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Special edition of Eszmélet journal - Money, Markets, and Forms of Socialism

The introduction by Attila Melegh

This special edition of Eszmélet journal is the second volume on non-capitalist mixed economies after the pioneering first one published last year. The “Non-Capitalist Mixed Economies” conference series and the subsequent publications aim at developing new perspectives on the history of forms of socialism as transitory, mixed economies, presenting new experiences with currently existing mixed and hybrid systems, and elaborating future possibilities beyond capitalism and, hopefully, capital itself.[1]

It seems we have reached a turning point in these discussions. To be able to fulfill our original goals, it was necessary to revisit some basic theoretical problems and debates. These issues cannot be addressed without a common conceptual framework and methodological ground concerning historical change and various key actors and sectors that can serve as elements in a “mixed” construct. Moreover, it remains uncertain what basic conditions have to be guaranteed structurally in order to stop certain processes in which any of the key social forms of the “mixture” dominates over the others.

We all know too well that market socialism tempted state bureaucracies to privatize state-owned assets and to promote capitalist market fundamentalism (behaving as an “auctioneer state”, as József Böröcz once put it, see Böröcz 1999), which is a key lesson we learned in the late twentieth century. We also know how workers’ self-governance could and can be completely marginalized or even become targets of negative political campaigns and severe suppression in so-called socialist states (Krausz 2015, 311–354). We are also aware of how small-scale households, family economies, and cooperatives were forcefully subordinated to planning and state usurpation of their resources in the 1930s or 1950s in Eastern European socialisms – or in the 1980s in Ethiopia, as discussed by Fikadu T. Ayanie in his paper on the Derg system, published in this volume. This type of suppression and uneasy coexistence was in sharp contrast with the NEP model in the mid-1920s, for instance (Krausz 2021), and it also differed substantially from the Hungarian “second economy” system in the 1960s and 1970s (see Nove 1991, 128; Hann 2021). In the latter regime, as discussed by Attila Antal and Attila Melegh in their relevant talks during the conference, there was a balance between householding (based on fixed contracts with cooperatives), market-oriented cooperatives (with well-regulated prices and without marketizing land itself), and the integrated light industry (offering stable jobs to women in the agrarian sector). Even more specifically, in Eastern European socialisms there were innovations such as the mixed housing regime in Romania in the 1960s or 1970s, where creative links existed between the state and the private systems (see the complex analysis by Enikő Vincze in the present volume). Moreover, as Salvatore Engel-di Mauro explained at the conference, these specific, “mixed constellation” socialisms proved to be less polluting than capitalist or neoliberal economies.

It seems that the most important aim of politically committed and transformative developmentalist/socialist states should go beyond the development of productive forces (which is often the excuse for socially oppressive production systems) and include the liberation and protection of a wide variety of social forms and social energies in order to unlock inherent historical potentials. This priority is often debated, but as our heated discussions showed, it can hardly be avoided. During the conference, Raquel Varela’s case study of the Portuguese revolutionary periods and liberation served as a key testimony in this respect. Another example is the amazing and creative public debates on a “new way of life” in the 1920s in the Soviet Union, as interpreted eloquently by Roberto della Santa at our conference. Indeed, intellectual exercises were given more room when a new set of social forms were established that had been liberated from the yoke of capitalism and the dominance of a single form of ownership and logic of social reproduction – until the Stalinist turn.

Indirectly, repressive means are also key elements in the socialist and systemic critique of the Chinese hybrid model. This was voiced during the conference in general, but also specifically in connection with agriculture (use and ownership of land), finance (links between private and public sectors), and the developmental policies in Eastern Europe, as exemplified by the outstanding talks of David Lane, Zhun Xu, Bruno de Conti, as well as Tamás Gerőcs and Linda Szabó. These papers discussed developments that cast a long shadow over the possibilities of a less tense and more viable non-capitalist hybridity. These negative tendencies can be understood historically both from a local and a global point of view, but this does not reduce responsibility and the question of historical options. In the current hybrid models, the fate of the socialist mixed economy depends on various, historically evolving dynamics within the model itself (the fate of redistributive land systems, internal migration from rural to capitalist urban sectors), as well as on the growing tensions within the state apparatus. However, this interpretation does not necessarily mean that the fate of the ongoing experiment in China is predetermined, or that it lacks huge and unprecedented potentials to liberate social energies.

This is one of the reasons why conferences like this are needed. We must see the options in order to help possible organizations and movements to better orient themselves in going beyond neoliberal fundamentalism. We need to explore and examine meticulously the structural and historical conditions for the upcoming great transformation, as Karl Polanyi would have put it. This positive attitude was also emphasized by her 99 year-old daughter Kari Polanyi Levitt in her greetings sent to the conference participants.

This political consideration leads us back to the need of a detailed analysis of actors that can potentially play a role in facilitating a balanced interaction between the different social forms. What have learnt in this respect?

The first question one needs to address is related to the dominance and development of the state, which still plays a key role in serving capitalist institutions. The state can become a counterbalance to neoliberal and socially repressive mechanisms, or can serve as a basis of socialist experimentation. We need to focus on the definition and the varieties of state capitalism and state non-capitalism, and their relationship to the regime of capital as a social metabolic system, as eloquently put by István Mészáros (Mészáros 2000). In his present paper, Pietro Basso also draws on this concept in his analysis of Bordiga’s ideas concerning the corporations as the ultimate locus of capitalist reproduction.

Almost as a continuation of his excellent talk given at the 2021 conference, this year David Lane presented a detailed and essential typology of state capitalism and distinguished between capitalism’s various forms in his classification. He defines state capitalism as “a hybrid economic system, in which the state coordinates the economy, owns productive assets, employs a significant number of people and distributes surplus value; concurrently, corporate non-state capitals, competing through market mechanisms, are driven by the profit motive”. Thus he revises the earlier concepts of state capitalism suggested, for instance, by Lenin, and strives to find a more effective typology without refuting these earlier ideas. According to Lane, state-capitalism (with a hyphen) is a somewhat different system based on large-scale state ownership in which through the extraction of surplus values the ruling class benefits and controls directly societal renewal and economic development for the benefit and purposes of a state ruling class. He considers the NEP and Lenin’s definitions to be more about state-controlled capitalism, a different form of capitalism, which is “a dual political and economic system in which privately owned enterprises produce for profit and receive ‘rewards for enterprise’ subject to moral, political, economic and coercive controls exercised by dominant state mechanisms and institutions”. In his view, China is operating a viable “developmentalist” alternative to neoliberal capitalist systems as it “is a form of state-controlled capitalism retaining some socialist characteristics”. This is not only a question of classification – we need to examine the dynamics in order to see the role the state is playing in such hybrid systems. Control over the state, coupled with the growing contradiction between the private and state sectors, are key factors that will decide whether these regimes will drift toward liberal capitalism or some form of socialism. Analyzing these developments and exploring the actual social processes can provide us with guiding principles while watching this dramatic historical experiment unfold, which will have a major impact on the options of non-capitalist transitory systems in the twenty-first century. Both the role of the state and the options of planning will play a historical role in this. The potentials of the latter have not yet been properly assessed, as Alan Freeman argues. He emphasized at both conferences that state-level planning was abandoned in many countries exactly in a period when digital technology would have allowed a better assessments of needs, and in fact there are more available options in this respect than we usually assume. An in-depth and systematic analysis of this theme will have a major impact on our debates concerning the state (and its gradual withering away) and the democratic communities in case the logic of capital declines. At the conference, Johanna Bockmann also contributed to this topic with her talk on ideas Polanyi’s ideas of “socialist accounting”, a crucial element in debating socialist options.

Money is another major theme. The analysis presented by Radhika Desai at both conferences, as well as the humanist anthropological approach by Keith Hart, contributed to the formulation of a new set of questions. Both argue that linking money directly to capitalism is incorrect (as Marx and Polanyi also demonstrated). Money has never been a commodity and can take various forms and functions in societal development. Its current neoliberal format is anything but eternal or even a longer term phenomenon. There is a dramatic attempt to (fictitiously) commodify money today, and as Hart powerfully argues, the plutocratic, rent-seeking and publicly bailed-out financial groups syphon enormous fortunes out of the relevant sectors; however, money can and, indeed, must exist in non-capitalist societies as well. Desai explains that in socialist formations, money serves mainly accounting and payment functions. Hart argues that money can be socialized, even personalized, and it serves as a key link between individuals and society if the structural conditions are set: “Money in capitalist societies stands for alienation, detachment, impersonal society, the outside; its lies beyond our control (market). Relations without money privilege what we take to be familiar, the inside (home). This divides us every day; it asks too much of us. People want to integrate division, to connect their subjectivity and society as an object. It helps that money connects public and domestic life.” These issues are also directly linked to the various forms of markets and price control, as well as the types and roles of states. Thus, they are also intertwined with the first major theme of the conference: the state.

The questions of land ownership and rural mixed economies can serve as excellent case studies, as evidenced by the conference papers given by the speakers from China. Peng Zhaochang provided a thorough and thought-provoking interpretation of the evolution of pre-capitalist agrarian forms, thus raising questions about wide and long-term historical perspectives, as related to the temporal existence of capitalism, while Zhun Xu presented how much capitalism has prevailed in China and how the so-called “household responsibility system” has given way to rising capitalist systems with all their major implications.

No doubt, major questions were addressed at this year’s conference, and interesting points were raised that have the potential to pave the way for future research. The new set of research questions formulated in the wake of the discussions can facilitate a better understanding of the past and potentials of non-capitalist mixed economies, these fragile and immensely complex systems. Seeing this complexity, hasty and ahistorical judgements of these regimes would mislead any critical Marxist analysis and hamper the search for feasible practical-political goals.

[1] The list of presentations at the 2021 and 2022 conferences, as well as the table of contents of the previous publication, can be found at the end of the present volume.

Please see the full journal in the attached document below.

Mixed economy second special issue
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