Socialism after Hayek

Article excerpt

Theodore A. Burczak, Socialism After Hayek Ann Arbor, Ml: The University of Michigan Press, 2006, 200pp.; ISBN: 978-0472069514

When the Eastern Block collapsed some suggested that it vindicated the arguments of Thatcher's favourite economist Friedrich von Hayek. Hayek had argued that central planning could not work because it would be impossible for the planners to find, gather and process tiie dispersed information in an economy. Burczak agrees, but rather than reject socialism, he seeks to synthesise Marx and Hayek. The result is both interesting and frustrating. Interesting because it discusses ideas anarchists have long held dear: workers' self-management, the end of exploitation, the necessity for decentralisation and free agreement. Frustrating because Burczak seems utterly ignorant of libertarian socialist ideas which means that while he thinks he is being innovative, he is merely re-inventing the wheel.

This lack of awareness of another major school of socialism can be seen when he talks about developing a 'libertarian Marxism'. No, not council communism but rather right-wing 'libertarian' or, more correctly, propertarian (so accepting the laissez-faire capitalist appropriation of 'libertarian' from the left without objection). So Burczak seeks 'market socialism' - if he had a better grasp of socialist history he would have discovered its original name: mutualism.

Burczak's attempt to fuse markets and Marx is on weak ground. Marx's analysis of capitalism does mix up critiques of wage-labour and market forces but the latter simply cannot be ignored. He asks wherever Marxists can Overcome their residual market phobia', yet does not address the many critiques of markets as such found in Marxist (and communist-anarchist) theory. Ignoring this in favour of Marx's critique of wagelabour, then a 'post-Hayekian' socialism 'can be teased out of Marx's writings' - but why bother? It goes against the grain of Marx's ideology, and there is another leading socialist thinker, Proudhon, who already explicitly proclaims much of what would be 'teased' out anyway.

That his book could have benefited from a wider reading of socialist theory can be seen when he notes 'the ability of the owner of the means of production to appropriate the entire output of the enterprise that employs wage-labour' while 'worker-managed enterprises operating in a private-property, market-based economy' can achieve the 'goal of abolishing exploitation in economic processes that require group production'. This simply repeats Proudhon's arguments that workers' association were required because the proprietor appropriates product, the 'collective force' and 'surplus of labour' produced by workers. …