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 the 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.
The publication is supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung e. V., zastoupení v České republice. The publishers alone are responsible for the content provided; the positions presented in these texts do not necessarily represent the points of view of the foundation. Edited by Melegh Attila, Budapest Eszmélet Foundation 2021.