Thursday, August 25, 2011

Democracy and Economic Planning

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.

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