Marx vs. Hayek, conscious action vs. utopianism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Mon Nov 7 21:32:25 MST 1994

On Tue, 8 Nov 1994, Juan Inigo wrote:

> 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?"

I don't find this question clear, even restated several ways. It seems to
demand either a slogan answer "conscious regulation" or "autonomous
regulation through the valorization of value," which leaves things about
as clear as they were before, or a book. I guess I can say a couple of
things. First, I don't think anything meaningful can be said about "the
general form of organizing human life" in a society without a lot more
sociology than I want to take on.

I was interested in the organization of production and the distribution of
products and wealth generally. This is the economic problem. I think that
Albert and Hahnel have exactly the right take on it when they say it is a
matter of satisfying as best can be done the demand for goods and services
given the amount people want to work and the available resources. The
problem is to get a match that's reasonably acceptable to all concerned.
A&H and I disagree about what the best way to do this is, but the problem
is reasonably well defined.

What relations among people does the market socialist solution involve?
Well, as far as relations of production go, all are self-managing
cooperators who use property which is collectively owned. Within firms and
with regard to the state, people have relations of democratic citizenship
or membership. Between firms, people in them have market relations, some
cooperative (supplier, buyer, etc.), others competitive. So there is no
single relation which characterizes the whole "social metabolism." Perhaps
if you wanted an expression which said this you might try the
"non-autonomous or consciously regulated valorization of value," but you'd
probably regard that as a contradiction in terms.

> 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.

No, I just didn't understand the question. I'm still not sure I do.

> 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."

I will check this out, but I'm a priori suspicious if it's going to come
out that the USSR was capitalist without capitalists or (official) markets.

> 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?

Now I am really lost.

 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.

OK, now are you asking what was the USSR if it wasn't capitalist? I think
we lack a good theory of Stalinist societies and economies. They weren't
capitalist because the lacked private property, capitalist classes, and
markets as central means of economic coordination. They weren't socialist
because property wasn't genuinely socially controlled and the working
class did not rule either the polity or the economy (perhaps a different
way of saying the same thing). There's been a rather tedious debate about
"the nature of the USSR" in the Trotskyist tradition, and while I think
the best story is the "bureaucratic collectivist" theory that Stalinism
involved a distinctly nonsocialist postcapitalist mode of production ruled
by a noncapitalist class of bureaucratic exploiters, I think this is still
a fairly superficial and "phenomenological" account, not the detailed and
deep story we need. But the lack of a deep story that fits is no reason to
use one that doesn't, namely Marx's genuinely deep story about capitalism.

> >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
> future.
> 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
> matter:

Before you quote me, I will say to remove any further unclarity that I do
not presume to speak for the ages or even the next thousand years. The
problems I am concerned with in politics are those we face in the
foreseeable future--say the next 150 or 200 years. (That's a long time, as
long, near enough, as this country has existed!) I want solutions that
might be underway in that, as they say, time frame. So I don't rule out
the very idea of effective planning in all times and places, or ever. I
don't see how it would work, but there's a lot I don't see. (Though my not
seeing it is enough reason for me not to advocate it!) Still, who knows,
it might come about someday that it was possible. My point was and is that
this is no good to us if it is too far away. The solutions we need are to
problems we have. We cannot go out an organize on the Kafkaesque slogan
(Kakfa actually said this), "There is an infinite amount of hope, but not
for us."

OK, to prove I said that markets are eternal and planning is impossible,
Juan quotes me as follows:

> >... 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.

Does this sound like a categorical assertion or a request for an argument?

> > ... the planning crowd has not produced attempts
> >to answer the Mises-Hayek critique (MHC) of planning. They prefer to
> >attack markets instead.

Well, look at how Andrew and Tom behave.

> > ...
> >I think this is the central theoretical issue for the socialist movement,
> >so I hope folks have good ideas about it.

You got a problem with that?

> >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.

That is true whether or not the MHC is valid.

> > ...
> > ... 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.
> > ...

So, why does this prove that I think anything more than Mandel has a problem?

> >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.

So why does this commit me to the calculation problem being eternal? What
I say here is that the problem turns on information issues rather than
motivation ones and nothing about how long it will be with us.

> >
> >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.

This of course is a different problem, not the MHC at all, but a problem
of democratic theory.

> >
> >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
> >saints.


> 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.

No. If you look at what I have said, you will see that it is virtually
always couched in the form of a challenge. Show me! I am more than willing
to believe, I very much want to believe, that the calculation problem is
soluble. Likewise the democratic problem, I might add. But, unlike the
democratic problem, where the alternative is unspeakable and second best
solutions are adequate in the meanwhile, it seems to me that we have a
pretty good alternative to planning (Market socialism) and that the best
attempts to give a planner's reply to the MHC problem are inadequate. In
this group I put Lange's ratcheting, Mandel's simplifications, and A&H's
endless computer entry and net time. That does not mean that I reject any
possible solution. I just haven't heard one that convinces me yet. That
being so, and me having things to do, I will continue to work on models of
market socialism and hold that out when folks ask me why I fight the
power, at least until Juan or Tom or someone convinces me either that it
really is capitalism or that the MHC is defeasible.

I will comment that the following argument seems right and important for
us all. If market socialism is no better (or even worse) than capitalism, and
if planned socialism is no better (or even worse) than capitalism, and if
there is no other alternative which is better than capitalism, then we
should support capitalism by default. Now, all you pro-planners think the
first antecedent is true and you reject, I guess, a third way. So what you
have to show, to justify not being pro-capitalist, is that planned
socialism is better. This you have not done.

> 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.

Well it can only be necessary if it is possible, and this has not been
shown. If it were possible in the foreseeable future I'd be a happy
camper, so why not show me? Personally I'm not enough of a Hegelian to
think that virtually anything in social life is necessary, except maybe
that you can't go home again. But I'd be happy with possible.

 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
> earth.

Gee, whatever that means, I certainly hope I didn't say it.
> 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.

That I agree with, insofar as I understand it.

 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.

Do you mean, what is to be done? I.e., by us, the men and women who make
our own history, if not just as we choose?

 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."

I certainly do. And Marx does not make anything clear about that refusal
except that he insists on it.

> 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

Nothing "necessary" about it. But it might be possible--as far as I can
tell it has a better chance of being possible than planned socialism--and
it might be better than capitalism. If so, it's worth fighting for. Does
capitalism create the basis for that possibility and superiority? Sure.
Where else would that basis come from?

 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)?

Well, as I said, it's not eternal. Like everything else it would be
transitional to something. Who knows, maybe to planned socialism? But at
this point I can't see what it might be transitional to which would also
be better. As to the attempt to trivialize the force of the practical
market socialist criticism of capitalism by calling this merely apparent,
abstract assertion, etc. I am baffled.

We are talking in market socialism about a system where there is NO WAGE
LABOR. You cannot (legally) hire someone or sell your labor power. Labor
power in this story is NOT A COMMODITY. Consequently there is NO
EXPLOITATION of labor of the sort which exists in capitalism; moreover,
since workers retain income rights to the results of their production,
there is no exploitation of the sort that exists in feudalism and slavery.
Taxes aside, workers control both the surplus product and its value.
Moreover, since productive property is owned by the democratic state,
differential ownership of productive assets.

If that seems like capitalism to you., I guess we are on different
wavelengths. It's not everything Marx wanted. in particular it isn't
conscious regulation and and end to commodity fetishism. But it's enough
of what Marx wanted, and what we should want, to be more than an
ideological disguise for capitalism. Try to convince the capitalists of that!

 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
> socialism"?
Well, see above.

Juan, I've taught Hegel--you would doubtless be appalled--and have a lot
more sympathy for the old coot than most folks. I do not treat him like a
dead dog and indeed regard him as one of the very great philosophers who
was right about an awful lot. But you are too Hegelian by half in your
language and I fear in your thinking. We can differ about the latter. But
as to the former, do what Hegel himself did a lot of the time: translate
the dialectic-speak into nice pithy language every now and then so
ordinary folk can understand it.

--Justin Schwartz


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