The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Yet another classic!

The left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society has republished yet another of my blasts from the past, this time a sympathetic but dissenting rant I wrote for the perennially fascinating (to me, anyway) Socialist Party of Great Britain on the occasion of its centenary in 2004.

Trainspotters of the political fringe may be amused to note, in that same centenary issue, a stirring call to smash cash, written in 1968 by David Ramsay Steele, one of whose later writings convinced me (eventually) that you can't. He went on to state the case more clearly, comprehensively, and readably than anyone before or since in a very interesting book.



Ah. I really like comments that develop an argument, from people with the courage of their convictions.

So is there a way forward? Are we doomed to live in a world where capitalism is unstable and ultimately unsustainable while socialism is impossible? (A SF writer said something like this. Can't recall the name...)

Just saw 'Looper'. The bulk of the action occurs in 2047. Clearly capitalism is going through one of its periodic "corrections". The protagonist ultimately does the honorable thing and shoots himself with his own gun. Is this the future our descendants have to look forward to?

Retromancer - is there a way forward?

I think there is. The 'socialism' that is 'impossible' (or at least computationally intractable) is a world (or even a country) with large-scale industry and extensive division of labour but without markets or money. This may well be what Marx, Engels and their successors imagined as the long-range goal of the socialist movement, but it isn't what most people who call themselves who call themselves socialists aim for now, and it isn't the only arrangement that could be called socialism.

Some mix of state-owned utilities, banks, and 'natural monopolies' with producer and consumer co-ops and small and medium private enterprises and self-employment is what Alec Nove called 'feasible socialism'. It sounds feasible and socialist enough to me, but not apparently to any significant political movement or body of thought.

@Ken. Something not too different worked reasonably well here in Sweden until cuts and privatisations began, around 1995. They have been continuing at an accelerated pace under the past two governmental periods, since 2006. I don't think there were producer cooperatives, though. It was a flawed though highly regulated mixed economy, based on agreements between labour and capital. These gave the capitalists the upper hand, in legislation and often in disputes.

Ken, it was interesting to read this post right when I am beginning to read up on the 'calculation problem'. I will check this book out, but in the meantime, how do you feel about the criticisms/retorts to the problem that are raised on the wikipedia page?

And thanks for the spoiler retromancer. I always enjoy having plots to movies I haven't seen yet randomly ruined for me.

"Could not detect a feed for this URL. Blog posts and update time will not be shown. Add URL anyway?"

I want to keep up with your blog Ken. Could you get the above sorted?

dcomerf - what's wrong with this one?

(Not a rhetorical question!)

Utterly off topic, so forgive me. But when one finds a poster like this in the interweb where else is one suppose to spread the work except here?

Brilliant. Thanks.

Charlie - indeed! I searched long and hard for the original version of that poster, and I think used it in a blog piece.

As for Proletarian Democracy - for once I'm not late to the party!

Ah, I should have guessed you'd have got there before me comrade!

A link to any Posadist related articles you may have buried in the long past of this blog would be really welcome.

I can only find this on Posadas, and this on a more rational Trotskyist perspective on both nuclear war and the importance of getting into space.

Some vanity googling led us here.
We have produced a historico-theoretical special detailing who we are and what we want, more or less. Before Ken starts again, there will be some stuff about Posadas, aliens, space etc in the next issue of Workers' Girder.

But there's a bit about the Mekons.

i'm pretty sure you must have read the rebuttal to Steele but in case your visitor haven't see here

Thanks for that - worth a careful read.

Up to a point Lord Copper.
I’m no economist, and I’ve never read Steele, but it does seem to me that there are two crucial pieces of hand-waving in that Cox riposte.

Firstly he says:
In such an economy, “economic exchange” of any sort would no longer apply. It would not be necessary to determine whether “more” or “less” wealth in general was being created than was being used up in the production of that wealth for the very simple reason that the concept of wealth “in general”, a completely abstract and crudely aggregated notion of wealth, is of no practical use in itself and would be utterly meaningless outside the context of commodity exchange.

But I can’t see how the concept of wealth in general can be meaningless (even if I’d listen willingly to ideas on how we currently measure it in all the wrong ways e.g. GDP, GNP etc.). If it is meaningless, then what do such famous Marxist phrases like “the fullest development of the productive forces” actually imply? & even if one has doubts – as I admit I do - about the decisiveness of appealing to the authority of Great Uncle Karl on every single point, one might still have a vague notion that increasing ‘generalised wealth’ was one way of achieving the necessary, but not sufficient, pre-conditions for avoiding periodic mass starvation, never mind allowing Ken’s literary heroes to reach for the stars….

Secondly, he talks airily of some kind of points system, perhaps based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, being used to order priorities in a fully socialised economy without monetary exchange.(To be fair, this is just a gesture : “…the precise mechanism(s) to be used is something that will have to be decided upon by a socialist society itself”). The kindest thing that can be said here is perhaps that this is wishful thinking.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood. As I say, I’m no economist, nor even very handy with logic per se. But on this evidence I’d say Ken is probably right to (regretfully) accept Novian realism as the current limit of ambitions in terms of a socialised economy.

Inspired by your post, I started reading that book. And found it very disturbing...

... but extremely interesting and worthwhile. Thanks!
All the best

Damn:just when you think you've got a handle on technical debate in someone else's field, they give a Nobel to people who say planning is possible without prices.

A very good post it is, Stuart. Obviously you read a lot faster than I do!

Very interesting link from Charlie too.

Hey Ken, Thanks! It's the sole upside of a long commute! Cheers


Are we doomed to live in a world where capitalism is unstable and ultimately unsustainable while socialism is impossible?

There's always this:

The protagonist ultimately does the honorable thing and shoots himself with his own gun.

Thanks for telling us how it ends. :-O

Fascinated by anonymous's first comment here. I do so enjoy an intelligent debate; one that formulates out of a cohesive opinion that leads onto heated discussion.
On a more serious note...distributism?

I think the first poster was trying to say "More on this topic, please" but then lost their connection.

Yes, I am the Mother Theresa of interpretive charity.

There's substantial overlap, I think, among a) distributism, b) the free-market anti-capitalism I linked to above, and c) the "feasible socialism" Ken described still further above.

Parecon is almost a direct reply to Nove's assertion that it must be the state or the market.
The iterative planning procedure is the way to achieve classlessness and socialism

Albert was good at labf recently

Eric has left a new comment on the post "Yet another classic!":

Parecon is almost a direct reply to Nove's assertion that it must always be the state or the market. there is no 3rd way..or market socialist's version of Tina.

In any case I think some form of iterative planning procedure (with prices) is a way to achieve classlessness and socialism

Also, Albert was also good at labf recently

oops forgot

Eric - thanks for the comments and links. I've discussed Parecon before. Basically I agree with David Schweickart about it. The idea of planning my annual consumption and production by filling in a gigantic form every year for my neighbours to pick over doesn't appeal.

Thanks for the reply Ken. I don't think Schweickart was honestly addressing parecon or had read in-depth examples of the planning procedure... Planning is automatic (and even more so with computers) and can be anonymous.

Besides class based market socialism will require a very high degree of regulation and "picking over" by a bureacratic managerial class. or the the former Yugoslavia in other words

Post a Comment