[This essay is part of an extended debate with David Horowitz found here.]
I didn’t suggest that you were “for” Soviet socialism. My point was that you dismissed the relevance of its failure to your argument for any kind of socialism, including what you call “socialism 3” or “coordinatorism.”
Here’s my argument: Socialism doesn’t work first because you can’t substitute politics (plans) for the market and get anything like a rational allocation of resources, and second because without the incentive to accumulate property most people are not going to work very hard. Third, without private property as a basis for the system, you can’t have the kind of democracy, individual rights etc. that we’ve grown accustomed to and human beings seem to want. Your preferred form of socialism also depends on people reading Michael Albert, understanding what he’s talking about, and agreeing with his prescriptions. Meeting these conditions are impossible in the real world of human beings as we know them.
I think Brazil will stand the comparison to the USSR very well, as will Guatemala to Cuba — unless you swallow the propaganda of a police state, which seems to be the case with you.
Your General Motors example is ludicrous, since GM 1) exists within a framework of laws set by a sovereign people, and 2) is pretty much a meritocracy with dramatic possibilities for upward mobility. I’m not familiar with GM in particular but I have interviewed many Ford executives in the course of doing a book on the family and the company and found that people who ran Ford in general had begun as bright scions of the lower or middle middle class and rose to great power and great wealth on the strength of their abilities.
You can’t confront me with all the atrocities of capitalist states, because unlike you I don’t believe that the mode of production determines everything we need to know about a society, or that we can escape the human condition by creating “new men” and “new women” and usher in a new millenium in the process. What I know about capitalism is that it has brought a level of comfort, leisure and freedom to billions of lives and through its ability to develop new technologies (something all Marxist regimes — including Cuba’s — have lacked) has raised the quality of life for ordinary working people to a level beyond that of kings, less than a hundred years ago.
I actually have read some of your work on participatory economics in issues of Z some years ago. I tried participatory economics at Ramparts when Peter Collier and I ran it, and it didn’t work. Perhaps this was our failing, but until you convince me I will persist in thinking that human beings, being vastly unequal in ability and attention span, and pretty self-serving and often mean when they get the opportunity, are incapable of organizing themselves into a “participatory economy” which will render justice perfect. Nor do I think that most people given the freedom to decide would choose your model over the one we have.
Do I like the goals you offered? Michael, socialism is a fairy tale (yours included). Do we like the happy ending put together by the fairy godmother? Of course we do. Should we act in our lives as though the fairy godmother is really out there? I don’t think so.
Some of your goals are based on a misunderstanding of who people are, what they’re capable of and how the market works. On this latter point, I would suggest a good dose of Hayek and/or Von Mises. Your visions of people managing themselves, performing equally and so forth suggest either that you have no experience in managing people (which I doubt given your successful operation with South End), or that you are closing your eyes to what you know in the interests of a hope that you cannot think of living without (which is the common condition of socialist dreamers).
One of the reasons that I am sure that the particpatory economic model can’t work is the studied igorance of socialists of the vast library of critiques of socialist economics that have been written over the last century and that have been vindicated by its results. I am not aware of any systematic attempt to deal with the two most significant economic critics of socialism — Hayek and Von Mises (Hayek himself being an ex-socialist). If you have written about either of their critiques, I would be happy to read your response and to take a look at your model (that is, more than I have already done). If you haven’t, how do you expect me to take what you have to say seriously?
Specifically, when you use expressions like “implementing decision methods that apportion influence in accord with the impact decisions have on people,” I wonder how you think you can do this behind the back of the market — and then why anybody should pay any attention to such a proposal given the history of planned communities and socialist economic failure and the explicit prediction of that failure by for example Von Mises as early as 1922?
Of course, you’re agenda is first of all one of destruction. Everything Z magazine and your books are about is destruction of the American social order which far from having its “boots” on the “necks” of anyone, has liberated more people — more diverse people — than any other social system in the history of mankind. It even gives you the freedom to work 24/7 to destroy it. Try that in Cuba.
The slavery analogy you invoke is often used to justify revolution. But it is deceptive and misplaced. Ending slavery did not amount to designing a new socio-economic order. The replacement already existed. And already worked.
You claim not to have read my books because my “reputation” precedes me and leads you to believe you shouldn’t waste your time. Well, what would you expect since the only social enterprises that the left has really perfected are those of the witch-hunt and the purge. I have been slandered by your comrades since the day I protested against a murder they had committed. Surprise! Vitriolic hate and character assassination are the left’s lingua franca, and also the form their denial takes. No division in the face of the enemy! You launch an experiment that kills 100 million people and beggars whole continents. Then you attack the people who were right about what you were doing all along as “reactionaries.” Wow! One has to be impressed by leftwing chutzpah, if nothing else.
The way you describe your reaction to the demise of Soviet socialism is telling: “One down, one to go.” Don’t you ever stop to think about how your life is dedicated to destruction? Why not pause a little over what capitalism has done for you in particular before laying the ax to its foundations?
Of course you do think you’re smarter than past generations. There were many critics of Lenin in the time of Lenin, and many versions of what you call coordinatorism — the utopian socialists, the Kropotkinites — whom Chomsky is always invoking as his true inspiration while defending thugs like Ortega and Fidel. They looked at your plans and didn’t think they were practical given the human material they had to work with. Do you know something they didn’t?
Z magazine reflects the same hostile political agendas as the Leninist left. To pretend that you are not connected to a movement whose agendas and pet projects (like Cuba) you obviously prefer to the agendas of a country that has given you the fantastic luxury and freedom to build your destructive enterpirse (the website, the magazine,the publishing company — and what else I don’t know) is disingenuous to say the least. Suppose you eventually gain the political leverage you need to topple this system, how are you going to mobilize enough people who understand your complicated thoughts to neutralize the Progressive Labor Party factions of the left who have a down home religion with simple solutions that will resonate with the “masses” who can’t read your big books? Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and other heroes of yours lost similar battles in 1918.
“Actually none of this bears on me.” Of course it does. Hayek and Von Mises will tell you why your version of socialism — “coordinatorism” can’t work. It’s not as though you’ve invented something new under the sun. Have a little modesty.
I appreciate your offer, but I’m not interested in arguing about models. I’m interested in your understanding of what actually went wrong in the Soviet Union and how you respond to the explanations of those who were right all along. Because what they were right about was the impossibility of running an economy (let alone a democracy) in the absense of the market. You dismiss the market, and that very fact puts you in the camp of Soviet planners, despite your other differences. In 70 years the non-market economy could not produce a single competitive product. It couldn’t provide soap for Soviet miners, or toilet paper. Doesn’t this tell you something?
I would also like to hear your explanation for why you prefer Stalinist dictatorships like the ones in Nicaragua and Cuba to the democracy you have spent your life trying to bring down, and how you can square this with your claim that you have no relation to the agendas of the Stalinist left.
I’ve checked out your parecon.org site and can’t locate the critiques of Hayek and Von Mises. I did see your attacks on the market, but I knew you had no use for the market from reading your writings before. All thistells me is that the history of the last hundred years has been lost on you. Perhaps that’s why you can argue that the reason 40% of black children (not 50% as you write) are poor is that corporate ceo’s are earning so much, when in fact it’s because they have no fathers in the home. In any case, while I appreciate your civility I don’t see much point in continuing the argument. You have too much at stake in a position that’s built on sand.