Debate on Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism — by Ian Angus, Paul Kellogg, and Peter Hudis

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Summary: Two reviews of Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism (2012) by Ian Angus and Paul Kellogg, with a response by the author, Peter Hudis.  This article was originally published in Socialist Studies/Études socialistes, Vol. 11:1, Winter 2016 –Editors

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    Jason Schulman

    June 21, 2017

    I agree with much of what Peter says, of course. But some of it, in its fidelity to what Marx wrote in 1875, I think is outdated.

    It’s true that Marx’s writings, particularly “Critique of the Gotha Program,” posit a vision of socialist production and distribution in which abstract labor has been overcome, and (initially) mass-produced items are “priced” via computation of the labor-time embodied in each product, with remuneration via labor-tokens such that one hour of actual labor is exchanged for items produced in the same amount of time.

    But to implement Marx’s scheme today, rather than in 1875, would incentivize *increased* individual labor time (problematic, given endemic unemployment, and antithetical to full human self-development) and because in this sense it mimics the capitalist work incentive it would drive a tendency to ecologically-harmful “growth.”

    Peter further suggests that any idea of “socialist money” and “socialist prices” are necessarily antithetical to the socialist project. I disagree. I think such things are inevitable and necessary until such abundance exists that they are not. I see no reason why “first-stage communism” could not use a core set of *calculated prices*, determined through a democratic planning process by the “associated producers” themselves. Planned price formation wouldn’t disrupt the fundamental socialist principle that prices, and therefore incomes, should be determined democratically and intentionally, not by forces outside of human control (“the market”).

    (Note that I’m talking about producer and consumer goods here. A federation of workers’ democracies could, of course, quickly “de-price” immense swaths of the economy: education, mass transportation, health care, social services, infrastructure, and pensions. They could be made readily accessible to all without any cost at the point of consumption.)

    Sam Friedman

    June 27, 2017

    I disagree with Jason’s comment that we need “calculated prices,” although if these are not calculated but discussed democratically it might be worth experimenting with this approach in some localities when and if we get rid of capitalism.

    I say this in part because I think we will come out of the revolutions with different groups having different ideas, and that some experimentation is better than imposing any one approach everywhere–if situations are not too desperate due to the destruction capitalism is creating in the environment or due to its death throes.

    I was a little surprised in reading Peter’s response to Kellogg and, particularly, Angus, that he did not refer to an article I recently published which proposes that we experiment with using “socially validated need” as a way to decide which requests for supplies or services by one set of producers (or individuals) would be honored by those who are requested to provide it. The article can be read at Friedman, Sam. 2017. Creating a socialism that meets needs: What kind of society might actually work? Against the Current, in press. Issue 126 pp. 32 – 36. Reprinted at Climate & Capitalism,; and at Dandelion Salad

    A key part of the proposal is that anyone can request such support of any organization, and we will have a norm that such requests shall be met if the organization has the capacity unless they or others challenge it as harmful. Such challenges would then be discussed by one or more of the various local or higher-level council systems I expect we will set up.

    Insofar as I can see, this is an idea that is in accord with Peter’s analyses as well as with the spirit of what most of us want to create.

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