in defense of planned socialism

Andrew Hagen hagena at
Sun Nov 6 00:08:45 MST 1994

On Wed, 2 Nov 1994, Justin Schwartz wrote:
> before that, Andrew Hagen wrote:
> > First, the weaknesses of market socialism. Markets cannot be part of
> > socialism, because markets are instruments of class power perpetrated by
> > the bourgeosie.
> What, is this an axiom? Capitalist markets roughly fit this description.
> But markets without capitalists cannot, because there is no bourgeoisie.
> Anyway, people will exchange things unless prevented by the police. Is it
> your left-libertarian idea to stop them using the coercive power of the
> state?

No, my idea is to let the state wither and die. And people will not be
"exchanging" goods and services as they are under Status Quo capitalism
because under communism they will not "own" the goods or services.
Property rights should be superseded by property charters. Individuals
would still have largely exclusive access to their own "property" as long
as they played by the rules. Individuals will not be able to sell their
property, because they will not own it. Legally, they have it only because
its use is granted to them.

Thus, markets will not exist. But transfers of goods and services will of
course occur, given social approval.

Is the statement "markets are instruments of class power" axiomatic? No,
it is well founded. Given that markets presume private property rights, a
state power to protect those rights, and the gutting of societal
stricutres particularly those preventing the commodification of labor, the
statement "markets are instruments of class power" is definitional.

> >  Markets presume a widening division of labor, private
> > property, and commodity production.
> Not private property. Markets need property rights, but these need not be
> vested in private individuals or corporations.

Of course you are referring to market socialism, in which cooperatives
hold property rights.

Leaving aside possible questions of the inevitability of the
centralization of power within organizations, the futility of state
regulation of markets in a historical epoch defined by the gutting of such
regulations allowing the commodification of labor, the unavailability of
capital for investment by cooperatives without centralized financial
institutions which by necessity would hold a great deal of political
power, and the unlikelihood of success of a revolution advocating only
minor change in society, the principal weakness of market socialism is its
inability to resolve the misappropriation of surplus value.

In Status Quo capitalism surplus value is of course kept by the owner of
the means of production. The problem is that the value appropriated was
created not only by commodified labor but also by capital goods which has
labor embedded in it. The capitalist exploits labor and steals that which
is the society's.

In market socialism surplus value is kept by the owner of the means of
production, the cooperative in question. Labor and capital goods are
embedded in the product of the cooperative. The cooperative does not
exploit its own labor force, but it does exploit the workers who built
the capital goods the cooperative bought from other cooperatives.

> >  The reproduction of the means of human life [in MS]
> > would continue to be controlled by the Moneybags's of the world.
> >
> No, for the reasons stated. Income from production would revert to the
> workers. There would be no moneybags.

But which workers would receive which income? From which capital goods
would it accrue? Cooperatives would be scrambling all over each other to
control price of capital goods, and would form alliances in order to
effect market power.

> > Next, the weaknesses of planned socialism. [....]  If
> > black markets exist, that is clearly a result of class machinations,
> > assuming democracy is working nearly perfectly.
> Clearly?! Is that an axiom too?

It is not axiomatic if my argument is valid that markets are instruments
of class power.

> Look, if there are shortages and
> bottlenecks, people will seek what they need and want outside the regular
> channels. I have not yet heard an argument that perfect democracy can stop
> shortages and bottlenecks.

If a democracy, both economic and political, is functioning very well,
society will produce those goods which people want and need, eliminating
shortages. In effect, the goal is to eliminate the "fundamental natural
law" of scarcity.

> Well, we can learn from the USSR that democracy is necessary for
> socialism. But if you dismiss the only empirical evidence we have, you
> drift off into never-never land. After all, pro-capitalists can dismiss
> the empirical evidence of actual capitalism and appeal to the wonderful
> world of neoclassical economics,

Of course, but you must agree that we are advocating something much
different than the USSR and thus its history as empirical evidence is
quite limited in usefulness.

> > How do we get to a nearly perfectly functioning democracy? Through class
> > consciousness.
> This is simplistic. Even if workers are aware of their real interests, it
> does not follow that we have good solutions to the problems of
> aggregating their preferences into a social choice.

The problem is that a good vision has not yet been articulated.

> The Arrow Theorem is
> really hard. Moreover, the difficulties in ensuring meaningful input and
> participation in a large society are immense. One vote in 150 million
> amounts to almost nothing.

Yes, in decisions made by that many people. But even in the rather
imperfect democracy of the U.S. never more than about 30 million people at
a time make a collective choice. The Presidential election is decided on
the basis of the electoral college, after all.

> Participation is smaller units is better,
> but how can these be structured to give individuals a real effect on
> choices
> affecting society as a whole? I don't say these problems are insoluble,
> but they are very difficult and incanting "democracy" and "class
> consciousness" will not solve them.

Clearly, work must be done in this area.


> > This is very much related to the need to dismantle the division of labor.
> > Greed is a result of the possibility of extravagance. No division of labor
> > means no possibliity of extravagance. People become persuaded of the
> > negativity of the DOL when they realize that sustenance and sustainability
> > are more important than extravagance.
> Is your idea that we should adopt the Gandhian ideal of producing all our
> own needs and living within the limits of what each of us an individuals
> can produce by him- or herself? Or in small family units? Good luck
> selling that to the working class!

No, the idea is to dismantle the system wherein people earn a livelihood
by working full time in a single job type. There are neurosurgeons and
there are janitors today. But under planning people who are trained as
neurosurgeons have to work as janitors once in a while, and occassionally
as porters, infrequently as nurses.

> By magic? If we don't have scarcity, why worry about sustainability?


> > Of
> > course, socialism will produce many extravagances, but it will be for the
> > enjoyment of all, that is, social.
> What's an extravagance? [humorous Louis Armstrong anecdote deleted]
> Are bathrooms and bathtubs extravagances? Will we be
> forced marched out of our suburban houses and city apartments to live in
> communal flats with shared bathrooms and bathe in collective washrooms?

Yes! Or you vill be marched to Ziberia, comrade! Just kidding. ;)

Facilities for maintaining public sanitation are hardly extravagances. I
imagine that some people would have private bathrooms/washrooms, and some
would share public ones.

> > You can plan out the production of resources, and to the extent needed,
> > the distribution of them. But it requires much more democracy than voting
> > once every two years. There should be votes every month.
> Every minute! Every second!

No, every month.

> Let's spend all our waking hours debating and
> voting! Doesn't anyone else find this an appalling prospect. I like
> politics more than most people, or I wouldn't be on this net, but I find
> it appalling.

What's the problem with having frequent public holidays specifically
devoted to debate and voting on important issues? People would love
politics, if it meant something.

> > After all, we know that organizations with
> > no "management" layer are far more productive than those with such layers.
> We "know" this? Where do we know it? Somewhere along the line that bit of
> knowledge missed me.

Here I overstepped the bounds of reason. But I do believe there is at
least a small body of evidence pointing to this. I don't think it's been
studied very deeply.

Andrew Hagen                              hagena at
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obMarx: Capital, vol 1. "So far no chemist has ever discovered
exchange-value either in a pearl or a diamond."


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