Abraham Rotstein, Weekend Notes XXII

From Karl Polanyi
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Weekend Notes (Overview)

Shaw (5)

[2] P. thinks that the Shaw chapter should lead up to the postulate of the reform of human consciousness. That is what the chapter would be based on. It would be at the end and perhaps this could only be done by a poet who was 100 years old.

The Shavian consciousness is based on the consciousness of the reality of the society. One would have to watch out for the Eastern philosophy (The Simpleton of the U.I.)

Shaw wanted us to know that he had taken his wisdom from Marx. Is that so? He wasn't a believer in democracy. […]

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Text in English to type

Shaw's anti-democracy may be a step towards the reality of society [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]

Paul Medow (2)

[23] Paul has used Schumpeter's second chapter of his theory of economic development and applied it to two neo-mercantilist countries, Japan and Russia.


In ethics he wants to use Fromm's and P.'s position on the market and in economics he wants to establish Schumpeter.

[…] A.F. Burns in the Rockefeller report uses Schumpetarian economics … […]

[24] … Adam Smith … Mandeville, the becs, [25] [26] [27]

Freedom and Technology (14)

[28] One is thrown back on the reality of society. Both the freedom question and the technological question involve the question of what is society.

The reality of it runs over the recognition that we cannot contract out. […]

Jaspers gives support to the idea of our civilization being technological but doesn't link to the freedom.[1]

Our argument runs over the incoherence of our value system … […]

P. would like to use the Jaspers but the curious thing is it hardly comes near our subject. It is all abstract and vague. On the social history of the machine, he thinks that technology is [29] mankind's second breath and will last for another six thousand years. P. believes this.

It would have to be written that the technological civilization cannot go on as it is forever and we need a society which can stop technological progress and science. A market system cannot do this and is utterly hopeless. (One must be careful not to cut across the next fifty to one hundred years and go on to two hundred and fifty years. We should keep our on the ground).

The question is where these thoughts take you. Even today, such ideas as Konnan's take you to setting limits to the technological civilization, e.g. the idea that it's okay for the Russians to proceed on this line but we had enough.

The idea of the West something to the rest of the world and how to industrialize would make some sense for 1958. Owen never got beyond 1838. We cannot carry our ideas too far in any ne direction because then we would not be able to have the total argument of the book which would be weighty.

One would certainly hope that the Asiatic world would build better than we and advance by one step.

P. sees that the G.T. is one the few books of an enlightened character for nationalism.

We regard socialism as a matter of humanism. This is a theological, but Owen expresses it with tremendous force although he is a rational atheist. Also Marx takes the same position and so does Hippolyte.

[30] Humanism however, is much broader than socialism and might even be conservative.

P. would like, in the Marx chapter which he is writting, to make clear the world importance of the present situation: freedom and the reality of society and the relationship to technological civilization.

This incidentally clarifies the Owen, Hegel, Marx and Shaw positions as having a relevance to freedom in a technological civilization, while the connection of these great thinkers is presented in a simple form.

That G.B.S. was a socialist is fortunate, but it was primarily justice he was after, and a genuine full of life. He thinks you might have it more easily in a different type of society. P. doesn't know. It is a good idea to have a great poet artist and writer to show what one is talking about.

With Marx, … […]

Owen keeps to the machine and postulates … […]

At this point Marx … […]

[31] In what sense does Marx partly elaborate and partly contradict Owen? He included Owen in his Hegelianism which is how he got to history. We would end by proving in the early Marx that he was attempting a reality of society and this leaves the question over for Shaw etc. Between Owen and Marx (who added Owen to Hegel) we have an argument.

We do nothing but exploit our Owen and fix Marx in relation … […]

Owen's strong side is technology rather than freedom se we take up technology. In the Marx chapter we would take up the idea that it is not realized how much the 19th century owes to Owen. He was prophetic when he said the machine might cause serious trouble.

But it is less clear how much Marx owed to the other side. Owen had serious ideas on the nature of the transformation and the reality of society hinges on this and it is no contradiction to say that Owen was vague on freedom.

In Marx freedom is strong. German idealistic philosophy was about nothing else and he used Hegel.

This permits us to take up the social history of the machine on the one hand and freedom on the other.

Owen did have valuable ideas on the social transformation, namely the transition and the change in the value system.

Moving to Marx there is the human content and he linked it [32] to Hegel. In Marx the transformation of society is really based on a religion of humanism and society … […]

Engel's idea of necessity is from several angles a quibble.

Marx never … […]

Marx put everything on history … […]

Has freedom been safely transmitted … […]

The Borkenau book on Marx (in German)[2] only goes back to the theses of Feuerbach but they block this problem.

We might … […]

The problem of socialism is high on the optical list and the capacity of North America … […]

[33] Owen proposed socialism without tears. He raises two questions: technology and the moral question. … […]

We start with the technological civilization which is something concrete … […]

Owen said “society” and that is a moral change and the machine forces it.

To Hegel Marx added British socialism and the working class movement. (Owen means something in England. Here nothing means anything.)

We drew a portrait of Owen because … […]

We are safe as long as the problem of socialism … […][3] [35] history of the last hundred and fifty years. […]

[36] But other aspects come up which make their appearance. The purely ethical definition of the market theorem as developed in the Great Transformation may be much more topical than we thought. […]

Insofar as we can develop the subject, alienation and reification can be presented in a far simpler form - socialist humanism.

[37] It does mean that if we started from the malaise in Western civilization and formulated it as the question of freedom we find that the technological civilization raises philosophical and religious questions of a grave kind. … […]

Otherwise P. says that it's only possible to write the two subjects together: one is restricted to the philosophical-religious thesis and the other would hinge on the political East-West issues on which we don't have much to say. But if we take the planetary problem and the question of how far they are moving to a restricted industrialisation we can see how far this raises the question of East and West. While they want industrialization they are suspicious of our culture and civilization. The way our economy is placed in society makes the question of industrialization an intolerable risk. […]

We offer… […]

P. fears that we would get such a grand solution that everything is solved and history might end.

This would be much more… […] The reality of society [38] would be a permanent element in the picture but what is surprising is that it would be an exposition of the meaning of socialism under new angles.


The Asian revolution is in P.'s view the most important thing [39] in this […]


My question: On what grounds do we drop the profit motive?

With Owen it was humanism but it was short of the economism of Marx. Marx was not at all safe against the economistic interpreation of industry. […]

[40] The East lived for centuries with their great families through usury… […]

[41] […]

To put freedom as a Christian problem is very dangerous. The point is that the West suffers so much from loss of freedoms because it is freedom-oriented.

P. doesn't… […]

[42] Our subject, if you relate it to the world scene transcende Russia and the U.S. but it has a great deal to do with East and West. It is not Russia that is behind this, but in order to understand what is going on we have to get her out of the way. […]

Socialism is brought in on the ground floor. […]

It is not so much humanism. There is theological problem. If you start at man you are soon at God (man writ large) if you start at Good you soon are at Man. Therefore P. is not sure that humanism is the best and surest term. It is used by everyone from the counter-revolution to the party reformers. The bourgeoisie said they were socialist in the ethical sense. That is exactly what they were not. The acceptance of the reality of society and its organization has to be ethical. This is exactly what bourgeoisie don't accept.

When P. wrote the Commentary article]], he knew he was going far beyond and in taking up the technological civilization he transcended the problem of capitalism. Unless we do we cannot discuss the West and East. P. doesn't have in the reality of society section in the article that technology clinches it. P. hadn't decided for it at that time.

The market system was the only means by which machines could be used. This fatefully distorted the picture of man although we believed [43] it was a picture of market society. The Great Transformation theorem is repeated here in a more topical way. The necessity is related to technology which he accepts.

P. has the feeling that it can easily be understood that a technological civilization is though and restrictive. But to say freedom as Christian metaphysical freedom, is more difficult to understand and accept because not everybody need agree. […]

My question: Do we give substantive content to the new view?

That is where Owen, Marx and Shaw come it. What we need is an anchor for the technology element. […]

When P. wrote the C. article 12 years ago he said that we are faced with the technological civilization and it seemed then very daring. Today starting from a dogmatically circumscribed interpretation [44] makes it easier than the metaphysical… […]

P. would include the socialist position by saying that the market economy… […]

On freedom and technology there is not enough to say except something intuitive. You can say something about technology and say something about socialism which comes up as a change in the market system. This means Owen, Marx, Shaw and the East.


[45] The chronology of the problem is that the industrial revolution is the beginning of the complaints about society. The moral change is breaking away from the profit motive. […]

P. doesn't think that we should identify moral change with the reform of consciousness… […]

The introduction would start from technology but would instantly proceed to the idea that adjustment to this involves reshaping human consciousness. The moral part is introduced by our criticism of the market.

The freedom problem must be dealt with as only one aspect of the general problem of a technological civilization. […]

[46] […]

In our introduction we must have a clear idea of what we mean by ethical motive. This is more honour status and prestige than anything else. It is being selfless if that makes you a fool (i.e. a useless person.) We might introduce "leiturgies” - self-assumed honorific duties. They are note necessarily self-assumed. Societies may introduce them whether he rich like it or not.

Marx (5)

[47] [46] [48] [49] [50] [51] [52] [53] [54] [55] [56]

Robert Owen (8)

[57] One cannot overlook the Gotha program affair. M.P. has an article in Encounter and it is on the Gotha program - the distinction of communism and socialism and the transition. The whole is Owenite and is of the greatest interest.

The discovery was overlooked that it was his thoughts that determined the ideology and program of the social democratic world and passed into communism and made a realistic idea. That was the transition to socialism for society as a whole and secondly that the success would hinge on that part which was socialized. That hinges on the Villages of Union. Nobody thought of this meaning of it and this must be said.

We attach a very great importance to this idea. It is one of the idea that was most fruitful in the history of socialism. It completely contradicts the discussion of Owen as a Utopian.

Owen said that the machine would have to be carefully watched – how much machine and what kind of machine. Perhaps we could start with the sentence on being favourable toward the machine and at the same time not letting it get out of hand.

On the freedom question one cannot come up with Owen. He thought that Christianity was individualizing man. But today we see that we have to individualize man up to a point. We can’t follow Owen there. Owen was disgusted. The church said that the poor were responsible for their own situation. He knew what unemployment was. They hadn’t the faintest idea what it was and he said it was absurd [58] to put it on the poor themselves. His sense of justice revolted. Owen will set the essentially of direction for the next 100 years. I would see this if I were at home in the history of the socialist movement e.g. Lenin and the Erfurt program. This hinges on the Owen and cannot be treated in an elliptic and aphoristic way.

P. has definite assumptions on where the Owen leaves us. This is an awe-inspiring test – that the only way to test the reality of society is to carry it to its limits. It is an idea of extraordinary daring.

Paul says that socialism is moral issue and the Asiatic people don’t accept the idea of our amoralism. The Great Transformation formulates socialism as a question of humanism.

It was Adam Smith who followed up the idea or private vices being public goods. He got this from Mandeville, the story of the bees who took it from Hobbes with the idea of the wolves. Private vices then work out to be public good and the wolves and bees represent the bourgeois capitalist. The Bast doesn’t accept this. (Above idea included in Paul Medow).

Harriet Martineau said that Owen can’t explain his position, he hasn’t the gift. But she understood he wasn’t saying what he really meant which P. sees. If one says that Owen was a friend of both the machine and humanism it is the starting point of Marx. He favoured the machine and a human society. [59] Then how will we come to the social history of the machine and technology? Perhaps P. will start where Owen leaves us. He said that great evils would come of the machine. P. would start from this thing in Owen and add that he saw in socialism the answer and those two together were extremely prophetic but P. would go on on the machine.

The second chapter might well be how decisive Own was as a prophet. Owen stood both for the machine and a human society.

Owen thought that there two novelties – not only the machine but the market. Capitalism came with the machine. There is the difficulty. Owen said you have the machine and the infernal system. The machine should be stopped and the system stopped. Owen could not have protested about both unless they came together, the machine and capitalism. Owen dealt with the uncontrolled development of the machine and its commercial use which had started in business life. Commercial organization would have to change in its moral foundations.

The second plan was never understood or analyzed. It is true when he said there would be no change of system involved (no basic change needed) it made him appear as either a fool or liar but he was neither one nor the other. His proposals were in the frame of what we call capitalism. They have the signs of hard thinking not smooth phrasing. The effect of the latter of hard thinking not smooth phrasing. The effect of the latter is slickness and it passed over. There is no wisdom without tears.

It is quite certain that Marx took it from here when he was [60] caught out on the Gotha program and didn’t know how to deal with it and said there must be a transition. (Towards Communism). In doing that he showed a great understanding of Owen. He is out and out rationalistic on the point of view of the individual.

Everybody was sure about his income, whether it pays or doesn’t pay and all this comes out of profits. I can complete the Owen in an afternoon or evening.

Interdisciplinary Project (9)

[61] [62] [63] [64] [65] [66]

Metaphysics of Everyday Life (2)

[67] [68] [69]

Comments on my "Not by Organization Alone", Draft #4

[70] [71] [72]


"The Capitalist Manifesto" (2)



Adam Smith


Editor's notes

  1. See Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, München & Zürich, 1949.
  2. Franz Borkenau, Karl Marx. Auswahl und Einleitung, Frankfurt am Main und Hamburg, Fischer Bücherei, 1956.
  3. p. 34 is a little sheet of paper with “Essence of” and “The Early Marx” written.

Text Informations

Date: April 27 - May 4, 1958 (Interview)
KPA: 45/18