It is time for socialists to reclaim the concept of progress. Progress means improvement. Under the hegemonic impact of capital, however, the concept has been steered into a narrowly instrumental/technological groove, with disastrous consequences. First-epoch socialism did not challenge this understanding but rather bought into it, thinking to overtake capitalism on its own turf. All this has led many people to view “progress” as something to be avoided. Such a response is understandable but self-defeating. A merely negative approach affords no basis on which to challenge the status quo. It moreover forfeits to the enemy a term which, despite almost two centuries of misuse, retains its positive connotation — as in the phrase “making progress” — of change in a desired direction.
Our task, then, must be to radically alter people’s sense of what genuine progress would entail. This requires us, first, to review the current status of “progress” under conditions of capitalist hyper-development; second, to comment on the technological contradictions of first-epoch socialism; and third, to sketch the contours of an authentically socialist technology.
Within capitalist society, progress has come to be widely understood in terms of increased levels of information and the improved execution of particular tasks (e.g., producing or moving things more quickly; targeting military objectives or establishing genetic connections more precisely).2 Even generalized notions of progress seem to involve no more than an aggregation of such particular attainments. Thus, the greatest progress is identified with the most advanced and sophisticated machinery, irrespective of what effects it might be having either on the human species or on the natural world as a whole.
Such effects, it is further believed, may be either good or bad, depending on how the technology is used.3 This claim of technological neutrality is indeed one of capital’s strongest ideological props, and it has sharply divided the ranks of capitalism’s critics. Even within Marx’s own writings, one can readily find arguments for both condemning and accepting what in his time were the new forces of production. Thus on the one hand these forces stripped the workers of their humanity, but on the other, Marx found it necessary, in distancing himself from the Luddites, to distinguish sharply between the machinery itself and “its employment by capital.”4
It is futile to ask what might have happened if, following out the Luddite scenario, capitalist industrialization had been stopped in its tracks. What is important for us now is that, once capitalism and its chronic upheavals were launched, their creative and their destructive aspects advanced together. One might well argue at any stage, of course, that the stunting or killing of human beings and the corrosion of natural goods far outweighed the benefits of whatever production took place; but from another angle — and I don’t mean that of capital — it could also be claimed that people were nonetheless brought together in new ways and thereby became capable of tapping, through countless channels, new sources of creativity and self-affirmation (both individual and collective).5
Drawing the balance between these two sets of considerations has always been deeply problematic. Even if we do not question the culpability of capital (which becomes the more glaring the more we extend our gaze to take in the entire world), it remains true that the self-affirming or subversive response has often been overshadowed by some form of at least partial accommodation with capitalist “consumer society.” This kind of twofold trajectory has marked progressive social movements from the beginning, resulting in situations where the gains of certain constituencies appear partly to offset the further degradation of others. How are we to weigh, for example, the improved legal status of women in some of the advanced countries against the consolidation of ruling-class impositions (economic/military/penal) on popular movements throughout the world? Obviously, the repercussions of capitalist rule are sufficiently vast to encompass certain emancipatory trends. This does not mean that the opportunities at stake could have been seized without purposeful counter-hegemonic action (in this instance, on the part of radical women’s movements), but it does explain why some of the outcomes (e.g., women entering top-management positions) do not necessarily feed into a growth in revolutionary awareness.
Yet however hard it may be to gauge the extent to which progressive movements are thus coopted, our more important concern has to be with whether the underlying adaptive capacity of the established order is maintaining or losing its force. Here there is much more to be said, for even if many — especially among the members of newly assimilated groups — may be slow to question the system, the accumulating grounds for popular misgivings are evident. Some of these are of long standing, like the increasing commodification of all human activity.6 The desperation of the world’s poorer regions has of course accelerated sharply in recent years. But even for those populations most favored by capitalist development, faith in “progress” has been severely undercut by its military applications: the massive slaughter of human beings, culminating in the specter of nuclear annihilation. More recently, as the nuclear war danger receded in imminence, it was quickly reinforced by two threats which further strengthen the negative view of “progress”: economic insecurity and environmental devastation.
Capitalism has always tended to inflict personal economic insecurity on the working class, but this “normal” tendency had been significantly attenuated in the industrialized countries — if not by the welfare state, then at least by the establishment of labor unions. It is only in relation to this latter sector that there is any social novelty in the latest round of capitalist technological breakthroughs. Layoffs, even among formerly well-off workers, have now become so routine that the very notion of a lifetime job is, for most people, a thing of the past.7 Behind this development lies not only the pressure of competition — and in some cases mergers — but also a more general application of the capitalist drive for total control (encompassing human as well as material factors of production), a drive which has been found at times to supersede short-run considerations of cost and efficiency.8
The relentless substitution of technology for workers, along with the underlying striving for control, carries over directly into the environmental practices of capitalist enterprise. The price of mechanization and of increased labor-productivity is exacted in the form of “externalities.” At an immediate level, this sometimes just means wasteful procedures applied by poorly trained personnel. More systematically, it appears in the guise of a heavier-than-necessary dependence on capital goods and fuel, and in a calculated indifference to the spread of toxic wastes.9
Increasingly too, however, the control-imperative extends beyond the workplace to invade the actual use made of the product by its purchasers. Such has been the application of genetic engineering to agriculture, one of the few sectors that had retained, until very recently, a modest sphere of productive activity outside the capitalist market. This last autonomous sphere is now in turn slated for destruction, through the development of technologies, contractual arrangements, and patenting practices designed to assure that no step of the production process could be carried out free of corporate control. The ultimate expression of this corporate sweep is the “terminator gene,” which, when introduced into a seed, assures the non-renewability of the crop.10 Here, in some ways even more transparently than with nuclear weaponry, is the reductio ad absurdum of capitalist-driven technological innovation: an invention that has a purely negative use-value, with no other purpose than to multiply sales.
The “terminator” technology is an extreme case of capital’s contempt for natural processes. The more routine expression of this contempt lies in capital’s underlying commitment to growth, accumulation, and profit.11 Much has been made, in recent years, of capital’s supposed capacity to respond to the ecological crisis by turning its powers in a “green” direction. This is a clear instance, however (comparable to capital’s earlier accommodation with labor unions), of making a virtue out of necessity. Whatever ecologically progressive measures might be taken by particular enterprises, the bigger picture remains unchanged. In the realm of consumer demand, ecological criteria (e.g., the preference for organic food) correspond to a niche market, which does not preclude applying contrary criteria in the rest of the economy. In the corporate sector as a whole, while it is true that certain energy-saving practices might directly enhance profitability,12 the main stimulus to corporate “greening” derives from external factors (e.g., public pressure, fiscal incentives, government regulations). To the degree that any notion of global environmental emergency has seeped into corporate awareness, it manifests itself mainly in expressions of hope as to what others will do. The disaster-insurance business is the one sector that has encouraged — within limits, of course — the development of serious ecological alternatives. But the ostensible greening of the corporate outlook as such is no more than a public relations posture.13 Above all, not only the corporations but also capitalist governments, without exception, remain fully committed to an overall strategy of growth.
The capitalist pursuit of “progress” thus continues unabated, combining old and new objectives. The scenario of international competition remains essentially the same, despite transient shifts of fortune from one zone to another. The only unqualified change is that the competing units — whether regional trade groups or corporate conglomerates — get bigger all the time. Oil exploration disrupts the most fragile ecosystems, while the underlying geopolitics ignites periodic military attacks and sustains long-term strategies of domination. Stakeouts of “intellectual property rights” threaten to batter down the last ramparts of natural or local autonomy.14 Financial officials from all the powerful countries seek an international regime of untrammeled prerogatives for private capital.15 Currency speculation proliferates, at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable regions.16 New “information age” technologies replace one another at an accelerating pace.17 “Everlasting uncertainty and agitation” has never been more prevalent. And, all the while, a combination of greed, projection, and fear generates chronic pressure for higher military budgets.
The regimes of first-epoch socialism, beginning with Soviet Russia, raised the possibility of formulating a socialist conception of progress. In the early years of the Soviet Union, thanks in part to the influence of communist visions but in part also to the goal of overcoming Russia’s economic and social backwardness, the notion of progress retained a moral component which had long since been forgotten in the capitalist world. Soviet technological projects were thus, at the outset, just one dimension of a much larger design for the transformation of all aspects of human life.18
Such a comprehensive approach to progress, implicit in the original meaning of the term, would necessarily have to infuse any authentically socialist agenda. In the particular Soviet setting, however, given the military dangers flowing from capitalist encirclement, the official view of technology never ceased to be conditioned by short-term requirements. Hence Lenin’s portentous recourse to “scientific management,” with its corollary of “iron discipline” in the workplace.19 Such methods, as Lenin freely acknowledged, reflected a continuation of capitalist practice.20 The debate on “Socialist man” thus remained compartmentalized. Social and cultural goals were widely discussed, but in a context that did not bear on — or admit the influence of — economic practice. Economic visions, for their part, were left to focus less on the social relations of production than on grandiose construction projects, of which the dream of “people’s palaces on the peaks of Mont Blanc and at the bottom of the Atlantic”21 was only the most extreme case.
Even as such fantasy-dimensions fell away (as visionaries lost ground to bureaucrats), a more general affinity for vast projects persisted, reflecting in part, no doubt, the daunting scope of the Soviet endeavor as a whole. The sheer rapidity of the country’s industrialization both required and elicited, at certain levels, a sense that one was engaged in scaling impossible heights. Despite the intrigue, the bloodshed, and the humiliations of Stalin’s rule, some of this sense remained alive into the postwar era, although by that time its surviving traces were channeled mainly in the most narrowly technological directions, epitomized by space-flights.
Viewing the Soviet period as a whole prompts a number of reflections pertinent to any future socialist technology. The Soviet regime’s most decisive shortfall, as a technological model, was its failure to breach the authoritarian structure of the productive enterprise.22 The effects of this failure carried over into the bigger economic picture. The error, however, lay not in any rejection of capitalist practice, but rather in not rejecting it enough. With managerial power fully preserved, an enterprise’s success or failure continued to hinge disproportionately on the apparent performance of a single individual. This directly contradicted both the intent and the operation of socialist planning. The corollary to managerial power, in securing plan-fulfillment, was the assignment of financial rewards or penalties to the manager. Such incentives created powerful inducements for managers to try to protect themselves by overstating their input-needs and understating their output-targets, thereby setting in motion an intricate spiral of second-guessing, over-supervision, and corrupt shortcuts.23 Although a planning system was nominally in force, the undemocratic structure of its components — of its outlying units as much as its central body — prevented it from functioning effectively. Capitalist-oriented critics were thus right in pointing to the system’s arbitrariness but wrong in failing to see the roots of this arbitrariness in what had been left untouched from the capitalist past.
A similar pattern of contradiction underlies Soviet performance (and that of most other first-epoch regimes) with regard to the natural environment.24 On the one hand, the same forces that encouraged capitalist-type production relations also led to a bias in favor of breakneck growth. Central planning reinforced the negative environmental impact of this bias to the degree that it encouraged oversized projects and insulated policymakers from local concerns. On the other hand, by partly freeing industry from market constraints, the system may have cushioned some enterprises against pressure toward excessive cost-cutting. Several other factors also tended to mitigate environmentally adverse practices. On the production side, the obligation to maintain full employment reduced some of the incentive to use fuel-intensive labor-saving technologies. In the sphere of consumption, certain of the characteristic energy-wasting pursuits of late capitalism — e.g., those associated with suburbia and advertising — could be avoided. At the same time, an adequate system of social welfare preempted the environmental depredations associated with Third-World poverty. In sum, despite the well known ecological disasters of the Soviet bloc, it is possible to assert (a) that there were positive achievements as well and (b) that these would have been greater were it not for the external threats. Moreover, even the admitted disasters pale in comparison with those inflicted in various parts of the world, since 1945, by U.S. military assaults.25
Overall, first-epoch socialism remained unable to transcend the longstanding capitalist contradiction between technological and social progress. Such technological advances as it made were under the more or less direct stimulus of the capitalist presence, whether in the form of external dangers, financial incentives, or familiar managerial habit. Whatever counteracting influence was exercised by socialist norms was thus typically understood in its negative aspect, i.e., as the refusal to embrace certain technologies that had become commonplace in the capitalist world. In the perspective of Marx’s categories, this resulted in a situation of extreme irony: a system identified with “socialism” came to be viewed as a fetter on the development of productive forces.26 Attacks directed initially at a cumbersome planning process or at insufficient openness to new ideas escalated rapidly during the Gorbachev years (1985-91), so that by the time of his departure, an unabashed return to capitalism came to be seen as a forward rather than a backward step. The associated euphoria in capitalist circles gave an immense spur to capital’s congenital privatizing impulses. After all, if “socialism” had failed, why not do away with all traces of its influence?
The Left’s relatively weak response to this push reflects in part, I think, a hesitance to confront issues of technology. But does this then mean that all possibility of technological advance must be entrusted to capital? Does one socialist failure, even if epochal in scope, mean that no other socialist approach has a chance? Have capitalist relations somehow ceased to constitute a fetter on any technological improvement whatsoever? This can only appear to be true if socialists fail to advance their own technological goals. If we have been slow in doing this, it is partly because not enough of us have grasped the full extent to which the technology developed by capital, far from being neutral, is indeed, no matter who runs it, a preeminently capitalist technology.27
What is socialist technology? It is more than just the technology that happens to prevail in a society that is no longer capitalist. It may also include particular technologies which have existed in the form of only partly developed enclaves within capitalism, enclaves which may in turn bear the traces of precapitalist formations. This is to say that there is no such thing as a technology that is generically and exclusively socialist. What defines a technology (on whatever scale) as socialist is simply its compatibility with — and its ability to further — the overall goals of socialism. Insofar as these goals relate to technology, they emerge clearly from what remained deficient in first-epoch practice, namely, commitment to social equality and to ecological health. A socialist technology, then, is one that is grounded in these two requirements, both of which are served by a more collective approach to production and consumption.28
The ecological component of socialist technology deserves to be underscored. The class power of capital has been based, from the beginning, on unrestricted access to — and often control over — natural as well as human resources.29 The expansion of capitalism has been historically coterminous with its subjection of the natural world. The economic conquest of every country and the private or corporate appropriation of all natural resources go hand in hand. The liberation of a region or the establishment of “protected zones” (e.g., of forest) constitute similar orders of restraint so far as private investors are concerned. More fundamentally, given that human beings are themselves part of the natural world, and that the planet’s carrying capacity has already been reached if not exceeded, the further expansion of capital turns every “natural disaster” into a human disaster. A technology which breaks up biodiversity thus also, by the same token, narrows the scope for human well-being. Given the tougher economic choices that are then imposed, egalitarian criteria increasingly become a condition for our common survival.30
To define a socialist technology in terms of what it must resist or what it may accomplish, however, is only a first step. The more difficult and politically challenging task is that of description. At this point we need to confront the problem of “expertise.” The hegemony of capitalist technology rests not just on its technical feats but also on a whole ideological nexus. Part of this consists in the various patterns of dependence and addiction that the technology fosters, but a big part of it also lies in the assumption that ordinary people are incapable of seriously addressing technological questions. This assumption is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy of capital, rooted in the separation of conception from execution; its rejection is long overdue. I do not mean by this that technical training and expertise are unimportant; obviously they are vital to both discussion and implementation, but this does not make them sufficient to shape actual social choices. No technology that requires people to change their way of life can be implemented unless the people themselves support it. The necessary participatory mechanisms need to be built, but at the same time the consideration and investigation of technological problems has to be promoted until it permeates every level of society.
A technology may be discerned in anything from a single device to a whole network of relations, involving, among other things, machines, resources, producers, and users.31 It also encompasses particular configurations of space, such as patterns of vegetation on agricultural land or the construction layout of communities. The totality of a technology can never be neutral (in terms of its impact on social relations), but this is not necessarily the case for every particular component of the technology. Many if not most devices have a dual potential, conditional upon such questions as how numerous they are, who has access to them, and what impact their production or their use has upon the natural environment and upon human health (mental as well as physical). The automobile, for example, functions in some parts of the world as the almost exclusive vehicle for local travel. In this capacity, its virtues from the standpoint of capital and its disastrous impact from the standpoints of resource-use, health, and community are sufficiently well known.32 This does not mean, however, that the device itself is without positive potential; it means only that it must be severely circumscribed: reduced in numbers by one or two orders of magnitude, denied entry to certain zones, and placed at the disposal of a given individual or group only in accordance with certain well-defined and socially egalitarian guidelines.
The alternative technologies to that of the automobile already exist at the level of devices but not yet at the contextual level. There are bicycles, for instance, but not enough people use them routinely because the distances are too great or the routes are unsafe. There are train and bus services, but not of sufficient scope or quality to accommodate needs that go beyond those satisfied by bicycles. Relative prices to the user also come into play, as do cultural preferences (e.g., the whole complex of impulses associated with being “in the driver’s seat”). All such conditioning factors, however habitual or unconscious they might have become, reflect deliberate policy made at some level, whether by private or public entities (or by some combination of the two). It is important to stress that the overall technology is very much affected by decisions or assumptions which, on the face of it, are not at all “technological,” for example, the very idea that one’s day-to-day physical mobility should depend on one’s clearing a threshold of age, dexterity, or money, or the very idea of traffic flow as a process that routinely requires the intervention of the criminal justice system.
To call attention to such contextual conditions is not to downplay the more narrowly technological issues; it is only to indicate that they cannot be usefully debated except with the larger setting in mind. In the present case, such issues clearly come into play in connection with the quality of the trains and buses. For example, how fast, how dependably, and how cleanly can they run? How can they be separated from human traffic? How can their space-needs be minimized so as to restore as much surface-area as possible to trees and plants?
The very idea of a transportation system without breakdowns, crashes, and highway patrols (let alone endless acreage consumed by pavement) sounds almost like science fiction; but the specific technologies it requires are already available. What is lacking is a larger framework within which those specific technologies could be combined.33 The principle is simple enough. Thus, for instance, given a properly built machine, the preventive maintenance needed to avoid breakdowns is known. If the machine is owned by an individual, however (as with a private car), there is no way of guaranteeing that such maintenance will be performed. What would otherwise appear as just a technical matter thus becomes a social issue. The technical task requires for its reliable accomplishment a certain social framework. The social framework is therefore integral to the technology. It is at this level that “technology” takes on its total or global aspect, i.e., that of an entire network of relations. If the relations in question are grounded in equality and ecology, what we then have, finally, is a socialist technology.
The implications of socialist technology, and of the struggle to attain it, are of course far-reaching. Here I can offer only a few summary reflections.
1. Socialist technology, taken as a whole, would give us a different world. Taken in its component parts, however, it is already present. The so-far unmet challenge of fusing those components is a political one. Its single indispensable requirement is the massive and organized participation of the whole population in the technological debate. So long as this fails to occur, the market will continue to rule, and people acting individually will embrace damaging practices which, as a conscious collectivity, they would be prepared to oppose.34
2. Much of the constructive thinking about technological alternatives has been carried out under the watchword not of socialism but of democracy.35 “Democratic technology” efforts have opened doors, prompted useful insights, and called particular attention to a long tradition of communities committed to keeping technology as their servant rather than allowing it — or whomever controlled it — to become their master. Socialist thinking deepens the democratic vision, however, in two complementary ways. On the one hand it directs attention to the underlying precondition — the removal of class antagonism — which makes democratic collaboration possible. On the other, it reminds us that no community is an “island”; even the most perfect local institutions can be sapped from without.
3. In the effort to promote worldwide popular discussion of technological alternatives, the goal of cutting greenhouse gases is a point of departure. Within this framework, the most urgent requirement is to shift the focus of attention away from national aggregates of energy-use and toward the impact of distinct economic sectors. Then negotiators can dispense with fruitless wrangling over which countries should be granted more “pollution rights” and can directly tackle the question of which economic activities — including those of the military, financial, commercial, and advertising sectors — have greater or lesser relevance to satisfying basic human needs.36 This kind of approach makes the most sense not only in ecological terms but also in terms of restoring a healthy internationalism to popular awareness, given that the wasteful sectors in every country are of the same type. Since the relative weight of these sectors, however, is greater in the richer countries, curbing the activities in question would at the same time have the redistributive effect — in terms of energy-use — that is justly demanded by Third-World advocates.
4. Mass participation in technological debate is necessary in order not only to introduce new approaches but also to keep them on track. Socialist technology is indeed revolutionary, and as such requires intense popular involvement, on a permanent basis. Regrettably, “institutionalization” has acquired, like “progress,” a bad reputation on the Left, because it has most often been used to consolidate hierarchical power. The alternative of controlling or limiting hierarchy, however, is no less dependent upon creating appropriate institutions. The new task will be to establish for the first time a genuine planning process. Recognizing that decentralization is desirable37 does not mean positing that national, regional, and global coordination — particularly on environmental matters — can be dispensed with. First-epoch planning did not deserve the name because of its excessive reliance, in practice, on a speculative back-up system, based on the hoarding and release of scarce supplies. Democratically based planning, by contrast, apart from tapping people’s energies and addressing their needs, would for the first time assure full disclosure of all pertinent information.
5. Taking into account the complexity of the planning process, there would clearly be a role in it for some of the specific devices of “information technology” developed under capitalism. Such devices could prove to be essential not only for the plan’s initial elaboration, but also for coordinating popular inputs and for adjusting to changing circumstances.38 In this sense, it could be said that even the most recent stage of capitalist development has had something positive to add to the groundwork for socialism. (This much may be granted independently of anything we might say about the ecological and social destructiveness that has also marked this period.) But the socialist framework would alter beyond recognition the larger network of relations within which the devices in question would be applied. Information would no longer be treated as a commodity subject to privatization and monopoly; innovation would cease to be regarded as an end in itself; and economies of labor-time would no longer be used as a weapon against the working class.39
6. To imagine all this happening may seem wildly ambitious, but it gives some idea of the scope available — and indeed crying out — for true progress. Recent capitalist technological advances prompted the ironic argument that humanity’s first, flawed steps toward socialism were obstructing the flow of high-powered market-driven innovations (a point that is now being greedily repeated with eyes on Cuba).40 We can respond to this, however, at two levels. Conceptually, we can remind ourselves that not all innovations are healthy, and that true creativity lies in responding to the most fundamental needs rather than in devising ever-new mechanisms for amassing wealth. And in terms of practical goals, we can project the historic achievement that will be consummated if and when capital’s vast and still galloping expansion of pavement — epitomized by Wal-Mart supercenters — begins to retreat in the face of a massive and resolute restoration of natural diversity.
1. This is a slightly revised version of an article originally published (in a German translation) in Das Argument: Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Sozialwissenschaften, 41:2/3 (1999), 411-22. It is republished here with the permission of the editors of Das Argument. It was initially presented at the May 1999 conference on Progress organized by the Institute for Critical Theory of Berlin (InkriT).
2. For a generally enthusiastic survey and projection of such advances, see Michio Kaku, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century (New York: Anchor Books, 1997).
3. Kaku, for example, taking into account some of the possible dangers, advocates a kind of social oversight of technology (Visions, p. 260), but treats such oversight, throughout his argument, as a purely external imposition upon technological development. His dominant approach leads him to project for the next century a global economic growth rate close to 5 percent and a rise in world energy consumption to 130 times its present level! (pp. 329f)
4. Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), p. 554f. David Noble calls attention to this passage in his Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1995), p. 19.
5. This argument, rooted in Marx, is expressed more generally in the assumption that any political project must build on the actual historical present; see Victor Wallis, “The Communist Manifesto and Capitalist Hegemony After 150 Years,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 23/24 (1998), 7-13.
6. On further recent extensions of this process, see R.C. Lewontin, “The Maturing of Capitalist Agriculture: Farmer as Proletarian,” Monthly Review vol. 50, no. 3 (July/August 1998), 72-84.
7. The latest expression of this development is the coining of the term “permatemp” [permanent temporary!] to describe the status of most workers in the computer industry.
8. Noble suggests in this connection, in an essay originally written in 1983, that the control-objective of capital routinely overrides cost-cutting priorities (Progress Without People, pp. 91f). Jeremy Rifkin argues, however, in The End of Work (NY: Putnam, 1995), p. 6, that gains in control generate a significant bottom-line payoff to capital in the long run. For an interesting attempt at weighing such considerations, see Edmund F. Byrne, Work, Inc.: A Philosophical Inquiry (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), pp. 191ff.
9. See, e.g., Barry Commoner, Making Peace with the Planet (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990).
10. Hope Shand, “Terminator Seeds: Monsanto Moves to Tighten Its Grip on Global Agriculture,” Multinational Monitor vol. 20, no. 11 (November 1998), 13-16. For a more general discussion of these issues, see Varda Burstyn, “The Dystopia of Our Times: Genetic Technology and Other Afflictions,” in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, eds., Socialist Register 2000: Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), 223-42.
11. For a comprehensive critique, see Richard Douthwaite, The Growth Illusion: How Economic Growth Has Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many, and Endangered the Planet (Tulsa: Council Books, 1993).
12. See, e.g., Michael E. Porter and Claas van der Linde, “Green and Competitive: Ending the Stalemate,” Harvard Business Review vol. 73, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1995), 120-34, and Paul Hawken et al., Natural Capitalism (Boston: Little, Brown, 1999).
13. See the case studies in Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno, Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism (New York: Apex Press, 1996). The special case of the insurance industry has been a frequent subject of commentary in publications of the Worldwatch Institute (see below, n. 33).
14. Vandana Shiva, Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge (Boston: South End Press, 1997).
15. Noam Chomsky, “Power in the Global Arena,” New Left Review no. 230 (July/August 1998), pp. 23ff.
16. William Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), ch. 11, esp. pp. 235ff.
17. For well informed discussions of this process, see Jim Davis, Thomas Hirschl, and Michael Stack, eds., Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism and Social Revolution (London: Verso, 1997).
18. See William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984). (I use the term “first-epoch socialism” for what came to be known as the “actually existing socialism” of the whole period between 1917 and 1989. See my essay “Marxism in the Age of Gorbachev,” Socialism and Democracy, no. 11 [Fall, 1990], 47-73.)
19. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers), vol. 20 (1964 ), pp. 153f (scientific management), and vol. 27 (1965 ), p. 271 (“iron discipline”).
20. Lenin, Collected Works vol. 27, pp. 248f.
21. Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (New York: Russell & Russell, 1957 ), p. 254.
22. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), p. 22.
23. For background on the Soviet planning process, see e.g. Alec Nove, The Soviet Economic System, 3rd ed. (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986), as well as numerous articles by Hillel Ticktin in Critique: A Journal of Soviet Studies and Socialist Theory.
24. This paragraph draws heavily on James O’Connor, Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism (New York: Guilford Press, 1998), pp. 257-64.
25. The military dimension of environmental devastation is often left out of systematic treatments, but see Victor Wallis, “Socialism, Ecology, and Democracy: Toward a Strategy of Conversion,” in Chronis Polychroniou, ed., Socialism: Crisis and Renewal (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1993), esp. pp. 152f, 162.
26. Political leaders, without using this exact language, nonetheless focused continuously on institutional obstacles to technological innovation. See, e.g., Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, updated ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), pp. 78-84. For an analysis along similar lines, see Manuel Castells, End of Millennium [vol. 3 of The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture](Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), esp. pp. 5-9, 26-37.
27. Castells, End of Millennium, pp. 338ff, recognizes but downplays the capitalist foundations of “information society.” For efforts to situate the new technologies in terms of the specific interests generating them, see Davis et al., Cutting Edge, and Robert W. McChesney, Ellen Meiksins Wood, and John Bellamy Foster, eds., Capitalism and the Information Age: The Political Economy of the Global Communication Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998).
28. It is worth recalling that collective approaches are by no means new; on the contrary, they have deeper anthropological roots than do capitalist individualism and capitalist-type productivism. Their socialist incarnation differs from earlier ones only in having to reckon with capitalism as its point of departure. Authentic progress, however, does not rule out the absorption or resurrection of certain precapitalist traits. Marx’s whole discussion of alienation points up the aberrational character of capitalist society; in this light, a degree of overlap between socialist and precapitalist approaches should be expected, notably, in their common aversion to commodification. The relevant literature on these themes is vast, but see esp. William Morris’s 1884 essay “Art and Socialism” (in A.L. Morton, ed., Political Writings of William Morris [New York: International Publishers, 1973], 109-33), and Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1981).
29. The interpenetration of these two dimensions is forcefully highlighted in John Bellamy Foster, “The Communist Manifesto and the Environment,” in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds.), Socialist Register 1998: The Communist Manifesto Now (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998), 169-89.
30. This is widely acknowledged even by writers who shy away from confronting class issues; thus Herman Daly, in Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), p. 15, cites the increased need for “sharing.”
31. For a wide-ranging treatment of these issues, see Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York: Guilford Press, 1995); for the background in Marxist theory, see Bertell Ollman, Dialectical Investigations (New York: Routledge, 1993).
32. See, e.g., Peter Freund and George Martin, The Ecology of the Automobile (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1993).
33. For examples in areas other than transit, see Burstyn, “Dystopia” (n. 10), p. 234. For regular information on alternative technologies, a useful source is the bimonthly magazine World Watch; obstacles to their application are discussed in Victor Wallis, “Lester Brown, the Worldwatch Institute, and the Dilemmas of Technocratic Revolution,” Organization and Environment vol. 10, no. 2 (June 1997), 109-25.
34. The isolated individual is largely at the mercy of the market; the organized collectivity sets limits to the market. That is why “market socialism” is a contradiction in terms. The social-psychological underpinnings to this observation are well described by Bertell Ollman in his edited collection, Market Socialism: The Debate Among Socialists (New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 83ff.
35. For example, Sclove, Democracy and Technology.
36. The distinction between wasteful and needed activities is discussed in Victor Wallis, “Toward Ecological Socialism,” Capitalism, Nature, Socialism vol. 11, no. 3 (Sept., 2000) [forthcoming].
37. As argued, for example, in Kirkpatrick Sale, Human Scale (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980).
38. On the possible applications of computer technology in organizing this information, see Andy Pollack, “Information Technology and Socialist Self-Management,” in McChesney et al., Capitalism and the Information Age, 219-35. On the other hand, claims regarding computer technology’s supposed conservationist potential must be treated with caution; a study by the Wuppertal [Germany] Institute for Climate, Energy and Environment estimated that “15-19 tons of energy and materials — calculated over the entire life cycle — are consumed by the fabrication of one computer” (compared to 25 tons for an average car). Wolfgang Sachs, “Wasting Time Is an Ecological Virtue,” New Perspectives Quarterly vol. 14, #1 (Winter, 1997), p. 8.
39. See Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Capitalism in the Computer Age,” in Davis et al., Cutting Edge, 57-71.
40. A promotional brochure issued in 1999 by the monthly business publication Cuba News thus entices its prospective $399-per-year subscribers with the headline, “Get Ready for the Next Cuban Revolution.” The grimness of this prospect, from our present standpoint, is underscored by the truly progressive steps described in Peter M. Rosset, “Alternative Agriculture Works: The Case of Cuba,” Monthly Review vol. 50, no. 3 (July/August 1998), 137-46.