples who imperialists deemed “less rational” than the western, white man. However,  there is still space for a more nuanced, useful conception of “socialist rationality”, which was pioneered by Marx and Engels  and best fleshed out in Engels’ pamphlet “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, and later on developed by the workers’ movement. This scientific socialism is composed of two parts: (i) a desire to transform the  opaque and chaotic capitalist economy into a rationally planned, socialist economy, and (ii) an understanding of slow-moving, historical averages that reveal the class structures of the modern capitalist world, and  how this historical averages  must be transcended by a socialist political program.

This socialist reason therefore stands diametrically opposite to centrist reason, the latter which is the ideology of the present technocratic/professional elite who justify the present state of things (market oriented, liberal democracy, private property) as the best “pragmatic” possibility for a just, humane world, using a combination of vulgar empiricism (things “appear” to be better than the alternative), data-centric approaches,  demagogues with good “resumes” (Obama, Clinton), and mathematical toy models (e.g. “bourgeois” economics).    All these professional reason manufacturers will always defend their positions as the most realistic and pragmatic approach to satisfy social needs (education, food, shelter, infrastructure, leisure time).

Yet, the mortal flaw of this centrist rationality is that the laws of motion of capitalism are not about satisfying human need, but about expanding capital and generating profit in a very random and chaotic way. Social need, if it is  ever satisfied, is always done in an ad-hoc manner, as an indirect by-product of capital growth and immense waste.  So, after a mountain of obsolete smart phones, immense misery in the developing world, huge amounts of vacant condos, raising the average temperature of the Earth for a couple of degrees celsius, irrational and unplanned urban sprawl, homelessness, bullshit administrative and paper-pushing jobs, mass under-employment, and a 40+ hour work week,  capitalist dynamics may sometimes lead to the cure of a particular illness and some people (not even the world’s majority) having their material needs met. In other words, these centrist technocrats claim to use “instrumental reason” to achieve social good, yet, they choose to defend a system  where social good is not the priority, but an inefficient, convoluted by-product of a random-walk that sometimes happens to come up with electric cars in spite of damning the mass of the world into wage-slavery and ecological apocalypse.

The workers’ movement used to be very conscious of this irrational aspect of capitalism, and since the early 19th century, they sought socialist economic planning as a way to solve capitalist irrationalities.  The early utopian socialists, such as Owen, Fourer, and Saint-Simon,  imagined rational, planned economies that would be enforced by either  future enlightened rules or convincing the elite with argumentation.  Later on, Marx and Engels realized that the principle of economic planning will not come from appeals to rulers, but through the democratic, political struggle of the working class.   One of the  most lucid exponent of the contradiction between the irrational,  capitalist “law of value” and rational, socialist “principle of planning” was the early soviet economist Preobrazhensky, who saw the socialist imposition of reason into the economy as diametrically opposite to capitalist randomness, and therefore saw the necessity of a world, planned economy, for the survival of socialism, otherwise the aleatory irrationality of capital would engulph and destroy the “planning principle” if the latter was contained within the boundaries of the nation-state.

Socialist reason therefore is the impetus of making the economy rational and intelligible to human need. Furthermore, socialist reason is coupled with a scientific understanding of slow changing, historical averages that define the present moment; this historical understanding includes the intelligibility of the social classes that make up the capitalist world, and the geopolitical structuring of the core and the periphery. This socialist reason contrasts to the unambitious, ahistorical “centrist reason” that only considers the now, and is blind to the slow changing, historical averages that define the class stratification of the world – averages that are flattened out and erased through the vulgar empiricism of scatter plots and tables.  Another example of historically illiterate “centrism” is the idea that women are under-represented in STEM due to biological issues, where hundreds of years of gendered history are collapsed into a lousy correlation of a couple of variables.

To summarize, socialist reason is: (i) the principle of economic planning for social need, and (ii) consciousness of slow changing, historical averages. Contrasting this approach to centrist and technocratic reason truly unmasks centrism as an ideology masqueraded by performative appeals to credentials, math and science.

6 thoughts on “Centrist reason versus socialist reason: the principle of planning

  1. This is a very good response to the many comments that I made on the previous post. A small quible is, is the capitaltist economy random, or is it the result of plans made by banksters and military pranksters?
    I ugess that it could be a combination of the two. Humanist/humanitarian rationality is certianly not part of the process.
    An obvious question is why has humanity not done better than it has? Given that humanity is divided by many hundreds of langages, and each language is kind of a planet on to itself as the people who speak a language share a history of both fiction and non fiction literature that is different from every other language, given that the planet is divided in to around 200 countries each with its own political and economic history, and given that the planet is divided in to at least a half a dozen major religions or philosophies and that each of these major groups is divided in to hundreds of sub groups, it is not at all hard to understand why we have not been able to reach a planetary consensus other than the one that we have.
    The one world order that we have can kick socialist rationality off the world stage because it is so much easier to implement. That capitalism has become the global default setting is because from a command and control stand point it is a virus or perhaps a simple bacteria compared with something that is very technological but also breaks down very easily. A system such as global socialism can break down any time there is a big disagreement. Not that every disagreement would break it down. But, the number of possible disagreements is really large. Capitalism (free markets) obviously do not operate by consensus, or even simple majortiy rule. It operates just fine with out either of those things.
    So a planetary doctor would need to know how to defeat this virus or bacteria if the patient is going to be saved. Perhaps to do that it would help to consider the planet’s social institutions as something like the organs of a human body. Here is a list of some that I think that I have identified.
    1.) Governments. We can kind of think of this as the brain. Just as our human brains have different parts so to do governments. I will digress a bit though from the standard model of government. The standard model as taught in the USA is that the military is subordinate to the government. Since I am convinced that at least in the USA the government is subordinate to the military I have to suspect that this could be true everywhere. So one could perhaps list the military as a seperate organ or one could understand it as the dominate part of the government (brain).
    2.) The banking, insurance, and stock market industry. Some put real estate in this category. They call it FIRE for Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. I myself think that whether or not real estate gets included depends on how narrowily one thinks of Real Estate.
    3.) Religious institutions
    4.) Media institutions
    5.) Educational institutions (overt educational institutions)
    6.) Industrial associations (Organizations that collectively promote the collective goals of potential
    7.) Worker’s Unions
    Then of course there would be a massive number of corporations that operate on either a national or international level in every field of human activity. I suppose that one could list all of these different activities from agriculture to Transportation and everything in between.
    CAN YOU MS./MR. Phd candidate identify any more organs of the planetary body?
    So which if any of these organs working to to create harmony in the world? If an organ is not doing its job properly can we assume that it has been corrupted by the virus or bacteria? If so do we need to know how the organ was corrupted?
    Can we perhaps compare the 7 billion people on the planet to the cells of an organism? If we could would we say that the cells of the organs were the first ones infected and that they infected the rest of the cells with the virus or would we say that the virus or bacteria was always present from the creation of the very first cell and that its growth has waxed and waned over the course of time depending on environmental conditions?

    Is the current condition of our patient now serious, critical, or grave? Can any measures be taken to revese the course of the disease? If so what are the chances that these measures will be successful?

    On the previous post I wrote some comments about the pills that could be used to effectively treat the patient if they are (were) taken in time. But if the brain of the patient does not order the arm of the patient to pick up the pills and drop them in to the mouth such a comment was useless.

    So how do we convince the brain to comply when it is composed of infected cells and since many of the other organs are also defective the body is not taking the neccessary measures to replace or repair those defective infected brain cells?
    Clearly some other kind of measures are neccessary to treat the symptoms of the diseased organs just to get the brain to respond to take the pills neccessary to to treat the body. I hope that you, PHD candidate, have some good ideas about how to introduce some antibotics in to the organs of the body. Sadly if we are dealing with a virus antibiotics will not help. Action has been taken to late. An immunization was required long ago.


    1. I thought of another type of planetary organ, social clubs such as fraternaties and sororities, and secular clubs such as the Freemasons. Religiously connected social clubs though like the Knights of Columbus should probably be seen as part of a religous organ not a social organ. Or ??


  2. This is false:

    “The label “centrist”, which is a broad, almost empty signifier that includes Justin Trudeau, Obama, and Youtube demagogues/cranks such as Peterson or Sargon de Akkad”

    None of those people are centrists. The center isn’t any more broad or empty than the left or right is.


  3. With this summary of socialist reason I think that PHD candidate has summed up pretty much everything important. I wonder how long it will be until he runs out of things to write about. Or, until he starts repeating himself over and over again, like me, and Stan and Louis and Juan and on and on. New things seldom come up anymore. Bitcoin being the the last thing that is actually new. Well unless we want to count the strange story of the US government workers aledgedly being attacked by some sort of brain damaging process in Cuba. I do not know what to think about that story because it sounds so unbelievable.


  4. I’m unsure if you’ve read Adorno’s lectures on Kant, but they end up discussing this topic in a roundabout way: Adorno argues that there are two contradictory views of rationality in Kant: the judging, critical, abstract reason; and the subjective, lived reason. Equally, there are two sides to Kant’s philosophical apparatus, the utopian, enlightenment project that hopes to lead to a rational world, and the anti-enlightment, dogmatic side, that wants to restrict the power of rationality and reduce it to certain projects but not others. What makes the analysis complicated is that the two groupings are not evenly divided: the utopian aspect is found in both the authoritative and subjective forms of reason; the dogmatic, however, is mainly in the abstract reason. The critique of reason starts out as a utopian project, to be able to understand our own capabilities, but, due to his assumptions, it becomes an authoritarian force which restricts those abilities and punishes their desire to reach beyond what it deems to be a justifiable scope. Adorno’s reading (cuz he’s a marxist) is that this is representative of bourgeois society’s contradictory impulses as a whole, that this attempt to restrict the very thing that can free us is deeply imbedded in capitalist society; in arguing for the left to “be rational;” the implicit assumption is that the rational assumption is that humans are not capable of proper rationality. (The classic “Marx forgot about human nature,” essentially).

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