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Michael Heinrich on Market Socialism and Communism - Red May

Now I will address what we can learn from Marx’s form analysis about socialism and communism – what it is and especially what it is not. Form analysis, in my view, brings a rather basic argument against any forms of market socialism. Market socialism is the idea that capitalist property is abolished and we have only production associations. They organize the production together but they compete on markets (maybe regulated by a socialist state). This is a conception of socialism which became especially popular after we saw the shortcomings of a system like the Soviet Union, with a centrally planned economy which didn’t work and where central planning was a source of domination and power, and not at all the end of domination.

However, with Marx’s form analysis, I see a very basic argument against such a market socialism. In the analysis of the value form in chapter 1 it was shown that we cannot have commodity circulation without money. And we don’t need money just as a practical helper (this also a bourgeois economist would agree with), but we need money as the necessary expression of value objectivity. This argument, Marx used against Proudhon’s conception of socialism – the idea of socialism as private commodity production without money. Marx tried to show that this is not possible. When you have private commodity production, you need circulation and you need money. It is not possible. Marx continued these arguments, especially in the Grundrisse and in the original draft of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. He showed that there is a similar strong connection between money and capital. Money as money (as Marx refers to it in this third chapter), money as the independent expression of value, is, on the one hand, the last result of commodity circulation. But it cannot exist in a pure commodity circulation. Market socialism, in some respect, presupposes such a kind of pure commodity circulation. The argument we can find, especially in Grundrisse, is that money as money (money as the independent expression of value) needs capital circulation —commodity circulation is not enough. If this argument of Marx’s is correct (and it sounds very convincing to me) then market socialism always has a tendency to transform into a market capitalism. For market capitalism you don’t need an individual capitalist to be a capitalist. We learn in Capital that this is not an attribute of a single person – it is an attribute of a certain imperative, to follow the imperative of the valorization of value. And, of course, this imperative can also be followed by an association. You don’t need a single capitalist or a capitalist shareholder company. An association can do this as well.

So, with the arguments of form analysis, market socialism is not at all an alternative to capitalism. On the other hand, criticizing market socialism does not mean that now, the only possibility is to have an economy that is planned by a center from top-down like the Soviet Union. The task (and I think Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, came rather close to formulating it) is to have associations of producers and consumers which cooperate in a conscious way and cooperation in a conscious way means to go beyond all the form determinations that we have in the market.

So, what the form analysis reveals has the aim of overcoming the social conditions which produce these forms and which make form analysis necessary. And this overcoming of the conditions of capitalist forms we only get once we substitute markets mechanisms for conscious mechanisms of cooperations where communities and associations negotiate what they want, what they can contribute to the common goal of satisfying needs and what they themselves need. This is not at all a simple way. There is also no ready-made recipe for this. Even when such a process starts one day, there is absolutely no security that such a process will be successful or that such an economy will not collapse and we return to markets. But I think it is the only possible alternative to capitalism. And I think to make it clear that this is the only alternative to capitalism is also one of the achievements of Marx’s form analysis. Thus, I think we can use this form analysis for the discussing of a number of important issues and perhaps even overcome some of the shortcomings of existing discussions.

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