Thursday, August 25, 2011
I'm currently halfway through Pat Devine's incredible book Democracy and Economic Planning. It should be required reading for everyone on the Left. It is rigorous, clear, well-written and refreshingly radical. The goal of the book is to determine what sort of economic structure is required for a genuinely self-governing society. His argument, contra defenders of market socialism, is that democratic planning (which combines elements of centralization as well as de-centralization, local as well as national-level coordination) is what's needed. He insists on genuine participatory political democracy at the society-wide level, as well as serious industrial democracy at the level of the workplace. He also offers arguments to help navigate the potential tensions between society-wide goals and the goals of particular self-managed, worker-run firms. Devine sharply criticizes the statist Stalinist regimes that constituted so-called "really existing socialism", while at the same time offering a withering Marxist critique of capitalism. He also offers a detailed analysis of attempts at worker self-management in Hungary and Yugoslavia, showing what we can learn from their mistakes. I'm surprised that the book has not received more attention; but in an era in which the spell of neoliberalism is being shattered to pieces, the arguments in the book are more poignant than ever. There is a democratic alternative to the boom and bust cycles, deep crises, exploitation, war, environmental degradation and oppression characteristic of a global system dominated by capitalism. Read Devine's book to get a sense of the basic contours of what the socialist Left is fighting for. It's not a detailed blueprint for a new society, but it is an excellent example of spelling out concretely how it might be possible to institutionalize the basic aim that animates socialist, i.e. a self-governing society in which the means of production is under the democratic control of the people.