LeftEast was a cosponsor of an online conference on non-capitalist mixed economies from June 23–26 2021. Co-sponsors of the conference included the Karl Polanyi Center, Eszmélet Journal, Social Theory College in Budapest, Polanyi Institute, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, Institute of Political History Social Theory Research Group, The Study Group on Global Labour History and Social Conflicts – IHC Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Left East, Institutul pentru Solidaritate Socială, Working Group for Public Policy, Helyzet, Fordulat, CriticAtac, Transform Europe, and the International Karl Polanyi Society. A selection of the talks has been published by the Eszmélet Foundation in a special issue of Eszmélet (2021), entitled “In Need of Alternatives: Problems and Issues of Non-capitalist Mixed Economies”. We offer our readers the chapters of this volume as a special series on LeftEast, which will be published on Wednesdays of the following weeks. We start with an introduction written by the editors of Eszmélet. The text provides an overview of the event, along with the perspectives the conference opened, and issues that it raised.
Between June 23–26 2021, a large number of organizations, including Karl Polanyi Center, Eszmélet Journal, Social Theory College in Budapest, Polanyi Institute, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, Institute of Political History Social Theory Research Group, The Study Group on Global Labour History and Social Conflicts – IHC Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Left East, Institutul pentru Solidaritate Socială, Working Group for Public Policy, Helyzet, Fordulat, CriticAtac, Transform Europe, and International Karl Polanyi Society organized a huge (500 participants) online event on the problem, history and future of non-capitalist mixed economies with the support of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. This was the first event in an upcoming series, which will focus on understanding historical and current forms of non-capitalist mixed economies with an eye on the future.1
During this conference non-capitalist mixed economy models were understood as an eminently important historical experience, practical possibility and much needed prospect. The current moment of global capitalism and the evolving ecological crisis demands an organized and coherent response, one that is not limited to pushing back the forces of social and environmental destruction enhanced by the current epidemic, but aims at fundamentally transforming the unproductive and unjust structures of capitalism today. In this process, revisiting and learning from historical socialist achievements, and errors and helping coalesce, intensify, and spread the search for new models and mechanisms is essential. A single, largely academic conference cannot itself constitute such a process. However, it can set in motion the process of developing ideas towards those ends and to add to it what has already been and is being done.
There is much from which we can draw and rebuild. A hundred years ago the construction of a socialist economy was going ahead with full speed in Soviet Russia. The key theoreticians and politicians agreed that there was a need to combine creatively various sectors and types of economies (socialist planning and redistribution, large-scale capitalist production and, very importantly, small-scale industrial and agricultural production) with an aim to move towards socialism. Ever since, socialist countries in the 20th and 21st centuries have constituted massive experiments on how to combine different economic logics and sectors, very often with great success, but sometimes with great difficulties.
However, the tradition of writings on these economies has petered out. Today, we think little about the interlinkages and dynamics of these economies. We need to refocus on them and work on theorizing their defining and common characteristics (as in various theories of state capitalism, planned economies, redistributive economies etc.). This is all the more important as even those adopting a Polanyian framework have thought little about how different modes of integration could and can coexist in a balanced manner.
Intellectual Perspectives: The Non-capitalist Mixed Economy as the Antechamber of Socialism
It is important to set the most important intellectual perspective when such a complex and much debated issue is on the agenda. For this purpose a specific memorandum was put together for the conference and the conference series. In this memorandum we, the editors of Eszmélet journal, set some organizing principles of our thinking concerning non-capitalism and mixed economy forms.
First of all and most importantly, there is no solution to the structural crisis of capitalism (poverty, unemployment, violence, wars, inequality, exclusion, the destruction of the environment) within the capitalist system. The alternative to capitalism can only be socialism, a world that goes “Beyond Capital” (Mészáros 2018). We recognise the many existing communities, who struggle against the rule of capital (indigenous communities, communes, alternative social forms all around the world). However, we do not know of any other social formation than socialism with the capacity of struggling successfully against the rule of capital on a global scale. Our conference was motivated by the practical goal of facilitating the elaboration and realization of this alternative; to search for and utilize the historical and theoretical experiences of the global economic-social experiments and anti-capitalist organizations in the spirit of a transnational cooperation.
We conceive socialism as the lower phase of the self-governing social and economic order (Communism), which goes beyond the structures of market economy. It is a system of productive and consumer communities, cooperatives organized voluntarily from below, which are new social organizations, functioning without the tutelage and suppression of either the bureaucratically organized state or capital. This means that socialism cannot be “introduced” from above. The alternative economic and managerial forms surpassing capitalism have a long history in all regions of the world, which shows that these are global attempts and no region has a special historical privilege in bringing them into life. Global capitalism leads to global responses. The essence of this search for alternatives is that we can now see the frames of a third road, tertium datur – as understood by György Lukács (Lukács 1985). This was a complex position and he distanced himself and the search for a new road not only from state centered “Stalinism” and capitalism in all its forms, but also mixing market and state socialism in a mechanical way and without the democratic control of workers and producers. This is essential today when we look at current examples of dual economies for instance in Asia regardless of their economic success. In our view, this “surpassing” consists of three, interrelated stages.
1. We have to support everywhere the unfolding of humanist social mass movements, which pave the way for democratically controlled collective property and the collective economic forms in all areas of human life, of course, primarily in the field of production and consumption.
2. Parallel to the establishment of the political-power conditions, which have to be fought out, a multisectoral mixed economy can be created, where the market, the households, the state-controlled and the communitarian sectors as economic forms coexist by simultaneously supplementing, balancing, rivalling each other in a socially integrated manner. In the spirit of democratic control and planning, the state supports and protects islands of socialism, where voluntarily organized cooperatives, work and labor associations, reciprocal communities produce and consume according to their own, ex ante (in advance and from below) planned specific needs and capabilities.
3. Capitalism never collapses on its own. Therefore, it is of crucial significance to develop and strengthen collective property both nationally and internationally because capital has historically destroyed, marginalized all initiatives based on non-private property and non-profit logic. The global crisis forces us to think over anti-capitalist alternatives and to provide viable models which can be regionally and nationally translated into political programs. Historical experiences, the experiences of the collapse of the state socialist regimes show that workers defend only regimes where producers directly control collective property in various forms. Bureaucratic state control can easily lead to capitalist privatization and the betrayal of workers. Democratic economic control is the economic, political and social precondition of the creation of socialism and moving beyond capitalism and ultimately capital. Its functioning also serves as a cultural and educational school: the producers are forced to learn how to develop their skills and talents and they get used to coordinating their activities through mutually responsible cooperation.
Issues and Problems Addressed in This Booklet
We have collected a number of articles from the 30 excellent talks presented during the conference (available at www.karlpolanyicenter.org). Theoretical comparative global historical-sociological and political issues were raised with great erudition. It seems on this basis that balanced non-capitalist economies can take over the system of totalized markets which, following a neoliberal agenda set in the 1930s, has subordinated more and more social spheres.
Here we focus on some historical, and very importantly, some intellectual problems around the history and the ideational problems of socialism. As one of the most important issues, the first two articles take us back to the history of the Soviet Union. Tamás Krausz shows with great precision that by the 1890s Lenin not only developed a clear idea of multi-stage socialist historical options for the whole world, but specifically for a semi-periphery country. This idea is based on workers’ control evolving not from political will, but from capitalist developments themselves. He was not only a founding figure in such thinking, but during and after the revolution he was able to maneuver among wide-ranging socialist goals and political practices without falling into the traps of forgetting strategic targets or short term realities. In his last works, he basically bequeathed a framework for how to think about transition to and defense of democratic socialist production in a semi-periphery country without any real concessions to capitalism, state capitalism and to mechanistic forms of state-socialism.
Concerning the history of socialism, Radhika Desai argues that money in socialism ceases to exist as a fictitious commodity (even in capitalism it is not a commodity well understood by Marx and even Polanyi). According to her, it served very important and sophisticated accounting purposes for a planned economy, beside counterbalancing capitalist systems and destructive attempts and practices for dollar denominated financializations that support the dollar’s world predominance. This seems to be a key point when nowadays we see the crumbling of this dollar-based financial and political domination. It is also clear that non-capitalist mixed economies can hardly live together with such systems and thus their collapse is a positive historical development.
Péter Szigeti makes it clear that a mixed economy was possible in historically socialist systems as it was not guided by profit and did not operate through market allocation based on private property. Exactly because it needed political coordination and control, it could experiment with various, NEP and other types of mixed economies regardless of still existing commodity production lacking private appropriation. This control could also guarantee access to material and intellectual goods for poorer social classes and thus it provided a precondition for democratic rule. This necessary etatist phase could not be completed and continued as the control of workers and the democratization of the economy was not promoted to become a real historical force, which would have defended public and non-capitalist property in the longer run.
Raquel Varela raises another crucial point. The current capitalist conditions of labor make a key humanizing process (in Marxian and Lukacsian philosophy) a dehumanized burden. This dramatic sacrifice of insecurity (flexibilization, mental health issues, planned obsolescence of workers, alienation etc.) is made at the altar of securing profit and global capital mobility. This not only undermines workers’ living conditions, but impairs the social basis of capitalism, whose situation can only change with the democratic control of workers. As evidenced by the Portuguese revolution in 1974, as Varela argues, workers had no issue of overburden during that democratic time regardless of spending much time and making huge efforts to sustain production at workplaces.
László Tütő reflects on what makes a system socialist in a positive sense, not just as a negation of capitalism. As he argues: “a society can be called socialist only if it enables the workers to create and maintain a long-term, structurally safe social environment for their own subsistence” via forming associations and entering cooperatives. He reminds us that such a system can be a basis for love and mutual understanding as raised by Lukács in 1919 and warns us that wage workers have something to lose. Thus it needs to be made clear for them that they have to go beyond self-defense and to transcend the impersonal and objectifying relations of the capitalist economy and to reach mental and associational autonomy. We would like to add to this that such goals are to be set not only for the criticism of capitalism, but for thinking about future non-capitalist mixed economies and possible and viable models. Without such historically worked out visions we remain Lukács’ and Tütő’s hopeless intellectual parasites of the Grand Hotel Abyss. To contribute to making this new vision into a possible reality, we will continue with our conference series.
Budapest, 26 June 2021
Editors of Eszmélet
Lukács, György 1985/1986: Demokratisierung heute und morgen. Budapest: Akadémiai kiadó.
Mészáros, István 2018: Beyond Capital. Toward a Theory of Transition. New York: Monthly Review Press.
1 Recordings of the lectures given at this conference can be viewed on the YouTube channel of the Karl Polanyi Research Center: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCy7wH8pxin2KHO2oRVzNEhQ
2 A full list of the lectures is available at the end of the volume. For more details about the event, please visit the website of the Karl Polanyi Research Center: https://www.karlpolanyicenter.org/post/conference-on-non-capitalist-mixed-economies-theory-history-and-future
Presentations given at the conference “Non-capitalist Mixed Economies”, held in Budapest, 23–26 June 2021
ARTNER, ANNAMÁRIA: Encirclement and the Vanguards
BARTHA, ESZTER: “So That I Can Move Forward the World”: Working-class Culture and Ideology in the Consolidated Kádár Regime
BLOCK, FRED: Conceptualizing Socialism as Democratized Habitation
BÖRÖCZ, JÓZSEF: Socialism and the Quantity of Life
BULAVKA, LJUDMILA: Cultural Revolution and Socialist Trend in Mixed Economy: Lessons of the New Economic Policy in the USSR (1921–1927)
BURKE, MICHAEL: Socialist Independence and Independence Without Socialism
BUZGALIN, ALEKSANDR: Theory of Post-capitalist Mixed Economy: Content, Trends, Contradictions
DESAI, RADHIKA: The Soviet Monetary System and the Functions of Money in Socialism
DUMFORD, MICK: The Chinese Path to Socialism in the First 100 Years of the CCP
ENFU, CHENG – LIU, ZIXU: Prioritizing the Development of a Mixed Economy Controlled by Public Capital
FREEMAN, ALAN: Capitalist Planning: What Can Socialism Learn, and What Does It Have to Teach?
GERŐCS, TAMÁS – PINKASZ, ANDRÁS: The Interdependence of Socialist Hungary’s External and Internal Balances: The Bridge Model and the Consolidation of the Kádár Era
HERNANDEZ, GLADYS: The Ordering Process in the Cuban Economy
KAGARLITSKY, BORIS: Is Reindustrialisation Coming? Dilemmas of Post-COVID Reconstruction
KOLGANOV, ANDREI: Historical Aspects and Lessons of the NEP
KRAUSZ, TAMÁS: Lenin’s Socialism – From the Perspective of the Future. Some Considerations
KULKE, ROLAND: Cave! Hic Dragones. Central Economic Planning as Unchartered Territory for the Left in the 218t century
LANE, DAVID: The Ambiguities of State Capitalism
MELEGH, ATTILA: Embeddeness in a Socialist Mixed Economy: Memories of Workers and Peasants
PATNAIK, PRABHAT: Peasant Agriculture in the Transition to Socialism
RAE, GAVIN: Primitive Accumulation in Post-Socialist Capitalism
SÁRKÁNY, MIHÁLY: Kenya and Self-Sufficiency – The Case of Coffee-producing Kikuyu Farmers
SAVVAS, MICHAEL MATSAS: The Death Agony of “Free Market” and Socialism
SIERRA, ERNESTO FLORES: The Survival of the Agrarian Commune as an Alternative to Capitalism
STÉDILE, JOÃO PEDRO: Landless Workers Movement (MST) View on a New Type of Agrarian Reform
SZIGETI, PÉTER: State Socialist Experiments – Historical Lessons
TÜTŐ, LÁSZLÓ: What Makes Socialism?
VARELA, RAQUEL: What Would Labour Be Like in a Socialist Society?
VEDUTA, ELENA: Cybernetic Planning of the Economy Is the Key to Solve Problems of Non-capitalist Mixed Economies