Plan and Market   Marx and Mechanism




Marx's theory is very complex and contains a number of diverse aspects. He himself was certainly convinced that the different aspects of his theory are not in conflict but rather complement each other. However at his time this could have been verified only in those parts of Marx's theory that had a direct bearing on reality of the 19th century. But when he wrote about socialism he could formulate not more than a purely logical model, whose consistency could be tested in real world only long after his death. To argue about what Marx really meant, what he considered to be the basis of socialism surely means to engage in a great deal of speculation. Nevertheless I believe that it will not be to far from the truth to claim the following about Marx's theory.

1) Marx considered socialism (or communism) to be a society which would overcome the basic shortcomings of capitalism: exploitation and the alienation of labor. The alienation of labor under capitalism according to Marx has its origin in the dual determination of man: as a part of the economic and natural structure and as a part or the socio-economic structure. Man's determination by the economic and natural structure in which he lives means, that man must work to maintain his life. Labor has no sense in itself, it is only a means to acquire the necessities of life. In this sense it is not an expression of the truly human qualities of man, but a necessary evil, which must be suffered to maintain the life. The concept of alienation of labor means that during his working hours man is only an instrument and ceases to be himself. Man's truly human life begins only after working hours. Man's determination by the socio-economic structure means that man does not work of his own free will, but becomes a mere tool, a slave, who must follow the orders of others. Alienation means that he is manipulated, the decision-making process is taken away from him. The mass of producers is thus reduced to a manipulated mass.

According to Marx, socialism and communism represent the abolition of alienation in both of these senses. This can take place only if the period of labor in man's life ceases to be a "non life"; the carrying out of orders given by someone else. Under communism labor is to become an expression and realization of man's own human substance, it is to become a truly human activity, which makes sense in itself and is not only a means for attaining human dimensions during after-work hours. This can however take place only after the dual determination of man mentioned earlier is overcome, only after the manipulation of man by other men, as well as the eternal struggle for livelihood are removed. 



Therefore communism is, for Marx, synonymous with a society where man finally becomes a truly free- individual, not subjugated to others, not living because of the charity of others. It appears that there is nothing more distant from Marx's concept of communism then bureaucratic centralism in which the very top of the social pyramid makes all the decisions and the individual whose capacity to make decisions is reduced to zero becomes only a small cog-wheel in an exactly ticking social mechanism.

2. The second aspect of Marx's theory of socialism and communism concerns the manner in which the mechanism of functioning of the economy is organized. For Marx alienation of labor was directly related to the existence of commodity production. especially in its capitalist form, as he saw it in the middle of the last century. The circumstances which the author tried to point out earlier in this paper, led Marx to the conclusion that to abolish the alienation of labor and to achieve humanization of society required removal of the market mechanism (he considered anarchy and exploitation to be inherent traits of the market) and creation a system of rational control and central planning.

To put it rather simply, we have to grapple with two aspects of Marx's theory: Communism as the abolition of alienation of labor and humanization of society and communism as the abolition of the production of commodities and its replacement by rational centralized control of the economy. It seems that Marx was convinced that the realization of the second aim is a necessary prerequisite for achievement of the first aim.




But the experience with an economic system, where the role of the market is limited or eliminated and replaced by bureaucratic centralism, as well as theoretical considerations based in new knowledge and modern tools of analysis, are to a larger and larger extent, convincing us that replacing the market mechanism by a system of centralized decision-making (at least in its command and bureaucratic form) cannot ensure those characteristics, which Marx considered essential for a communist society. Bureaucratic centralism is not helping to eliminate alienation of labor and manipulation of man, and therefore it cannot achieve true humanization and democratization of society.

We are now confronted with the following dilemma: if the two aspects of Marx's theory as we have described them, are not mutually consistent, then we must give up one of them, or at least try to reformulate it in a new way, so as to be able to keep the other. It is evident that two different schools of thought can develop from Marx, two schools of contradictory ideas. To argue which one is "true Marxism" is irrelevant. This would involve looking for proof of which aspect was more important to Marx himself, and which he would have been willing to give up. This would bring us to pure speculation. Let us accept Marx as he was, and let us not ask him to see the world from the point of view of the twentieth century.

There are people who are convinced that "true" Marxism requires them to adhere above all to the second aspect we mentioned, that is removal of the market mechanism and in its replacement by rational centralized decision-making. These people usually cannot envisage socialism without a system of command planning and for this reason they are willing to give up the aims of abolition of the alienation of labor, of humanization of society and of freedom of choice. The present author thinks, that socialists should not see the central control as an end in itself, but only the means for attaining the aims most important to a socialist society. Socialism (and communism) should not be considered a society based above all on centralized planning, but a society, which should above all be based on the principles of humanism and which should lead to the full liberation of man. Thus the contemporary endeavor to design a system for a socialist economy based on a combination of planning and market is in a certain sense a revision of Marxism but it is true to the socialist aims and ideals of Marx's theory.



At the end one warning. The criticism of the administrative and centralized planning should not lead to idealization of the market mechanism. The market does have and will continue to have even under socialism a number of negative aspects, which have been criticized by Marx and other socialists. The profit motive will continue to have negative influence on morals. Market could again lead to new forms of alienation and dehumanization of social relations. The real consumer sovereignty will always be more or less a fiction in the world where the apparatus by which information is spread can force various wants on people. However these consequences of the market cannot be simply prevented by abolishing the market. That would not improve but worsen the situation. Will we be able to find a way to resolve these contradiction?












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