Having critiqued the place of theories on the left (or anywhere) we can equally be wary of trying refute particular theories: the same trap all over again. Instead we can create a kind of metahistorical descriptive approach in which the history of particular isms/theories become part of our model. We can thus both embrace and override such historical entities as marxism emerging from the era of 1848. We can use and learn from everything but in the final analysis the causal science claims of the marxist bourgeoisie are as questionable as those of the capitalist bourgeoisie.
Instead we look at the relation of a rough ‘systems analysis’ and the free agency both inside and after its action. The status of a socialist project is thus one of free agency, not historical determinism. That approach has advantages and disadvantages. But the principal advantage is that we can create a protocol of action on its own merits without having to consult Marx’s Capital. Marxists have never gotten their own subject straight, so we are well advised to distance ourselves.
The question of ‘market neo-communism’ arises as a powerful alternative, with many supposed refutations, but let us note that it is not the same as so-called ‘market socialism’. In fact, ‘market neo-communism’ has never been tried, has no definite definition and is thus an open matrix for the creation of a postcapitalist reality. The calculation debate will unnerve some, but one gets suspicious of the whole set of confusions. We have to find something, not derive answers from dead authorities. For a long time many on the left have been intimidated by the issue of markets and socialism, as the book above shows. But that stance is falling away now: the Thatcherite TINA (there is no alternative) is yielding to sheer desperation: TBBB (there bloody-well better be). We have no choice but to reconsider the dangerous legacy of free markets. If the result isn’t totally efficient, so be it. And at some point people become so sick of capitalist propaganda that the possibility of trying something else begins to sound attractive.
The discussion in the book cited is out of date, in many ways. And what we are discussing here is not so much the issue of markets versus socialism, as the issue of constitutional communism in which the decision is made as to private property. That is not the same as proposing a particular kind of socialist economy. We can start with something very mixed: property reverts to the Commons. Every one has a right to that legacy in the form of economic rights, e.g. of employment, housing, medical care, education, etc…This system must solve all the social democratic legacies and protect them from depradation. Thus market communism remains under definition and it is no longer believable that such a system is unworkable. As the authors note, the Chinese example, however misleading, shows that to be nonsense. It is not an exemplar for us either.
We are talking about a flexible set of possibilities, next to a threshold below which we allow a semi-autonomous culture/economy. The result must redefine democracy and rights and must be sufficiently intelligible/transparent as to be an intuitive and attractive option.
As climate change accelerates we will soon discover another new version of TINA…there is no alternative to attempting a new form of postcapitalism…