a few remarks

Chris Matthew Sciabarra cms10 at SPAMis2.nyu.edu
Mon Sep 6 12:46:57 MDT 1999

As I said in my previous note, I'm starting a major editing project, so
unable to answer at length.  Suffice it to say, Tahir Wood raises
fundamentally important questions.

As to why the dialogue is not possible under socialism:  it is possible,
perhaps, if we were talking about small-scale collectives where everybody
meets in town hall and chats.  The more diversified an economy becomes, the
more global, the more difficult it becomes -- especially among higher-order
capital goods -- to plan without a price mechanism.  That's why,
invariably, the "dialogical" process of the market ends up being replaced
by a political monologue -- put forth by the commanders of the economy.  In
the history of state planning, that planning has almost always served the
military, rather than the consumer markets.

Yes, the state has been involved from the beginning in the formation of
markets.  No social system is without a history.  It is not my intention to
argue that a society could have been possible without state intervention;
I'm not looking to abstract from history.  I just believe that it is
POSSIBLE to have a society of market-based solutions, it is POSSIBLE for
civil society to be universalized.  (Interestingly, Gramsci also argued
that the institutions of civil society should be the basis of a future
socialism; he was well aware of the dangers of universalizing the political
organs before changing culture.)  I do not believe it is possible to have a
society of purely state-based solutions, surely not an advanced industrial
and information society, since market mechanisms are crucially important to
production and investment.

But if we want to look at history -- then let's.  Yes, the market builds on
infrastructure.  But it is simply not the case that all infrastructure must
be built by political forces.  Usually, when the state gets involved in the
process of "primitive accumulation" it causes long-term distortions.  When
the state, for instance, subsidized railroads in the 19th century in order
to promote internal developments, it surely helped the 19th century boom.
But it also created all sorts of political struggles, as well as economic
disruptions.  Invariably, the railroads it invested in were the first to go
bankrupt, while those that were built by private investment lasted a lot
longer, and on much stronger fiscal grounds (James J. Hill's Great Northern
is an example of the latter; the Big Four of California are an example of
the former.)

Tahir is correct about one thing, though. There are a lot of looney tune
ultra-right survivalists out there who are running around with crossbows.
I do not believe that they are the libertarian political programme,
however.  For me to map that programme out in this short space, while I'm
in the middle of some tight deadlines, will not be possible.  I agree that
all things have unintended consequences.  But it is also my belief that the
Marxist left has been wedded to the myth that it is possible to build a
society without them.  It is a rationalist hubris that has infected the
left for too long.

Again, if this interests y'all, I'll be happy to return to it in about 4-6
weeks, as long as I meet my Oct. 15th deadline.

Thanks again for the engagement.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Visiting Scholar
NYU Department of Politics
715 Broadway
New York, New York  10003-6806
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