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

From: Ian Wright (
Date: Sun Jun 29 2008 - 12:51:30 EDT


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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