Amidst all the turmoil and exultation that marked the final days of the German Democratic Republic, an East German worker was heard to say, "What bothered us most about the Government is that they treated us like idiots". In the capitalist lands, of course, people are first made into idiots, so when they are treated as such few take notice. The difference is one of transparency.
One major virtue of centrally planned societies, then, even undemocratic ones, even ones that don't work very well, is that it is easy to see who is responsible for what goes wrong. It is those who made the plan. The same cannot be said of market economies which have as one of their main functions to befuddle the understanding of those who live in them. This is essential if people are to misdirect whatever frustration and anger they feel about the social and economic inequality, unemployment, idle machines and factories, ecological destruction, widespread corruption and exaggerated forms of greed that are the inevitable byproducts of market economies. But to the extent this is so, only a critique of market mystification will enable us to put the blame where it belongs, which is to sayon the capitalist market as such and the class that rules over it, in order to open people up to the need for creating a new way of organizing the production and distribution of social wealth.
Most of the debate over the market has concentrated on the economy, particularly on the economic advantages and disadvantages (depending on who is talking) of organizing exchange in this manner. Relatively little attention has been given to the ideas and emotions that arise in market exchanges and their role in reproducing capitalism's problems as well as in limiting the possibilities for their solution. Without wishing to minimize the importance of this economic debate, it is the latter lacuna to which this essay is addressed. By viewing market ideology as the subjective side of a thoroughly integrated organic whole, however, I also hope to cast a clearer light on the nature of the market overall.
There are, of course, many institutions, conditions, and practises that serve as "factories of ideology". Among the busiest of these are the state, the media, the family, the church, school, the workplace, and wherever it is that sport, entertainment and gambling go on. Capitalism uses all this to make the abnormal appear normal, the unjust appear fair, and the unacceptable appear natural and even desirable. To be sure, not all the ideas, values, etc. that come out of these other sites are compatible with market ways of behaving and thinking. Yet, few people have allowed whatever contradictory pressures are feltarising from religion, for exampleto interfere with their buying and selling, or how they rationalize either. With the explosive expansion of consumerism of the amount of time, thought, and emotions spent buying and selling and preparing for (including worrying about) and recovering from these activitiesthe market has become a dominant, if not the dominant, influence on how people act and think throughout the rest of their lives.
The market also stands out from the other sites on which ideology is constructed, with the possible exception of production itself, in relying more on actual experience than on teaching with words in producing its effect. We learn through what we see, hear, and feel, and especially through what we do and what is done to us, that is through our experience. This is because experience usually combines activity with perception and a stronger dose of emotions than accompanies just seeing and hearing on their own. In addition, the ideas that derive from our buying and selling appear to be privately confirmed every timeand that can be several times a daysuch behavior succeeds in obtaining what it is we want. While the fact that everyone seems to be acting in the same way provides a certain public confirmation of their truth. Why/how else would/could they behave in these ways? Few of the ideas we acquire during our socialization can count on this much support. The mystifications associated with the market, then, result mainly from people's experiences of buying and selling (and witnessing others buying and selling) from early youth, with the thousands of ads we absorb every year as children putting down the first foundations. The lies, omissions, and distortions laid on by what some have dubbed the "consciousness industry" only confirms and gives finished form to the world view and more particular beliefs forged by this personal involvement with the market.
What do these market experiences consist of? Before answering, we need to make clear that what is called "the market" really refers to four interrelated markets, one for finished goods or commodities, one for capital, one for currency, and one for labor power. In all four markets, individuals compete with each other to get as much money as they can for what they have to sell, and to pay as little as possible for what they wish to buy. Furthermore, it is obvious that there are important class differences in how people participate in these markets. Only capitalists, for example, buy and sell capital and currency, while labor power is sold exclusively by workers and bought chiefly by capitalists. And while everyone buys finished goods (naturally, not the same ones and not for the same price), most of the selling is done by capitalists, including, of course, small capitalists. Despite such discrepancies, however, there are remarkable similarities in the market experiences of people from all classes.
Among these are
While not the sum total of what everyone experiences in the market, I take this list to contain what typically occurs in the buying and selling of capital, labor power, currency, and especially commodities. Repeated daily, long before most people hold their first job, these experiences produce a very distinctive view of the world. With the market occupying such a central place in people's lives, it is not surprising that how people behave there gets taken for what human beings are really like, and the same misuse of induction determines how most people understand the nature, the fundamental nature, of whatever else they encounter in the market.
Thus, human beings get thought of as atomistic, highly rational and egoistic creatures, whose most important activity in life is choosing (really, opting); because people choose without interference what they want (really, prefer), they are thought to be responsible for what they have (and don't have); the main relations between people are taken to be competition and calculated utility, where each tries to use others as a means to his ends; the world is thought to consist of things that can be bought with money, so that things come to be viewed largely in terms of what they are worth; the ability of capital, landed property and money to earn more money is considered a natural property of each of these economic forms (viz., "money grows interest"); money is understood as power, without which nothing is possible, so that greed for money becomes perfectly rational; being allowed to do anything for money when you need some and buy whatever you want when you have some serves as the paradigm for freedom (the market mystifies freedom by making one believe that one can do what one can't, and then when one does what one can, it makes one believe that one has done what one hasn't); equality is when others can do the same; people who fall out of the market, and to whom, therefore, these notions of freedom and equality cannot apply, are considered something less than human; and the market is viewed as a marvelous, albeit mysterious, mechanism with a life of its own that works best when tampered with least.
What stands out sharply from even this brief summary of market thinking is that nothing that takes place in society outside the market or in the past history of society is introduced to account for any of the phenomena mentioned. But society is composed of a number of interrelated structures and functions. It is a system, and, like any system, the parts, its functions, are mutually dependent. At a minimum, therefore, exchange must be examined in its interconnections with other economic and social processes to see how they effect one another. Similarly, society, as the sum of these processes, has a history; society has not always been what it is now, and learning how and when it acquired its present characteristics can reveal a good deal about it. In the case of market ideology, this would include learning what makes it so different from what preceeded it and from the beliefs and values advocated by virtually every religious and ethical system. Now, all this strikes me as being pretty obvious. It only requires restating because, without ever making it explicit, these are some of the elementary truths that the explanations of market phenomena which are suggested by people's experiences in the market would seem to deny. Welcome to the world of market mystification.
By "mystification" I am referring to the kind of broad misunderstanding that results from the combination of hiding things, distorting them, misrepresenting them, confusing them, and occasionally simply lying about them. All these processes are to be found in the operations of the market. While everything in our lives can be said to be affected to some degree by our experience in the market, some things suffer far more mystification than others. The mystification of human nature, social relations, money, and freedom, which were mentioned above, are widely recognized, if not well understood. Less well known is the pervasive mystification of the whole sphere of production, which, in terms of its extended effects, may be the most harmful mystification of all.
As regards production, market mystification occurs in part by occluding the whole sphere of production from view, so that exchange seems to go on in a world by itself. We have just seen how the market gives rise to its own in-house explanations for whatever people experience there. To be sure, everyone knows that whatever is exchanged must have been produced. Yet, in the way most people are brought to think about this subjectwith the aperture of our internal camera set on extra-smallthe market appears to be self-contained. Products are viewed as already "on the shelves". Production goes on, of course, but in the next room, as it were, and the door between the two rooms is closed. Hence, there is no need, no felt need anyway, to make use of what is happening in production to help explain any features of the market. And, even though the same person is both producer and consumer, one's life as producer would appear to be irrelevant to one's life as a consumer, so that the media often gets away talking about consumers as if they were not the same people who hold jobs in industry and offices.
The mystification of production doesn't end with ignoring its presence and down playing, if not dismissing outright, its influence on what occurs in the market. Whenever production cannot be ignored completely, adopting the vantage point of the market for viewing it, dressing the actors in production in the clothes they wear in the market place, has a similar mystifying effect. In this way, work becomes something we only do in order to earn money to consume. Just as the capitalist, by hiring us, is seen mainly as someone who gives us the opportunity to do so. That work might have other uses connected to creativity and to transforming nature to satisfy human needs is never considered, because within this perspective they don't appear. Viewing production exclusively from the vantage point of the market also makes it appear that the whole of production is directed to satisfying the wants of consumers, which makes production completely dependent on the market (hence, the theory of "consumer sovereignty"). It also makes it appear only natural that our form of society should take its name from the market, as in "free market society", rather than from production, as in "capitalist mode of production". Economics itself becomes a way of manipulating the factors that affect the market, and banks and stock markets, rather than the assembly line, become the main symbols of the economy.
A third way in which the market mystifies production is by foisting a model based on market relations onto production, so that people think of the latter inside a framework only suitable to the former. Do people confront one another in the market as individuals? Then, the same must apply to production. Are individuals free to buy and sell as they want in the market? Then, the same must apply to their actions in the sphere of production. Operating with this model, each worker appears to be free to accept or reject any particular job, just as each capitalist appears to be free to hire or not to hire him. And the same freedom carries over once production has begun: a worker can quit, and the capitalist can fire him. What is important here are individual preference, having a choice, and not being physically or legally constrained in exercising it.
If we examine production directly, however, without using the market either as a model or a vantage point, what do we find? We find people working together cooperatively to transform raw materials into useful goods, and experiencing most of their successes and failures collectively. The shared conditions in which production occurs move to the front of our consciousness. Marx is very emphatic that "If you proceed from production, you necessarily concern yourself with the real conditions of productive activity of men. But if you proceed from consumption... you can afford to ignore real living conditions and the activity of men".1 Starting out from production, we also find a complex division of labor that ensures that people working on a wide variety of jobs all contribute to the common good. Yet, and this too emerges clearly: not everyone seems to be working. Some, the owners of the means of production, are only giving orders, and that from afar.
Of all the main social groups to which we belong, class is the only one that is not immediately apparent and therefore obvious, which is also why it is often confused with divisions based on income, status, culture, or consciousness (all of which are heavily, though not exclusively, affected by class). Referring essentially to the place a group occupies and the function it performs in a system of production, class is only observable and sense (Marxist sense) can only be given to its covering concept once that system of production is introduced.
What stands out, then, when production is approached directly isl) the social nature of human life (it is our shared situation and qualities, and not our individual differences and preferences that come into focus); 2) the social division of labor along with the cooperation it requires and enforces; and 3) the class division of society between owners of the means of production and those who work on them, together with the domination of the former over the latter. By contrast, all of this appears, if at all, very murkily from the vantage point of the market or within a model based on market relations.
Production, too, of course, is not without its mystifying features. Under conditions of capitalism, it could not be otherwise. Competition for a job as well as on the job, for example, contributes to an atomistic view of self; just as selling one's labor power by the hour, in the absence of any appreciation of its value creating potential, helps stoke the illusion of equal exchange and therefore of "fairness" in economic relations. Compared to the market, however, production is an oasis of important economic truths, but taking the road that passes by the market is a sure way to miss them all.
Approaching the study of production directly, on the other hand, it is clear that workers and capitalists are locked into particular patterns of behavior by the very structure of their group relationship, and that this structure provides the essential context for examining whatever individual variations that do occur. Thus, while each worker may be free to decide whether to work for a particular capitalist, all workers are not free to decide whether to work for capitalists as a class, that is for those who control most of the jobs. And the same holds for the capitalist: though an individual capitalist may decide whether to hire a particular worker, all capitalists are not free to decide whether to hire workers as a class, that is those who have the labor power needed to run their industries. Hence, Marx's insistence that the employers of workers are not individual capitalists, but the capitalist class as a whole, and it is the relationship between these two classes (and not that between the individual members of these classes) that preoccupies him.2 If we examine the relation between these two classes as it unfolds in production, without passing through the distorting lens of the market, what strikes us immediately is just how unfree workers really are, how dominated they are by the capitalists.
While no one, then, is actively restraining individual workers from doing what they want, it is mainly the conditions in which they live and work that supply the real alternatives between which they must choose as well as the most intense pressures that incline them to make the choices they do. And the most important of these conditions apply to the entire class. Consequently, Marx can say, "In imagination, individuals seem freer under the domination of the bourgeoisie [i.e. the market] than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are subjected to the violence of things".3 The impact of conditions is all the greaterhence, the "violence"whenever, as is generally the case under capitalism, the extent of their influence is unrecognized.
Only now are we in a position to grasp the account Marx gives of the workers' domination in capitalism in the overlapping theories of exploitation and alienation. Very brieflythough sufficient for our purposesexploitation can be said to deal with the workers' loss of part of the wealth they create, while the theory of alienation deals with the workers' loss of self that occurs in and through the process by which exploitation takes place. Both theories focus on the common situation of the workers, what they share as a class, and the same holds for the capitalists. For Marx, all the wealth of society is created by workers transforming the stuff of nature into things that people want. In capitalism, workers receive a wage that allows them to buy back in the market a part of the wealth that they produced. The remainder, which Marx calls "surplus-value", stays with the capitalists and is the basis of their wealth and power. With their interest in maximizing surplus-value, capitalists do whatever they can to get workers to work harder, faster, longer and for less, since it is always the difference between the amount of wealth workers produce and the amount returned to them as wages that determines the share of wealth that goes to the capitalists. In our day, "exploitation" is usually used to condemn those employers who pay their workers too little or are otherwise very harsh with them, with the assumption (whether explicit or implicit) that if they were more moderate, their behavior would be acceptable. Marx's criticism is directed against the entire class of capitalists, and is more in the nature of an explanation of how they acquire their wealth, which makes everything they do unacceptable, than a condemnation of occasional lapses in their behavior.
Individual workers and capitalists enter this picture only as members of their respective classes. To say, on this account, that a particular capitalist does not exploit his workers could only mean that he does not obtain any surplus-value from them, and this would signal the end of his career as a capitalist. So even kind capitalists are exploiters; they have to be if they wish to remain capitalists. Likewise, even well paid workers are exploited, necessarily so in so far as they are employed by capitalists, whoin order to stay in businessmust extract surplus-value from them.
As a way of characterizing the relation of workers and capitalists in production, Marx's theory of exploitation offers a counter-model to the one provided by the market as well as an alternative vantage point for perceiving and thinking about the rest of society. Starting out from the market with its single minded focus on the moment of exchange, the unequal relations of the class of workers with the class of capitalists is never brought into view, so that exploitation can only be treated as a matter of some capitalists taking unfair advantage in their dealings with some workers. And since what is "unfair" is a highly subjective judgment, the criticism contained in this use of "exploitation" is easily deflected. According to Marx, however, only in the "hidden abode of production" does exploitation occur.4 Unfortunately, the approach that starts with the market hides the very elements in production that serve as the building blocks of Marx's theory of exploitation, making it impossible to perceive let alone understand what Marx is talking about.
While the theory of exploitation highlights the workers' relationship to the capitalists in the process of production, the theory of alienation focuses on what happens to the workers, to their human nature, in this same process. Marx's conception of human nature goes beyond the qualities that lie beneath our skin to include the set of distinctive relationships we have with our productive activity, its products, and the people with whom they involve us. As the necessary means of expressing and developing who and what we are as human beings (for what distinguishes us as a species also evolves), these relations are all part of Marx's broad notion of human nature.
What occurs in capitalist production is that the qualities, and mainly these relations, that mark us out as human beings get transformed in ways that diminish our humanity. Essentially a wedge is driven between key elements of an organic whole, so that they seem to exist and function independently. Thus, instead of controlling his productive activity, this vital aspect of the worker's being is controlled by others who tell him what to do, how to do it, how fast to go, and even allow him to do it or not (hire him and fire him). Instead of using his products as neededand no matter how great that need iseverything he produces is under the control of others who use him to serve their interests. It follows that the worker's relationship with the capitalists, who control both his activities and its product, and with other workers, with whom he is forced to compete for scarce jobs, cannot exhibit any of the mutual concern of which our species is capable. Separated in this manner from their productive activity, products, and other people, workers also end up cut off from the potential inherent in our species (and therefore also a part of human nature) for evolving still further along the road away from our animal origins. Thus, capitalist production steals from workers not only part of what they are but of what, as human beings, they have it in them to become.
Alienation, then, is domination in the form of dehumanization. It is a form of dehumanization that is particularly acute in the capitalist era. And, as with exploitation, it is the situation workers are in as members of a class, and not the special circumstances of an unlucky few, that accounts for the workers' loss, of surplus-value in the case of exploitation, and of self in the case of alienation. As with Marx's theory of exploitation, through mystifying the process of production, the market hides the class relations that frame the theory of alienation. With its emphasis on individual consciousness, market ideology offers in its stead a vague sentiment that anyone can have of being isolated and lonely, to which it attaches the label "alienation". Separating such feelings from their source in capitalist relations has led, on one hand, to treating the source as something of a mystery, and, on the other, to enormous efforts at quantifying these feelings in what passes today as social science. More importantly, by referring to a subjective reaction to our condition by the name that Marx gives to its explanation, the criticism contained in the latter is wholly diffused.5
If alienation, exploitation, and class itself are thoroughly mystified by the market world view, we should not expect a better fate for class interests, and with one blow Marxism is deprived of the main bridge on which it crosses from critical analysis to revolutionary politics. Humanly diminished and materially deprived by the conditions of their life and work, workers have an objective interest in overturning these conditions, and a good deal of socialist politics takes the form of helping to raise workers' consciousness in this regard. For this effort to succeed, however, workers must be ableat a minimumto view themselves as a class constituted by just such conditions. Otherwise, the subject that is said to possess these interests either disappears or assumes a form ("class" grasped as a category of income or culture) that directs workers' attention away from the conditions in which their objective interests are found. The capitalists' victory here is not achieved through argument. Working from a model of the market, the series of steps that lead to Marx's revolutionary politics are simply occluded from view.
Production isn't the only economic process mystified by market experiences and their accompanying ideology. Distribution and consumption suffer a similar fate. Distribution is the process by which each person acquires his share of society's wealth. As such, it determines not only what one brings to market to sell but what one must buy to satisfy pressing needs and interests. The existing division of wealth is largely a function of the class one belongs to in production, and whether that class earns a wage or extracts surplus-value. With production safely out of sight, however, distribution seems to depend on one's success in the market, a personal matter due mainly to effort, skill and luck. Being wealthy appears to be a result of having made a series of good choices in trading capital, labor power, or commodities, and being poor just the opposite.
Consumption stands at the end of the economic chain. It is when what is produced, distributed and exchanged is finally put to use. Approaching consumption from the vantage point of the market rather than that of production, consumption takes on the alienated form of "consumerism", where the creation of wants has priority over the satisfaction of needs, and using comes to be viewed as a means to exchange rather than its goal. Market thinking also tries to conflate exchange and consumption, going so far as to refer to the "exchanger", the one who buys and sells, as the "consumer". But exchange always involves money, and it is never money that is consumed. Omitting the distinction between exchange and consumption leads many people to miss the fact that a growing amount of exchange occurs in order to amass money and not to consume anything. Furthermore, what one consumes is largely a function of how much wealth one has acquired in distribution, which, as we saw, is mostly dependent on the position one occupies in production. With production hidden, however, and distribution viewed as a byproduct of the market, consumption too appears to be dependent on one's personal success (or failure) in exchange.
After distribution, consumption and especially production, it is probably the state and politics that suffer most from a generally unrecognized market mystification. People do a lot of thinking in the areas they know relatively little about through analogies with subjects about which they know more. The market serves many people in this way when they come to consider politics. Thinking by analogy with the marketconfident that their experience in the market, and the clear perceptions and strong emotions it gives rise to, have provided them with basic truths that can be applied anywherepeople tend to emphasize some features of our political life, while distorting and totally ignoring others. The role that each individual plays in voting (picking a candidate, just as one chooses a commodity in the market), the need for there to be more than one candidate to choose from, even if they are different versions of the same thing (as often happens with different brands in the market), and free elections, understood as being able to vote without being openly restrained, even if nothing of importance gets decided in the election (just as one has the formal right to buy in the market, even if one can't afford what one wants)these are taken to be the main features of our political system.
The most respected voices in the academic world can only echo this popular wisdom. A leading representative of the currently in vogue Rational Choice school, for example, maintains that "Voters and customers are essentially the same people. Mr. Smith buys and votes; he is the same man in the supermarket and in the voting booth".6 The part that money plays in politics is seen, of course, if only dimly, but its poweras in the marketis taken as both inevitable and not such as to require any basic alteration in our democratic script. Current political dogmas, such as free trade and de-regulation, are also understood on the market model of removing restraints on individual choice and initiative, with little attention given to the inequalities of power and wealth that predetermine most outcomes.
What gets a free ride in this account of politics, unmentioned because unseen in any model derived from the market, are the class relations that underlie our political practises, and how most of our laws (including the Constitution), judicial decisions, and administration of laws are bent to serve the interests of the capitalist class. So instead of learning how the state benefits from and simultaneously helps to reproduce both exploitation and alienation, we get a civics lesson on the theme of one man, one vote. According to Marx, it is the relations between the owners of the means of production and the producers that "reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure" and with it "the corresponding specific form of the state".7 In occluding production, the market hides the relationship between these classes in production and the crucial "secret" that this relationship revealsthat, despite all signs and assurances to the contrary, the game is thoroughly rigged.
Nothing is more important to the effective functioning of the state than the illusion that it belongs equally to all its citizens and is a neutral arbiter of justice. By encouraging each citizen to view himself as a distinct individual without any necessary ties to anyone else, to understand freedom as the exercise of choice in the absence of overt restraint, to think about equality in terms of formal rights to exercise just this kind of freedom, and, above all, by neglecting class and the class differences that emerge from production, market thinking also plays a crucial role in producing as well as legitimating this illusion. Both our political processes and their real world outcomes seem to be what people have freely chosen, rather than the biased results of unequal relations of power between the classes. It is the restricted range of possible laws that are given in the one sided rules of the game by which we live, even more than their equally biased applications, that make our societyfor all its democratic pretensionsa class dictatorship, the dictatorship of the capitalist class. And in politics, as in the economy, the real limits set by ruling class interests on the actual alternatives between which we are forced to choose can never be investigated, because the class context in which they exist is itself invisible. Once again, capitalism's lack of transparency makes it virtually impossible for the people living in it to see who and what are responsible for the larger order problems in their lives.
By hiding and distorting what occurs in production, as we saw, the market interferes with our ability to grasp the social nature of man, the division of labor, and the constitution of classes, which in turn makes it impossible to understand either exploitation or alienation (and the workers' objective interest in doing away with both), to say nothing of distribution, consumption and politics. But the theories of exploitation and alienation also provide us with the best explanations for some of the more mystical ideas that arise from people's experiences in the market, so in mystifying production the market ends up by mystifying itself. For example, the quasi-human power that some things exhibit in the market, where capital produces a profit and money grows interest, in what Marx calls the "fetishism of commodities", is also attributable to the wealth that is first created by and then taken from the workers in alienated production. Where else would the new wealth embodied in profit and interest come from? When money is seen to grow interest, Marx says, "The result of the entire process of reproduction appears as a property inherent in the thing itself".8 By hiding what occurs in production, it is made to appear that this new wealth arises from within the very social forms that are responsible for how it gets distributed.
Even the mysterious power of money to buy people's varied activities and products in the market is a function of the alienated productive activity that separates workers from parts of their own human nature. Marx refers to money as "the alienated ability of mankind".9 More than a medium of exchange, its power bespeaks the abilities that workers have lost in transforming nature under alienated conditions of production. Though lost to workers, these abilities do not disappear. Instead, they become metamorphosed into a social quality of their product,its price, and an equally social quality of another material object, money, its ability to pay that price. As the ghostly form of living labor past, carried to its abstract limits and now in the hands of others, money can do what workers no longer can, which is to acquire all that workers have lost control over. Money's power grows with the extension of alienated relations, as the amount of production destined for the market and hence separated from its producers increases, and with it develops the social and political power of the class that possesses the most money. In capitalism, unlike earlier class societies, the chains that bind those who produce to the means of production are invisible (indeed, most workers today believe they are free). Except in money. There our chains show, but where they originate and how they are applied remain a mystery. If the market often presents us with things that seem to dance on their own, a major objective of Marxist analysis is to specify with whom they are dancing, so we can place responsibility where it belongs.
The list of mystifications produced by the market is still not complete. For if exploitation and alienation account for some of the most puzzling features of the market, then the origins of the market are to be found in the history of these two conditions. It is in the development of exploitation and alienation, which Marx usually treats as essential parts of the rise of the capitalist mode of production, that we can discern the market's own past. But if exploitation and alienation are rendered invisible, it would appear that the market never originated, that it has no history, that it is frozen in historical time like a natural phenomenon. Alternatively, abstracting the market from its roots in the capitalist mode of production can lead to doing a history of its lowest common denominator, which is trading. By including all human societies in which any kind or degree of trading occurs, the story stretches back a very long way. Gunder Frank, who has made important contributions to our understanding of capitalism in his earlier writings, has recently traced market society understood in this way back 5,000 years.10 But by emphasizing the modest similarities between markets in all kinds of societies, the unique characteristics of the capitalist market are underplayed and left unexplained. As we saw, in capitalism most goods are not only sold on the market but produced with this aim in mind; huge markets also exist for labor power, currency, and capital; competition between buyers and sellers in all four markets has become the way people typically relate to one another; and money is blessed with the power to buy everything. The origins of these distinctive characteristics of our capitalist market are not to be found in the history of markets in general. How the market acquired its capitalist specific form is what we want to know, and for this we must look beyond exchange into the developments that took place in what has been retrospectively called the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This is why Marx calls our society the "capitalist mode of production", and why those who refer to it as "market society", or even "capitalist market society", by down playing production in this way, are inhibiting us from acquiring an accurate understanding.
But the past contains the roots not only of the present but of the future. So, still another mystification of the market is that by hiding production, which effectively hides exploitation and alienation, which in turn distorts our understanding of the market's own distinctive features as well as their origins in the pastby hiding and distorting all thisthe market also hides its own potential for becoming something other than it is. Everything that has its beginning in historical time is destined to end as the conditions that gave rise to it can no longer be reproduced. This applies to social systems as well as to people (and, as we are learning much to our horror, to natural systems too). By examining the conditions that led to capitalism and how difficult it is becoming to reproduce them, Marx casts a prophetic light on the worsening problems that will eventually causeespecially when combined with the disappearance of old solutionsthe demise of the present system. At the same time, he wants to draw attention to a variety of new conditions opening up new alternatives for society as a whole that have emerged as part of the same developments, and which could become the basis of the system that will follow.
Whatever force lies in Marx's projection of the death of capitalism and the birth of socialism comes from his study of the capitalist mode of production organized around a set of overlapping contradictions, or mutually supporting and mutually undermining tendencies, that reach back to the origins of the system. To have chosen another topic, or vantage point for examining it, or way of relating what he found, or a shorter time spanas so many critics of capitalism have would have left Marx with little more than hope for a better future. Instead, tracing the unfolding contradictions in the capitalist mode of production, the most important of which is that between social production and private appropriation (sometimes referred to as the contradiction between the logic of production and the logic of consumption), Marx can expect, albeit modestly, what other socialists can only hope for. Marx's projections of where the contradictions he uncovered were headed are only possible because his present was extended far enough back into the past to include the trends and patterns of which the present moment partakes and the pace at which change has occurred. Without any analysis of the capitalist mode of production, of exploitation and alienation, however, the market is deprived of a past, so that contradictions in the present appear as tensions or temporary disfunctions, and lead nowhere. They don't get worse or better; they just are, and there is no reason to expect them to change. Viewed statically, and apart from its necessary ties to production, the market, then, doesn't seem to have a future, in any case, not one different from its present. Conceived in this manner, whether we look forwards or backwards, the market seems to be eternal, and socialism becomes an impossibility.
Finally, by mystifying the possible future of the market, as well as its present character and its real past, the market mystifies the kind of politics required to deal effectively with its own worst problems, to wit, social and economic inequality, unemployment, overproduction (relative to what people can buy), corruption, pollution, and recurrent crises. Working with an a-historical notion of the market ,itself detached from developments in the sphere of production, these problems seem to exist independently of one another as well as of the system in which they arose. Capitalism's lack of transparency is greatest just where our need for transparency is most acute. With nothing more to go on than the form in which each problem presents itself, the solutions that are advocated usually involve getting those with power to change some of their practises, particularly as buyers or sellers of commodities, labor power and capital, viz increase investment in poor communities, hire more workers, bribe fewer government officials, cheat less on quality and prices, etc.
The fact that Blacks, women, the handicapped, native Americans, immigrants, the very poor, and workers are the chief victims of the problems mentioned has led many progressive non-Marxists to fight for more substantial changes in how the market operatessuch as minimum wage laws, guaranteed jobs, community input into investment decisions, affirmative action, and so onthat would offer special protection or benefits to these people. The aim is not to get rid of the market, since this is considered impossible, but to reform it, to make it work for everyone, with the implication that this ideal state is attainable. Since the focus is on outcomesand suffering is so difficult to measurethere is no obvious way to privilege the claims of one aggrieved group over those of the others, unless, of course, you happen to belong to one of them. Class divisions, if mentioned at all, are understood mainly in terms of what people get rather than what they do, so that workers are viewed as simply one group among others that gets less than it should. Since many workers, especially unionized workers, are better off than a lot of people in other oppressed groups, there is no reason to give workers any special priority. Politically, this has led to the "Social Movement Strategy" of trying to create a coalition of all oppressed groups in order to secure a more just division of the pie for each of them.
Not so with Marx. Starting out from production, he is involved immediately with the interaction of classes and its effect on what happens in the market, including all the interrelated problems that arise with their accompanying injustices. The same analysis enables him to catch a glimpse of a non-market alternative germinating within capitalism itself that would resolve these problems and do away with these injustices. To alter, radically and permanently, the inequities associated with the market, therefore, requires overturning the workers' subordinate relation to the capitalists in production. Nothing else will do, or will do only a little bit, and that for only a short time before it gets reversed (as we see today).
The political strategy derived from this approach gives priority to the working classnot because it suffers more than other victim groupsbut because the particular form of its oppression (exploitation and alienation) gives workers both an interest and, through their position in production, the power to uproot all the oppressions currently associated with capitalism. To abolish the conditions underlying their own exploitation and alienation requires that the workers do away with all forms of oppression. Treating everyone as equals is the only way the workers themselves can be treated as equals, without which no thorough-going reform is possible. Here, the workers simply cannot help themselves without helping others. This, then, is the politics of class struggle. Our final complaint against the market, then, is that it mystifies the politics of class struggle, both its centrality and its potential, as well as what's needed to make the workers (our side) more effective in carrying it out.
In drawing up this bill of particulars against market mystification, I may have made it sound more like a seamless whole that it really is. There are, after all, major contradictions in the operations of the market narrowly construed, such as that between the individual's freedom to choose and the restraint that comes from not having enough money to buy what one wants; or between wishing to sell one's labor power and not being able to find anyone who will buy it. Such contradictions bring many people to question market verities. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, the experiences people have in other areas of their life, particularly in productionthough always contributing something to market ideology because of the alienated context in which it occursalso establish a counter model and alternative rules of the game. These often stress the importance of cooperation, and clash head on with ways of thinking promoted by the market. And, of course, criticisms of the market, whenever they break through the sophisticated forms of censorship thrown up by our ruling class, can also help to undermine what we learn as buyers and sellers. If all these "countervailing forces" were not present, capitalism would not need such an imposing consciousness industry to reinforce the mystification that arises as a matter of course from our immersion in the market. Yet, overall, with the spread of market relations to all walks of life and their growing importance for our very existence as well as an increasing number of our joys and sorrows, the market has become the chief mold in which most of humanity's worst imperfections are cast, just as the mystifications associated with the market have become the major ideological defense for the status quo.
With the market responsible for so much mystification, which, in turn, contributes to so many of capitalism's worst problems, it would seem that socialists would be of one mind in wanting to abolish it as quickly as possible. Not at all. Instead, one of the strongest trends in current socialist thinking would retain a substantial role for the market in any future socialist society. To what extent does my critique of market mystification under capitalism apply to what its advocates have labeled "market socialism"?
There are different versions of market socialism. What makes them market societies is that buying and selling, however restricted, continue to go on for commodities and labor power and, in some versions, even capital. And money continues to mediate between people and what they want as under capitalism. What makes them socialist is that the capitalist class has been removed from its dominant position in society. In the more popular version, workers own and/or control their enterprises and collectively, or through the managers they elect, make the decisions now made by the capitalist owner and his manager. The capitalists, as a distinct class, are either abolished or, in cases where a small private sector remains, have their power severely restricted.11
As co-owners of their enterprise, the workers, like any capitalist, will buy raw materials, hire labor, and sell finished goods. Thoughexcept for managersthese activities won't take much of their time, the experiences they provide workers will be completely new. Selling their own labor power and especially buying commodities, on the other hand, will continue to take a lot of time and will offer many of the same experiences that workers have today. Furthermore, when the worker first applies for a job and is treated by the collective as an outsider, the fear and insecurity he will feel is all too familiar. The collective, after all, will only hire new people if it believes their work will increase its profit, or secure or improve its market share (ultimately reducible to profit). With this approach, the collective is unlikely to show more concern for the human needs, including the need for a job, of the unemployed and others in the community than businesses do under capitalism.
Even on the job, the interests of the individual worker and the interests of the collective do not coincide, for while he may wish to work shorter hours, at a reduced pace, etc., the collective may force him to work longer and faster so that it can keep up with the competition, still viewed as an impersonal power beyond human control. And, as in capitalist society, it is the owner of the enterprise whose interests predominate. The worker's desire to reorganize his job in function of his interests as a worker will carry little weight in comparison with the profit maximizing interests of the collective, backed as it is by the logic of the market. In which case, the worker's actual experience in selling his labor power, even where he is part of the collective that buys it (and whatever soothing label is used to hide the reality of this exchange), will not be very different from what it is now.
The political scientist, Robert Lane, studied a number of worker owned enterprises in capitalist society, and found that, while there was some increase in empowerment and in overall morale, this change did not produce the expected effect on the workers' quality of life or on their general satisfaction. What people actually do at work, their ability to use initiative and their own judgment, and how much of the process they control, turn out to have a much bigger effect on their satisfaction than simply acquiring a new status as co-owners in a context that doesn't allow for major changes in work conditions. "Marx was right", Lane concludes, "the market economy is unfavorable to worker priority [treating workers' needs first] ... because any costs devoted to improving work life in the competitive part of the economy make a firm vulnerable to reduced sales and profits because of the violation of the efficiency norm".12 There is no reason to believe that the situation in market socialism, where enterprises are owned by workerseven with considerable democratic controlbut market relations continue to operate, would produce a very different result.
In all versions of market socialism that I have seen, it is the market for commodities that changes least, but this is the market that is most responsible for the long laundry list of mystifications that I sketched earlier. The new relations of ownership do not affect the fact that it is individuals who will decide what to buy, andlike nowwill compare goods on the basis of their price, and compete with others to get the best deal. They will constantly desire more money so that they can buy more, or have the power and status of someone who could. As now, they will worship money as something that gives them this power. And in order to be more effective in the competition for goods and money, they will develop an indifference for the human needs of others against whom they are competing. Coming out of all this, they will view having a lot of goods and money as success, as nownever thinking they have enough; money will retain its mystery; and the greed and indifference people display in their dealings with each other will continue to be misconstrued as human nature.
Even the mystification of the production process, which leads to a whole series of mystifications under capitalism, would have its parallel in market socialism. Starting from the vantage point of the market or thinking with a model based on the market, production would still appear to be a relation between the worker as an individual and the owner of his enterprise, modified to some degreeto be sureby the worker's additional role as co-owner. Consequently, grasping one's identity as part of a society-side working class would continue to be an uphill struggle for most workers. If, today, the market's occlusion and distortion of production (and hence of class) makes it virtually impossible for people to acquire an adequate understanding of capitalism and to develop the class based politics needed to overthrow it, under market socialism, the same cause will make it extraordinarily difficult to raise the workers' class consciousness, and especially their class solidarity, to the level required for socialism to work anywhere in society. It may be the oldest idea in socialism: each of us is his brother's keeper. For people to act upon this, however, they must really think of others as their brothers (and sisters), or, in this case, as members of the same class whose common interests makes them brothers (and sisters). Expanding a worker's sense of self to include others in his enterprise is a poor substitute for perceiving one's identity in the entire class, especially in light of the no-holds-barred competition between enterprises (and therefore between groups of workers) that would mark this arrangement.
The mystery surrounding money also gives no signs of disappearing under market socialism. Money, we will recall, only has the power to buy goods, because the workers who produced them have lost all connection to them. In capitalism, having produced a good conveys no right to use it, no matter how great the need; nor do workers have any say in who can; nor can they easily understand why this is the case. The context in which workers have lost control over whatever it is that their labor has transformed is hidden behind the apparent independence of the final product on the market and the power of money to acquire control over it. All this applies equally to capitalism and market socialism. Even if a case can be made that exploitation no longer exists under market socialism because workers, as co-owners of their enterprise, belong to the collective entity that retains the surplus (the alternative interpretation is that the collectivity exploits the individual workers), it is clear that alienated relations of labor would remain substantially intact and with them the mystification and deification of money. The modifying influence that one would expect to come from workers electing their own manager is more than offset by the regime of production for the market and its pitiless logic of profit maximization.
What is new in market socialism, as I've said, are the experiences workers have as co-owners of their enterprise, and to the extent their relations with their co-workers are cooperative and democratic these experiences could be very empowering. As co-owners of an enterprise, however, their relations to those outsidewhether people who are applying for a job, or those who represent other enterprises with whom they are in competition, or the final consumer of their productare that of a collective capitalist. Marx spoke of the cooperative factories of his day as turning "the associated laborers into their own capitalists".13 With their aim of maximizing profits, workers, as collective capitalists, are likely to behave very much like capitalists do today, i.e. producing what sells, producing for those who have the money to buy and ignoring the needs of those who don't, cutting corners on quality and safety whenever they can get away with it, creating needs for their productsor for more products, or for their brand of productwhere they don't yet exist, and besting the competition in whatever ways the laws allow (and often in ways that they don't).
To the extent that workers participate in these activities directly, or even indirectly, they will share in far more than the profits that typically go to a capitalist class. For by making workers into collective capitalists, market socialism has added capitalist alienation to their alienation as workers, while modifying the latter only slightly. Now, they too can experience the lopsided perceptions and twisted emotions, the worries and anxieties that derive from competing with other capitalists; they too can manipulate consumers and themselves as workers in quest of the highest possible profit; they too can develop a greed for money abstracted from all human purpose; and they too can turn a blind eye to the human needs of others. There is not much room here for acting as one's brother's keeper. Marx aptly characterized competition between capitalists as "avarice and war between the avaricious".14 The same description would apply to competition between workers as collective capitalists in market socialism.
To be sure, there are some important differences between what is projected for market socialism and our own market capitalism. Any market socialist society is likely to distribute many goodssuch as education, health care, and perhaps even some capital for investmenton the basis of social need and not enterprise profit. Likewise, one would expect "fairer" treatment for groups that are currently discriminated against, and a greater degree of cushioning for those who lose out in market competition. Still, the experiences people have selling their labor power and buying commodities, combined with the new experiences they have as co-owners of their enterprise, are likely to create ways of thinking and feeling that are very similar to what exists under capitalism. Also, as happens today, this mystification will spill over into other areas of life, into the family, into politics, into culture, and into education. The attempt to educate the people of this time in socialist values can have only modest results in the face of daily experiences in exchange that teach other lessons. Confused about money, competition, human nature, and the market itself, its real past and potential for change, people will be able neither to build socialism nor to live according to its precepts in any consistent manner.
Granting that a certain amount of capitalist mystification would continue under market socialism, defenders of this arrangement have argued that a balance of pro- and anti-socialist qualities could still be reached, and that the end result would be at least partly socialist. To decide this, we need to understand just what kind of mix is being proposed here, and how volatile it is. There are, after all, some things that mix quite well, like salt and pepper, and others that don't mix at all, like fire and water. As an attempt to mix opposite qualities, is the market more like salt and pepper, or is it more like fire and water? The same question can be directed at social democrats who favor a mixed economy, i.e. some private ownership operating under market rules, some public ownership operating under a national plan. In both cases, their advocates believe that a more or less permanent coexistence between socialist and capitalist forms is possible.
Neither market socialists or social democrats, however, take sufficient account of the logic of the market and of what might be called the "dynamics of cognitive dissonance". The market, as I've tried to show, is not only a place and a practise but also a set of rules for a game that embodies this practise. As rules, it lays down goals, ways of attaining them, and a series of rewards and punishments for keeping players in line. Winning requires amassing money, which people can only do by investing capital and selling labor power and commodities. Competition with others turns what seems like standing still into falling back, so those with capital seek to expand it, moving into new areas whenever possible. This is necessary not only to increase their profit but, in the face of heightened competition, to maintain it. While everyone looks for what more they can sell. Acting otherwise is not only severely punishedmaterial deprivation, unemployment, bankruptcy. Worse, it makes no sense. The inevitable result is the spread of the market and market rules to take in more and more of what was previously declared out of bounds, includingin the case of mixed economiesareas once considered part of the public domain.
The market operates on the basis of what people are able to sell and can afford to buy, while the public sector is dependent on some estimate of social need. In a mixed economy, however, it doesn't take long before maintaining the health of the private sector gets interpreted as the most important social need. Wherever the market is given a privileged place and role in society, whenever the firms operating on market criteria are expected to provide society with a sizable proportion of its jobs and goods, the state has no choice but to do whatever is necessary to enable the market to fulfill its role. Thus, in all mixed economies, the state assumes many of the costs of doing business (through subsidies, tax benefits, low interest loans, publicly financed training and research, i.e. "corporate welfare" of various sorts), minimizes some of its risks (through providingoften via the public sectorguaranteeing or simply protecting the most profitable opportunities for investing, buying, and selling), and tries to keep potential threats to profits under control (through anti-labor legislation and administration, and a foreign policy directed against competition from abroad). Private companies, whether owned by capitalists or by their own workers, have always required this kind of help, and have generally gotten it from social democratic as well as from liberal and conservative governments, since the need for a strong private sector has gone unquestioned.
More recently, with the enormous growth in production throughout the capitalist world, and therefore of capital to be invested and commodities to be sold, what was once enough help has proven insufficient, and governments in countries with mixed economies have been busy rearranging the mix to increase still further the size and advantages of the private sector. The progressive dismantling of the welfare state, deregulation, and the privatization of many previously public enterprises are the main forms taken by this rearrangement. For all the party battles won and lost in the political arena, this development has taken place essentially because of what the market is, because of its logic, the same logic that argues against the possibility of market and socialist features enjoying long term stability in any future market socialist society.
What of our market inspired mode of thinkingis it compatible with the way of thinking, feeling and judging required for socialism to work? At its simplest, can people develop the mutual concern needed to cooperate effectively while maintaining the mutual indifference and lust for private advantage that makes them good competitors? While at any given moment, it is probably possible to find such contrasting qualities inside the same personality, the mix is an extremely volatile one. The time set aside to think "market thoughts" will simply spread to take in the entire waking day, not only because the problems toward which these thoughts are directed are never wholly resolved but also because the emotions that accompany themespecially the greed, the fear and the anxietycannot be turned on and off at will. Neither beliefs or values or emotions are easy to compartmentalize, and when they come into contact with their opposites a battle for dominance generally ensues. Cognitive dissonance evolves, and at least in this contest the victor is not in doubt. The political theorist, Robert Goodin, has argued convincingly that people's ability to respond to moral incentives (the kind that make socialism possible) diminish with the increase of material incentives, money and the like. "Base motives", he concludes, "drive out noble ones".15 Such is the dynamics of cognitive dissonance. China provides us with a recent example of just how quickly and apparently thoroughly this transformation can occur. As long as market ways of thinking and feeling receive daily reinforcement through people's experiences in exchange, the development of socialist sentiments, and hence socialist practise in any sphere, cannot proceed very far.
If market socialism cannot lead to socialism, how should we characterize those who advocate it? Before answering, it is important to recognize that the school of thinking that calls itself "market socialism" is further divisible along three different lines:
Those who understand market socialism as a mix of worker and privately owned enterprises, consider it all that human beings can attain, and believe that we can begin building such a society right now inside capitalism are best viewed as reformers and not socialists, since their market socialism is really capitalist reform. A more accurate name for their goal is "economic democracy", and for them "radical democrats".16
On the other hand, market socialists who want an economy dominated by worker owned enterprises, who view market socialism as a transition to communism, and who believe that a change of this magnitude requires a socialist revolution and a workers' government are clearly some kind of socialist.17 But if, as I've argued, the solution they intend is unworkable, they are best understood as utopian socialists and their goal a variety of utopian socialism. One of the leading market socialists, the philosopher David Schweickart, denies that market socialism is utopian, in part, because "it recognizes that at this stage in our development, none of our values can be perfectly realized".18 The accusation, however, has little to do with how extreme one's vision is (dramatic changes do occur in society as in nature), but with whether it is realizable. The moderation of the market socialist vision doesn't save it from being unrealizeable and, hence, utopian.
What remains to be explained is how market socialists, radical democrats as well as utopian socialists, have come to favor a solution that is both overly modest and unworkable. I believe that both faults arise out of their inadequate analysis of capitalism as well as of communism (as a post-socialist society), of socialism (as a post-capitalist society), and of the socialist revolution that serves as a bridge from capitalism to socialism. As for capitalism, I have tried to show that market socialists don't realize just how much of capitalism, of its practises and ways of thinking and feeling, and of its problems, are contained in its market relations, and, consequently, how much retaining a market, any market, will interfere with the building of socialism. Here, the fundamental error in their analysis is to identify capital with capitalists, the current embodiment of capital, and not see that capital, as a relation of production, can also be embodied in the state (as in state capitalism) or even in workers' cooperatives (as in market socialism). Capital is self-expanding wealth, wealth used not to satisfy wants but to create more wealth, satisfying wants only where this does so and developing new, artificial wants where it doesn't. What is decisive is its goal, and not who owns it. It is how capital functions in pursuit of this goal that gives our society most of its capitalist character and problems. The market, through which newly created wealth circulates allowing what initially takes the form of commodities to return to the owners of the means of production in the form of capital, is a more important feature of capitalism than is private ownership. Thus, ownership may be transferred to the state (as has occurred with nationalized industries in many countries) or to workers' cooperatives, but if the market remains essentially intact so, too, will most of the problems associated with capitalism. Market thinking, as we saw, is produced by people's experiences in any market without regard to who owns the values that are exchanged.
As for communism, radical democrats and market utopian socialists are insufficiently aware of how different socialism as a transitional form must be from capitalism if it is to lay the foundations for the extraordinary achievements of full communism. To make this case, however, one would have to sketch out the communist future in more detail than is appropriate on this occasion, and, since most market socialists do not believe that communism is possible in any case, this line of argument is not likely to have much effect.19 Not appreciating the necessary ties between communism and socialism, however, remains an important reason for the moderate reforms offered in the name of market socialism.
As regards socialism, market socialists, like most non-socialists, have generally confused planning in this era with the central planning that existed in the Soviet style economies. Occurring after capitalism, a major pre-condition for the success of socialism, socialist planning has the advantage of advanced industrial and organizational development, a highly skilled and educated working class, relative material abundance, and a widespread traditionhowever distorted and abused by the power of money and those who have most of itof democratic decision making. Unlike the situation that existed in the Soviet lands, there is a plentiful supply of goods and the material means, scientific knowledge, and skilled workers needed to make more. Consequently, most planning decisions, at least initially, are likely to be in the nature of revisions of the distorted priorities bequeathed by the market (to wit, too many large mansions and not enough public housing). There is no overriding need to build an industry from scratch. Advice from a cooperative public, computers and other modern communication technology, and, of course, repeated trial and error and correction of error will permit quick adjustments whenever necessary. Hence, there is little likelihood of making major miscalculations or of suffering much material deprivation when errors are made. I would also expect socialist planning to occur at various levelsnation, region, city, and enterprise as well as world-wideso that many of the decisions that were taken by central planners in the Soviet Union would be relegated to planners on levels more in keeping with the actions required for the plan to succeed.
Equally important is the nature of socialist democracy as it effects the economy of this time. For the workers to function as the new ruling class, it is not enough that the government act in their interests. They must also participate in making crucial political decisions, and none are more crucial than choosing the economic planners and establishing the main priorities of the plan. I would expect debates on these matters to be an essential part of politics under socialism, as workers overcome their political alienation by realizing their powers as social and communal beings.
At this point, many readers are probably thinking"But workers are not like that. They wouldn't want to get so involved, or, if they did, the result would be chaos". Enter the revolution, a successful revolution, since we are discussing what comes after capitalism. Market socialists don't seem to realize what an extraordinary educational and transformative experience participation in a successful revolution would be, and consequently what workers in socialism will want to do and will be capable of doing that most workers today do not and cannot. Like most people, market socialists are simply projecting the same personalities with which they are familiar from their daily lives into the future. New conditions and experiences, however, bring out new qualities in people. Perhaps no lesson from Marx's materialism is more obvious; yet, there can be few things that are more frequently overlooked. Marx believes that taking part in a revolution is the most powerful educational experience one can have, with its greatest impact in just those areas that are crucial for the success of what comes afterwards.20
Given the enormous power of the capitalist class, for a socialist revolution to succeed, the majority of workers will have to become class conscious, which involves, among other things, understanding their common interests, developing greater mutual concern, becoming more cooperative, and acquiring a keener interest in political affairs as well as a stronger sense of personal responsibility for how they turn out. But these are the same qualities that make building socialism after the revolution, including democratic central planning, possible. Naturally, the more transparent society is at this time, a feature on which Marx insists, the easier it will be for people to carry out their socialist functions.21 While mystified social relations, the result of continued market exchanges, will only confuse and otherwise undermine their efforts.
When we consider the favorable conditions in which socialist planning will take place and the altered character of the workers who will be involved in it, we can see just how spurious is the comparison that is so often made with Soviet planning. Would the workers in a post-capitalist socialist society give the planners the accurate information that they need? Would workers at this time exhibit the mutual concern necessary to provide help to those who are worse off? Would they have sufficient flexibility and understanding to make the needed compromises among themselves? Would workers then do their best to make sure that the plan, which they have played a role in making, succeeds? In his widely influential book, The Economics of Feasible Socialism, Alec Nove answers all these questions in the negative.22 But his answers are drawn entirely from the experience of the Soviet Union, where workers had no input into the plan or into choosing the planners, and never felt themselves fully integrated parts of the social whole. There is little, if anything, however, to learn from the fate of undemocratic central planning functioning in a context of extreme scarcity, and with an increasingly skeptical and uncooperative working class, for a situation where none of these conditions will apply.
What market socialist analyses of capitalism, communism, socialism, and the revolution, almost without exception, have in common is the treatment of each period in virtual isolation from the others. Yet these periods are internally related. They are stages in a historical development, which is not to say that a socialist revolution, socialism, and communism are inevitable, but that they cannot be adequately understood, as possibilities, hived off from one another and from their origins in capitalism. This is as true looking back from each stage to what gave rise to it as it is looking forward to what comes after, understood as the realization of a potential (to be sure, not the only one) already present in the preceding form. What each period has drawn from earlier stages and the potential it contains for what is to follow are as much a part of what it is as are its more directly perceptible qualities. Indeed, past, present, and future are so interlinked in all that conditions us that they cannot be completely separated from one another without serious distortion. Hence, no attempt to fully grasp capitalism or any of its succeeding stages can forego examining all of these stages in their interconnections.
If capitalism, socialism, and communism are internally related stages in a historical evolution, the preferred vantage point for beginning an analysis of socialism, or any of its important features, is capitalism, giving special attention to the problems it poses for socialism and the material preconditions it establishes for solving them. An approach to socialism that begins with an analysis of the market under capitalism involves one immediately with the market's organic ties to the accumulation of capital, exploitation, alienation, and class struggle. Having established the essential identity between capitalist relations and market relations, it is impossible to conceive of the market as a neutral means for carrying out social policy under market socialism. The same approach makes it very clear how the market, so construed, is responsible for many of our society's worst problemseconomic crisis, unemployment, extremes of wealth and poverty, ecological destruction, exaggerated greed, corruption, etc.and that these problems will remain and continue to grow until another means is found for distributing our social wealth.
Marx stands out from virtually all other socialist thinkers, however, in insisting that capitalism not only makes socialism necessary, it also makes socialism possible. Starting out to investigate socialism from the side of capitalism, therefore, has the additional advantage in that it enables us to give due weight to the enormous achievements of capitalism as well as to its failures in influencing the shape of the future. In the area of the market, the most important of these achievements include advanced distribution and communication networks and the technology needed to make them work, established patterns of resource allocation, extensive planning mechanisms within private corporations and public agencies, the organizational skills of all the participants, and, of course, the vast amounts of wealth already in the pipeline as well as all the material factors required to produce much more. The possibility of economic planning in socialism cannot be fully understood, let alone evaluated, apart from its necessary preconditions, whichlike the main problems to which such planning is addressedare an inheritance from the capitalist society that preceeded it. All this, and more, leaps out at anyone who begins an analysis of socialism from the vantage point of its origins in capitalism.
Market socialists, on the other hand, almost without exception, approach the question of the market in socialism from the vantage point of the failures of the Soviet style regimes. It is no coincidence that market socialist thinking has become so widespread at just this moment in history. Starting from an analysis of what went wrong in the Soviet Union (even when the point is not belabored), they move directly to economic reforms that, in their view, would avoid the worst of the errors that were made there. If planning seems to have been at fault, the solution can only be to replace the plan with the market.
Though mention may be made (though usually late in the discussion) of the problems associated with the market in capitalism, market socialist reforms are not directed to these problems, or are only to a modest degree. But why should reforms that were tailored on the measures of the Soviet Union fit our own very different reality? Only on the assumption that all the problems treated are of an equally general character does this make sense. To make it appear that market socialist solutions to the problems of a faulty socialism would apply to our situation, the historically specific character of the Soviet style system gets abstracted out leaving a flattened landscape of social features that are found everywhere. With this methodological slight of hand, the problems of distribution in general are then seen to require the same market oriented reforms, irrespective of the distinct needs and possibilities of each social system. All the advantages that we would possess trying to build socialism in a post-capitalist society are simply ignored, because from the vantage point from which the market socialists begin their investigation these advantages do not appear. Contra market socialist doctrine, it is not a faulty socialism that needs to be replaced by a well functioning socialism, but capitalism that needs to be replaced by socialism, and the only place to look for what this can mean is inside capitalism itself.
But it is precisely these temporal connections along with more systemic ones that exist on each stage of society that are hidden and/or distorted by market induced ways of thinking. By obscuring, altering and otherwise trivializing the essential links that constitute our social whole, market mystificationwhether of the capitalist or market socialist varietydooms the individual to misunderstand what is, was and could be. Market socialists, it would appear, are victims of the very market thinkingformed by their own experiences in the market, with the addition, no doubt, of various academic frillsthat they would perpetuate into the future. They have succumbed to capitalism's main ideological defense, which is but the price they pay for having been too successful in ignoring it.
None of the above should be taken to mean that capitalists are any less fearful of market socialism than they are of the real thing. The owners of capital don't distinguish between different kinds of "thieves". They don't care how the people who want to take away their wealth say they will use it. If their criticisms of socialism sometimes indicate otherwise, this is because it is difficult to defend what one has with the argument that one simply wants to keep it. Yet, market socialism has often been presented as if retaining a market and taking people as they are would reduce capitalist antipathy and make the transition to socialism an easier one. While organizing a few worker cooperatives, especially in previously bankrupt firms, is acceptable, replacing the present class of capitalists is not. Hence, market socialism will meet the same total opposition that capitalists have always directed against socialism. It follows that only a socialist revolution (using democratic processes wherever possible) that removes capitalists from political power could bring about the kind of change that market socialists desire.
In revolutions, however, people undergo dramatic changes, and, if a revolution in an advanced capitalist country is to succeed, people will have to develop, as I've argued, many of the same qualities that are called upon in building a socialist society. Thus, the kind of reforms that may appear sensible today, based on people remaining pretty much as they are, will appear much less so. The market socialist suit tailored on today's measurements will no longer fit. New human beings who know how to cooperate and want to do so will make full socialism possible. The same developments will also make it infinitely preferable to any market socialist alternative, which could only strike the people of this time as an unwieldy compromise with the past. So, if today, market socialism is merely impossible, tomorrow (or the day after) it will also be unnecessary.
Unfortunately, what is unnecessary and even impossible is not without its effect on people's thinking and, therefore, on the class struggle. At the present time, capitalism's central problem of finding sufficient opportunities for profitable investment and new markets for the rapidly growing amount of value that is produced has reached critical proportions. This has forced the capitalist state to expand its role in serving capital not only in the traditional areas of repression and socialization, but in such economic tasks as the accumulation of capital and the realization of valueto the point where President Bush can make a special trip to Japan to boost American auto sales. However, by making the state's necessary ties to the capitalist class that much more evident, this has greatly increased the state's and, indeed, the whole system's need for effective legitimation. And nothing legitimates capitalism as much and as effectively as the mystifying rationales generated by our daily activity in the market. In this context, advocating market socialism, with its suggestion that there are good markets and bad ones, can only confuse people further, and undermine their efforts to critically analyze the market in its internal relations to production, exploitation, alienation, politics, etc., which is the only way they will ever be able to grasp the full nature of our problem, its origins, and possible solution.
A frontal, no-holds barred attack on the market and all its ills, which now includes the horrific experiences of the newly marketized societies, is an absolutely indispensable means of developing socialist consciousness. People's turn to socialism will only emerge out of the rejection of all market relationships. No one lacks for painful experiences in the market, and more and worse are on the way, but a clear understanding of the responsibility of the market in its internal relation with capitalist production still eludes most people. Our task, therefore, is not to blur the edges of what the market is and does, as occurs with the proposals for market socialism, but to offer an analysis of the market that helps people make the connections that are necessary to engage in effective class struggle. Leaving most market mystification in place, market socialism cannot be viewed as just another form of socialism, or even a compromise with capitalism. It is a surrender to capitalism, which for historical reasons continues to fly the socialist flag. It is an ideological facet, however well intentioned in the minds of individual market socialist thinkers, of the social problem for which we seek a solution, and must be criticized as such.
A brief word on the applicability of my critique to third world countries that have tried to construct their own versions of market socialism. There is no question but that all my criticisms of the marketif only a few of my complimentary remarks (since these were all directed at the more democratic features of market socialism)apply to these countries, as the recent experiences of China and Vietnam make abundantly clear. But it is also evident that these countries do not possess the material and social preconditions, such as we do in the advanced capitalist world, that would make socialism possible. The intentions, however admirable, of some socialist political leaders cannot substitute for a practise that history has placed beyond their reach. The real choice for these societies, therefore, would seem to be between a dictatorial form of savage capitalism, with socialist trimmings (China), and a progressive, egalitarian, anti-imperialist dictatorship, with different socialist trimmings, that is neither capitalist nor socialist (Cuba). If the political dictatorship is not too severe, I favor the latter option, if only because social and material benefits are shared more equally under such regimes, other problems associated with the market are either missing or minimal, and the anti-imperialist foreign policy that these regimes generally follow creates difficulties for the world-wide rule of capital. Only socialist revolutions in the advanced capitalist lands, however, could create the conditions that would enable the underdeveloped countries whose regimes have declared in favor of socialism to make substantial progress in this direction.
It would appear that in making the case against market socialism I am simply elaborating on the position already taken by Marx, but even this is now contested. The arguments of market socialists seem to have progressed from claiming that the market is more efficient than central planning, to claimingin the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Unionthat nothing else will work, to claimingbecause of the presumed relationship between planning and bureaucracythat the market is more socialist, andmost recentlyto claiming that Marx himself was a market socialist.23 To those who discount Marx's views on socialism, of course, this latter claim may be of little interest, but we who accept Marx's broad analysis of capitalism, including its potential for socialism, cannot dismiss it so easily.
The assertion that Marx, himself, was a market socialist seems to derive from a confusion over two matters: Marx's generally favorable reaction to workers' cooperatives in capitalism, and his belief that a restricted market would continue to operate for a brief period after the socialist revolution. In so far as workers' co-ops gave workers more power over their work lives and strengthened the ties of solidarity between workers in the same enterprise (and in this way reduced some of their alienation), co-ops were obviously a good thing. In capitalism, those who own enterprises decide what to make, what to charge, who to hire, what to pay them, and so on, and this applies whoever the owners are. As we can see, the market is assumed here. If one tries to retain these powers for workers in each enterprise under socialism, the market would remain, and there would be little scope for large scale economic planning. Is this Marx's vision of a socialist society?
Marx did say that "To save the industrial masses, cooperative labor ought to be developed to national dimensions and, consequently, to be fostered by national means".24 But he also claimed that cooperative enterprises "make the associated laborers into their own capitalists, i.e. by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labor."25 Just earlier, in this same work, he noted that the organization of workers' cooperatives "reproduces and must reproduce ... all the shortcomings of the prevailing system".26 Does this sound as if Marx is speaking about socialism or capitalism?
Marx recognized that late capitalism might develop an extensive network of workers' cooperatives. Both the rise of the credit system and the greater efficiency of workers' co-ops (workers as collective capitalists were very effective in exploiting themselves as workers) made such a scenario possible.27 To the extent coops were established, they would also provide important evidence that workers are capable of running the economy on their own, and that the capitalists, as a class of owners, are not essential to the production process. Not only could industry be run without them, but, this being so, capitalists deserve none of the wealth and power that now go to them for doing what they insist only they can do. In this way, workers' co-ops help bolster arguments to the effect that socialism is both possible and "just", but, apart from the workers' greater participation in economic decision making, they provide few indications of what socialism would actually be like.
What we have in Marx's comments on workers' cooperatives is an alternative scenario to the one he usually presented for late capitalism. As we know, Marx believed that capitalism was already sufficiently developed for a socialist revolution to occur if not in his lifetime then shortly thereafter, and it is this possibility that received most of his attention, both scholarly and politically. If the revolution did not take place in, what was for him, the near future, he foresaw the further development of a number of trends that were already well underway. One was the trend to monopoly capital, another to corporate capital, another to managerial capital, another to capital becoming more and more of a world system, and another to workers' co-ops, as increasing numbers of workers became their own capitalists. None of these developments did away, or could do away, with exploitation, alienation, economic inequality, and reoccurring crisisoverall these problems got worseor the need for a socialist revolution to resolve them.
If the new status a worker acquires in becoming part of a cooperative does nothing to alter his need for a socialist revolution, however, it could seriously dampen his desire to join in it. Aware of this, Marx was very critical of his socialist rival's, Ferdinand Lasalle's, plan to have the state finance workers' co-ops.28 And when the German Chancellor, Bismarck, indicated he might support the idea, Marx polemicized against it, saying it is "of no value as an economic measure, while at the same time it extends the system of guardianship, corrupts a section of the workers, and castrates the movement".29 Later, Engels suggested that Lasalle's proposal of state aided co-ops originated with the bourgeois republican, Buchez, who first put it forward in France in the l840s as a way of undercutting the socialist movement.30
Marx's worry was that in placing workers in the same relation to capital as capitalists, workers' co-ops provide workers with many of the same experiences as capitalists, and thus with many of the same ideas and emotions, however modified by their other experiences and interests as workers. The resulting mixexcept perhaps on those occasions when as collective capitalists they go bankrupt and as workers lose their jobsis not conducive to engaging in revolutionary activity. Our overall experience with the political activity of workers in workers' co-ops over the last hundred years suggests that Marx's fear was not unjustified. For all the progressive qualities Marx saw in workers' co-ops and for all the support this economic arrangement gives to some important arguments for socialism, Marx did not believe it provides us with either a model for socialism or a useful strategy to pursue in the class struggle against capitalism.
Besides misunderstanding Marx's qualified praise for workers' co-ops in capitalism, the claim that Marx was a market socialist rests, as I have indicated, on a misreading of his treatment of the market under socialism. Here, market socialists who claim Marx for their side appear to have run together the answers to three different questions: l) Is the market to be completely abolished immediately after a workers' government assumes power? 2) If some kind of market continues to exist at the start of socialism, how will it be dealt with and how long will it last? 3) Will the market continue to exist throughout the socialist stage as the socialist form of allocating resources and exchanging goods? What has happened, in effect, is that the answers Marx gives to the first two questions have been mistakenly treated as answers to the third question, which deals with the long term (and not so long term) compatibility of the market with socialism.
As regards the first question, it is quite clear that Marx foresaw substantial sections of the market continuing to function right after a socialist revolution. In the Communist Manifesto, for example, his suggestions of what the new socialist government should socialize immediately are surprisingly modestbanks, means of transport and communication, and unused land.31 This leaves most of the economy in private hands, at least initially, but the owners' decisions on all matters would be strongly effected by the economic plan (which is established at the same time), the newly nationalized banks, new laws on such things as wages, conditions of work, pollution, etc., an administration and adjudication of these laws that is now biased on behalf of the workers, and by their own workers.32 The only forceful expropriation Marx advocatesindeed, his only explicit reference to the use of force in this periodis of "rebels" (people who take up arms against the government) and "emigrants" (those who leave the country).33 It is clear that at this point in time, markets for commodities, labor power, and even capital, though already regulated and modified, continue to operate.
The crucial question, then, is how will the socialist government deal with this private sector? Marx says that in the first stage of communism, his preferred manner of referring to socialism, the workers will receive "after deductions have been made for new investment exactly what he gives ... his individual quantum of labor".34 It is the workers, we will recall, who through democratic planning help decide what these deductions will be and how they will be used. Contrast this projection with how profits are distributed under market socialism, where there is no direct connection between the number of hours worked and the amount of wages earned, and where, consequently, workers who put in the same number of hours in different enterprises can earn widely varying amounts.
With equal pay for equal time at work as the economic goal, every effort is made to enable people to develop a broad range of abilities and to make full use of those they have. But, as we have seen, at the very start of socialism, there are still some people who will be allowed to take from what society produces according to their property and not according to their work, which will also allow them to participate in production with something less than their full ability. This major exception to the economic principle that governs socialist society will probably last as long as it takes for a transfer of their private property to public ownership in a manner that will not disrupt the production process. To achieve this end, the socialist government will set up public enterprises to compete with the remaining private ones (not to help subsidize them as usually happens in capitalism), as well as put pressure on the latter through targeted bank loans, high taxes, and strict laws.35 The combination is likely to drive most capitalists to bankruptcy or to sell their companies to a public authority in a relatively short time. One of the major reforms Marx believes will occur immediately after the revolution is the abolition of inheritance in wealth producing property.36 When the current generation of private owners dies out, therefore, their companies would all revert to the public. As a result of this and the other strategies mentioned, within forty to fifty years, at most, the entire economy will be socially owned. Pressure brought by workers in the private sector to socialize their enterprises would, if anything, speed up this process.
What emerges from even this brief sketch is that a substantial private sector would continue to exist for a short while after the revolution and that it would allocate resources and exchange goods through some kind of market. Like all markets, it would create a market mode of thinking, with its accompanying range of mystifications, and people's activities in this market would be the main source for whatever alienation still exists. Fortunately, people's experiences in other areas of their lives at this time will produce many ideas and emotions of an opposite kind, and, with the constantly expanding socialized sector of the economy, it is these experiences that are becoming dominant. In the unstable mix of perceptions, ideas and emotions that survive into the beginnings of this new era, what insures the eventual ascendance of a fully socialist mode of thought is an increase of communal and cooperative experiences of all sorts, the replacement of humanist for capitalist values in education, the extraordinary developments throughout society that are making socialist goals ever more practical and therefore easier to envision, and the steady momentum maintained in the movement toward these goals.
It is only after all property in production is brought under the control of the entire working class that socialism can be organized according to the principle, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work". We are still a long way off from the time when the applicable principle is "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".37 In short, it is only now that socialism, or what Marx usually refers to as the "first stage of communism", really begins. If socialism is a transitional stage to communism, the conditions for which it progressively lays out, the first few decades after the socialist revolution can best be understood as a transition to socialism. As a transition, it contains something of both capitalism and socialism, but it is too short and changing too quickly to be considered a separate stage. This period might also be viewed as a distinctive "moment" at the very beginning of socialism, a moment when the final prerequisites for socialism are being put into place (based on conditions brought about by a successful working class revolution), or, alternatively, as a continuation of the socialist revolution itself, a kind of mopping up operation directed against the last vestiges of capitalist power and privileges using tactics in keeping with the fact that the state is now in the hands of the workers. Carrying the class struggle into this first moment of socialism, in each country and around the world, is what Marx had in mind by the "permanent revolution".38 Does Marx believe, then, that some form of market will continue to exist throughout the socialist period? Clearly not. Readers who took my critique of market socialism as reflecting Marx's own position on this subject can rest assured. Their first impression was the right one.
In summary, I have made ten criticisms of market socialism, understood as a theoretical and political project within capitalism as well as an alternative vision of socialism:
Mystified by their own experiences in the market, disappointed by the collapse of the Soviet Union that many market socialists had regarded as a form of socialism, forgetful of whatever they may once have understood of dialectical relationships within complex systems, and reaching for a quick and easy fix to problems that don't allow any, market socialists have come to treat the market as a simple mechanism that can be fashioned at will to produce a desired effect.39 But even if we view the market as a mechanism or instrument, the crucial question isis it more like a can opener or a meat grinder? The one is in our hands and we manipulate it; while we are in the other and it manipulates us, and worse. The sound bite version of my conclusion, then, is that market socialists have mistaken the market for a can opener, when it really functions more like a meat grinder.
A brief word on the applicability of my critique to third world countries that have tried to construct their own versions of market socialism. There is no question but that all my criticisms of the marketif only a few of my complimentary remarks (since these were all directed at the more democratic features of market socialism)apply to these countries, as the recent experiences of China and Vietnam make abundantly clear. But it is also evident that these countries do not possess the material and social preconditions, such as we do in the advanced capitalist world, that would make socialism possible. The intentions, however admirable, of some socialist political leaders cannot substitute for a practise that history has placed beyond their reach. The real choice for these societies, therefore, would seem to be between a dictatorial form of savage capitalism, with socialist trimmings (China), and a progressive, egalitarian, anti-imperialist dictatorship, with different socialist trimmings, that is neither capitalist nor socialist (Cuba). If the political dictatorship is not too severe, I favor the latter option if only because social and material benefits are shared more equally under such regimes, other social problems associated with the market are either missing or minimal, and the anti-imperialist foreign policy that these regimes generally follow creates difficulties for the world-wide rule of capital. Only socialist revolutions in the advanced capitalist lands, however, could create the conditions that would enable the underdeveloped countries whose regimes have declared in favor of socialism to make substantial progress in this direction.