Radical Political Economy: Explorations in Alternative Economic Analysis

By Victor D. Lippit | Go to book overview

13
"Market Socialism" and Its Critics

Alec Nove

This paper examines the attack on "market socialism" from the left, i.e., from those who believe that the very term "market socialism" is a contradiction in terms, that the East European reformers are in process of retreat from socialist aims, if not actually restoring capitalism.

This view commands considerable support from the "New Left" both in the West and in parts of the Third World. This species of criticism should be distinguished from the resistance to reform on the part of the party and planning machinery, which, though it sometimes cites similar ideological arguments, is powerfully motivated by bureaucratic habits and self-interest; certainly the New Left critics think that this is so. It is perhaps less easy to distinguish the "left" critique from one sometimes heard from another quarter: that, whether good or bad, market socialism is inconsistent with the vision of Marx and Engels. For Paul Craig Roberts, for instance, it is clear that Marx saw commodity production and markets as characteristic of capitalism, bringing alienation in their wake, and therefore the reformers are un-Marxist, indeed the prewar Lange was also un- Marxist ( Roberts, 1971).

This type of Western critic is presumably little interested in the existence or non-existence of viable alternatives to a centralised non-market economy, or in the relative inefficiency of this or that model of a planned economy. If, indeed, it could be proved that market-type reforms were necessary and inescapable in Eastern Europe, Paul Craig Roberts would probably say: well, so be it, but it simply proves that Marx's economic vision was wrong!

This, of course, cannot be the argument of Bettelheim, Sweezy and others like them, who sympathise with Mao's position and, therefore, while opposing both the Soviet leadership (for bureaucracy and conservatism) and the "liberal" re-

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Reprinted by permission from Political Economy and Soviet Socialism, Alec Nove ( London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979), pp. 112-132.

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