One of the arguments which underpin the previous posts on Red Star, Cybersyn and Flower Market, yet are not explicitly stated is that socialist reconfigurations should be free enough to use state and market instruments alike. In this post I will try to better formulate this argument in this post by deriving insights from Rough Theory and Hack the State (http://www.roughtheory.org and http://hackthestate.org).
While neoliberalism praises free markets, the contrasting memory of real socialism points out to central planning as the main driving force to organise an otherwise anarchic economic life. Historical insight and multiplicity of communist possibilities rectify this over-simplification: Planning has become an important component of different periods and contexts of capitalist development; whereas socialism does not inherently require centralised state planning, especially with the availability of complex information technologies. Yet, even in the aftermath of the most recent financial crises, the options the left is promoting is limited to a democratic planning and public control of resources, none of which really addressing the specifics of the organisation of economic life in a communist society.
Take, for example, the recent Declaration of Leftist Parties on Europe about crisis. (http://zequinhabarreto.org.br/?p=7560&lang=en, 3 May 2010). Even though it can be read as a strategic, timely and pragmatic document, it is still poor in imagination. For instance the document reads: ‘We need a programme of measures that can lift the economy out of crisis on the basis of giving priority to people’s needs rather than profits and imposing democratic control over the market. We need to stand for an anti capitalist answer: our life, our health, our jobs before profits.’ But we do not know how market control will be achieved, how jobs will be created, how people’s needs will be met.
Projects which claim to be alternative to capitalism promote direct control of production, command of economy by the communities at local levels. Bu if different instruments in history (including capitalism) are available to be ‘hacked’ in the language of Hack the State and ‘reconfigured’ in the language of Rough Theory, for a communist society, then it is becoming more difficult to sustain a genuine alternative based on free associated producers who make collective decisions on every aspect of the economy. It may be misleading to romanticize collective decision-making and communal values (Peterson, 2007, shows how communities can be source of inequalities as much as markets). Rather, advanced technology, impersonal rules of the market, automated production systems in capitalist society can be used so that individuals have more time to channel energies towards other activities which would maximize potentials promised yet repressed by capitalism (fishing, hunting, philosophizing and other things which we can only imagine and not fully predict). Organisation of production is a means rather than an end for the communist ideal this book is defending.
I defend neither a form of welfare state/social democratic capitalism nor a romanticized ideal of communal life. I try to mine the insightful experiences, ideas and instruments available in contemporary world and I already gave three examples in previous posts. In this post, I do show why and how such an exercise is possible and feasible with the help of an engagement with the debates on the role of planning and market instruments for the organization of economic life.
Planning has been an important instrument for capitalist development in the history of modern society. Not only in the Foucauldian sense of serving the needs to govern a ‘population’, which is a modern invention. It has been cherished by urban designers; defended by left wing structralists as a way to alter the structure of international trade at the advantage of late comers (Prebisch, 1970); transmuted into a government instrument to neutralize class conflicts, yet generating new contradictions due to the putting into motion of the productive forces of capital (Chatterjee, 1998). The IMF and the World Bank themselves supported the establishment of planning agencies in developing countries whose politicians were using undisciplined inflationary spending to strengthen their political support while achieving economic growth. More radical use of planning in socialist countries took the name of command economy and it was subject to heavy criticism by neoclassical and Austrian economists, but overall, planning did not necessarily have an inherently negative connotation in the trajectory of capitalist development until the rise of neoliberalism.
It is in the 1980s that the correlation between efficiency and planning lost complete legitimacy. What was the motive of capitalist development suddenly became an impediment to it. And one did not even have to be right-wing neoliberal or Hayekian in order to attack planning as the source of bureaucratic inefficiencies or economic crises (see Hayek, 1944 for a hostile critique of Soviet planning). Through a delightful analysis of eight different cases including Europe, Africa and Soviet Russia, James Scott (1998) showed that top-down and centrally planned state projects are condemned to fail both in socialist and capitalist systems alike. On the other hand, despite declining credibility, state-led planning received a positive endorsement by institutionalist economists who praised the developmental bureaucrats of the East Asian countries as the major driving force behind the competitive performance of the region (Amsden, 1989; Chang, 2002). According to this view, planning enhances, rather than distorts development and should be adopted with infant industry protection in developing countries as the only viable path out of poverty. Other studies indicated the historically contingent outcomes of state intervention (Evans, 1992): Planning could be a perfect tool for developmental state, a source of corruption and rent-seeking in predatory states.
Those critical voices were important, but they did not manage to challenge the pro-market believers. One could even argue that the recent financial crises were unable to create a seismic effect on the reversal of supply and demand mechanisms as the best possible means to give signals for price and wage setting and re-introduce state’s pro-active intervention in the economy. Better regulation of the market seems to be the only game in town. The main question is how to minimize transaction costs, information asymmetries, manipulations and greed, which distort the market but a belief in the spontaneity of the market is kept intact.
What does this cursory glimpse at the history of planning and market tell us? Which view of the use of market and planning is more valuable? Is planning a facilitator or obstacle of development? Does it create bureaucratic inefficiency or contribute to rapid accumulation? Are markets really able to act as spontaneous price signal mechanisms or are they inefficient and imperfect? Are market and planning instruments mutually exclusive or can they coexist? From our perspective all the statements in those questions are equally socially plausible yet none of them reflect universal and totalising truth. Their reality is partial, one-sided and historically contingent. But it is exactly this apparent paradox, which a genuine alternative can take its cue from. If both state and market tools can assume different forms, generate different consequences, be used for different purposes, then there is not one single inherent meaning and function of those tools.
State and market are real abstractions fetishised in capitalist society. But let us think, one moment, that we can disaggregate state and market instruments, de-contextualise and re-assemble them for new purposes, for a communist society. Let us meditate upon what other potentials are hidden in those tools. The fact that they have functioned or failed for different purposes is an opportunity for us. For instance, state-led planning might have served a capitalist elite, rationalized the economy, wasted resources or speeded up capital accumulation in different contexts, by interacting with diverse actors and institutions. In the same way, markets might have produced failures, inefficiencies on the one hand, contributed to discipline of its participants and more transparency on the other hand. Bourgeois theoreticians naturalise and essentialise the properties of markets, yet they pre-dated capitalism and can be equally destructive and constructive. Why wouldn’t one use innovative and technologically advanced models of market place (as an arena for buyers and sellers to meet to trade goods and services) for a communist society? (Here I do not promote a kind of market socialism, even though this is an important debate, which requires more serious attention, see Andreani, 2008).
Historically specific outcomes state and market generated in different contexts suggest they can produce other outcomes. Nicole Pepperell’s pathbreaking work theorised this possibility with a very original reading of Capital. Hence the possibility for a communist bricolage. That is why it is not impossible to derive some ideas from the history of neoclassical economics or use an instrument, which was originally produced for reinforcing the power of capitalist class (An interesting work, which is useful for the type of analysis we make here is the rather eclectic approach defended by Amartya Sen in developing solutions of development. Even though I am very critical of Sen’s own position, some of his insights can be productively used. For instance Sen argues that the popular ‘return to Keynes’ argument fails to be imaginative and does not engage with some of the innovative suggestions of neoclassical economists on the question of how to achieve ‘welfare’ in a market economy, a problem Keynes never addressed directly).
In a given moment, it might be difficult to sustain this claim or instrument politically, since instruments I do offer may be overloaded with meanings. For instance ‘market’ has been associated so much with neoliberalism, our encounter with the market has so much negative connotation that it may be difficult to politically sustain a solution including a market component. But the organization of Flower Market and the combination of planning instruments with market signals in Red Star suggest, in a very promising way, that we can imagine markets, which contribute to a socialist project rather than reproducing the value form. Therefore, to be imaginative, I do offer to suspend the ‘political moment’ for a moment. Not that not it is unimportant, on the contrary, implementation of projects such as Cybersyn is a political issue par excellence (remember also how fascist Pinochet regime destroyed the system), but rather because only by postponing this question, one can fully exploit the existing potentials of the objects in their de-contextualised form. This can help us to investigate what is possible rather than looking at what is given. This can help us to go beyond what is familiar to us in our political context, our ideological commitments, our preconceptions.
After a disjunction with the actual temporality to free our thinking, we should come back to the contemporary moment once again to ask how the possible will become actual. By then it will be the time of doing political analysis, calculating configuration and positioning of existing forces, devising strategies of action. At that new moment, we will travel, from the universe of science fiction, history of planning and economic theories to the world of Vladimir I. Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, Daniel Bensaid. Our vocabulary will now be more about incentives, constraints, opportunities, alliances, negotiations and struggles. It will guide us in breaking and re-building in a completely new form, the kind of Deleuzian assemblage which capitalism is.