1980s >> 1983 >> no-950-october-1983

Pamphlet Review: Capitalism defended

Is Socialism Impossible? by D. R. Steele (Libertarian Alliance Ltd, 50p).

If this constitutes the most effective assault on the idea of socialism which the apologists for capitalism can muster, then we can feel quite confident in our claim that there is no serious opposition to our case. The guiding inspiration for ideas presented in this pamphlet is Ludwig von Mises, a forgotten economist of the 1920s who, among other worthless achievements, was the tutor who taught the modern priest of monetarism. F. A. Hayek, everything he does not know about economics. Like Mises, Steele proclaims that “market prices are the only methods . . . for performing economic calculation in an advanced industrial society”. The sole point in Steele’s argument is that the market, with its price mechanism, enables society to know how much to produce in response to the demands of the population.

In the midst of a crisis of overproduction, where food is being thrown in the sea while millions starve, houses stand empty while workers are homeless and factories close while there is enormous deprivation among the world’s working class, one might conclude justifiably that only an idiot could assert that the market is anything like an effective communicator of needs. Under capitalism, the function of the market is to realise profit, regardless of human need.

Steele’s sole point is based on a sole error — not his, but that of Mises. The latter dismisses the possibility of socialism on the grounds that such a society would have to regulate production and distribution on the basis of a central plan which could not possibly keep up with the varied and localised needs of a complex, industrial world society. As Steele says. “Mises always made clear what he meant by socialism . . . social production would be planned and managed as a single unit by a single supreme planning body” (p. 13). On the next page we are told that “Mises defined socialism in terms of ownership by ‘the community’. In passing he indicated that this could mean nothing other than state ownership . . .”.

So, like most devastating critiques of socialism, Mises and Steele have erected a model of state control of society and then, with effortless case, shown how such a society offers no workable alternative to the market. And they are right. Socialism, which can only be established when the vast majority of workers want it and understand what it entails, will be a classless, stateless, moneyless society where democratic conscious control of resources will have one sole aim: to produce for use.

Steve Coleman