[OPE-L:1352] Re: Political economy of socialism

From: Duncan K. Foley (foleyd@cepa.newschool.edu)
Date: Sun Sep 26 1999 - 21:47:51 EDT

You made me laugh with the invitation to a "short" comment on these theses.

I, for one, however, am absolutely in agreement with them and with their
general thrust, which is the need to initiate a critical discussion on the
theory of socialism. John Roemer has courageously kept writing on this
subject, though I personally find his vision of socialism way too limited.
Paul and Allin have also made some interesting suggestions about the
possibility of an information-processing solution to the problems of
allocation under socialism. Some time ago I questioned whether they had
really come to terms with Hayek's critique of Lange, but the discussion
petered out.

At the moment my problem is twofold. First, I have a lot of difficulty
seeing how people could organize themselves to support a widespread
division of labor without markets, and I don't see how people are going to
sustain a high surplus economy without a division of labor. This leads me
to think of some type of market socialism, but I am too persuaded by Marx's
critique of commodity fetishism to feel really comfortable with the idea in
any of the forms that I have seen it put forward.

Second, a lot of non-market socialist ideas put tremendous emphasis on
political structures to support socialist economic institutions. Leaving
aside the catastrophic failure of the Bolsheviks to achieve a credible
model of political reproduction, most of the models of political democracy
we have are just as much a product of capitalist development as the market
itself. (Like many people, my actual experience with "participatory
democratic forms" in contexts like political movements and academic
institutions has not made me a particular fan of them as a way of getting
stuff done either, but maybe I should write that off to the distortion of
the ideas and the irritability of middle age....)


>Dear all,
>Before my PC dies on me, I would like to advance 5 simple theses, on which
>I would appreciate any comment you may have. I would like your comment both
>as an objectivity check and because I am increasingly thinking about the
>subject area. The argument goes roughly as follows:
>1. It's a law of human psychology that you cannot achieve a goal unless
>you can clearly specify what it is.
>2. If socialism is conceived as an achievable goal (not just a movement),
>it must be clearly specified so we can plot the steps towards it.
>3. Socialism as a goal has not been clearly specified either at the
>national or international level so far by Marxists internationally so far,
>despite some brilliant attempts by individuals.
>4. Because socialism as goal has not been clearly specified, (a) it has
>been unclear what the realistic/feasible alternative to capitalism is, (b)
>socialism simply cannot be achieved yet.
>5. The critique of capitalism is inadequate unless socialists can specify
>what the socialist alternative concretely would amount to.
>I look forward to any short comment you may have.
>In solidarity

Duncan K. Foley
Department of Economics
Graduate Faculty
New School University
65 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003
messages: (212)-229-5717
fax: (212)-229-5724
e-mail: foleyd@cepa.newschool.edu
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webpage: http://cepa.newschool.edu/~foleyd

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