questions for Chris Sciabarra

Paul Flewers paul.flewers at
Sat Aug 28 14:17:16 MDT 1999

Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote: < I would agree that Marxism, in its
theoretical foundations, did not aim for  totalitarianism.
Unfortunately, in my view, it often acted as an ideology  for those who,
in the 20th century, achieved the kind of statism that Marx would have
probably been abhorred by.  The libertarian view, I think, has sharpened
the focus on the efficacy of the price mechanism for investment and
production... All too often, the attempt to do away with a price
mechanism led to all sorts of calculational chaos behind the "Iron
Curtain," and I think the Austrian theorists well predicted this early
in the 20th century. >

The free marketeers were very much an isolated minority in the 1930s,
and waged a running battle against practically everyone else, as this
was the time of the Five Year Plans and capitalist slump, when
production fell by 40 per cent in the capitalist world, and at least
doubled in the Soviet Union. It wasn't just von Mises, Hayek and the
Vienna school, but some Russian exiles -- Haensel, Brutzkus -- and
British professors, politicians and journalists -- TE Gregory, Ernest
Benn, for instance -- and no doubt others in other countries. They said
that the Great Depression was due to the pricing mechanism getting out
of sync because of misguided state intervention, and that state
intervention of anything more than of a very minor proportion would lead
to a capitalist collapse and/or a Soviet style society.

I get the feeling that the Hayekites were a small minority opinion right
up until the 1970s or even later. The majority feeling from the end of
the 1920s amongst bourgeois thinkers was that state intervention was
both necessary and beneficial. The contrast in the 1930s between Soviet
growth and capitalist slump was an important factor, but the ideas of
state intervention in capitalist societies went back before the turn of
the century, and was accelerated by the First World War, when all
belligerent countries saw a vast increase in state intervention.

Some free marketeering idoleogists are having a high time with the
collapse of the command economy -- see especially the recent books by
Martin Malia -- saying that you can't buck the market. There is
something in this, because I don't believe that the market can be
replaced in a permanent manner unless it is replaced by a democratic
planning process. What is disturbing about the debates of the 1930s is
that the question of the necessity of democracy in the planning process
was almost entirely absent. For the vast majority of people, whether in
favour or against, planning meant either state intervention in a
capitalist state, or a Soviet-style command economy. The idea of
socialism as a democratic transformative process was almost entirely

What the Hayekites were attacking was not socialist planning, but a
command economy -- a quite different creature.

Paul F

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