Atelier n°. 0, article 7

© Bertell Ollman
(Excerpt from Market Socialism, The Debate Among Sociaists (New York : Routledge Press, 1998), 200 p.)


"Cheshire Puss [asked Alice]
Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where," said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat
--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
And so it is for all of us. Capitalism today occupies an increasingly narrow strip of land between the unnecessary and the impossible, with water from both sides washing over it in ever larger waves. But before the beleaguered population seeks the safety of higher ground, they have to be persuaded that the already colossal problems of capitalism are not only getting worse but that there is indeed a higher ground to which they can decamp. Margaret Thatcher's words, "There is no alternative," are now found on millions of lips the world over. People who believe this will put up with almost any degree of suffering. Why bother to struggle for a change that cannot be? The collapse of the Soviet Union seems to have reinforced this view, oddly enough, even among many on the Left who never considered the Soviet Union a model of anything. In this historical setting, those of us who believe that a qualitatively superior alternative is possible must give top priority to explaining and portraying what this is, so that people will have a good reason for choosing one path into the future rather than another. Developing our criticisms of capitalism is simply not enough, if it ever was. Now, more than ever, socialists must devote more of our attention to-socialism. Many socialists in the United States and elsewhere have begun to respond to this crisis in belief by giving future possibilities an increasingly important place in their account of present troubles. One group of

2 Market Socialism

socialists who have done this more systematically, and more persistently, than perhaps anyone else are those who have come to be called "market socialists," with the result that mark&t socialism is now one of the main topics of debate on the Left world-wide. The main questions addressed here include-What is market socialism? How would it work? Which of our current problems would it solve, which leave untouched? How would it come about? What is its relation to capitalism? How does it compare with more traditional visions of socialism? Did Marx take a position on it? What do other socialists find lacking in it, and what do they propose instead? In the present volume, four socialist scholars, who have been deeply involved in this debate-two for, two against-give their answers to these questions. First, a proviso. The four of us are well aware that the oppressed of this world are not asking "How do we organize society to obtain a more efficient use of resources?" Likewise, for them, "Do we need more workers' coops or a rational economic plan?" is not a pressing question. Instead, they want to know how the content of their lives will be better under socialism. Will they have more interesting, safer, higher paid, and more secure jobs? Will they still be worried about not having enough money to buy the things they want? Will they get the education and medical help that their family needs? Will they still have bosses and landlords and crooks and-yes-cops who threaten their well being in so many ways and make them anxious and afraid? Most of the rest is "mechanics," important to be sure, but, in the eyes of most people, to be taken up only after these essentials are spoken to. Yet, every end comes with its appropriate means. Without ignoring any of these questions, the authors of this book have been mainly concerned with defining the structural reforms that could bring about these needed changes. The work of translating whatever is of value in our scholarly exchange into direct answers to what people are actually asking remains, of course, an ongoing challenge. David Schweickart, James Lawler, Hillel Ticktin, and I participated in a debate on market socialism at the Socialist Scholars' Conference in New York City in April 1995. We have all been involved in similar debates with each other and with other scholars at various meetings both in the United States and abroad, and we have all written articles on this subject-in Schweickart's case, two books. In the present volume, we have tried to convey not only our views on market socialism but also something of the intellectual excitement that comes from being in a debate of this kind. So rather than simply stating our positions, each of us also criticizes one person from the other side, and then responds to criticisms made of him. The order of the book is as follows: Part I-essays by Schweickart and Lawler that defend market socialism; Part II- essays by Ticktin and me that oppose it (the greater length of my essay is due to the fact that half of it deals with the market in capitalism, thus offering one possible context in which to view the entire debate); Part Ill-shorter pieces in which Schweickart criticizes Ticktin, Ticktin criticizes Schweickart, Lawler criticizes me, and I criticize Lawler; and Part IV-again short pieces in which each of us responds to the criticisms made of him. Whatever side the reader eventually comes down on, our hope is that he or she will be able to respond to Margaret Thatcher and her co-skeptics with fresh conviction that there is indeed an alternative. And, perhaps, knowing where we want to go, unlike Alice, we can at once set out in the right direction.