[OPE-L] what is irrational in the functioning of capitalism and socialism?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Nov 24 2006 - 13:08:24 EST


Just briefly, I was thinking about social harmony in the way that the United
Nations talks about it empirically - i.e. that society is structured in a
way that everybody can meet their basic human needs. There is no great
mystery about what they are. Once you have that, al lot of the sources of
conflict disappear - sure, there will be more conflicts, but not conflicts
which give rise to a lot of violence and exploitation.

Agreed, the transition to a new society is paved with struggles and
conflicts. As Paul Cockshott has noted a few times, socialist projects have
usually developed in the context of wars and civil wars. The conquest of
state power by the working class itself does not solve anything much yet (as
Lenin said), and in the reconstruction of society numerous conflicts do
appear. Nevertheless, the general aim is to found social institutions which
harmonise individual and societal interests, which should be understood in a
dialectical way. And we get nowhere with that at all, if we do not set out
with a deep respect for the (moral) autonomy of the individual, in addition
to a profound awareness of how the individual owes much of his individuality
to the social collective of which he is part (as Prof. Perelman emphasizes).

I am very skeptical about Preobrazhensky's thesis about markets and
planning. He tried to extrapolate the specific situation of Russia in the
1920s into a "general theory of socialist transition", in typical Marxist
fashion. The core idea of it was, that the only way economic growth could
occur endogenously in a worker's state was if the state could have command
over a good part of the agrarian surplus, and trade it to obtain funds for
industrialisation and foreign technology. Abstractly, it sounds fine, but
the real problem with it was *political*: why would the peasants have any
stake or interest in handing over their surplus, what would they gain by it?
Unless they gained by it, received some benefit from it, they would just
stop producing and trading agrarian surplus. Which is exactly what happened,
leading to the physical extermination of a lot of peasants.

So the abstract formula Preobrazhensky had was really useless, since a
substantive policy required a specification of all the political and
economic mediations which would reconcile the peasants with the idea that
they would have to pay for industrialisation. But in reality, what already
happened was that, in their paranoia about class struggle in the farm
sector, the communists hastily blocked all independent political
organisations in the farm sector, perceiving them as a threat. They
substituted political coercion for economic policy, even before Stalin
resolved the "scissors crisis" with forced collectivisation. The overall
result was that it set back Soviet agriculture for a least two generations,
meaning a much lower productivity and much more waste than would have been
the case, if these producers had had a better motivation. So much for their
"class analysis". They would have been better of reading Rousseau's Contrat

But more profoundly, *theoretically* Preobrazhensky's famous contradiction
of markets and planning is largely mythical, it had grown out of the
experience of "war communism" and its general hostility towards markets and
commerce as such. Planning and markets may contradict, yes, but not
necessarily; they could be compatible or complementary, as Bukharin came
close to admitting. In the real world, it is indeed impossible to sustain
planning without markets, or markets without planning. To extrapolate a
"general contradiction" between them is strictly a masturbatory activity
best left to Marxist ideologues. At the very least, a distinction should be
made between different kinds of collective planning and different kinds of
markets. But as soon as we do that, no abstract theory is sufficient
anymore. Because in that case, you actually have to judge what kinds of
planning and what kinds of markets best promote society's overall progress,
and that is not resolved with "dialectical" rhetoric about the "value-form"
and so forth, however pretty it might look on paper.

In summary, the Russian communists lacked a profound understanding of
economic development strategy in the context of revolutionary setbacks. They
had banked on a revolution in Germany that would unlock the resources and
skills to modernise Russia, but that revolution failed even with their
intervention, and the only way to prevent famine in the Soviet Republics
seemed to be more and more coercive expropriations and the elimination of
all dissent to state policy. This led to large-scale criminality, which
demotivated the producers. The results are still visible even today.


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