Two ex-socialists go funny

February 2024 Forums General discussion Two ex-socialists go funny

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    Article here in praise of two defenders of laissez faire  capitalism — Barons Von Hayek and Von Mises — by two fairly recent and at the time quite active Socialists. Both of whom must be assumed to know the Socialist reply:

    Going reformist is one thing but turning into supporters of laissez faire capitalism and warning the capitalist class of the dangers from their personal point of view of state capitalism is another.

    The reference to “serfdom” is from the title of Von Hayek’s the Road to Serfdom whose basic argument was that even mild Social Democrats would end up establishing a totalitarian state as in Stalin’s Russia. Churchill comes it because he based on it his claim in the 1945 general election that under a Labour government there would be a Gestapo.

    p.s. Forgot to mention that we were already planning an article in the Socialist Standard about Von Mises’s 1920 article on “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”. It should appear in the next few months.


    • This topic was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by ALB.

    I find it incredulous that they begin with reference to the pandemic and conclude, “Mises’ century-old challenge should spur a rethink about how states can effectively achieve goals that will not be secured by markets.”

    I thought the search for a coronavirus vaccine was originally neglected by the market as there was insufficient profit motivation but now the State has had to fully intervened with R&D risk being underwritten by the State and manufacture financially subsidised by the State and the results of the research assured of a future market by the State buying the vaccines, was evidence enough that capitalism requires the services of the State.

    But also that the privatisation of the NHS or the cuts in other countries health services or the American private health system  led to equipment shortages and privately owned care homes suffered the brunt of the fatalities  showed that the market has failed in the midst of the pandemic.

    And as for searching for the vaccines, the planning certainly not being centralised, except by the US and the UK, with the creation of a WHO inspired global cooperation network of shared knowledge. In fact it appears that it is the market itself which requires centralisation if we consider the proposed merger of AstraZenaca and Gilead

    But I do see they concede that “The rapidity with which the state had to step in and take control of everything from the railways to paying workers’ wages in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus would seem to have placed the Austrian case for markets under significant strain.”

    But we know from history that the laws of capitalism and the market can sometimes be suspended as in the case of all-out war and i’m sure Mises and Hayek were well aware that such State intervention in war-time is not the end of capitalism or even challenging it.




    I am not too sure I would entirely agree with Adam’s characterisation of these ex-two members as “defenders of laissez faire  capitalism”.  They do , after all, talk of ‘market failures’ and the need for state intervention in some instances e,g the coronavirus pandemic.


    However, they do also assert  that “the case for classical liberalism is based upon some deep and compelling arguments, the force of which has been underestimated by the left. ” These arguments are ‘compelling’ only insofar as strawman arguments come across as superficially compelling and in this case the particular strawman argument put forward by Stuart and Dan is this:


    “few advocates of socialism or social democracy these days envisage the kind of centrally planned, entirely non-market communism sought by the Bolsheviks and stringently critiqued by Mises and his fellow Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek”


    I find it astonishing and deeply disappointing that they can come out with utter bilge  like this knowing that the organisation to which they once belonged quite explicitly does NOT  endorse society-wide central planning,  In fact the refutation of Mises’ so called economic calculation argument hinges precisely on the possibility of feedback provided through a self regulating system of stock control which in turn presupposes a polycentric system of planning – not a unicentric system of planning which is what central planning boils down to


    Stuart and Dan must surely have been aware of these kinds of arguments that have long been swilling round within the Party yet  they seem to be wilfully intent upon presenting a caricature of  what socialists stand for.   It reminds me of Rothbard’s ludicrous claim that the catastrophic experience of ‘war communism’ shortly after the Bolsheviks came to power demonstrates the impracticality of communism as such.   But was ‘war communism’,  communism as we understand the term? Not at all.  More to the point, even if the Bolsheviks earnestly wanted to implement genuine communism the preconditions  for such a society  simply did not exist.  So of course any attempt to implement communism was therefore bound to “fail”


    I dont know quite why these ex-comrades have come to embrace the views they currently hold – a kind of dull middle-of-the-road bourgeois liberalism based on an oh-so-predictable collection of clichés –  but I would hazard a guess that in Stuart’s case – I dont know about Dan’s circumstances – that it was probably as a result of his disappointment with the reformist Left Unity organisation he was once enamoured with for a while.  (Maybe I am quite mistaken in thinking this in which case I stand to be corrected) I remember him  being criticised on this forum for his support for Left Unity so perhaps his current flirtation  is a case of being on the rebound.   Perhaps he should be invited back to this forum to argue his case


    If you dont want to return to revolutionary socialism,  then what better way of rationalising this than to big up some arcane theory put forward by some obscure Baron in the early 20th century  purporting to demonstrate the impossibility of “socialism” ,  something which he imagined would operate on the “Fuhrer principle”. That says it all, really.   Von Mises really didn’t  have much of a clue about socialism – at least now as we understand it –  and far from finding his arguments “compelling” I consider them to be quite  misleading and unconvincing


    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by robbo203.

    Robbo perhaps if send Dan your response he might join the forum!


    I think you are right, Robbo. I don’t think Dan has been infected with Von Misesism. He’s just a common or garden reformist who accepts and provides a theoretical justification for the the existing “mixed economy”. Maybe he wants to tweak it a bit and, I’d imagine, supports Labour or the LibDems or both. A sad fate for someone who used to be a good socialist.

    But if you support the market economy why single out the two Austrians barons for special praise? Surely there are others who are better champions of this, especially as he supports a mixed private/state capitalist economy. Keynes for instance. Von Mises and Von Hayek weren’t even political liberals when they were still in their native country but supported authoritarian regimes and were implacable opponents of the Social Democrats and all their works. No wonder   Thatcher liked Von Hayek and made him a Companion of Honour.


    If you look at the MoneyWeek page and  type in ‘Stuart Watkins’ in the search facility  a list of articles that Stuart has written for this publication appears.  One of these is

    Modern capitalism and the rise of the bullshit job


    Lo and behold in the text of the article we find this:


    “When asked what we can do about bullshit jobs, Graeber grumbles at the impertinence and stupidity of those who raise the question and waves his hand generally in the direction of giving everyone a ton of money instead. (He halfheartedly proposes a basic income, but his proposal sits at the more unrealistic end of the spectrum of possibilities.) However, as David Ramsay Steele argues powerfully in his 1992 book From Marx to Mises, neglecting the economic details of proposed alternatives is much more than a minor intellectual oversight or foible. It is dangerous.

    The Bolsheviks took power in Russia armed to the teeth with analyses of the problems generated by capitalism, but with nothing but the vaguest notions of what they were supposed to put in its place. Their attempt to abolish money, collectivise property and centralise planning led to short-term suffering on a huge scale and long-term economic disaster that in the end brought the whole system down. As Steele says, “all arguments against capitalism fail unless there is some feasible alternative which can do better”.

    The basic problem, which Graeber touches on but does not resolve in his book, is to do with value. In any society, resources must be allocated in a more or less efficient manner between the various competing uses to which they might be put. In a market society, the conundrum of how to decide this unfathomably complex issue is delegated to society as a whole. Private ownership of the means of production, free markets in factors of production and consumer goods, and prices perform the role of an all-knowing and invisible hand that solves a vast economic problem that to date no human or computer program has been able to. If there is some other and better way of valuing goods, including our labour, and solving this problem in a better way, we should hear about it and evaluate it pretty carefully before moving to smash up the system that provides us with our living simply because our role in it occasionally bores us.


    Ah, so its our old  opponent D R Steele – another ex member – who Stuart invokes in support of his new found moderate bourgeois liberalism no doubt with an eye to the new kind of moderate bourgeois liberal readership he is writing for. And so he he comes up with the same old dumb blinkered either-or dichotomy . Its either the market mechanism or society wide central planning.   There is absolutely no conception here of any other alternative..


    And his conclusion?:

    As Darren McGarvey argues in his book Poverty Safari, the left wastes a great deal of time critiquing “the system”, and believes it is doing good. More good would be done if they could instead help people give up drinking, smoking and eating rubbish and find something meaningful to do, both within and without their bullshit jobs.


    Sorry but I  get the distinct impression the spark has gone from Stuart.   He has been successfully co-opted into the business of “manufacturing consent” as Chomsky put it.


    How sad.  What a miserable end for a once fine socialist

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by robbo203.

    I just re-read the Left Unity thread, all 39 pages.

    Stuart has a wonderful turn of phrase, a literary style to be admired.

    He made no secret of moving towards a reformist position and defended it, strongly.  He was a worthy sparring partner for the party.

    Over the hundreds of posts, i’m not surprised that some excellent points we made by all the contributors.


    Stuart has a wonderful turn of phrase, a literary style to be admired. He made no secret of moving towards a reformist position and defended it, strongly


    Yes and to underpin and rationalise his complete severance from revolutionary socialism he has found it convenient to appeal to an arcane theory that purported to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism and therefore the pointlessness of striving to realise socialism.   Never mind that the theory is bunkum and based on an utterly absurd theoretical model of socialism – a complete caricature.


    Stuart has not become an anarcho-capitalist but he has used a key argument employed by Ancaps to justify his moving away from socialism and his fulsome embrace of bourgeois politics.  His whole outlook now  reeks of that.   He has gone mainstream.  That’s his prerogative, of course, but it does illustrate the dangers of reformism. Once you go down that road you will eventually jettison socialism.  Sooner or later.   And in Stuart’s case sooner than I imagined


    Von Mises was a supporter of the pre-war tinpot Austrian dictator Dolfuss who did this to the Social Democrats:

    Shortly afterwards Dolfuss was overthrown by the Nazis and murdered and Austria joined with Germany. Von Mises wisely fled to Switzerland and began his new career as an ideologist of Liberalism.

    Ironic then that our two ex-comrades should tolerate him when if need be he would have justified crushing them just as he did their equivalents in pre-war Austria. He preferred Italian/style fascism not just to Bolshevism it to social democracy too.


    Just don’t see how mature-of-age socialists can go so silly. I’ve met folk whom i’ve introduced socialism to, who have claimed to be enlightened by the case, have eagerly read The Standard, but who then have gone really crazy out-there silly, and become flat-earthers and young-Earth creationists. But these are people of very poor education to begin with.

    This is obviously not the case with the two you are talking about.

    Many leave the party for personal reasons, arguments, etc., but still remain socialists. How can anyone un-know something?



    Bijou Drains

    Ah, so its our old opponent D R Steele – another ex member – who Stuart invokes in support of his new found moderate bourgeois liberalism no doubt with an eye to the new kind of moderate bourgeois liberal readership he is writing for.

    And may I suggest an eye to the kind of moderate bourgeois liberal salary that comes with it


    Yes, if they hadn’t been in the party they wouldn’t have known anything about Von Mises (we were the only people from the 1980s on to take on the task of refuting his claim that you can’t rationally organise the production and distribution of wealth without money and markets). Now they seem to be commercialising the knowledge they acquired from us.


    Talking of using knowledge gained during his time in the Party perhaps Stuart could have researched the subject a little more thoroughly before coming out with his claim that the Bolsheviks attempted to abolish money, collectivise property and centralise planning led to short-term suffering on a huge scale and long-term economic disaster that in the end brought the whole system down

    Its a pity he hadn’t read our comrade in the Indian Party, Binay Sarkar’s,  comprehensive article on the subject


    Now they seem to be commercialising the knowledge they acquired from us.

    “Funny” is a bit of an understatement given the self-evident willingness of these two to be used as paid mouthpieces for the most reactionary elements of the ruling class. At least their message will only get through to those already convinced of the need to soak the poor. Why on earth would you consider them less of enemies than the mugs who go Labour though? Social democracy is the greater enemy


    Social Democracy = Social Fascism? Didn’t know you were a fan of “third period” Stalinism !

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