Karl and Fred were talking in Karl's study about the fact that they had been friends for over 50 years--since first grade in fact. Karl was saying “Why don’t we engage in an extended study of Chinese philosophy to see if any of it is useful in comprehending the new century” Fred was not at all adverse to this suggestion so Karl pulled down his copy of a Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy edited by the Chinese scholar Wing-Tsit Chan.
“I remember that very well,” Fred said. “When we were in Hawaii in the summer of 1968 you lugged it around with you everywhere you went. Do you still remember what you read?"
“I most certainly do,” replied Karl, handing the volume to Fred. “Here! Why don’t you look at it and ask some questions--between the two of us we can try to find out if this stuff has any meaning today.”
Fred opened the book and said, “We might as well begin with Confucius--he is the first philosopher I see listed in the Table of Contents.”
“So be it’” Karl replied.
“Ok,” Fred said, “I have the Analects here...”
Karl interrupted, “The Lun-yu in Chinese. That's a collection of Confucius’ sayings collected by his students after his death. You know Confucius was a great teacher like Jesus, Buddha and Socrates and like them he didn’t write anything himself--his wisdom was saved for us by his followers putting it down for future generations.”
“Oh, so we are getting ‘virtual’ Confucius.”
“Well," responded Karl, “there is probably some tampering with the text, some student misinterpretations, but also a lot of the real ideas and opinions of Confucius as well. After all, he was born in 551 BC, lived 73 years, and died in 479 BC.”
“That's 72 years,” Fred corrected.
“Ah,” Karl replied, “unlike us, in China when you are born you are considered to be one year old so when we are one a Chinese is already two!.”
“Anyway,” Karl continued, “He was from a small state called Lu and lived in a time of political turmoil and war because the central authority had broken down and all the little petty states were competing for power. Confucius was self educated, there were no professional teachers--he was the first--and he thought his ideas if practiced would restore the Empire to its former glory and create a just state for the people as well. Failing to do much in Lu he left it and wandered around to other states spreading his doctrines and collecting a large group of disciples who followed him. After many years he returned to Lu and died a few years later, leaving his ‘school’ behind.
“I see a bunch of Chinese technical terms here in Chan before we even get to Chapter One of the Lun-yu,” Fred remarked, “Have a look see!”
Karl took the book. “Yes, I see. I’ll tell you which ones are the most important and we will have to memorize them as they will keep cropping up. But for the time being we can ignore them. I’ll talk about them when they actually pop up. Why don’t you begin looking at the text of the Lun-yu.” Karl handed the book back to Fred.
“ What’s this 1:1 ?”
“It means ‘Section 1, Chapter 1’-a conventional ordering.”
“OK,” and Fred began to read: “1:1 Is it not a pleasure to learn and to repeat or practice from time to time what has been learned?”
“Very famous,” Karl interrupted. “The very first sentence. It indicates that Confucius enjoined the unity of theory and practice!”
Fred continued. ”What does he mean here in 1:8? ‘Have no friends who are not as good as yourself.’ If the Chinese thought Confucius was the greatest teacher and the best then he couldn’t have any friends!”
“He means “morally good’,” said Karl, “not the best teacher. Confucius was morally good and so were many of his disciples, so he had plenty of friends.”
“Well, what about this: 1:11-’When a man’s father is alive, look at the bent of his will. When his father is dead, look at his conduct. If for three years he does not change from the way of his father, he may be called filial.’?”
“You know the ancient Chinese were very family oriented and patriarchal with large extended families and sons were filial--meaning obedient, respectful and loyal. Very unlike today with us!”
“You mean they were big on the Fifth Commandment!”
“They certainly would have agreed with it. Anyway, this quote just means that a son should be loyal to his father’s ideas while he is alive, and stay loyal to them thru the three years of official mourning after his death, then he can go his own way with his own ideas--he has done his duty.”
“What about 2:1? He says ‘A ruler who governs his state by virtue is like the north polar star, which remains in its place while all the other stars revolve around it.”
“Chan points out two things are going on here. One is the idea that the Ruler rules by virtue and second, as Thomas Jefferson would say, ‘that government governs best which governs least.’ Everything should fall into place naturally by the laws of virtue.”
“Wow! sounds like a Republican--no big government!”
“Or a Marxist--’virtue’ leads to the withering away of the state!”
“Hmmm. The Right and the Left can claim the old boy!”
“Well, let’s wait and see on that one Fred.”
“O.K. Karl. 2:4 is very interesting. He says, ‘At fifteen my mind was set on learning [not Intendo]. At thirty my character had been formed. At forty I had no more perplexities [Gad Zooks!]. At fifty I knew the Mandate of Heaven (T’ien-ming). At sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard. At seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing moral principles.”
“T’ien-ming--’Heaven-Fate’ or ‘Nature-Fate’ the famous ‘Mandate of Heaven’,” Karl mused. “You know Chan says the prevailing meaning of this term is what we would simply call the ‘laws of nature.’ Different Chinese thinkers in the long history of China of course meant many different things by this term--from God’s Providence to the philosopher’s ideas of moral law or fate (destiny) to natural endowment [genetic constitution].”
“Here is 2:11 ‘A man who reviews the old so as to find out the new is qualified to teach others’. I like that--it means a teacher has to keep reading and studying or he or she becomes stale and unfit. But what does 2:12 mean? ‘The superior man is not an implement.’ “
“This is the type of person who follows Confucian philosophy--the sage, the philosopher, etc. I don’t like the term ‘superior man’ and all its patriarchal suggestions, ‘exemplary person’ would be better. The Chinese term is “junzi” and you can just substitute it every time you see “superior man.” You know Fred, despite the prevailing sexism of Chinese culture in Confucius’ day, we have to see this philosophy as compatible with the equality of the sexes if it’s going to mean anything in this new century of ours. Not being an ‘implement’ only means the sage is not just a tool to be used by those in power, a sort of technical expert used to carry out plans devised by others. A true wise person would be well rounded and part of the evaluative process. The scientists, for example, that made the Atomic Bomb, for all their smarts, were just implements. How many scientists today have any real input in the decision making process regarding the use of their work? Many are hired hands. I think this is what Confucius meant.”
“What does he mean here in 2:18--’When one’s words give few occasions for blame and his acts give few occasions for repentance--there lies his emolument’?
“It’s as Chan points out--Confucianism stresses equally the importance of both words and actions.”
“3:17 won’t go over well today!”
“Ok, Confucius is replying to one of his followers who was against killing a lamb as a sacrifice at the start of the month. ‘Zigong! You love the lamb but I love the ceremony.’ What do you think of that one?”
“Times change. I think by now we all agree that animal sacrifices are a pretty primitive or barbaric behavioral pattern that nowadays would be considered a pretty ignorant sort of practice--but Confucius was living twenty-five centuries ago...”
Fred interrupted, “But weren’t there people, teachers in India at this time, that thought that killing animals was verboten?"
“I think the point is, this was acceptable in Chinese culture. Confucius is trying to point out the importance of tradition and ritual, but on this point I think Zigong had a more advanced outlook--it’s too bad that Confucius didn’t rise to the occasion.”
“Here is another confusing saying, 4:10-’A junzi in dealing with the world is not for anything or against anything. He follows righteousness as the standard.”
“Hmmmm. Looks like you could not say ‘I’m for peace or I’m for social reform.’ But of course it’s confusing because it seems as if you could say ‘I’m for righteousness!’ Does Chan say anything in his comment Fred?”
Fred read out, “Here lies the basic idea of the Confucian doctrine of ching-ch’uan, or the standard and the exceptional, the absolute and the relative, or the permanent and the temporary.”
“This we should remember: ‘The Doctrine of Ching-Ch’uan’. It means don’t be dogmatic, don’t commit the fallacy of accident, maybe even be pragmatic--no, that's the wrong word. Keep an open mind and judge every situation you are confronted with in terms of its own unique problematic, but don’t break the rules of ‘righteousness.’ The big problem is of course how to determine what ‘righteousness’ is. For Confucius it seems to have been the rules of his own society seen from the vantage point of a man who looked to the past practices of an idealized former age. Confucius would balk at being involved in a current situation that deviated too much from the past--not always, but mostly. His view or doctrine would go along with what today we call ‘situational ethics’ but with a ‘conservative’ twist.”
“Maybe this will help,” Fred said. “In 4:15 he tells his follower Zeng ‘there is one thread that runs through my doctrines’ which Zeng explained as ‘The Way of our Master is none other than conscientiousness (chung) and altruism (shu).’ So I say ‘righteousness’ equals chung + shu.”
“Not bad,” Karl remarked. “I like the idea of ‘one thread (i-kuan)’. What does Chan say about these terms?”
“Chung is the full development of a person’s mind--the good aspects, and Shu is extending these good aspects to other people. Develop your own abilities and help others develop theirs--what could be more righteous than that?”
“Here is 4:16--’The junzi understands righteousness(i); the inferior man understands profit’. Yikes! Our whole Global Capitalist system is based on profit!"
"Maybe to be a Confucian today puts you in the opposition.”
“ Do you really think so Karl? Confucius lived under something like feudalism. What was his attitude?”
“This is getting heavy. I think we will have to keep these questions in mind and read along some more in the Source Book before we try to answer them.”
“OK by me. Here is just some information from 6:5. We find the name of Confucius’ favorite student was Yan Hui.”
“I know, he died very young, in his thirties.”
“What do you think of this? 6:17--’Man is born with uprightness. If one loses it he will be lucky if he escapes with his life’.”
“I don’t know what this means. ‘Uprightness’ is a culturally relative term and a person learns it from his or her society, so I don’t know what it can mean to say you are ‘born’ with it. But think of ‘with’ in the sense that a person is born into a society with [i.e., which has] such a sense, then if one loses the sense of uprightness inculcated into one by the society one gets into a pickle indeed. I can make sense of 6:17 along these lines.”
“Well Karl, I think you must be correct. Looking back to 5:12 I found this: Zigong is speaking, ‘We can hear our Master’s [views] on culture and its manifestation, but we cannot hear his views on human nature and the Way of Heaven [because these subjects are beyond the comprehension of most people].’ So I don’t think that Confucius was talking about anything innate in humans.”
“I agree. What’s next?”
“6:19--’To those who are above average, one may talk of the higher things, but may not do so to those who are below average.’”
“This is sort of a philosophical rule. The Prime Directive of philosophy is to ‘Always seek the truth by means of logic and reason without appeals to faith and emotion.’ And here we have what I call the ‘Second Directive’--’don’t bother talking philosophy with people who don’t understand the importance of the Prime Directive.’”
“That’s how you interpret 6:19? Where does the Prime Directive come from? I haven’t seen it in the Analects?”
“It’s from Socrates via Plato. But there are hints of it in the Analects. I’ll point them out when we come to them.”
“Maybe there is a hint of it right here in 6:20--”Devote yourself earnestly to the duties due to men, and respect spiritual beings but keep them at a distance. This may be called wisdom.’ I think I see a hint there.”
“Good observation Fred. Read on!”
“OK, 6:21--’The man of wisdom delights in water; the man of humanity delights in mountains. The man of wisdom is active; the man of humanity is tranquil. The man of wisdom enjoys happiness; the man of humanity enjoys long life.’ “
“These are two of Confucius big values--activity and tranquility. They are found in the same person depending on the circumstances. By the way, Yan Hui had a short life but I doubt that Confucius did not consider him a man of humanity.”
“And Chan remarks that ‘courage’ was later added to the list and that Mencius grouped these first two values with his concepts of righteousness and propriety to get ‘The Four Beginnings.’”
“Yes, but we will get to Mencius in due time [i.e., in another discussion]. Let’s not jump the gun.”
“6:23--’When a cornered vessel no longer has any corner, should it be called a cornered vessel? Should it?’”
“We are approaching here a central and important doctrine of Confucius--the rectification of names--but we will have to wait a while for its proper development. It’s just hinted at here.”
“I see Chan’s brief comment:’ Name must correspond to actuality.’ The Correspondence Theory of Truth!”
“6:28--’A man of humanity, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent. To be able to judge others by what is near to ourselves may be called the method of realizing humanity.’ Chan calls this ‘The Confucian golden rule in a nutshell.’ “
“Yes, and this passage is connected with 4:15 and the ‘one thread’ passage.”
“7:1--’I transmit but do not create. I believe in and love the ancients.’ Chan suggests we compare this with 2:11 and points out that he did do things that were new--’he offered education to all’--and his ideas on the junzi and ‘heaven’ were somewhat original.”
“That comment on education needs to be looked at, especially the ‘all’ part. I want to give Confucius his due credit. He was not a stuck-up aristocrat and if so-called common people showed an aptitude for learning or people from impoverished economic and/or social backgrounds showed talent, Confucius welcomed them as students. This was really a big step forward for the China of his day and in his own social context Confucius was an enlightened person in this respect. But he did NOT offer education to ‘all’. He had nothing to do with women and did not rise above his social conditioning with respect to their rights as human beings with the same value as males. In this respect Plato was much more enlightened than he. One wonders if women had been seen as equals by Confucius if they would have had to wait until the victory of the Marxists in 1949 for the preconditions of their emancipation.”
“Excellent observation Karl. I wonder why Chan missed it. Anyway, here is 7:8--’I do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn, nor arouse those who are not anxious to give an explanation themselves. If I have presented one corner of the square and they cannot come back to me with the other three, I should not go over the points again.’”
“A very revealing quote on his teaching methods. Compare it to 6:19.”
“In 7:16 he says, ‘Give me a few more years so that I can devote fifty years to study, then I may be free from great mistakes.”
“This reminds me of Hume’s satire on his own death--asking Charon to grant him a leave of a few years so he might see the overthrow of religious superstition. Of course Confucius is not trying to be funny, this simply shows his modesty--yet fifty years is hardly a few!”
“7:20-’Confucius never discussed strange phenomena, physical exploits, disorder, or spiritual beings’”
“Here is one of those Prime Directive hints we were speaking about earlier.”
“7:22--’Heaven produced the virtue that is in me; what can Huan Tui do to me?’”
“This seems deterministic. Huan Tui tried to assassinate Confucius. It seems as if Confucius was a Presbyterian here. If Heaven has determined what shall be then Huan Tui really can’t do much to Confucius. There are many problems with this type of determinism which are not discussed in the Analects.” [Huan Tui was a jealous official afraid he would lose his Job if Confucius met his Lord]
“7:24-’Confucius taught four things: culture (wen), conduct, loyalty, and faithfulness.’”
“Very succinct statement showing that Confucius’ concern was with social philosophy--politics and ethics--and not religion or metaphysics.”
“Here is 7:29--’Is humanity far away? As soon as I want it, there it is right by me.’”
“It’s as Chan remarks. We are always able to act properly. Our humanity is always on call and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we fail to act upon it--unless there is a gun to your head or something similar.”
“Now Karl, here is a good one--more than a hint of the Prime Directive if you ask me. 7:34--’Confucius was very ill. Zilu asked that prayer be offered. Confucius said “is there such a thing?” Zilu replied, “There is. A Eulogy says, ‘Pray to the spiritual beings above and below.’” Confucius said, “My prayer has been for a long time [that is, what counts is the life that one leads].”’”
“I agree with you Fred, this is really a great quote. Confucius has no interest in religious mumbo jumbo. This would be especially true if he thinks Heaven is a deterministic system. It looks like Zilu missed one corner of the square!”
“7:37--’Confucius is affable but dignified, austere but not harsh, polite but completely at ease.’ And Chan remarks that this is ‘The Confucian Mean in practice.’ But we haven’t talked about the ‘Mean’ have we?”
“Not yet, but it’s coming up. It’s more or less like the Greek notion of nothing in excess.”
“Now here is a very interesting description of Yan Hui the favorite disciple. Chan says it is very Taoist. It is given by Zengzi. 8:5--’Gifted with ability, yet asking those without; possessing much, yet asking those who possess little; having, yet seeming to have none; full, yet seeming vacuous; offended, yet not contesting--long ago I had a friend who devoted himself to these ways.’ And now to continue. Here is an example of elitist thinking! 8:9--’The common people may be made to follow it (the Way) but may not be made to understand it.’”
“This goes along with the sentiments in 6:19. Undemocratic from our point of view but quite in keeping with the feudal mentality of the times. This distrust of ordinary people seems endemic. Not only is our U.S. government designed to minimize participation by the common people but we have seen the collapse of the European socialist countries was facilitated by a similar, and in their case paternalistic, contempt of the ordinary person. The current Chinese government seems no different in this regard no matter how much better off materially the majority of the people may be.”
“Here comes a passage that Chan says has caused a lot of problems in the Confucian tradition. 9:1--’Confucius seldom talked about profit, destiny (ming or the Mandate of Heaven), and humanity.’ Chan points out that while ‘profit’ is discussed only six times and ‘destiny’ ten times ‘humanity’ is mentioned one hundred five times! So how can it be maintained that Confucius seldom talked about it. Chan says it is an intractable problem. Confucius had positions on all these subjects.”
“Well, I understand not talking a lot about ‘profit’--’chung + shu’ seem incompatible, at least if profit is elevated to the primary aim of life. ‘Ming’ [fate] is a metaphysical concept and we have already noted that metaphysics was not one of Confucius’ major concerns.”
“9:16--’Confucius, standing by a stream, said, “it passes on like this, never ceasing day or night!”
“Obviously a metaphor for time and life. This saying is very much in the spirit of Heraclitus and even the Hegelian dialectic. I hope the Chinese Marxists appreciate it!”
“Now we have what Chan says is ’a most celebrated saying on humanism’. Another one of those hints we were speaking of previously--a lot more than a hint actually. 11:11 Zilu ‘asked about serving the spiritual beings. Confucius said,”If we are not yet able to serve man, how can we serve spiritual beings?” “I venture to ask about death.” Confucius said, “If we do not yet know about life, how can we know about death?”’
“A really great quote Fred. Would that all the squabbling religious fanatics we are reading about in the papers every day might heed these words!”
“We have come to 11:25 A, I am going to summarize it. It is rather long but has generated a great deal of speculation as to its meaning because of what many consider to be the unusual responses in it by Confucius. In this passage Confucius asks several of his companions what they would most like to do in the world assuming they had attained office and recognition. One replied that he would like to govern a state that was in dire straits so that in three years the people could see how he could solve all the problems. Another gave a similar answer while admitting that he was not himself a junzi. Another wanted to be a junior assistant as he was still learning. Finally, Zengxi said ‘In the late Spring, when the spring dress is ready, I would like to go with five or six grownups and six or seven young boys to bathe in the Yi River, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Alter, and then return home singing.’ Now Confucius replied ‘agree with Zengxi.’ The Chinese have expended a lot of ink trying to find out why Confucius agreed with Zengxi.
“Well, Fred,” Karl began, “it seems pretty clear that what Confucius is saying is that it’s best to have power in a well ordered state that doesn’t require any heroics to administer. His other students didn’t get the point, obviously, of Confucius’ ideas about government. He seems to have had a lot of students he should have gone over that first corner with again.”
“That’s right Karl. Now here is a version of the ‘Golden Rule’ from the Analects--its in 12:2 ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.’”
“The negative version. I used to think that the ‘Golden Rule’ was unique to our culture till I read about it long ago in the works of Confucius.”
“A point for anti-ethnocentrism.”
“12:22--’Fan Chi asked about humanity. Confucius said, “It is to love men.” He asked about knowledge. Confucius said “It is to know man.”’”
“Again the stress on moral and social subjects. Of course today knowing ‘man’ would include psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, etc., etc. And ‘love’.... here we need a real definition of what constitutes ‘love’ of humanity. What is the real substance of Confucian Humanism.?”
“Is it just practicing the ‘Golden Rule’ in whatever situation you find yourself?”
“Maybe. But maybe it’s more action oriented than that. Maybe ‘love’ means we have to strive to change the social situations in which we find people. Maybe nowadays Confucianism can only be practiced within the Marxist framework. Sort of ‘Marxism-Confucianism.’”
“That sounds a little like the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. He said he had come to realize that his philosophy, ‘existentialism,’ could only be developed within a form of Marxism because the social conditions that brought forth Marxism have not been transcended. In fact, according to him, no philosophy made any sense that ignored or rejected Marxism because only Marxism addressed itself to the problems of humanity as a whole, to abolishing race and class exploitation and treating, eventually, all people as ends.”
“We are getting far afield. Better get back to the Analects!”
“13:3--here Confucius brings up the topic of ‘The Rectification of Names’. ‘If names are not rectified, then language will not be in accord with truth. If language is not in accord with truth, then things cannot be accomplished.’”
“You know Fred this is extremely important. This is reminiscent of Bertrand Russell and of the Analytic Philosophers and the Oxford ordinary language philosophers. The words we use to describe reality have to correspond to that reality. People are misled and misgoverned all the time by being duped by the misuse of names. Remember the Vietnam War--American troops would retreat and the military brass would call it an ‘advance to the rear’! They were just trying to mislead and confuse the American people.
“Like renaming the War Department the ‘Department of Defense' or calling the invasion of Iraq 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' instead of 'Operation Iraqi Oil'”
“I think we have another directive under our Prime Directive, or rather another rule.”
“That’s one directive and two rules we have then.”
“Yes. Rule One--don’t discuss philosophy with those who reject the Prime Directive. Rule Two--’The Rectification of Names.’ That is ‘language must be in accord with truth.’ This may be difficult to attain but we must constantly strive for it. You see, we are learning lots of stuff we can apply to our own age and culture!”
“Hmmmm. Here is a difficult passage I think. 13:18--’The Duke of She told Confucius, “In my country there is an upright man called Kung. When his father stole a sheep, he bore witness against him.” Confucius said, “The upright men in my country are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.” ‘What do you make of that Karl?”
“I think it’s the ‘Euthyphro Problem.’”
“Plato wrote a dialog called the Euthyphro. Socrates meets Euthyphro who is on his way to report a murder his father has committed. He thinks piety requires this. This is like Kung being a witness against his father because he, and the Duke of She, think that uprightness requires this. Confucius holds the contrary view.”
At this point Karl walked over to his bookcase and pulled out the Oxford Companion to Philosophy. “There is an article here on this problem Fred, by Gareth Matthews. I think it will throw some light on Comrade Kung’s behavior.”
By all means, Karl, carry on.”
“To put the problem in Chinese terms we have to figure out what does ‘uprightness’ consist of-- that is, where does the notion come from. Is it one thing in Lu, Confucius' native state, and another in She or is it constant so Confucius is really indicating that the Duke of She is wrong? I must say, I don’t have an answer to this and neither did Socrates. Here let me read this passage or paraphrase it to the Chinese context. The point seems to be that ‘uprightness’ can’t be defined as something we should do because some authority demands it of us, say God or Heaven, because then we would only be doing it because of authority and authorities differ. Nor can it be the case that God or Heaven orders it because it is right to do so because then it is an independent thing to which God or Heaven is subject. So we really can’t figure out from whence the standard of ‘uprightness’ is derived. It’s the old ‘Is it good because God wills it or does God will it because it is good’ problem. I think the Prime Directive rules out ‘God” as an explanation, so we have to say on one level ‘uprightness’ is relative to cultures, the level of cultural development and on another level we have to contextualize the circumstances of each situational act. The Duke of She hasn’t given us enough information on this case and I think Confucius jumped the gun with his reply. Is your primary duty to your family or to the state--i.e., to a legal system which should protect all? It’s Kung’s father that is the problem but between the Duke of She and Confucius it’s not possible to definitely say one or the other is right. It seems the duty to ‘truth’ however would tip the scales against Confucius unless Kung volunteered this information in a noncompulsory environment.”
“14:36--’Someone said,”What do you think of repaying hatred with virtue?” Confucius said,”In that case what are you going to repay virtue with? Rather, repay hatred with uprightness and repay virtue with virtue”’
“Confucius means you repay hatred with proper behavior according to the circumstances.”
“This means, according to Chan, absolute impartiality. Confucianists mean that by ‘uprightness’.
“If so then Kung was being impartial in saying his father stole the sheep. Confucius should have agreed with the Duke of She!”
“In 15:8 he reaffirms his humanism: ’A resolute scholar and a man of humanity will never seek to live at the expense of injuring humanity. He would rather sacrifice his life in order to realize humanity.’”
“Go on Fred.”
“OK, 15:23, a follower asks if there is one word that sums up Confucius’ philosophy. You guess Karl!”
"Well, I think it must be 'humanity' (jen/ren)."
“No, it’s shu or altruism, from 4:15. He then repeats the negative ‘Golden Rule’ which must be the real meaning of altruism and hence is the one-word summation of Confucius philosophy!”
“So, we can boil down the whole of the Analects to this one comment. But let’s proceed anyway.”
“OK, 15:28 ‘It is man that can make the Way great, and not the Way that can make man great.”
“This is heavy Fred. The Way or Tao is the master controlling force, as it were, of the universe--”God” to Westerners! So, we make ‘God’ he doesn’t make us ‘great.’ I think this boils down to our actions in life reflect on the Way, we in a sense create it in our own image-- we can follow it positively or negatively. For example, if we ourselves are, say, homophobic or think males are higher than females, or want to control the actions and thoughts of others, lo and behold, our ‘God’ wants that too, and vice versa.”
“So, our religion is just the reflection of the kind of human beings we are.”
“Yes, and that is based on our education, our openness, and the culture we are brought up in--wide or narrow.”
“15:38--’In education there should be no class distinction.’”
“To bad he didn’t, as Plato did, add ‘no sex distinction’ as well. He would have to be against our system of public schools for the masses and elite private schools for the rich. American or European followers of Confucius have a big educational reform to fight for. Even private universities would have to go public....”
“Or let anyone attend. I’m not sure everything has to be public. You could have both--just that admission standards and costs have to be equalized so the rich don’t end up in one type of system and the poor in another.”
“I see we can have a big debate about this!”
“Here in 16:9 is something we can’t agree with, at least as he puts it. ‘Those who are born with knowledge are the highest type of people. Those who learn through study are the next. Those who learn through hard work are still the next. Those who work hard and still do not learn are really the lowest type.’”
“This is no good. People are not ‘born’ with knowledge. Also, different people learn different things. You might work hard at chemistry and not learn it but work at history or literature or physics and learn that, or music. Confucius should have recognized ‘different strokes for different folks’--this idea is an elitist throwback--a little too judgmental I think.”
“OK Karl, I won’t argue with you because I think you might be right. Nevertheless, there may be something to what he says if you substitute ‘capacity’ for ‘knowledge. What do you think about this in 17:2-’By nature men are alike. Through practice they have become far apart’?”
“Well, we can universalize this and see how contemporary Confucius' thought is. He is indicating what we now commonly think to be true, that is, that human beings are pretty much equal all over the world and it is only cultural differences which separate us. Jarrod Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs and Steel, demonstrates this thesis. It is a little inconsistent with what we have just been discussing since the differences between humans should be due to ‘practice’ so some people should not be ‘born’ with knowledge.”
“And we should note that what Chan says in 17:2 is ‘the classical Confucian dictum on human nature.’”
“All the better. This dictum is absolutely superior, from a modern perspective, to Aristotle’s views, in the Politics, about the superiority of Greeks and his notion about ‘natural slaves.’ Not even Plato, it would seem, had advanced to this Confucian idea.”
“You are thinking about his discussion in the Republic about the different ways Greeks should treat Greeks as opposed to barbarians in warfare?”
“Now, right after this, in 17:3 he says, ‘Only the most intelligent and the most stupid do not change.’”
“Looks like another deviation from 17:2 but I think not. I think, as in Aristotle, we should be putting a little mental note to ourselves when we read these passages, such as ‘always OR for the most part’. This allows us to recognize that we are dealing with general principles not absolute ‘laws’. While there may be individual variation in intellectual capacity this should be a cross cultural thing. By and large within, as between, cultures ‘intelligence’ is also a social construction, therefore I don’t think there is any ultimate contradiction between 17:2 and 17:3.”
“Karl, do you think we have another Rule, Rule Three, with 17:2?”
“I don’t see why not. Rule Three: ‘All human beings are basically alike, i.e.., equal.’ Just remember the proviso that since we are dealing with a multi-cultural world this needs some interpretation.”
“Such as they are ‘equal’ before the law, or subject to the same ‘rights’ as each other. Basically, we all evolved from the same blob so it has to be ‘practice’ that separates the Queen of England from Apple Annie! “
“Here is an excellent quote to underscore Confucian Humanism--17:19: ‘Does Heaven say anything? The four seasons run their course and all things are produced. Does Heaven say anything?’”
“Even after all these centuries how can we improve on this observation.”
“It’s not an observation, it’s a question. I think Confucius meant it to be left open.”
“Maybe. We don’t have to answer this now then.”
“We may have to retract Rule Three--look at 17:25-’Women and servants are most difficult to deal with. If you are familiar with them, they cease to be humble. If you keep a distance from them, they resent it.’ And Chan says Confucius and the whole tradition thought women to be inferior (servants may differ due to ‘practice’).”
I see, we put ‘human beings’ in Rule Three and Confucius had said ‘men’ so we were giving him credit for what is actually a modern idea. This universal sexism, except perhaps for Socrates, is a problem. We now know there is no scientific evidence to justify it and so women would have to be included under Rule Three whatever Confucius may have thought. We are holding to the view that Confucius and other past philosophers would change and adapt their views to accord with what we could demonstrate to them by our modern methods to be true of the natural world. So, I think they, as philosophers, would give up an outmoded sexism just as they would the centrality of the earth in the solar system. After these considerations I think we can keep Rule Three.”
“This last is a quote from a pupil, Zixia, ‘So long as a man does not transgress the boundary line in the great virtues, he may pass and repass it in the small virtues.’ 19:11.”
“There is a little more, but I think I hit all the major issues or points.”
“So, we have Confucius in a ‘nutshell’ as it were. I think we have made some progress in understanding Chinese philosophy in its infancy. We have a Prime Directive, actually derived from the Greeks, and three rules to go by. I think we can justify the view that the Confucius word view is not inherently opposed to Marxism and does not constitute an antagonistic contradiction (矛盾).
About the Author:
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
Part 1: Presenting the Problem
The movement towards worker cooperative has been a growing one as of the last couple decades. Although worker cooperatives can take various forms, they generally are companies in which the workers are also owners of where they work. They practice democracy at work, and seek to produce not for the goal of private capital accumulation in the hands of a single owner or small group of shareholders, but rather the earnings of the company are distributed and invested according to principles of the common good of everyone involved in the project. It has truly been a point of unification were socialist, communist, anarchist, radical liberals, and followers of catholic social teaching have all argued in favor of it as a more just form of enterprise structure to the traditional hierarchical capitalist firm. Beyond the fact that these coops are more just, practice has shown that they are usually more economically efficient and robust; the best current example is the Mondragon Corporation, founded by Father José María Arizmendiarrieta in 1956 in the Basque region of Northern Spain.
There is a common misconception by some Marxist who speak about the promotion of cooperatives as un-Marxist. Their central argument is that a struggle for worker cooperatives while under capitalism is essentially an attempt to find Narnia; a magic door which in the other side you have a fictitious world of non-exploitative relations, where the central worker/owner dichotomy is destroyed. Their problem is essentially not with cooperatives in themselves, but rather with cooperative projects (and their promotion) under capitalism. They believe these projects distract from the class struggle and seek a way to find an alterative world within the real world, instead of changing the real world towards the alternative world we envision. Thus, the problem itself is not Narnia, but Narnia existing, as a strange loophole, within the non-Narnia world. My goal in this paper is to address this misconception and demonstrate that whether within or without a capitalist structure, worker cooperatives represent a reality that can be properly labeled as socialist. To do this, I will be referring to the thought the fathers of scientific socialism had on the topic. Not as an appeal to authority on the question of cooperatives, but to demonstrate how the Marxist rejection of worker cooperatives is based on a faulty appeal to authority. I will attempt to show how Marx, Engels, and Lenin all viewed worker cooperatives, both within capitalism or as an envisaged post-capitalist reality, as socialist.
Before we begin, I feel it is important to address another false dichotomy about worker cooperatives and Marxist theorization of it. That is that it stands as an alternative to State centrally planned socialism. The phrasing of cooperatives as an “alternative” produces the idea that a socialist state can either be based on a cooperative economy, or one that is centrally planned by the state. This is not only theoretically but practically a false dichotomy. Cooperative ownership has been a major form of property in really existing socialisms. Specifically, it has had its major impact in the spheres of agriculture. During the initial loosening up of the blockade on Cuba by the Obama administration, Cuba opened up the possibility for non-agricultural cooperatives. These cooperatives instantly gained popularity and within just a year 452 of them developed, playing an essential role in Cuba leading Latin America in 2015 with a GDP growth of 4.438. The point is, there is already a strong cooperative past in really existing socialist states, a past which like Mondragon, helps us see the efficiency of cooperative ownership, within and beyond agricultural areas. This would demonstrate in practice that socialist experiments are not categorizable by the fixed set of categories of cooperative and state owned, given that both forms of property have coexisted successfully. It is also important to recognize this false dichotomy excludes other forms of property which are inherently anticapitalistic, and which exist and can help provide a base for socialist experiments. Such is the case of indigenous communal property, which Marx at the end of his life had already seen as having tremendous potential for the establishment of socialism in its struggle with the expansion of capitalism into those areas where those communal forms of property and mentality dominated.
I have given a rough overview of how in practice cooperative forms of property have already been essential for socialist experiments. Although this topic is worthy of expansion, we will leave that for a latter work. In this work, I want to emphasize how theoretically the movement towards worker cooperatives is not the Narnia option certain unread Marxist might believe. Rather, that it presents within capitalism an internal negation of the system, and outside of capitalism, a real form of socialist property.
Part 2: The Richard Wolff Phenomena
Before we go on to discuss the framing of cooperatives by Marx and co. let us look at how American Marxist economist Richard Wolff presents the topic. In the US, Professor Wolff’s show Economic Update averages out well over 100,000 views on YouTube each episode. The YouTube channel itself, Democracy at Work, is named after their larger project and as of today is nearing the 200,000-subscriber mark. His platform is without a doubt one of largest and most successful in the US (among Marxist spaces). And as can be inferred in the title of the project, the central focus is on the promotion of worker cooperatives and democracy at work as an alternative to the capitalist order.
In the Economic Update episode of the 24th of August, Dr. Wolff examined the relation of cooperatives, socialism, and communism, clearer than in any other episode that I am aware of. This episode, which is called China: Capitalist, Socialist or What looks at the development of socialism in the USSR and in China. Dr. Wolff here uses Lenin to state that both the USSR and China are state capitalist. He does not do so in the way in which certain western ultra-leftist do it to dismiss these experiments as non-socialist, but rather he portrays the socialist step as itself state capitalism.
To be clear, Lenin brings up state capitalism during the development of the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was meant to create the conditions, in an underdeveloped Russia, for the possibility of socialism under the will of a government already dedicated to the communist cause; as opposed to withdrawing from revolutionary action until capitalism had a chance to develop (the latter was the general stance of the Mensheviks and certain European communist observing the Russian uprisings). The point here is not to dive into Soviet or Chinese history and discuss whether they were state capitalist or socialist (a fixed categorizing dichotomy I believe to be inherently anti-dialectical and thus non-Marxist), but to look at how this generalization Dr. Wolff partakes in with statements Lenin made specifically for the NEP, paints the intermediary step of socialism as synonymous with state capitalism, and cooperatives as synonymous with the following communist step.
On this topic of the transition away from capitalism and what one can call it, I think it is important to remember that as Marx states:
“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”
This quote and its analogy of the womb is quite intentional. It reflects the indestructible influence Hegel’s logic plays on Marx, specifically the dialectical categories of change (quantity and quality), and how every new qualitative transition never comes about from a void, it is always developed out and away from the previous qualitative structure. The comparison seems clear if we refer to Hegel’s Phenomenology, when in reference to the transition from a metaphysical world to a scientific one he states:
“Just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth, there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born, so likewise the spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms.”
The point of this short diversion from the topic of coops, is to make a point to the other part of what Dr. Wolff’s episode was stating. I believe his disregard for the name calling of socialist states as socialist, state capitalist, or first stage communism, stems overall from his awareness that anything that grows out of capitalism and attempts to be something new, will always, at first maintain some elements of the previous world. This influence of the “old world” if you wish to call it that, is especially potent considering it really isn’t an “old world”, at least not yet; rather, capitalism exists in as an expanded a form as ever. It is very clear then, that any socialist attempt, will not be some pure utopia as some western ultra-communist wish to believe, it will necessarily maintain faults from the previous system. In part because it grew out of it, and in part because it is still subject to a world dominated by the logic of that which it outgrew.
Part 2.1: First Answer
Dr. Wolff is someone who is well aware that cooperative property has and still exists in socialist states. So why does it seem such a unique project to have a Marxist centered promotion of coops? Well, I think there might be two answers to this question, each which is connected to the other.
First, it is obvious to anyone who has had the time to read the corpus of Marx and Engel’s work, that there is no blueprint for what a socialist economy would look like. We know that:
“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
But this isn’t really an idea of how to structure the society, it just tells us what is obvious to any socialist; that the working class must seize political power, and that once seized it must struggle to maintain it from the reactionary forces that will attempt against the qualitative leap. The most we really get is an idea of how the state transforms into an administrative force, an idea which comes from the example Marx and Engels witnessed in the Commune. As Engels states:
“Against this transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society, an inevitable transformation in all previous states, the Commune made use of two infallible means. In the first place, it filled all posts, administrative, judicial, and educational, by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers. The highest salary paid by the Commune to anyone was 6,000 francs. In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set-up.”
Here we have two transformations, the first is a democratic transformation of the representatives of the people, elected and removed through universal suffrage. This might seem to overlap with bourgeois republics, where there are elections and to some extent the masses of working people have a say. But, as Engels mentions in the paragraph right before the one previously quoted, this bourgeois electoralism is faulty in it being still an instrument of the capitalist class, and thus, the apparent democratically elected officials not only represent the interest of the capitalist class that funds them but also partake in politics for the sake of careerism and self-improvement. The second transformation is done in an attempt to destroy the possibility of the previous political careerism; this is done through the paying of politicians and state officials average working-class salaries.
Beyond this there is also the replacement of the institutions of state violence by armed groups of working people. As Marx states:
“Paris could resist only because, in consequence of the siege, it had got rid of the army, and replaced it by a national guard, the bulk of which consisted of working men. This fact was now to be transformed into an institution. The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.”
This means that the transformation of the state is the transformation from:
“the democracy of the oppressor to the democracy of the oppressed classes, from the state as a “special force” for the suppression of a particular class to the suppression of the oppressors by the general force of the majority of the people, the workers and peasants.”
Quotes like the last few are found in numerous different places in the corpus of Marx and Engels’ work, the general idea is nicely summed up by Lenin as this “The transition from capitalism to communism certainly cannot but yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.” I would add here, that history has shown us that not only does this dictatorship of the proletariat, or proletariat democracy (whatever makes you feel more fuzzy inside), can not only yield an abundance of political forms, but also an abundance of economic forms, one of which is the worker cooperative form.
Thus, why is there no blueprint? First, a blueprint of the structuring of socialist society would require details that would be nothing but foolish to predict. Secondly, a blueprint signifies a singular concept of socialist or communist organization. This would be an idealist generalization, that would fail to take into account the concrete material conditions in each country attempting to build socialism; in other words, a blueprint would be against the basic foundation of Marxist materialism. Thus, the only real requirement to considering a country as socialist is what is present in the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat; this is control of the state by the working class, with some aim towards a transitioning to a society based on the principle of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”The economic forms of property and political forms of structure that will develop are completely dependent on the concrete material and ideological conditions of the place where the development is coming about. Thus, we have the potential for socialism with Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, etc. characteristics. Each with their distinct variations of property forms and political structures, and to varying degrees moving away from the influences of their previous world.
Part 2.2: Second Answer
My second answer to the previously stated question concerning the seemingly uniqueness of Dr. Wolff’s push for cooperative socialism is that it is tactically the best strategy for achieving a post-capitalist reality in the US. The American population has endured a century of extreme anti-communist propaganda, and even though now, after 40 years of neoliberal rule and polarization of wealth, they realize the hell they are in, the psyche sickness the propaganda machine has caused will make any attempt at convincing working class American to fight for a post-capitalist reality impossible if done by means of discussing socialism in terms of a state controlled centrally planned economy. Discussing socialism in terms of democratization of the means of production, while nationalizing basic necessities and industries proves tactically the best path towards getting working class Americans on board.
This is something that I have experienced as true in my practice organizing as well. If a working-class American asks me what socialism is, or why I am a socialist, and I respond by saying the dictatorship of the proletariat or a centrally planed state economy, they will never open up to the idea. In part, this is due to Americans equating anything done by the state as useless, and thus, a system run by the state just makes since that it will be no good.
From their standpoint it is hard not to see a point, all the interaction they have had with the state has been with a state which represents a different class of people than the ones they are. It is no wonder they consider it inefficient; the American state is not supposed to be efficient for them, but rather for those who use it as an instrument for their accumulation of capital. The same capitalist class that sends their kids of to die, or comeback physically or mentally injured for the sake of their profiting from the imperial sacking of other nations.
Thus, tactically, at least at first, socialism in America must be promoted through what it really is on the level of everyday life for working class folks. This is their expansion of power, autonomy, and life. It is promoting socialism as giving them a say in their workplace; them being able to decide what is made, how, when, to who it will be sold to, and for how much. It means them not having to worry about the company being shipped over sees for cheap labor to increase the profits of their bosses, but rather they themselves being their own bosses. It means the rational solution of eliminating the unnecessary middleman. They know they make the commodities exchanged all throughout society, or that they transport them making their exchange possible; they also know they are one paycheck away from homelessness while their non-working bosses’ life is so incredibly filled with luxury they can only get an insight into it when they turn on the TV. Thus, when you approach this worker, there is nothing theoretical you can tell him he doesn’t already feel. As Bill Haywood once said, “I’ve never read Marx’s Capital, but I got the marks of capital all over my body”.
Big Bill’s statement still holds true today, perhaps truer now than in the last 50 years, given that the polarization of wealth we’ve seen has our society looking more like the 19th century than the 1950s. No longer are the 60s and 70s theories of the New Left, that consisted of how to make revolution without the working class because it was corrupted by its opportunist comfort viable for us today. If there was ever a time for revolution it is now. The accumulation is about to pop, the coming capitalist crisis, along with the pandemic, puts us in the ripe material conditions for this much necessary leap. As Lukacs states:
“In this situation the fate of the proletariat, and hence of the whole future of humanity, hangs on whether or not it will take the step that has now become objectively possible.”
The question is now one of praxis. Which tactics are we using in our organizing spaces? This is where I think Dr. Wolff’s focus on coops comes in. As previously stated, the emphasis of socialism from the perspective of workplace democracy, and not state centrally planned economy, must be the angle we use in the US. It is the only angle the American worker is desensitized in, the concept of democracy, a concept so corrupted by the west it is unrecognizable to what it really means; yet it is the only one our workers are not put to fear by. Promote socialism in the US as the expansion of workplace democracy, and the guaranteeing of the essential rights of our population (something the US is the only developed country to not do), and we are guaranteeing ourselves the best shot at creating the subjective conditions which are necessary in such an objectively revolutionary time.
Part 3: Marx, Engels, and Lenin on Cooperatives
It is possible that the same type of ‘Marxist’ I referred to earlier is saying that I have not yet shown how promoting socialism as coops is in any way Marxist. It is possible that they see my previous tactical argument explaining the Wolff phenomena, merely as an attempt I am making to find that Narnia door, avoiding the class struggle and taking the easy path of classless enterprises under capitalism. This section necessitates its division into two parts. The first will be the question of cooperatives under a capitalist society. The second will be the question of cooperatives under a post-capitalist society.
Part 3.1: Cooperatives in Capitalism
It might be easy to see the promotion of coops within capitalism the same way communist used to look at the hippie communes. Although the hippie commune and the coop are two completely different things, in the mind of the type of Marxist critics I have been talking about, both are clear example of escapism; a refusal to partake in the class struggle while retreating to a position in which the contradictions of capitalism are ameliorated in your everyday life.
Like it usually happens with all falsehoods, there is always a kernel of truth. The kernel of truth here is that cooperatives do provide a sense of ameliorating capitalist contradictions, at least for those involved in the coop. With the removal of the boss figure, you have removed the contradiction of socialized production and individual accumulation. Where does the possibility of the transcending of capitalism go if we begin to ameliorate the contradictions for a portion of the population through the promotion of cooperatives? At the end of the day, it is true that radical liberals like John Stuart Mill and John Dewey promoted these forms of firms. Could cooperatives have been the capitalist loophole Marx was unable to see? The irony of the question is that it brings to mind Karl Popper’s objection of Marxism as a science; would the coop loophole prove to be the falsifier of scientific socialism?
Before we appeal to Marx, I find it important to address this last point. This last point comes from a skepticism of coops’ status as socialism due to its acceptance as a form of property by those who do not necessarily seek to transcend capitalism. I think the duck test would work as a common sense respond to this worry. If something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like one, you must be foolish to call it a chicken just because the guy next to you who has never seen a duck and is vaguely familiar with chickens, calls it a chicken. The point is, if a firm does not have the relation of owner and worker, if the process of production and distribution of wealth is taken into consideration collectively by those participating in the socialized production, and if the mentality is not the monadic rugged individualism of capitalism but rather a collective mentality in which the individual and collective interest are complimentary, then it’s a duck; to translated away from the analogy, it is not in any way, shape, or form a capitalist relation, but rather a form of production that transcends the relations and logic of capitalism.
To reformulate the essence of the Marxist skepticism of coops, the skepticism lies usually not in the cooperative itself. Given that many if not all are able to recognize that it is not capitalist, and that a society purely based on cooperative firms with a working-class party in power could be called socialist. Their worry stems from the comfort the coop could bring about in a sector of the working masses, a comfort which might make the struggle against capitalism non appetizing for them, given that they are not really living the capitalist reality in their workplace. Their sentiment can be expressed nicely in Che’s proverb “we have no right to believe freedom can come without struggle.”
But what is being assumed when one states that a cooperative firm will bring the comfort to make possible the escape of capitalist conditions at work without struggle? Well, precisely this, that workers once they experience the comfort of a non-exploitative cooperative firm are going to retreat from the struggle against capitalism and enjoy their privilege condition as an anomaly within the system. This presupposes that the mentality of these cooperative workers is the same individualistic mentality capitalism promotes. The falsity here is that if there is something that worker cooperatives produces, more importantly than work without exploitation, is the fundamental mental shift away from the individualism of bourgeois society. A worker in a worker cooperative begins the epistemological transformation that would take place in the socialist phase, already within capitalism. This is a worker who is realizing his species essence as a being is dependent on the community, a being who comes to realize that:
“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating their gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefor, is personal freedom possible.”
The problem has been that many of these “Marxist” have focused a bit too much on the aspects of the economic side of Marxism. They call themselves scientific, as if in doing so they are looking down on the non-scientific or ethical based communist. They have forgotten to read the early Marx. They have forgotten that it was the humanist Marx that saw the need to study economics. They have forgotten that it was Marx the philosopher that saw the problem of alienation, traced it to its economic core, and then diverged the rest of his life to the study. So, yes, it is a science, but before the science begins we have a radical humanism, focused before anything on the abolition of the estrangement of man, and on the development of this man from his alienated condition to a condition re-united with his species being. And thus, the personal development the cooperative has on the individual, the source that refutes their conclusion of retreat from the struggle, slips the conscious of these Marxist. This is given to the fact that they have forgotten and neglected the most essential part of the development towards communism; the creation of the communist man, the man that has returned to his species being at a higher level than ever before because of the productiveness and abundance capitalism brings about. This is the man the cooperative begins to develop; a man who will not only not stay put in his cooperative comfort, but who will fight with his life for his fellow man, to end their exploitation. This is a man who now has the concrete truth that a society based on equitable non exploitative productiveness is not only more just but efficient as well. Thus, the cooperative not only serves to develop the communist man that will be a secured catalyst in the struggle, but with it to develops the internal alternative that serves as a concrete possibility of the envisaging of a future beyond capitalism.
So, what is it that Marx states about cooperatives within capitalism? There is essentially two things he says. First that:
“The cooperative factories of the laborers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organization all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labor is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated laborers into their own capitalist, by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labor. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no cooperative factories. The capitalist stock company, as much as the cooperative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”
What is Marx saying here about cooperatives within capitalism? Well, that they essentially represent an internal negation to the system, the “new mode of production naturally growing out of the old”. This should remind us of his comments on the lower stage of communism from the Critique of the Gotha Program earlier, where the first stage of communism still has the birthmarks of the womb of the old society.
It is also very important to understand what is being said in the last statement. “The only distinction that the one antagonism is resolved negatively in one and positively in the other”, what does this mean? Well, to understand what this means we need literacy in Marxist dialectics. To get a direct reference to help us understand this quote, we are going to travel back to 1845 and the publishing of his and Engel’s first major work, The Holy Family. In Ch. 4 Marx states:
“Proletarian and wealth are opposite; as such they form a single whole. They are both forms of the world of private property. The question is what place each occupies in the antithesis. It is not sufficient to declare them two sides of a single whole. Private property as private property, as wealth is compelled to maintain itself, and thereby its opposite, the proletariat, in existence. That is the positive side of the contradiction, self-satisfied private property. The proletariat, on the other hand, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, the condition for its existence, what makes it the proletariat, private property. That is the negative side of the contradiction, its restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property. The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-alienation. But the former class finds in this self-alienation its confirmation and its good, its own power: it has in it a semblance of human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in its self-alienation; it sees in it its own powerlessness the reality of an inhuman existence. Within this antithesis the private owner is therefore the conservative side, the proletariat, the destructive side. From the former arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter, that of annihilating it.”
Here, in the beautiful poetic dialectics of the young Marx, we find the key to understanding what his later self is saying in respects to stock companies and worker cooperative. In essence, stock companies represent the positive side of the antithesis, the side which seeks to actively maintain the existing capitalist relations. Therefore, worker cooperatives, represent the negative side of the antithesis, that being the side which strives for the annihilation of the existing relations as such.
Thus, his view on cooperatives in capitalism is essentially that, like the proletariat itself, it represents the aspect of the dialectic seeking to abolish the condition of the existing order. It is a form of property in direct contradiction with private property as maintained under capitalism, and whose existence and growth represents a threat to capitalism itself.
The second view Marx has on coops in capitalism is more so a tactical one. It comes from his Critique of the Gotha Program. His argument here is less optimistic, but when we analyze it closely, the loss of optimism about coops is one based on tactics, not cooperatives themselves. He states:
“That the workers desire to establish the conditions for cooperative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundations of cooperate societies with state aid. But as far as the present cooperative societies are concerned, they are of value only in so far as they are the independent creations of the workers and not the proteges either of the government or of the bourgeois.”.
What Marx is saying here is that if worker cooperatives are something promoted by the state or by the bourgeois class, there is no revolutionary value in them. Of course, under these conditions, the control over these experiments can very well lead to the comfort the previous mentioned Marxist might fear in coops. But, all in all, he is consistent with what he says in Capital Vol 3, by stating that if rather than being something promoted by the bourgeoisie or state it is something that grows out of the working class, then it is of revolutionary potential. This is to some extent a quite simple point, that is, only if this revolutionary action is truly an action of the revolutionary agent is it revolutionary.
A sidestep to Lenin might help us better understand this point. Lenin states:
“Why were the plans of the old cooperators, from Robert Owen onwards, fantastic? Because they dreamed of peacefully remolding contemporary society into socialism without taking account of such fundamental questions as the class struggle, the capture of political power by the working-class, the overthrow of the rule of the exploiting class. That is why we are right in regarding as entirely fantastic this “cooperative: socialism, and as romantic, and even banal, the dream of transforming class enemies into class collaborators and class war into class peace (so called class truce) by merely organizing the population in cooperative societies.”
Again, the only objection here is the promotion of cooperatives as some sort of hippy commune thing which tries to alienate itself from the class struggle. But, given that exploitation will be a reality around the cooperative workers, and given the transformation they will have in their consciousness, it is indubitable that the class struggle will remain a central focus of the cooperative worker. When coops are used as fellow instruments in the class struggle, when they play their role as the negative in the whole, and if they help achieve power for the working class; then there is nothing else one can consider them but properly socialist. As Lenin states:
“Now we are entitled to say that for us the mere growth of cooperation is identical with the growth of socialism, and at the same time we have to admit that there has been a radical modification in our whole outlook on socialism. The radical modification is this; formerly we placed, and had to place, the main emphasis on the political struggle, on revolution, on winning political power, etc. Now the emphasis is on changing and shifting to peaceful, organizational, cultural work.”
What is this cultural shift Lenin touches on at the end, if not precisely the development of man, the one that develops during and with cooperative work, and which to some extent is even required before taking upon the cooperative project. Thus, Lenin states “the organization of the entire peasantry in cooperative societies presupposes a standard of culture”, this holds the key to understand the statement by Marx and the source of the cooperative. If the cooperative is started by workers, it is because they have already a level of consciousness, or what Lenin here calls culture, that is essential in determining the revolutionary status of the action. But, if the cooperative is promoted by another source that is not workers, the conscious or cultural element, has failed to precede the cooperative formation, and thus the formation itself cannot be deemed revolutionary. But, when one agitates workers, and helps them realize their common interest in cooperative firms, in democracy at work, and then they take up the revolutionary action of creating cooperatives and continuing the class struggle; what is this if not precisely a revolutionary action, the manifestation of the internal negative. Thus, the promotion, differs from the creation. Promoting worker coops and having workers form them can be seen as revolutionary action. While a state or capitalist formed cooperative where workers are employed cannot be considered as a revolutionary action in itself, even though it definitely can, by its very nature, develop a revolutionary potential.
Part 3.2: Cooperatives in Socialism
This section is bound to be short, as it is obvious to any communist or socialist, that in a socialist society, a worker cooperative is in line with the ideals of the society. The difficulty was in the previous section, in address the question of withdrawal from the class struggle. Now that we have overcome that, there seems to be little rejection of cooperatives as a positive form of property under socialism. Regardless, I will fulfill my promise of providing what the fathers of scientific socialism had to say on the topic.
The clearest response to a fully cooperative society comes from Marx. The context of which is in discussion with he who calls a duck a chicken; that being the bourgeois political economist who promotes cooperative firms. Marx states that:
“Why, those members of the ruling classes who are intelligent enough to perceive the impossibility of continuing the present system, and they are many, have become the obtrusive and full-mouthed apostles of cooperative production. If cooperative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if united cooperative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production, what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, “possible” communism?”
The quote speaks for itself, what is a fully cooperative society? Quite simply communism. You can call it whatever you want, it is what it is.
Let us turn to Engels now, as in a letter to Bebel he states:
“My proposal envisages the introduction of cooperatives into existing production, just as the Paris Commune demanded that the workers should manage cooperatively the factories closed down by the manufacturers.”
He then states that neither Marx nor he had:
“ever doubted that, in the course of the transition to a wholly communist economy, widespread use would have to be made of cooperative management as an intermediate stage.”
We will end with Lenin, who states that:
“Given social ownership of the means of production, given the class victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the system of civilized cooperators is the system of socialism.”
“cooperation under our conditions nearly always coincides fully with socialism.”
In this work, I hope to have demonstrated the following, 1- that cooperatives within capitalism represent a negation of the system and help promote socialism in two ways. The first is by the development it produces in its workers, the second is by the example it gives to the rest of society of the “proof that the capitalist has become no less redundant as a functionary in production as he himself, looking down from his high perch, finds the big landowner redundant.” 2- I hope to have shown that a society based on cooperatives can properly be called socialist. And 3- That tactically the promotion of socialism as cooperative or workplace democracy is the route we should pursue in our engagements and organizing of workers in America.
Citations and Side Comments.
 Rodriguez Delli, Livia. “Cooperativas no agropecuarias: de una experiencia a una novedad en Cuba” Granma, April 30, 2014. http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2014-05-19/cooperativas-no-agropecuarias-de-una-experiencia-a-una-novedad-en-cuba?page=4
GDP growth (annual %) – Latin America & Caribbean, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Cuba. The World Bank, 2015. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?end=2015&locations=ZJ-CO-CL-MX-PE-CU&most_recent_year_desc=false&start=2015&view=bar
 Wolff, Richard. Democracy at Work, September 7, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/user/democracyatwrk
 It is important to note here that Marx uses communism and socialism interchangeably. Specifically, in this work he refers to the difference as the first or lower stage of communism and the higher stage. The higher is the state in which things would be carried out “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Marx, Karl. “Critique of the Gotha Program” The Marx-Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1875), p. 531.
 Ibid., 529.
 Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford, 1977/1807), p.6.
 Marx. Critique of the Gotha Program. p. 538.
 Engels, Frederick. “The Civil War in France: Intro” Marx-Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1891), p.628.
 “Nowhere do “politicians” form a more separate and powerful sections of the nation than precisely in North America. There, each of the two major parties which alternately succeed each other in power is itself in turn controlled by people who make a business of politics, who speculate on seats in the legislative assemblies of the Union as well as of the separate states, or who make a living by carrying on agitation for their party and on its victory are rewarded with positions. It is well known how Americans have been trying for thirty years to shake of this yoke, which has become intolerable, and how in spite of it all they continue to sink ever deeper in this swamp of corruption. It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was intended to be. Here there exists no dynasty, no nobility, no standing army, beyond the few men keeping watch on the Indians, no bureaucracy with permanent posts or the right to pensions. And nevertheless we find here two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends, and the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality dominate and plunder it.” Ibid., 628.
 Marx, Karl. “The Civil War in France” The Marx-Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1871), p.632.
 Lenin, V. I. The State and Revolution (Foreign Language Press, 1970/1917), p. 36.
 Ibid., 29.
 Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program. p. 531.
 Lukacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness (MIT Press, 1979/1923), p.75
Guevara, Che. “Message to the Tricontinental” Che Guevara Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1967/04/16.htm
 Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology” The Marx-Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, 1978/1932), p. 197.
 Part of the reason why Marx changes his position on Europe being the center for revolution is because even at the beginning of the 1880’s he still saw the tremendous role the subjective element of man played. Thus, when studying the anthropologist at the time, Henry Morgan, Kovalevsky, etc. he realizes the potential indigenous communities have towards the building of the higher stage of communism. The potential stems from them having never lost their collective mentality. Thus, whereas the proletarian in Europe had to develop his consciousness before any material struggle could take place, the communards of the colonized global south already had that “communist consciousness” and thus from the beginning their struggle is already an ideologically conscious one.
 Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 3 (International Publishers, 1974/1894), p. 440.
 Marx, Karl. The Holy Family (University Press of the Pacific, 2002/1845), p.51.
 Marx, Karl. Critique of the Gotha Program. p. 536-7.
 Lenin, V. I. “On Cooperation” Collected Works, Vol 33 (Progress Publishers, 1965), p.473.
 This response is believed to be an indirect jab at John Stuart Mill’s conception of capitalism heading down the road to cooperative firms.
 Marx, Karl. The Civil War in France. p. 635.
 Engels, F. 1886. Letter to Bebel, 20-23 January, in Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 47. Quoted from Jossa, B Marx, Marxism, and the Cooperative Movement. (Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2005)
 Lenin, V. I. On Cooperation. p. 472.
 Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 3, p.387