A few weeks ago I posted Seth Ackerman's article about market socialism. There were a few responses to Ackerman's article posted to the Jacobin blog, but none that I felt addressed the problems in his original proposal for a market socialism that retained the market as a way to correctly determine prices (particularly for capital) yet completely socialized profits. As my comrade Paul insightfully noted, Ackerman's proposal is grounded in the native tendency of the capitalist system toward "the decoupling of economic ownership and management."
But while Ackerman's market socialism may take its basic plausibility from the immanent contradictions of capitalist society, as Walker argued, the real grounds upon which the realization of this market socialism might be realized politically were never specified, leaving it as little more than an academic exercise. Perhaps more fundamentally, the question remains as to whether Ackerman's proposal earns the name of 'socialism' by fundamentally overturning the basic features of capitalism, or whether it perpetuates these features, the most important of which is wage labor. In other words, this potential form of market socialism envisions a way to reinvest society's surplus more equitably, but leaves intact the basic form of the production of that surplus.
While the responses to Ackerman's article raised some important objections and are well worth reading in their own right, they did not confront this final point, and notably, they both seem to accept the utility of markets for society. In the meantime, Matthijs Krul has posted a reply to Ackerman on his blog mccaine.org that I think serves to return attention to the system of production itself. As Krul announces his intention:
In this reply to Ackerman, I will argue two things. Firstly, that market socialism cannot overcome the limitations of capitalism, and secondly, that the failure of Soviet central planning does not condemn the idea of central planning. In fact, I will argue that the flaws in Ackerman’s design and the Soviet model of central planning are remarkably similar: both are rooted in the failure to overcome capitalist production, as opposed to distribution.Krul nicely warns us of the stakes of ignoring production in favor of distribution, arguing that by doing so one risks socializing the very conditions of our unfreedom. By making these economic functions even more decentralized and diffused in a way that is even less tied to specific class and political relations, one might give rise to a form of society in which it is even more difficult to grasp the source of our domination.
With this important critique of Ackerman's proposal now on the table, we should turn to the question of how we can create a political agenda that is both plausible to the current inhabitants of our world and able to address the dysfunctions of the production process. It seems to me that the issue of the ways in which people currently understand the world is the single most important consideration in developing such a political agenda. It does little good to lecture the masses on theoretical explications of social problems if those theories, however refined, are not made plausible by the experience of daily life.
Krul himself does not show a great sensitivity to this consideration of popular forms of subjectivity, and accordingly his analysis of resistance to the Soviet economic system seems a bit too neat to me. Understandably, he does not take up the issue of the current political feasibility of the project of fundamentally changing the production process. This is, nonetheless, a vital question for us. Our thinking will have to take into consideration the current crisis conditions: although the basis of our economic system has been exposed as inoperative, the most prevalent reaction has been something akin to denial and a Pollyanna-like insistence that things will soon return to status quo. Yet signs are everywhere that this popular mood could shift suddenly and violently, especially when a new economic crash erupts. We should be preparing now a response to such an event that persuasively lays out a progressive path beyond crisis. What resources do we have to make this case?