Forwarded from Jurriaan (radical economics)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Mar 6 16:42:57 MST 2001

Hi Louis

Last Friday at the IISH here in Amsterdam I was reading The Elgar Companion
to Radical Political Economy, edited by Philip Arestis & Malcolm Sawyer
(Elgar, 1994) and I came across a very interesting article by a chap called
Fernandino Targetti about "socialism". And this guy rather concisely
summarised a left-radical critique of the Marxist project, so I thought I
would post it to you as a thought-provoking statement (a sort of devil's
advocate statement). Well maybe you don't think it's so interesting, you've
heard it all before etc., but anyway here goes:

"Is it possible", ask Targetti, "to draw a connection, which was the
foundation of scientific socialism, between the scientific analysis of the
capitalist economy and the political will to overcome it ? The answer is
undoubtedly no, and for at least three reasons, which I seek to set out
below. The first reason is the unreliable nature of the laws of economics.
A positivist faith in science led the scientific socialist to claim that it
was possible to detect the laws of motion, the laws of unavoidable crisis,
and the reasons for the collapse and superseding of the capitalist mode of
production. As far as economic 'laws' are concerned, certain 'regularities'
do exist, but they emerge only in some spatio-temporal contexts and not in
others. Indeed, these regularities are often identified as such only
because they have been generated by models that a particular observer
constructs to acount for phenomena which he or she takes to be stylised
facts in a multiform and confused reality (Myrdal, 1953).

The second reason why the scientific analysis of capitalism and the
political will to overcome it cannot be linked is that there is no 'one'
capitalism. It comes in many forms. An economic system is the outcome of
numerous interweaving factors, three of which deserve particular attention:
firm, market and the state. [...] Today, socialism faces a further problem.
In the past, when 'market failures' occurred, there was a tendency to
believe that it was automatically the state's duty to intervene in areas
where the market had miscarried. Today, however, 'market failures' are
matched by a long list of what by analogy have been called 'state
failures': bloated bureaucracies, corruption and waste in the production of
goods and services. These two kinds of failures impose a comparative cost
analysis of state and market.

The third reason for the failure of scientific socialism is not just that
Western thought refuses to countenance violence - and therefore class
struggle - as a means to achieve a classless society; there are other
important problems of equity which cannot be solved by abolishing class
differences. These problems are manifest, among countries and within
countries, in various areas including sexual, racial and intergenerational
equality (see Sen, 1973, for a discussion of the problem of inequalities
and ethics).

Furthermore, a serious shortcoming of Marxism was that it stressed the
consequences of the social division of labour (because of property rights)
while underestimating the consequences of the technical division of labour
(dependent or independent, hierarchical or in cooperative teams, physical
or mental, etc.) which depends much less on whether a country is capitalist
or socialist and much more on other factors: the development of technology
(as has been pointed out by Marcuse and the so-called Frankfurt School of
sociology), the organisationof the firm, and the relationship between the
firm and the social environment."

This being the sorry state of scientific socialism according to Targetti,
what alternative does he propose ? "Without presuming to be exhaustive, I
shall single out four areas in which one can still meaningfully employ the
idea of socialism - defined as a form of social organisation and/or of
coordination of the economic decisions of subjects, firms and state which
differs from the market (but is not necessarily counterposed to it). These
areas are the North-South economic relationship, ecology, international
Keynesianism and distributive justice."

Without me endorsing this construal as a political position (in some ways
it's a little banale, from my point of view), nevertheless Targetti has
summarised quite well the leftist preocupations of our time, as well as
defining the intellectual challenge for Marxists, don't you think ?



Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list