Marx v. Hayek
SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
Tue Nov 1 21:11:27 MST 1994
I was extremely impressed by the recent post of Juan
Inigo, "Marx vs. Hayek, conscious action vs. utopianism."
Let me just say, as a kind of preface, that Marx and
Hayek suggest profoundly divergent views of what is the most
FEASIBLE form of "conscious regulation of human life by . . .
freely associated individuals." While it would be delightful
for me to discuss the Hayekian vision in greater depth, a
vision that is not, as Juan suggests, based on capitalism's
"eternality," I must invoke the words of Paul Cockshott, who
said in a recent post that this is not a discussion group on
Hayek. If it were, I could, in fact, provide a LIST of
theoretical problems in Hayek that remain unresolved. For
while I do believe that Hayek has much to offer to the
reconstruction of radical social science, I do not support
the entire Hayekian worldview. I hesitate to engage my own
critique here, since this would take us way beyond the scope
Nevertheless, I'd like to respond critically to some of
Juan states correctly: "There is no resort whatsoever
to `ruling elites' in Marx or Engels concerning the
development of the conscious regulation of human life;
rather, as the quotations that Chris himself presents make it
clear, they see in this conscious regulation the annihilation
of all elites."
This said, however, my reference to "ruling elites" is
not my own "invention". I did not introduce this term
"unintentionally," nor did I resort to a convenient,
"incidental" change in Marx's or Engels's words in the manner
of an "apologetic of capitalism." My reference to "ruling
elites" is based on a casual observation of what in fact HAS
happened historically in so-called socialist societies.
There is NO democratic planning mechanism. Rather, a new
class of technocrats has invariably arisen, a kind of
"vanguard" that never goes away, and that seeks merely to
redistribute wealth and power to itself and to its
beneficiaries (usually the military and capital-intensive
industrial concerns) through the direct intervention of an
oppressive, coercive state apparatus.
Juan is also correct to note that Hayek views monopoly
and state concentration as anathema to capitalism. He
suggests, also correctly, that Hayek identifies capitalism
with the "free market." Juan observes:
". . . this is what has always been the petite-
bourgeoisie fantasy of enjoying capitalism forever without
having to suffer its necessary trends. Hayek's `capitalism'
is therefore just an utopian idealization and, consequently,
just an apolegetic representation of capitalism disguised as
a pseudo-criticism of its necessary concrete forms . . ."
I don't think that it is necessarily a "utopian
idealization" to conceive of capitalism in the Hayekian
sense, and to use this conception as the basis of a critique
of its "necessary concrete forms." If one accepts Hayek's
DEFINITION, it is by no means clear that any of the
corporativist contemporary incarnations are "necessary"
concrete forms of capitalist development. In the scale of
human history, one can say that capitalism is rather young.
Its introduction into human production has been revolutionary
and progressive, but its revolution is by no means, complete.
According to Hayek and others in the libertarian tradition,
"capitalism" has always been diluted by the survival of pre-
capitalist social and cultural forms. Ironically, Hayek
would have agreed with Marx who lamented that Germany, for
instance, suffered "from the development of capitalist
production [and] from the incompleteness of that
development." The persistence of neomercantilist, state-
driven "antiquated modes of production," proved to Marx that
the German people suffered "not only from the living, but
from the dead."
Let's remember that DEFINITIONS help to distinguish the
"essential" from the "non-essential" characteristics of the
entity under scrutiny. For Marx, capitalism's "essential"
characteristics include EVERY metamorphosis of its `social
metabolism,' from the time of its beginnings until today.
(As such, there can be a problematic tendency in Marxian
internal relations to make EVERY characteristic of an entity
as essential as every other characteristic, which makes
individuation and abstraction difficult for radical social
scientists.) By contrast, for Hayek and other genuine
advocates of the "free market" (I would include here, Mises,
Rothbard, Rand, and other libertarians), capitalism's
"essential" characteristics can be ABSTRACTED from the
historical reality. However, these abstracted
characteristics are not REIFIED and external, rather they are
analyzed in their dynamic interpenetration with existing,
surprisingly resilient, modes of previous social formations.
The abstracted characteristics of "capitalism" are celebrated
by libertarian advocates since these entail the proliferation
of the secular mind, the individualist-libertarian ethos, the
"trader" principle writ large, the use of "money" rather than
the use of "guns," the free-flowing price mechanism, etc.
(Oh, and by the way, market prices do NOT ignore
externalities, as Justin Schwartz suggests... the issue of
externalities relates primarily to the legal framework within
which prices function. Hayek and others would view the
internalization of externalities as a prime outgrowth of a
free-flowing price system in which all property is PRIVATELY
owned, for in the public sector, where "everybody" and
"nobody" owns resources, there is waste, inefficiency, and
environmental decay... but this is another subject for
Thus, to a certain degree, Juan is correct to suggest
that the contemporary libertarian advocates of the free
market seem to be criticizing the historical reality against
a pure abstraction of capitalism, which of course, has never
existed in its ideal form. But this, I submit, is no
different than what leftist intellectuals have been doing
throughout this entire century. Many on the left have
criticized totalitarian statism and collectivism precisely
because it is anathema to their own "ideal" of participatory,
communal democracy, which has also never existed in its ideal
form. It is a Marxist intellectual chutzpa to believe that
contemporary political economy must, "by necessity" resolve
itself into such an ideal. Marx was wrong, in my view, to
project a kind of synoptic grasp of an historical teleology,
such that capitalism "by necessity" would annihilate "itself
into this new society." In any event, it is not such
teleological predictions that have inspired his followers; it
is his overwhelming sense of social justice.
Juan makes a very good case for the epistemic
transformation that is needed by this "new society," which
would "overcome the limitations" of the dynamic market
process. Alas, Hayek and his libertarian contemporaries have
been quite persuasive in showing that these limitations are
not historically specific; they are ontologically real and
epistemically endemic to the human species. Thus far, the
market has been the best means of dealing with these
epistemic strictures. And, to emphasize once again: This is
NOT an issue of purely "quantitative social determinations."
No matter how high the degree of automated quantitative
analysis, there will always be qualitative "magnitudes" that
are simply missing from the planners' computer programs.
Nor is this a matter of "extreme shortsightedness," for it is
the CHARACTER of human knowledge that is almost always viewed
by planners in arid, one-dimensional, articulable,
I should just state that my own vision does not militate
against ANY "conscious regulation of social life." While it
can be said that Hayek may have overemphasized the
"accidental" over the "conscious," the same cannot be said
for other libertarian theorists (e.g., Rand) who have
provided more persuasive and realistic assessments of the
degree to which human efficacy can triumph in a world of
unintended social consequences. That triumph however,
includes a vision of capitalism as an "unknown ideal," one
which has dispensed with the vestiges of statism and
tribalism that have undermined it from the beginning.
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics
INTERNET: sciabrrc at acfcluster.nyu.edu
BITNET: sciabrrc at nyuacf
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