[OPE-L:2745] Re: socialism and planning

glevy@pratt.ed (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 06:39:18 -0700 (PDT)

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Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:2741]:

> For Marxist economists to take that position today is a complete cop out
> and just will not do. We have to be able to respond to the neo-liberal
> critique of socialism if there is to be any possibility of a movement to
> overthrow capitalism. People are not going to struggle to overthrow it if
> they are convinced that there is no alternative. What was a sensible caution
> in the 1870s is moral cowardice 125 years later.

Yes, there's no doubt that socialists have additional historical
experiences to evaluate regarding "socialism" than Marx. It would indeed
be "cowardice" for socialists to refuse to ask hard questions and conduct
a serious, critical analyses of the experiences of the former and current
"socialist" nations. And, in my view, there *has* been a lot of cowardice
by the Left - *at least* since Stalin's consolidation of power in the USSR
- in terms of honestly confronting and dealing with many of the harsh
realities of "socialism". Except for small numbers of groups and
individuals to the left of the Communist Parties (Maoists included), the
typical pattern seems to me to be one of cowardice, apologetics, and

As for understanding the "reference point" for the political debate in the
USSR in the 80's, I think the more crucial dynamic is to understand the
extent to which "socialism" and "communism" had become to be identified
with Stalinism in the minds of the Soviet masses. Once glasnost went into
full swing (and especially given the small size of groups to the left of
the CPSU), working people at a certain point did not accept *any* answers
offered by the state even if it came from "reformers" like Gorbachev. The
"national question" and the long-standing grievances arising from
Russification also fed into this process.

I think, then, that there are two somewhat distinct tasks in terms of
analysis. One task is for socialists to continue to evaluate the
historical experiences of all of the former and current "socialist"
nations. A separate (but related) task is for socialists to begin to face
up to some of the theoretical problems involved with constructing
socialism and communism (a point of departure on that score might be Alec
Nove's _The Economics of Feasible Socialism_ and the Cockshott-Cottrell
alternative). Let's not confuse what is essentially a historical and class
analysis task with the more theoretical tasks that you are referring to.

Let socialists undertake both of the above tasks. I do think, though, just
in terms of theoretical tasks that the task of further developing an
understanding of capitalism remains a more urgent political task than the
task of developing a "serious alternative" to "how the transition to a
communist economy might be undertaken."

In OPE-L Solidarity,