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some tentative thoughts on “on communism and markets: a reply to seth ackerman”

January 30, 2013

Some tentative thoughts on Matthijs Krul’s reply to Seth Ackerman’s article “The Red and the Black” from a poor, working-class jag on his way to work:

On Communism and Markets: A Reply to Seth Ackerman” is an interesting and well-written response by Matthijs Krul illustrating some of the weak points in Seth Ackerman’s article/argument exploring the feasibility of a socialized market economy beyond capitalism. I especially like the first several paragraphs in that they refocus the debate back towards the point of production itself, which often seems to get neglected in favour of discussions about distribution and exchange.

I also like how Krul shines a light on the importance of labour time, both in terms of the history of socialist activism and in terms of what we, as socialists, are fighting for, i.e., the worker having the time to “fully develop her intellectual, social, and creative powers.” This also gets under-emphasized, in my opinion (and I’m only just know seeing its importance myself, previously getting stuck arguing for more hours and higher wages than less hours and no wages!).

The real question facing us is how this society of minimal hours of labour and maximum hours of leisure can be achieved, which, under the logic of capitalism, it can’t, since this is the point where profit is created and realized by capital, i.e., a reduction in labour hours under capitalism will ultimately serve to reduce the mass of surplus value (profit), which itself is intimately tied into the amount of labour time required for the production of commodities. Simply socializing aspects of capitalist production, such finance, while ignoring the process of production itself won’t get rid of the “coercive pressure of competition and accumulation” inherent within capitalism, and hence can’t full transcend it or its limitations.

The section on Soviet-style central planning and its real limitations is also interesting, as well as educational (I’m not very well-versed in that topic); and I think Krul does a good job of pointing out how Ackerman’s vision of a socialized market economy is actually more like the Soviet economy he criticizes than he realizes. The only thing I’d argue with is that Krul’s response seems to present Ackerman’s social market economy as an end, whereas I read it as a possible step towards a socialist society, not a goal in and of itself (although perhaps the logic of his argument necessitates this?).

In the end, I don’t know if central planning is the answer, but I definitely think Krul’s reply adds a lot to the debate and I’m surprised Jacobin didn’t publish it.


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