Marx vs. Hayek, conscious action vs. utopianism

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Mon Nov 7 20:22:10 MST 1994

Justin Schwartz writes:

>If I understand Juan Inigo's lengthy message, he has two points to make
>against the Mises-Hayek critique, or Chris' version of it:
>1. That all non-consciously regulated (nonplanned,
>non-SUCCESSFULLY-planned) forms of economic organization now or recently
>existence are THEREBY capitalist, because capitalism means, by definition,
>non-consciously regulated production. So it doesn't require capitalists or
>wage labor, just an absence of successful conscious popular control. The
>USSR turns out to be capitalist.
> ...
>As to (1), I cannot agree. It seems to me that capitalism requires private
>productive property, wage labor, and generalized commodity production. The
>last means no overall conscious regulation of the economy and so would be
>shared by market socialism. But to identify capitalism not with a specific
>set of relations of production and a mode of production but with a feature
>or result of that mode seems perverse.

I presented my critique of the Hayekian conceptions concerning the
conscious regulation of social life starting from a very concrete question
this conception should answer above all. I restated this question in my
post in four different ways, to make it clear from every possible angle. I
will repeat it here:

"When someone says (as Chris affirms that Hayek does) that capitalism is not
eternal but, at the same time, that the conscious regulation of human life
by the therefore freely associated individuals is not necessarily the form
through which capitalism supersedes itself, a question immediately emerges:
as conscious regulation and autonomous regulation through the valorization
of value are both ruled out from the beginning, which is going to be the
general social relationship, i.e., which is going to be the general form of
organizing human life in the supposedly new society? In other words, in
which way the total capacity of society to produce its life would be
allocated into its multiple concrete forms, in which way the multitude of
individual human metabolism process would be coordinated to form the social
metabolism process?"

Apparently, Justin believes that accusing me of perversely inverting the
determinations of social organization by abstracting from the specific set
of relations of production and a mode of production is the only proper
answer this question deserves.

In any case, do I make this abstraction or this inversion? In my post I
briefly showed how some of what Chris Sciabarra presented as the
non-capitalistic manifestations (ruling elites, failed central plans,
black-markets, the state's "despotic inroads") in what he calls "barbarism,
totalitarianism, corporativism, guild-socialist or neofascist statism," are
the necessary concrete forms through which the accumulation of capital
imposes itself as the general social relation in those societies. I've now
directly unfolded the main general determinations I find to be relevant
concerning the issue in a separated post under the subject "Capital
accumulation, conscious regulation and the USSR."

Now, isn't to make this abstraction or this inversion (as Hayek and Misses
do when they turn capitalism' necessary concrete forms into the abstract
negation of capitalism itself) to assert that the present-day regulation of
the social metabolism process (a regulation which is such given that the
reproduction of social life somehow results from it) that apparently takes
shape in a conscious plan but that actually is not conscious as this plan
is condemned to fail, is not a specific form of the autonomous regulation
of social life through the production of the social relationship by means
of the material production under its most developed form of the
self-valorization of value, namely, capitalism? If the regulation of the
social metabolism process at issue is not a specific form of capital
accumulation, which is the historical specificity of the general social
relationship in it? Actually, this is yet another version of the same
concrete question I've placed in my previous message.

>2. That we have another 1.5 billion years to get conscious regulation of
>our society right, so the MHC has too short a time horizon.
> ...
>As to (2), I guess I would regard a demonstration that socialism cannot be
>attained in the foreseeable future--within a few hundred years, say--as a
>refutation of it for practical purposes. I make no bets on the shape of
>human society in a thousand or a million years. I'd like a better life for
>myself and my kids, or at least for their kids' kids. I think that bad as
>our odds are, socialism is the best bet we have for that within the
>foreseeable future.
>But, and this is key, it has to be a kind of socialism that would work in
>the foreseeable future. One that awaits the next thousand years' advances
>in information processesing technology is no good for that purpose. As far
>as I can see the feasible socialism for the foreseeable future is market
>socialism. After that, it's up to the people in the future.

Hayek, Mises and Chris make it clear that, for them, the impossibility of
the general conscious regulation of human metabolism process is not a
matter of time but an absolute restriction, therefore atemporal
restriction, inherent in this process itself. After pointing out the social
determinations that take shape through this conception, I've shown how
openly grotesque this conception becomes (and therefore, how desperately
capitalism needs to support it against the revolutionary potencies it
itself produces) as soon as the impossibility they consider eternal is
properly placed within the whole potential history of humanity on earth,
even if that impossibility is hypothetically extended beyond any reasonable
horizon, for instance, to a thousand years from today. It clearly appears
thus as a restriction that is not only currently in process of being
overthrown, but whose complete overcoming is a matter of humanity's near

In more than one post to the list, Justin stated his agreement with Hayek
and Mises concerning the unconditioned impossibility of the general
conscious regulation of social life. He sounded quite assertive on the

>... I am interested in the debate around market socialism.
>I'm for it myself, ... , but would
>like to be persuaded otherwise if I could find any plausible reply to (and
>not a dismissal of) the Mises-Hayek calculation problem.

> ... the planning crowd has not produced attempts
>to answer the Mises-Hayek critique (MHC) of planning. They prefer to
>attack markets instead.
> ...
>I think this is the central theoretical issue for the socialist movement,
>so I hope folks have good ideas about it.

>It does not follow from the
>viability of direct allocation in corporations or negotiated allocation
>among firms in both cases in the context of a market system that direct,
>nonmarket allocation can replace market allocation at an acceptable level
>of efficiency.
> ...
> ... Mandel in fact doesn't really
>offer a wholly planned alternative, or pretend to. But even for the
>planned part Mandel is stuck without any way to deal with changes in
>demand. Given the "simplification" solution to the information problem to
>start with at the static level (this "solution" Hayek called part of the
>problem,!) and the rigidity at the dynamic level, you have a recipe for
>massive inefficiency and a guaranteed emergence of a huge black market.
> ...
>In the first place the calculation problem does not in
>any way turn on people being selfish. The problem with too many planners
>to which I was alluding is just that if it's not possible for say 300
>people in bureaucracy to know everything you need to know to plan
>effectively, it is no more possible for 150 million people to know all
>that stuff too. In fact the more you spread the info around the more it
>will degrade by a process of "telephone." Altruism won't help that.
>Democratic decisionmaking is not that easy either. It's not clear to me,
>for example, why a majority vote for a plan which, when it is done,
>reflects none or few of my first choices for anything, and on which I have
>had a 1 in 150 millionth part in forming and choosing, counts as anything
>more democratic than voting with my dollars in the market. And there are
>all the usual problems with aggregating individual preferences into a
>social choice.
>Finally, any economic program that is premised on the idea that
>self-interest will vanish is doomed. ...
>I note again that the calculation problem
>does not depend on Hobbesean assumptions. It would arise in a community of

After my post, time suddenly came into Justin's argument. But certainly not
to make it clear whether the restriction at issue is a historical one or an
absolute one. He appeals to time just to declare that the possibility of
the general conscious regulation of social life, and therefore the answer
to Hayek and Mises, is something whose realization falls beyond the
"foreseeable future," and therefore beyond the scope of present-day
revolutionary action.

In brief, time comes into Justin's argument just to hide away that the
general conscious regulation of social life is not only possible but a
necessary product (the historically most genuine one) of present-day
society, so its development (which means, progressive realization) is not a
question for the future to solve, but a practical matter of our own daily
concern. Moreover, Justin attempted to complete the inversion by presenting
me as saying that the annihilation of capitalism into the conscious
regulation of human life is an abstract timeless social potency, as it
would be the case of something whose quantitative time determination can be
placed anywhere in humanity's 1,5 billion years of possible history on

Even the "foreseeable future" is turned into an abstraction concerning our
conscious revolutionary action when it is not placed in relation with us
through the realization of the potencies inherent today in capital to
revolutionize itself. And more specifically, when it is not placed in
relation with us through the realization of the potencies inherent today in
capital to revolutionize itself that take necessary shape through our
conscious action as the specific part of the proletariat we are. As Marx
makes it clear, when "the point is to change the world" there is no place
for "writing recipes for future cook-shops," but for the reproduction of
the actually existent concrete through thought. Conversely, Justin thinks
that not writing those recipes was "a serious mistake."

A question concerning Justin's "market socialism" immediately follows: is
it the necessary concrete form through which capital realizes its potencies
to revolutionize itself into socialism/communism or is it just an
ideological attempt to present capitalist regulation as the eternal form of
society's regulation, disguised as an apparent criticism of capitalism by
abstractly asserting the exclusion of some of capital's concrete forms (for
instance, no wage labor)? In this second case, it would be just another
concrete form of the same social necessity that Hayek's and Mises'
conceptions (and Steve Keen's theory that the use-values in which constant
capital is materialized produce the social relationship surplus-value, as
I've shown in this list) express.

To give the first step in answering this question, another question must be
answered: which is the general social relationship in this "market

Juan Inigo
jinigo at


More information about the Marxism mailing list