[OPE-L:2774] Re: socialism and planning

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 08:08:46 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

A reply to Paul C's ope-l 2770.

I appreciate Paul trying to respond, but I still don't find in his post an
actual response to my point that "optimization requires a goal; there is no
'rationality' that is not relative to the goal being pursued. And if the goal
is imposed externally on people, how much of an 'alternative' is this really
to the present-system ...?"

Maybe there is a response in what he wrote, but I don't see it, unless Paul is
implying that democratic mechanisms can substitute for a goal.

Paul: "... under socialism the division of the social working day between
necessary and surplus labour is essentially determined at the political

Andrew: It is insufficient to assert this. What ensures that capitalistic
exigencies don't determine the decisions made at the political level? What I
wrote in ope-l 2747, to which Paul was replying, remains relevant:

I do not find social welfare function + democracy an adequate concept. They
who control the democracy control the social welfare function. It may have
seemed like "economic determinism" to some, but there was a good reason for
Marx to stress that the political superstructure arises on the basis of the
mode of production, and corresponds to it. Let's not forget that democracy,
PARTICIPATIVE, DIRECT, democracy, originated in a slave society. What
relations of production are needed so that the old crap will not re-emerge,
and how can they be secured and defended?

Paul's reliance on democratic *forms* as providing the solution to economic
problems really troubles me, especially since he has recently written (ope-l

"One should bear in mind that the results of the recent Russian elections
indicate that, there at least, a substantial proportion of the population
*do appear to want to again live in a Soviet style country*. And this,
despite the outrageously biased nature of the media there, is arguably
a better informed electorate than that in most of the world. They
have had the opportunity to experience both the soviet and the capitalist
system" (emphasis added).

In the *very best* of circumstances, elections of this sort are a very weak
sign of what people really want. See Arrow. In reality, so many possible
alternatives are not represented that they are no sign at all. And
*plebiscites*, which Paul recommends, are well known to be the most
manipulable "democratic" instruments. Most importantly, what one "chooses"
under economic and other compulsion (narrowing of political possibilities,
etc.) is not the same as what one wants.

The very limited choices Paul constructs for people to "determine" under
socialism, e.g.

"The level of the tax should be determined by annual plebiscite with power to
make small incremental or decremental changes."

are IMO insufficient, at best, to express what they want, much less
"determine" their destiny. At the very, very minimum, the great political
advances made by the Paris Commune need to be studied very seriously, such as
immediate recall of politicians and the payment of officials at average
workers' wages. Also, Paul says nothing about how any of this will be
ENFORCED. Who will have the arms? Who will control their production? Etc?
All this is *in addition* to what I think is the primary problem, namely that
political forms alone do not solve economic problems. Maybe I've missed
something, but I haven't seen how the mode and social relations of production
will differ from what we now have.

Paul: "The surplus should appear as an explicit tax deducted from peoples
allocation of tokens for work done."

Andrew: Does "work done" refer to the *amount* of concrete labor the
individual actually contributes? Or abstract, socially necessary labor? If
the latter, then aren't "tokens" a polite word for labor money?

Paul has not responded to my point that the need for an alternative and the
need for a plan are different things, such that the former provides no
justification for planning. What then is the justification?

Given all the gaps and problems in Paul's plan, at least what I know of it,
and the fact that "two heads are better than one," why not just recognize that
people will be better able to figure out for themselves the mechanisms that
work than any one individual or group can, especially when s/he or it is not
representative of and isolated from common people?

Andrew Kliman