Re: [OPE] Advice to a postgrad (Thomas More Relies to market socialism)

From: Alejandro Agafonow (
Date: Tue Jul 01 2008 - 12:21:51 EDT

I want heaven too. But unless we explain what this heaven is and how it is expected to operate, we wouldn’t be working but in cloud-cuckoo lands of fancy where roast pigeons fly into the mouths of our comrades, as Mises wrote.
We are just overcoming the important thing: showing how this miracle is to take place.
We better take note of Karl Polanyi, “Our Obsolete Market Mentality: Civilization Must Find a New Thought Pattern”, Commentary, 3 (1947).
Neither the crude egotism, nor the apocryphal propensity to barter, truck, and exchange, nor even the tendency to cater to one’s self was in evidence. But equally discredited was the legend of the communistic psychology of the savage, his supposed lack of appreciation for his own personal interests (Roughly, it appeared that man was very much the same all through the ages. Taking his institutions not in isolation, but in their interrelation, he was mostly found to be behaving in a manner broadly comprehensible to us). What appeared as “communism” was the fact that the productive or economic system was usually arranged in such a fashion as not to threaten any individual with starvation. His place at the camp fire, his share in the common resources, was secure to him, whatever part he happened to have played in hunt, pasture, tillage, or gardening. (pp. 112) 
I think that some of you fellow friends are committed to this “legend of the communistic psychology of the savage”. Socialism is better defined by not to threaten any individual with starvation.
Kind regards,
A. Agafonow

----- Mensaje original ----
De: Doğan Göçmen <>
Enviado: martes, 1 de julio, 2008 17:27:24
Asunto: Re: [OPE] Advice to a postgrad (Thomas More Relies to market socialism)


the concept of dictatorship you ascribe to Marx and Engels is a too narrow one. I am not sure whether you ascribe to Marx and Engels a concept which we developed in the face of our experiences in the 20th century. What Marx and Engels describe as dictatorship is just the political domination of one class upon the rest of society. In that sense Marx and Engels talk about the necessity that working classes must take power to start establishing socialism. This idea is present right from Communist Manifesto. I agree however that they changed their mind in terms of how and by means of what the power has to be taken over.

I think you do not do much justice to Bolsheviks. If you study carefully October Revolution and what Lenin and Bolsheviks tried to you may find that they never intended to come into power as the sole party. Other Parties including Mensheviks rejected to join. Only Social Revolutionatries and that did not last long at all - the split between the right wing and left wing Social Revolutionaries was the result. (See E. H. Carr)

To the rest you say below I have nothing to say but this: to understand that "market socialism" a contradiction in terms (socialism is the negation of market relations as such) you have to pose the question about the very nature of exchange relations. Hobbes defined them as war of all against all. Smith defines them as power relations and so on......... Marx and Engels followed this line of thought. I repeated many time on this list. To understand what market relations are (they are relations of mutual negation, whereas socialism is about establishing of social relations of mutual recognition) one has to study very carefully the first chapter of the first volume of Capital. So market socialism is nonsense, nothing but nonsense.


Doğan Göçmen
Author of The Adam Smith Problem:
Reconciling Human Nature and Society in
The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations,
I. B. Tauris, London&New York 2007

-----Original Message-----
From: Ian Wright <>
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list <>
Sent: Sun, 29 Jun 2008 18:51
Subject: Re: [OPE] Advice to a postgrad (Thomas More Relies to market socialism)


In Marx and Engels' time the word "dictatorship" referred to a temporary

emergency institution during transitional crisis, not the idea of a

continuing dictatorship. The meaning of the term "dictatorship of the

proletariat" was abused to justify the wresting of power from the

working class by the Bolsheviks. In all Marx and Engels' voluminous

writings the term "dictatorship" is linked to the working class a total

of only 16 times. Many of these instances were used when Marx and

Engels' were working in a united front with the Blanquists, and

functioned as a compromise slogan. Others instances were employed to

differentiate and distance Marx and Engels' ideas from the Blanquist

conspiratorial approach. Other instances were employed to distinguish

themselves from the anarchist idea of immediate dissolution of the

state. The "dictatorship of the proleteriat" is very far from the

"very essence of Marx's teaching" as Lenin would have it, and it

emphatically did not mean continuing rule by a totalitarian one-party


On this issue, Richard Hunt's "The political ideas of Marx and Engels",

volumes 1 and 2 (1974), is a tour-de-force. He recovers Marx the radical

democrat from the totalitarian tradition.

I think the litmus test of a socialist economy is democratic control,

including such things as control in the workplace, and control over the

allocation of surplus-labour to either new production or a reduction in

the length of the working day. In a one-party state there is no

democratic control of this kind. The internal constitution of the single

party becomes the de facto constitution of the whole social organism.

You at least need multiple competing parties.

> So this is the characterisation of a capitalist society and challange to

> your illusionary concept of socilism: "when everyone's entitled to get

> as much for himself as he can, all available property, however much

> there is of it, is bound to fall into the hands of a small minority,

> which means that everyone else is poor." How are you going to face this

> challange. 

Markets of large numbers of people by definition have weak micro-level

coordination. This means they tend to enter states of statistical

equilibrium which have maximum entropy subject to any macro-level

constraints. So More is quite right: wealth gets scrambled and moves

toward an inegalitarian distribution, and this in many ways can be

considered a "natural necessity".

But the distribution of wealth that we see in capitalism is of a

distinctive kind. There's a long power-law tail due to capitalist

profit-income. If a society had different rules that controlled the

distribution of income -- in other words different macro-level

constraints -- you would get much more egalitarian distributions of

wealth even with markets.

So market socialism does not necessarily entail capitalist inequality.

To get a perfectly equal distribution of wealth the society would need

to formulate and enforce rules that tightly constrain the economic

activities that people can engage in; in other words, you'd need a

powerful mechanism to prevent the increase of entropy. In the past,

so-called Marxist states have employed a large bureaucracy to achieve

this aim.

I welcome Alejandro's perspective on these issues. And the history of

the working class movement, including its theory and practice, is not

exhausted by a certain kind of interpretation of Marx. The tradition is

richer and more contested than that.



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