Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice

By Roy Dilly | Go to book overview

14
Market, Plan and Structured Social Inequality in China

NORMAN STOCKMAN


14.1 VISIONS OF ECONOMIC CO-ORDINATION IN SOCIALIST SOCIETIES

Just as in all other complex societies, in all socialist societies, whether really existing or merely imagined, the problem of the co-ordination of economic action has to be addressed, even if not explicitly. Since socialism may be minimally delimited from capitalism by its rejection of reliance on the 'blind' working of the market mechanism, the problem of co-ordination is, or could be, raised at a higher level of societal self-consciousness than would be the case in any reasonably close approximation to an ideal-typical capitalist society, were any such society to exist. Possible answers to the problem of co-ordination could be advanced and debated with reference to desired societal goals or conceptions of a good society. Institutions of co-ordination, once established, could be assessed or judged as adequate or inadequate in terms of the degree to which they were conducive to the attainment of such goals. Furthermore, if such institutions of co-ordination were to fall below that level of societal self- consciousness, to become themselves 'blindly' working mechanisms operating on internally generated criteria and withdrawn from the possibility of social criticism, this fact in itself would be a signal that the project of socialism had become distorted; abandoned or forgotten. Whether such an enlightenment ideal of a transparent or 'rational' society is socially possible remains an open question.

Really existing socialist societies have developed institutions of co-ordination which can be analysed as variations or combinations of two types: the institutions of state-directed central planning and the institutions of market socialism. Neither of these sets of institutions has as yet turned out to be particularly satisfactory, when judged against a variety of societal goals or images of a good society. (It remains to be seen whether the institutions of economic co-ordination developed in certain 'no- longer-really-existing-socialist' societies prove to be any more satisfactory in these respects.) In particular, as will be the primary concern of this chapter, neither institutional form has fully measured up to the socialist goal of the radical reduction of the degree of structured social inequality that existed in pre-socialist societies. It is generally recognised that structured social inequality of various kinds continues to be a prominent feature of the social structure of socialist societies. It may also be suggested that different aspects of structured social inequality are brought to the fore,

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