Magdoff on Market Socialism

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Jun 5 11:11:18 MDT 1995

Louis Proyect:

A letter from Harry Magdoff to Frank Roosevelt and David Belkin, the
editors of "Why Market Socialism", appears in the May 1995 Monthly
Review. In explaining why Monthly Review chose not to review the
new book, the MR editors state in a preface to Magdoff's letter that
the perspective on the issues raised in the book were so different from
Monthly Review's that "a proper treatment of the subject would require
the type of major essay we are not able to undertake at the present

Some paragraphs from Magdoff's letter:

"The underlying assumption of the essays in 'Why Market Socialism'
is that central planning inevitably requires bureaucratic control over
every detail of production and distribution. This, I believe, is an
unwarranted assumption abstracted from the history of past socialist
countries. Moshe Lewin speaks about the disappearance of planning
within the plan from its earliest days in the Soviet Union. Detailed
centralized control is not a necessary feature of central planning, but
the result of politics, class interests, arbitrary command decision-
making--all of which wreaked havoc with attempts at consistent
planning. Furthermore, there is no necessary contradiction between
central planning and the use of the market for the distribution of
consumer goods and a variety of intermediate production goods. Nor
does central planning necessarily exclude 'businesses' run by
cooperatives, communities, family farms, or private small firms. What
matters is whether the market is relied on as the guide for the
allocation of resources, and/or is permitted to sabotage the socialist

"My impression of the essays in the book is that by and large, despite
protestations to the contrary, the visions the authors have in mind is a
nice, humane, regulated capitalism. Heilbroner sums it up nicely in his
foreword: 'Socialisms therefore constitute a kind of ongoing
experiment to discover what sorts of arrangements might repair the
damage wrought by the existing social order.' The essays by and large
are concerned with issues which are germane to a capitalist society:
how to get improved growth, start new enterprises, improve efficiency,
encourage innovation and competition. Do the people of the United
States need faster growth, except for the fact that it is the only way to
create jobs in a capitalist society? Are more profit-making enterprise
needed? To do what--produce more cars, ferrous metals, plastics,
paper; provide services of lawyers, bill collectors, real estate operators,
and brokers? Why do we need improved efficiency? Efficiency for
what, and by what standards? Why not less efficiency--shorter
workdays, shorter work weeks, longer vacations, relaxation time
during dull work routines? We are a rich country with enormous
potential for improving the quality of life for all the people as long as
the ideal standard of life is not taken as that of the upper middle class.
The innovations needed are not more gadgets or information
highways, but the enrichment of education, medical care, room for the
creative urges to flourish--alas, not grist for viable ventures in the

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